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The White Queen

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Emma stood on her balcony and surveyed the ever growing crowd, a small smile on her face. It was almost time for the official announcement to the kingdom of her engagement to Regina. Many of them had been at the competition she was sure. She had heard more than a few whispers throughout the palace wondering just why the official announcement was taking so long.

“Emma.” Snow White burst onto the balcony, ruining her peaceful moment.

Emma turned and looked at the exact reason that it had taken so long. Or at least one of them, she supposed. The entire council hadn’t exactly been supportive either. The smile slipped into a frown.

“Mother.” Emma inclined her head. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be getting ready?” She smoothed down her white dress carefully. She had been ready for hours now.

“Emma, are you truly sure you want to do this? Once we make the announcement it can’t be undone.”

“It couldn’t be undone anyway, mother. You’re the one who made the decree stating that the winner of the tournament would have my hand in marriage.”

“But there are ways to get out of that now, before the announcement.”

“You mean her death, Mother.” Emma turned back to watch the crowd in the courtyard.

“She doesn’t have to die. She just has to disappear from the kingdom.”

Emma felt her muscles bunching up. She hadn’t been able to relax around her mother since the tournament ended over a week prior. At this point she was questioning whether she ever would again. Royal parents and children had a rather formal relationship at points, but her parents had truly loved her. Now…they still loved her she was sure, but it was hard to remember when her mother was trying to kill off her fiancée.

“If those two things aren’t the same thing mother then I am not princess of this kingdom.”

“Emma…you’ve got to think of what’s best for the kingdom.”

“And you think Regina is not. Believe me, I’ve been listening even if I’d rather not.” She turned to look at her mother. “But you told me months ago that I had to start acting more like a princess and less like a commoner. Every single improvement in how I carried myself as royalty came from Regina. She knows exactly how to rule a kingdom. She is the most qualified to help me defend the kingdom and help me shape it into what I want it to be. Or have you forgotten that she was a princess once upon a time herself?”

“Of the Dark Kingdom, Emma!” Her mother was exasperated now. She reached out and laid a hand on Emma’s shoulder. Emma shrugged it off easily.

“I’m well aware. She competed in the tournament under their flag, and that was after she told me how she ended up here. Believe me, mother, I know.”

“Then how could you want her to rule with you? She’s a murderer. If Cora finds out her daughter is in this kingdom then gods help us all.”

“And who better to help defend the kingdom against her than her own daughter? I’m not calling off the announcement. I will marry Regina as your decree said I would.” She turned to walk back inside her rooms. “You wanted a princess who could make the right decisions and stand by them no matter how hard. Funny how you now have two such princesses and you’re fighting against it every step of the way.”

She grabbed her tiara off her vanity and placed it on her head snuggly, fixing her hair around it so it sat neatly. Emma turned to her mother, still standing in the doorway to the balcony.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see how Regina is getting on. It’s been quite a while since she was last required to wear a dress and I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

She swept out of her rooms and strode down the hall. The path between her rooms and Regina’s should have been worn down as much as she had walked it in the week since she had brought Regina up from the dungeons. She had spent every waking moment she could with the other woman. Of course Regina had hated feeling so coddled by her, but Emma had ignored her. Just because the other woman could wield weapons with deadly accuracy and had insight into the everyday workings of court politics didn’t mean that Emma was going to let the woman out of her sight before the announcement. Her mother, or some other court idiot, might get it into their head that it would be great time to kidnap her fiancée to force her to marry someone else. But the announcement would be binding. She could marry no one else but Regina then.

She pushed open the doors and slipped inside. A smile made its way onto her face again. Regina was standing in a dress designed much like her own, mostly white with gold accents throughout. She truly looked gorgeous.

Emma made her way over to stand by Regina as the woman pinned her hair up into a complicated braid. “You know, there are servants to do such things.”

Regina shrugged. “I prefer getting ready on my own, always have. It only intensified after becoming a knight. If you must know I did let the girls you sent me lace me into this gods awful dress. I forgot just how uncomfortable corsets are.”

Emma grimaced in sympathy. Corsets were of the devil. She glanced down at the scoop neck of Regina’s dress. Or maybe not that evil.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to get used to them again.”

Regina slipped the last pin into place and turned towards Emma. “Of that, I’m well aware. Corsets are still better than those idiots you call a council so all isn’t truly lost.”

Emma laughed. “Fair enough.” She tucked a stray strand of hair behind Regina’s ear. “Are you ready?”

Regina nodded. “I’m quite ready to get back to work.”

Emma rolled her eyes. Of course Regina would remember that she had promised that she could return to her knightly duties once they had officially announced their engagement.

“You were assigned to guard me until your commander told you otherwise, were you not?”

Regina nodded. “Though perhaps now it might be a conflict of interest.”

“Why? I’m your fiancée. It would make sense for you to protect me.”

“People who are emotionally invested in those they’re protecting make stupid decisions.”

Emma turned and laid her hand of Regina’s shoulder, relishing the warmth she felt through the dress’s thin fabric. “We are the only two in this entire castle who know that this relationship could evolve into something more than just a fulfillment of duty.”

Regina shook her head. “Perhaps the nobility will see it as such, but the servants? They’re far more observant and clever than you realize. They realize the only reason to risk one’s life for a woman’s hand isn’t power. Power can be obtained in other…far less deadly ways.”

Emma sighed and squeezed Regina’s shoulder before dropping her hand. “We’ll deal with that later then. I want you to stay assigned to my personal guard if you insist on working. You’re about to become a princess, you really don’t have to work anymore.”

“It’s rather because I’m becoming a princess that I want to keep working.” Regina turned away from her. “I don’t want to feel like I’m returning to my childhood. Resuming my position as a knight will help keep such feelings at bay.”

Emma was more than a little taken aback. Regina hadn’t shared such reasons with her before. She wouldn’t have questioned her decision for an instant if she had. But then again she probably should have thought of that before. She knew of Regina’s past, more perhaps than anyone in this kingdom did.

She looked over at Regina’s now slightly hunched form. She wanted to reach out and comfort her, but she wasn’t sure how. They were getting married in a month and yet they weren’t in love, not yet. They had made small, constant steps in that direction since they had met, but they were still at that awkward stage where they didn’t quite know enough about each other, more than friends, less than lovers. She knew Regina had feelings for her and she was pretty sure the aching in her heart at seeing Regina so in distress meant she probably did, but damn if she knew what do to about it.

“Uh, um, I’m sorry, Regina. You should do whatever you think is best for you.” Emma fought not to trip over her words in her frustration with herself.

“Thank you, your highness.”

Emma’s voice softened. “Hey, what did we say about you addressing me by honorifics?”

Regina turned to face her again, face drawn. “That since we’re getting married I should stop such practices.”

“Yeah. So.” She shot Regina a significant look.

The muscles in Regina’s face relaxed just slightly. “Thank you, Emma.”

She sent a small smile Regina’s way. “Better.”

A knock on the door interrupted whatever Regina was about to say next. “My lady, it’s time.” A serving girl of no more than fifteen peeked her head around the door. Her eyes widened at the sight of Emma. “Oh, I’m sorry, your highness, I didn’t realize you were speaking to your betrothed. I apologize.” She curtsied deeply.

Emma waved off the apology. “It’s of no worry. We do need to get to the balcony on time. Wouldn’t do to be late to our own engagement announcement, would it?” She smiled at the girl.

Emma turned to face Regina. “Ready?”

“As ever. I didn’t miss the pomp of being a royal.” She offered Emma her arm.

Emma smiled widely and took it. They walked from the room arm in arm. Emma liked this closeness between them. Not for the first time she was infinitely glad that Regina had won the tournament.

They arrived at the doors leading to the grand balcony a few minutes later. Her parents were already there dressed in their best. Emma had to hand it to her mother, for a Queen she got ready remarkably quick. Probably the years of practice helped. Her dress was more resplendent than either her or Regina’s, the perfect princess gown that had become her mother’s signature, with the white flowers from which Snow drew her name weaved through her hair. For being ambivalent about the engagement she did not look the part.

Through the doors the chatter of the crowd below could be easily heard even from so high up. Butterflies started in the pit of Emma’s stomach. She had spoken in front of large crowds before, but always got nervous right before she spoke each and every time. Not much would be required of her today, but that didn’t help.

Beside her she felt Regina take a deep breath. Emma squeezed her arm. She was glad she wasn’t the only one who was feeling this. Regina smiled at her, just a bare up twitch of her lips. Still, it sent the butterflies into overdrive. Emma sighed silently, that was not what she needed.

The trumpets sounded out on the balcony and the doors opened. Emma forced her breathing to stay slow and even. Her parents strode out to the cheers of the crowd. She and Regina were to stay inside until they were called forward. A few minutes now and Regina would be that much safer from the machinations of her parents and the council. She finally understood the purpose of this tradition, a marriage with a questionable person was better than an entire line ending.

Emma didn’t hear a word her mother said, nor those of her father. She focused on her breathing and the fact that it was all about to become official, which was as soothing as it was nerve wracking. Regina was truly the only one that she had any potential to have anything like love with. But what if it didn’t work out? What then?

But then Regina was pulling her forward and she was looking at her in that annoyed way that she had every single time Emma had done something stupid for a princess and suddenly it was better, her heart stopped pounding in her ears and her breathing slowed to a normal pace without her having to force it. They walked together and stepped to the edge of the balcony and looked out over the crowd who was cheering and some were chanting about the black knight. Emma smiled and turned to Regina, cocking one eyebrow and looking out at the crowd again. She could tell Regina was struggling to hold back her eye roll.

Her mother stepped up beside them and started with the scripted lines for the ceremony.

“Emma of House White, who do you present to the kingdom?”

Emma took a breath and then spoke loudly, voice projecting over the crowd. “I present Regina of House Mills, former princess of the Dark Kingdom and current knight to the White Kingdom.”

“Why do you present her to the kingdom?” Her mother’s gaze on her bordered on harsh, trying to intimidate Emma into changing her answer.

“I present her for the kingdom’s approval so that she may become my fiancée.”

She visibly saw the corners of her mother’s eyes tighten. “Regina of House Mills are you amiable to this proposition?”

“So long as the kingdom accepts me, I am willing.” Regina stood tall, looking over the subjects who were assembled below regally, but still with a small smile on her lips.

Her mother turned to fully face the crowd. “And does the kingdom accept this proposition?”

The roar below was deafening. Emma had to control her expression. It wouldn’t do for everyone to see her shoot her mother a smug look. But damn if she didn’t feel extremely smug in that moment. Regina had much more support than her mother ever counted on, even if it was just from the peasants.

“Then as Queen of the White kingdom I declare that this union shall proceed. Emma of House White is now officially engaged to Regina of House Mills. As per custom of our kingdom you shall marry no other. The wedding shall be in a month’s time and the entire kingdom is invited to the festivities.”

With that her mother turned from the crowd, grabbed her father’s arm, and left the balcony at a rather swift pace.

Emma held back an eye roll at her mother’s rather dramatic exit. She turned to Regina and smiled widely. Regina smiled back more reservedly. Emma grabbed Regina’s hand, waving at the crowd with the other before tugging Regina back towards the palace. With the announcement over with there were still things to do, a council meeting to sit in on, wedding planners to meet with, and she really wanted to get all her other duties out of the way with enough time to spare so that she and Regina could go riding. She had refused to leave the palace in the last week for fear that her mother or someone else would have a convenient accident planned for Regina. Now with their engagement announced, the danger her parents presented was out of the picture and what threat was left was only that they faced every day. Perhaps if there wasn’t time for a ride there would at least be time for a walk in the gardens. She just needed outside of the palace and she was pretty sure that Regina felt the same way.

“So, excited for the council meeting now that they’ll stop suggesting ways to break the decree of the tournament?” Emma asked, heading towards the council chambers.

“Oh, they won’t stop trying until we’re married and they may not even stop then. Your parents could stop them, but seeing as how your mother agrees with them…well, it seems it will be a long while before all such suggestions are stopped.”

Emma groaned. “What in the world will make them stop? It’s even more annoying than normal council meetings when they’re plotting ways to undermine the two of us. I cannot wait until I’m Queen and able to boot them all out and form my own council.”

“That will have many more consequences than you realize if you truly do just ‘boot them out.’”

Emma sighed. “I know. But the past week has made me really wish that there weren’t such consequences.”

Regina hummed her agreement. “Yes, well, they are all rather old. You can replace them as they die off without as much backlash.”

“Then let’s hope they don’t start dying off until after I’m crowned Queen or else we’ll have a council of younger idiots to deal with.”

Regina’s face scrunched just slightly in disgust. “Your mother has interesting choice in advisors.”

“That’s the polite way to put it, yes.”

Emma stopped outside the door to the council chambers. “Wanna guess how many new ideas they have today? Closest one to the right answer doesn’t have to pay attention next time and only gets the highlights from the other.”

“Emma.” Regina leveled her with a look.

Emma slumped against the door. “I know, I need to pay attention so I’m informed while running my kingdom and am up to date on every member of the council’s weakness that can be exploited later, but come on Regina. It would be one meeting.”

“And if I let you bet now you’ll keep making such stupid bets so you didn’t have to pay attention.”

Emma glared at her and went in. She was probably right, but that didn’t mean she had to just bluntly say it. She could practically feel Regina’s smug smile behind her. She had a feeling the rest of her life was going to be eerily like this. She had to marry the know it all. She just had to. Emma flopped down in her seat at the table and resigned herself to listen to yet another boring meeting.

 

 

Emma groaned and resisted the urge to get up and bang her head off the wall. She didn’t know that royal weddings required so much freaking planning. How in the world did anyone think it was practical to invite the entire kingdom to a function they only had a month to plan. Though most of the activities for the peasants weren’t their problem, there was still all of the nobility from their kingdom and some from the surrounding kingdoms that would be attending the wedding proper and the feast afterwards. And of course Regina and Emma had to make decisions about all of it. Which one of the palace place settings did they want, what kind of flowers, what sort of dresses did they want, what sort of food, anything and everything. Emma’s head was spinning. Regina had answered each and every question easily and for that Emma was grateful. She had asked Emma’s opinion before every choice, and she had contributed some things, but for the most part she had stared at the place settings so long that they had started to dance in front of her eyes.

Emma made her way quickly into the gardens, Regina at her heels. The other woman’s presence comforted her some, but the as the fresh air hit her she really felt like she could breathe again. She slowed down her pace and Regina finally caught up with her, walking by her side quietly. Emma stepped closer so that their arms brushed with every step. Regina’s hand found hers and she threaded her fingers through Emma’s.

“Can you get one of your guard buddies to come over and check my garden?” Emma asked.

Regina nodded and gestured for one of the posted guards to follow them. They made their way towards the middle of the garden at an easy pace. The dying light of day lit their path. Emma smelled the first hints of night blooming jasmine on the wind. Her shoulders slumped just a little and her muscles started to loosen.

They reached the gate to her garden a few minutes later. She withdrew the key that always hung around her neck and unlocked the gate, letting the guard go through. Emma leaned on the ivy covered wall as she waited for the man to give the all clear. Regina was standing ready at the gate, posture stiff, on guard. She relaxed again when the palace guard came through and nodded.

Emma was through the gate in an instant. She took a shuddering breath as she heard the gate shut behind Regina. She sank down onto one of the many benches and drew her knees up to her chin. Screw propriety at the moment she needed just a minute to decompress. Regina emerged from the plants and sat down beside her. Emma slumped onto Regina and took another hiccupping breath.

“How in the world do people actually do this? You’ve taught me a lot, Regina, but I don’t know about this. How do they really expect one person to do everything? It’s insane!”

“They don’t expect you to do everything, dear. At least not yet, you’re only a princess as of now. It’s all new to you, give it some time and you’ll be used to the amount of work that is required of you. Until then you find ways to let off steam or delegate the least important tasks to idiotic members of the gentry that want to impress you in some way. I know you can do it, Emma, you’re a smart girl.” Regina turned to look at her, looking down at Emma resting on her shoulder. “Head strong and stubborn as well, but I think those things might serve you well being a ruler, especially being the ruler you’ll have to be after your parents.”

Emma laughed weakly at the minor barb in Regina’s words. “Yeah ok.”

“And besides, dear, I’m here to help. It is one of the reasons you agreed to marry me, isn’t it? My experience in the politics of running a kingdom?”

She shrugged. “That was certainly in there, yes, but it wasn’t the main reason.”

Emma didn’t miss the flash of a smile that crossed Regina’s face at her words.

“Yes, well, regardless of the main reasons my experience is here for your use.”

“I don’t want to use you, Regina. Well, I mean I do, but I don’t want to take advantage of you I guess? Or take you for granted? Or maybe it’s both at once? I have no idea anymore. I just know I have nothing really to offer you in return. I’m a mess without any real skills except for horsemanship and I think you’ve got that more than covered.”

“I think saving me from almost certain death was quite a big thing. Besides, it’s not taking advantage of me if I’m offering my services. I’m quite aware of how to say no and put you in your place, or have you forgotten how this all began?”

Emma shook her head, shaking Regina with her just slightly. “No.” She sighed heavily. “I guess you’re right. It’s just…overwhelming. I keep thinking if I had actually taken on the responsibilities when my parents wanted me to then maybe it wouldn’t be so hard now.”

“Perhaps not, but ruling is never easy, nor should it be. Absolute power over people has to come at some sort of cost to remind you just what is at stake for those under you.”

Emma felt a warmth spark in the pit of her stomach. “That was one of the reasons I saved you too. You get it, how I want to rule. No one else seems to. They’re concerned only about the upper class. That’s still not the biggest reason, though.” She felt her eyes drifting shut. She was so very tired.

“Yes, well, I find most people are out only for themselves.”

Emma mumbled her agreement. She should get up. She was totally going to fall asleep right then and there on Regina’s shoulder, but she couldn’t force herself to stand. Dinner was soon and she was going to be late if she fell asleep. But she was comfortable here, leaning on Regina in the twilight. She felt Regina’s arm wrap around her waist and pull her closer. Emma sighed one final time and fell asleep, more comfortable than she’d been in a while.

 

When Emma woke up there was barely any light in the sky. She yawned again and sat up. She couldn’t have slept long, but she felt much better. Regina looked at her, a soft look on her face.

“Thanks,” Emma said, stretching.

 “It was nothing.” Regina glanced away from her. “Even if you do snore.”

Emma shot up from the bench. “I do not!”

“How would you know, you’re asleep.”

“No one else told me I snore.”

“Do you really think someone would actually tell a princess that she snored?” Regina smirked at her.

Emma scowled. “Well, I just—hmph.” She turned away and crossed her arms.

She heard Regina stand from the bench. “Don’t get you undergarments in a twist, Emma. You wouldn’t want to field the questions at dinner about why you’re in a bad mood now would you?”

She deflated. “No.”

“Thought so.”

Regina walked towards the exit of the garden. “Besides, I think it’s cute.”

Emma looked after Regina’s retreating back, dumbfounded. What in the world had the other woman just said?

“Regina wait up!” She ran after the other woman.

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma steeled herself and pushed open the door to the council chamber. It had taken a week, a very long week, for the council to finally realize that she was well and truly officially engaged to Regina and there was nothing that they could do about it. She felt the glare of her mother every time one of their ideas had petered off into nothingness. For a woman so hell bent on the power of true love she really wasn’t embracing Emma’s attempt to obtain something even vaguely like it.

Regina clanked behind her into the room. In her armor, Emma had to admit, Regina looked much more comfortable than she ever had in the clothing she had worn in the week interim between her being brought out of the dungeon and their announcement. Emma also had to admit that seeing her in her armor again had done something funny to her insides, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was, and she had much too much to think about to figure it out.

Emma took her seat at the council table. She was a little early, there were still a few empty seats, including her parents. She took a deep breath. She really did hate being here longer than strictly necessary. She shot a glance back at Regina, standing at attention along the wall like the other guards in the room. Regina shrugged just slightly and flicked her eyes back at the table. Emma got the message loud and clear, it wouldn’t be good for her to seem like she hated these meetings as much as she did. Emma held in a sigh and turned around in her chair, adjusting her posture so she looked every inch the princess she was.

Still, she relaxed just a little when her parents came in and began the council meeting. She was a few seconds closer to being free for the day. Well, freer, there was still so much to do it made her head spin still, but even a list of nearly endless tasks was better than council meetings.

“Now, since we’ve determined that the wedding must go on as scheduled, why do we not go over what must be done.” The Queen folded her hands in front of her primly and looked out at the council expectantly.

Emma fought not to glare at her mother for the offhand comment. Since it was one of the tamer things she’d said in the last week she managed. Behind her, Emma didn’t even feel Regina flinch in the slightest. She didn’t quite understand, but it was like everything her mother ever said about Regina just slid off the knight like water. Emma wasn’t sure how she managed not to throttle her, but she supposed that’s probably what made Regina a much better politician than she was. Regina wouldn’t let the ire from the comments anyone made come to bear until the right time. Maybe if she could learn how to do that then ruling wouldn’t be so much of a struggle.

“Yes, yes, your majesty, the women who have been working with the princess and her fiancée to plan the wedding have been keeping us apprised of what’s needed and of course we’ve given them leave to acquire whatever they may need. It seems that everything is running smoothly so far and that the wedding will happen on the appointed day without a hitch. Of course we will keep you up to date on the status of things should this change.” One of the older council members bowed his head, his wispy white hair floating in the slight breeze created by the movement.

“Good, good, and what of the predicted cost?” Snow asked.

“I assume cost is not an issue, your majesty, after all this must be a show to the other kingdoms that the White Kingdom is as strong as ever, stronger even, since the princess is marrying the former princess of the Dark Kingdom. That name will bring quite a lot of power with it.”

“Indeed it will.” Her mother shot a look at her. “Also much enmity. The Dark Kingdom is no one’s friend and are only dealt with because of the fear everyone has of them.”

Another council member spoke up, younger, one of the few Emma could even vaguely stand. “A bit of fear at this point will do us good, majesty. The other kingdoms see us as soft, the fear will temper that impression.”

The Queen nodded her acknowledgement. “True enough, Roderic.”

The council fell slient before the wizened old man spoke again. “If we may, majesty, back to the cost? It is no object, is it not?”

“Of course, Lord William. The wedding is as you say, a statement that we are not weak; that will take as much money as it will take. I was only curious of the sum so that countermeasures to offset the cost can be taken.”

“Ah yes, very smart of you, majesty.” He shuffled around a few papers for a couple seconds before pulling a pair of spectacles onto his nose and squinting down at the papers. “So far with the wedding planning about half done the cost comes to twenty-five thousand gold pieces. I’d say at least that sum again will be added before everything is said and done. I’d say that will be tripled at most.”

Emma’s eyes widened tremendously. “Seventy-five thousand gold pieces?! That’s the budget of the kingdom for a year twice over. There is no way that we can afford such an expense.”

All eyes turned to her. Emma felt the urge to shrink back into her chair, but held her ground. The taxes that would need to be levied on the peasants to pay such a bill would be more than they could ever hope to pay. They would starve in great numbers and Emma just couldn’t let that happen.

“Princess, as you’ve heard such a cost is necessary for the continued survival of our kingdom,” Lord William explained to her as if she was a child.

“We won’t have a kingdom if that amount is spent. The taxes on the peasants will be astronomical just to make up the wedding cost, let alone to put any money back into the kingdom’s coffers. They’ll all starve come winter because they hadn’t the money to buy enough food.”

Earl Henrie, one of Emma’s most detested council members spoke up. “If they starve then so be it. They’ll starve if another kingdom attacks us anyway.”

Emma bit the inside of her cheek hard enough to draw blood. She couldn’t lose it just yet.

“The wedding can be impressive without so much money being spent on it. The palace staff are clever enough to make it work.”

The Earl snorted. “Right princess, and my donkey can recite his ABC’s. Palace servants or not, they are still peasants and peasants aren’t clever enough to find their way out of a paper bag.”

She swallowed hard. “Your favored son is a bastard child with a peasant. Being a bastard gives him no title, therefore he’s a peasant just as the others you speak so detrimentally of, is he not clever? Is he not worth something more than a shrug and a so be it if he dies? God knows you’ll pay whatever taxes are levied on his mother gladly, but what about the other women you’ve fathered illegitimate children with? God knows you must have lost count of them all, haven’t you? It would be a shame if any of your line died, don’t you think?” Emma’s legs twitched, the urge to storm from the room overwhelming.

The Earl’s face had turned beet red and his hands were clenched into fist. “How dare you, you little whelp of a bitch!”

Emma cocked her eyebrow and stared at him. “I could easily have you killed for speaking to me in such a manner.”

“You provoked me!”

“As if it matters, my lord. In the hierarchy of the kingdom I am the princess and my word ranks far above yours. So sit and apologize to me before I have someone escort you to the dungeon.”

The man sat, glaring daggers at her. “If the princess could forgive my harsh words, I would forever be grateful. My temper got away from me.”

Emma nodded. “Apology accepted.” She glanced around at the rest of the room. “Now, back to the matter at hand. Our kingdom will surely die if such a sum is spent on the wedding.”

The Queen turned to Emma. “In the hierarchy of the kingdom, as I believe you said, my word is above yours. The council and I are in agreement, the wedding will cost as much as it must and you will hold your tongue about it. The peasants will be dealt with when the time comes.” She looked out at the table. “Now, onto other business.”

Emma felt the air behind her shift and suddenly Regina was standing at her side with her hand on Emma’s shoulder. “If I may, your majesty, as you have not silenced me I’d like to make a point.”

Snow White glared at Regina, hands gripping each other hard enough to turn her knuckles white. “Proceed, knight, but know that until you marry my daughter you aren’t truly part of this council and can only speak with my blessing.”

Regina nodded. “A fair provision, my queen.” She squeezed Emma’s shoulder before going on. “While Emma is certainly right to be concerned about the peasants and your council is also right about the wedding being a show of power, both groups overlook something quite important.”

Regina’s eyes swept over all of them. “You’re worried about other kingdoms attacking, are you not?”

“Of course, you were present at the council meeting where Emma was told she had to marry to repel such attacks, the wedding is just another branch of that plan.” Emma swore her mother was about to roll her eyes at the other woman, but settled for a haughty look instead.

“Yes, I was. And outside attacks must be treated with the utmost of care, but attacks from other kingdoms are not the only sort of attacks that can happen.”

The king sat forward, finally intrigued by something. “What do you mean?”

Emma turned just slightly to look at Regina. She had no idea what the other woman was getting at either.

“As much as they’re overlooked peasants can make or break a kingdom. The fact is there are many more of them than there are of nobility and royalty. Enough of them revolt and not even the superior forces that we control will be enough to subdue them. When provoked they are tenacious fighters who will not stop until they are dead or their cause has been realized.”

The Queen brushed off the comments. “Every ruler knows such things. It’s nothing that a few executions won’t fix.”

A smirk tugged at the corners of Regina’s mouth. “In this case, your majesty I think that might only make things worse. The only reason the peasants haven’t revolted on you is because you are a kind and just ruler, who given the right circumstances has quite the soft spot. The fact is your kingdom is on the verge of bankruptcy and has been for quite some time. To keep the kingdom afloat you tax the peasants more heavily than your predecessors ever did, but you still manage to strike a balance between what the kingdom needs to survive and what the peasants can spare without starving. Combined with your fair upholding of the law they’re not in any hurry to get rid of you. You change anything in the status quo now and they may not be so friendly towards you anymore and the last thing this kingdom needs is to seem unstable from the inside, that will double the problem as other kingdoms will sense the weakness and attack with little thought.”

Charming bit his lip in much the same way that Emma had a habit of doing. “So what you’re saying is that we must find a balance here between the showiness of the wedding to ward off other kingdoms and the cost to keep the peasants happy.”

Regina nodded. “That is exactly what I’m saying. A balance can be found, surely. The brightest minds in the kingdom are at your disposal, I’m sure they can run the numbers and figure out the exact cost that the kingdom could afford without reaching a breaking point.”

The Queen stood and pushed back her chair, almost toppling it to the ground. “I thank you for your well thought out contributions, knight, but they are no longer needed. You may return to your post and leave the governing to those who are actually supposed to do it.”

Charming laid a hand on his wife’s waist. “Snow—”

She silenced with a look. He sat back and sighed. The women in his life were too stubborn for their own good.

Regina held Snow’s gaze for a long moment before bowing. “As her majesty wishes. I hope she’ll take my advice into her consideration.” The woman retreated to the wall with one last squeeze of Emma’s shoulder.

 Snow pulled her chair to the table again and sat down. “Now, as I said earlier, onto other business.”

Emma sat and stewed, not listening to anything else that was said. Her heart glowed at the fact that Regina had tried to support her, even if she hadn’t gotten anywhere either. The knight’s proposal was much more thought out for politics, but that didn’t really matter to Emma. These were people they were talking about, women and children who were going to starve because of their selfishness. They didn’t need a lavish wedding, or they didn’t need it to be quite as lavish as it was turning out to be. They only needed it to appear as if it was the best of the best. She had seen the palace staff turn singed fabric into a fabulous dress with little effort. They had the resources to pull off something that would benefit everyone but of course her mother was standing in the way yet again.

She felt herself getting madder and madder. Her mother had been a thorn in her side for months now. Whatever had happened to the mother who had gone riding with her, laughing in the sun and teaching her how to shoot a toy bow and arrow, getting their dresses dirty and damning propriety? It was like her mother was a totally different person since she had hit marriageable age. She was always a disappointment, never knew what she was talking about. She was treated more as a child now than she ever was when she actually was a child.

Emma had to regulate her breathing, she was getting much too angry for a public setting. How in the world was she supposed to learn how to rule like this? She couldn’t. If her ideas were not used then she couldn’t learn to problems and snags that even a good idea of hers could have and how to fix them. She would be better off if her mother weren’t there and she was left to rule on her own.

The council meeting ended around her. She stood up calmly and walked from the room. One pleading glance back at Regina had the other woman calling for a page. When the boy had set off running Emma pressed the small stone that opened the passage to her garden. Regina walked inside first and Emma followed closely. Anger still boiled under her skin, not dissipating even though she wasn’t in the council chambers anymore. She needed to do something. She felt as if she was going to explode.

The emerged into the garden, Regina venturing off to check out the garden while Emma waited right outside the staircase that led back into the castle. When Regina returned nodding the all clear Emma breathed just a little easier, slamming the door on the staircase and striding into her garden. She went straight for the fountain. The sound of running water always calmed her and she was hoping that the sound calmed her now.

Regina sat down beside her as Emma trailed her fingers through the cool water. They sat silently for a long while before Regina spoke up.

“Perhaps your mother won’t do anything, but there are steps that we can take to lessen the cost of the wedding while still keeping up appearances.”

Emma turned to Regina. “How?” The anger swelled up in her again. How could her mother and the council not care about a great loss of human life? It was despicable.

“We’re still given choice of what we want for the wedding. Every time Anita asks us to choose anything there is of course an option that is the cheapest. Everything will still pass royal muster but it will also be cheaper. It may not particularly be what we want to actually choose, but I do believe that is our only option at this point since your mother quite effectively shut us down.”

Emma pursed her lips in thought. “How much do you think that will save?”

“Enough to where the wedding will surely not cost seventy-five thousand gold pieces, but I’m not sure of the exact sum.”

“And you think it will work? That my mother won’t catch on?”

“She’s not intimately involved with planning the wedding. She has much more ‘important’ things to do. I’m sure it won’t escape her notice on the day of, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it.”

Emma offered Regina a small smile. “As long as it works then it sounds like a good plan.”

Regina nodded. “Ok.”

Emma went back to tracing her fingers through the water, anger fading slightly. They had a very mediocre fix for a problem that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. She huffed and sent a few drops of water flying across the fountain’s basin. Damn what Regina had told her, if these men were going to be like this then she would get rid of them and let the backlash fall as it may.

“I just wish we knew this was going to be a problem when we started planning a week ago. We could have saved some gold them too.” Emma slumped lower.

“Our choices have almost erred to the lower end of the cost spectrum. It seems that both of us rather prefer simple to showy.” Regina reached out and tucked a piece of hair behind Emma’s ear.

“Still. This is all just such a…such a clusterfuck.”

“I didn’t even know princesses knew such language.” The laugh in Regina’s voice was evident.

Emma rolled her eyes. “Of course we do. Palace servants let more than a few curses slip when they think no one is watching.”

Regina hummed her agreement.

Emma stood and started to pace the garden, gripping onto the chain that held the key to the garden. “I’m beginning to think that ruling the kingdom would be ten times easier without my mother standing in the way of every single decision I made regarding the wellbeing of the kingdom.”

“Yes, well, someone will always be against you, Emma. This is just good practice in the long run.”

“But my own mother?” Emma threw up her hands.

Regina regarded her silently for a long moment. “My mother was my greatest enemy.”

Emma froze. God she was really good at sticking her foot in her mouth sometimes. She had totally forgotten for just moment just how Regina had learned how to be such a good politician.

“Yeah, right sorry.” She turned away from Regina.

“It’s ok, princess.”

And Emma knew for certain that if she was back to being called princess things were not okay at all. She really was quite dense.

“It’s not. No one’s greatest enemy should be someone who should love them the most.”

She heard Regina sigh behind her quietly. “But sometimes that is the way of things. Perhaps it hurts more because of who they are to you, but no doubt that it happens. Shared blood by no means equals decency.”

“No, I suppose not.” Emma picked a flower, a random weed that had managed to bloom within the perfectness of her garden. She picked the petals off one by one and let them drift to the ground. “It’s just that it hurts more because up until I was sixteen she was the mother everyone wishes for and then suddenly I was of age and our relationship shifted. I was the perfect little princess and then I just wasn’t. And at first it was really subtle, I thought I was imagining it, she still hugged me and loved me and let me do whatever I pleased, but there was always just this…look in her eyes. It took me a while to figure out just what it meant, that she was disappointed in me. I’ve never been enough for her since that day. I don’t understand why. I’ve become everything she ever wanted me to be, a princess who is learning to rule, who has a good grip on court decorum, with a pending wedding. I don’t get what she wants me to do. I don’t get why she’s fighting me.”

Emma dropped the flower and wrapped her arms around herself.

“You’re very different from your mother.”

“Of course.” She shot a look at Regina that clearly said ‘duh.’

“But that’s just it, Emma. That’s why she has a problem with what you’ve become.”

“What are you saying? That she wanted me to become some sort of clone of her?”

Regina stood and walked over to Emma. “That would be the gist of it, yes.”

Emma scowled at the other woman for a long second. What the other woman was saying couldn’t be true. Why would her mother want a perfect clone of her? What purpose would that serve? It wasn’t like her mother had just hit sixteen and magically turned into a lady with a husband. Hell, she had met her father on one of her escapes from the palace. Before they had married he had been a shepherd.

But the more the idea turned over and over in her head, the more it made sense. Her mother could be very selfish at times. What better to feed that than someone who acted just like you and had no will of their own but acted as their puppet? The thought made Emma sick.

“How do I even deal with that, Regina?” She felt on the verge of tears. How could she be enough for anyone else if she wasn’t enough for her mother?

Regina stepped forward and drew Emma into her arms. “Your mother still loves you. It may not be obvious at the moment but she does, I can see it in her eyes. She’s in there somewhere, the woman who raised you. Perhaps you just have to point out what she’s become in order to get her back.”

Emma curled herself into Regina. “That sounds like a terrible idea.”

Regina nodded into her shoulder. “Yes, but sometimes terrible ideas are all we have.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma gasped out a breath as the corset drew ever tighter around her.

“Ah, there we go Princess, that will do nicely now that you’ve stopped sticking out your stomach.” The old woman patted her on the shoulder. “I know they aren’t the most comfortable of things, but this will be worth it.”

Emma pulled in a shallow breath. “That sticking out my stomach was the room I actually needed to breathe. At this rate I’m not going to make it down the aisle.” She was feeling slightly light headed already.

“Now, now Princess, I know you’re perfectly capable of breathing in corsets. Think of the balls you’ve been to, you had a corset on then and you danced the night away.”

Yeah, she’d danced all right. And almost passed out more than once. And those corsets had been looser than the one she had on now. Why the hell fashion dictated that corsets were the thing to wear was beyond her. Give her riding pants and a loose shirt and she was more than fine. Even a nice comfortable loose dress would be good as well, not this whale bone monstrosity squeezing ever single drop of air from her.

“Those weren’t quite as tight.”

The woman stuck her with a pin and Emma jumped. She glared down at the woman. The old bird got a little cheeky at times, but she was so good at her job no one really took much stock in it.

“Not as much was at stake on your appearance, your highness.”

Emma sighed as much as she could. She looked at herself in the mirror. The dress was by all accounts simple for a royal wedding dress, there were no precious stones woven through the fabric, but there was a layer of gossamer thin lace covering the whole thing and forming sleeves to cover her bare arms and shoulders. It flowed to the floor gracefully. Emma had been strictly against a poofy dress. She hated them even in normal dress, be damned if she was going to get married in one. She definitely had to admit, as clingy as the dress was, having the corset extra tight made her look good. In her mind her hair fixed itself into the complicated up do that she would wear in two weeks and her makeup applied itself, the make believe image of her on her wedding day looked so foreign to her, but stunning. Women across the kingdom were going to be cursing her when even tighter corsets came into fashion because of her wedding gown.

“Fair enough. You’ve done stunning work as usual, Margret.”

The woman smiled up at her. “Thank you, Princess.”

The doors behind them opened. Emma twisted to see who had entered her chambers without knocking and stifled a grimace. Her mother stood just inside the doorway taking in the silhouette of her, frowning.

Margret bowed. “Majesty.” She set back to pinning the dress to the proper proportions.

“Mother, I thought you were tied up in meetings all day?” Emma turned back to the mirror, watching her mother carefully in the glass.

“Someone cancelled at the last second and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see my daughter’s wedding dress.” Her mother walked closer to her. “It wasn’t quite what I imagined.”

“I quite like it.”

“It’s too simple, where is the show, where are the jewels?” The Queen turned to Margret about ready to berate her.

“I didn’t want them, mother. I thought they would make the dress clunkier than it needed to be. The lace from Argrabah will be quite enough to send the message that the kingdom is quite well off, I saw no need to overshadow it. It’s so pretty.”

Her mother’s frown got deeper. “And why did you instruct for something so slinky, then? This is a wedding, you are supposed to look like a pure bride, not a common street whore in a dress that shows everything. You’re corset is much too tight. You’ll give everyone the wrong idea.”

“It’s fine, mother. It gives me a figure that every single other princess in the surrounding kingdoms will desire. I’ll look quite beautiful. Everyone will be jealous that the White kingdom has such a lovely Princess. Perhaps a few will become closer to us just to get to me and then we can turn that in our favor.”

“That is not how we want to gain allies.”

Emma turned sharply to her mother. “We cannot be picky about how we gain allies. We are on the verge of bankruptcy with hounds at our doorstep. If a kingdom has a lustful king that only wants to ally with us for my beauty then we will take it.”

“We aren’t a dog begging for scraps.”

Emma glared at her mother. “What are we then? Because, mother, I can’t see us in a much higher positon. You’ve almost run us into the ground. I’m trying to fix it but you shoot down every single idea that I ever have and don’t you dare tell me it’s because they aren’t good ideas. They are good, well thought out ideas that take into account the state of the kingdom and those beyond.”

“How would you know what a good idea is, you’ve only wanted to be princess for the last few weeks, no longer.”

“Because Regina has been teaching me! You know her story. She had to be good at all of this,” Emma waved around the room. “just to survive. She was never the spoiled princess, unlike you.”

Snow took a step forward, looking up at her daughter with fury in her eyes. “And what exactly were you then?”

“Oh, I was spoiled, surely. You allowed me to do whatever I wanted, gave me every single thing I asked for, educated me with the best tutors. And perhaps I would’ve turned out as no more than a brat of a princess if not for the fact that you taught me compassion, that the peasants must be looked after politically because they cannot look after themselves, that all humans must be treated well in order for our kingdom to survive. I took that lesson to heart, mother. And now that I want to put it to use I might as well be shouting at a wall for all the use it’s doing. Why don’t you practice what you preach for once?”

Snow reached up and slapped her daughter. She jerked back looking at her down hand in horror. She pulled in a shaky breath and stepped back.

“This is all her fault. She’s turning you into a monster.”

“She’s turning me into a Queen.” Emma refused to rub and her stinging cheek as she stared her mother down. “You just want me to forever be a princess and have every single decision dictated by you. Those days are gone mother and I thank the gods for that.”

She turned back to the mirror and refused to look in her mother’s direction. She heard her mother let herself out of the room with a slam of the door. Emma slumped just a little after the door shut.

“My, my, princess, I think you oughtn’t to have done that.” Margret went back to pinning her dress, having been perfectly still the entire time of the shouting match Emma had just had with her mother.

“Yes, well, there are quite a few things I oughtn’t do, but that hasn’t stopped me before so why should it stop me now.” Emma looked down at the woman. “And don’t you dare follow any of my mother’s ‘suggestions’ the dress is perfect as it is. This is my wedding, not hers and she needs to realize that.”

“As you wish, Highness.”

Emma closed her eyes and tried to fight the blackness at the edge of her vision. “Thank you, Margret.”

“She’ll realize you’re your own woman soon enough.”

Emma laughed humorlessly. “I’m not sure I’ll live to see that day.”

“Yes well, one can always hope.”

“There are many things that I hope for before that, many more important things.”

“Your mother is always important.”

“Doesn’t feel like it.”

Margret stuck in the last pin. She helped Emma out of the dress again before speaking again. “She’s made you who you are, highness, that has to count for something.”

Emma sighed, finally able to breathe fully. “It does, but I’m just not sure how much. As it stands she may die before we reconcile.”

“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Emma nodded. “Yes, I hope. I miss her, the old her.”

Margret patted her on the shoulder again. “Somewhere in her mind I’m sure she misses the old relationship with you as well.” She gathered her things up in her arms. “With your leave, highness.”

Emma nodded again. Margret bowed before letting herself out of Emma’s chambers. Emma stared at the closed door for a long time afterwards before going on with her day.

 

“It’s getting worse, Regina.” She had pulled Regina into her room as soon as her replacement had arrived.

Regina sighed and slipped behind the changing screen. “Well, from the sounds of it, you didn’t exactly do anything that would’ve made it better, only escalated it.”

Emma huffed. This was not the reaction she had predicted when she thought about telling Regina about what a complete ass her mother had been. “What would you have me do? Take her idiotic words? No, I don’t think so.”

“No, but if your mother wants to play politics with you then I suggest you play politics with her.”

Emma sighed. “She’s still my mother, I don’t quite want to go for her jugular like almost every single member of the council.”

“At this rate you may not have a choice.” Regina stepped out from behind the screen in her dress uniform, something fitting the dinner they were about to attend.

“I did exactly what you said, I pointed out what she had become to me and she just shoved it back in my face, quite literally.” Emma traced the faint handprint on her cheek.

“I’m not sure she saw it as such, darling.”

“What do you mean, I explicitly said she was expecting me to be a princess she could control.”

“Yes, but that’s only part of it and most assuredly not the part that will get her to realize just how…overbearing she has become.”

Emma wanted to just curl up in her bed. Instead she walked over to Regina and straightened out a few of the pins on Regina’s uniform. Regina’s arms came to rest on her waist.

“What will work then?”

“You have to tell her how you feel about all this. I think that will be the best way. She is a truly good person for the vast majority of the time except for when she is angry. It may be hard but you can’t anger her while you’re telling her. The fastest way to anger another person is to attack them. Saying that she wants you to be a controllable princess will be seen as attack until you couch it in the language of feelings. Even then, this could still entirely fall through. And then the only way to deal with her will be to handle her as you do all the members of the council.”

Emma rested her head on Regina’s shoulder, careful not to snag her hair on the many accessories. She felt safe like this, in Regina’s arms. “Do you think my father could talk some sense into her if I explained everything to him?”

Regina was silent for a long minute, the only sound Emma heard was the breath rushing in and out of the woman and her loud steady heartbeat.

“With your mother? I’m going to guess no, but I’m not quite sure. The King is truly her other half. It’s feasible that he could make her clearly see the situation in front of her, but then again she’s quite stubborn. It might just lead to a rift between them and intensify her dislike of me. They are your parents. I think on this, the decision should be up to you as you’ve known them for much longer than I.”

“I’m not sure I know them at all.” Emma stepped back out of Regina’s embrace, straightening her hair.

“I think you do, Emma, conflict just clouds everything.”

She snorted. “You can say that again.” Her fists clenched. “I just don’t get why she’s targeting you now. Our fight is between us, and while it’s about you it’s still a mother daughter thing.”

“I’m an easy target. They took me in on their good graces and soft hearts. Were it not for you I’d have no leg to stand on in this kingdom anymore.”

“At this point I think she’d rather see me marry the stable boy than you. It’s insane. You’re the one who can help me run the kingdom. None of those other men could, not in the way it deserved to be run. You’re even a princess, an exiled one, but still. You rank higher than all of my other suitors and you’re a better leader and fighter than all of them to boot. She barely even knows you and she’s passing judgment on you.” Her chest heaved and her face was red.

Regina reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. “Calm down, darling. Your mother does not have to like me. After what I did in my home kingdom I’m surprised that anyone tolerates my presence at all.”

She took a few deep breaths until she felt like she could function normally again. “I want her to like you, though,” she finally said in a small voice. She looked away from Regina, down at her feet.

Regina lifted her chin so she came face to face with her. “Emma, not everyone will like me and it isn’t your mission to make sure they do. I don’t care who likes me or who doesn’t. It was a hard lesson to learn and I’m not going back on that lesson now. All that matters to me is that you like me.”

“I do.”

“Good, then leave the subject of me alone with your mother for now. You have bigger things to tend to with her right now. Something tells me that if you straighten everything else out with her everything regarding me might just fall into place as well.”

“Ok.” She lifted her chin off of Regina’s fingers and turned away again. “I just—” She shook her head.

“I know.”

Emma walked to the mirror and fixed her appearance again. She hadn’t cared this much about how she looked in a long time, but something was driving her to now. She would show her mother. She would.

Regina came up behind her and stared over her shoulder into the mirror. “Come on, we’ll be late for dinner if you keep fussing. You look beautiful.”

“You’re honor bound to say that, you’re my fiancée.”

Regina laughed. “I’m not honor bound to anything other than to protect this kingdom. If you haven’t noticed I tend to be rather blunt about everything else.”

Emma turned to face her. “You don’t say?” She cocked an eyebrow and put her hands on her hips.

“I do say.” She pulled Emma’s hands off her hips and tugged her forward. “Now come on, dinner won’t wait for us.”

Emma smiled slightly and allowed herself to be led from the room.

Chapter Text

Emma glared at the group of maids that had fallen silent as she swept past, on her way from a council meeting to yet another meeting about the wedding. She didn’t really know what could be changed only a week from the event, but the palace matron demanded a meeting every day anyway. That wasn’t her real annoyance now. The servants around the palace had all been falling strangely silent as she walked past. It unnerved her. Servants were never truly silent. They whispered even as royalty went by them, bowing and curtsying quickly as they kept gossiping. They only fell silent if you were the topic of gossip. Emma did not have time to be the topic of gossip. Or at least she didn’t have the time to pay attention to it, but there was something nagging at her.

She shook her head and pushed the feeling aside. It could be dealt with after the wedding. She didn’t have the time to pull aside a group of maids and badger them until they finally blurted out the latest gossip until then.

But every single servant she passed, from the smallest page boy to highest ranking maid fell silent as she passed and sent her the strangest glances. Whatever gossip was floating around the palace was big. She slowed her steps. If it was big enough to have the entire palace chattering on then perhaps it might be worth the time to pull aside some maids. She sighed, she really wished Regina was with her instead of getting her dress fitted. The other woman would know what to do in this situation.

Emma was about to turn the corner when she froze, hearing her title in a hushed voice just loud enough for her to hear.

“—Princess might be under the knight’s spell!” an enthusiastic voice whispered.

“No, that’s ridiculous, wouldn’t she act odd if she was?” Another, older voice asked.

“Dunno, but the Queen has started an investigation into the knight. The Queen thinks she might have put the Princess under a spell, so there might be some truth to it.”

“Psh, that means nothing. Investigations have been started before with absolutely no proof.”

“But by the Queen?”

The older voice hummed. “You have a point, but you’ve seen the knight around the palace. Does she seem the spell casting type to you?”

“Well, no, but you never know. I hear that witches can be sneaky.”

“You probably think they’re green too.”

“I do not!”

“Child, your generation hasn’t seen a real witch. No one has since King Leopold outlawed magic years ago.”

“Still. What if the Princess is under a spell?”

“Then I suppose the Queen will take care of it.”

Emma couldn’t take it anymore. A spell? Placed on her? And an investigation. She needed more information. And once she had more information she was going to go straight to her mother. This was too far if it was true. It was one thing to not like her fiancée, it was quite another to launch an investigation into her.

She stepped around the corner and cleared her throat. “Ladies.”

The women jumped out of their skin and hurried to curtsy. “Princess, I beg your pardon,” the older woman said. She was wearing an apron covered in flour, a cook then.

Emma looked at the younger woman, in the outfit all the chamber maids wore. “What do you know about the investigation that my mother has launched?”

The girl looked at the floor. “Not much, your highness, only what my friend, Mattie, told me. She said that your mother was looking into a spell being placed on you so you would marry the knight, Regina. It’s all anyone has been talking about today.”

She turned back to the cook. “And is this the first you’ve heard about it today?”

The woman shook her head. “Some of the girls in the kitchen were going on about it, but they weren’t saying any more than Rissa here.”

Emma sighed. “Does anyone actually believe that I’ve been put under a spell? That Regina would actually put a spell on me?”

“Well, Princess, if you don’t mind me saying so there are more than a few who are wondering if that’s the case. You act very differently from when you met her only a few months ago. Personally, I just think you’re growing up, but there are those in the palace without any experience raising children.”

“I appreciate your honesty.” She nodded. “But I’m not under a spell. If I was then I think perhaps this would all come much easier to me.”

The older woman nodded kindly.

“But wouldn’t you say you weren’t under a spell if you were under a spell?” The maid asked.

The older woman glared. “Hush child, that sentence doesn’t even make sense. By that logic she’s under a spell no matter what.”

“But—”

“No buts.”

Emma smiled at the two women. “If someone was going to take the effort to put a spell on me they might want a little more bang for their gold piece than they’re getting right now. Besides, Regina isn’t the type of person to spell someone into marrying her.”

“No, I would rather think not,” the cook said, more knowledge than she was letting on sparkling in her eyes.

Emma nodded. “If you’ll excuse me, I do believe I have some business to attend to with my mother. Thank you both.”

“You’re quite welcome, your highness.” They both curtsied.

Emma inclined her head before turning around and stalking towards her mother’s office. With court over for the day and the council meeting done that was where she would be, tying up loose ends and making sure the kingdom had what it needed to run smoothly. Emma wished that for one single day she and her mother could go without some sort of snippy word exchange and one week without a knockdown, drag out fight, but this was not going to be that week. Emma knew that as soon as she walked into her mother’s office and said anything at all about the rumors yet another shouting match would begin. She wasn’t really quite sure that she felt bad about that this time. Her mother needed to lay off in the worst way.

Emma knocked on the indistinct wooden door of her mother’s office. She never had wanted to draw too much attention to her workspace. Her mother’s voice called for her to enter. Emma put her hand on the door knob and took a deep breath before pushing it open.

“Mother,” she said, shutting the door behind her.

The Queen looked up from her desk, eyes narrowed. “Emma, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

Emma walked over and perched primly in one of the chairs in front of her mother’s desk even though her mother did not ask her to sit. She kept her posture extremely rigid as she looked over the woman in front of her.

“Quite a few rumors have been spreading around the palace today.”

Snow White scoffed. “As if there aren’t five different rumors flying around by lunch. You know how the servants are, they live off of gossip.”

Emma hummed noncommittally. “Be that as it may, the normal five rumors as you say are one single rumor. It’s led them to all fall silent just as soon as they see me. Surely you can understand how unnerving that is, mother.”

“Of course. If need be I could do something about this.” Snow leaned forward, a look of almost real concern on her face.

“There’s no need. It’s only unnerving when you don’t know what they’re saying. Handy thing about being royalty is that servants can’t really say no to you. I asked a few and they told me just exactly what was going about the palace. Do you know what today’s rumor is, mother?”

Snow looked back down at her paper. “I don’t have time to deal with the frivolities of the servants. If you’re such a good princess now you should know that you don’t have time for such things.”

“I’m well aware.” Her hands gripped onto the chair’s arms hard enough to make the wood under her fingers squeak. “But servants can be quite the wealth of information when asked. They see and hear everything within the palace.”

“Surely you don’t believe them? They wouldn’t know anything if knowledge kicked them in the face.”

“I’m not so sure about that. I have more than enough evidence that the servants are right in this regard to at least follow up on the rumor.”

Her mother shot her a skeptical look. “And why have you come to me with this inquiry? Surely you know I have no time for your silly little games.”

“No, mother, it’s I who don’t have time for your silly little games.” Emma glared at her mother. “You see, the rumor around the palace today is that you’re staging an investigation into Regina to see whether she’s cast a spell over me.”

Her mother’s posture stiffened just slightly. It was enough to give her away to Emma. The servants were right after all. Anger bubbled inside of her, hot and acidic.

“And where could a servant have possibly heard this?” Her mother scribbled her signature on a document Emma was quite sure she hadn’t actually read. She found herself vehemently hoping that it would be something that came to bite her in the ass later.

“It’s as I said, mother, servants are everywhere and hear everything.”

“Surely they were mistaken.” She straightened her paperwork and looked up at Emma again, green eyes so like her own boring into her, hoping to make her flinch.

“You see, I don’t think they are. With how you’ve been acting towards Regina lately this is not that far of a leap, now is it? Especially with what you said not even a week ago about her turning me into a monster. You know she has magic, of course you would come to the stupid conclusion that she was corrupting me with it or else taking over my mind so I had no idea of what I was doing.”

“I’m your mother, I can’t be too careful. I have to protect you and the future of this kingdom.”

“I am twenty years old. I can protect myself.”

“You’re young and naïve, no you can’t.”

Emma stood and slammed her hands down on her mother’s desk. “Naïve? My own mother tried to marry me off to the first good looking noble in order to stabilize the kingdom. Naïve went out the window the second I had to keep beating off men that only wanted two things from me, my kingdom and my virginity.”

“Emma!”

Her eyes found her mother’s again, gaze hot and furious. “Like you don’t know it’s true. Gods know if you hadn’t found father when you did you would have been subjected to the same exact thing. I’m not that little sixteen year old anymore who only wants her mother’s approval but doesn’t have it. I’ve learned to stand on my own.”

“If I left you to truly stand on your own you would fall within the day.”

“You have no idea what I’m capable of.”

“I think I’m well aware.” Her mother rose of her chair and came face to face with Emma. “And I’m also well aware that that woman has some sort of influence over you and I will find out exactly what it is.”

“You want to know what it is, mother? I’ll tell you exactly what it is. She is the first person in this entire kingdom to actually teach me how to rule. She is the first person to take me aside and truly explain to me exactly what my foolish actions could cost the kingdom. She is the first person to truly agree with me on how this kingdom needs to be run. She’s the first person to truly see me as how I really am. The first to fall in love with me. The first that I have any possibility of falling in love with myself. The only one who complements me in ways I never thought possible. The only one in so many years to be on my side for once. You may not see it, mother, but I do. What you deem as a spell or some sort of unnatural influence is a real and true friendship and the more you push the faster it’s turning into something more. It has not been forced. Our relationship just is genuine, unlike anything you tried to force on me four months ago.”

“You fail to listen, Emma. I shouldn’t be surprised since you’re under her spell, but she’s bad for the kingdom and you fail to see it.”

“Name me one way she’s bad from the kingdom. Just one. Because what I see is that she’s beloved by the peasants, has all the knowledge of politics already, and is beautiful enough that people will underestimate her. These all sounds like qualities that are good for the kingdom.”

“She has magic.”

“Which she rarely uses because she’s so damn afraid of it.”

“That doesn’t matter. My father banned it for a reason.”

Emma fought the urge to reach out and grab the front of her mother’s frilly dress. “Because he was about to be overthrown by a coven of witches!”

“And that isn’t bad for the kingdom?”

“It wouldn’t have been because your father was a horrible king to the peasants!” Emma’s chest heaved. “This family is built on a throne of lies and the only thing in this gods damn palace that is real you are trying to rip apart just to keep up appearances. I may be somewhere in-between a friend and lover with Regina, but at least our relationship is the gods damned truth!”

Her mother pulled back. “Well, it isn’t true love, so how real can it really be?”

Emma went completely still and just stared at her mother for a long second. Her burning anger changed into icy fury. The room seemed to drop twenty degrees around her. She felt completely unhinged yet completely rational at the same time.

“If true love makes you act like an utter fool who thinks they’re some sort of omnipotent god, then I don’t want it. You’ve proved to me that there are many, many better things.” Emma turned to leave. “Funny how you didn’t care about true love when you were pairing me up with the nobles. We’re done, Snow White, I may be the princess of this kingdom but I am no longer your daughter.” She swept from the room, her mother’s office, the room returning to a normal temperature after she left.

 

Regina found her later, curled up on the battlements of the outer walls surrounding the palace. She shot a glare at the two guards who had accompanied her, obviously disapproving of the fact they’d let her get so far outside the protection of the palace walls in such a state. Emma, however, saw none of her anger. A hand appeared on her back and a calm voice spoke to her, warm flowing honeyed milk ensconcing her as Regina kept speaking. She didn’t hear any of the words, but her thoughts calmed just a bit in the wake of the comfort Regina was offering her. She knew she shouldn’t be out here like this. She was showing her vulnerability in the worst way possible. Regina should be angry at her, but instead she was trying to coax her down from her position on the wall.

“Come, princess, you’ll catch cold. It won’t do to have you sick during our wedding. Though, I wouldn’t be opposed to you sneezing on some of the council members, it wouldn’t do for the show of power the kingdom needs.”

The practical words finally broke through to her after minutes of soft expressions of care and understanding. Emma swung her legs around and hopped off the wall. The dress she was in was surely ruined, but it wasn’t like she didn’t have a closet full to replace it. Maybe she should reduce the clothing allowance of the royalty when she was Queen. Gods knew that that would save them quite a bit of money. New outfits were only really needed when meeting foreign dignitaries, it didn’t really matter if servants saw them in something less than extravagant. Yes, that was a good idea.

She allowed Regina to lead her back to her rooms. The cold fury she had felt earlier had left her numb to everything outside of her own mind, but she did still manage to feel Regina’s warm hand on her back. She kept her head high and her face blank and walked as Regina had taught her, even while being led. It wouldn’t do to forget every lesson the other woman had taught her all in one day.

The doors to her chamber were opened and she walked through, Regina still at her side. She went immediately to her own room and pulled off the ruined dress, slipping into her favored pair of riding breeches and loose shirt. She heard Regina calling for one of her ladies maids and requesting dinner to be sent up to them. A relieved breath left her. She didn’t want to face her mother. She didn’t want to face what she had done. She was such an idiot. Regina was right all those months ago.

She came back into her sitting room and folded herself into her favorite chair, staring at the fireplace and the small fire built there to ward off the coming chill. Fall would truly be upon them soon. Regina came back from dealing with the servants and sat down in the chair nearest to Emma.

The blonde turned to her fiancée. “How was your dress fitting? Was what Margret made you satisfactory?”

“More than satisfactory, darling. That woman has quite the way with fabric. I’m sure even the council will not have any objections about it not being showy enough.” Regina looked at her all the while, eyes trying to probe deeper, to see what was truly wrong.

“Good, good, she’s very good at what she does, even if my mother does not think so.”

Regina’s brow scrunched. “The woman sings Margret’s praises, you and I both know she was more after your tastes than Margret’s craftsmanship.”

Emma sunk further into her chair. “True enough.” She fell silent, watching the fire flicker. She felt Regina’s curiosity, but the other woman didn’t push.

She sat for long enough that their dinner was brought to them. The kitchen girl set everything in front of them on the coffee table, curtsied and left. Emma ate silently, not able to stomach much more than a few bites. Her brain kept screaming that she was an idiot and she was not inclined to disagree. She shoved her plate away with less than half of it eaten.

Regina sighed at her lack of appetite, but picked up a mug of hot chocolate and placed it in Emma’s hands. She smiled weakly up at the other woman. So Regina had remembered what her favorite beverage when she was young even though she told her that ages ago. It warmed the numbness slightly. She took a sip of the hot liquid and was warmed further.

She spoke when the mug was half empty. “She’s launching an investigation into you.”

Regina didn’t have to ask who ‘she’ was, she was already well aware. “I know.”

Emma turned to Regina. “You know?” Her brow scrunched. “How are you not storming into her office and demanding an explanation. You told her of your magic in confidence and now she’s using it against you.”

“Nothing is truly ever told in confidence to a ruler, especially when you break their trust by marrying their daughter. Besides coming after her like that would look terrible on my part, it would incline more people to believe the outrageous stories that she’s spreading.”

Emma sat silently for another long moment. “You’re right.”

“I take it that you did go confront your mother.”

Emma nodded. “I did.”

“And it didn’t end well.”

“Does it ever with my mother anymore?” She sighed and set the empty mug on the tray in front of her.

“No, but I always cross my fingers that it does. I don’t like to see you so distraught.”

“And I don’t like to see you accused of mind control and gods know what else.” Her fists clench. Regina reached out and unclenched one of her hands slowly, pulling her fingers from her palms gently, but with enough force. She ran her tanned fingers over the crescents that Emma’s nails had left in her palm softly. Emma sighed and laced her fingers through the other woman’s.

“It went even worse than normal,” she said after the warmth from Regina’s hand in her own had allowed her to truly feel in what felt like hours.

“How so?”

“I told my mother that I’m not her daughter anymore.” The words froze her again. Saying them out loud made everything seem real. She had almost convinced herself that she wouldn’t be so stupid, that yelling at her mother like that was some sort of dream.

Regina reached up and turned Emma’s face so she was looking at the other woman. “Emma, I need you to tell me exactly what you said to her.” Her eyes were hard and serious, no longer tender anymore except for a tiny little spark almost quenched by everything else swirling in her brown eyes.

“I told her that I may be princess of the kingdom but I was no longer her daughter.”

Regina relaxed just slightly. “You expressly said that?”

“Yes, Regina, I just said that.” Emma scowled.

“Then you didn’t give up your claim to the throne.”

“No, of course not.”

“Good, ok, you haven’t done anything overly stupid.”

Emma felt anger flare up again, melting away the last of the numb feeling. She was so very tired of being the stupid one, the one who knew nothing. For once, just for once she didn’t want to be called out on her actions. She wanted more than anything for whatever she did to be right.

But as fast as her anger had come on it faded again. That wouldn’t happen anytime soon. She was a fast learner, but this was bigger than anything she’d ever done before. And everyone except Regina was fighting her every step of the way. Her mother. Something within her cracked. A sob ripped itself from her throat. And another, and another until her form was shaking like a leaf and tears were streaming down her cheeks. What in the world had she done?

She felt Regina hesitating for just a second before she drew Emma into a hug that crushed the air out of her lungs. Emma’s arms came up around Regina’s back, curling into the fabric of her off duty clothes so hard she heard the seams groan under the pressure. Regina started to card her hands through Emma’s curls gently, untangling the hair under her fingers deftly and painlessly. She sobbed and sobbed into the crook of Regina’s neck until the skin under her was soaked and the neck of Regina’s shirt was damp and sticking to tan skin. Regina made no attempt to calm her besides the hand running through her hair, letting her cry as much as she needed without false promises and platitudes ringing in her ear. Emma was more grateful than words could describe just for that.

With one final sniff she stopped crying, but made no move to extricate herself from Regina’s arms. She didn’t want to move for the rest of eternity. If only it was an option for her to stay within the safety of Regina’s grasp and not face the consequences of her actions. Regina, for her part, kept running her hand through Emma’s hair, breathing deep and even under Emma’s head.

“It’s just—” Emma drew in a shuddering breath. “I got so angry. Any advice you gave me about how to handle her just slipped out of my head. I was angry enough that she was launching an investigation into you, but then at the end when I had her backed into a corner argument wise she just, she pulled out the true love card and tried to invalidate everything we have together and I just lost it. I know we’re not truly there yet, or at least I’m not, but you’re one of the most, probably the most important person in my life right now and I just couldn’t take her trying to diminish what we were and I’m just so tired of everything she’s been doing recently that that’s just what happened and oh gods I’m so stupid.”

Regina’s hand stilled in her hair. “I’ve said it before and I will say it again, your mother is a fool. True love might be a magical phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean that every other type of love is somehow lesser because it cannot break curses. Whatever is between us, whether it evolves into romantic love or stays as the type of love shared between close friends, all that matters is that it is between us, that it is ours. Nothing else matters as long as we are happy with what we have.”

The words soothed Emma greatly. Her eyes blinked closed, soothing the dry scratchiness that crying had left behind. “You really think so?” she asked, voice still rather thick.

“I know, darling.”

“Ok.” She snuggled into Regina’s embrace just a little more. She was just so tired and Regina was so warm and comforting.

“The days ahead might be difficult, but I have a great amount of confidence that you and I will overcome anything put in our path.”

“I hope so.” Emma sighed. She felt herself drifting off to sleep. She really should get up and bid Regina goodnight, but she made no move.

Just as she was about to drift off for good she heard Regina mumble into her hair. “I don’t think you’ve ever truly heard me say this, you knew even with my saying it, but I love you Emma. I seem to fall just a little more in love every day watching your hardheaded self fight against the council for what’s right and with every brush of your hand against mine. Perhaps I’ll find the courage to tell you this when you’re awake sometime soon, but I do not want to pressure you, darling.”

Warmth suffused Emma’s being. She wanted to wake up and hug Regina just a little harder, but she was too far gone. She felt herself being lifted off the couch they had ended up on and carried easily into her room. Regina laid her on her bed and Emma curled up immediately. Her skin tingled for just a moment and suddenly she wasn’t being constricted by a corset anymore, but in one of her nightgowns. The covers were gently pulled out from under her and then pulled up to her chin. Regina left her with a gentle kiss to her forehead and a quiet goodnight. Emma sighed happily and finally let sleep take her to sweet dreams where Regina always seemed to be the focal point.

 

Chapter Text

When she woke the next morning Emma’s eye still hurt from crying so much the night before, but she felt much better otherwise. She dressed quickly and slipped from her room to find Regina at her post outside of the doors to her chambers.

The brunette nodded to her. “Princess.”

Emma scowled but said nothing. The other woman wanted to maintain a façade of professionalism while she was on duty. She thought it was ridiculous since they were getting married, but Emma allowed it anyway.

“Regina.” She wanted to go up and hug the other woman and thank her for last night, maybe if she was feeling bold a peck on the cheek too, but Regina would probably scold her for that later. Instead she settled for a warm smile and tried to communicate with her eyes just how much she appreciated the comfort the other woman had given her. She motioned the other woman through to her rooms and sat in front of the fireplace again. Regina stood at attention off to the side.

Emma looked over at the woman. “What have you heard of my mother today? And don’t lie to me, we both know you’ve had your feelers in the court out ever since you rose today.”

“I have made some inquiries, but the thing is that no one knows anything, just that your mother and you have been having a few fights mostly focused around the subject of me, nothing new.”

Worry marred Emma’s face. “That’s not good.”

“No, it makes me quite wary as well. Quiet fury is always worse than loud anger. I do not know what you’re mother might be planning. Perhaps it’s nothing, we can always hope. But if she is, then the fact that she’s quiet says to me that she’s planning something bigger than just a public chiding of your actions.”

Emma sighed and sunk lower into her seat. “Just what I always wanted.” She started to rub her temples. A headache was brewing at the base of her skull and if she was right it would turn into quite the doozy.

“No matter what she can’t stop you from inheriting the throne, you made sure of that.”

“How could she not just twist it to say I threw away my right to the throne, too?”

“She could, but there are safeguards against such things. You aren’t the first royals to have a disagreement. There wouldn’t be a kingdom anymore if the truth couldn’t be ferreted out in family arguments. The lines of inheritance would have ended a thousand times over by now. I’d be more worried if you had a sibling who could easily take over the line and was more favored, but since you are an only child and your mother is past child bearing age you are the only way this kingdom will have a ruler, not that the nobility wouldn’t love to advance one of their own to take over, but even your mother wouldn’t want to see that after a thousand years of Whites on the throne.”

“But then what could she be doing that’s so hideous?”

“The most probable thing at the moment would be to fabricate evidence against me to prove I really was casting a spell on you. There are a thousand other possibilities, but your mother isn’t known for playing the long game. Whatever it is she has planned we will find out soon enough.”

“Before or after the wedding? She has less than a week now.”

“I don’t know, that depends on what she wants to do, really.  In less than a week she cannot ram through a case of the magnitude of me putting a spell on you. The arguments that would have to be constructed against why our engagement was a fraud and shouldn’t be counted under the old kingdom traditions would take time, as would the fabrication of evidence. She’d actually have to find someone who could cast a spell on you so magical residue would be found on you. There aren’t many witches in the kingdom and they’re wise enough not to come anywhere near the palace.”

“So then what?”

“I don’t know, princess.”

Emma stood and walked over to the balcony doors. The curtains were pulled back letting in the bright mid-morning light but not open, the morning was far too chilly just yet. “Those weren’t exactly the answers I was looking for.” She sighed.

“I wouldn’t think so.”

“I know you have friends within the staff, but really I need someone to obtain information that’s more than just gossip. My mother and the council have spies for such purposes, but I have no one.”

“You want to spy on your mother?”

Emma glanced back over her shoulder. “In this case? Yes. She might be endangering our future with whatever she’s doing. If we knew what was going on, if we couldn’t stop it, at least we could be prepared for it.”

“I see your point, but where would we get someone who could weave among your mother’s people for such a purpose?”

“Mother’s servants.”

“Are all loyal to her.”

Emma smiled, watching her reflection in the glass return the expression. “Not all of them.”

“You know someone?”

“I do.”

Regina walked up behind Emma, concerned face appearing in the glass. “I appreciate having information, but what if your mother finds out. This is high treason, spying on a monarch. That’s beside the fact that it will make relations between you and your mother even worse.”

“I’m not sure that’s possible.” Emma crossed her arms in front of her.

Regina out a hand on Emma’s shoulder. “I think it is, even now. There’s a point of no return, and you haven’t crossed it yet. You’re teetering on the edge, yes, but there’s still hope. If you come crashing down on the right side you might be able to talk to your mother, truly talk, and work out all the differences that have come between you over the years slowly. Fall on the other side and she will truly be lost to you forever. Tell me, is that what you really want? Because your distraught behavior last night tells me otherwise.”

Emma was silent for a long time. She stared beyond her reflection in the glass out to the trees that would be turning colors very soon and their pine companions. Winter was going to be too long a season this year. “No, that’s not what I want.”

“I did not think so.” Regina squeezed her shoulder and stepped back. “You should eat, Princess, you barely did last night and you have a long day ahead of you.”

Emma nodded and went to look for one of her ladies maids. She didn’t feel like facing everything just yet.

 

She managed to just get through another council meeting with a straight face. Emma had tried her best to listen, but knew she hadn’t done a good job. She had caught snatches of conversation, no more than that. She figured that Regina would forgive her for her transgression at least this once. Most of the meeting she had been looking at her mother from under her eyelashes. The woman hadn’t seemed affected at all by what had happened the day before. Emma didn’t understand how that was even possible. Had they really grown so far apart in the last few months that her announcement that they were no longer mother and daughter truly had no affect? Or had her mother turned into some hard hearted version of herself that felt nothing? The woman who had raised her for all these years would have been devastated if she had said the same words to her just a few years before.

The Princess was quite sure that the only reason she didn’t try to interrupt the council meeting to ask her mother about it was Regina’s quiet presence behind her. It calmed her just enough to keep a rational head. She didn’t want to take back 99 percent of the things she had said, only that they weren’t mother and daughter. Everything else still stood, she was still angry, but it was tempered now by fear and time. It would only make it worse, however, to air such dirty laundry to the council. She could already hear Regina’s lecture if she did say something, so she kept her mouth shut.

When the council members started to file out, Emma stood and looked hesitantly at her mother. Should she apologize? Would a qualified apology really do anything at this point? Emma looked at Regina. The other woman’s eyes gave away nothing of what she should or shouldn’t do. Emma frowned. This would be the one time that the knight would leave it up to her to decide what to do. She looked back at her mother. An apology certainly wouldn’t hurt at this point. It wasn’t as if it could really make it any worse.

Emma stepped forward and opened her mouth, but before any words could make it out her mother interrupted her.

“Emma, would you give Regina and I a few moments alone?”

Emma froze, looking between the two women. Oh, this could not be good at all. But her mother was looking at her expectantly. Regina sent her just the slightest nod, shifting so her arm brushed her sword. The other woman could handle herself, but Emma was worried that that was what was going to be her downfall. If her mother really wanted her gone she wouldn’t be against faking an assassination attempt and blaming Regina. Or even just saying Regina tried to kill her. It would be a Queen’s word against a knight and there was only one way that that could end.

She sent one last look at Regina, begging her to be careful before she stepped from the room. Emma barely made it out the door before she was pressing her ear against the door, but it was too thick and she heard absolutely nothing. She cursed and backed away. Gods damned good craftsmanship. She wanted thin doors so she could hear what in the world her mother wanted with her fiancée. She may be her mother, but right now Emma didn’t trust her as far as she could throw her.

The minutes standing outside the door seemed to stretch into eternity. Emma started to pace. The longer this went on the more horrible scenarios played in her head, things that wouldn’t ever even happen, but her mind kept on imagining them anyway. A dragon would not fit inside the council chamber, let alone be slaughtering Regina while her mother watched. She pulled in a deep breath and tried to calm down. It was futile, but Regina’s words about always remaining composed echoed through her head so she tried her best.

When Regina finally opened the door a few minutes later Emma almost tackled her to the ground. She let the door shut behind the knight before she asked, “Are you ok?”

Regina shot her a rather blank look and didn’t say anything. She laced her hands through Emma’s and pulled them away from the council chambers. Emma tried again, asking Regina if she was ok as they walked, but Regina still was silent. The other woman wasn’t too terribly talkative on duty, but this was unnerving. Emma was about to pull them to a stop, tug Regina into a secluded alcove and demand what was going on, but Regina was leading them towards her chambers, so she tamped down on the urge.

When the doors to her rooms shut, Regina relaxed slightly, but still didn’t talk. She walked over to the couch and sank down, hand gripping her sword so hard that it was white. Emma quickly sat down beside her, bringing up a hand to Regina’s face and turning the woman’s head so she faced her.

“Regina, seriously, what is wrong? What did my mother do to you? You have to tell me so we can fix whatever she’s done, that’s what you always say to me. We can think of something, can’t we?”

Regina closed her eyes and for all the world looked like she was about to break down. The moment passed, though, and she opened her eyes again, looking much less blank than a few moments before.

“No, I’m not sure we can.”

“What do you mean? Regina, just tell me. You’re making me think she sentenced you to death or something and you’ll be dead within the hour and there’s no way for me to stop it.” Emma’s eyes widened. “Please dear gods tell me that isn’t it.”

Regina shook her head. “No, I’m not going to die within the hour.” She turned and looked out towards the balcony and the sky beyond.

“That still makes it sound like you’re going to die soon. That’s not exactly comforting. Damn it, Regina, stop being so vague.”

“That’s not language befitting a Princess.”

“I don’t care right now. Just tell me!” Emma’s hand dropped from Regina’s face to her shoulder, shaking the brunette just a little.

Regina turned to face her again. “Your mother sent a letter to mine, inviting her to the wedding on royal stationary with one of her ridiculous royal sky rats just to be sure that my mother knew it wasn’t a hoax.” She looked away again, hand gripping the sword at her side harder than ever.

Emma gasped and shrank back into the couch. “She didn’t. She knows what in the world that woman put you through.”

“She does and yet she did anyway.”

Emma’s anger flared again. The mother that she knew would not do such a thing for a personal grudge. Perhaps she wasn’t quite so sorry she had told her mother that they were not family after all.

“What’s going to happen, do you think your mother will come?”

“I’m not sure, and I think that’s what scares me the most.”

“Why?”

“Because if she doesn’t come that does not mean that she’s not plotting something to do with the information your mother just willingly handed her. She’s such a fool. She fears the Dark Kingdom but willingly harbored the runaway princess and now gave my mother complete leave to attack just to return me to my proper place.” Regina snorted and stood, starting to pace the room. “My mother would have never believed the rumors of peasants about me marrying you. She probably believed I was still running across the world, never stopping for long, to out run her, or that I was dead. She would’ve never considered the option that I’d settle down somewhere. I surely would have never been so foolish. That was exactly why I picked a kingdom far enough away from my mother for any news to get to her would be horrendously out of date and distorted by the peasants but close enough that she never would search here after the first wave of scouts,” Regina continued to ramble. “But now that’s ruined.”

“What do you mean? What could she plan without even coming to see if it was for sure you here?” Emma interrupted her.

“My mother has other ways to make sure it is indeed me here. She doesn’t need to show her face at the wedding. She has probable cause to attack the kingdom because of me, as I said. She could be planning an invasion instead.”

“There’s no way we can keep out the Dark Kingdom’s forces. On our army’s better days we could hold off a kingdom half our size, but nothing more.”

“And my mother has the best army for a thousand leagues, I’m well aware. Your puny forces wouldn’t last a week, perhaps not even a day.”

“So it’s worse if she doesn’t show up?” Emma stood, wanting to comfort the other woman, but she was far too agitated to accept any.

Regina halted her pacing. “That’s not for certain, either. My mother is very good at playing the long game as well. I’m marrying into the royal family here, Emma. If you don’t think that she’ll see a golden opportunity in that, you aren’t looking hard enough.”

Emma sighed and nodded, going over to Regina now that she was standing still once more. “Is there anyway she’ll just do nothing?”

Regina laughed humorlessly for a long moment. “No. Only if that stupid bird got eaten by a falcon, that’s the only way she will do nothing.”

“So what do we do?”

“In this case?” Regina closed her eyes and visibly slumped. “In this case I have no idea.” She opened her eyes, brown gaze filled with fear and pain. “I can deal with idiot nobles and even your stupid parents, but my own? I’ve never known how to deal with her and it’s been years since I’ve had to.”

Emma stepped forward just a bit, her hands found Regina’s armor covered waist. “You have something you never had back in those days, me. You keep telling me that we’ll figure things out, and I know that this could be twenty times worse than anything that’s come up in my life in the past literal forever, but that doesn’t change anything. Two heads are still better than one.”

Regina moved to tug out of Emma’s hold, but Emma wouldn’t let her. She gripped on harder and moved with Regina as she backed away. Regina scowled, but eventually stopped, just staring at Emma.

“If she comes after us, Emma, we’ll be fighting a war on two fronts. Those never end well. Too much focus on one side and the other overwhelms you. We can’t fight your mother and mine at the same time, it just won’t work. We will go down somehow and it won’t be pretty.”

“But if she attacks the kingdom then it would eliminate the problem with my mother. There will be absolutely no time to fight out a family feud when we’ll quite literally be fighting for our lives.”

Regina scoffed. “Please, fights last through the most inopportune of times. Your mother is far too stubborn to let anything go.” She looked at Emma. “And so are you.”

Emma scowled. “Thank you for that lovely observation, but you said that the whole hard headed stubborn thing would come in handy once upon a time.”

“I did, but I left out the part where that could also be your downfall if you don’t know how to temper it. You can’t be stubborn all the time, Princess.”

“Yes, my knight.” Emma rolled her eyes. “The point still stands, Regina. If it comes to your mother attacking us something will give with my mother. If not her then I suppose I’ll find something to please her just to save our own skins. I might want to throw up in my mouth a little bit doing it, but alive and nauseous is better than dead.”

Regina looked at her for a long moment. “We still won’t win.”

“What happened to the realist that normally inhabits this set of armor?” Emma tapped on Regina’s armor a few times.

“There is no room for any optimism when faced with my mother.”

Emma drew Regina closer to her, faces only a few inches apart now. “Regina, for now there is absolutely nothing that you do. Stop worrying until there is. We’ll send scouts out the Dark Kingdom and we’ll watch every single move that your mother and her army makes. I’ll tell Claudine to watch for your mother’s return reply and let me know what she said. Until either one of those things comes back with news then all worrying will get you is sick. You keep telling me we’ll figure it out together, well now you need to believe it.”

Regina swallowed hard. “Emma, you don’t understand. My mother—she just—I’m,” Regina’s voice broke. “I’m terrified of her Emma. With all I’ve seen she’s the single most terrifying person there is, and yet she’s still my mother and I just—”

Emma drew Regina into a full blown hug. Regina hesitated a second before sinking into her arms. She drew in shuddering breath after shuddering breath, but never cried.

“I know, Regina. I get it, I really do. Your mother is your mother and sometimes you feel a connection even if you don’t want to, but no one is invincible, not even her. That’s what you’ve been teaching me, isn’t it?”

Regina laughed weakly. “I suppose it is.”

“Good, then I’ve actually been understanding. Better than I can say for most of the study of etiquette.”

Regina sunk even further into Emma’s embrace. Emma just held on and focused on the other woman’s breaths against her neck. She wanted to rub circles on Regina’s back, but she knew that would be useless with the armor, so she just settled for holding the woman tightly.

When Regina pulled back some time later, she looked at Emma with eyes full of emotions that Emma couldn’t even begin to name. “Thank you.”

Emma nodded. “You’re welcome.” She didn’t know what else to say after that, but she felt like something was missing. The words wouldn’t come, though, so she just leaned up and kissed Regina on the cheek lightly.

The brunette sighed quietly. “We have a meeting with our wedding planner in a few minutes. It wouldn’t do to miss that less than a week out.”

Emma nodded, so back to business then. Just as well, it would distract Regina from her mother for at least a little while. “No, that it wouldn’t. Let’s go then.” She grabbed Regina’s hand and led them out of the room.

 

Chapter Text

Emma took a deep breath. Then another. And another. But it never quite felt like she was pulling in enough oxygen. Tomorrow. Tomorrow was the day. She swallowed hard. Oh dear gods above. How in the world was she supposed to survive this?

Her nerves had kicked in as soon as her last handmaiden had left her for the night and hadn’t stopped since. Now the moon was high in the sky and Emma knew she wasn’t anywhere near sleeping. Worry after worry plagued her. Regina’s and her own mother played a large part in those worried thoughts, but they weren’t the largest part. Her mind kept returning over and over to Regina and if the woman would be truly happy with her. She was so inexperienced. She was always relying so heavily on Regina, wouldn’t the other woman get tired of that eventually? Emma was trying to learn, trying to be better, but what if she didn’t learn fast enough? They would already be married and there would be no backing out for either of them. What would they do then? Present a united front even though they weren’t? That would get around the court quicker than a stable fire. If they didn’t work out then there was no real way they could find anyone else for them. They would both be miserable and without love.

She started to pace. She should have already worn a hole in the floor from all the pacing she had done already throughout the night. Perhaps falling through the floor at this point would be a blessing. Then she wouldn’t have to think about such things. But then again that would leave Regina without the protection being engaged to her provided. If she died her mother would have Regina’s head within the day. She groaned and tossed her head back, still walking. Her legs knew the path so well by now she didn’t have to look.

She wondered if pre-wedding nerves were this bad for couples that were already in love when they were getting married. She wondered if they were better or worse for those Princesses who had to marry to someone without knowing them at all. At least she did have a relationship with Regina before tying the knot, even if it wasn’t a romantic one. Yet. Her stomach flipped in an odd way at the thought.

And as much as she worried about the other woman’s happiness in their marriage she wanted Regina there more than anything to soothe some of the worries. Emma wasn’t quite sure if the brunette was there if she would share the worries over their future married relationship, but she would be there to quiet some of the worries about her mother, and that was worth more than anyone would ever know. Just Regina’s presence would calm her, she knew. But that wasn’t an option since they had to spend the night apart. Not like she didn’t know at least three secret tunnels that would get her near enough to Regina’s room that she probably wouldn’t be caught, but Regina had been totally on board with the idea, so she wasn’t going to take that away from the other woman.

She walked over to her bed and sank down. Half a year ago all she had wanted to do was go riding and exploring the countryside, doing whatever she pleased. She had never even begun to imagine that things would be so complicated in her future. Being a princess didn’t interest her really, she hadn’t known just how complicated everything could get. Now she did and even that was compounded by every single decision she had made. Deciding to marry Regina had been the best decision she had made so far, but it had by far been the most problematic of them all. Those problems wouldn’t go away because she was permanently bound to the other woman, she knew. They were worth it, but gods damn it she didn’t want to have to feel like she and Regina were fighting for a little bit of stability.

Regina, she supposed, was used to that fight though. Her mother wouldn’t have provided anything near a stable environment for her growing up. Hell, a kingdom away from her mother and Regina’s life was still being rocked to its foundation by the woman. How were they supposed to win like this? How were they supposed to fall in love? Was it even possible? Would Regina come to resent her for all the problems she had brought into her life? Resent her for her mother finding her again? Just because she didn’t now didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen someday.

She got up and walked to the window again. The countryside was peaceful outside her window. Everyone else had extinguished all of their candles long ago so she couldn’t see the houses that dotted the hills around the palace. She looked up at the sinking moon. It wouldn’t be long now before the sun rose and she was whisked off to primp and prepare for her own wedding.

When she had imagined her wedding as a small girl this was not what she had in mind at all, in any aspect. She had pictured something so like the description her parents had given her of their own wedding, something filled with love and a huge horde of well-wishers and friends with more flowers than she ever thought possible, complete with her own prince that would sweep her off her feet gazing lovingly into her eyes as they vowed to spend the next eternity with each other. The wedding was going to have flowers, that was about all her real wedding and long ago fantasy wedding had in common. The prince had turned into a princess and she hadn’t quite been swept off her feet yet. The well-wishers were wolves in sheep’s clothing. There were more politics in her wedding than she ever would have thought before.

She really hated being Princess sometimes. She didn’t hate the fact that she could help people, but everything else…well that was up for debate. Most days she just wanted a normal life, not one of royalty.

Emma started to pace again, thoughts circling right back around to where they started, her problems with her mother and what baring that would have on the wedding. She didn’t stop walking again until the sky started to lighten. She sighed and looked out. There was no point in trying to sleep. Her ladies in waiting would be here soon enough to start to get her ready. She might as well just stay up and save herself the trouble of being pulled out of bed much before she was ready.

She continued walking until the first knock came on her door. She took one last deep breath, relaxed the muscles in her face so her expression seemed impassive, and went to open the door. Servants flowed into the room around her as soon as the door was even cracked. Emma closed her eyes for a fraction of a second. Oh, it was going to be a very, very long day. She wished that she could be anywhere else but being dragged to her bathroom while a line of girls filled the tub with hot water.

Emma let herself drift. Her servants would bend her and pose her the right way. She really didn’t have to be all there for this. She didn’t want to be all there anyway. She yawned as the bathroom around her started to fill with smells of extravagant bath oils, soaps and perfumes. She was just so tired now, mentally and physically. All that nervous energy she had just a few minutes before was just gone. Her brain crawled forward at a snail’s pace. Her limbs moved like lead as a few of her ladies in waiting stripped off her night gown and threw it to the side. In her wildest dreams this was not what she was supposed to be like on her wedding day, but at the same time she couldn’t snap herself out of it.

She was lowered into the bathtub and the warm water started to relax her muscles, still tense from pacing almost the whole night through. It felt lovely but the sensation was not enough to draw herself out of her head again. She felt her limbs lifted from the water one by one and scrubbed clean, felt herself lifted from the water at the end so the rest of her body could be scrubbed, her hair was washed gently and all of the soap rinsed from her yet again before she was taken from the bath.

She idly wondered as she was helped into a chemise whether she would be like this all day, float through her wedding in nothing but a haze. Had she really spent all of her emotions the night before worrying? Regina didn’t deserve a wife who was no more responsive than a doll at her wedding. She didn’t want to be a doll for herself either. This may not be her first choice, and gods was it all so complicated, but she truly did like Regina and she was beginning to wonder if it really wasn’t more already. They should have a happy memory together because gods knew when the next one would be with potentially both of their mothers out for their heads.

Even that wasn’t enough to pull her out of her own head. She was directed to sit at her vanity as the servants went about drying and brushing her hair out carefully. Emma watched carefully as her hair was braided into a complicated up do that looked stunning on her. She wondered vaguely who had come up with such a style as she definitely hadn’t picked it out herself. She had told them she wanted something simple, her normal princess curls perhaps with a few strands of jewels woven through for an accent that would please her mother. But looking now she thought this was much better, even if there were enough pins in her hair now to kill something. She looked…older, more in charge somehow like this.

Then her reflection was blocked as a girl stepped in front of her and set to work on her makeup. Here she had requested simplicity as well, but wondered after her hair if she would truly get it. She couldn’t imagine that being heavy handed here would look good though. Emma was young and pretty on her own, only accents were needed or it would look like she was trying too hard, at least she thought. Still, she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to voice her last second opinions, mind still floating ten feet above everything, there but not. It didn’t matter, when the girl pulled back a handful of minutes later her makeup was done, simple, light eye makeup that made her eyes look that much bigger and a covering of foundation to smooth out her skin tone.

Emma took in her whole reflection. She truly did look like a bride with her perfect hair and makeup. She heard the rustle of fabric behind her. The image would only be enhanced by her dress. She moved for the first time of her own will to turn and look at the dress being laid out for her. She smiled slightly seeing that Margret had followed her directions and hadn’t changed a single thing about it. It was the only thing in this whole production that was really and truly hers and she was glad it had stayed that way.

The girls motioned her up and she obeyed, walking over to the little stool they had set up so they could more easily fix her dress once she had it on. She stepped into the dress carefully, leaning on a girl so she kept her balance. Her ladies in waiting pulled it up and she slipped her arms through the delicate sleeves. The next second the laces of her corset were being pulled so tight Emma was sure she would pass out, but she managed to find a breathing pattern that kept her upright. She stepped up on the stool when the tugging was done and the girls set to work straightening everything to perfection.

She looked over at the mirror again and the corners of her mouth tugged up farther. She may not be able to breathe or think straight right now, but she looked…it wasn’t quite how she imagined it when she was little, but she looked like a true bride. That shy smile she always saw on her face when she was little wasn’t there, neither was the happy blush, and her eyes were slightly glazed over in thought, but somehow it all still worked. Emma liked the picture in front of her. She wondered what in the world Regina looked like if she looked this good. She would probably have a hard time breathing when she saw the other woman, maybe lose the rhythm of her steps. She found herself looking forward to the possible humiliation of looking like an idiot in front of so many people. Regina would be there, that was what really mattered.

The door opened behind her and a page boy stepped through. He bowed low after staring at the Princess for just a fraction of a second longer than was really proper, but Emma just smiled at him. “Begging your pardon, your highness,” he said after he rose, “but they’re calling for you downstairs. It’s almost time for your entrance.”

Emma nodded. “Thank you, I’ll be right down.” She stepped from the stool and took as deep a breath as she could. It was time.

She waved the girls away from her and their last touches. She would look how she would look now. It wouldn’t do to be late for her own wedding that would look much worse than having a stitch out of place. Her legs didn’t feel stable anymore and yet she was still standing. She walked forward and they held her, still. Perhaps maybe all that training that Regina had put her through really was coming in handy.

Her servants formed quite the party behind her, still fussing over her despite her earlier dismissal, but Emma was on another planet, paying no mind. If they could keep up with her clipped pace to the throne room then then could fix whatever they pleased. As she neared the site of her wedding the numb feeling that had enveloped her since the sun had risen started to clear. At first it felt nice, to be able to feel again, but then came the terror that the numbness had replaced hours before. Except this time she couldn’t breathe through it. The corset she was wearing was stopping her. She pulled in gasping little breaths and knew that if she didn’t start breathing at a more normal pace soon she would be on the floor and that would look even worse than being late.

But she knew she couldn’t stop walking now. She was in the public eye, to stop now would be weakness. But so would fainting. Oh god, what was she going to do. This was all out of control. She wasn’t Regina, she didn’t know what to do half the time, or any of the time really. She wasn’t worth the other woman. Regina should marry someone confident and capable in some far off kingdom where her mother-in-law wouldn’t send word to her mother of her whereabouts and everyone took her seriously and no one feared her because of the magic she was born with. Somewhere the complete and total opposite of the White Kingdom with someone the exact opposite of Emma, that’s what Regina deserved.

And despite her erratic breathing she made it to the holding area where she was to stand until the music that cued her entrance played. She looked around disoriented. How in the world had she managed all of this? She really was the foolish princess that Regina had called her on months ago, never paying attention to what was around her, acting as she pleased. She wasn’t worthy of any of this.

She tried to peak around the curtains hiding her from view. Oh god, what if Regina’s mother had actually come? How could she let herself space out at a time like this? She had to be on her guard.

Emma was starting to feel faint now. The shallow, rapid breaths were getting to her finally. She leaned against the wall slightly, not enough to mess up her hair and dress, but enough to support her. She felt her maids in the back of her start fussing into over drive, cooing over the nervous princess. They all thought she had the regular wedding nerves and cold feet. Emma felt like laughing. Oh, if only. That would mean she was just another silly girl getting married, not the princess and heir to a throne. Whatever she and Regina had it would always be polluted by that.

Then the music was playing for Regina to walk down the aisle. Emma lunged forward just a little and managed to stick her head out just far enough that she saw the other woman walk out from behind her own set of curtains straight across from her. The breath flooded back into Emma in one startling gasp. Regina was beautiful, painfully so. Emma wanted to run out and touch her, she couldn’t believe the vision in front of her was real. Emma had gotten a glimpse of what the other woman would’ve looked like as a princess in dresses, flowing around the palace gracefully, but now was when she truly believed it. Regality oozed from every pore of Regina, her presence owned the room. Emma heard the gasps around the throne room as Regina passed them.

And Emma’s mind finally, finally settled. Whatever was between her and Regina was theirs. It wasn’t tainted by her being princess of the White Kingdom. What they allowed into their relationship was their call alone, and sure her being a princess had started everything, but that was no means how it had to continue. They could be anything and everything to each other except for princess and knight, or soon to be fellow princesses. That was their choice. For every other choice that could be made for them whatever was between them was their choice alone.

Emma stood up off the wall, head not spinning so fast now that she finally had her panic under control. She was ready when the music changed and the curtains were drawn back. She stepped forward confidently and kept perfect time to the music. She focused on nothing but Regina in front of her. She felt it still, the panic from earlier. If she let herself think of anything but Regina she would lose it right here right now in front of hundreds of people. But Regina was her anchor. Everything was possible with her, if only in their relationship, not outside of it. But they would do their best to make sure everything they needed outside of each other was easily reachable as well.

She could read the same war within Regina’s eyes, the slight panic, driven away by the sight of her. It seemed they were of one mind today. Emma smiled at her and immediately the smile was returned. Everything was ok in that moment between them. Emma stepped up beside Regina, finally at the end of the aisle. All other concerns faded to the back of her mind truly now.

The high priest of the realm stepped forward and joined their hands together. Emma’s breath caught just slightly as her skin came into contact with Regina’s. She had touched the other woman before, but this was different somehow. She looked up from their joined hands to Regina to find her staring at Emma already. She shrugged almost imperceptibly. She wasn’t quite sure what had just happened either, but she had felt it. Emma would ask her later when they weren’t standing in front of a few hundred people. Perhaps it was nothing, but…Emma just didn’t think it was.

“We come here to join these two, Emma of House White and Regina of the Dark Kingdom, in marriage,” the high priest began.

Emma had no real interest in what the old man was saying. It was all complete and utter hot air anyway, playing up just how great the White Kingdom was, how lucky Regina was to be marrying into such a kingdom, what great rulers Snow White and her prince were and just a quick mention of how competent Emma herself was as a princess. It was all posturing and it wasn’t what Emma wanted to remember from this ceremony at all. She focused on Regina instead, focused on how the white of the woman’s dress lightened the color of her eyes to a dark honey color, focused on how the callouses on her hands felt good against her smooth skin. Anything about the woman in front of her was concentrated on and damn the world around them in that moment.

Regina’s dress was styled similarly to the one she wore. They had both chosen sleek over poofy, though it looked like Regina had more room to breathe than Emma did. Emma was slightly envious just of that fact alone, but then Regina filled out the dress so much better and looked gorgeous enough to stop someone’s heart and Emma was going to get a complex from the woman, she just knew it. She really wanted to reach out and trace her fingers along Regina’s bare shoulders, the wispy off the shoulder sleeves showed off Regina’s toned arms. A small smile made its way onto Emma’s face. She couldn’t help but think that Regina had told Margret to leave her arms bare on purpose to remind everyone just what she did as her day job. She may be covered in silk from Qin, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t dangerous.

She caught Regina’s eye again after surveying the other woman’s body. Regina smiled at her, eyes sparkling knowingly. Emma blushed, caught in the act, but then she felt the weight of eyes sweeping up and down her body as well and she blushed for an entirely different reason.

The high priest finally let go of their hands and reached behind him for the binding cord. Emma sighed. The first step in a list of many more than necessary. It was ridiculous what White Kingdom tradition dictated a marriage ceremony consist of. The priest tied the cord around both of their wrists, only instead of laying there mundanely as it was supposed to the cord lit up white-gold for a few seconds before fading. The priest stared for a few long seconds before glancing up at Emma. Emma cocked an eyebrow at the man.

“I have a vague clue, your highness, but I do not believe in the middle of a ceremony is the place to discuss it. It does nothing to the validity of the ceremony either way.”

Emma nodded and looked back at the cord. Her eyes met Regina’s. There was worry there and Emma didn’t blame her. Had the cord reacted with Regina’s magic somehow? Did the cord glowing have something to do with the spark that had flown between them earlier? Emma really needed to do some research on magic later, this hole in her knowledge would not help her in the long run, damn what her mother and the laws of their kingdom said.

The priest continued the ceremony, handing them chalices while one set of their hands remained tied. They drank from the other’s goblet as the priest went on about fidelity and whatever other values a married couple was supposed to have. The little page boy that had attended Regina during the tournament slipped from the wings, holding onto a pillow with their rings on it. Regina smiled widely at the boy. He returned the smile and held the pillow up to her eagerly.

Emma took a breath as Regina picked up the white gold ring off the pillow. Everything had been real before this moment of course, but she was about to receive something solid that would represent everything that was happening to her right now. It was about to become a physical thing, and for some reason that held much more weight with Emma at that instant.

Regina grabbed her bound hand and slipped the ring on. “With this ring, I, Regina of the Dark Kingdom, wed Emma of the White Kingdom.” Her voice rang out across the huge crowd.

Emma flexed her fingers just slightly, getting used to the weight of the metal on them. The page boy slipped over to her and held up the pillow. Emma grabbed Regina’s ring and took hold of Regina’s unbound hand. The ring pushed on easily, with just enough to resistance so it wouldn’t fall off the other woman’s hand.

“With this ring, I, Emma of the White Kingdom, wed Regina of the Dark Kingdom.” Her voice wasn’t as clear, didn’t reach every corner of the hall as Regina’s had, but she knew it was firm enough. No one would question her later about her commitment.

The priest nodded beside them. “Then with the power invested in my by the gods of this kingdom I pronounce you married. You may now kiss to seal the covenant.”

The butterflies in Emma’s stomach went into over drive. They had hugged before and she had kissed Regina on the cheek in a fit of bravery, but this was different. This was a kiss on the lips, their first kiss. Emma took a deep breath. This didn’t have to be their first anything if they didn’t want it to be. What was between them was theirs and this…well this kiss was anything but between them at the moment, forced on them by social custom and a huge crowd of people. Regina would understand later if she explained why she didn’t think this was their true first kiss.

Emma took a step forward just as Regina slipped a hand onto Emma’s waist. The knight drew her in gently, lowering herself just slightly so their lips met in a chaste kiss. Emma’s eyes fluttered closed.

Kissing had never felt so…before she could come up with a word Regina was pulling back again. Emma turned to the crowd who were clapping politely. Above them the bells in the towers of the palace rang and rang, signaling that they were married to all those who hadn’t been in the room. Emma glanced over to Regina. This wedding hadn’t been anything like she had ever imagined, but somehow she wouldn’t change it for the world.

Regina pulled them down the aisle as their exit music played. Now they only had to get through the feast and they were home free for at least the night.

Immediately after they exited the throne room another flurry of servants were in front of them. Emma’s ladies maids were squealing over how beautiful the ceremony was while quickly fixing anything that had come out of place. Emma waved them off after a minute. People would be drunk soon enough that it wouldn’t matter what she looked like. The whole time they kept walking towards the banquet hall. Emma felt like she was being herded like common cattle. Beside her Regina was fending off the worst of the servants queries and for that Emma was grateful. She needed six seconds just to take a breath before diving into the next thing, but only Regina seemed to get that.

When they reached their places at the head of the banquet table Emma heard the rumbling behind her signaling that everyone who had been in the throne room was making their way towards the food. Her eyes flicked over the table, and oh food there was. Living at the palace there was always an overabundance of food at every meal, but no more than the servants could finish off after the meal was done. This…there was enough food to feed a small regiment and then some. Emma held down the anger at the excess. The servants would find someone to eat the food, she was sure. There were more than enough peasants in the street to finish off whatever they didn’t. But that was still poor consolation for an act that should have never happened in the first place. The food they were wasting today could have been put in the stores to help the peasants survive the winter when the insane taxes her mother would impose to pay for the wedding took food from their bellies.

Nobility and foreign royalty flooded in the banquet room as Regina and Emma stood behind their chairs. Emma plastered a smile on her face. It wouldn’t do to seem like an ungracious host, especially with a few kingdoms attending who were on the verge of attacking them. She felt Regina’s hand slip into her own and the smile became much more genuine. A meal and some dancing, that was all they had to get through. She just had to keep repeating that to herself. When this was all over she could start to deal with the consequences brought about by this fool’s errand.

Everyone found their seats quickly. Emma applauded whoever made the seating chart, it kept key players as far apart as possible and yet still managed to put people beside others that they tolerated. Her eyes swept up the table to those sitting nearest to her and Regina, her parents were right beside them of course, but the others sitting near them were actually people Emma didn’t mind as much. She really would have to thank whoever had made the seating plan, they had made this evening that much more tolerable.

Regina looked over at her and Emma nodded. Together they reached down and grabbed the glasses in front of them, already full of wine. Emma tapped her fork gently against the side of her glass. The sound wasn’t extremely loud but the room fell silent anyway. She smiled at everyone looking at her and cleared her throat.

“I’m so glad that everyone could come to help us celebrate our wedding.” She shot a loving look at Regina. “We’re both so happy. It’s a blessing from the gods that we found each other.” She looked back out over the tables. “And our kingdom will be much stronger for it. But, as everyone does know, the best part of the wedding is the food, so without further ado let us sit and eat.”

Everyone around them chuckled a few times before sitting down. Emma had to stop herself from flopping down in her chair dramatically. Everything about this was completely exhausting. Regina leaned over and set her chin on Emma’s shoulder.

“That was a rather well thought out commencement,” Regina whispered in her ear.

Emma laughed once humorlessly. “Thank you, but there wasn’t much thought to it,” Emma whispered back.

“Emma—”

“Yes, I know, not thinking is bad, but Regina I’m a little fried right now. I do have instincts about these things after all these years even if I don’t use them at points. You’ve taught me enough that winging it isn’t so hard.”

Regina huffed. “Fine, but if you’re really that exhausted then why don’t you let me do the talking.”

“Because you can’t do all of it or people will think something is wrong and I don’t know what’s worse, them thinking I’m an idiot with a foot in my mouth or thinking I’m your puppet or something.”

“Fair point, dear.” Regina’s thumb started to make circles on Emma’s hand. “It’s just that you look so tired, I see it in your eyes, and I don’t want you to do something you’ll regret.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t sleep last night and I already regret that, so perhaps it’s a bit late for that.” Emma sighed. “But thank you for trying. It’s only a few hours now before this is all over and we can take a break from being political beings.”

Regina nodded. “Alright, but if you find yourself lagging in any way I am right here. It’s now literally my job to support you through these things.”

Emma laughed, truly this time. “As if it hasn’t been for the last few months even without the ring.” Emma’s spun the ring on her finger with her thumb. The weight of it felt odd there.

Regina drew her head back and smiled at Emma. “Well then, why don’t we eat? I think the cooks might have outdone themselves.”

“Maybe a little too much,” Emma mumbled under her breath, but set about filling her plate anyway. The food was in front of her, she might as well do her part to consume it. She sat back and started to pick at her food, waiting for the vultures to descend on them.

Chapter Text

The meal passed in a haze of mundane small talk that made Emma want to rip out her hair. So really it was like any other political function she had ever been too but the scale was just bigger and she was the center of attention. More than once a group would come up to the head of the table and badger Emma and Regina for a few minutes at a time, fawning over them and telling them what a beautiful wedding it had been. Regina dealt much better with those people than Emma herself did. The fakeness of everything grated on her too much for her to truly seem genuine.  

But now people were slowly finishing up and Emma was sighing out a breath of relief. A ball was up next on the party schedule, but she could be much more wrapped up in Regina without being rude. Few people would interrupt the happy couple dancing together, not that she didn’t expect that there wouldn’t be a few, but she had learned years ago how to cut dances short without seeming rude and how to slip out to the garden unnoticed. They weren’t even slated to be there the whole event. As newlyweds it was practically their duty to slip out halfway through to enjoy the rest of their wedding night alone. That sent a bolt through Emma that had nothing to do with the continued prospect of social niceties.

Emma looked over at Regina as both of them stood and announced that the ball would be starting soon. What in the world was the other woman expecting of her tonight? Since they were married now Regina had every right to demand her due. The thought sent panic through her. She had absolutely no idea what to do in that situation. She had no experience. It wasn’t as if she didn’t find Regina attractive, anyone with eyes did, but they weren’t quite at that level yet. They had barely even kissed and that was only because they had to for the ceremony, unless you counted the kiss on the cheek and Emma really didn’t.

She took a second and cleared her mind as Regina’s hand slipped into hers to pull her towards the ball room. Regina wouldn’t do that to her. That would be the exact same thing that was done to her years ago. She was much too good a person to do that. She cared too much about Emma. Her body warmed at the thought of the whispered I love you a week prior. No, tonight was only between them and only would go as far as she was comfortable.

Emma started to calm, muscles relaxing, when another thought hit her. Was tonight really between them? The kingdom would be looking for an indication that their marriage had been truly consummated, how in the world were they supposed to provide such evidence unless they were together? Her grip tightened on Regina’s hand yet again. Maybe Regina knew a way to fake it? She had been out in the world and had much more experience in just about everything, since she hadn’t talked to Emma about their wedding night before hand surely that meant Regina wasn’t worried about it, that she had some sort of plan. Emma desperately wanted to pull Regina aside and ask, but there were far too many people around them. Perhaps when they were dancing and the music was loud enough to cover anything that was said between the two of them.

The crowd swept into the ball room. The room was draped in white silk, the same fabric as Regina’s dress, with flowers everywhere. The sight was breathtaking, but Emma found she really couldn’t enjoy it, thinking about cost and the food that was taken from the peasants’ hands just for a few bolts of silk. All a ball really needed was good music, but that was rarely ever followed.

Regina led her towards the center of the floor and drew her close. On instinct Emma put her hands up into position. Regina took her extended one. Emma smiled shyly up at the other woman, not used to being so close even after the hugs they’d shared recently. Regina returned the smile and as soon as the orchestra started playing, whisked her off across the dance floor as everyone else watched. Emma melted into the other woman’s arms, allowing her to lead effortlessly. She enjoyed the dance for a few long moments silently before speaking up.

“I didn’t know you danced this well,” Emma said.

Regina cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t let the armor fool you, Princess, I had dancing lessons back in the Dark Kingdom same as you.”

Emma snorted. “Dancing lessons and talent are two different things, or did you not have the pleasure of getting your feet stepped on at your first few balls by over eager boys.”

“Mmm, fair enough.” Regina winced. “First ball I was ever allowed to go to a boy almost broke my foot, but of course it was my fault according to my mother.”

“I’m sorry.” She really did hate bringing up any memories connected to Regina’s mother. Her eyes always got pinched and her face paled a few shades. “She didn’t show up today at least.”

Regina made a noncommittal noise. “Just because I haven’t seen her doesn’t mean she isn’t here somehow.”

“I think you would know somehow even if she was in disguise. Not much gets past you.”

Regina spun her away before bringing her back in. “Maybe. The hair on my neck always used to stand up when she was watching me and it hasn’t today, so perhaps she isn’t here. Nevertheless, it’s safer to assume she is.”

They danced silently for a few moments longer. Everyone who wanted to dance was now circled around them, gliding across the floor with various amounts of ease. Emma could feel her own mother’s eyes on her, but ignored them. She had been the polite, ever gushing mother of the bride that she was supposed to be all day, but Emma saw behind the façade easily. As soon as their guests were gone it would be back to the same old story it had been before.

Emma rested her head on Regina’s chest. “Do you get a little sick at how lavish this all is.”

“A little, yes, but since it cannot be helped I’ve just been trying to enjoy it for what it is.”

“I suppose that’s healthier than the controlled anger I’ve been going for all day.”

“We’ll do as much as we can to fix it during council meetings after my coronation, you know we will.”

Emma nodded. “I do, but that doesn’t stop the ire at the stupidity of all of this.”

“Pomp and circumstance is part of being a royal. I’m quite sure you’ll have to use it as Queen just as your mother has, though more responsibly.” Regina lowered her head onto Emma’s. “For now it is our wedding, put politics aside for just a few more hours and try to enjoy it.”

“The only parts I’ve enjoyed so far are the ones with you.”

Regina smiled and laid a gentle kiss onto Emma’s hair. “Those have been my favorite as well.”

Emma stayed nestled into Regina’s chest as the song changed into something slower. “I’m glad.”

Dancing for the most part kept everyone at bay, but finally someone tapped her on the shoulder and asked Regina if he could possibly steal her away for just a song. They both gave brittle smiles to the man and Emma stepped into his arms. The muscles that had relaxed while dancing with Regina tensed up again and they were off dancing to the music. Emma made polite small talk with the man, keeping an eye on Regina. She had been swept up by some count from another kingdom almost as soon as Emma was out of her reach. When the song ended someone else was right behind her, waiting for a dance.

And so it continued for the both of them until Emma could stand it no more and politely excused herself in the middle of a song, claiming exhaustion and the need for a bit of fresh air. Within minutes Regina was right beside her, staring out at the stars that had long since come out. Regina drew her close when Emma started to shiver. Fall was really upon them now. Out in the dark world the leaves were just starting to change colors. Emma had never been able to decide what her favorite color was, the bright deep red or the vibrant orange that some of the leaves turned. Yellow had always looked too sickly for her, like the tree was truly dying instead of just going to sleep.

“They’ll be sending us off soon,” Regina spoke into her ear.

Emma shivered, but this time it wasn’t from cold. “Thank the gods. If I have to hear one more noble tell me you were a good match for me but they would have been better I might actually scream.”

Regina chuckled darkly in her ear. “I’ve had people tell me the exact same thing. I’ve just been smiling and telling them all the reasons why they are not in the form of a ‘woe as me you are right’ speech. I’ve left more than a few confused men in my wake tonight.”

Emma smiled. “Now, now, what have you told me about making enemies where they aren’t necessary?”

“No one can question the strength of our union. We have to make the kingdom look stronger, remember darling? Divesting them of these foolish notions that they would have been better is the first step in that.”

Emma hummed her agreement and pressed further into Regina. Her wedding dress was not made to hold in heat at all. They would have to go in and face the wolves soon just so she could warm up.

“I’ve just been going on and on about how wonderful you are until they shut up about it. I like you’re way better.”

“You have taken to dismantling people piece by piece quite well. I’m beginning to think you enjoy it maybe a little too much.” Regina looked at her with eyes filled with laughter.

“You might be right, but after years of having nothing to hit back with it’s nice to finally have some way to tell pompous old men who think they know everything to shove it.”

Regina chuckled again. “As long as you do remember that such measures should be taken only when necessary.”

Emma huffed. “Of course. I have been listening to you all these months, you know.” She leaned her head on Regina’s shoulder. “You’re the only one who’s been making sense.”

Regina squeezed Emma tighter to her side. “I try.” When she felt Emma shiver against her again Regina continued. “Though now I think it’s time for us to go back inside before we catch cold.”

“How much longer until you think we can slip off from all this?” Emma sighed.

“It won’t be much longer, darling, but I doubt slipping off is an option. Your mother will probably make quite the large fanfare out of it.”

Emma groaned loudly. “Great, I’m just going to love all those leering stares directed our way.”

Regina turned them and started to walk them in. She made a sound low in her throat that almost sounded like a growl. Emma looked up at the other woman questioningly.

“They won’t stare at you like that if they know what’s good for them.”

Emma was about to ask what she meant by that but then they were inside again and such questions would have to wait until later. She had a feeling Regina’s answer would not be for polite ears to hear. Regina led her onto the dance floor again and spun her around the room with ease. Dancing with Regina like this made her feel like the center of attention, but she didn’t feel as if she was just some decorative ornament as she did with some men. Emma enjoyed the feeling of not being treated as something to be owned, even if being the center of attention wasn’t her favorite thing.

A few more dances and her mother made her way onto the stage with the musicians. The orchestra fell silent as she stopped at center stage and everyone stopped to look at her. She cleared her throat delicately before speaking.

“I do believe it’s time for our newlywed couple to take their leave. They have quite a few other things to enjoy tonight besides dancing. The party for the rest of us will of course continue until we can dance no more.” She smiled out at the crowd, but Emma could read the fakeness in it. “So with that why don’t we give Emma and Regina one last bow before they run off for the night?”

At the words the entire room sank into bows and curtsies around Emma and Regina. Emma took a deep breath and smiled at them all, Regina’s arm around her waist keeping her steady. When everyone rose Emma grabbed Regina’s hand and pulled her forward towards the door, taking the cue to leave and running with it. She nodded at everyone smiling at them and bidding them goodnight, but not more than that. She wanted out of this mess as soon as possible.

When they reached the hall with the doors to the ballroom closed behind them Emma finally let out a relieved sigh. That was finally over, thank the gods above. She turned towards Regina and smiled. Regina returned the expression and tugged her forward.

“Come, let us be off before some of the nosier courtiers find it in themselves to try and spy on us.”

Emma grimaced and followed. The butterflies in her stomach increased with every step towards her rooms—their rooms now she supposed—until she thought she was bound to lift up and fly away. The safe feeling of being with Regina never left her, but her nerves still couldn’t be tamed.

As soon as Regina threw open the door and walked inside Emma felt as if she was going to throw up or pass out. That would not make their first night as a married couple memorable in a good way so she managed to talk herself out of it and walked in without doing either. She shut the door behind her and threw the lock. Regina was right, she really didn’t want to risk some nosy idiot trying to get a peek at what they were doing.

Across the room Regina collapsed onto the couch in front of the lit and roaring fire with a groan. Her shoes went flying, stopping just short of the fire. Regina looked at them for a long moment before looking over at Emma and biting her lip. She waved her hand timidly and the shoes scooted away from the flames and nestled themselves by the couch’s leg. Regina shot her a sheepish look.

“I really didn’t want to move.”

Emma’s nerves settled just a little bit at that. She walked over herself and flopped down, taking much more care with her shoes. They weren’t really practical for every day wear, but she liked them and there would be many more balls she was sure she could wear them to so she didn’t want them going up in smoke. She leaned heavily onto Regina, drawing her legs up onto the couch, wrinkling her skirts enough that she knew the women who did the laundry would be cursing her name.

“I totally understand.” Now that she was sitting all the tiredness she had been putting off all day came crashing down on her and she could barely keep her eyes open.

“It’s been a long day.”

Emma hummed, eyes slipping shut. She felt Regina’s arms come up to wrap around her and draw her closer. She sighed, this wasn’t so bad, but then again they’d been this intimate before. Their clothes were still on and they were doing nothing more than hugging in the scheme of things. This wasn’t what had made her so nervous. She felt safe in Regina’s arms like always, but she just didn’t know anything about what came next really. She had figured out enough from the servants’ gossip, but had no idea how to put that into practice. What if she wasn’t good? What would happen then?

Emma swallowed hard as she started to tense up more. Above her she felt Regina perk up just slightly and she froze. Regina brushed a piece of hair that had fallen out of her intricate hairdo from her face.

“We need do nothing that you aren’t comfortable with tonight, darling,” she said in a gentle, soothing voice.

Emma looked up, startled. “But, won’t they need some proof that we’ve consummated our union?” She gestured towards the door.

Regina leaned forward and kissed her gently on the forehead. “They will, but that’s easy enough to fake, a few drops of blood smeared into the sheets and they’ll be satisfied.”

“Really, that’s all it takes?” She scowled just the slightest bit. How could something that was made such a big deal out of boil down to nothing more than a few drops of blood. It seemed utterly ridiculous. Then again, that seemed to be par for the course for all the traditions of the kingdom.

“That’s all it takes.” Regina smiled at her warmly. “So don’t worry about what they’re expecting. Whatever happens between us, or doesn’t happen, is ours.”

The words brought warmth to her. “Ok.” She settled back into Regina’s arms, but popped up a second later when one of the bones in her corset jabbed her. She rubbed at her side and stood up. “Unlace this gods forsaken corset for me? I don’t think I’ll be able to fully relax unless it’s off. I can barely breathe.”

Regina stood. “Of course, as long as you return the favor. I don’t know whose idea it was to make dresses so hard to get in and out of, but they should be run through.”

Emma laughed and walked towards her room. She paused a second on entering. It was different now, she squinted for a second before picking out just what had changed. Regina’s things were in her room now. She sighed, of course they were, these were their apartments now that they were married. Regina didn’t have much stuff, so it really didn’t make too much of a difference to the room’s appearance, there was just far more weaponry that before. Regina’s sword hung off of one of the chairs and her bow and arrows sat on top of the neat pile of her armor.

Regina came up behind her. “Well, they were efficient.” She walked over to a new set of dresser drawers and opened it, drawing out a thick set of tights and a loose, worn looking shirt. She threw the outfit over the changing screen and turned to Emma. “Why don’t I go first, the way your corset is laced it will be just as much of an ordeal to get it off as it was to get it on.”

Emma groaned, just great. Still, she walked over to the other woman and made quick work of the rather simple laces. Regina stepped away from her, holding the dress up with one of her arms and shot a smile at Emma. Emma’s mouth went a little dry at the sight of Regina standing there, one wrong movement from being in only her undergarments in front of Emma. The other woman slipped behind the screen and changed quickly, emerging in much more comfortable clothes with her dress hung up expertly.

She shook herself and went to go grab one of her thicker nightgowns. It was going to be chilly tonight once the fires burned down. Winters in a palace were always drafty and colder than they really needed to be. When she threw the gown over the screen Regina was right behind her, working patiently at the laces of her dress. Emma forced herself to breathe as skilled fingers swept up and down her back loosening the infernal corset. She was sure such simple contact should not make her feel so breathless, but it did. Her mind wandered briefly, wondering just what it would be like to have Regina’s fingers on her bare skin, but she shook it off quickly. She wasn’t ready for that just yet.

Regina let out a triumphant noise just as the dress loosened around her. Emma grabbed onto it just as Regina let loose the last few buttons that had closed up the lace top. She shot the other woman a grateful smile, finally being able to breathe for the first time in hours and went to change quickly.

Regina wasn’t in the room when she finally emerged, but Emma found her easily enough, nestled back into the couch, legs stretched out, eyes closed, face peacefully relaxed. Emma smiled at the sight, it most certainly had its draw. She wandered over and sat, nudging Regina’s feet out of her way. Regina’s eyes blinked open sleepily. Her brow creased in thought for just a second before she scooted back into the couch and patted the area in front of her.

Emma hesitated. This seemed so much more intimate than all the things they had ever done before. She tried to tease out why, but couldn’t. She had fallen asleep with Regina on the couch before, cuddled into her side, how was this any different? But it was no matter what she told herself. It was Regina, though, she was safe, and laying all curled up with her after everything the day had brought was appealing.

She crawled up the couch and positioned herself carefully. Regina drew her back the second she was settled, melding their bodies from calves to chest. Emma sighed at the warmth that enveloped her, the fire in front of her and the heat of Regina behind her. Regina’s arm curled around her waist, hand resting on her stomach as appropriately as possible in such a positon. Emma wiggled back into the other woman just a little further and stilled. This was nice.

Regina nestled her head into the back of Emma’s, breath tickling the fine hairs on Emma’s neck. She fought the urge to laugh and squirm at the sensation, it was just so different. Regina hummed contentedly and it vibrated Emma’s whole body. It was odd being so connected to another person.

“Is this ok?” Regina whispered behind her.

“Yes.”

She felt Regina smile behind her. “I’m glad.”

They laid like that silently for a long while. Emma felt her eyelids getting heavier and heavier. She really didn’t want to fall asleep, she was enjoying her time curled up with Regina, but her body had other ideas. She had been up for the better part of two days and the adrenaline that had kept her going all day was gone now that she was relaxed, but still she fought.

A chuckle rumbled through Regina as Emma jerked awake rather violently, almost sitting straight up before realizing what she was doing. Regina sat up with her and nudged Emma from the couch. The fire had burned low in the time they’d spent together on the couch, just barely lighting Regina’s face now, her smile standing out more than anything.

“I think perhaps it’s time for us to go to bed.” Regina stood up and stretched for a long moment before offering her hand to Emma.

Emma took the outstretched hand, not trusting herself to do anything else after watching Regina’s toned body ripple and flex as she stretched. She wasn’t sure how the other woman had made even such a simple act seem so graceful, but she had. Regina pulled her into their bedroom. She pulled down the covers and just as Emma was about to fall into the bed, Regina gestured for her to wait. Emma sent her an odd look but complied.

Regina walked over to her stack of things, pulling out a dagger and walking back over to the bed. She drew up the sleeve of her loose shirt and had the dagger slit across the fleshy skin below the bend of her elbow before Emma could even ask what in the world she was doing. The knight hissed a bit and put the dagger aside as a small amount of blood welled up.

“Regina, what in seven hells are you doing?” Emma couldn’t draw her eyes away from the cut.

“I already explained to you.” Regina climbed up on the bed to the center and let a few drops fall before smearing it into the sheets. Satisfied with her work she climbed down and went back to her things, drawling out a few cleaning supplies and bandages. “It’ll look better if the blood has turned brown by morning.” She shrugged.

Emma shook herself and walked over the other woman who was trying to clean her wound one handed. The princess took the bandage covered in a foul smelling concoction and finished cleaning the wound before reaching for more bandages.

Regina handed her another pot of bitter smelling poultice. “Here, before you wrap it up use this. It’ll help it heal quickly.”

Emma nodded, took a healthy dose of the stuff and spread it over the wound before bandaging it up. She gave it a once over and nodded. The princess put away the extra materials and stared at Regina hard.

“Yes, I know, but when you said a few drops of blood I imagined a finger prick or two, not a knife wound.”

“Someone would see wounds on our hands and it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. I’m always wearing my armor, or at least something with long sleeves. No one will see the wound, or if they do I can sight a training accident, nothing too uncommon for a knight.”

Emma huffed out a breath. “Your reasoning is sound, but still. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

Regina’s expression softened. “I’ll be fine, darling. I’ve been through much worse than a shallow cut such as this.”

“I’m aware, but still.” Emma walked towards the bed once more. The few drops of blood that Regina had smeared into the bed were drying quickly, but she thought a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt. She’d rather not stain the nightdress she was wearing, that would probably give something away about what they were doing as well. She idly wondered what in the world they would do to explain the blood on the sheets when they truly did consummate their marriage.

Regina came up behind her and set a hand on her shoulder. “I shouldn’t have to hurt myself anymore, darling, but next time if I do have to I’ll make it clearer to what extent.”

Emma frowned again, but nodded. She had a feeling that was all she was going to get.

Regina glanced at the bed and climbed up. She touched at the blood. “It’s dry. We should be able to sleep now.”

Emma went around to the other side of the bed and climbed in.  Regina snuggled down in her own side, sighing, a slightly goofy smile on her face. Emma loved the look on her, happy and carefree if only for a moment.

“I think maybe the only thing I missed about being royalty was the beds.” Regina spread out, legs and arms brushing Emma.

“The beds in the guards’ quarters not up to par?” Emma had to hold back a laugh.

“Gods no, you’re able to sleep on them of course, but straw will never beat down mattresses.”

Emma scooted over to the other woman and snuggled up to her side, feeling bold for a moment. Regina looked down at her, smile changing from goofy to warm and loving.

“Of course their beds are also lacking certain bed warmers as well.”

Emma scoffed. “Oh, so that’s all I am,” she joked.

Regina’s look turned serious in a moment. “Never, you’re so much more than that, darling.”

Emma was slightly hypnotized by the look in the other woman’s eyes. Their faces were only breaths apart in that instant. She was caught in Regina’s gravity and she was almost positive she didn’t want it any other way. She felt them both leaning forward and knew what was happening. Her heart beat faster in her chest.

Their lips met and Emma’s eyes slipped shut. All the feelings from the chaste kiss at their wedding were back in full force and then some. She felt like she was flying and falling all at the same time and didn’t know how it was possible that it could feel so good. She kissed the knight harder, feeling her hands come up and tangle themselves in Regina’s hair. Regina’s hands were on her waist again holding her gently yet firmly. It was a short eternity that they kissed and was over much too soon.

Emma sat there, staring at Regina, panting just slightly. “Wow.”

Regina just nodded.

Emma dropped her head to lay on Regina’s chest again. “I—um—yeah.”

A laugh bubbled up from Regina’s chest. “I’ve actually rendered you speechless.”

“Well—I mean—” Emma sighed and took in a deep breath. “After that who wouldn’t be a little tongue tied.”

Regina’s hand came up to start carding through Emma’s hair. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be more tongue tied in other kisses.”

Emma felt herself blush. She swatted lightly at Regina’s side. “Not language befitting of a princess,” she mumbled.

Under her Regina settled down further into the bed. “Ah, but between us we’re anything we want to be.”

Emma looked up at Regina. “Yeah, I guess we are.” She paused for a second. “But why would you ever want to sound like a bar maid.”

Regina laughed long and loud under her. Emma kept her eyes on the other woman, feeling a warmth suffuse her being. She pushed up just a little and her lips were on Regina’s again, swallowing the laughter. Regina’s arms came to rest behind her neck, drawling her in further.

Emma pulled back a long minute later, warmth still coursing through her. “Goodnight, Regina.” She settled back into her positon curled up against the other woman.

“Goodnight, darling.”

Emma sighed and felt herself drifting off almost instantly, warm and safe in the arms of her wife.  

 

Chapter Text

Three days later Emma stood on the dais of the throne room again, but in front of a blessedly smaller crowd. The crown on her head weighed heavily. She really did hate when she had to wear this thing, she much preferred the tiaras she wore to less formal occasions. They didn’t weigh a ton and have to be pinned in place because they were slightly too big. But of course for the most formal of occasions the crown of the heir to the throne was what she had to wear. It had been around almost as long as the kingdom had. Emma severely wished that somewhere along the line it had gotten lost, but of course not.

She looked up as the doors opened. Regina was there, standing regally in her rather elaborate coronation gown. They had been able to fight for simple things for their wedding, but coronations had set in stone standards. The dress had enough diamonds and gold thread sewn through it to feed the kingdom for three months, sweeping up from the floor and covering almost every inch of Regina. The brunette stepped forward, servants following her carrying the long train of her dress. She looked magnificent in her dress of white and gold. The colors of the kingdom rather suited her, Emma thought.

She couldn’t help but thinking as Regina walked up the aisle under the eyes of the nobility that she was glad that her own coronation had been when she was a few weeks old. She couldn’t imagine going through it now, everyone watching and waiting for a slip up to invalidate your claim on the kingdom. Emma had triple checked that everything her parents were telling Regina at the few practice sessions that they had had was right. She hadn’t put it past her mother to do something quite so underhanded after inviting Cora to the wedding. But everything had been the same, so she had relaxed, if only slightly.

While she would have been nervous, Regina looked calm and self-assured, even as she climbed the stairs, looking dead into Emma’s eyes. Her political mask was flawless, but her eyes always told Emma the truth, and even here in front of so many people she was somehow collected. Emma envied that. Regina could only teach her so much and she wasn’t sure being so calm in front of a crowd was one of them.

Regina stopped in front of Emma and sunk to the ground, head bowed. Emma felt her mother come up beside her, skirts rustling softly. She resisted the urge to look over and observe the woman. In the few days since the wedding she hadn’t seen her mother for much more than the council meetings and practice sessions. She was still torn between whether she wanted to apologize or hold her ground on everything she had said, but the time apart had at least given her a chance to cool down now that everything wasn’t so life and death with the wedding and the investigation of Regina, which had officially ended with their vows a few days prior. Snow was being a rather royal pain in the ass, but she was still her mother.

Her mother cleared her throat and addressed Regina. “Regina, formerly of House Mills, now of House White why do you appear before us?”

“To take my rightful place as a princess of the kingdom beside my beloved spouse Emma of House White,” Regina told the ground, never looking up.

Emma saw her mother nod just slightly out of the corner of her eye. “And you find yourself worthy of such position?”

“Only if the kingdom sees fit, your majesty.”

The Queen turned towards the crowd. “And does the kingdom see fit?”

There was a slight pause before a low grumble of assent made its way through the room. No one objected though, and that was the most important part. Still, Emma logged a few faces who had said nothing at all and kept the information for later use.

“Then as Queen I give my blessing for you to take your place as princess among my court.” Snow handed Regina the scepter of the original king.

“I am eternally grateful, your majesty.” Regina looked up just enough to take the scepter and looked back down again quickly.

 Snow White stepped back towards her throne.

Emma cleared her throat this time. It was her turn to speak. “Regina of House White, do you intend to help me, your honorable wife, rule the kingdom to the best of your ability?”

“I do, your highness.”

“And you will not use the powers given to you against me?”

“Never, your highness.”

Emma felt herself relaxing just slightly. Only one more line to go. “Then as crown Princess of the kingdom I give my blessing for you to take your place as princess at my side.” She stepped forward and looped the Star of the Kingdom over Regina’s head. The large jewel settled itself against Regina’s breasts, sparkling wildly. Emma stepped towards her own throne, a step down from her mother and father’s.

The kingdom’s high priest stepped forward, standing in front of Regina now. “Regina of the House White, do you promise to guide the people of this kingdom, never leading them astray?”

“I do, your holiness.”

“And you shall serve the gods just the same?”

“I will, your holiness.”

“Then rise, my child, and take your throne.”

Regina stood gracefully and walked to the new throne on the right of Emma’s. The girls who had been carrying her train scurried over and helped her adjust her skirts so she could sit down. Once she was settled the priest walked over, a less ornate crown in his hands. Regina looked over the crowd with bright eyes as the man made it to her side.

“Then as high priest of this kingdom I give my blessing and that of the gods for you to take your rightful place as a princess of this kingdom.” He gently settled the crown on top of her head and stepped back.

The crier stepped forward now. “All rise!”

Everyone in the room stood as one. Emma glanced over at Regina, a small smile breaking through her regal façade. Regina looked a lot better than she did in a crown. She was so glad that she was her wife in more than one way.

“Kneel for your new Princess, Regina of House White.”

Everyone in the room knelt, head bowed as Regina had earlier, save for Emma and her parents who bowed and curtsied low enough to convey respect for someone of a slightly lower station.

Regina stood and took a step forward, pausing for only a moment before speaking. “You may rise.”

Again the room stood as one.

Emma stepped forward and took Regina’s arm. Regina looked over at her and smiled and Emma returned the gesture before looking out at the crowd again with a straight face. Regina squeezed her arm once and Emma leaned into the other woman. The strength the other woman lent her was a gods send.

“Presenting the Princesses of the White Kingdom, Princess Emma and her wife Princess Regina!” The crier called again.

The room bowed and curtsied before filing out slowly, ceremony over. There would be another feast soon within the hour, but for now everything was finished. Emma sighed as the last person left and smiled freely at Regina now. She hip checked the other woman, but wasn’t sure she felt it through all of the padding her dress provided.

“Princess Regina,” Emma teased.

“Yes, Princess Emma.”

Emma heard the eye roll in the tone. “Nothing, just sounds nice.”

“Uh huh.”

They both fell silent as her mother walked up to the both of them. The Queen’s eyes roved over them, detached and cool. Emma felt equal parts ire and fear well up within her at the look. It was so utterly wrong to have her mother look at her in such a way.

“Emma, Regina.” Snow nodded to both of them.

“Your majesty.” Regina curtsied shallowly.

“Mother.” Emma braced herself for whatever was about to happen. She couldn’t think that it would be anything good, not with the way her mother was looking at the both of them.

Her mother’s gaze fixed squarely on Regina. “Regina, now that you are a princess of the kingdom I rather think there are traditions you should uphold.”

“I have upheld all those to do with the wedding and coronation. I do not see what other traditions there are to uphold.”

Emma’s stomach bottomed out. What in the world was her mother getting at?

“Yes, that you have, but there are quite a few others, mostly dealing with propriety and how a princess must act. As a former princess of the Dark Kingdom you must understand.”

“I do, but as I have been a princess for less than half an hour I do not see how I could have acted in any way that is not befitting a princess. Even before today I conducted myself with the utmost care. What could possibly be your complaint?”

Snow’s eyes flicked to the guards that were dotted at regular intervals around the room. She looked back at Regina after a long second.

Emma saw the very second Regina understood what was happening. Her eyes widened just a fraction and her face paled a few shades. Emma herself was a few seconds behind, fury rising when she understood as well.

“Surely you understand.” Snow smiled fakely at the both of them.

“No, I rather think I don’t,” Regina said, hands clenching at her sides.

“It just won’t do for a princess of the White Kingdom to also be a knight. It’s just not proper.”

“And yet if she were a man there would be absolutely no debate. If I was a man I would be required to be a knight, but since I am a woman I was denied the right. The tournament was held so I could find someone who could protect me, and Regina being a knight does just that.”

“But now she’s a princess and that comes first and foremost.”

“First and foremost to the protection of the heir of the kingdom? In what world does that even make sense, mother?” Emma felt herself flushing with anger and cursed her fair complexion. She could control her facial expression all she wanted in the moment, but her pale skin would give her anger away.

“The world in which we are trying to make certain that other kingdoms think we are a force to be reckoned with, and with that comes perfectly traditional princesses.”

“That doesn’t make any sense either. We are a force to be reckoned with because of who we are now, the princess and her knight. We could be the head of state and the head of the army, knowing completely what each one takes to run and is capable of. Regina is capable of being the perfect princess when the time calls for it, but also a warrior.” Emma looked at her mother with hard eyes.

“Those are not mutually exclusive, as you’ve well seen. Did I look anything like a knight today playing through the script for the coronation? Did I stumble once? Did I even look like anything other than the picture perfect princess? No. I did not, you and I are both aware of it.” Regina’s color had come back in full force, her eyes shining brightly now that she was fighting back. She loved her job as a knight. She didn’t want to lose it.

“Perhaps not today, but if this continues you will slip up somewhere along the line and then the kingdom will look like a weak little country that can’t even control its princesses. Where will we be then?” Snow took a step back, triumph in her eyes.

“We won’t ever be there. I grew up in a kingdom where a slip up had more consequences than you will ever realize. I do not slip up. Ever. That is why I am one of your best knights and have been since I arrived.”

Emma reached out and grabbed Regina’s wrist. The other woman calmed just a little at the touch, but both of them were a little too far gone for the contact to do much.

“That is of no matter to me now.”

Emma took a step forward, still staying connected to Regina. “Mother, you’re being unreasonable.”

“No, both of you are the unreasonable ones.” The Queen turned to Regina. “As of now you are stripped of your title as knight and your position on the guard. Your armor has already been collected under my instruction. I allowed you to keep your sword out of the graciousness of my heart, remember that in the future.”

With that she turned and walked from the room, leaving the two of them looking after for a long moment.

Regina turned to her, shaking now that no one was there to witness it. Emma turned to her and drew the other woman into her arms loosely. Unsteady hands gripped her dress and labored breathing filled her ear. Emma took deep breaths, trying to calm herself so she could be Regina’s rock right then. There was absolutely no way now that she would ever take back what she had said to her mother, or ever apologize. The woman had hurt Regina twice now. There was no coming back from that. Once may have been coincidence, but twice was a pattern. This was pure retaliation for what she had said before the wedding. Fury burned white hot within her, but she pushed it down for another time.

“We’ll find some way to get you back onto the guard. We won’t take this laying down.” Emma’s hands stroked up and down Regina’s back in what she hoped was a comforting manner. “Until then she didn’t forbid you from practicing, only from your position on the guard.”

Regina drew her in a little bit tighter and nodded into her hair. “Yes, there is that.”

“Your sword though…I’d hide it. It means too much to you to have my mother take it away in a fit of rage.”

Regina nodded again. “I’ll take care of it later tonight.”

“We’ll slip out of the feast early. Everyone still expects it since we were married less than a week ago. We’re in no state for prolonged exposure to such idiocy.”

“I agree.”

Regina had stopped shaking so hard now, only slight tremors wracking her body. Emma drew back just slightly to look at the other woman. Regina’s eyes met hers, full of onyx fire. She leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on Regina’s forehead, standing on her tip toes. A smile crossed Regina’s face for a second, before fading back into the fury.

“Now come, let us go feast with fools and get this over with.”

Regina nodded, stepping back and leading her from the room.

 

Emma startled up out of bed as the door to her bedroom flew open. Her hand immediately found its way to the dagger that she kept under her pillow, but she stopped short of pulling it out. Regina was scrabbling around in her things muttering under her breath. The replacement sword she had acquired after hiding her original sword went flying across the room in its scabbard. Emma entertained the idea of getting up and trying to comfort the obviously distressed woman, but then Regina was throwing off her shirt and Emma stayed put, averting her eyes.

When the rustle of cloth stopped Emma snuck a quick glance to make sure it was safe once more. Regina had already thrown on another outfit and was digging through her chest of various possessions. She pulled a dart board from the chest along with a handful of darts. A flick of her wrist and the board was floating across the room, affixing itself to the wall. Regina followed behind it, positioning herself a decent distance away and then letting the darts in her hand fly one by one with deadly accuracy and force.

Emma now slipped from the bed, walking over to the other woman. She laid a gentle hand on the shoulder of the arm Regina wasn’t using for throwing. The knight stilled for a second before going back to flinging darts. The last dart hit the board with a thunk and then Regina turned to Emma.

“What’s wrong?” Emma asked. She watched Regina’s fist clench hard. To break the other woman’s calm façade something big had to have happened. If she was right her mother was probably at the bottom of it.

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What isn’t wrong at this juncture?” Regina spat.

Emma knew it wasn’t her that she was truly mad at, but the words stung nonetheless.

At the hurt look on Emma’s face, Regina softened a little. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just…your mother is an absolute snake. Keeping the urge to throttle her in check is taking every ounce of willpower right now.”

She sighed heavily. Of course she was right and her mother was at the heart of the problem. The pattern continued it seemed. “What has she done now?”

“She didn’t just order for the stripping of my title as a knight and a member of the guard, no of course not, that would be much too nice apparently.” Regina ran a hand through her hair, pulling rather ruthlessly at the tangles. “She also ordered the other guards not to practice with me or else they would be let go. Not only did she take my job from me, but she took any real practice away from me so I can’t keep up my skills.” Regina let out a huff. “My mother was a tyrannical dictator of a Queen, but at least she allowed me sword lessons.” She summoned the darts back to her hand and started throwing them harder, never missing.

“What? How can she even do that? That’s completely idiotic. You’re one of her best fighters, letting your skills get rusty in a time such as this is suicide. Stripping your title and position is one childish thing, this is quite another.” Emma felt the fury rise within her. No wonder Regina was so angry.

“Emma, she’s gone too far. I’m not sure she’s going to stop until you capitulate to her will. You must talk to your father and see if he can get her under control.” Her next dart landed dead center in the bulls eye. “Because at this rate I will kill her, high treason or not. That is if she doesn’t get us killed somehow first.”

“I’ll talk to him, but Regina I’m not going to take back what I said to her. The way she’s been acting I can’t.”

“Nor do I expect you to, but something has to change or your mother will run us all into the ground for her own petty squabbles. She’s ruined enough about this kingdom. She need not ruin more.”

“But how will anything change if I don’t offer something. Right now I’m going to her with a literal cease and desist order, but she’s the Queen and doesn’t have to listen.”

Regina heaved a sigh, the dart leaving her hand with less force. “I know. I’m just—”

“I know, trust me, I really do get it.” Emma squeezed Regina’s shoulder comfortingly. “In the meantime while I talk to my father do you think some of the peasants and merchants in the surrounding villages would train with you?”

Regina looked thoughtful for a long moment. “Perhaps. There are a few villages and towns surrounding the palace that are within teleporting distance. Any men there won’t nearly be skilled enough to present a real challenge, but it’s something.”

Emma nodded. “Yeah. You always could challenge a few of the nobles, mother hasn’t forbidden them to fight against you and they would be more skilled than a peasant would.”

“That is also a possibility, but nobles tend to want to bet something on spars and I have nothing, or at least nothing that I would want to part with.” Regina threw the last dart again and turned to face Emma fully once more. “If your mother wasn’t acting as some petty teenage school girl then this wouldn’t be a problem.”

Emma snorted. “Believe me, I’ve thought something along the same lines a lot recently.” She stretched now that the crisis was over and Regina was at least a little calmer. She definitely hadn’t been ready to get up just yet. The sun was just starting to come up now. She yawned. “If you’re not training, come back to bed. There’s still a couple hours before we have to be up.”

Emma shivered as she felt Regina’s eyes rake over her, still in her nightgown. She’d been getting more and more of those hungry looks from the other woman since their wedding and she wasn’t quite opposed. She also wasn’t opposed when Regina stepped forward and drew her into a kiss. She sighed into it, wrapping herself around Regina. Kissing the other woman had become one of her favorite things to do.

“I suppose that can be arranged. I can start out to the villages tomorrow and find a few sparring partners. To keep up appearances though I should at least try to be seen every now and again doing solo drills in the yard.” Regina smiled down at Emma.

“Good, then it’s solved for now at least.”  She pulled the other woman back towards the bed.

Regina slipped off her boots and crawled into bed beside Emma. Emma was pleased to find that the covers were still warm. She curled up, yawning again. Within a few seconds Regina was wrapped around her from behind. Emma smiled and started to drift off almost immediately.

 

Emma stared at the door of her father’s den. She wasn’t sure at all how she was going to be received. She didn’t have to worry about her mother being there at least. Snow White never graced her father’s den, disgusted at the amount of stuffed animals hung around the room from her father’s various hunts. But her mother not physically being there didn’t mean that she couldn’t influence the course the conversation would take. If he father believed the lies her mother was spreading about Regina and magic this might not go well.

Still, she stepped up to the door and knocked, this conversation needed to happen before anything got worse. She would die if her mother somehow found a way to ban her from riding or exiting the palace grounds. She needed what little freedom she could get to be able to put up with the idiots of the council and all the other annoyances of court life. She knew Regina was of the same mind.

“Come in,” her father’s voice came, muffled through the wood of the door.

Emma stepped inside and smiled hesitantly at her father. He returned the smile, bright and warm. He stood from his chair and crossed the room to Emma.

“Emma, I haven’t seen you outside of dinner and council meetings in what seems like forever.” He hugged her close.

Emma buried her face in his jacket and inhaled. He smelled like smoke and the woods and it always reminded her of her childhood. “Yeah, it’s been a little busy lately, sorry.”

“It’s ok, little bird.” He gestured for her to sit.

Emma walked over to her favorite chair and flopped down. She glanced around, feeling the dead eyes of the animals staring at her. Truth be told she wasn’t really fond of this room either. The taxidermied animals freaked her out just as much as decorative dolls, something about the eyes just gave her the creeps. But this room had always been the only place that she could get some alone time with her father without her mother or anyone else, so she tolerated it.

Her father sat down in his own seat after stoking the fire just a little. “And your mother hasn’t been making it easy on you either.”

Emma sighed and slumped further down in her seat. Her father always did have a way of knowing what she was truly there to talk about. She found it slightly unnerving, if good to get the conversation going.

“Easy for me? No, she hasn’t been making easy for Regina is really the problem. That’s where everything between her and I started.” Emma rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “Or at least that’s where it came to a head. I’m starting to believe that this may have been a while in the making.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just, it’s been a long time since I felt she really wholly approved of me and how I act. I think even without Regina as the catalyst, as soon as I started taking being a princess seriously mother and I would’ve butted heads because how I want to do things is so different from what she wants.”

Her father nodded his head. “That’s true. A great deal of both of our philosophies found their way into you and then combined into something wholly new, something I think has a good chance of succeeding. Your mother, well, she’s stubborn as a mule though and always thinks she’s right.”

Emma snorted. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“I think she’ll come around sooner rather than later, little bird.”

“I don’t know, father, I’ve said some things in the past few weeks that I’m not exactly sure we can come back from so easily and vice versa. The longer this goes on the farther she digs herself into a hole with me. Father, these attacks on Regina have to stop. She stripped her of her title as a knight and of her position on the guard. There was no call for it! There was no call for the investigation into Regina either or inviting her mother to the wedding. She has to be stopped before it goes farther. I don’t want to be trapped within the palace because my own mother wants to make my wife and I prisoners in a gilded cage.”

“She won’t do that, Emma. She knows how much you love the outdoors.”

“That’s the thing, though, she’s taking everything we love. Regina loved her job. She loved practicing with the other men. Mother’s taken both of those things from her.”

Her father scowled. “She had a reason. She discussed it with me.”

“The reasons she gave was total idiocy. If Regina was a man she would almost have to be knight and no one would be questioning her right to practice with the other guards. Regina won my hand in marriage because of how good she is physically. Such parameters were set because my significant other had to know how to protect the kingdom and now mother is interfering with her ability to do so.”

Her father’s head titled to the side. “I see what you’re saying, little bird, I do. What you’re mother has told me of everything I haven’t wholly agreed with, but you know her, she won’t take no for an answer. But if it’s truly making you unhappy I’ll try to talk to her about it. I make no guarantees.”

“Thank you, father.” Emma sighed and leaned back in her chair again, almost horizontal in the seat now. She shot up after a second though. “Wait, what do you mean, haven’t wholly agreed with everything mother has said?”

Her father shrugged. “I think she’s going a bit overboard, but she has a point, especially with the investigation into Regina.”

Emma glared over to her father. “Not you too,” she huffed.

He held his hands up, palms out. “Don’t get me wrong, Regina seems like a very good match for you, but you never can be too careful. She does have magic after all, it’s better to check if you’re under the influence of a spell early on, you know?”

Emma scowled. “Fine, maybe there was a little bit of a point to that, but that only came after I angered mother. Her intentions weren’t wholly pure.”

“Maybe not, little bird, but it still would’ve been done probably.”

Emma sighed. “Yeah, ok fine. Everything else though.”

Her father crossed his arms. “Everything else was a little much, yes.”

Emma smiled slightly, triumphant. At least her father seemed to be partly on her side, more like directly in the middle, but she would take was she could get.

“I’m glad you agree.”

Her father smiled at her. “Remember, I probably don’t find it quite as offensive as you do, little bird.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “Yes, but still, an agreement means something.”

“Fair enough, like I said, I’ll talk to her, ask her to not do anything else to the two of you and perhaps plant the seed of apology in her mind, but if she follows what I ask that is up to her. I’m not about to take away her choice in the matter, then both of us would be facing a rather large war and I don’t think that would be good for anyone involved.”

“That’s all I could ask for.” Emma smiled at her father. “And no, mother being mad at both of us would lead to a rather interesting atmosphere around the palace that no one would like.”

Her father nodded. “Understatement.”

Emma sat up again, situating herself in the chair normally. “Just as long as she doesn’t try to contact Regina’s mother again. Regina was genuinely fearful at the prospect that she would show up. She’s still worried that she’ll appear out of the blue sometime soon even if her mother didn’t attend the wedding. I don’t want her worrying like that. I want to be able to protect her in at least one way since she’s already protecting me in all the other ways.”

Her father’s mouth twitched up at the corners. “Protecting your spouse at all costs is an important task.” He reached out and squeezed the hand resting on the arm of the chair nearest to him.

“She’s worried that she won’t be able to protect me because of the ban my mother has put on her on practicing with the men. She’s afraid she’ll get rusty.” Regina had actually found a rather good sparring partner in one of the villages around the palace, but she wasn’t about to tell her father that when she could be getting Regina’s job back just by sitting there talking. Her father had always been rather good about sensing what she truly needed from what she asked. Hopefully that would translate into now as well.

“She’s very skilled. I’m confident she’ll figure something out.” Her father looked at her with a knowing twinkle in his eyes, but said nothing.

“I do hope.”

“Don’t worry, little bird, I have a feeling with the two of you working as a team there won’t be much that you can’t get past.”

“Except for mother.” Emma snorted.

“Well, everyone has their limits. I’ve been married to your mother for twenty-three years and still if she wants to do something or act some way there’s nothing I can really do once she makes up her mind.” He looked at Emma. “A lot like another woman I know.”

“Father,” she whined. “Not exactly what I want to hear at the moment.”

He ruffled her hair. “I know, but it doesn’t hurt you to hear it. You are your mother’s daughter no matter if you two are fighting or not.”

Emma furiously straightened her hair. “You never know, it could.”

“Uh huh.” Her father shot her a skeptical look. “So, are we on for our usual monthly hunt on Saturday?”

Emma lit up. “Of course.”

“Good, good.”

They started into a conversation about what sort of hunt they would have and Emma dropped the topic of her mother easily. She had gotten what she truly at come for, a confirmation that her father was at least going to try to do something. There was no real use beating a dead horse to her father. Such things could be used later if really necessary. When their conversation about hunting ended Emma left, saying her goodbyes and heading back to Regina and their latest princess duties.

 

Chapter Text

Emma threw the book she was reading at the wall. This was absolutely pointless and everyone knew it. Regina sat beside her and just glanced up at Emma with a raised eyebrow. Emma huffed and went to go pick up the book. Just because she was angry didn’t mean that the woman in charge of the palace library should pick up after her.

“Whatever did the book do to you, darling?” Regina asked.

“This is just a pointless task, as has everything that we’ve done for the past week and a half. No one needs us to research the crop growing cycles from a hundred years ago and report on how we’re doing as a kingdom in comparison. Who cares about a hundred years ago when right now we need to make sure that the budget is balanced in our favor without the peasants starving and that other kingdoms don’t attack us.”

“I’m well aware, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it out on a poor innocent book.”

Emma rolled her eyes and flopped back down on the reading couch that she and Regina had made their home base hours ago.

“I hoped things would get better after I talked to my father, but they’ve stayed the same except for the fact that our work has become even more boring. I would honestly rather be in a council meeting right now.” Her head slumped back against the back of the couch.

“Honestly, this might be your mother’s way of testing you out to make sure you’re ready for something bigger and more in depth. You must remember that how you run a project will eventually affect the kingdom. Perhaps your mother is making sure that you will do a good job. If this report is thorough and in-depth perhaps then your mother would be willing to give you bigger and bigger jobs until you take over her role.”

Emma flung the book she had just picked up onto the floor. “I wish I was just doing those menial tasks the council needs, in the room, actually getting to do something right of the bat.”

“I know, darling, but there’s nothing that we can do at the moment but go through all of this.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Emma bent down and picked up the book again. She opened it to the page that she’d been on and sighed heavily. “If she really wanted an indication of how we would run a project then she could just look at how we planned our wedding. Everything about that took a great deal of forethought, balancing what we actually wanted with what was best for both the appearance of the kingdom and the cost for the peasants. That had implications, and yet we were allowed to do everything there. But anything more than that? No, of course not.” Emma growled.

Regina hummed. “That’s exactly it, though, darling. She wasn’t exactly a fan of how we planned our wedding, or have you forgotten the argument the two of you had over your dress?”

Emma crossed her arms. “No,” she mumbled. “But it set out to do what both parties wanted. It’s not like the council hasn’t received a few tentative offers for trade from some of the smaller kingdoms that attended because of our wedding. And the peasants will have enough to eat this winter, if only barely. We may not have followed what my mother wanted, but we got the job done.” She uncrossed her arms and slumped forward, book falling from her lap. “I’m just tired of this fight already. I’m still so angry at her, but I just…” she trailed off.

“I understand. You want there to be a resolution but you don’t just want to give up your position.”

Emma nodded slightly, not moving her hands. “Yeah, that’s it. If I was to go to my mother right now all of my concerns would be systematically dismissed and we’d both end up at square one. Then I’d be bitter and there would almost have to be another fight between us when I finally couldn’t take anymore and I just don’t want that. I get that a compromise between two parties means no one is wholly happy, but it wouldn’t be that. She’d plow right over me. I don’t know how to make it so that she actually has to take what I want into consideration, I never really have.”

“You never really did execute my advice about couching your grievances in the language of feelings. You and your mother are very good at accusations and attacks but I’m not quite sure you know how to express anger in any other way. It’s not exactly an easy thing, especially in the heat of the moment, but perhaps now you’re ready. There’s been some distance between the two of you for a while and it’s been a week or two since your last real conflict. That’s time enough for some of the feelings to die down so perhaps you can control the urge to yell.”

Emma lifted her head. “You really think so?”

“I think perhaps it might be worth another try. Explaining how you feel might not lead to a solution right off, but it might lay the foundation. She quite honestly might see what she’s doing as in your best interest and your protests up to this point might have just strengthened that image, quite like when you were little and used to throw tantrums over eating your vegetables.”

“But it’s not like that at all,” Emma protested.

“I’m well aware, but then again I’m not Snow White. I thank the gods for that most days.”

“Yeah, me too.” Emma sat up again. “But what if even after I explain to her how I feel she shoots me down? She has every time up until this point, why would it change?”

“Number one you wouldn’t be yelling, number two she might be feeling the same way you are, wanting to bridge the gap, but not knowing how. You make the first step this way and maybe she’ll start to work with you.”

“But what if?”

Regina sighed and closed her own book, setting it aside. “I’m not sure.” She reached out and laced her fingers with Emma’s. “The advice I’m giving you is about all I’ve learned of conflict resolution. I’m not extremely great in this area. It’s not exactly like my mother would have ever tolerated anything of this sort. There never was a fight with her, she was always right. Any time I tried to rebel…well I regretted it rather instantly.”

Emma squeezed the other woman’s hand, trying to send comfort. She was going to punch Cora in the face the first time she ever saw her, she resolved. The look of pain, anguish, and fear on Regina’s face was one she always saw when she talked of her mother, and one Emma never wanted to see again. She wanted Regina to be happy more than anything.

“So what you’re saying is that we’ll cross that bridge together if and when we get there.”

Regina smiled at her weakly. “Yes, I suppose that is what I’m saying.”

“Good.” Emma looked down at the book on the floor. “I’m not exactly feeling the research anymore. Surely we’ve gained enough information for the day to stop.”

Regina glanced over the few sheets of parchment they had brought with them. Now they were covered in dates, facts, and figures in both of their handwriting. She bit her lip for a few seconds before turning to Emma.

“I suppose, what did you have in mind?”

“How did you know I had anything in mind?” Emma cocked an eyebrow.

“It’s not hard, darling, we’ve been inside for a long period of time and you never take well to those. Plus, I’ve rather noticed after anything even vaguely emotional you flee to the outdoors.”

Emma blushed. “Am I really that transparent?”

“To me, yes.”

Emma stood from her chair, gathering up the few books they had between them. She’d take them to the librarian for safe keeping until the next day. She really didn’t want to have to trek though the shelves again to find them. That had taken a couple hours on their first day of research and she had no desire to repeat it.

“Ok then, I’ll clean everything up. You go get the horses ready?”

Regina brightened slightly at the mention of horses. “I think I can manage that.”

“Good.” Emma smiled at the other woman before walking away to the desk the librarian usually frequented. “See you in a few minutes,” she called over her shoulder.

 

With their books put away and their parchment full of notes safely stashed in their rooms Emma hurried down to the stables. Regina was already outside standing with Emma’s horse saddled beside her, scruffling at the scant, dying grass around the large building, finishing up adjusting the straps on her own horse. Emma scratched the big horse on the nose, recognizing it as the horse she’d ridden during the tournament.

“This isn’t the one you used to ride,” Emma said.

“No, he isn’t, but I became attached to him competing. He’s a lovely horse.”

The horse, as if sensing he was being talked about, nudged Regina’s shoulder. The woman smiled at the animal and stroked his neck.

“And it seems he’s a rather good judge of character as well, comes in handy.” Regina walked around the horse and mounted him easily.

Emma got the message and mounted her own horse. “What do you mean?”

“He certainly didn’t like the Laird who would have certainly killed me if given the chance. Also there are a few guards I know to be…bad apples shall we say and he hasn’t taken kindly to them either. I’ve come to trust his judgment. When I’ve ridden him out to some of the villages he’s invaluable in picking someone to spar with.” She stroked her hand through his mane. The horse whickered, pleased.

“Oh, nice to know a horse has your trust.” Emma almost toppled over as a sudden gust of wind hit her. She glared over at Regina. “Hey!”

Regina looked at her, fake innocence plastered over her face. “What?”

“That was totally you, don’t play with me.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but if I did I’d say it has something to do with insulting me and my horse.” She turned and started riding towards one of Emma’s favorite trails.

Emma spurred her horse into action. “I’m not insulting you or the horse. I’m just saying the horse is a horse, not a person. He may have been right until now, but what if he’s wrong. I just don’t want you to get hurt, you know?” she said in a rush when her horse pulled even with Regina.

Regina’s face softened. “I do. The horse isn’t the only thing I listen to, Emma, I do have instincts of my own. You of all people should know that I can defend myself.”

Emma nodded. “I do, but I still worry. Everything with my mom and your mom just has my guard up a little more than normal.”

Regina laughed, but it wasn’t exactly a happy sound. “Welcome to the real life of being a royal, darling. You never really know who you can trust.”

“I can trust you.”

“Well, I’m an exception to the rule as are you.” The corners of Regina’s mouth still pulled up despite the practical answer.

“One exception is all I need.”

Regina broke out into a full smile at that. “How about we make this ride interesting?” Regina asked, changing the subject, still blushing slightly.

“What do you propose?”

“First one to the fallen tree wins?”

Emma gripped her reins a little tighter. “And what do I win if I get there first?”

Regina looked at her for a few seconds, appraising. “Sword fighting lessons?”

Emma perked up at that. Being able to defend herself with more than a bow would be beneficial to both of them, especially in a court full of wolves. “Ok, fair. But what do you win?”

“You have the power to dictate which horses are available for common use, right?”

“You want me to make him your horse exclusively.” She gestured down at Regina’s mount.

“I do. If you could put him in the stall beside yours it would be even better. Right now he’s clear across the stables from your horse.”

Emma smiled at the other woman. “It’s a deal.”

“Good.”

“So where do we start?”

“How about just on the count of three?” Regina shifted in her saddle, getting ready.

“Doesn’t whoever’s counting get a slight advantage?” Emma crouched forward just slightly.

“Perhaps, but I think the advantage will be taken care of with ease, don’t you?”

“Whatever you say. On your mark then.”

“One.”

Emma’s hands twisted around her reins. She felt her horse under her shift, sensing the tension in its rider and responding accordingly.

“Two.”

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Regina let go of the reins completely, gripping onto the horse’s dark mane. She whispered to the beast under her for a long second before calling out the final number.

“Three!”

With that both of them were off, galloping swiftly over the ground. Regina took the early lead, reflexes having let her get off to a faster start. But this was Emma’s favorite trail and she used the knowledge of the land and the power of the horse under her to catch her quickly enough. They traded a slight lead for a long stretch. Emma felt like laughing, adrenaline flowing through her, breath wooshing in an out of her as she moved with her horse. This was the freest that she had felt in quite a while. This was exactly why she had shirked her duties as princess, this feeling of unmitigated freedom and the lightness that came with it.

They were quickly approaching one of the most difficult areas of the trail. Emma knew they’d have to slow down in order to navigate it safely, but in order to win she couldn’t slow down too soon. She looked over at Regina, looking for any sign that she was slowing. A second after the other woman tugged on the horse’s mane she tugged on her own reins just slightly. Her horse slowed to a light canter and she led him easily through the rocky terrain. She was ever so grateful that she was a sure footed horse because half the things she did wouldn’t be possible without her.

Out of that section she managed to pull ahead by just about a length. She smiled to herself and pushed her horse faster. She could actually win this. Laughter bubbled up and out this time, getting lost in the roar of the wind passing her. She could practically feel Regina’s determined glare as the trees whipped past them on either side. Whoever won this race would never hear the end of it from the loser, she was sure. They both were the exact type to be a sore loser.

A turn in the trail had Regina pulling up even with her. Emma looked over, surprised. How in the world had the woman managed that? She held back pushing her horse though. If she pushed her much harder she would fade before the end of the race and then Emma would be completely out of luck.

Regina shot her a smug look. Emma stuck out her tongue in return, the urge to laugh coming back. God, the other woman was a complete masterpiece. A warmth suffused her being looking at Regina, her hair flying behind her, face pink from exertion. Emma wasn’t quite sure what she felt in that moment, but she was sure that she never wanted it to end.

Then Regina was spurring her horse just a little faster and she was pulling ahead of Emma. She was torn yet again, if Regina pulled much ahead of her she wouldn’t be able to catch her close to the finish, but faster now meant a burnout. Strategy wasn’t exactly her strong point in racing, but she decided to hold back and wait. She knew this trail like the back of her hand, her moment would come.

Still, she was sure to not let Regina get too far ahead of her, cutting corners close and picking over the rough terrain perhaps faster than she should. Regina was an experienced horseman, but even she couldn’t quite navigate the rough parts of the trail like Emma could. Perhaps blowing off court responsibilities had had some positive effect after all.

They flew along the trail, horses breathing hard, sides soaked with sweat. Emma felt sweat trickle down her own back, breath coming in hard fought gasps. It was always just a little hard to get air into her lungs going so fast and something about the feeling thrilled her. Horse riding looked like it took no effort at all, but that was completely wrong. Emma loved the burn of her muscles after a hard ride.

Her opportunity came on a steep part of the trail. Regina’s horse stumbled just enough, losing momentum, but not hurting itself. Emma breezed past them, turning to make sure Regina was alright. When she saw Regina’s determined face and the hard nudge to her horse’s side she knew the other woman was fine. She shot forward, gap widening between them for a couple seconds, putting Emma a few lengths ahead of the other woman before she was back up to speed. She wanted to punch the air. They were over half way to their proposed finish line and she was in the lead by quite a margin. But then again she knew Regina wasn’t going to give up without a fight. She kept her entire focus on the course ahead of them. If she didn’t slip up in the eleventh hour she most certainly had good odds to win.

She crouched even lower over her horse’s neck, her mane tickling her nose. Everything else disappeared, worries about the council and her mother were gone, only the horse under her, her breathing, and the course ahead of her mattered. She easily picked her way through every single area of the course, finish line approaching rapidly.

All of a sudden Regina was beside her again, pushing her horse as fast as she could go. Emma spurred on her horse, they were near enough to the finish line that it wouldn’t matter. They were in a dead heat for a few long seconds, rounding the corner before the tree, charging towards it at an all-out sprint.

Then her horse pulled ahead just a little, and then a little more, and a half-length was between her and Regina. Another minute and she was sailing over the tree, laughing breathlessly, Regina right behind her. She pulled back on the reins as soon as her horse landed on the other side. She could practically feel the animal sigh in relief as it slowed to a stop. She patted the horse’s neck.

“Good job, Odette. I’ll be sure to give you an apple when we return to the stables.” The horse gave a tired neigh, still breathing hard.

Regina rode up beside her, face still flushed, a little frown on her face. “So I see I’m teaching you how to wield a sword.”

Emma smiled at the other woman, adrenaline still coursing through her. “You are.” She reached across the gap and grabbed Regina’s hand. “And it’s only fair that you have more payment for such a momentous task than just being compelled by a simple bet.”

Sparks of hope lit in Regina’s eyes.

“So what did you have in mind for a name for such a fine steed?”

A slow smile broke over Regina’s face. “Fierro.”

“Then Fierro he shall be.”

The horse whinnied. Regina laughed and patted his neck. “I think he likes it.”

“Well, hopefully he’ll like his new stall as much as he likes his new name.” Emma stretched her now cooling muscles. She was going to be sore in the most glorious way in the morning.

“Back to the palace then, princess?” Regina asked.

Emma looked at the other woman, amused. “Yes, princess, that sounds like a good idea.”

Regina’s face scrunched slightly. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that title again.” She spurred her horse into an unhurried walk.

Emma’s horse followed on instinct, knowing the way home and wanting nothing more. “You know if it really bothers you I’ll stop with the princess jokes.”

Regina shook her head. “It’s not uncomfortable per se, just…odd. I thought I’d never be in this position again, nor did I want to be. Now that I am I can’t help but thinking that that might be an advantage. People who want power rarely do anything good with it.”

Emma hummed thinking it over. “Maybe. I mean I didn’t really want anything to do with my title until a few months ago. But now I do want power, but for the right reasons, so perhaps there’s at least a partial truth to it somewhere.”

“Gods know my mother is the epitome of wanting power and look where that’s gotten the kingdom.”

“The Dark Kingdom has had more than a few of those rulers.”

Regina hummed in agreement, but said nothing more.

Emma allowed the silence for a few minutes, but kept looking at the knight worriedly. Regina too much in her own head never really seemed to be a good thing. Still, she didn’t quite know what to do to draw her out.

“So, what are you going to teach me first about wielding a sword?” Emma blurted out. That hadn’t really been anything like what she’d wanted to say, but she sort of had to roll with it now. “Am I going to get to slash at one of those practice dummies you guys have out there? That actually looks like a little bit of fun.” She mimed the slashing moments she saw some of the guards use.

A smile ghosted across Regina’s face. “No, not quite, Emma, a lot comes before you progress to that stage.”

Emma groaned. “Why do I have a feeling I won’t like a lot of what comes before?”

“Because you’re intuitive and also very impatient. One doesn’t get good at wielding a sword overnight. A lot of practice involved teaching form and practicing basic moves before anything so glorious as play fighting.”

Emma sighed. “Fine, fine, as long as that comes eventually.”

Regina looked over at Emma. “It will, and if you approach sword fighting with even a percentage of the energy you put into horse riding you’ll get there faster than you think.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Emma reached over across the small distance between them and grabbed Regina’s hand again. She felt better with the other woman’s hand in her own.

Regina squeezed her hand back. They rode back to the palace like that slowly, hands joined. When they reached the stables it was near dark. Emma slipped inside the stable manager’s office and made the arrangements for Fierro and then exited to help Regina put the horses away. It was dark by the time they made it back to their rooms with just enough time to change for dinner before they were missed.

Emma thanked every god that there was that dinner that night was actually a rather small family and close friends only affair. Over a week of large dinners for entertaining guests left over from their wedding was trying at best. It would be by no means relaxed, but at least there was no real call for small talk.

They slipped in just as everyone was sitting down. Emma took her seat at her mother’s left hand, Regina right beside her. She shivered as her mother’s cool gaze swept over her. She could sense the disapproval from five miles away. So, really, it was like any other meal. Emma immediately turned to Regina after a polite nod to her mother. She wasn’t going to be the one that broke the silent agreement between them to only talk to one another when they absolutely had to. She may have wanted to reconcile with the woman deep down, but she couldn’t give that ground just yet and certainly not in such a public setting. That would make it seem as if she had done something wrong and that’s how the story would be spread and she wasn’t about to have that.

“So, when are we starting our lessons?” Emma asked Regina. She resisted the urge to bounce up and down in her seat.

Regina smirked as if she knew exactly that Emma was bouncing off the walls inside the confines of her own head. “Day after tomorrow? That will give me a day to talk to the drill sergeant and set up a time for our practices.”

Emma nodded. “Sounds good.”

“Not that we’ll really be needing a large space for a while, but it’s better to have everything set up for when we do.”

Emma’s smile fell just a little. Suffering through the basics was going to bore her out of her mind and make her sorer than she ever wanted to be, she knew. That was how it had been for her first few horseback riding lessons and bow and arrow lessons. But anything really worth doing had such annoying stages, she supposed.

“Yeah, with you as a teacher I think that will come sooner rather than later.”

Regina blushed slightly. “Oh, don’t think you can charm your way into the more advanced moves, darling. You’ll get there when you earn it.”

“Hey! I wasn’t doing that!” The back of her neck heated up. Ok, so maybe she had been a little, but mostly she just wanted to compliment Regina.

Regina shot her a disbelieving look and turned towards the food that had just been set in front of her. A small smile broke out across her face as she saw that the bowl in front of her was full of spicy vegetable stew. She delicately picked up her spoon and started eating.

Emma felt her insides warm at the little smile on Regina’s face. She wanted to know exactly why her wife smiled like that just over a kind of stew. There had to be a story in there somewhere. Maybe it was just as simple as the knight liked that type of stew really well, or maybe it was something more complicated. Regardless, she wanted to know. She really just wanted to know everything. She was beginning to piece together a lot of Regina, but there was still a lot missing and the closer she got to Regina, the more she wanted to know.

“Emma, dear,” her mother said to get her attention.

Emma startled out of staring at Regina and turned, slight frown now etching her face. “Yes mother?”

Snow looked between Emma and Regina for a second before continuing. “I have reports that you shirked your duties to go horseback riding.”

Emma’s frown turned into a full blown scowl. “We shirked nothing, mother. We were simply done with work for the day and decided to go on a ride, that’s all.”

“That report will take at least half a day’s work to complete, you were most assuredly not in the library for half a day.”

Regina spoke up. “With all due respect, your majesty, we did get quite a lot of work done in the few hours we were there. Between the two of us we almost have half of the crops of the kingdom done, with how much was grown, where it was grown, and the cost of growing it. If you don’t believe such amount of work could be completed in a few hours I do have our notes from today stashed away.”

Emma refused to turn her head and shoot the other woman a confused look. She was the one who stashed away the notes. But then again Regina was probably somehow protecting their work from being destroyed by lying. It wouldn’t do to call her out and ruin the whole thing.

“And besides, mother, we don’t have half a day to spend on one report. If we do it portions at a time then it still gets done in a timely manner without interfering with our schedule of other activities.”

“Like horseback riding,” her mother accused.

“Like council meetings.” Emma gripped her spoon hard. She knew she wasn’t near strong enough to bend the metal, but damn it if it didn’t feel like she could in that moment.

“Perhaps you should be rid of outside distractions until the report is done.” Her mother raised a spoonful of stew up to her mouth carefully.

“It will be done at the latest day after tomorrow,” Regina said. The knight’s hand grabbed the hand of Emma’s that wasn’t killing a spoon. Her hand relaxed just a little bit, but not much. “The comparison harvest report hasn’t even been complied yet. We must wait for that report to be done before we can truly finish the project anyway. If you wanted the most accurate information, of course, which any self-respecting monarch such as yourself would want the latest, most accurate information.”

“Those reports aren’t finished until December. It’s the end of September now, that’s quite a ways away.” Snow scowled.

“Yes, mother, but we aren’t the people on your council in charge of such things. As large as our crops usually are it would take month to analyze all the data and then write it down.” Emma desperately hoped she wasn’t crushing Regina’s fingers. That wouldn’t exactly be romantic, then again neither was a fight with her mother, so really, what was the harm.

“I don’t care. What I asked for was that report as soon as possible, not excuses.”

“They aren’t excuses, they’re simple facts. More than enough of that report was done today to constitute a day’s work. For a report of that size to be returned to you in three days is phenomenal, none of your other advisors would have even come close to such a time line. Emma and I have put our best efforts into this report, but all work and no play will lead to a burnout and that’s beneficial to no one.” Regina looked at Snow levelly, face determined, but not outright defiant. Emma wondered how she could control her expression so well, it really was an impressive skill.

“So you say. I don’t believe you. Until this report is done you are not to leave the palace walls for anything. Do not think you will be able to use your connections within the guard to get out, if you leave such measures will only be extended.”

Emma resisted the urge to lean over the corner of the table and throttle her mother. “That’s not fair at all. You wouldn’t do such a thing to any of your other advisors. Not only are you putting harsher timelines on us for the project, but bigger punishments for not completing it? That’s ridiculous. The most anyone else would have gotten was a dressing down, that’s it. Mother, you’re taking this too far. Quite frankly I’m tired of you making me feel as if I’m inadequate. I know I’m not, not anymore. I may not be perfect, but I’m working my hardest to prove that I am the princess this kingdom deserves and you act as if I’m doing the exact opposite. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of feeling bad for doing what I know is right. I want you to stop, or at least make some steps towards rectifying this behavior.”

She stayed calm the entire time she was speaking, despite her inner turmoil. This was the advice Regina had given her, couching her grievance in the language of feelings and not directly attacking her mother, though she thoroughly wanted to. Emma held her breath after she was done talking to see what her mother would do.

“You feel inadequate? You feel bad? You think you’re doing what’s right? No, Emma, I know what is right for this kingdom and it’s nothing that you are doing. So you should feel as if something is wrong, because it is. You’re still a naïve child when it comes to ruling. You care about all the wrong things and none of the right ones. The kingdom only runs in one way and that’s how it always has. You have to learn that or this kingdom will eat you alive.”

“Those are dangerous words, your majesty, that this is how it’s always been done, that breeds mindlessness. What is so wrong about Emma caring about someone other than the nobility? Why would that be anything wrong? You’re the shining beacon of good in this realm, enlighten me as to why caring about everyone is wrong? Is it just because that’s not how it’s been done before? Is that the only reason? Because it if is, what sort of reason is that really?”

Emma was infinitely grateful Regina had spoken up. She was too fucking furious to even think of anything other than her rage. Her mother had just taken everything she was feeling and used them against her. She couldn’t even begin to comprehend it.

Her mother sputtered for a few seconds. “What do you know about running a kingdom? You’ve never done it before. You learned everything from a kingdom that’s completely oppressed. You know nothing about how to run such a free kingdom.”

“It isn’t so hard to figure out that one must do the opposite of whatever my mother did to run a free kingdom. Despite everything else, my mother did run a very efficient kingdom otherwise, your majesty. More than a few of her practices could be put to good use here in such a financially unstable kingdom.”

Emma was aware of every eye in the room on them now. The others at the table had fallen silent now that Regina had mentioned her mother, waiting for Snow’s response. Emma knew she should stop this before it blew up in Regina’s face. Regina’s reputation couldn’t take any hits right now, but she just sat there.

Snow turned a lovely shade of puce before she spoke again. “How dare you even suggest such horrendous practices be used here!”

“Yes, well, it’s the way it’s always been done in the Dark Kingdom. Surely it must be the right way to do things.” Regina’s face remained smooth, but Emma was damn sure on the inside she was smirking.

Her mother started to shake. “You know nothing. Your punishment still stands. You will not leave the palace until your report is done. That is final and is all the more that will be said about the subject unless you would like to prolong this arrangement.”

Emma stood swiftly. “If you will excuse me, mother, it seems I’m not quite feeling well. Something rather foul is turning my stomach.”

She stepped back from the table and walked quickly from the room. She heard Regina walking behind her, making excuses over her shoulder about how she had to take care of her wife. Emma didn’t miss the emphasis Regina put on wife. She smiled just slightly as she stalked into the hall.

She paused in the hall for just a second for Regina to catch completely up with her and started off again. “Sorry, probably not the best course of action there, but if we didn’t get out of there I was going to go across the table and throttle her where she stood.”

Regina hummed out her agreement.

“So much for couching it in the language of feelings. That went over like a lead weight. Now what, Regina? That was your last idea wasn’t it?”

“It was.” She sighed. “She’s entirely too stubborn for her own good. She thinks she’s doing the right thing, but she’s decidedly not.”

Emma snorted and rolled her eyes. “Well, yeah, that’s a little obvious.”

“Yes, well, it’s hard to convince a zealot that they’re wrong. I’m not sure there is a way really. Any evidence she gets to the contrary will only strengthen her beliefs.”

“So we’ll just have to put up with this for the rest of her life?”

“I’m not sure. If there’s any way into her head, I’ll keep helping you try to find it.”

Emma sidled over and wrapped her arm around Regina’s shoulder as they walked. “Thank you. I really don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Regina smiled softly over at her. “Probably run the kingdom into the ground.” She kissed Regina’s cheek. “But for a better cause than a royal wedding.”

Emma snorted. “Thanks for the faith there.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.”

Emma sighed as she walked into their rooms, shucking her shoes just inside the door. She walked over to the bar by the fireplace and grabbed out a bottle of wine she had shoved inside and two glasses.

“Wine and reading by the fire?”

Regina took the items from her. “Sounds like a good idea.”

They settled on the couch, curled up together, drinking and skimming a few books. And despite the fact that she had just gotten into a fight with her mother, Emma felt completely ok. More than ok really. The warmth filling her was comforting. She started to wonder about the feeling, but shook it off. That was for another time, and went back to reading for the night.

 

 

Chapter Text

A day later she set the report on her mother’s desk. “There you go, mother, the report on the crop yields from a hundred years ago. If you’ll excuse me, as I have gotten all of my other duties for the day done I’m going to take a walk through the garden.”

She turned and started for the door.

Her mother picked up the report and called out. “I don’t think you’ll be taking that walk after all.”

Emma whipped around and stared at her mother. “And why is that?”

“This isn’t the full report.”

“It’s exactly what you asked for.” Emma crossed her arms.

“It’s half of what I asked for.” Her mother flipped the few pages of the report open and scanned them.  “What I asked for was a comparison between a hundred years ago and today. This is only the figures for a hundred years ago. Your work isn’t done.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Emma exclaimed. “Those figures won’t be done for another three months! The harvest is still going on in southern parts of the kingdom. It will be a few hours job in a few months to compare the two figures and finish the report. You can’t keep us locked up in the palace for that long. It’s not our fault that the numbers aren’t here for us to use. We aren’t the ones who collect them. You can’t punish us for something that wasn’t tasked to us.”

The Queen looked thoughtful for a minute. “The men who collect such data will be in King’s Ferry by now. In another week they will be here in the surrounding villages. You will join them when they are here and continue on until all of the data you need is collected. Then you may complete the report I asked you to do in a much more timely manner. A queen needs information as fast as possible, you need to learn this lesson.”

Emma started to shake again. It seemed any conversation she had with her mother anymore led to this end. “This isn’t life of death information, mother. At best this will be used in trade meetings to bolster our appearance of industry. Trade meetings which will stop in a matter of weeks with the onset of winter. You need this information immediately like I need a hole in my foot.”

“You don’t know what information I do and do not need immediately. You are not Queen of this kingdom, you best remember that as it seems you’ve been forgetting.”

“I’m not Queen, but I am the heir apparent, it seems you’ve been forgetting that lately. My entire life I’ve been taught the ins and outs of politics and running a country. I may not have paid much attention, but I’m a smart girl, mother, some of that information did sink in. Crop reports are only immediately needed information to figure out if the kingdom will starve or not. This is not that sort of report.”

Her mother looked down at her desk and started to shuffle around papers again, picking up a few and starting to skim them. “I’ll make the arrangements with the men collecting the crop data and the guards. You’ll have to take a group of them when you go of course. Everything will be done before then so you may leave on this mission. Of course outside of this mission you won’t be able to do anything else. There will be no lollygagging, strictly business only. I’ll let you know of the finer details when the plans are finalized. You may go.”

Emma didn’t know what she wanted to do more, go over the desk and punch her mother, or storm from the room in an all-out rage. Both options had so much promise to make her feel infinitely better. But she didn’t. She calmly nodded and turned to go.

“As you wish, your majesty.”

She shut the door quietly behind her and fought the urge to scream in the hall until she was back in her own quarters. Regina was sitting on the sofa reading, feet up over the arm. The urge to scream lessened at the cute sight, but she still let out a loud growl. Regina was on her feet in a second, dagger out towards her. When she realized who it was she sheathed it and put it back under the cushion where she kept it. She sat down again, put the book aside and patted the cushion beside her.

Emma walked over and flopped down dramatically. Someday the couch was going to give out under her repeated abuse, but until that day she wasn’t going to worry about it. She stayed silent for a few long moments getting her thoughts in order. She really didn’t know where to start. The only question she really had anymore was—

“Why is she doing this? I don’t understand, Regina. I really don’t.”

Regina sighed. “I take it that it didn’t go well.”

Emma shook her head.

She reached over and draped her arms around Emma’s shoulders. Emma leaned into the other woman and relaxed, breathing the other woman in. Jasmine soap and sun, she smelled of night and day, a contradiction is there was one, but then again Regina was a contradiction most of the time so it fit.

“I suppose it is because she thinks she’s doing right by you, as I’ve said before.”

“It’s just hard to accept that when she’s trapped us in the palace like some sort of prisoners. That isn’t the best for me at all and she knows it.”

“You see, I’m not sure she does. I think she sees this as a means to an end.”

“What end?”

“She wants you to resent me. I think if you were to leave me right now almost all of her problems would just disappear.”

Emma looked up into Regina’s eyes. “You really think so?”

Regina nodded. “I do. She thinks I’m bad for you and is willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of me, like some sort of mother bear.”

“But I’m not a cub.”

“She won’t see that, not for a long while, perhaps not truly ever.” Regina started to rub her hand up and down Emma’s arm.

“How am I not supposed to hate her for all of this?”

“Do you truly hate her?” Regina’s hand stopped, waiting for her answer.

“No, but I’m so angry with her I might as well. She’s my mother and I can’t truly hate her…but it’s all just so…” She trailed off.

“I know. I understand.”

Emma sighed. “We’re trapped here until we finish the report. All of it, with this year’s figures.”

She felt Regina about to protest so Emma put a finger on the other woman’s lips to quiet her. Emma swallowed hard at the feel of soft lips against her finger. Now wasn’t the time for kissing. She could do that after she told Regina what was going on.

“In a week the royal record keepers in charge of crop figures will be here. We’re to go with them and assist them until the job is done.”

Regina’s hand tightened on her shoulder enough to hurt slightly. “Your mother is an idiot, but at least the trip will get us out from under her for at least a little while.”

“Yeah, but it won’t be anything besides work.”

“I know, but it’s something.”

Emma pulled herself up and looked into Regina’s eyes. “I really don’t care as long as you’re with me. That’s what matters to me.” She brought a hand up to Regina’s face, cradling it gently. “All of this is worth it for you.”

Regina’s smile was radiant. She nuzzled into Emma’s hand gently. “I love you.” She immediately looked a little startled, as if she hadn’t quite meant for the words to slip out, but the panic faded immediately.

Emma leaned forward and kissed her gently. The warmth rose in her again, hotter than before, but never uncomfortable. Perhaps she did know what the warmth was now, but she wasn’t quite ready to admit it yet. Soon, but not yet. She knew Regina would understand.

They pulled apart, both a little breathless.

“I know,” Emma said quietly. “You thought I was asleep, but I heard you that night days back. Every time I think of what you said I just get so…warm. It’s nice.”

Regina blushed slightly. “You weren’t supposed to hear that.”

“I’m glad I did.” She kissed Regina’s forehead and then settled back into the other woman’s arms. “I think about that and what you said about what’s between us being ours a lot. It gets me through some days with my sanity intact.”

Regina hummed under her. “I think about all of the times you’ve defended me to your mother, that’s what gets me through.”

Emma squeezed Regina. “I’d do it a thousand times over for you.”

Regina kissed the top of Emma’s head. “I’d do the same.”

Emma settled in a little more and scrabbled around for the book she’d been reading. She’d done more reading in the last twenty-four hours than she cared to think about. Regina handed the book to her.

“Good,” she said opening up her book. “I think we have most married couples beat already then.” And settled in to start reading.

 

Emma woke up the next morning in Regina’s arms. She sighed, content. The early morning light lit up the room just enough so that she could see the other woman’s face, relaxed and smooth in her sleep, slight smile on her face. Emma leaned over just a scant inch and laid a gentle kiss on Regina’s forehead. She loved waking up like this, wrapped up in the other woman. It was simultaneously exciting and calming be all pressed up against the other woman with nothing but a few thin articles of clothing between them.

She wasn’t a fool. She had noticed her looks lingering just a little longer than normal on a few key regions of Regina’s body in the last couple weeks. She was well aware of what it meant. It was what the lingering looks tied with the warmth she kept feeling around Regina that had her worried. One she could probably resist until everything fell into place for her and she was ready for what was to come. Both at the same time? She wasn’t sure she could manage, especially when her favorite pastime anymore seemed to be being wrapped up in Regina’s arms or cuddled together on the couch. Something would have to give soon.

Emma kissed Regina’s forehead again. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, though. She had feelings for the woman beside her, that she couldn’t deny even if she wasn’t quite ready to define what sort of feelings just yet. Maybe something giving would force her to get everything together. She wasn’t sure she ever would on her own. Not that she didn’t want to, she was just…afraid. What if Regina turned out to be just like her mother and didn’t think she wasn’t enough? What would she do then? She’d have almost no one left.

Under her Regina yawned and squeezed Emma too her. “It’s early, Emma. We don’t have anywhere to be other than the council meeting today. Go back to sleep,” Regina mumbled, just barely intelligible.

“As you wish, my knight.” Emma snuggled back into the bed and Regina, laying her head down in the crook of Regina’s neck, breathing her in. The smell of the other woman lulled her to sleep slowly. All the dark thoughts from just a minute before were driven from her mind, replaced by thoughts of racings horses and smiles. As long as her mother kept up with the same treatment, they would have a great deal of time to sort things out one way or another. Regina had been there for her every step of the way, it wouldn’t change now. And with those thoughts she relaxed just enough to fall back asleep.

 

The sun was much higher when they both woke within minutes of each other. Regina smiled down at her as Emma blinked her eyes open. She stretched, disentangling just slightly from the other woman to do so. She let out a loud groan at how good it felt and sat up.

If Regina’s eyes were a little darker after the display, well Emma wasn’t going to bring it up.

“Morning,” Emma said, voice still scratchy.

“Good morning, my love.”

Emma smiled at the other woman with a smile so wide it actually hurt. “I like that.”

Regina gave a hesitant smile back. “Really?”

“Really.” She said it as seriously as she could with a smile peeking through. She was infinitely glad that she got to wake up with this woman every day for the rest of her life.

“I was a little worried that…” she trailed off and shook her head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter.”

“That it would freak me out? Legitimate concern since you didn’t want to pressure me into feeling anything for you.” She looked the other woman dead in the eye. “But it doesn’t freak me out. Someone who loves me for me is the last thing that would freak me out now. It’s comforting.”

Emma reached out and cupped the other woman’s cheek. She was always amazed at how soft it was. She wondered how Regina managed it with the years of being a guard. Her mind darted to the thought of whether the rest of Regina’s skin was so soft, but she cleared that away quickly. Emma drew Regina into a kiss, relishing the taste of the other woman’s lips, almost citrus-y in a way. It reminded her of the summer palace and the summers she spent there as a child, drunk on sun and sticky fruit. Now she was sure Regina’s lips had the exact same effect.

She drew back, blinking a few times to clear her head. “There are plenty of reasons to freak out, and none of them have to do with you. And I can’t make promises, but I hope they never will.”

Regina looked at her, eyes warm and loving. “You’re an amazing woman sometimes, you know that? I never thought I’d say that, but you are. In such a short time you’ve went from a spoiled princess to a woman worthy of a kingdom.” She tucked a piece of hair behind Emma’s ear. “And so much more.” She kissed Emma this time, fleetingly.

“All I want is to be worthy of love.” The blonde looked down, biting her lip.

“You always have been.”

The words hit Emma like a gut punch. She couldn’t quite get a breath. As scary as the feeling was it felt…good in a way. It was so odd, but it was like she needed to hear those words so badly it had physically affected her when she had.

“So have you,” Emma got out when she finally caught another breath.

Regina smiled, that open smile that Emma was beginning to realize was saved only for her. They stayed frozen like that smiling for a long moment before Regina looked past Emma towards the windows. She frowned just a bit before pulling herself from bed.

“We should start getting ready. The meeting will be soon.”

Emma got up and started padding towards her dresser. Pants and a loose shirt would do today, she thought. She had nowhere special to be.

“You can tell the time by one quick glance out the window?

“It’s not that hard, it’s all in the angle of the sun beams on the floor.”

“You have to teach me. Sounds like it would come in handy.”

“It does and I will.”

Emma smiled and slipped into her favorite pair of leather pants, worn just enough to be supple and soft. “You’re teaching me a lot lately.”

Regina just chuckled. “I don’t mind, you’re a good student. Most of the time.”

Emma snorted and pulled on the shirt. “I try.

She helped Regina into her dress and soon they were off to the day’s council meeting.

 

“Different day, same idiots,” Emma whispered to Regina as they walked out of the room. She looked down at the new pile of papers in arms and scoffed. Yet another assignment that was below her. But at least this one could be done in a day at most. At this point anything to take up time was appreciated, even if it was stupid. Being trapped in the palace wasn’t good for Emma. Even in winter she managed to go outside for at least a short walk every day. She was always chided as a girl by her nurse for such practices, especially when she ended up sick because of it. But she loved the outdoors so she persisted anyway.

Regina hummed her agreement. She linked her arm through Emma’s and pressed into her side. “To the library then?” she asked.

“Yup, planned on it, even if the guards or the servants would have gone straight to my mother if we didn’t.” Emma glanced over her shoulder and saw at least three sets of eyes avert to the next closest object. “Amazing what loyalty a regular paycheck will buy.”

“Yes, well, it’s that and a healthy dose of fear and respect. Your mother could literally have them killed no questions asked. Would you go against someone like that?”

Emma shook her head. “No, but being who I am it’s quite hard to picture myself in that situation sometimes.”

Regina looked at Emma. “Is it really? After all your mother has done?”

She bit the inside of her lip. Regina had a point. “In a way, yes, because it’s never been me in danger, but on the flip side my mother could also threaten a servant’s family and that I can picture vividly. I don’t blame them for following orders, after all it’s what they’re employed to do…it’s just fickle loyalty even for good reasons is hard for me to understand.”

“When you have less to lose than everyone else I suppose it would be.” Regina shrugged.

Emma scowled. “I wouldn’t say less, different things to lose, yes. You’ve been on both sides Regina, you should know.”

“I have, and that’s why I say less. Yes, different does apply, but it is still less, at least from your mother. You may lose your freedom, but more than that? Not really. You won’t lose your life, you won’t lose the ones you love.”

“What about you? Mother’s been trying to get rid of you since the day I declared to the council that I was continuing with the marriage.”

“I’m the exception to the rule then. But most of the servants here have many people they care about back home. It’s a case of one versus many. It’s still less.”

“I suppose you’re right. I don’t want it to be like that, though. I want nothing to do with that sort of fear. Of course punishments are still necessary, but they should match the crime. Disobeying an order shouldn’t have the possibility of death hanging over everyone’s head.”

Regina squeezed her arm. “Yes, well, you’re the first monarch in every kingdom to think such a thing.” Regina looked at Emma again, studying her face intently. “You’ll be a great ruler someday.”

Emma smiled at the other woman. “So will you.”

They continued down the hall for a minute afterwards, quietly in their own thoughts. Regina drew them to a stop just around the corner from the library. Emma looked at the other woman questioningly and the expression only deepened when Regina started laughing.

“Of course,” the brunette said after a few seconds.

“Of course?” Emma echoed, still wholly confused.

“Emma, we’re both quite dreading this trip outside the palace walls, right?”

“In a way yes, the royal record keepers are all men who think they’re better than everyone else. I wasn’t really looking forward to spending so much time with them. Though the whole being outdoors thing doesn’t bother me. I just wish that we were allowed to do something other than work. It’s such a great opportunity and we can’t take it to do anything.”

Regina lit up. “That’s just it, we can.”

“How? Mother’s watch hawks will be with us?”

“Emma, what do most peasants do for a living?”

“Farm, why?” She was so lost in this. It was like Regina was on another planet and she had to find her just walking around shouting the other woman’s name.

“Our work will be to go from farm to farm and ask about yields, who says that at the same time we can’t ask everyone we come across the changes that they’d like to see in the kingdom? The peasants would have more of a say that way. By no means would it be all of them, but it would be enough.”

It all snapped into place in an instant for Emma. She started bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Regina, you’re brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! I could kiss you right now!” Emma looked at the knight for a moment before deciding the hell with it and leaning in, pecking the other woman on the lips. There would definitely have to be a better kiss later out of sight from prying eyes. “It’s exactly what I really wanted this trip to be. Oh gods, maybe it won’t actually be too bad after all.”

Regina chuckled. “I wouldn’t go that far, but it does vastly improve the outlook.”

“If only all of mother’s plans ended up turning out more in our favor.”

“I’m not sure about that, but we can always hope.” Regina squeezed Emma’s arm again. “Now what do you say we go do this assignment and move on to other more important things.” She tugged Emma forward.

“Do you think we should come up with a list of questions to ask everyone or should we just fly off the cusp? One seems more genuine and friendly while the other one gives us a consistent set of data to refer back to.”

“Perhaps a mixture of both, darling. We could always start off just talking and then lead in with the questions or vice versa, whichever works better.”

“I think the questions should come first. They could lead to other questions that need to be asked but we haven’t written down, more problems could be solved that way I think.”

Regina nodded and pushed open the door to the library. “Yes, maybe. We could always try both ways and see what works best for us. Gods know the farmers will just be glad that they have to deal with us instead of the royal record keepers.”

“Yes, definitely. How those guys don’t get stabbed with a pitchfork I’ll never know.” Emma snorted.

“From what I’ve heard there have been a few of them that have. By women. It’s a good tactic actually, a man will hardly ever admit he’s been bested by a woman like that.”

Emma busted out laughing. “Oh my gods, can I give every single one of them an award?”

“Perhaps that wouldn’t be a good move, darling. The record keepers do serve a purpose even if they are complete asses.” But despite the words Regina was still smirking.

“Fair enough, I’ll just be secretly pleased then.” She thought for a moment. “Could we replace the record keepers without their being a stir? Or at least add some that aren’t complete gits?  I know it takes training, but there are surely some peasants that could learn quickly enough. I hate that the only options for jobs for them at the palace are maids, cooks, or guards, not that we don’t need people to fill those positions, but for the most part there’s no possibility of advancement.”

Regina bit her lip. “Perhaps, all of those lower official positons are filled by nobles with little influence and of lower titles. Those in the higher ranks see them barely higher than the peasants themselves, so it’s unlikely they could pull a few allies together and make our lives difficult. It will depend on the political climate of the time, of course, but that’s much more possible than the council.”

Emma smiled. “Well, not exactly a sweeping change, but definitely something. I’ll take it.”

“Sweeping change is never quite as sweeping as it sounds. Crawling change would be much more accurate. There’s always someone in your way when you want to change things drastically and it takes a while to get by them only to come up to another obstacle later.”

“So I’m beginning to see.” Emma sighed.

“Yes, well, we’ll work hard for it. I have no doubt that by the end of your reign more than a few sweeping changes will have happened.” Regina drew Emma to their favorite library couch and sat them down.

“You mean the end of our reign, because you’re the only reason I have any idea how to do any of this.”

“You’re learning, faster than you realize. You don’t see it, but you’ve begun to stand on your own.”

“I don’t think so. I still rely on you an awful lot.” Emma signaled to the librarian to come over. She would know where in the gods names the books would be on ancient kingdom laws dealing with trade tariffs from a country they hadn’t traded with in three hundred years. It was an annoying assignment, but if her mother was really thinking about trading with the other kingdom again then at least it would bring more money to the kingdom so she couldn’t grumble too much. If her mother wasn’t planning on trading, though…that was another matter.

“Less and less is it relying on me and more asking my opinion on things and helping you weigh the pros and cons. We’re becoming more of an equal team, as all married couples should be.”

Emma smiled warmly at the other woman. “Well, even if I’m not quite sure I believe you, I’m quite fond of that last part.” She squeezed Regina’s hand.

“How may I help you, your highnesses?” The librarian interrupted their little moment.

Emma broke apart from Regina and smiled at the old woman with glasses.  “Elise, do you happen to know where I can find a book on obscure trade tariff laws?”

The old woman blustered that she knew where every single book in the library was and what it contained as she always did. She fetched exactly what Regina and Emma needed within minutes and they set to work, curled up on the couch comfortably.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma took a deep breath and tried to contain her anger yet again. She kept repeating that it was servants’ duty to follow a queen’s orders, but that wasn’t quite working. Not when her plans to help peasants everywhere were foiled at least for now. She walked out of her mother’s office yet again, fuming. Helping the peasants would only lead to her downfall as a ruler she said. The peasants were fine as they were, she said. She was wrong. The peasants managed to live as they were, but they could thrive if only the monarchs would let them.

But her mother wouldn’t let them. Wouldn’t even let Emma ask them what suggestions for improvement they had. Now on their trip with the royal record keepers they were to stay well away from the peasants, back at camp if there was one, with the main caravan if there wasn’t. She felt like screaming. It was always one step forward and two steps back anymore. It was maddening.

She needed to go outside. She needed it more than she could articulate. But there was no way that she could. Servants were everywhere that would run straight to her mother and there was no way that she was giving away the secret passage to the garden. Her mother didn’t know about it and she planned to keep it that way. So instead she went straight for the next best thing.

Regina was on their floor in a loose white shirt and black tights doing a set of sit ups. She stopped and grabbed her knees when Emma walked in. Sweat covered her brow and the rest of her body in a thin sheen and she was just a little breathless.

Emma stopped and swallowed for a moment. Oh. Something stirred in the pit of her stomach seeing Regina like this, but she shook it off. Now was not the time.

“Being banned from being outside in the practice yards is affecting my endurance,” Regina said to break the small silence. “I’m not quite a fan, thus this.” She waved to herself.

“Makes sense.” She sighed.

Regina was off the floor in a second and at her side. “Your mother did something.” It wasn’t even a question anymore, but a statement.

Emma walked to the cart of refreshments that was always kept in her chambers and poured herself a glass of wine. “Of course. Some servants reported our conversation about asking the peasants what needed fixed and of course she forbade it.”

Regina let out a slow breath. “Of course.”

“We’re to stay at camp or with the caravan at all times.”

“Times like these I quite miss the punching bag down in the yards.”

Emma snorted. “I think I would too if I knew how to fight.”

“You’d have beaten it to dust by now if you did.”

Emma laughed despite the anger. “Yeah, I guess I would’ve.” She turned back to Regina. “What now?”

Regina walked over to the sideboard and fixed herself a drink as well, wiping the sweat on her brow off with the back of her hand. She took a long sip before pulling back and frowning. Her free hand found Emma’s and pulled her towards the couch. Once she settled them both down, Regina wrapped around Emma this time she stared contemplatively into the fire.

Emma enjoyed threading her fingers through Regina’s hair in this position. Usually it was her wrapped around the other woman, and that was just as good as this position was, but it was good in different ways. She felt like for once she was the one protecting Regina instead of the other way around. She loved the feeling. She loved resting her chin on the other woman’s head, loved the way Regina nestled into her. It was lovelier than words could describe.

Regina spoke slowly after a long while. “Your mother has us confined to camp…but I don’t necessarily think that that ends our little side mission. It limits it, but there should be a way to continue.”

Emma’s brow scrunched, confused. “How? We won’t be there to ask the questions, how can we possibly continue?”

Regina sat silent for another few seconds. “You didn’t go through and interview every candidate for the tournament, did you?”

“Well, no, of course not.” Emma pulled back and looked at the other woman. Wherever this was going she had no idea what it had to do with the tournament. “It wasn’t exactly the ideal situation, but it worked well enough in the end.” She squeezed Regina a little tighter to her.

Regina sunk into her that much more and went on. “We don’t have to be there either, we just have to make a list of questions to ferret out the information we need.”

“What information do we need though? We just wanted suggestions for improvement of the kingdom in regard to the peasants. There’s not much specific to that that we can come up with a list of questions for. Everyone is going to have a different answer. A farmer is going to want a lower portion of his crop taken by the crown, a cobbler is going to want to pay less taxes, a cart driver is going to want a standardized road system. How do we come up with something that covers all of those people when we’re only talking to one type of person? Not that farmers don’t make up a majority of our population, but in order for us to grow as a kingdom that might not always need to be true. We need more people in trades and more scholars, inventors, doctors. We need better farming methods to make sure that even with all these people leaving the world of farming there’s enough to feed the kingdom. How does this boil down to one question?”

“It needn’t be just one question.”

Emma shook her head. “No, it has to be. The farmers will already be irritated at all the other questions, they won’t want to answer more. Make it too long and we won’t get thoughtful answers. I say three at most, but one would be better.”

Regina bit her lip in thought. “Fair enough.”

“And besides, how are we going to get this question out to the peasants anyway? We aren’t going with the record keepers, we won’t see the people, how are we going to trick them into doing it for us?”

Regina smirked and looked up at Emma. “They have a set list of questions they must ask, right?”

Emma nodded. “Of course, it keeps the information they get consistent as possible.”

“They aren’t coming to the palace are they?”

Emma shrugged, jostling Regina just slightly. She frowned at her carelessness and went back to combing her fingers through Regina’s hair. It was still slightly damp from her workout, but it smelled of jasmine so Emma wasn’t quite worried about it. “I’m not sure, I don’t think so, but mother hasn’t confirmed the details about our trip yet.”

“If they don’t who’s to say that your mother didn’t send a new set of questions, completely the same except our questions will be at the end. We’ll get our answers as we’re analyzing the data and just keep them for our own personal record instead of letting them be logged into the kingdom’s records.”

“But what if they do come to the palace? Then they’ll know that my mother sent no such thing to them.”

Regina rubbed the back of her neck. “I can think of a few ways that might work, but they all involve getting servants in on our plan in one way or another, and we cannot have that. They don’t have the protection that you or even I do.”

“Of course.” Emma cocked her head to the side. “But she will have to give them some sort of missive. Regina, you said a while back that you managed to steal for food before you found the witch who trained you, do you think you could put those old skills to use? You could slip the paper into whatever folio my mother gives them and they’d never be any the wiser.”

Regina hummed, face scrunched. “It could work, but it’s been years since I actually stole anything. An attempt now might be clumsy enough to get noticed. I wasn’t exactly so good at stealing when I had to all those years ago.”

Emma sighed. “Last resort then? We still have time to think of another plan, but let’s just hope they don’t come to the palace, but we come to them. I know my mother will call me into her office before we leave if that’s the case to pound the rules of the trip that much harder and lay down the consequences if I don’t follow them. It wouldn’t be unbelievable that she’d give me something for the record keepers at the end of such a meeting.”

Regina nodded into Emma’s side, chin digging in just a little painfully. “True enough, let’s just hope your mother doesn’t tell them that any orders from you are invalid. She shouldn’t, but she’s done more foolish things than that in the past few weeks.”

Emma snorted. “You can say that again. On this downward trajectory she’s been on, gods only know what her next move will be.”

“Yes, well, let’s hope her trajectory stabilizes out sometime soon.”

“You can say that again.” Emma took a deep breath. “But that still leaves us with what the question will be?”

Regina pursed her lips. “With only one question there’s the dilemma of do you make it broad or specific. Specific could address the problems of the farmers, and thus most of the population, but broad could address many people but the suggestions might not be as well thought out. People know about specific details about problems to be fixed when they encounter them in their everyday lives. They may even have solutions if that’s the case. And while peasants don’t know much about governing, all it takes is a seed of a good idea to spark something great.” Regina made a frustrated sound. “It’s a ridiculous choice to make.”

“Is there any way to put it somewhere in the middle of specific and broad?”

“There may be, yes, but questions on both extremes are easier to come up with.”

 “Of course.” Emma fell silent for a short moment. “If we have to go for one of the two extremes then I vote for broad. We may get less specific stuff, but like you said all it takes is a seed of a good idea to set something off. We only need seeds, we don’t need the whole plant just yet. It should be our job to grow it anyway. We’re the ones who know how to govern and how to get around the obstacles that go with that. Well, sort of.” Emma rubbed her hands over her face.

“Your reasoning makes sense, darling.” Regina started to make absentminded circles on Emma’s stomach with her thumb. “Something like what would you change about the kingdom, then?”

Emma’s face scrunched. “I don’t know, of course that’s what first comes to mind, but it doesn’t really click with me. Everyone has petty grievances about how the kingdom is run and that’s just a wide open opportunity to complain about them. While some of them are well founded I think many of them would just be ridiculous. You can’t keep cutting taxes while wanting to increase spending on law enforcement in the kingdom. It’s absurd.”

“We’ll get complaints like that no matter what question we ask, darling.” Regina looked up at Emma from the blonde’s chest.

“I know, but that one somehow seems like it would be worse for some reason. I have no idea why. It just, something just seems off to me.”

“What do you propose then?”

Emma brought her hand up to her chin, tracing her lips absently. “We have to get people to think beyond themselves somehow. How to do it though…” she trailed off.

They both sat in silence for a while, curled around each other. The warm weight of Regina was both distracting and focusing. Emma didn’t mind at all. It was nice just being. Moments like this made her feel like they were a real married couple who had married out of love and not out almost obligation. Emma gave into the urge to kiss the woman below her, restraining herself to a kiss on the head for now. She pulled her lips away from Regina’s sweet smelling hair and gasped.

“What?” Regina asked, sitting up immediately, looking around the room. She looked back and Emma confused when she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

“Sorry, I just, I had an idea.”

Regina raised her eyebrow in question, but didn’t say anything.

“It’s just, to get someone to think beyond themselves there’s usually one sure fire way, to ask about their kids. What if the question was what would you change about the kingdom to make it better for your children? I mean, it’s not perfect, but.”

The brunette tilted her head slightly. “I think it will do.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Emma smiled brightly, refusing to bounce up and down like a small child no matter how much she truly wanted to. Regina was on top of her and she didn’t want to jostle the other woman. She might move then and Emma really didn’t want that either.

“Alright then, we have our question. Now how do we get the list of questions we have to add it to and the royal stationary it’s on? Mother’s is different than mine and fathers.” A thought occurred to her. “Oh, a stationary should probably be crafted for you as well now that you’re an official part of the royal family. I’ll go to Clarice in the next couple of days.”

A slow smile spread across Regina’s face. “And that’s how you’ll get your mother’s stationary. She’ll surely have some somewhere.”

Emma could have slapped herself on the forehead. Of course. “But I’ll have to dig around for it probably. You can’t just keep royal stationary out in the open.”

“No, but perhaps you could persuade her that since you’re already there you can take the latest box back to your mother.”

Emma bit her lip. “I can try. It may not work, though, she’s good at what she does. Anything written on royal stationary is much like a law, or at least very binding.”

“As it should be, but you as Princess will have less trouble than anyone else.”

Emma nodded. “Yeah, but we’ll have to come up with something else as a backup. I’ll go tomorrow after I drop off our report on trade tariffs. Or no, before, that way I’ll have some sort of proof that I’m going straight to mother’s office. It won’t be much, but something to back up the story is better than nothing. And since I’m going on an official errand, mother can’t very well stop me, an excuse about going to pick up stationary so I can get more work done should suffice nicely.”

“Of course. And perhaps the library has old copies of what the questions for the record keepers were. If not we could perhaps reverse engineer the questions from the information gathered.”

“That will take time. We leave in less than a week, how are we going to manage all of this?” Worry started to buzz in the back of Emma’s head. This plan depended on quite a few things going right, and while there were always contingency plans, they might not have time to come up with one, let alone execute one. If only her mother had cooperated this would be so much easier.

“We have quite a bit of free time if you remember. If we start tomorrow and work until it’s time to leave we should be able to pull everything together.”

“Are you sure?” Emma looked into Regina’s eyes and hoped she’d see the right answer in them.

“Not at all, but it’s rather better to try, don’t you think?”

“Absolutely.”

Regina pulled herself out of Emma’s arms and stood from the couch. “Good, then we should be well rested for the days ahead. I have a feeling sleep will not be easy to come by in the next few days.” She pulled Emma up with her and led them both towards their bedroom.

 

Emma walked into Clarice’s shop, head held high. She’d need to sell this with confidence for everything to work in their favor. Clarice was a clever woman, she had to be to maintain a business in such a hostile climate towards women. But she was the best at what she did and was smarter than she ever let on, it was what had gotten her into her mother’s good graces and had allowed her business to thrive.

The middle aged woman emerged from the back as the bell over the door stopped ringing. She smiled widely at Emma, brushing the wrinkles out of her apron and dress. She stepped around the counter and curtsied before drawling Emma into a hug.

“Good afternoon, princess, what brings you here?” Clarice asked, drawling back.

Emma smiled back at the other woman. Of all the craftsmen and women who came to the palace, Clarice had always been her favorite. She really did feel bad about having to do this to her, but it would help people in the long run. Her mother would never miss one single piece. She would never be the wiser if this went off without a hitch.

“Regina, my wife, needs her own stationary now that she’s a princess of the kingdom. I heard that you might be the place to come for such things.”

The older woman’s face lit up. She swept her graying light brown hair from her face and bustled back behind the counter. She rustled around for a moment before pulling out a piece of paper and setting it down and went back to digging again.

Emma walked over at looked at the paper she’d set down. It was her own personal stationary. A swan replaced where her mother had a cluster of the snow drops from which she’d gotten her name and her father had a lion in the top left hand corner. The rest of the paper was the same for all of them, the top covered in swirls of white and gold, the colors of the kingdom, and the royal crest in the white corner. She traced the swirls lightly. She always had liked the look of it. Clarice was truly good at her job.

Clarice came back to the counter with a blank piece of rather plain paper. “So tell me about your wife then. Perhaps something will strike my fancy for a design. She was the Black Knight in the tournament, yes?”

“Yes, she was.” Emma smiled warmly at the memory now. It had been such a shock, but all she felt now at the image of Regina fighting for her was warmth.

“I heard it was a good fight, her last one, wasn’t there myself, but word does travel quickly. The man she was fighting gets bigger every time, I swear.”

Emma laughed. She was sure he was at least nine feet tall by now in all the time that had passed since the tournament. “Well, Regina is quite strong, but I bet even she would have quite the tough time with a nine foot man. I can’t imagine, though, that such a large man would be very coordinated.”

“No, I suppose not.” The woman’s eyes were dancing merrily. “Tell me more, I know of the brave knight, but there must be much more to a woman like that. It’s not every day that someone enters a contest knowing her life might be at risk.”

Emma scrunched her eyes. She thought that no one outside the palace knew that Regina was ever in danger of death.

“It’s not hard to figure out, Princess. Your mother is a kind woman, to a point. You are that point. And besides, word does travel even if you think it won’t.”

Emma nodded. “Yeah, well, she did it so I could choose my own suitor instead of having one forced on me. I chose her. She’s an amazing woman, Clarice.”

“I’ll meet her when I bring her her stationary, see if she passes muster.”

“She will. She’s brave, cunning, kind, everything a good princess should be and everything that a good knight should be as well and somehow it works for her even though those two things are so wholly different.”

“Tell me, her sword, where did she get it? I’ve heard stories about it as well.”

“It was a gift from her father. He’s the one who advocated for her first sword lessons back in her old kingdom.”

“The Dark Kingdom.”

Emma nodded even though it wasn’t a question.

“Important to her?”

“Extremely. It’s the one thing she’s managed to keep from childhood.”

Clarice nodded. “What does she do in her free time?”

“Read, exercise in the yards, ride horses, go on walks with me in the garden. She’s always teaching me about politics even when we aren’t in council meetings. She draws a little, but she always puts it away when I come in, so I don’t think I’m really supposed to know about that.”

“Any pets?”

“Well, I did just give her a horse. Well, not really give so much as just took him off the roster of horses available to anyone. She named him Fierro.”

“On your walks in the garden, does she have a favorite flower?”

Emma titled her head. She couldn’t quite place if Regina had gravitated towards any flower out of the mass that made up the garden proper, or her own private garden.

“Not that I can remember, but she always uses the soap made out of jasmine, so that may be it.”

The woman started to sketch immediately. Quickly lines appeared on the paper and Emma watched entranced as a sword started to form. That had been obvious to her, Regina should have a sword on her stationary, but since she wasn’t the one making it she wasn’t going to dictate. She was glad that Clarice had agreed with her silent assessment, though. Around the now fully formed sword a garland of flowers was weaving around it. Emma waited for a few seconds before smiling. Jasmine flowers now wrapped around the hilt and blade loosely.

Clarice pushed the design forward. “Something like this?”

“I think that will do just nicely.”

Clarice smiled. “Good, good, give me a few days. I’ll bring it to her.”

“Alright.” She paused for a second, wondering just how to launch into her proposal. She couldn’t launch into it by pointing out that she didn’t usually let anyone else deliver her stationary, that would plant the seed of denial before she had even begun. Perhaps just a casual mention of her taking it would be best. The less she said the better.

“Clarice, I’m heading right to my mother’s office right after this if you have any stationary that needs delivered to my mother. I’d be glad to take it with me.”

The woman smiled, but her eyes gone much cooler. “No, Princess, thank you for the offer, but I’ll be at the palace in a few days to deliver your mother’s next shipment of stationary along with the rest of the nobles in the palace.”

Emma nodded immediately. She could fight the decision she knew, but it would look suspicious. If such things got back to her mother she would only increase the amount of eyes on her and make the plan that much more difficult.

“Ok, just thought I’d offer.” She shrugged and took a step back from the counter.

“Kind of you, your highness, but stationary is a sensitive thing, as you well know.”

“Of course, of course, you wouldn’t be where you are today if you had lax practices.” She nodded again.

“Exactly.”

Emma stared at the woman awkwardly for a second before clearing her throat. “I’ll look forward to seeing you in a few days then with Regina’s paper.” She turned slightly towards the door.

“Will you be needing any of your own stationary, your highness?”

Emma shook her head. “No, mother doesn’t exactly give me many occasions for which I would need to use my stationary for any official capacity and personal doesn’t quite use much. The only person I’d write to lives with me.”

The woman’s smile had a little more warmth to it this time. “I understand. In a few days’ time then.”

Emma inclined her head and exited the shop at what she hoped was a normal pace. Damn. That had not gone to plan at all. They had nothing now, nothing at all. She only hoped that Regina had had more luck finding the questions than she had getting the stationary. If Regina got the questions then at least they would be somewhere. If not, it was back to square one and Emma didn’t like that a bit. A little less than a week and their time ran out. She walked a little quicker back to the palace.

 

 

Chapter Text

Regina sat down beside her on their couch. Emma jerked her head up and looked at the other woman, gasping a little. Sometimes the knight moved much too quietly for the good of Emma’s heart. She put the council notes she’d been reading aside and looked back at the brunette. There was a smug smile on her face as she brandished a piece of paper dramatically before slapping it down on the coffee table in front of them.

Emma quickly sat forward and grabbed up the paper as soon as Regina’s hand was gone. She smiled at she saw the words in front of her. It was her mother’s stationary, dated a few years before. Her smile grew brighter at the date. As far as she was aware they hadn’t changed the record keepers’ questions since, so the questions in front of her should be current. The breath left her lungs in a rush as she sighed in relief. Today hadn’t been a complete waste.

“How’d you even get this?” Emma asked.

“The librarian is well used to our odd requests by now. It didn’t take much to ask her for the copies of the questions the royal record keepers have been using for the last hundred years.” Regina shrugged. “After that it was easy to just go to the front of the file and grab out the first sheet. The hardest part was staying there actually looking like I was doing some sort of work. I ended up reading quite a few of them just to sell it. Did you know a hundred years ago this kingdom was warm enough to actually grow millet? Hard to imagine now. Then I just slipped the paper we needed into my things when she wasn’t looking.”

Emma almost laughed. The other woman seemed almost giddy about her success. Well, as truly giddy as Regina ever really got. She thought it was entirely endearing.

She set down the paper on the table again and sat back. “It is strange.” She swallowed before going on. “I’m glad you had more luck today than I did.”

Regina looked over at her, face shifting from a smile to concern. “You didn’t get the stationary?”

Emma shook her head. “No, I told you that she’s a good business woman and that there was a chance I’d be denied. Well, the chance was bigger than I thought it would be.”

“Well, we’ll just have to think of something else then.” Regina sighed.

“Yeah, I guess. Though it’s not like we can just break into my mother’s office and steal a piece. She locks it when she’s not in there and there are guards and servants everywhere watching our every move.”

Regina bit her lip. “They are watching our every move, but they aren’t watching everyone else’s…” she trailed off.

Emma tilted her head, confused. “Of course, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“I didn’t actually have a set of black knight armor just lying around for the tournament. That was my regular armor morphed into a different appearance. Perhaps I can do the same to my person. If I look like someone else no one will bother me. And if they look for the person they’ll never find me because I’ll be back to looking like myself again.”

“I’m not sure I like that plan.” Emma pursed her lips. “I know you know more about magic than I do, but it seems like changing an inanimate object’s appearance is a lot different than a person’s. I don’t want you to harm yourself for this plan. There will be other opportunities if this one falls through I’m sure. It’s worth the wait if you’re fine and healthy.”

“I can be careful, Emma. I started out small with the armor, I can start out small with this too.”

She frowned, sensing that this was as good as she was going to get from the other woman. “Fine, but the second it hurts you, you stop and we try something else, ok?”

Regina nodded. “It’s a deal.”

Emma sat in silence for a while, keeping more to her side of the couch than she would normally. She was a little mad at the other woman for wanting to risk herself unnecessarily, but she really didn’t want to storm off or make a bigger deal out of it. She didn’t want a full blown fight nor did she want to be alone. The side of the couch would have to do.

Regina for her part seemed lost in thought. Her magic was swirling around her fingers lazily, sparks of purple-gold dancing like they’d had a little too much wine. She didn’t seem to notice Emma’s partial withdraw for the moment.

Though Emma didn’t miss that Regina’s magic would jump towards her every now and again, fizzling out somewhere in the middle of the two of them. She wanted to move forward and catch one of these sparks, or at least try to. She wasn’t quite sure that those sparks were really tangible. Magic was so ephemeral in and of itself. Its effects were what was truly lasting. She couldn’t help but wonder just why Regina’s magic was trying to go towards her. They weren’t truly connected in any way. Why would her magic want to seek Emma out?

She bit the inside of her lip and didn’t say anything about it. They had more important things to think about. She’d point it out to Regina once everything had settled down again.

“What happens when we actually get the stationary, though?” Emma asked, throwing thoughts of magic aside for the moment.

“What do you mean?” Regina looked over at Emma, sparks of magic dying now that her concentration was broken.

Emma immediately missed the sparks, but she couldn’t put a finger on why. Sure they were pretty, but what did that really have to do with anything. “I mean, we’ll have the stationary and the questions, but we won’t have the questions on the stationary, at least not in my mother’s hand. Anyone who has eyes can tell my mother’s and my writing apart, same for yours. In order for this to be believable it has to at least look mostly like my mother’s writing if not exactly the same. Neither of us can really do that.”

Regina smirked at Emma. “But one of us can.”

“How? Magic?”

“Oh no,” Regina shook her head. “though I’m sure it could be if you knew what you were doing. I know how to copy someone else’s hand, especially since I have the exact words I need to write right here.” She gestured at the paper on the table.

“How?” Emma asked again.

Regina reached out and turned the paper upside down. “If I turn it upside down like this it takes the focus more off the letters and words and puts more on the shape of how it’s written. Thus, I’ll be able to recreate your mother’s writing. The trickiest part will be when I need to write the final question, but hopefully by then I’ll have gotten used to your mother’s writing style enough to make a good go at it. Of course, practice makes perfect.”

“You’re going to try and morph yourself and practice how to copy mother’s writing? Isn’t that a little much, even for you? I can help at least with the writing part.”

Regina bit her lip. “You could, but this is something I’ve already done before. Back when I lived in the Dark Kingdom I got quite good at copying my mother’s hand using this trick. It would be quicker for me.”

“But if you’re torn in two different directions you could end up hurting yourself changing your appearance.”

Regina thought that over for a long moment. “Perhaps you’re right. But if I have to stop I’ll take over or if I master it early on same thing.”

Emma nodded. “Alright.” She sighed. “That takes care of a lot, but I can’t help but feel we’re missing so much.”

“We are, were this a military plan I’d never use it, but death isn’t involved here.”

“Treason involves death.”

“She won’t kill you.”

Emma sat forward and grabbed Regina’s hands. “Yeah, but that doesn’t cover you.”

“No, but I’m betting your mother would rather cover up the plan we’re trying to execute than draw attention to us. An execution of a traitor would draw quite a bit of attention, and she could change the story all she wanted, the truth would get out eventually.”

She rubbed her forehead, trying to get rid of a headache that was coming on. “How about we just don’t get caught? How about everything just goes right for once? I’d be ok with that.”

Regina laughed once. “I think we both would.”

Emma scooted the rest of the way across the couch and into Regina’s arms again. She wasn’t happy with her still, but she wanted the other woman’s comfort. Talk of death made her more nervous than she really let on.

When Regina started up playing with her magic again, Emma felt it. It was hot against her skin, but not unpleasant, like the sun on a late summer day. It danced on her skin before sinking in, warming her from the inside out, sending little shivers of feeling through every part of her body. Her eyes fluttered closed. It felt absolutely heavenly and so very intimate. She couldn’t imagine that sex was any more intimate than the magic. It felt like a part of Regina was inside her.

It took every part of her to draw back. If she stayed in Regina’s arms like that it would lead to sex and as much as she had been thinking about it in brief moments before she shook the thoughts away, she wasn’t ready for the next step. But the loss of Regina now that magic had danced across her skin was a little too much.

“Regina,” she said, voice lower than in had been a few minutes before.

Regina turned to look at her, eyes questioning.

“Can you stop the magic for now? It’s, um, kind of affecting me.” Her eyes unbidden slid up and down Regina’s form.

The brunette got the message immediately and stopped, the sparks fading away.

Emma sighed and sank back into Regina, drawling her into a kiss. The other kisses they had shared were more chaste than not, but this was different. It started out less than chaste and only declined from there. Every second they spent kissing that heat inside Emma dissipated but was replaced by another kind, something every bit as warm, but in a different way. Either way, she loved the feeling, she wanted more.

When Regina swept her tongue over Emma’s lips she almost passed out. She didn’t know that such a simple thing could cause such an intense feeling. She gasped and then Regina was in her mouth, addicting as chili pepper laced chocolate. The other woman’s tongue stroked every part of her mouth, revisiting those that made Emma gasp and squirm. Her hands tightened in Regina’s hair to what she thought should be the point of pain, but the other woman just groaned into her mouth and the heat inside of Emma flared higher at the sound.

But as good as this felt she wanted to return the pleasure to Regina. Even just the thought of having her tongue in the knight’s mouth was enough to make her heart speed up. But Regina was in charge of the kiss now, and she didn’t have the heart to take it from her. She just stroked lazily against Regina’s tongue as it went about exploring her mouth. There would be time for her to be in charge. They had until death to kiss and whatever else. And what was death to her when she felt so alive?

They drew apart, breathing hard. Emma’s eyes fluttered open to find Regina already staring at her, pupils blow wide and eyes so dark the brown was just a shade or two lighter than the pupils. The sight sent another zing of heat through her. Gods how in the world had she stumbled into such an amazing woman?

“Wow,” Emma finally said as her breath started to even out.

Regina hummed her agreement, eyes darting down to the other woman’s lips.

Emma didn’t miss the move at all. In a second she was up on her knees, grabbing Regina’s face as she straddled her. The brunette’s hands found her waist and guided her down onto her lap. Emma smiled at her before she leaned in and kissed the other woman hard. She kissed Regina for a few minutes before sweeping her tongue across the other woman’s lips, seeking entrance just as Regina had.

Regina opened up willingly under her, and if Emma thought having Regina in her mouth was good, kissing the other woman like this was even better. Her senses were flooded with everything Regina, the jasmine of her hair, the sweet-hot taste of her mouth, the feel of her soft skin. She felt like she was drowning in the most exquisite way and she never wanted to surface.

A few awkward strokes of tongue and then Emma seemed to get the hang of it, drawing a few gasps and even a whimper from Regina. She shivered as the whimper vibrated against her teeth. Oh, that was even better than the groan. She set out immediately to hear it again.

Regina’s hands started to slide up Emma’s body from her waist. They tickled her ribs for a few seconds, causing Emma to squirm, before rising even higher, stopping just below Emma’s breasts. Her fingers traced the underside of the firm flesh before a particularly bold swipe of Emma’s tongue sent her hands to fully cup them.

Emma arched into the touch. Having Regina’s hands against her so boldly was beyond words. She wanted more and more of it. Regina squeezed gently and Emma had to pull back from the kiss to toss her head back and moan loudly. She wasn’t this sensitive usually, but Regina’s touch was just too much and not enough all at once. Regina’s hands explored her breasts for a few seconds more, tracing little circles around Emma’s hard nipples, before migrating to her back and starting to map the skin there with careful touches.

The blonde sat forward again and lunged for Regina’s mouth. She felt as if this was the only way to both stop the warmth from spreading and multiply it. She wanted both feelings. She didn’t know what she wanted. Everything and nothing at all.

Regina’s hands reached her ass, gave it a squeeze that had Emma arching into Regina, detaching herself from the kiss yet again. She slumped forward into the crook of Regina’s neck and took several deep breaths and Regina’s hands found their way back to her waist again. The need for more still thrummed through her like electricity, but it was manageable now, tempered by her need to wait. She knew if she kept kissing Regina like that, if Regina kept touching her like that, it would lead to places she wasn’t quite ready to go yet. Oh, but how she wanted to be ready. The heat was addicting and so was Regina.

She pulled back and pecked Regina on the lips once. Regina smiled at her and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. Emma leaned forward and placed her forehead against Regina’s.

“So that just happened,” Emma said, laughing just a little.

“It did.” Regina nodded against Emma’s forehead.

Emma’s laugh morphed into a goofy smile. “I think there should be a repeat performance soon.”

Regina relaxed against Emma just slightly, enough for Emma to notice, but not be too super concerned about.

“I think so too.” She leaned forward a bare inch and kissed Emma lightly.

“I knew you could kiss, but damn you can kiss.” Emma sighed dreamily.

“Mmm, so can you, darling.”

Emma snorted. “Not nearly as well. Kinda fumbled at the beginning.” She felt the blush coloring her face and hoped that Regina couldn’t feel it as well since she was so close.

“We all have to start somewhere. You’re quite the natural, and practice makes perfect.”

“This might just be practice I look forward to.” She giggled.

Emma sat there for another few seconds before extracting herself from Regina’s lap. She settled again on the couch, leaning against Regina. Her eyes fell on the paper and a little bit of the giddiness faded away.

“But you have to be around to practice,” she whispered as the fire crackled in the background.

Regina turned and looked down at Emma, firing reflecting in green eyes. “I’ll be careful, Emma, you have my promise.” Her arm slid around the princess’s shoulders. “I wouldn’t want to throw away all that I’ve gained by being careless.”

Emma sighed and snuggled in closer to Regina. “Ok.”

“You have to be careful as well, darling.”

Emma looked up at Regina this time. “I promise. I want to be alive for the rest of this to unfold. I don’t think I’ve wanted anything more.”

Regina kissed her on the forehead. “Good.” She wiggled around. “Now up, I have practicing to do and so do you. We have limited time.”

Emma nodded. “Yes, dear.”

Regina flicked a few sparks of magic at her for her tone before going to the middle of the room and starting to focus.

Emma sighed and sat down with ink, quill, and a few sheets of paper before setting to work.

 

Emma sighed down at another fairly useless report. For the millionth time she wondered why someone else couldn’t do them if these reports were actually needed. She was a princess she could be doing so much more than this. What ruling had to do with any of these reports was beyond her.

She glanced up around the room. No one was around her anymore. The library was always quiet around lunchtime. If she worked now for a while no one would really be around or at least pay attention to what she was working. She pulled another few sheets of paper that she’d hidden under her notes forward and started to copy her mother’s hand yet again. The trick Regina had told her about had worked for the big things. Her writing had turned out very similar to her mother’s, but there were still things that she was working on, things that she found that she could only really focus on while the paper was right side up. She set to work again, trying to get the curve on the e’s just right on this particular draft.

The blonde froze a few minutes later when she felt a presence behind her. She slipped her work away casually and started to jot down nonsense on her notes to make it look like she was working on this piece of paper the whole time. She glanced over her work area one time just to make sure everything suspicious was covered before relaxing just slightly. She knew she shouldn’t carry around the forgeries with her, but she needed all the practice she could get and her time in the library was a good opportunity during the quiet moments. Well, what were supposed to be the quiet moments. She fought the urge to glare back at whoever was behind her. Instead, she set to actually working on her report again.

A second later one of the library attendants who worked under the librarian showed up at her side. “Do you need anything else, your highness?” she asked, voice high and breathy.

Emma looked up at the slight girl, bright orange hair slipping out of her braid. “No, thank you. I’ve got all I need here.” She smiled at the girl.

The girl nodded her head. “As you wish then, princess. Just let me know if you need anything.”

“I will.” Emma’s eyes fell back to her work, this report on the incidences of Blue Fever in the kingdom over the last hundred years. It was a little more interesting to Emma just for the fact it wasn’t a trade report. The tactics some villages took to ward off the almost always deadly disease were interesting as well as amusing at points. Whoever thought that putting on masks and flapping around like a bird when outside would ward off the disease was off their rocker.

She worked on for a few minutes before looking around again. The library was empty save for just a bare few people, mostly workers. Just as she started to slip the paper out she felt someone behind her again. She stopped her hand’s movement and made to move another instead. She shook her head and went back to work like she hadn’t quite found what she was looking for on that paper and hoped she had put on a good enough act.

“I saw your highness was displeased with something, is it because you don’t have the resources you need?” The girl came to her side again.

Emma looked her over more carefully this time. She wasn’t one of her mother’s favored servants. Emma wasn’t even sure she’d seen the girl before. As many servants as there were in the palace usually she had seen most of them in passing if they had worked at there for any length of time. For the girl to have noticed her behavior she would have had to have been watching closely, but if she wasn’t one of her mother’s watchdogs then why would she observe her so?

“No, I’m quite fine, thank you. If I really do need anything I will find for you…” she trailed off hoping the girl would give her name.

“Liza, your highness.”

Emma nodded. “I’ll call for you then, Liza, if I need anything at all.”

The girl smiled at her again. “Thank you, princess.” She curtsied and walked off once Emma was paying attention to her work again.

This time Emma worked for a much longer period of time. She knew the end of the lunch period was coming. If she wanted to get any sort of practice done today before she retired to her room she had best try again, but she held back. She looked up around the room again, but this time didn’t even reach for the forgery paper, but the one just on top of it. She pulled it out and set to reading it, scribbling notes on the document on a piece of paper right beside it, but Liza did not show. Emma frowned, shrugged, and went back to work. It must have just been a coincidence then.

She set everything aside after another few minutes. She probably still had maybe twenty minutes before the scholars came back in to resume work. She slipped the paper out after another cursory glance around the room.

Liza was at her side within a second.

Emma looked up at the girl again, a scowl on her face. Another paper she was holding drifted down on top of what she had just pulled out. This couldn’t be coincidence anymore. Something was wrong here.

“Liza, how long have you worked here?” she asked before the girl could speak up again.

“Just a few days, highness.”

“I see. Well, since you are new here perhaps I should tell you before a rather not so nice member of council yells at you and tries to get you fired, that when people are working here they don’t like to be interrupted much.”

“Oh.” The girl look genuinely surprised. “I’ll keep that in mind, your highness, thank you.”

Emma squinted at the girl. Everything about her seemed above level, but something was just tickling at the back of her mind. “Where are you from exactly?”

“Wintershollow, princess.”

“Never been there.”

“It’s lovely this time of year. The first snow is always so beautiful.”

Emma titled her head. “Wintershollow is only twenty leagues from here. It won’t snow for the better part of a month yet.” Her eyes narrowed. “Who are you really?” She got ready to shout for the guards when a few sparks of magic hit her. She gasped and looked up at the girl again. Orange hair looked completely out of place with that smirk that was totally Regina. “Regina?”

The girl nodded. She leaned forward just enough so no one else would hear what they were speaking of, but still far enough away that the girl wouldn’t draw attention for being improper. “It was about time you realized something was off, darling. I was beginning to wonder if you were really as clever as I thought.”

Emma scowled at the other woman. “How was I supposed to know you were going to play a game of cat and mouse with me dressed as a serving girl? I knew you were practicing and that was it. I didn’t even realized you’d finally gotten your skin tone to change.”

Regina smirked again. “I wanted to make sure I truly looked different. Can’t have you humoring me in anyway. Plus I needed to test that I could hold it long enough for everything I needed to do. Both tests were successful.”

Emma exhaled through her nose. There were more important things to be annoyed about she supposed than a petty trick. “And you didn’t hurt yourself in any way to achieve this end?”

Regina shook her head. “No, I did make you a deal.” The brunette glanced down at Emma’s papers. “Though it seems perhaps it was I who needed to be more worried about you. You can’t be doing such things here in the open, Emma.”

“I have to practice, Regina. I was being careful. Surely in your watching you noticed that.”

“Perhaps, but even you can’t predict everything with just a look around the room. I know you want to perfect everything before it’s time, but only practice back in our chambers, please. Your mother’s wrath won’t be worth it.”

Emma sighed. “Ok. Fine. I’ll take it back to our room when I’m done here. Happy?” She felt like sticking her tongue out at the other woman, but refrained. That was beyond inappropriate on many levels, especially since everyone just saw a servant.

“Yes, I like knowing you’ll be safe.”

Emma deflated a bit at that. “I enjoy knowing you’re safe as well. Seems like both of us don’t get exactly what we want at points.”

“Yes, well, we are both quite stubborn women. Not everything can always be had the other’s way.”

“True enough.” Emma looked around again. People were starting to file back in from lunch. “You better go before anyone thinks to question why I’ve been speaking to you for so long. And Regina?”

Regina cocked an eyebrow.

“You have practiced how to change back right?”

“Of course, princess.”

“Thank the gods. I didn’t know what we’d do if you were stuck like that.”

The corners of Regina’s mouth pulled up. “Not a fan of gingers, darling?”

“No, I much prefer brunettes.” She let a slow, seductive smile play over her lips. “I find them quite a bit more…alluring. Though one really in particular.”

“She sounds like a lucky lady, highness.” Regina slipped back into the servant persona as someone started towards them.

“I like to think I’m the lucky one.” Emma eyed the man heading towards them, a council member that she neither liked nor hated, a rare occurrence indeed. He was probably on his way over to discuss something from the day’s meeting. She looked back at Regina. “But thank you for your help, I would’ve never found that information without you.”

“It’s my pleasure, Princess.” Regina curtsied and hurried off into the stacks again leaving Emma to deal with a council member that wanted her attention.

 

 

Chapter Text

Two more days remained to pull their plan together, but Emma was certain everything would work out well enough. Regina was already able to alter her appearance for long enough to walk around the palace to get the stationary and she herself was almost done perfecting her mother’s hand. A few more times through and she was sure that she could reproduce everything flawlessly.

She picked up her quill again and set to work. It was late, long after diner, and her candle was almost burned to a nub, but one more time through wouldn’t hurt. Regina wouldn’t be back for a while, flitting around the palace at the late hour cataloguing the new guard rotations. Despite the change in appearance Regina was still convinced that breaking in at night was the best option. There were fewer guards on duty at night, which Emma found to be rather stupid. Everything vaguely suspicious seemed to happen after the sun set, but she wasn’t the one who set the guard schedule.

By the time she went through the paper once more Regina was walking through the door. The façade of the library girl shimmered for a second before fading, revealing the olive skin and brown hair Emma loved. Emma pushed her work back and got up from her desk, walking over to Regina.

“How’d it go?” Emma asked, drawling Regina into her arms.

Regina sunk into Emma tiredly. “Well enough, most everything was the same, but the guard route in the east wing has changed to everything fifteen minutes instead of every twenty, inconvenient to be sure, but nothing undoable.”

“If you’re sure. I only want this to go forward if you’re sure that you’ll get in and out without a hitch.”

Regina pulled back and shot Emma a look. “We’ve been over this, darling. I’m sure. This scouting was part of everything to make sure I’m right. I’m being careful.”

“Ok. Just…” Emma brought a hand to cup Regina’s cheek. “I can’t lose you. I care for you too much.”

Regina leaned forward and kissed Emma gently. “I know, I love you too. Nothing is going to happen.”

“I know, and yet I’m going to keep bugging you anyway until this is all done, until it’s all for sure.”

Regina shook her head. “I suppose I can make it through another two days of you being worried. It’s quite cute in its way.” She kissed Emma on the forehead. “But come, it’s late. We should sleep. There’s a long day of lovely council meetings and reports on top of other things.”

Emma nodded and let Regina tug her along to the bedroom. She looked back at the things she had scattered on the table she had been working at and shrugged. The mess could wait until tomorrow since the candle had truly burned out while she’d been talking to Regina. Instead, she slipped out of her dress quickly and slipped into bed beside Regina and fell almost promptly into a dream about just how good it might feel to have Regina pressed up against her without any clothes between them.

 

She woke in the morning to a pounding on the outer door of her chamber. She wearily looked around. Regina was still sound asleep, curled on her side, hand stretched towards Emma. She looked peaceful and Emma didn’t want anyone to disturb that. She quickly got out of bed, careful not to bounce Regina, and slipped on a dressing gown. She scowled as the knocking sounded again, didn’t anyone know how to be patient in this palace? She hurried a little more, hoping that last round hadn’t disturbed Regina.

She wrenched open the door, ready to reprimand whatever servant was at the other side of the door, but stopped short at the sight of her mother staring at her almost too calmly holding a few pieces of paper with her forged writing on them. She swallowed hard. The jig was up.

“Mother,” she said, looking the other woman dead in the eye, gaze as blank as she could make it.

Her mother pushed past her without even asking admission. Emma took a step back to keep from falling on her ass, nostrils flaring. If she wasn’t in one of the most precarious positions of her life she would let her mother have it for such petty actions. It was disrespectful to them both, really.

Snow White down in Emma’s favorite chair and crossed her legs daintily, arms resting on the side of the chair like it was her throne. She motioned for Emma to sit in the other chair in the room straight across from her. Emma instead circled around to the couch and sat down. Her mother’s eyes narrowed but she said nothing, instead setting the papers on the coffee table in front of Emma.

“Explain,” was all she said to Emma before sitting back again.

Emma stared at her mother for a long moment. She had no story prepared for this. There really was no way to spin this story that made her look good. There was, however, a way to spin in so that Regina wasn’t implicated in anything. She had to take the fall for this.

“Exactly what it looks like mother, I was forging your writing.”

“I can tell that, but to what end?”

“Because you banned me from talking to the peasants directly this was what I was doing instead. The record keepers collect whatever information you tell them. If I forged another list of questions with just one question added no one would really be the wiser and I would get the information I wanted around your restrictions.” She swallowed hard again. Her throat felt like a desert. How she was forcing words to leave her mouth was mystery.

Her mother reached forward and grabbed one of the papers. “I admit, it is quite similar, even in the early stages. You’re quite good at this.” She crumpled up the paper and threw it in the already lit fire. “You’re also quite careless. These were sitting out on a table in this room. The maid found them earlier when she came to clean, just sitting in plain sight. She brought them to me immediately, thank the gods. I thought you were smarter than this, but I see that’s not true.”

Anger flowed through her, but for once she was listening to the little voice in the back of her head that told her to shut up instead of fighting. It would be better in the long run, probably anyway.

“Emma,” her mother sat forward in her seat. “you tell me that Regina is making you this great princess, but do you even realize what would happen if word of this stupid move got around? It could destabilize the kingdom and invite the invasion that we’ve been trying to keep out by marrying you off. So you see, I’m not quite so inclined to believe you when you say Regina is so good at teaching you. You should’ve been listening to me this entire time and perhaps this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Regina knows nothing about this. It’s all my idea. I never told her about it, I knew she wouldn’t like the plan so I did it on my own. It wouldn’t have happened if you had listened to me for once. I want to make changes in the kingdom. I see the White kingdom as a grand thing for the smallest person to the noblest lord. It’s already quite the good place for those of the upper class, as most kingdoms are, what I want to work on is making it better for peasants and you’re stonewalling me over the tiniest things. What harm could asking a few questions do? What could talking to a few farmers do?

“Our peasants are nowhere near the most loyal subjects because they hardly ever interact with us and our laws only just allow them to live as they need. I wanted to start on the road to a better kingdom, but you call it stupid and foolish without offering any advice. I get that I’m new to all of this, that I don’t know the ins and outs as well as everyone else, but being told that I’m stupid instead of offering actually constructive criticism isn’t a way to teach me.

“Regina is a good teacher because she listens to me. She may call me foolish, but she tells me what I need to do differently. And yes, I may be biased because she agrees with me, but no one who disagrees with me has anything to teach. That’s why I did this, because this kingdom needs to change, and I’ll see it become what it needs to be no matter how I have to get it there.” Emma looked at her mother, posture straight and commanding, eyes daring her to contradict anything she had just said.

“Through war, Emma? Because that’s what this kind of tactic is leading us to and that’s good for no one in this kingdom. That’s what you’re failing to see here. I’ve blocked your ideas because it’s not the right time. Change is good when there is time for it, but right now our kingdom, as you’ve pointed out to me so many times before, is on the verge of bankruptcy and war. Change is not what we need right now. We need to be on more stable ground before anything can be done.”

“But that kind of thinking is what keeps everything the same!” Emma gripped the arm of the couch hard. “That’s what you’re not seeing. The system we have is what got us here. If we change it, then perhaps we wouldn’t be bankrupt and on the edge of chaos. I get that you can’t risk everything at once, I do, but if you would just let me do something small, anything at all, then maybe we could find some sort of solution.”

Snow White shook her head. “I won’t let you do anything after this stunt.” She grabbed the papers left on the table and threw them in the fire. “Starting today you will stop attending council meetings until I see fit. Regina will go in your stead, as much as I’m not fond of the idea, if she really had nothing to do with this little plan of yours then one of your should be present at least for appearances. Your trip with the record keepers is cancelled. I’ll be going in your stead to get the information you need as well as make sure you try nothing else foolish. You’re still bound within the palace until I return. After that everything will be reevaluated based on reports from servants around the palace about your behavior and we’ll see where we stand from there.”

Snow stood and started to make her way out of the room. “I know we haven’t been on the best standing as of late, Emma, but you have to see that every decision I make has consequences which you’re only beginning to understand. Perhaps I haven’t been a good teacher and maybe a little too stubborn and stuck in my ways and maybe we can change that together when I get back, but this is how it has to be for now.” She glanced at her daughter once more before departing.

Emma just sat and stared at the door for a long time. She didn’t quite understand what had just happened. She was chided, for sure, disciplined as well, but somehow…it had almost been something of an olive branch there at the end. She wasn’t sure if it was a real offer, or just something to get her to behave, but she didn’t think she could let it slip past either. Somehow they had fought so much that the worst thing Emma had done had actually brought them back to a place where they might reconcile. It baffled her. How had this even happened? She wasn’t sure she’d understand if she sat and thought about it for the next century.

Regina came out to the sitting room in the middle of her reverie and sat down beside her. She looked at Emma concerned, laying a hand on her arm. Her expression grew a little more frantic when Emma didn’t respond. She shook the blonde gently.

Emma managed to look at her wife. She swallowed once and then again. She couldn’t speak. Words would fail her anyway, she was sure. Instead she put a hand on top of the one Regina had on her arm and squeezed.

“Emma, what’s wrong? Did something happen?” Regina’s other hand came up to cup her face. “Are you hurt? Did I sleep through some sort of attack?”

The pain on Regina’s face at the last question hurt Emma as well. She couldn’t stand to see the other woman feel such a horrid emotion. Words rushed out of her mouth just to take the expression of Regina’s face. “No, no, gods no. I’m…not fine, I think, but I might be, if that makes any sense to you.”

Regina relaxed a little bit. “Well, what’s the matter then? You had such an almost… distraught look on your face.”

Emma sighed. She could feel the words at the back of her throat now, ready to come out, if only she found the right order. “My mother, she was here,” Emma said slowly.

“You didn’t have a fight, did you? Surely I would’ve woken for that.” Regina sat forward and took both of Emma’s hands.

“It wasn’t a fight, not really. I’m not sure what it was. It just, it was an argument, but not an uncivil one for once. There were no raised voices. There were no insults. We just talked. I’m not sure how.”

“Why was she even in here?”

Emma looked up at Regina. “She found out about our plan. I took the fall for all of it, she has no idea you even knew about it. We’re not going on the trip because of it. But even still, after all of that, she should be more furious than ever, but she wasn’t. She actually explained things to me in a reasonable tone and didn’t blame it all on you. It was the strangest thing. And then at the end of all of it she offered an olive branch for when she returns. Or at least I think it is. She told me that maybe she hadn’t been a good teacher and too stubborn and that maybe we could work together on that when she got back. Is that an olive branch?” She looked at Regina like she held all of the answers.

The corners of Regina’s mouth pulled up just slightly. “I think you’ve finally tipped down off the precipice, and on the right side of it, darling. It’s an olive branch. But I think that you’ll have to work just as hard as she will to maintain the peace.”

“You’re sure?” Emma laced her fingers through Regina’s.

“As sure as I can be. Your mother has proved to not be the most predictable or smartest, but I know she does love you. I don’t know about this set her on the right path to reconciling with you, but I’m glad it’s happened.”

Emma nodded. “I am, but like, I’m really angry at her still, but…” she trailed off. She didn’t know what she meant.

“Mothers can make you the maddest of any person on the earth. They know exactly what buttons to push and when to push them for the most effect. They’re the person who knows you best. And as much as you hate them, you still want their approval and love, as I’ve said before.”

“Yeah, it’s just confusing now that there’s a chance. It was less confusing when we were locked in almost a battle. Battle comes with rules and now those are thrown out the window.”

Regina leaned forward and kissed Emma on the forehead. “You’ll figure them out again. I have faith. You’ll set your own rules and figure out your mother’s quickly enough. I think you’ve both established what’s important to each of you already. It might be hard to find a balance, but it’ll be there.”

Emma leaned into the other woman. “I hope.” She sighed heavily. “But now we’re a little set back in that whole thing about helping the peasants. And we’re still bound to the palace for who knows how long. And I’m banned from council meetings until further notice, you’re going in my stead since you had nothing to do with the plan.”

Regina made a displeased noise. “That won’t teach you anything, to be banned like that.”

“She has to do something more to punish me, I suppose. Putting me in a position of power while she’s gone isn’t exactly something to give to someone being punished. I’m sure she’s come up with another reason why I’m being taken off the council. From how she made it sound this all could sort of destabilize the kingdom.” Emma shrugged. “She did kind of have a valid point there, I guess, even if I don’t like it.”

Regina gasped. “Gods, she does, how did I not see that?” She pulled back from Emma.

“We were both a little caught up in the end goal but not the consequences I guess.”

“I can’t afford to be like that, I never have to able to. I’m so stupid.”

Emma grabbed the other woman’s shoulders. “Regina, we all make mistakes.”

“I can’t, my mother will take any mistakes we make and she will use them against us. We have to be perfect, Emma, absolutely perfect.”

“But she didn’t even show up to the wedding, how do you know she’s even watching us?”

Regina swallowed. “I just, I have a feeling, Emma. She may not be here, but she’s out there somewhere.”

“Of course she is, but how long will it take you to relax when she doesn’t show up and doesn’t show up? You can’t keep worrying about this forever.”

“I have for the last five years, what’s stopping me now when she actually knows exactly where I am?”

“I am.” Emma stroked Regina’s hair, still loose down her back from sleeping.

Regina looked up. “I love you, that worries me even more. She thinks love is weakness. She’ll use it against me and kill you and make me watch.”

Emma drew Regina into her arms. “Hush, my love, we can’t worry about things we don’t know about, only plan contingencies just in case, and we’ve already done that. Worry about everything about your mother when there’s something to worry about.” She froze a little bit. Had she just called Regina her love? She wasn’t quite sure.

Regina relaxed into her slightly. “I’m going over everything again.”

“Ok, I’ll help you. I’ll have the time. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“You can’t promise that.” Regina shuddered against Emma.

“Neither can you, really, and yet you do and it always makes me feel better.”

Regina nodded into Emma’s chest. “Me too,” she said in a small voice.

Emma pulled Regina up off the couch. “Come, you have a council meeting to go to.”

Regina followed her willingly regaining composure by the second and when she was finished dressing and out the door it was like nothing had ever happened at all.

 

Emma was the perfect princess, seeing her mother off at the gates to the palace with her small entourage with her father at her side. He was going to take care of the everyday affairs while her mother was gone with the councils help. While she understood why she wasn’t the one in charge she couldn’t help but think that now would be a perfect opportunity to learn just what it took to run the kingdom from day to day. Perhaps on her mother’s next trip she would gain enough trust back to do so.

Her mother hugged her goodbye, giving her one last piercing look that screamed for her to behave before her face softened again. She squeezed Emma’s arm once before turning to her father and kissing him on the cheek. With that she mounted her horse and her little procession was off to the next village over to meet the record keepers.

Regina appeared at her side as soon as her mother’s horse turned the corner and rode out of sight. “That went quite well.”

Emma shrugged. “As can be. I still got the death glare, but no shouting matches in public, not that any of our arguments really were in public. As much as anything isn’t in public for royalty anyway.” She turned towards the palace.

“Emma!” Her father called from behind the both of them, brushing his hands off on his tunic, leaving a smear of dirt on the bright red.

Emma smiled, her father never could quite keep clean when he was out in the yard. He always was inspecting the animals there and feeding them or, if not that, then sword fighting with the guards. He really was the shepherd king and that wasn’t an insult like so many thought it was.

“Yes, father?”

He jogged up to them and smiled at Regina before speaking to Emma. “I know your mother banned you from council meetings, but we all know that politics isn’t my strongest suit. I was wondering if you might help out? I know you want experience and I don’t want to burn everything to the ground while you’re mother is gone. She’d never forgive me.”

Emma laughed at that. “No, I don’t think she would.” She bit her lip. “But I don’t want to anger her any more than I already have.”

“She did give me permission to call on the both of you for help if need be.” He looked between Regina and Emma. “She didn’t say I had to wait until I absolutely needed it. By that point I think it might be a bit late don’t you?”

Emma was torn. This was exactly what she wanted and exactly what she didn’t need. The story going around the palace about why she was being punished and forbidden from going on the trip was much tamer than what she had actually done, what was sneaking out of the palace to her garden in comparison to forgery and borderline treason? But still, if she did this then she would be rather publically defying her mother’s will again. Reconciliation was so close and she hadn’t quite understood how they had gotten there and she wasn’t sure she could get there again. Her mother was more important than a few weeks of ruling experience. If she and her mother made up then she would get that anyway.

“I’ll tell her it was all my idea and that you only did it to help your father if she gets angry,” her father continued, seeing her reluctance.

Emma glanced over at Regina. The other woman shrugged subtly. Gods damn it this wasn’t one of the things that she wanted Regina to let her make her own decision on, but she was. Then her father shot her the same puppy dog eyes that had broken every single one of her nannies when she was small and she groaned.

“Fine, fine, but you are taking all of the heat if mother gets mad and you have to make it well known to the court that the only reason I’m stepping back in is on your request and not of my own volition.”

Her father nodded eagerly. “Done.”

She glared and sighed at her father. “You know, after twenty-three years of ruling beside mother you would be fine ruling on your own for a few weeks.”

“Your mother makes all the final decisions, I just contribute a different perspective. She’s the one who knows how to handle the upper class types. I have no idea, wasn’t exactly in my upbringing.” He shrugged. “Animals are better company and don’t kick you just because they want to hurt you.”

Emma snorted at that. “True enough, but you aren’t as dumb as you make yourself out to be and we both know it.”

There was a twinkle in his eye as he stepped around them and headed back towards the palace. “Who’s to know?” He called over his shoulder.

“Brave man, your father, to want to face the wrath of your mother just for you,” Regina said watching her father’s retreating back.

Emma laughed. “Not really, mother can’t stay mad at him for longer than a day. He’ll come in and kiss her on the cheek and all will be better again. But he always has been a good father, risking whatever was needed to get me what I deserved.” She smiled fondly. “The one man on earth who would’ve been happy as a peasant ended up a king.”

“The world works in funny ways.” Regina started walking towards the palace.

Emma hurried to catch up with her. She looked over at Regina and looped her arm through the other woman’s. “Yeah, it does, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing sometimes.” She squeezed Regina’s arm and lead them back towards the palace.

 

 

Chapter Text

Two days later Emma fell into their bed with a long groan. “Holy seven hells,” she said, muffled by the pillow in front of her face. “Court is a ridiculous place.”

Regina laughed and sat down beside Emma. “Of course it is. It’s the one place where nobles and peasants alike can come and get their disputes and problems fixed.”

“Problems? Those weren’t real problems. Except the guy with the chickens, he had a legitimate complaint that was actually the crown’s problem.”

Regina started to rub a hand up and down Emma’s back. Emma relaxed into the touch, practically purring. It was the first thing that had felt good all day. “They’re problems to the people, whether or not they’re the crown’s problem is another matter. They look to their monarchs for guidance in all things. Though I will give you that most of the nobles who complained to you should probably shut their mouths, but nobles are usually like that.”

Emma snorted. “You don’t have to tell me that.” She sighed and sat up. “Half the problem is that even if it was truly the crown’s problem and I had leave to act there are no solutions to their problems. I want to be this queen that helps, but I can’t even do anything to help. This isn’t the kind of irony I like.”

Regina’s hand came to rest on Emma’s. “It’s a reality of ruling you have to face sooner or later, you can’t help everyone. Whatever changes you may make may benefit the majority, but there always will be those who either do not benefit at all or are harmed in some way. Then there are just problems like today that have no solution, or no practical one. It doesn’t make you a bad ruler, darling, it makes you human. You are neither all powerful nor infallible.”

Emma looked at the other woman. “This pep talk of yours isn’t exactly doing much for me, Regina.”

The corners of Regina’s mouth pulled up for just a fraction of a second. “It wasn’t exactly meant to be a pep talk so much as an explanation. You are more than a little idealistic, dear. It’s not a bad thing, but it has to be tempered by reality sometime or it’s just as bad as the complete opposite.”

“Fine, fine. I get what you’re saying, I do, but I just…I don’t want it to be that way.”

“I don’t think anyone does, but life rarely listens to us.”

Emma sighed and reached for Regina, pulling the other woman down on the bed with her. She pulled Regina to her and the other woman instinctively curled into Emma. The blonde settled her head on top of Regina’s and felt at peace for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Amazing how bad days could warp time so much. But holding Regina like this made time flow in a much more sensical manner again. She wasn’t sure what she would do if the other woman wasn’t there to even her out.

She looked down at the other woman nestled against her and her heart swelled and that same warmth she’d been feeling for so long now filled her. Except this time she was absolutely sure of what it was and she was read to put a name to it, the same name she had accidently let slip a few days prior.

“I love you,” Emma said quietly. And this time the words weren’t an accident, they were purposeful. She loved Regina, it was so very clear to her now. The woman was her other half in every way. She wanted to love and be loved by her, be protected and protect her, live to old age with the other woman at her side, cuddle, and kiss, and talk from sundown until the sun colored the sky again. Their marriage meant she had at least some of those things, in a way, but not wholly, and she just wouldn’t stand that. She wanted to be Regina’s in every way just as Regina was already hers. “I love you,” she said again, firmer, a little louder, but not breaking the hushed air between them.

Regina pulled back just enough to look at Emma, surveying her face carefully. A radiant smile broke across her face when she saw no hint of a lie on Emma’s face. She lunged forward and kissed Emma hard, conveying all the love she had for the woman in that one action.

Emma kissed back just as hard, hoping beyond hope that Regina felt the same amount of love in her touch.

“I love you too,” Regina said, pulling back just enough to free her lips from their kiss.

Emma pushed forward again and sealed their mouths back together. It didn’t feel right to be separated from Regina in that moment. She wanted, no needed the other woman’s touch, much like the other night, but this time she couldn’t blame it on any sort of magic except the sort of magical hold Regina had on her. Love was magic in a way, she supposed.

She knew that there was going to be no stopping tonight, and for once, she didn’t want there to be. She wanted to give herself to Regina in every way. She was ready now that she admitted her love of the other woman. All the exhaustion wrought by the day left her, leaving her energized, adrenaline pumping through her veins, making every nerve ending come alive. She felt every inch of Regina pressed against her, felt every single iota of the other woman’s soft lips against her own. She was drowning and finally breathing all at once.

Her hands sought out the curve of Regina’s waist instinctively. She wasn’t quite sure of anything that was going to happen next, but this seemed right if their intense session from a few nights ago was anything to go by. The flesh under her fingers was surprisingly supple. She was used to the other woman’s hard muscle covered by a layer of soft skin, velvet covered steel, but hips were a different story. Her fingers pressed in gently, reveling in the feeling.

Regina whimpered slightly under the touch and Emma almost pulled back, thinking that somehow she’d hurt the other woman. The knight’s arms were around her in a second though, not letting her go anywhere and kissing her more deeply and then she thought perhaps she had done quite the opposite of hurting her and dug in just a little harder, getting the exact same response.

Emma hadn’t had much experience, but she was sure the taste of Regina was something she would never grow tired of. It was nothing that could be replicated, she was positive, nothing so perfect could ever be copied. She wasn’t disappointed by such thoughts though, she’d just have to keep kissing Regina and that would never be a disappointment.

She moaned, half in pleasure, half in pain as Regina’s hands wound their way into her hair. Emma found she loved the divided feeling, almost as if one intensified the other. Her fingers dug just a little tighter into Regina’s hips in response.

In a swift movement, Regina had turned them both so she was straddling Emma’s hips, smirking down at the blonde before going back to kissing her. Emma’s insides clenched at the smirk directed at her. Gods, she didn’t think there was a more attractive expression in the world. She reveled in the feeling of Regina pressing into her from hips to chest. The other woman’s breasts rubbing against her own was likely to drive her mad with pleasure. She wanted to feel more of Regina, more skin on skin. She needed it now.

Her hands drifted up from Regina’s hips towards her back. She hadn’t quite ever untied a corset from this angle, but she hoped that she could figure it out. With Regina’s lips and tongue as distracting as they were, she wasn’t sure she could, but damn if she wasn’t sure she really cared. Regina would end up out of her dress by the end of all this she was sure of it, later would be fine as long as she didn’t stop kissing her. Still, her fingers started trying to work at the laces anyway.

Regina started to kiss down Emma’s jaw. Emma drew in a shuddering breath at the feeling. She whimpered as teeth dug in at the junction between her neck and shoulder. The feelings were similar to a few nights before, yet different, more intense. She had no idea how without magic being involved. She idly wondered for half a second how this would feel if there was magic involved. She’d probably explode from all the feelings.

She almost laughed in relief when her fingers managed to untie the laces of Regina’s corset just by fumbling around. She quickly set to loosening it, glad that such actions were quite so difficult. Her motions stuttered to a stop when Regina bit at the top of her breast hard enough to bruise right off. One of her hands came to the back of Regina’s head and held her there. Oh gods.

“Regina,” she sighed, breath hitching in the middle of the knight’s name.

Regina looked up at her, that same smirk in her eyes before going back to nipping and licking at the flesh right above Emma’s neckline.

It was difficult, but Emma managed to pull her hand away from Regina’s head and go back to the other woman’s corset. She was only a few seconds from having it loose and then Regina’s skin would be hers. One last lace and the garment opened. Emma slipped a hand inside, tracing the defined muscles in Regina’s back, loving the way the other woman shivered against her at the touch.

Regina was sitting up within a second. She quickly shucked the corset and dress, leaving her in only her undergarments. She traced the bruise she had left on Emma’s chest for a few seconds, looking down at Emma, lip sucked into her mouth, just a hint of a blush on her cheeks.

Emma sat and stared for a long moment. Holy seven hells, the woman above her was beautiful. Gods, she had already known that, but this, having almost every inch of the other woman exposed for her viewing only was a whole other experience. Her hands came around to Regina’s front, tracing the lightly defined ab muscles, making the skin under her fingers twitch. Her hands moved up slowly, exploring the skin under them carefully, until she reached the other woman’s breasts. She cupped them gently, watching as Regina’s eyes fluttered shut at the touch. They were bigger than she thought they were, a little more than a handful. She licked her lips and leaned up, kissing each one gently. Regina’s breath hitched under her and a sense of power flowed through her. She literally had one of the realm’s most powerful knight’s in the palm of her hand.

She kissed up Regina’s bared skin until their lips met again. Emma tugged Regina back down with her, arms going around her neck. She could feel the other woman’s warmth through her thick autumn dress, the warmth already burning inside her spiked at the feeling. She needed more.

With strength she didn’t know she possessed she flipped them over, pinning Regina against the mattress. She grabbed the knight’s hands and tugged them to her back, clearly sending the message of what she wanted done. Regina responded quickly and nimbly, like she’d done it a hundred times. Emma didn’t care, feeling the laces loosen around her and air rush back into her lungs and onto her now bare skin. She moved to peel everything off, but one of Regina’s hands stopped her. Emma looked down at her, questioningly. The other woman just smiled and set to slowly stripping Emma herself, patting her when she needed to move up.

Emma almost felt embarrassed at the dress and corset hit the floor. Almost. Regina’s eyes were far too dark and hungry for her to feel anything other than the arousal that burst through her.

“Beautiful,” Regina whispered, hands tracing the pale white skin of the undersides of Emma’s breasts.

“You’re more beautiful.” Emma’s hands began to wander again, finding a spot just under Regina’s ribs that made her jerk and giggle. She catalogued the spot away for later use.

“Eye of the beholder, darling.” Regina tugged Emma on top of her and kissed her, long, slow, and wet.

And now that they were both bare, skin against skin, Emma thought there was no better feeling. She wanted to stay like this forever, feeling the smooth skin of Regina rubbing against her own, drawing arcs of pleasure from her. She shifted up so she could kiss Regina more deeply and gasped into the kiss as their nipples rubbed together. Oh gods, she was going to die from this. It felt too good to live through.

Regina’s arm came to encircle her, nails digging into Emma’s back. Emma groaned and arched into the contact. She had always thought the first time was supposed to be more gentle, at least if the other person cared, but now she wouldn’t have it any other way. She trusted Regina to keep everything just at the edge of pain and pleasure. She nipped at Regina’s lip and felt more than heard the other woman moan in response. They were perfect for each other like this.

She rocked forward again, this time Regina’s hot center pressed up against her stomach. She drew in a stuttering breath. The blonde could feel the beginning of wetness starting to seep through the hot fabric. Gods, how in the world did she affect the other woman like this?

Her eyes started to roll back as her own center pressed into the mattress. She ground down a little, slight pressure relieving some of the ache there, smearing some of her own wetness on her undergarments. It was clear how Regina affected her this way. The other woman was gorgeous and knew just how to touch her to set off so much pleasure it sparked behind her eyes like fireworks.

Regina arched up into her, moaning into their kiss again. Her hips started to thrust up regularly, grinding against Emma’s stomach. Her moans became louder and louder as the tempo of her hips sped up.

Emma was entranced. She wanted nothing more than to slip her fingers under the waistband of Regina’s underwear and finally have the woman completely bare against her and feel just how good it would be to have her grinding against her like that, but Regina’s face like this froze her. She didn’t want to miss a single second of Regina’s face scrunched up in pleasure, wantonly seeking out something Emma wasn’t sure she understood.

She pulled back from the kiss and just stared down. The blonde pressed just a little harder into Regina and the brunette groaned long and loud in response. Her hips were starting to lose their rhythm, fast and jerky now. And then Regina was arching off the bed and screaming Emma’s name at the top of her lungs and Emma felt her insides clench so hard at that she couldn’t breathe for a second.

Regina slumped back to the mattress after a few seconds, still jerking at irregular intervals until she finally relaxed completely. Her breathing evened out slowly and her eyelids fluttered open after a few long moments. She smiled at Emma, all lazy cat in the sunshine.

Emma just continued to stare down at her. She wasn’t sure that there was a more perfect person in the world than Regina Mills. She reached out slowly and traced her fingers over the other woman’s lips before lowering herself again and kissing the woman gently.

“You’re beautiful.” Emma kissed her again. “I love you so much.” Another kiss.

Regina’s hands came up to Emma’s waist, untangling from where they had been in the sheets. She slipped her fingers under the waistband of Emma’s underwear and tugged them down.

Emma got the message immediately, sitting up enough so Regina could guide the article of clothing over her ass and down. When Regina couldn’t reach anymore she took over and pulled everything the rest of the way off, standing up on her knees before throwing them somewhere off the bed. She was probably going to have a hell of time finding them in the morning, but she didn’t care.

Her hips jerked when Regina’s fingers lightly combed through the neatly trimmed hair at the apex of her thighs. The other woman smirked at her reaction and it was all Emma could do to keep herself upright in the face of that smile. The woman was far too attractive for her own good.

The knight pulled lightly at the hair and Emma gasped at the feeling. She wanted more. No, she needed more.

“Regina,” she whined.

And then she was on her back in an instant, Regina moving above her, kicking off her own undergarments. Emma strained to get a look at the woman’s lower half, but Regina just smirked at her again and started to plant kisses down Emma’s body. She stopped for a few seconds at her breasts, taking a nipple into her mouth and sucking for a few seconds before moving on to the next one. One hard nip of teeth and Regina was moving down her body once more.

Emma almost sobbed in relief. The sight of Regina’s dark hair against her pale skin and the teasing touches of the other woman were doing things to her. She needed touched badly. There was something out there that her body so desperately wanted and Regina’s touch could give it to her.

The other woman stopped just shy of where Emma was throbbing. She inhaled audibly and growled low in her throat. “Gods.” Her fingers tightened on Emma’s thighs.

Emma’s eyes rolled back in her head at the sound. Holy seven hells a sound was not supposed to be so arousing, but it was. Her head smashed back into the pillow as Regina finally moved just an inch down and kissed her mound. She whimpered. It was too much and much too little.

Regina’s hand snaked from her thigh and came to spread Emma gently. Emma shivered as the cold air hit her exposed sex. She swore she could feel every molecule of air hitting her. Gods it was torture. Then Regina was licking a slow stripe up her core, from bottom to top and Emma’s mouth opened in a silent moan, too overwhelmed to actually make a sound. Regina’s tongue was everywhere after that, licking slowly everywhere, exploring every single part of her. The feeling was…gods she didn’t know what it was, white hot magic, everything at once and nothing at all. She felt herself light on fire from the inside out, heat finally enough to combust.

And as good as Regina’s mouth felt on her, it wasn’t enough, until the other woman started to lick in earnest at the little hardened bud. Emma’s moan was almost a scream. She knew why Regina had avoided that place now. She felt close to something, the end she supposed, but she didn’t know of what, just that with Regina’s tongue on her like that she was going there so fast everything was starting to blur around her.

With a light nip of Regina’s teeth against her she was gone. Every muscle within her tightened and released and she was moaning loud enough to hurt her vocal chords. Liquid light was pouring through her every nerve ending. Oh, she never thought such pleasure was possible. Gods, this was why the servants talked of sex so much, she was sure of it, but this, this was even better she was sure.

She fell back against the bed again, little spasms still ripping through her. She couldn’t quite open her eyes yet, but she wanted to. She wanted to look down at Regina and smile at her and pull her up into a kiss, but her limbs were far too heavy for that right then.

Instead, Regina crawled up her body and settled lightly on top of her. Lips settled against her forehead lightly, leaving a sweet trail of kisses down her face until their lips met. Emma took a deep breath and sighed. Oh, this was what heaven must be like. Regina pulled back after a short moment and settled her face into the crook of Emma’s neck.

Emma mustered up the energy to wrap her arms around the other woman, holding her loosely. If she could stay here for the rest of eternity, just wrapped up like this with her wife she would gladly do it. Gods, she wondered why in the world she had put this off now. She felt so much closer to Regina now, closer in ways she couldn’t quite grasp, but nonetheless they were there. She liked the feeling. She was in love with the woman lying on top of her, she wanted to be as close to her as possible both physically and otherwise. She felt more in love than she had even an hour before. She sighed, content, and started carding her hands through the very ends of Regina’s hair.

“I love you,” Emma whispered into the other woman’s ear.

A gentle kiss was pressed behind her ear, sending shivers down Emma’s spine.

“I love you too, darling.” Regina’s voice was deeper, roughed by arousal and strain.

The heavy feeling was starting to leave her limbs now. She missed it just a little bit, but now that she could move without a gargantuan effort, there was a beautiful woman on top of her and who was she to pass up such an opportunity. She tugged up on Regina’s shoulder and a second later was met with black-brown eyes. Emma leaned up just slightly, sealing their lips together again. She wanted to touch Regina now that she was completely naked, she wanted to make her come undone like she just had a few minutes before. The heat within her grew at the image of the other woman tensing and crying out below her.

But she was still trapped below the woman she loved and as much as she wanted to make the other woman come, she wasn’t sure she could part herself from being pressed up against so much bare skin. So she continued to kiss Regina lazily, broad sweeps of tongue and the quiet exchange of moans. This was perfect, even as the heat started to build within her again. It could go by the wayside for now.

Regina’s hands came to tangle in her hair, not tugging this time, just simply holding, twirling a few strands around her index finger. Emma hummed at the action. She liked having her hair pulled before, but this was lovely in its own way. She loved having her hair played with, and this was just a more intimate version of that she supposed.

Her own hands traced gently up and down Regina’s back, mapping the muscles and bones under the tan skin, counting the vertebrae, stopping where the other woman gasped or squirmed to spend a few moments teasing there. She traced little nonsensical designed in the curve of Regina’s lower back that had the other woman squirming into her, grinding up against Emma’s center deliciously. She was surprised the skin was so sensitive there and made note of it for later before moving on.

She loved the feel of Regina’s ass in her hands she decided. Firm round muscle, flexing under her hands as she massaged gently was hypnotizing. The little deep throated moans it drew from Regina were even better.

Regina’s hands slipped from her hair and came to rest between them, tracing the skin of her collar bone lightly. Emma giggled into their kiss from the contact. It was quite the strange place to be ticklish, but she felt Regina smile into their kiss at the reaction, so it was all worth it.

The knight sat up just a bit so she could get her hands on Emma’s breasts again, cupping them gently. Emma sighed into the contact. She was even more sensitive now after her orgasm that Regina’s hands felt that much better against her. Her thumbs stroked her nipples into peaks before pinching them lightly. Her hands quested down Emma’s body once more before Emma could ask for more.

Emma took advantage of Regina sitting up to inch up just enough to kiss at Regina’s breasts. She kissed all around the woman’s nipple without actually going anywhere near it. Above her Regina whimpered, urging her on, but Emma didn’t give. This time was slower, she could sense it, gentler, now that they had gotten the original fire out of their system. She wanted to take her time now.

Regina didn’t agree, putting a hand on Emma’s head and guiding her to where she wanted her. Emma finally gave in, latching onto a hardened peak and sucking gently. Regina purred her approval, slipping her fingers between Emma’s folds as a reward. Emma moaned at the contact. Regina shivered at the vibrations on her skin.

Fingers and tongue were different, Emma found. The type of heat was different, built differently, but both were exquisite in their own way. She had the presence of mind to switch to Regina’s neglected nipple, but beyond that, all she was, was pleasure once again. She could get addicted to this feeling, being nothing, not princess, not heir to the throne, not Emma, just a bundle of nerves and good feelings. There were no responsibilities within the confines of their bed and it was freeing.

She pulled back from Regina’s breasts, hips jerking at a particularly good swipe of Regina’s fingers against her. She wanted to do more to the other woman. She shifted just enough so that her hand could slip in-between and into Regina’s wetness. They both moaned as Emma stroked gently. Feeling this through Regina’s underwear had been a meager fraction of the feeling. She started to move her fingers, trying to emulate just what Regina was doing to her. She quickly sought out the swollen little nub near the front of Regina’s sex and started to rub gently, getting a groan from Regina as she tossed her head back just slightly.

Regina’s fingers increased in pressure and tempo and Emma’s brain nearly short circuited. Her fingers stopped moving just for a second until she could readjust, applying the same amount of pressure to Regina. The sounds of pleasure multiplied, falling from their mouths every few seconds it seemed. She felt the heat growing and growing inside of her. Muscles everywhere were starting to twitch and tense in preparation. She knew what was coming now.

Above her Regina was biting her lip hard. Emma thought that she had to be close as well. She stroked a little harder. She wanted to come with Regina this time. Regina returned the attention, driving her ever closer to the edge. Emma felt like she wasn’t getting near enough oxygen, gasping for breath just as Regina was.

Then in one particularly firm stroke of fingers Emma was gone, Regina right with her. They collapsed together, a tangle of sweaty, tired limbs and satisfaction. Emma was even heavier now. She knew sleep would take her soon.

She blinked her eyes open while she still could to look down at Regina and gasped. “Regina? What in the world is that?” she asked, looking around them.

“What is what, darling?” Regina said, not raising her head from where it had landed on Emma’s shoulder.

Emma pushed her head up. “Look.”

Regina sat up just enough to indulge Emma and gasped. Her fingers traced Emma’s skin lightly. “Emma, do you feel anything different?”

“Me? I meant you.” She grabbed Regina’s hand and held it up for Regina to really see.

Regina looked at her own hand like it wasn’t a part of her. “What in the gods’ names?”

Emma looked at her own hand, gripped around Regina’s. Regina was right, they both were glowing, literally glowing enough to light the darkness around them like the fireflies that frequented the White Kingdom in the summertime. The glow was a different color, though, golden instead of yellow-green, the same color as some of the sparks of Regina’s magic. It faded as they stared at their limbs, dying away quite fast.

The blonde glanced at Regina, both relieved and somewhat sad that the glow had left so quickly. “What was that, Regina?”

“I have little clue.” She still stared at her hand like the glow would come back at any moment and give her the answers she wanted.

“Could it be a side effect of the other night when your magic rather, um, excited me?” Despite what they’d just done Emma found herself blushing. It was different saying it aloud instead of just acting on desires.

“Perhaps, though I don’t see why it would appear only now instead of sometime before this.” Regina let a few sparks of magic flow into Emma just to see.

Emma closed her eyes against the onslaught. She was sensitive enough now that the pleasure felt like pain, but not quite in the good way anymore. She let out a relieved breath when Regina stopped.

Regina made a noise in the back of her throat. “Nothing.” She bit her lip. “The answer is out there somewhere, but seeing as how whatever this is, is probably magical in origin, we’re not going to find any books on the subject to look up possible causes.”

“Regina, this isn’t the first time things have glowed that shouldn’t have. It’s becoming a trend.” Emma’s thoughts drifted back to their wedding. She had almost forgotten about the binding cord glowing when it had been wrapped around their hands, time and many things had caused the unexplained event to fade to the back of her mind. But now…

Regina titled her head for a second before settling back on top of Emma, arms growing slightly tired of holding her up. “It’s possible the two events could be connected. The priest said he had a theory about why the cord glowed, I’d have to hear his theory to know both if he even has a correct inkling and if his theory could connect the two.”

Emma kissed the top of Regina’s head. “Talk to him tomorrow then while I’m in court, see if he has any answers. If not…well, it doesn’t seem to be life threatening whatever it is, quite the opposite really since everything keeps happening at rather good moments for the both of us.”

She felt Regina smile into her shoulder. “I’d call them better than good.” She cleared her throat. “But I’ll talk to him. Are you sure you’ll be fine on your own dealing with the court?”

“Father will be there as well, I won’t really be alone, but if you happened to come back after you’re done talking, well I wouldn’t say no.”

“I think that could be arranged, darling.” She rolled off of Emma and settled firmly against Emma’s side, tangling their legs together, wrapping and arm around Emma’s waist and setting her head on Emma’s shoulder once more.

Emma frowned at the loss of Regina’s weight. It had been a comforting feeling. Though, perhaps it would have been a little difficult to get to sleep like that. Maybe. After their activities she was on the verge of falling asleep in the next few seconds now that their little glowing mystery was settled for now. Regina curled into her side would do nicely anyway.

“Good.” She yawned. “Goodnight, Regina.”

“Goodnight, my love.”

Emma squeezed Regina once before settling in and drifting off to sleep soon after.

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma counted silently to ten in her head. If she had to hear one more noble that she knew without a doubt had a coffer full of gold complain that he was destitute because the peasants weren’t paying enough taxes she was going to lose it. She would rather hear the complaints of the peasants about the rain not falling and the rivers drying up, killing crops. She couldn’t do anything about the rain, but gods damn if it wasn’t an actual problem. She could offer them taxes breaks for the year or food from the kingdoms stores. It wasn’t fixing the problem, but it was something.

She cleared her throat. “Thank you, Duke Devereaux, your concerns have been noted and will be discussed with the council upon our next meeting.” There wasn’t a way in seven hells that was happening, but anything to get the man to leave.

The man kept his mouth open for a long second, stuck in the middle of saying something more, before he nodded, bowed, and walked off.

Emma sighed as quietly as possible in the loud, echoy room. Thank the gods that was over. Until another noble stepped up after him and Emma almost groaned. She cursed the fact that the weather was starting to prevent those with lesser means from travelling. What she wouldn’t give for a chicken toting peasant to walk before her right then. She sat back and relegated herself to hearing another pompous idiot complain about his non-problem problems. Gods, she would even take a noble with a real problem over this lot. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if they really did have actual problems.

She perked up a little when she heard the door off to the side that the royalty entered the room through. She dared not glance away from the man, but she listened hard. She was rewarded with the sound of Regina’s footfalls coming towards her. Except they passed right behind her throne and headed over towards her father. Emma fought the urge to turn around. What in the world could Regina want with her father?

A second later her father cleared her throat. “If you’ll excuse the princess, Lord Devon, an issue has come up that needs her attention. I’ll be glad to hear your complaint, however.”

Emma glanced over her shoulder at her father and his eyes told her to go. She was up in a second; she wasn’t going to complain about this turn of events. Freedom, thank the gods. She nodded to those people left in the room and went back out the side entrance with Regina.

As soon as they were alone Emma turned to Regina. “What in the world was that about? Not that I mind, but usually you’re the one who’s all about me fulfilling my duties fully no matter how the idiots annoy me.”

“These are extenuating circumstances, darling, and that is the only reasons I saved you from that Lord.”

Emma rolled her eyes. Of course. One of these days she was going to convince Regina that saving her from one windbag noble every now and again wasn’t going to end the kingdom

“And the extenuating circumstances are?”

Regina shook her head and started walking. “Not here.”

Emma scowled. What in the world was going on? She hurried to catch up with her wife.

Regina led them back to their chambers. The other woman looked into all the rooms before turning back to Emma. She gestured to their couch before sinking down herself.

Emma came to sit beside her. “So, now that we’re alone are you going to tell me? Why was all the cloak and dagger necessary? You aren’t about to tell me some classified kingdom secret or something are you? You were just supposed to talk to the high priest, I doubt he has that kind of information. It’s not like the gods are talking.”

Regina sat there looking at Emma blankly.

“Um, he doesn’t does he? Because that would kind of be a bad thing and thus would sort of necessitate all the secrecy.”

Regina shook her head. “I went to talk to him about what we discussed last night.”

Emma’s eyebrows rose. “And that’s what has you so spooked? Why? Was his theory really that out there?”

“No, what it was, was entirely possible.”

“You’re killing me here, Regina. Spit it out please. What’s going on?”

Regina sighed and ran a hand through her hair, somehow managing to keep every hair in its place even with the motion. “He said he’d only seen the cord glow once before, as you remember.”

Emma nodded. Of course she did. Regina was just beating around the bush. She looked at the woman expectantly.

“He’s been high priest of this kingdom a very long time, long enough that he married your mother and father twenty-three years ago.”

“I already knew this. He blessed me after my birth as well.” She really didn’t see what this had to do with anything.

“Your parents wedding was the last time he saw the cord glow.”

“So? What does that mean that has you so up in arms?”

“You’re being dense Emma. Your parents are one of the most well-known true love couples the world over.”

Emma sat forward now. “You mean, you think the cord glowing has something to do with true love?”

Regina nodded. “Everything would make sense then, why my magic affects you so, the glowing after we made love, the binding cord glowing at our wedding. Every one of those things has to have some sort of magical origin, and true love is the most power magic there is.”

Emma sat there for a few long seconds and processed the information that had just been given to her. Her face scrunched slightly. “I hate to blow holes in the theory, though, Regina, but don’t usually true love couples fall in love like at first sight. You actually thought I was a complete and utter waste of space for the greatest part of knowing me. Don’t think I didn’t see you rolling your eyes at me when you rotated into my guard those first few years.”

The corners of Regina’s mouth pulled up. “What can I say, your fifteen year old self did not impress me. However, your twenty year old self rather does.” She reached out and took Emma’s hand. “Your parents weren’t exactly love at first sight either.”

Emma tilted her head in acknowledgement. “Fair enough.”

“True love is such a vast and powerful thing that exceptions aren’t rare. I wouldn’t doubt there are many exceptions for you, being the child of true love. I would do research, if only I had the resources available. My guess for now is the binding cord glowed because it was literally completing the bond between our souls. My magic affects you because of that bond and because we are two halves of a whole, your body is literally made to accept my magic willingly. As for the glowing last night…well it was our first coupling, I can only think that would make the bond stronger. I’d need more information to see if it was a one-time thing, or something that will always happen.”

A smirk made its way onto Emma’s face. “Why, Princess, are you propositioning me?”

Regina sighed as if the weight of the world was just put onto her shoulders. She slapped Emma’s upper arm lightly. “No, I was not. I was merely suggesting that when we do make love again that we pay attention.”

“Oh, but I was propositioning you.” The smirk turned into a cocky smile.

“I’ll never be able to get you to quit now that we’ve had our first time, will I?”

“No, I don’t think so. I love how close I feel to you. I want to feel that every second I can.”

A smile crept onto Regina’s face. “That’s an acceptable save, darling.”

“I wasn’t trying to save anything, that’s literally how I feel.” She sat forward and kissed Regina lightly. “I love you and I want to communicate that in any way I can. Making love has that advantage, and the fact that it feels godly as well.”

Regina pecked Emma on the lips again. “Well, that certainly is an upgrade from good. I’ll take what I can get.” She stood from the couch. “Regardless, it is the middle of the day and there are many things we have yet to do still, so proposition or not, we have other things that will come before that. You can try your luck again tonight.”

Emma sighed but nodded. She stood as well, ready to follow Regina from the room before freezing. “Wait, Regina, why are you so being so secret about the fact that we could have true love? It would be the final nail in my mother’s case against you.”

Regina turned back towards Emma, hand on the door knob. “Because there are those people who would gladly misuse the inherent magic between us. Emma, we’re more powerful than you realize with you being the child of true love and I being a magic user. I know more than a few people who would want that people, my mother being one of them. That’s why I wanted this to remain a secret until we can find out more. I swore the priest to secrecy as well.”

Emma nodded. “Ok, but if that’s the case I think the books you need to research everything should be made available to you. I’ll talk to my father about it.”

Regina’s shoulders slumped just slightly in relief. “That would be a great help.” She straightened again. “Now come, while I may have gotten you out of court there are other things that you could be working on.”

Emma groaned and followed. “Slave driver.”

She totally didn’t miss the smirk Regina wore as they exited the room together.

 

Three days later Emma was just wrapping up her courtly duties when a messenger came in. The man was covered in sweat and dirt, breath huffing from him in great gasps. He tried to speak, doubled over, hands on his knees, but couldn’t draw the air to do so. Emma gestured for the man to be brought a seat and a glass of water.

As the man rested in front of her dread started to pool in her stomach. She remembered tails of the last time this happened. She was no more than a few years old herself, but the tales had flown through the palace for many years afterwards. A messenger, in much the state that the man was before her, came to deliver news of war, a war that had caused them many deaths and a great loss of land and money. She swallowed hard. Messengers like this never meant good news. Despite what her father told her she wasn’t ready for this, she couldn’t command a country on the brink of war. Her mother would have to be sent for. Gods, how was she supposed to hold everything together until her mother got back? Where ever she was, she was probably at least a day’s ride from the palace by now. The first few hours were important, she remember that much from her lessons.

All her plans came crashing down when the messenger finally caught his breath enough to speak. “Your majesty,” he said, facing towards Emma.

Emma scowled at the slip up in honorific, but said nothing. She wasn’t Queen yet.

“I come from the southern villages. I hate to inform you, but your mother has been slain while on her travels with the royal record keepers. They sent this with me as proof.”

 He held up a necklace, letting it dangle in the light, glinting just slightly. It was necklace Emma’s father had given her mother early on in their relationship, something she never took off and never would have unless…The jewelry was covered in a fine coating of blood, a few drops here and there but enough to telegraph what had happened.

The room around them gasped. Her father was down the stairs, grabbing the man by the collar and lifting him up high above the floor. The man struggled in his grip, a fresh wave of sweat breaking across his forehead.

“You’re lying!” Her father exclaimed, echoing off the walls.

“I’m afraid not, your majesty. I wouldn’t lie about such grave news.”

Her father put him down and stepped back, chest still heaving. “How?” he ground out. “HOW!”

“An assassin, the knights that were with her are searching for him, but he was long gone by the time they found his camp. They sent me as soon as the original chase was over.”

“How did he kill her?”

“An arrow through the joints in her armor, your majesty.”

“So they were a professional.”

The man nodded. “That was concluded, yes, especially for how far away he fired such an accurate shot from. She did not suffer long.”

Her father’s fists clenched. “You have to be lying. She’s not dead. I would know. I’m her true love. I would’ve felt it.”

Emma watched as her father’s face collapsed and she knew then that he couldn’t feel her anymore, no matter what he tried. She sat there herself, stunned and silent, saying nothing as her father went on claiming the man in front of them was a liar. She could do nothing. Her mother was dead? How in the world was it possible? Her mother wasn’t supposed to die until she was old and grey and Emma was more than ready to take over the kingdom. She couldn’t do this now. She still needed her mother. It couldn’t be true.

She was startled out of her thoughts by a hand on her shoulder. Regina was at her side, face grim. Someone must have fetched her after the original news. She would have to thank whoever did. Her hand sought out Regina’s, gripping it hard. She took a shuddering breath.

“Father,” she called quietly.

Somehow the man heard her over his yelling and turned towards her, face full of pain.

“The man isn’t lying, please, let us find out what is going on. The more information we have the better, the more likely we are to catch her killer.”

He swallowed visibly and nodded. The King made his way back towards his throne and collapsed in it.

Emma looked at the messenger again. “Where was she killed?”

“On the journey between the town of Berrington and the village of Bee Meadow.”

Emma nodded, familiar with the region. Perhaps those geography lessons when she was small had paid off after all. She turned towards one of the ever constant page boys. “Go, assemble the council, tell them we will meet in a half an hour to discuss what will happen next. If they haven’t heard what has happened, tell them, but be quick.”

The boy nodded and took off at a run.

“Was there any sign of where the assassin was from or who sent him?”

The ma shook his head. “No, nothing, there was barely more than the remains of a fire at his camp when we got there.”

“Who knew you were travelling that way?”

“It’s been the order of the route since anyone can remember, your majesty.”

Emma flinched at the new title now, looking back at her father. She was the heir to the kingdom, but her father was still alive. He could still rule, but since she was standing in front of the court in her mother’s place she doubted he would want to, or perhaps even if he did she would still be doing the majority of the work. Ice cold fear shot down her spine. She wasn’t ready. She just wasn’t ready.

Her grip tightened on Regina’s hand until the other woman had to clear her throat to draw Emma’s attention. Emma looked at her apologetically, running a gentle thumb over the back of her hand hoping that would ease the pain.

“All right. They will send a messenger after you if they catch the man, will they not?”

The man nodded. “Of course, your majesty.”

She turned to another page boy. “Go to the captain of the guard, tell him I want the borders to the kingdom sealed off until the search for this assassin is called off. It’s probably much too late for such measures, but gods willing he’s still in the kingdom and we can trap him here. Tell him I want every available body helping scan the country side.”

She turned back to the messenger. “Do you have any clue what he looks like?”

“No, he shot from at least a few hundred feet back in the trees.”

She nodded and turned to the page boy. “Tell to arrest anyone with a bow who acts suspicious upon confrontation or is a known assassin in the kingdom. Go.”

The second boy ran off with a scant nod.

Emma swallowed and swayed on her feet just a little. She shook her head slightly and righted herself. She needed to be strong for a while longer.

“Her body, is it being brought back here?”

“With all expedience, your majesty.”

She looked, but she was out of page boys. She looked to the nearest noble. “You, I want the palace matron brought to me as soon as possible. If I am in the council chambers, bring her there, she will be needed. My mother’s funeral must be planned.” She turned to another man. “Have the priests sound the bells.”

They both nodded, not putting up a hint of fuss, before making their way out of the room at a hurried pace.

Her focus went back to the messenger. “Have you told us everything that you know?”

The man nodded. “I have, I believe, your majesty.”

“Good, if you remember more you will come straight to me.”

The man nodded.

“Have one of the maids make up rooms for you on my orders. You are to seek me before you leave these walls, you understand.”

The man nodded again.

“Good, dismissed.”

The man bowed deeply and turned to leave.

Emma drew in a shaky breath and stepped back, Regina following with her. She walked to her father’s side. He was staring off into space blankly. She nudged his shoulder gently.

“Come father, we must meet with the council.”

He looked up at her, eyes almost as blank as before, but nodded and got up, walking from the room as if on autopilot.

Emma looked after him for a long moment before following, gripping Regina’s hand and swallowing back the screams that she wanted to let rend the air.

 

When she walked into the council chambers right behind her father she was bombarded by voices. She had no idea how to deal with them. Too loud. Too many. Too much. All of this was just too much. Gods, surely this just had to be one of her mother’s stupid little schemes to show her that she wasn’t as ready for the crown as she liked to pretend. She knew she wasn’t ready. Her mother just drew her ire when she kept poking at Regina. She loved Regina. She might be Regina’s true love. Surely her mother would understand that if she would only come home and end this stupid charade.

But Emma’s stomach was filled with lead just as her head was filled with voices. Somehow she knew it just wasn’t going to work like that. Instead, she blinked and tried to focus on just what words were being flung at her. It took a minute, but she finally was able to just listen.

The words weren’t being directed at her, but her father. She looked at him, but the man wasn’t fairing any better with the onslaught than she was, probably worse. She stepped up beside him.

“Take your seats.” She told them in a firm voice.

They kept almost shouting at her father, not paying a lick of attention to her.

Emma stared at them all for a long second before bringing her fingers up to her mouth and whistling loud enough for all of them to fall silent. She looked over them, gaze impassive. They all glared at her as if she was interrupting something, but she didn’t back down.

“I said take your seats.” She stared at them until they looked at one another, glared back at her once again, and slunk to their seats.

Her father went to his normal seat. She saw the second the man realized that the woman he loved wouldn’t be sitting at the head of the table anymore. His face contorted in an utter look of grief and he turned away as much as possible.

Emma went by him and squeezed his shoulder once on the way to her own seat. She sat down at looked over all the faces in front of her. They were difficult to deal with when her mother was there. Now, she had a feeling they’d be impossible at best.

She cleared her throat. “Lord William,” she looked at the old doddering man, sitting solemnly in his seat.

The man nodded. “Yes, your highness.”

A bit of tension left her shoulders being addressed by her proper title. “Inform me of the protocol for such cases. Does the crown stay with my father, or since the rightful blood ruler is dead does it pass to me?”

“There’s no written law that defines what happens in this situation.” His voice was thin and reedy, barely carrying through the room. She had thought for sure her mother would outlast that man by man a decade. “Precedence is not clear either, it has been different case by case what happens. Most of them have been an old King dies leaving behind his Queen and his more than of age heir and the crown is passed easily to the heir. For cases where there’s been a sudden death…they are rarer. Most White Kingdom Kings and Queens have not had many enemies as we’ve been a friendly kingdom without much intrigue, you understand. Then it has depended on if the heir was of age, how fit they are to rule, how fit their parent was to rule, and the like. In this case,” he looked between both Emma and her father. “Either eventuality would be feasible.”

Emma swallowed hard. “Thank you, Lord William.”

The man nodded.

“That’s ridiculous. Either eventuality is feasible.” Earl Henrie slammed his fist on the table. “That one is no more ready to rule than a turnip.” He pointed at Emma.

“This turnip is also your princess and you will sit down and apologize.” Regina glared fiercely at the man, eying the swords of the guards around her. Emma just knew she was considering gutting the man right then and there. She wasn’t quite sure she’d mind. He’d been more than a pain for them both in the last few months.

The man paled, remembering exactly what had happened the last time he had gone up against the Princess in such a way. He sat down and mumbled an apology so unintelligible that Emma wasn’t quite sure that he wasn’t just cursing her name, but she breezed past it anyway. There was no time for this.

Lord Roderic spoke up. “But on the opposite end of that rather…well stated argument,” he said generously, face twisting into an interesting expression to hide his true feelings, “the King is also no more than a shepherd groomed into a king. Arguments could be made for both of them to not be the ruler of this kingdom, but yet they are.”

A few grumbles rose up from the table. Emma glared at them all, and she felt Regina beside her cataloguing just who had spoken up for later reference. Her hand squeezed the other woman’s. She wanted desperately to be in their room curled into Regina on their couch, but here in the council room with the other woman looking out for her would have to do.

Emma took yet another deep breath. She hadn’t felt like she’d gotten enough oxygen since the announcement of her mother’s death. “Perhaps then things should just remain as they are for the time being. My father and I can work together ruling the kingdom as we have been for the past few days until everything settles down again and then we can reassess everything from there.”

One of the Barons that Emma hadn’t bothered to learn the name of started to speak. “There is another option. The King could turn over his power to the council during this time and when deemed fit it could be transferred back to the heir of the kingdom when she was deemed ready.”

More grumbling, this time appreciative grumbling. Emma’s breathing started to grow quicker. No, this was not how this was supposed to go. The council would never deem her ready to rule. They would take the power for themselves and run with it until they could run no more. Something had to be done to stop them.

“I abdicate the throne and renounce my title as King of this realm, not to this council, but so that my daughter, Princess Emma of the White Kingdom may be crowned in my place.” Her father stood slowly, grabbing the nearest piece of paper and scribbling down a few words before signing it. “It is not up for debate, this is not a council matter anymore, but one of royal succession. You would do well to stop debating it.”

And with that her father walked from the room, leaving Emma wide eyed and more panicked than she’d ever been before.

The council around her erupted into chaos. The words and noise became deafening again, trapping Emma inside her own mind with absolutely no way to think. She wanted to scream from the highest tower of the palace until everyone in the surrounding villages looked up to see what was wrong or fled in fear. This couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t. She wasn’t supposed to be Queen until she was a few years older, maybe with an heir of her own running around the palace on tiny feet.

The picture of a tiny little Regina managed to regulate her breathing just enough to stop the blackness from closing in on her. She turned and looked at Regina, still beside her, now gripping Emma’s hand just as hard as Emma was gripping hers. She knew her eyes had to be communicating her helplessness. But reflected back in Regina’s eyes was a look just the same, not the sure answer she hoped would be there.

She took a shuddering breath and stood. “Enough!” she shouted.

The council around her fell silent again.

“We cannot afford this much chaos at this juncture. This transition has to go smoothly or else we invite the sort of attack that I was married off to prevent.” Emma squeezed Regina’s shoulder to say she wasn’t actually angry about any of those events.

“Who here has been on the council since my mother’s coronation?”

A hand full of silent men raised their hands.

Emma nodded. “Good, then you should know what the protocol is for transferring all rights and powers over to me beyond the basics of my coronation. The rest of you will be expected to bring me up to speed with any and all business that my mother was privy to that I was not within the next week. I’ll be making time for all of you separately. I will let you know of a schedule when I have one.”

A knock at the door sounded behind them. Emma turned and nodded at the nearest guard. He opened the door and the palace matron bustled in. She curtsied to Emma.

“Your highness.”

“Lisle, sit.” She gestured at her father’s empty chair. “There’s much to discuss.”

The woman nodded and sat where indicated, looking rather uncomfortable sitting in the space she knew the King sat.

“All of you will also be expected to help in the planning of the coronation. It will be only as lavish as need be, do not think you will be slipping any extra expenses by me. This needs to happen quickly so the kingdom doesn’t destabilize, so functional, not showy will be preferred.”

Emma felt like all of these words were pouring out of her from a place she hadn’t even known existed. She felt like a robot almost, speaking to the people in front of her. She wasn’t ready to be Queen, but somehow here she was giving orders like one. Had she really learned that much in the last few months? But this was all very obvious, what needed to be done now. Anything more complex and she felt like she would be at a loss. The lead in her stomach sunk farther down, now nearing her toes. She shifted slightly to rid herself of the feeling, but it wasn’t budging.

“My mother’s funeral…we’ll give her the sendoff she would have wanted.” She turned to the palace matron. “But the kingdom’s coffers are running quite low after my wedding and the peasants can’t afford to pay any more in taxes. I trust you will use your judgment on such things to run both ceremonies without bankrupting the kingdom. Everything you need will be yours, anyone you need is yours, these men will help you, as will I at any time I can.”

Emma swallowed against the lump of tears in her throat. “My mother loved this kingdom.” She looked around the room at every single council member, guard, and the palace matron. “She would not want it to go up in smoke on her account. And I—” she broke off, feeling her voice about to crack. “I want a proper goodbye to my mother. Just keep these things in mind as we move forward and perhaps we might all make it through.”

She took another breath and let it out slowly, tears burning at the corners of her eyes. “One of you keep tabs on how the search is going, let the guard have whatever they need to track the man down, but if after three days there is no sign of him open the borders again. We needn’t disrupt life any more than that for someone who is clearly long gone.” Her fingers dug into Regina’s shoulder again. “Now, if you gentlemen excuse me there is other business I must attend to for a few hours, by the morning I want a plan of how the transition is going to go, a report on how the search is going, and a general outline of what my mother’s funeral and my coronation will be like.”

She felt Regina stand beside her. “Thank you for your service to my mother.” She nodded and turned, leaving the room with quick strides. When the door shut behind her, Regina still at her side, she was conflicted. Should she go to their rooms or to her garden. She almost laughed. It was the princess’s garden and soon she wouldn’t even be the princess anymore.

She strode towards their rooms, decision made by the tears that were about to course down her face. Shuddering breaths wracked her frame. She couldn’t hold it together much longer. But it was important, to keep a straight face around others. Regina had taught her that, and she was sure it applied doubly at this moment. The kingdom could literally fall apart around her if she didn’t play her role perfectly.

The doors to their chambers didn’t shut behind her quick enough, she thought. When the wood finally met the jamb she drew one last breath and a sob escaped her. And another. Another. Until she was sinking to the floor, barely pulling in enough air to keep her alive, tears running down her face in streams. She felt Regina sink to the floor with her, wrapping her arms around her shoulders, just holding her, saying nothing at all. Emma turned just slightly and sunk into the other woman’s arms and sobbed that much harder. It just couldn’t be like this, but it was.

She felt the anger rise within her, thick, hot, and irrational. She didn’t know what to be angry about first, the man who killed her mother, the council continuing to be idiots even in the face of her mother’s death, or stupidly the fact that her mother had to get herself killed in the first place. It didn’t make any sense, that last one, but it was what had her the angriest, honestly. If her mother hadn’t been stubborn about wanting to punish Emma she wouldn’t have gone out with the royal record keepers. She should have just forbidden them from going. She didn’t have to go herself. Gods, Emma had been chastened enough that she wouldn’t have tried anything else, but no her mother just had to go and make sure.

A harder sob ripped through her. Her mother could have been here with her. They could have been working out everything that had gone wrong between them. They could have actually brought the olive branch that her mother extended her to fruition. But now it was dead along with her mother. She’d never get to truly make up with her. The thought made her cry harder, her head was pounding, her vocal chords hurt, her eyes were dry and gritty even as tears flowed easily from them. Everything, everything hurt and she didn’t care. Everything should hurt, she thought.

How was she supposed to rule a kingdom like this? It was one thing if her mother would have died old and grey having lived a long life, it was quite another to have it happen like this. She’d had no time to prepare, no time to brace herself. She felt like she’d just been beaten senseless without a moment’s notice and now was being forced to run a marathon. She was doomed to fail from the start.

She cried and cried until there were no more tears that could be shed. She was left shuddering on the floor, still in Regina’s arms, leaning into a patch of fabric that was soaked with her tears. She felt empty now. Everything was dulled. She felt like she was covered in a layer of cotton, nothing seemed quite as it was supposed to and gods was she so tired. She wanted to sleep for a thousand years and then some, but she couldn’t make herself stand. There was no energy left in her body to force herself the fifteen feet to her bed.

A few moments after her shuddering breaths finally evened out Regina shifted. Before Emma realized what in the world was going on, she was being carried across the room in Regina’s strong arms. She sniffed once and wrapped her arms tighter around Regina’s neck, keeping her face buried in Regina’s shoulder. Gods she loved the other woman so much in that instant there weren’t words for it.

Regina set her gently on the bed, slipping off her shoes quickly. She pushed Emma gently until the blonde got the message and rolled over onto her back. She felt Regina’s deft fingers against her back, undoing the laces of her corset. The air rushed back into again as the final lace unthreaded. She wondered just how she had cried for so long and so hard in the infernal thing without passing out. Tolerance, it seemed at saved her.

Regina slipped the dress off her shoulders now the corset was loose. She pulled Emma again and this time she came much more willingly, rolling over and then sitting up at Regina’s gentle touch. The dress bunched around her waist at Regina’s encouraging.

Here Emma found herself half bare in front of the other woman, but thought nothing really of it. There was nothing sexual in this. Regina laid her down again and tapped her hips. Emma pushed up off the bed just enough so that Regina could pull the dress out from under her. Regina bustled off, coming back a couple minutes later in her own sleepwear and clutching one of Emma’s thicker nightgowns. She helped Emma into it before untucking the covers. Emma slipped under them easily, body finally working at least a little more now at the prospect of sleep. Regina slipped into her side of the bed and Emma was wrapped around the other woman in a second, her face pressed right back into the other woman’s neck where it had been for gods knew how long she’d been crying

Regina turned just slightly and laid a kiss on Emma’s forehead. “Sleep, my love, I’ll be here.”

And if Emma had any tears left to cry she might have shed a tear over just how good those words sounded. “I love you,” she said in a scratchy voice she hardly recognized as her own.

“I love you too. More and more every day. Now sleep, we’ll deal with everything in the morning.”

Emma nodded weakly into the other woman. It didn’t take long before she was asleep, exhaustion taking over the second she decided it was time to sleep. But as much as she wanted it to be, her sleep was not quiet. Nightmares featuring her mother’s death plagued her until the sun rose and not even Regina’s touch seemed to scare them away.

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning she was more exhausted than she thought she'd ever been. Regina didn't look much better. She was eternally grateful that the other woman had tried to soothe her through each and every nightmare, but she hated that she had disturbed the other woman's sleep. She knew Regina would think nothing of it, though, so she didn't apologize, just helped the other woman button up a rather plain shirt when her fingers couldn't quite seem to find the coordination. The other woman smiled at her, before lacing up the back of her dress.

Emma swallowed hard as Regina tied the laces. Her days of wearing breeches for everyday wear were over. As Queen people expected her to be in dresses all the time. Perhaps she could change the precedent, but not now, not while appearance of strength and normality meant so much. There were a thousand other ways her life would change now that she was Queen that she couldn't even fathom yet, she was sure.

Regina came around and grabbed her hands when she was done. Emma smiled tiredly at the other woman for just a second before her mouth pulled into a frown again. She wasn't sure she'd ever be happy again, as melodramatic as that sounded. Her mother was dead and she'd never get a chance to reconcile with her, that didn't exactly lead to happy feelings.

"We'll make it through this, Emma. We've made it this far." Regina reached up and caressed Emma's face.

Emma leaned into the touch but resisted the urge to snort. They hadn't exactly made it that far. It had only been two months since their wedding. They had barely been civil with each other for over half a year. In the grand scheme of things they hadn't made it through much at all. But yet, Emma collapsed into Regina anyway and sighed heavily, letting the other woman hold her up and knowing she wasn't going to let her fall. They hadn't made it through much, but it had been enough. She trusted the other woman with her life and anything else she could possibly entrust to her.

"I know it seems hard now, but it gets better. You don't want to hear that right now, I know, but I think someone has to tell you that at least once for you to actually believe it. That little voice in your head that tells you things isn't very convincing."

Emma laughed, but it sounded more like a sob even to her own ears.

"And I know that a million different people will tell you that they're sorry and you're going to hate it because sorry can't bring them back, but as irritating as it is, they are trying to comfort you in some way, even if it might not be wholly sincere. I'll be right by your side this entire time, if anything gets to be too much, if the condolences overwhelm you, anything at all, all you need to do is tell me and I'll take care of it as best I can, ok?"

Emma pulled back just enough to look into Regina's eyes. The other woman was looking at her with eyes so full of love Emma had to swallow hard against the lump of emotion it wrought. Her parents had always cared for her as best they could, but she had never felt like someone was so on her side in every way until Regina.

"Ok." She nodded and straightened up again. They needed to get going. There was so much to do and not a lot of time to do it. The thought of it all made her even more exhausted than she already was and she hadn't even walked out of the door yet.

Regina leaned forward, pressing a kiss to Emma's forehead. "And no matter what, don't forget I love you."

"I couldn't if I tried." Emma truly smiled at the woman for a long second before it faded. She pulled Regina's hand down to her chest. "Every day it becomes clearer to me that this only beats for you."

Regina gasped looking down at her hand in awe. Emma squinted before looking down. Regina's hand was glowing just slightly, that same golden color that seemed to represent their bond. Emma's skin was glowing as well any place that Regina's skin came into contact with hers. She looked up at the other woman.

"It seems whatever this is, it agrees too." Emma swept her free hand towards her chest.

"Gods, do I need those books." Regina was still staring at the glow. "This happened rather unprovoked, but I know it has to be more than just a meeting of skin. I don't understand."

Emma laughed, but it was a bitter hollow sound. "I'll be Queen soon enough and then we can just repeal the law banning magic period, forget about getting you those books."

"I'd prefer the books first, darling, but there are much more important things that had to come before that. This isn't hurting anything for now." She removed her hand and the glowing stopped immediately.

Emma nodded tiredly. "Ok."

She sighed heavily and looked towards the door to their rooms for a long moment before actually managing the first step. As promised Regina was right beside her every step of the way, fingers threading through Emma's. Emma squeezed them once, but kept her grip much lighter than the day before. Regina thought she kept the rubbing of her knuckles a secret, but she hadn't. She didn't want to hurt the other woman no matter how much emotional tumult she was facing.

They made their way slowly towards the council chambers. Emma opened the door, stealing herself and setting her face into an impassive mask. She needed to project the image that everything was fine yet again. She hated this part, she really did.

The room was bustling again, with men moving in and out quickly. The din wasn't quite so deafening as the day before, but Emma found she still didn't have much tolerance for it. She came to the chair at the head of the table and paused. She was going to be Queen in a few days, this chair was rightly hers, but it didn't feel right. Yet, she knew she couldn't sit in her old on either. She chose to just stand behind the chair instead and clear her throat.

The men in the room turned towards her, falling silent almost instantly. She looked over them, dull eyes alighting on each one just for half a second before she started to speak. "Where are the reports that I wanted?" Emma asked in a quiet voice.

Lord William inclined his head at Emma. "For the transition from your rule from your mother's it looks like there are a few kingdoms that must be contacted immediately. Their agreements with this kingdom were dependent on your mother being Queen. I'm sure they can be persuaded into renewing these agreements, but they must be let into the loop sooner rather than later. As for the transference of powers, there are a few documents to sign for some of the more…unsavory powers of a ruler, but other than that all rights to rule the kingdom are yours once you are crowned. It's meant to be a process that's as seamless as possible, your majesty."

Emma nodded at the old man. "Thank you, Lord William, you will let me know if anything else arises and will direct me to those forms you talked about."

The man nodded his affirmative before sitting back again.

She looked over the room. "And anyone who has contacts in those nations that Lord William mentioned are to send word at once of what is happening and the fact that I would like to renew all agreements if it's amicable."

A few men nodded and slipped off.

Emma had to stifle a sigh. This was going to be the longest day of her life.

The captain of the guard stepped up next. He cleared his throat and hesitated just a second before speaking. "There's no news on your mother's killer, your majesty. Preliminary reports indicate there aren't even any tracks out of his camp to follow. It's like he disappeared into thin air, though more likely is the man is a professional who knows how to cover his tracks. The men are ranging out as far as possible to see if there's any sign of disturbance and there have been dogs brought in, but just a little past camp they lose the scent as well. The borders have been closed as you requested. No one is getting in or out on any of the main roads and we've secured as much of the wild border as humanly possible, especially where we think he might cross. If he's still here I have every confidence that we will catch him." He swallowed hard. "I'm sorry I have nothing better to report, but I assure you we are working to the best of our abilities to catch this scum of the earth."

Emma nodded. "Thank you Sir Elias."

"If you'll excuse me, your majesty, there are still a great many things that need to be tended to."

"Of course"

The man bowed before exiting the room.

Emma looked around for the final report that she requested but no one was stepping forward. "Well? What of my mother's funeral and my coronation?"

"Lisle is off planning as we speak. I don't think any maid in the palace has escaped helping her prepare. She's yet to send a report though, only lists of things that have been acquired and the costs," Lord Roderic said from the end of the table.

"What of the cost?"

"It's quite low so far, your majesty, no more than two hundred gold pieces at this point. From what I could pull from the maids who delivered the expense reports Lisle is pulling from the resources we already had, mainly leftover items from your wedding and anything else that was in the palace stores that she thinks is suitable. The only thing she hasn't been able to seem to find is anything black, mostly fabric, for your mother's funeral."

Emma sighed. "Fair enough then. I suppose it would be hard to find black fabric in a kingdom whose colors and white and gold." She felt like sinking to the ground, or at least sinking into the chair in front of her, but she couldn't do that. She wasn't sure she could do it a few days from now when she really was Queen of the kingdom and the seat was truly hers.

"Whenever she has a spare moment tell her to come to me for a more thorough report."

Emma fell silent. She wasn't quite sure what she was supposed to do now. There were no pressing concerns she thought. Everything seemed to be under control for the moment, but the members of the council were still staring at her and all Emma wanted to do was flee again. Too much, even though the noise had died down and her senses weren't overloaded it was still too much.

Regina came to her rescue. "What of other kingdoms? Has anyone gotten this information yet from their spies? Does anyone move on us?"

Emma sent Regina a grateful look, hoping that no one else noticed. She had let her take charge, letting everyone know she was their rightful Queen until she needed help. Gods bless the woman and the way she just seemed to know what Emma needed.

The men all looked at one another, conferring silently. It put Emma slightly on edge. Surely after only a day no one would have the information, especially after she shut the borders. But she supposed there were other ways that information could leave the kingdom. Her mother wasn't the only one who used messenger birds.

By some sort of telepathic communication Lord Roderic seemed to be selected to speak once again. "There have been a few condolences sent from our allies for your mother's death, but we were not the ones to inform them that she had died. They've gotten their information from somewhere else, it's good logic to assume those kingdoms who aren't on such friendly terms already have the information as well, or if they don't, they will soon."

Emma stepped around the chair to lean heavily on the table. "All right. I want those kingdoms who were whispering before about attacking us watched like hawks. The spies who are already there are to send daily reports and I want as many people there as possible. For the rest of the kingdoms, anyone who isn't our ally is to have at least one spy there by week's end. I don't want to be surprised by a kingdom who was neutral before deciding now is a good time to expand its borders." She clenched her fists on the table and fought the urge to bow her head. Only the appearance of Regina's hand on the small of her back kept her from giving in to the weakness.

"What of the state of our troops?" Regina asked, behind her still.

Another man, a lesser Baron, Andreas, Emma thought, but wasn't sure, spoke up. She was almost positive this was the first time the man had actually spoken in her presence. "We have ten thousand in our service now, your majesty. If we trained a new batch of soldiers through the winter we could perhaps triple that, maybe quadruple it, but against the bigger kingdoms that will still be no match. If we called up the peasants then we could add to that, but then they wouldn't be anywhere near the skill level of a trained solider and would be more likely to die than do any good, even if we did give them a crash course."

Emma took a quiet, shaky breath. "So what you're saying is we better start praying to the gods now that no one thinks of taking over this kingdom because we stand little chance."

The man scratched at the back of his head. "Perhaps not that hopelessly, your majesty, but yes, that's the gist of what I'm saying."

"Well then, thank you, my lord. Let us hope the impending winter cools any bloody thoughts the other kingdoms have. If there's any word to the contrary I want notified immediately."

"Of course."

Emma exhaled a breath and looked back at Regina. The other woman titled her head just slightly. Everything had been covered for now. The thought that perhaps she could have a seconds rest almost caused her knees to give out. She had been up for less than an hour and yet she felt as if she had been up for days.

Grumbling from the end of the table caught her attention. All of the other men were looking at Earl Henrie like he had grown two heads. Emma stared at him for a long time. Was it even worth the effort to confront him? She knew from the last time that the man would probably just end up shouting at her, picking at all her short comings and gods knew she didn't have the energy for that, but yet she couldn't let him get away with it either.

"What was that, my lord," Emma asked, steeling her voice so she didn't sound nearly as tired as she felt.

The man looked up at her, face pinched, glaring, cheeks starting to turn red as Emma watched. Oh, she was going to regret asking, she could feel it now.

"I said, your highness, that none of this would be a problem if you weren't so weak."

She resisted the urge to walk across the room and summarily strangle the man. Instead she counted to ten in her head and straightened up, looking at the man as if he was no more than a speck of dust.

"This isn't the first time you've questioned me in a rather rude manner. Now my mother is not here to make me back down. I am the heir of this kingdom and while I may be officially only a princess right now, I will be Queen in a matter of days, something that everyone else has grasped that it seems you haven't. It doesn't surprise me, for someone as idiotic and selfish as you, who only bought their way onto this council by loaning the kingdom money during the last war. Don't you dare pretend you are better than you are, you spineless, unfaithful coward. There's nothing stopping me from having you executed right now except for the fact that I would rather my own reign not start off in blood. That, however, does not mean you can't be thrown in the dungeon. This little whelp of a bitch as you so colorfully said, is now your Queen and you will respect me whether or not you like me."

The man stared at her with hard eyes but showed no inclination to take back the words. He sat there silently, waiting for Emma's next move.

It wasn't Emma that moved next, though. Regina disappeared from behind her, only the barest of rustling of her skirts and the absence of a warm hand on Emma's back let her know the other woman was gone. Emma looked over to see Regina grabbing the sword from one of the posted guard's scabbards all while still walking. She was by the Earl's side before he could move from the chair, eyes wide now. Regina had the blade at his throat in an instant, pressing close enough that a line of blood flowed slowly down his neck.

"Sure, have your power hungry whore of a wife come after me, very strong move," Earl Henrie sneered, voice hoarse from trying not to raise it enough to push his throat more into the blade.

Emma slowly left the head of the table and walked to the Earl's side, every eye in the room on her. She stopped by Regina, putting her hand on Regina's and lowering the blade away.

"My strength lies not in physical force, but mental. It's how all princesses are raised really. You see, I may not be able to wield this lovely sword, but I know how to command those who do. My strength is to think five moves ahead of everyone else so that I may plan accordingly and keep the kingdom steady. And right now, Earl Henrie, you're about ten moves behind me." She looked over at Regina. "Give the man his sword back."

Regina huffed slightly but moved from her side.

Emma looked back at the guard, still by the wall, looking like nothing had happened. She motioned him to her side.

"What do you think you'll gain from this, my lord? My downfall? Because I'm so perilously perched on the edge and you'll just push me over and take my throne?"

"I deserve it more than you do."

The corners of Emma's mouth turned up. "Eleven moves behind me now. That was just an admission of treason." She looked at the guard. "Take him to the dungeon, and make him comfortable he won't be coming out for a good while. And make arrangements to give his estate to the peasant son who he so favors. Gods know we need someone who is more progressive in thinking."

The man nodded, took a struggling Earl by the arm, and dragged him away. Emma closed her eyes as the doors closed behind the Earl, muting his screams of anger. She could sleep for a thousand years now, she was sure. Where was one of those sleeping curses that her mother almost fell victim to when she was younger? She wanted the excuse not to rule.

Instead, she returned to the head of the table. "Anyone else who has such intention?" she asked, looking at every man, watching their expression. "Gentlemen this is not the time for discord from the inside of our own kingdom. We already have enough of it, the council must present as a united force in order to keep everyone else at bay. I'm all for spirited debate in favor of a better solution for our problems, but I will not tolerate such mutinous words as were just spoken."

Regina was at her side again, standing like she was in armor again and not her dress, looking fiercely at every man as well.

"Am I clear?"

The men nodded.

"Good." Emma looked at her mother's chair once again. The mental debate she had with herself was short this time. It had to be done. She sat down gracefully. "Now, onto other business, if there's anything to report."

Regina sat at her right side. Emma looked over at the woman, still holding herself as the warrior and not the princess. A small smile crept onto her face. She knew a way to make at least one of them happy, but that could wait until later. She tuned back into the man who was speaking about the first round of the crop report, vital if they were going to go to war, and prayed silently that the day would end quickly.


The day hadn't ended quickly. The sun had set long ago and Emma was just now emerging from the council chambers. She hadn't eaten the whole day through, but that didn't matter to her now. She wasn't hungry anyway. She wanted to sleep, that was her dearest wish, but she knew she needed to check on her father. She hadn't seen him all day, no one had. She knew he shouldn't be grieving all alone.

She sent a tired Regina on to their rooms with a kiss and a wave. The other woman cocked her eyebrow lazily at Emma but nodded before walking off. Emma stared at her back as she was walking away and desperately wishing that she was going with the woman.

Instead, she stopped the nearest maid. Why she was still wandering around, Emma didn't know, they usually had their work done much earlier in the day. She almost flinched when she remembered it probably had something to do with her mother's funeral. Whatever the matter, it served her purposes. She ordered the girl to go fetch a plate of food for her father. If she had forgotten to eat in the heat of the council then she was sure her father had in face of his grief.

With no more delay tactics she made her way to her parent's—now only her father's she supposed—rooms. He was sitting on the bed, just staring at the side of the mattress Emma knew her mother had slept on when she arrived. He glanced up at her, sparing only a second's smile at her before dropping his gaze again. Emma walked over to him and pulled herself up on the soft surface, leaning against the man.

"No one's seen you around today," Emma started quietly.

"A few maids have."

"You know what I mean, father."

He shrugged. "I do, but what does it really matter."

"You know mother hated when you were so obtuse. I can't say I'm fond of it either." She looked at her father with a steady gaze, fighting to keep her eyes open. Gods, sitting on a mattress and not sleeping was going to kill her she was sure.

Her father reached out and cupped her face. "You know you look exactly like her when you're angry." His thumb skirted the corner of her eye gently. "The sides of your eyes crinkle just the slightest bit and the look inside them is the same, even down to how the green darkens just the slightest bit. It always amused me whenever you got mad at each other. It was almost like looking in a mirror come to life really." He sat back again, dropping his hand from Emma's face.

"Funny, she always told me how much I looked like you." Emma leaned her head on her father's shoulder.

He laughed once, almost soundlessly. "I think all parents do that, compare their offspring to the other. I don't think they can see what qualities they give a child are just as good. If you had been born with dark hair instead of blonde you would've looked exactly like her, there's no doubting that, then I don't think she could've compared you to me."

"I think she could've. The Charming bravery is too much of my personality."

Her father leaned his head on top of hers. "It is."

"Regina calls it idiocy."

"Your mother alternated between that and telling me what a hero I was. Sometimes within the same sentence. Some days I almost got whiplash."

Emma smiled. "Sounds like her." She swallowed. "The way she offered me a way to a truce after so much fighting felt exactly like that." Tears pricked at her eyes again.

Her father sat up just enough to kiss the crown of her head before leaning back down. "As stubborn as she was, I think she finally saw that there were only two outcomes to how you were fighting. She loved you too much to let it fall on the bad."

"She did, she really did." Emma drew in a shuddering breath. "I just…I wish I had gotten to tell her how much I loved her back. As many issues as we had, she was still my mother and I never would have changed that. Well. After I calmed from my original fury anyway. I shouldn't make decisions in the midst of anger."

"Nor should anyone." He father sighed loudly in Emma's ear. "But you two were alike in that way as well. Your mother just had a little more time to reign in the impulse, but it never seemed she could with you. You were too alike. I don't think she wanted you to make her mistakes. I think she just wanted you to go straight to being a Queen as she was. You only partially realize the struggle she had to go through to find a system that worked for her. I think she wanted to pass it on."

Emma laughed humorlessly. "Maybe, and if she's anything like me she got angry over the fact that I wasn't listening and fighting back." Emma let out a sob. "How did we even get there? Gods. I want to take it all back." Another sob. "And at the same time I don't and I think that might make me the worst person in the realm, but I love Regina enough to stand up for her. I just…I want that olive branch to have played out. I want us to be able to make up, to find a tentative sort of truce while we work out the underlying issues to our fight. I want us to realize that what we were doing was some stupid form of love. I don't want to realize this now. I don't want her to be dead. But she is and it just—" She closed her eyes. "it's not fair. It doesn't feel right."

Her father shook his head. "It doesn't feel right. I'm not sure it will ever feel right again."

Emma felt wetness seeping into her hair and a fresh wave of tears rolled down her face knowing that her father was crying above her.

"I just feel so…empty. Like there was always something there that's just missing now, a gaping hole in my chest. I've heard it before from widows, but I thought they were being over dramatic, but yet I feel the same way. And, I just, it's worse than they described. I wonder if that's the price of true love, that when your love dies all the happiness the two of you had is paid for in grief."

Emma's heart seized in her chest. She didn't want that for her or Regina. Gods the feeling she got just thinking about it made her want to weep until there was nothing left of her. "I understand."

Her father pulled back, looking at Emma.

Emma sat up and looked back at him steadily, eyes still misted over slightly.

Whatever her father was looking for, he shook his head slowly. "The cord. You do know, don't you?"

Emma nodded. "I think I do."

"Gods then I hope the two of you die at the same time so neither of you put up with this."

"When we're old and grey, I hope to gods that's how it is. I don't think, even now, early on, that I could see Regina die and stand it."

"Of course, not a second sooner, and then you'll never have to know."

A knock came on the door. A second passed before kitchen girl let herself in. The girl looked around quickly, obviously not seeing the two of them ensconced on the bed, fully expecting them to be sitting on the many sofas scattered throughout the rooms. She set out the food quickly and turned to go, almost jumping out of her skin when she saw Emma and her father staring at her from on top of the deep red duvet.

"Oh, begging your pardon your majesties, I didn't see you." She dipped into a low curtsy and held it for a second.

"It's fine, honest mistake," Emma said, clearing her throat once when her voice didn't quite sound strong enough. "Thank you for bringing the food."

The girl blushed, nodded quickly and left the room in a scurry of skirts and embarrassment.

Emma sighed and lifted her head from her father's shoulder, groaning at the kink that was plaguing the muscles in her neck. As much comfort as that position had brought it had not actually been physically comfortable. She scooted forward just a bit and stood. She turned again, looking expectantly at her father. For his part he looked away and acted as if he didn't see her. Emma rolled her eyes and grabbed his shoulder.

"Come on, I know you aren't hungry, but you will eat. I'm not about to let my own father waste away in front of me."

He turned towards her again, looking almost right through her. "And have you eaten today? I'm not about to let my own daughter waste away in front of me."

Emma huffed at having her own words turned on her, but wasn't surprised. "No, but like I said, I know you're not hungry. I know from personal experience."

"I'll eat if you do."

She glared at her father. "We're much too old for these kind of cajoling deals, father."

A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, but never fully formed. "Are we really? A few months ago you weren't too old for them if it got you outside."

"I know." Emma sighed.

"You can't have aged so much in only a few months."

"I've aged more in the past day than I think I have my entire life."

Her father sobered instantly at that. "Perhaps you have."

They stared at each other for a long moment before her father shook his head and turned, following Emma off the bed. He walked over to the couch the food was set in front of and sank down again, looking older than Emma had ever seen him. She walked over and squeezed his shoulder before sitting beside him.

The servants had sent up much too much food. They almost always did when food was requested in the rooms instead of eaten at the dining table. Emma supposed it made sense in a way, better to send too much than not enough. There wasn't exactly a platter on the table to help themselves to seconds in their own rooms. Her father shoved a plate of food into her hands. She looked down at it like it was a foreign object she had no idea what to do with. The foods on the plate were ones she liked, but they just weren't appealing.

She felt her father's gaze, holding a plate of his own food like it was about to eat him and not vice versa. Emma swallowed hard and reached for a fork, bringing up a bite of food to her mouth and chewing. It tasted like ashes and sand, but she repeated the motion. Only then did her father finally start to eat beside her. Emma didn't quite understand the dark magic of grief and how it could turn the best food in the kingdom to nothing more than cinders once it passed her lips. She hated it, but kept eating anyway.

Half a plate of food later, she found she couldn't quite go on. She put the plate aside, trying to hide her disgust. Half a plate wasn't near enough, she knew, but she would survive. It wasn't as if living in the palace hadn't given her enough meat on her bones to last a while even if she didn't eat at all.

Her father put aside his food in a similar state. He looked at Emma's plate with a frown, but didn't say anything, couldn't really say anything without eating his own words. Emma just packed up the hardly touched food on the tray the serving girl had left and sat staring at the fire. The girl would be back soon enough to pick everything up.

Emma sighed. She should probably go back to her room, should probably try to get some sleep again, but knew tonight wouldn't be any more restful than the last. Her father's presence was calming in a way. He knew exactly what she was going through down to the letter and that was soothing in an odd way. She wasn't questioning it; it was nice not to feel alone. Regina knew about grieving and was doing all she could to comfort Emma, but there was something different about knowing about grief and knowing about the grief of losing a particular person. Regina had known her mother at her worst. She didn't know the woman who read her bed time stories and played with her after court was done for the day. Those were the memories that hurt and felt good at the same time and Regina…she didn't have those, her father did. Her father was always there, laughing along with her mother and Emma, one perfect family.

She felt the tears stinging at her eyes again. Gods, how she wished that was how they were at the end, but then life got in the way and their own stupidity. It was…Emma didn't even have words for it.

She idly wondered if it was better or worse that they'd ended on such a bad note. Would it have hurt more to have perfection ripped away from her? In a sense she had even now. They could have come back to that perfect family in time, but now she'd never now. And gods, if the lost possibilities didn't hurt the most out of everything.

"Do you remember that doll she gave you for your fifth birthday?" Her father asked, voice scratchy and tight.

A fond smile crept across Emma's face. "Of course I do. I carried it until it fell apart. I loved that thing quite literally to death."

Her father turned to look at her. "She found it in a village while we were out to inspect some major problem or another, I forget what, it doesn't matter. She saw that doll out of the carriage window and stopped the whole procession because she knew you'd love it. I thought it was ridiculous at the time, you already had so many, what was another one to you, but then you just latched onto it and your mother was right yet again." He laughed. "Even now, motherhood mystifies me, your mother will forever in every way. I miss her already and it has been a day."

"I do too," Emma said quietly.

"I know this gets better, I do, losing my mother was tough but it did lessen. This…it feels like it should get worse as the number of days I haven't seen her gets longer. I don't know what to believe."

Emma scooted over again and hugged her father tightly. She started to laugh and cry at the same time. "Gods, if that isn't true about everything right now."

Her father just kissed her head and held her as she cried. Somehow the tears exhausted her enough that she fell into a light slumber. She was vaguely aware of him carrying her to her rooms later, but she really didn't feel much at all.

Chapter Text

The next day was so full of problems surrounding the funeral and coronation that Emma had no time to think, let alone feel. Her father showed up at meal times, shoved a plate in her face and watched patiently as she shoved what she could in her face while standing up. She’d hand it back off to him still half full and go back to whatever she was doing, but not without a glare at her father, telling him silently to eat as well.

Regina for her part was even busier, trying to keep as much work off of Emma as possible. Emma had had her armor returned to her, would have her reinstated as a knight as soon as there was time. Being a knight was part of who Regina was just as much as being a princess, now a queen Emma supposed. She missed the other woman’s presence as she scurried off to run errands time after time, but Regina always returned quickly and touched her in some reassuring way and that made it slightly better.

They had gotten through the day, that was what really mattered, what really was the win. They had managed to work out all the problems as well, but Emma really saw that as a secondary perk, a side effect of the first really. How in the world was she supposed to rule a kingdom like this, barely making it through a day at a time? She guessed she’d have to.

She sighed heavily and looked at herself in the mirror. Black did not suit her, it washed her out, made her paler than she was and clashed with her hair. She despised it. But yet, black was the only color to wear to a funeral. She pulled at the skirts again.

She did not want to walk out of this room. She didn’t want to have to face that this was all truly real. Not that it hadn’t been before…but there was something, just something about actually having a funeral that made it concrete, almost to the point of being too real and circling into surreal.

 Regina slipped in beside her to look into the mirror. She frowned at her appearance, not liking what she saw either, but at least the black didn’t make her look like a ghost, rather Emma thought it made her skin look somehow darker than it’s already olive tone.

“I’m beginning to think Margaret designs these mourning dresses to make everything more painful.” She pulled at some of the ruffles.

Emma snorted. “They’ve always been like this. The woman has an image of what a mourning dress should look like and she’s stuck to it. Every time I outgrew my clothes when I was little I hoped the dress wouldn’t quite be so hideous when she remade it, but not, it looked almost the same every time.”

Regina’s hands came to rest on Emma’s shoulders. She leaned down and kissed Emma’s neck lightly before straightening up again. “Well, consistency is good in some things. Perhaps not this one, but she gets points anyway.” She squeezed Emma’s upper arms. “Are you ready?”

“No, never.” Emma sighed. “But since I have to be, I suppose.”

Regina turned Emma to face her. “I know this hurts, but funerals…well, there’s something about them that make it better in the long run, even if they are rather…tasteless at the time.”

“I don’t see the point. It’s just going to be a bunch of people who secretly hated my mother saying how much they loved her and then tell me they’re sorry for my loss. If they were truly sorry they’d just stop bothering me. What am I supposed to do with sorry?” She growled. “It’s a stupid saying.”

“There aren’t exactly the words to accurately capture what should be said, and that’s the closest thing there is, darling.” She tucked a lose strand of hair behind Emma’s ear. “Don’t bite their heads off for saying it, but if it gets to be too much—”

“You’ll be there, I know.” Emma relaxed slightly. “I just wish that it was over.”

“It will be soon enough, but for that to happen you have to take that first step out the door.” Regina’s face was warm, with melancholy lining every plane of it.

Emma wasn’t quite sure how she could pull off such a look. It was supposed to be two conflicting expressions, but it wasn’t. Maybe it had something to do with Regina’s eyes. They were a richer shade of brown today, somewhere between mahogany and golden-brown. Somehow that color tied everything together.

“Ok.”

Regina leaned forward and planted a gentle kiss on Emma’s forehead. “Ok.” She pulled Emma forward.

Emma followed willingly. She wished she didn’t have to go to this. She wished she didn’t have to speak. The kingdom was looking for some grand speech that somehow tied up her mother’s life and death in one little package, but Emma didn’t have the words for that. How could words alone do such a thing? Her mother had lived for over forty years. Nothing short of a book could explain everything, and yet it was expected that she do it in a few minutes.

Emma’s grip tightened on Regina’s hand. Gripping onto Regina seemed to be all she did anymore. She felt as helpless and as stupid as she had been when Regina had first become her permanent guard. What little independence she had gained went down the drain at the news of her mother’s death. And yet, instead of yelling at her for it, Regina was taking it in stride and helping her through it, letting Emma lean on her, use her as a crutch. She didn’t understand how this was different. She didn’t understand why she wasn’t getting lectured on how she handled this affected the kingdom. Was it really that different, now and then? Or was it Regina that was different? Because she definitely didn’t feel different, at least in that way. She felt like she had a huge hole in her chest, but she didn’t think that had anything to do with it.

Her musings had distracted her enough that they had reached the ballroom where her mother’s funeral was being held. The breath left her as she saw the sheer amount of people there. How was she supposed to do this? She felt like crying all over again. Gods, it wasn’t fair.

But that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Why would it? Hadn’t she learned as a child that things happened that weren’t fair, that had no reason for happening other than the fact that they could? She remembered the lesson well, but that didn’t make this any better.

She swallowed hard and straightened her back. Her grip on Regina became crushing but the other woman never flinched. They strode to the front of the room with all eyes in the room on them. She took a quiet, shuddering breath as she saw her mother’s coffin sitting at the front of the room. The lid was open, but Emma couldn’t see in from a few steps down. She wasn’t sure she wanted to. She wanted to remember her mother as she was before all of this, alive and well, and looking in and seeing her pale and unmoving and so very dead would ruin that. She would be required to go up there, though, and she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to get around seeing everything she didn’t want.

She sat down in her seat in the front row, sandwiched between her father and Regina. The room around her sat down all at once, noise surrounding them for an instant. Her father was sitting stock still beside her, spine stiff and face as hard as stone, but his eyes were a thousand miles away and more than a little glassy. She took her free hand and squeezed his. He didn’t look over at her, but squeezed her hand in return.

The high priest stepped in front of her mother’s casket and started to speak, but Emma heard nothing. She knew that the man would be praising her mother’s accomplishments as Queen, telling them that she was in a better place now, that the gods would take care of such a good ruler as she had taken care of her people, but Emma wanted to hear none of it. It would only serve to make her angry or to make her cry, neither of which were suitable for the situation. It was better for her to just space out, holding on to the only two people in the entire world that made her feel even slightly better.

She let her eyes wander as much as she could, but in the front row there wasn’t much to look at besides the pale oak of her mother’s coffin. It was beautiful craftsmanship, little carved snowflakes lined the edges and the White crest sat in the very middle of the panel facing them. She wondered how such delicate work was completed so quickly. Three days was not nearly long enough for someone to put that level of detail into it. It had to be more than one person, she determined, and all of them had done excellent work for their Queen. Lisle would know who made it; she supposed she could thank them personally if she wanted. She didn’t quite want to, maybe she would just send a card instead with a few more gold pieces. That would give her enough distance to not reopen her wounds.

Her eyes wandered on to the snow drops that lined every available surface. She had to wonder how anyone had gotten their hands on a flower that only bloomed at the end of winter when it was just now the middle of fall. Someone had been sent into the foothills of the mountains, probably. They could be found there almost year round. Emma didn’t envy the person sent on that errand with a three day deadline. Perhaps they deserved her thanks just as much as the coffin makers.

Again her eyes wandered, looking over to the other side of the aisle out of the corner of her eye. Her mother’s closest advisors and friends were there, members of the council and the few peasant friends her mother had made years before in the rebellious period where she’d met Emma’s father. Her godmother was there, in her ever present red cape, crying silently. Emma wanted to comfort her, but wasn’t sure how when she herself was feeling just as dreadful. At least the service saved her from having to figure it out right that second.

Emma sighed again, her visual range having been exhausted. She couldn’t very well start turning around and crowd gazing, no she had to look like she was paying extreme attention to everything the high priest said. She looked at the man whose mouth was still moving. He was a good man. She hoped her father was listening and perhaps drawing comfort from his words, but as blank as his eyes were she doubted it.

Regina seemed to be the only one paying any attention, though knowing the other woman it could all be an act. But the words being spoken wouldn’t hurt the knight and wouldn’t anger her as they would Emma. Regina had only known her mother as the Queen and nothing more. Funerals where you weren’t attached to the person were sad, but almost in an awkward way. Her thumb traced over the back of Regina’s hand, drawing a small smile from the other woman for just a second.

“And now, her majesty will say a few final words,” the high priest said, breaking Emma out of her reverie.

She’d been waiting for this moment of course, but still she jumped just the barest inch. She hoped no one behind her noticed. She stood and made her way up the stairs, taking the place of the high priest, turning quickly so she saw no more than a glance inside the coffin. Her heart stopped beating as hard when she faced the crowd before her. She had escaped any permanently scaring images.

She cleared her throat, squared her shoulders, and desperately looked of the words to say. “My mother loved this kingdom, she really did in her way. She always tried to do the right thing for everyone, and even if we didn’t always agree what that was. I respected her for it after all was said and done. It’s not a secret that these last few months that we did not get along, but that doesn’t matter now. She was my mother and no matter what was said that never changed. Had she lived we would have made up, I know it, and she would have taught me as much as she could’ve about ruling the kingdom because she always wanted me to succeed. Now I am Queen without such guidance, without my mother helping me along the way. But I know she’ll be watching over every single one of us, still trying to be the good Queen she was, probably yelling at me to make the right choices.” Emma smiled wistfully. “And the Gods know that I will try to be the Queen this kingdom deserves and that honors my mother’s memory. My mother would want the kingdom to go on just as strongly as it ever has, and together we will do that.”

Emma looked over her shoulder, back at the pale wood behind her. “Now, if you would join me in a final goodbye to my mother and your Queen.”

The room stood together as one and bowed their heads. Emma stood there, looking out for a long silent moment. It was strange, seeing so many people mourn her mother, no matter how genuinely or not. How many lives had her mother touched in her tenure? How many would she touch? Her mouth went dry and she wished that a moment of silence wasn’t the only thing her mother had left in this world.

“Thank you,” Emma said, quiet voice carrying far in the silent room.

She took the stairs down as people started to raise their heads.

The high priest stepped to the front of the room and looked at Emma’s father. Emma shook her head just slightly. He wasn’t in any condition to speak at the moment. Emma wasn’t even sure he was in the same realm as the rest of the funeral. The man nodded back just as slightly and went back to speaking.

Emma watched his mouth move, trying to listen this time, but she just couldn’t. The words weren’t making sense, everything was blurring together long before it ever reached her ears. Emma did quite understand when the high priest for everyone to file past her mother’s coffin for their final respects before the ceremony was over. Emma stood on shaky legs. It would be harder this time to avoid seeing her mother pale and lifeless. Still, she walked up the stairs yet again and paused at the head of the coffin, looking down with unfocused eyes. She saw nothing more than blurs and for that Emma was grateful.

Her father stepped up behind her and wrapped his arm around her waist. Emma leaned into the contact, grateful for the support. They stared for a very long moment before stepping back almost as one and heading out to the throne room where they would be greeting all of the mourners and accepting their condolences. Emma couldn’t help but think that would be the bigger hurdle. She so did not want to interact with anyone who wasn’t her father or Regina, it was just too tiring.

But people started to file into the throne room almost immediately after them. Emma swallowed hard and looked at her mother’s throne. It would be hers within a day. She walked up the stairs with her father and sat in the throne. She couldn’t recall ever feeling smaller in her life than she did in that chair. So much rode on the decisions a ruler made. How was she not supposed to feel small in the face of that? How had she ever thought she knew what she was doing?

Regina squeezed her shoulder, standing to the right of her, looking out at the crowd. Emma glanced up at her and shot her a grateful look. The woman always knew what she needed it seemed, and the last thing she needed was to be fully in her own head. She was glad of the distraction and turned back towards the crowd.

She motioned the first mourner forward and breathed slowly and deeply, trying to let the tension in her shoulders bleed from her frame. It wasn’t going anywhere no matter how relaxed her breathing was, not from the first word out of the man’s mouth in front of her. No, that brought everything ripping back and Emma sighed, sitting back and nodding at the appropriate places.  Her father made no such efforts, but stared ahead. She wished that she had the luxury of doing so, but sighed and waited for the next person to step forward to repeat the process once again.

 

It was long after dinner by the time everyone had been seen to, but Emma still didn’t feel hungry. Her father silently motioned to a passing maid that food was to be sent to both Emma and his rooms. Emma looked over at him and gave him a barely there smile. The corners of his mouth barely twitched in return.

“Little bird,” he sighed, but didn’t go on.

Emma nodded and squeezed his arm. She understood.

Regina came back over from seeing off the last mourner and linked her arm through Emma’s. Emma felt better being sandwiched between the two of them.

Her father regarded the knight evenly. “Have you been eating as well?” He managed with a bit of a struggle, exhaustion pulling at every syllable.

Regina looked a little sheepish. “Sporadically, there’s been much to do.”

Charming motioned for another plate to be sent up to Emma’s rooms. “I’ll make sure of it. Your health matters as much to me as Emma’s.”

Emma’s heart melted at that. She stepped forward, dragging Regina with her by accident, and hugged her father. He hugged her back hard, face nestled on the top of her head.

Regina for her part stood to the side rather awkwardly, like she wasn’t quite sure what do with such a statement of care. Beyond Emma she really never had anyone, Emma supposed. It made sense in its own way, even if that made Emma more than a little sad. Her father and her would just have to make up for those years where Regina had no one.

“Thank you,” Regina said as Emma and her father parted.

Charming shrugged. “That’s what family does.” He gave her a ghost of a smile before nodding and heading off towards his rooms, slumping more with every step.

Emma desperately hoped that he actually ate the food he had sent up to his room instead of just ignoring it in favor of sleep.

She turned towards Regina. “You call me an idiot, but I think skipping meals is a bit idiotic.”

Regina nodded. “I know, but—”

“No buts, this one you just have to accept.”

“Ok.” Regina wrapped her arm around Emma’s waist and started to tug her forward. “Now come before the food arrives and gets cold.”

Emma snorted and muttered under her breath, “It’s not like I taste it anyway.”

Regina sent her a worried look, but said nothing more.

 

Chapter Text

The next day Emma was standing in front of the doors to the balcony once again watching the sun rise. She had slept fitfully yet again and saw no point in drawing out her agony by trying to go back to sleep after she had woken in the middle of the night. She almost laughed at how much this mirrored the night before her wedding, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. There was nothing good about this. Emma wasn’t sure that there ever would be.

Regina stirred not long after the sun crested the horizon. Emma could hear her shuffling around in bed, reaching out for Emma and not finding her there. A minute later Regina was at her side, standing in her normal sleepwear of tights and a loose shirt. Emma drew the other woman to her, appreciating the warmth from the sheets that still clung to the other woman. She slipped a cool hand under Regina’s shirt, sighing at the feeling of bare skin. Gods just a touch like this was so comforting.

Regina grabbed her and turned Emma to face her. She took Emma’s face gently into her hands and kissed her.

Something about it just broke Emma. The tears she had been holding in for the past two days started to flow down her cheeks. She had thought she was done crying, but it seemed that she wasn’t and the thought made her cry harder, lips still attached to Regina’s like they were her only life line.

Regina’s thumbs caressed her cheeks gently, wiping away as many tears as possible.

Emma drew back and nestled into Regina’s neck, still crying. She couldn’t keep kissing the other woman; her runny nose was preventing her from breathing.

Regina for her part went to running her hands through Emma’s hair and whispering soothing things that Emma didn’t hear.

“No matter what, you’ll be a great Queen, my love,” Regina said quietly.

Emma drew back and looked at her, tears finally starting to stop. “But I’m not ready,” she whispered.

“I don’t think anyone really ever is, darling. But you have a good heart and a great deal of intelligence, and you have me. All of those things will make sure everything works out in the end.

Emma bit her lip and nodded. “Ok.” She didn’t sound sure at all, but she was grateful that Regina was trying to help. But then again she was always grateful that Regina was there so it wasn’t quite a revelation.

A knock on the door sounded. Emma turned towards it and took one last breath, deep enough that anyone would have thought it her last. She felt as if she wouldn’t truly breathe for the rest of the day. Oxygen would find its way into her body another way. Or maybe it wouldn’t and Emma would disappear into the ether as well.

She strode towards the door anyway and pulled it open. The maids outside scurried in as soon as the door opened, setting up immediately. A group quickly swallowed up Emma, leading her to one side of the room while the rest escorted Regina to the other. Emma sent a harried glance over to Regina whose eyes held both amusement and the exact same harassed expression, and then she was being sat down on a settee and her hair was being combed out and clucked over while another maid fussed over the dress Emma was supposed to wear, opening up the garment bag and tutting at the few barely noticeable wrinkles in the fabric.

Emma knew it was going to be a long day and yet it had barely even started. She desperately wished that coronations were quiet little affairs. She felt little like celebrating with the normal pomp required of royals today. She thought it was foolish for coronations to be made such a big deal. Most of them followed the death of a family member, who in the world felt like celebrating after that?

As much as she hated it, the girls were efficient about their work and Emma was spit back out of the group a little over an hour later. Regina wasn’t far behind and Emma smiled at her. The coronation dress she had worn what felt like ages ago for her coronation as princess was pulling double duty for this ceremony. Margaret had made some changes so it didn’t look wholly similar. Emma doubted anyone would really care what they were wearing, but appreciated the effort.

Regina walked over to her, eyes sweeping up and down Emma’s frame, thoughtful look on her face. She stopped barely a pace in front of her and looked again. A hand reached out and caressed one of the gold ribbons threaded through the waist of the dress.

“You look…elegant, what a Queen should look like.”

Emma frowned. “I’m not wearing something like this every day just to look like a Queen.”

“Gods no, I’m just saying, darling, you look good. You look ready even if you don’t feel it. And looks for this are important.”

Emma nodded. They always were in everything she did. Now she supposed that was doubly so since the crown would rest on her head in a few hours. The thought pounded at the back of her head that if she didn’t look like a calm, self-assured, strong ruler that she could be inviting attack from other kingdoms. The thought was not comforting in the slightest, but somehow managed to straighten her spine that much more.

“Well, you look as calm and ready as ever.”

Regina smiled at her. “Truth be told, I don’t feel ready either, but I learned long ago not to show it.”

Emma grabbed Regina’s hand and brought it to her mouth, kissing it gently. “Well then, I suppose that’s very symmetrical of us, both being unsure.”

Regina chuckled once. “That is one way to look at it.”

A maid cleared her throat. “Majesties, you should be heading down now. The ceremony will begin in a little while.”

Emma nodded at the girl. “Thank you.” She looked back at Regina who held out her arm. Emma took it and Regina led them from the room at a sedate pace. It wasn’t exactly like the coronation could start without them.

She sighed. “I just learned the script for your coronation, but this is all so different. I feel like I’m going to mix the two up,” Emma said quietly enough that she was sure even Regina was straining to hear.

Regina smiled. “I think you’ll be fine, darling. Your saving grace is that they are so different. A string of people isn’t up there asking you a myriad of questions, only the high priest. As for my part it’s almost exactly the same, just replace princess with queen.”

Emma nodded. “I suppose. Gods what if I start answering your questions though instead of the priest’s or something?”

“I think you’re smart enough to prevent that from happening.” Regina rolled her eyes at her.

“Nerves make people stupid.”

“Then pretend only priest, you, and me are in the room.”

“Yeah, easier said than done.”

Regina squeezed her arm. “I have faith in you. I always do.”

They came up on the throne room quickly after that. Everyone was already inside and the doors were shut, awaiting the trumpets to open and usher the new royals in. Emma stared at the dark wood in front of her. Oh gods. The room in front of her had not been important to her for all her life until the last few months. Emma wasn’t quite sure she liked the change.

A minute passed, then two, and then the trumpets were blowing, loud and clear even through the thick doors. Emma straightened again and then the doors were opening. Everyone in the room was turned and staring at them. She supposed it would be like that from now on. The Princess could be ignored in favor of her parents, but the Queen never would.

The first step forward felt like she was wading through sludge. It was hard to make herself move. She wanted this, she did want to be Queen so she could help her people, but gods did it not feel like it in that moment.

The walk to the front of the room took an eternity and no time at all. Regina curtsied to the high priest and walked off to the side for the moment. Emma’s heart almost stopped beating when Regina let go of her. She wasn’t anchored at all, but Regina was the only thing that had been keeping her even within the earth’s atmosphere. She felt like she was floating helplessly.

And then the priest opened his mouth and it felt like Emma came slamming back down to earth. “Come, child of the gods and accept your rightful place as Queen of the White Kingdom.”

Emma swallowed hard once and then again. There was still a lump in her throat, but she spoke around it now. Anymore pausing would look bad.

“It is my honor,” Emma said, voice not nearly as strong as it needed to be, but she couldn’t clear her throat any more than she could pause for a protracted amount of time.

She climbed the stairs, stopping one below the high priest. The old man reached out and tugged the crown of the heir off of her head gently. A page boy walked at a stately pace from the wings of the room with a bright red cushion. The priest set the heir’s crown on it, making sure the little boy had a good grip on the pillow before letting go completely. The boy disappeared again and the priest turned to the crowd.

“And thus you leave your position as heir for the office you were born and raised for, as seen fit by the gods. May they grant you an heir to fill your vacated position so that the White Kingdom may continue to thrive.”

“I hope to be so blessed so that I may continue to serve my kingdom,” Emma responded.

The man nodded down at her and stepped back.

Emma climbed the few stairs that were left and stood in front of her mother’s—her—throne. She turned slowly and faced the crowd again. There were so many of them and as soon as she sat she would be their Queen. She sat down slowly, hoping to the gods that it looked like a stately, refined gesture instead of hesitation.

When she was situated the priest was back at her side with two more page boys flanking him. He took the specter of the kingdom from one of the boys and held it out.

“Do you accept full power over the kingdom and will you use it to uphold the will of the gods?”

“I will.”

He handed Emma the specter. She set her hand down quickly so that no one could see her shaking like a leaf.

“Will the people of this kingdom be your first and foremost concern, surpassing all others, including matters that involve yourself?”

“They will.”

He looped the star of the kingdom over her head. Emma didn’t recall the pendant looking this heavy when it had been on Regina at her coronation. She felt as if she was going to suffocate while wearing it, it pressed so hard into her chest. The weight of every single atom in the kingdom seemed to concentrated in one single necklace. How was she expected to keep breathing?

The priest picked up the ball, an artifact only used to crown the Kings and Queens of the kingdom. Emma eyed it wearily. If she couldn’t breathe now, if she was shaking like a leaf just with the necklace and scepter, gods knew what was going to happen when the priest put that ball in her hand. She didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to find out. She wanted him to drop it, shatter it, anything. But he was speaking instead, holding the ball steadily in two hands.

“And with all this power supreme over every person in the land, you will not abuse it in any way.”

“I would hope the gods would strike me dead before such a thing happened.”

The ball was in her hand. Emma felt as if she couldn’t move, like she was being crucified on the throne of the kingdom. She valiantly tried again to remember that she wanted this, that she wanted to change everything, make things a better place, to be the Queen both commoner and noble alike deserved, but she couldn’t. All she could remember was that even through all the panic she had to keep her breathing deep and even and her expression passive and even that was just self-preservation kicking in. She could die if she didn’t pull this off right.

But did it matter? She was going to get everyone killed anyway.

The priest picked up the crown. Emma knew as soon as it was on her head she would be rightly paralyzed, but yet couldn’t be. She had to get up after everything and say her lines to Regina so that Regina was accepted as Queen beside her. Gods knew, maybe the burden choking her now would lighten once Regina was Queen. She knew the other woman would help her in any way possible.

“Then with these oaths documented for the future generations I hereby crown you Queen of the White Kingdom in the name of the gods and in the name of the people.”

The crown settled on Emma’s head. But there was no weight this time. She blinked and waited, but still, nothing. It felt as a feather and Emma didn’t quite understand.

“The burden of power is sometimes the heaviest and yet lightest to bear.” The priest said to her, looking out over the crowd.

Emma fought to look impassive. She still didn’t understand. But there was no time. She stood from her throne and walked forward to the edge of the dais.  When she stopped the crier came forward.

“Presenting her majesty, Emma, Queen of the White Kingdom. Long may she live.”

The room erupted in cheers of long live the Queen. Emma swallowed, feeling weighed down by the words filling the room. How could anyone even pretend to be excited about this? Above her the bells in the palace towers rung loud and long, adding to the din. It was so loud that she could barely hear herself think. Why was all of this for her? She had barely become a Princess and now she was a Queen.  

The chants died down as the bells finally rung their last. Emma stepped back. It didn’t matter now. She was Queen of the White Kingdom and there was no taking that back now. She felt like throwing up, but handed the scepter and ball back to the high priest calmly instead. She tugged the Star of the Kingdom off, up over her crown and gave the priest that as well. After all, the specter and star would be needed for Regina, albeit in a slightly different way. She thought the weight might go away with them, they had brought so much weight to her, but the feeling stayed. She wished desperately that her mother was alive, that she could ask her if this feeling was normal, or if she was just slightly insane.

Regina took Emma turning back to the crowd as her cue and strode in from the sidelines. She positioned herself directly in front of Emma and kneeled, looking down at the floor. Emma was almost blindsided by the memory of her coronation as princess. She looked exactly the same. Gods, how Emma wished to be back in that time where her mother was alive and she wasn’t Queen. She wondered idly if she would wish for that every time she thought of the time before.

She stepped forward. “Regina of House White, formerly of House Mills, what brings you before this body?”

“To claim my rightful place as Queen beside my wife.” Regina looked up at her this time.

The subtle difference broke Emma’s double vision, seeing past and present side by side. She swallowed and stepped down to Regina’s level. Regina’s eyes were on her the whole time as she held her positon on the floor.

“And will you uphold all the promises I have made to the kingdom?”

“I will.”

“And will you never usurp my power as rightful ruler of this kingdom by abusing your title?”

“Never.”

A surprisingly relieved breath whoosed out of her at the word and the sincerity in Regina’s eyes. She hadn’t even been aware she was worried about such a thing, she trusted Regina explicitly, but somehow having it in words as well as actions settled her mind.

“Then stand, a Queen kneels to no one but the gods.” She offered her hand to Regina.

Regina daintily placed her hand in Emma’s and pulled herself up fluidly. She kept her hand in Emma’s as they both ascended the stairs once more. They both turned once they reached the top, in front of their thrones. Regina dropped her hand as they sat down simultaneously.

The high priest stepped up to Regina’s side. He repeated the same oaths that Regina had sworn when she had become Princess, the answers adjusted just slightly for a Queen. When Regina was holding the specter and wearing the Star of the Kingdom the priest paused, picking up the ball and holding it out right in front of Regina’s face.

“In kissing this royal artifact, the ball that symbolizes the rightful ruler of the kingdom, you seal your commitment and promise that the sovereign still holds power over you, and your actions shall not go against this.”

Regina sat forward just slightly and pressed her lips to the cool gold of the ball. She drew back after a long second.

“It is sealed then.”

He turned and set the ball back on one of the pillows held by his attending page boys and picked up Regina’s crown from another. It was splendid, but not as showy as Emma’s own, rather on purpose. It had always been worn by the spouse of the ruling King or Queen and it was made to reflect on sight the fact they had all but the last little bit of power held by the true ruler.

The man lifted it over Regina’s head. “And with this crown, you take your place as the Queen of the White Kingdom.”

The crown settled perfectly on Regina’s head, like it had been meant for her head and no one else’s. Emma sighed. It was clear to her now that Regina had always been meant to be Queen, even if it wasn’t of her natural born kingdom. She looked like the ruler that the kingdom deserved. Emma felt herself wishing that she was the one who’d married into the royal family, not vice versa. Maybe she could handle that role instead.

Regina glanced over at her, a small smile breaking her serious demeanor. She reached out for Emma’s hand once more. Emma took it and they both stood.

Emma was ready for it this time when everyone around them erupted into cheers and the bells started to ring. They didn’t ring as long or nearly as loud for her wife, but Emma’s ears were still ringing by the time they stopped. With one more group bow, the crowd started to file out. She would have to face them later at the banquet, but that could wait. Maybe as her first act as Queen she would ban banquets. She really quite hated them, especially when all she wanted to do was lay down and sleep.

Her father emerged from the side of the room as the last few people left. Her walked up to Emma and drew her into a tight hug. Emma hugged back fiercely, tears stinging at her eyes. He pulled back and smiled at her, wiping under her eyes gently.

“Oh, little bird, it’ll be…I can’t say fine, but I can say I have faith in you.” He kissed her forehead and then stepped back.

The next second Regina was in his arms. If Emma hadn’t been completely exhausted she would’ve laughed at the other woman’s surprised face. Regina didn’t quite know how to take the gesture, but patted her father on the back after a few stiff seconds. He chuckled and drew back from Regina.

“I should amend that, I have faith in both of you. And in your love. You’ll rule just fine.” He shot Emma a significant look.

“You talk like you’re going to disappear soon,” Emma said, heart twisting at even the mere mention.

“No, no, of course not, but well, a few compliments and assurances as never bad at the beginning. Gods know that I could’ve used a few more when I was crowned. I was so worried that a sneeze at the wrong time would set off the next famine I had such little confidence in myself.” He rubbed at the back of his neck.

Emma chuckled once at the joke. She really took a look at her father. He looked better today, a lot better. There were still grief lines around his mouth and eyes and the look that was in his blue eyes was still so very pained, but his face wasn’t pale as a sheet anymore and he was at least trying to joke and comfort. She was glad he was starting to come back into himself, but also scared what it meant that she felt no better than the day her mother died. If her mother’s true love could recover faster than she was, was something wrong with her?

“Well, I don’t think I’m at that point, but then again my experience before this wasn’t in herding sheep.” Emma smiled weakly.

“It’s not as different as you think once you get down to it. The council members aren’t much smarter.”

That drew a snort from Emma and Regina both.

“Yes, well,” Regina said. “We won’t inform them of such.”

Her father nodded. “Good idea.” He looked over his shoulder at the empty room. “Shall we?”

Emma shrugged. “If we must.”

Her father set off towards the doors with Emma and Regina in tow.

 

The first morning of her rule dawned the same as any other. Emma thought the sunrise was a little lackluster even. She couldn’t particularly blame the sun for not wanting to be showy, she didn’t feel like it either, yet she was in one of her better dresses. For court today she knew she would have to look her best. She probably would for a good while until people truly got used to the idea of her being Queen, then perhaps she could slip back into some of her more practical, comfortable dresses.

She rubbed her hands across her eyes and groaned. Gods she was so tired she couldn’t even stand herself. She wondered when the nightmares would pass, if they ever would. Her brain had quite a bit of fodder to torment her with now between her mother’s death and her worry over running the kingdom straight into the ground. She wondered if every ruler started out like this. Perhaps she wasn’t so abnormal. It was normal to worry, wasn’t it? With so much power put into your hands how could anyone not? But then again there were those kings and queens who took power like it was owed to them, not given. She looked back at her bedroom door, Regina’s mother was proof of that. She doubted people like that worried overmuch about how to rule a kingdom.

She turned away from the window and walked back into the bedroom. She walked over to Regina’s side of the bed, sitting down gently. The woman was out training already now that Emma had reinstated her privileges and lifted her mother’s orders to the soldiers not to practice with her. It had been her first official act as Queen, not as grandiose as she had imagined her first act would be, but she thought it was rather worth the blinding smile Regina gave her and definitely well worth the rather thorough kiss.

Emma leaned down and pressed her face into Regina’s pillow. The smell of the other woman surrounded her immediately and she took the first deep breath that she had all morning. Regina wouldn’t be at breakfast today, but she would be with her at court and the council meeting and that was the most important. For now, Emma drew strength from the smell of her love and stood up, making herself go to breakfast and hoping that her hair wasn’t too mussed from her actions a few moments prior.

She prayed that breakfast went quickly and that Regina would appear soon. She needed her knight. Then again, Emma hadn’t re-knighted Regina so technically she wasn’t a knight. She should get on that. She had seen enough knighting ceremonies that she knew what should go on, she just would have to mention it to Lisle, the woman would know what to do or at least who to direct her to. A small smile crept onto her face. If Regina was overjoyed just to be able to practice again she wondered just how happy the other woman would be to gain her knighthood back. While she was at it she should probably ask the captain of the guard who was ready to be promoted as well. A kingdom possibly on the edge of war could use all the knights it could get after all. Her mind spiraled with plans all through breakfast and really made the time pass without jagged shards of self-consciousness stab through her at her every action. She smiled and conversed, mind spinning, finally not worrying about whether what she’d just said was queenly enough.

When Regina caught up to her right before court, hair still damp from a bath, freshly outfitted in a tight fitting dress that made Emma’s mouth go dry she had a plan firmly in place in her mind. Knighthoods were the Queen’s to give out as she chose, but the council had to at least be asked permission so they didn’t get their ludicrously expensive panties in a twist. Emma had a response for each and every naysayer she could think of. She would get her way and it would be good for both the kingdom and her wife.

“You look better today,” Regina said, kissing her on the cheek.

“I feel a little better today.” Having something to do that didn’t make her feel completely incompetent was nice, but she wasn't about to tell Regina that. She wanted everything to be as much of a surprise as possible.

“I’m glad, my love.” She tugged Emma into the throne room. “But we’re late, so perhaps later you can tell me why you feel better.”

Emma shrugged. “I just do, Regina, not much to tell.”

Regina nodded. “Well, then that’s good as well.” She smiled and sat down in her throne.

Emma followed suit and called up the first person of the day. It took her normal amount of time to become frustrated beyond belief, but it was tempered today. Perhaps she really could do this if she found things like this that she could twist in a favorable way to the council. Maybe that’s what they’d been missing before, a real way of communicating to the council and their general sleaziness. Gods knew her and Regina had tried, but only after what they thought was the reasonable approach was failed. Maybe if they started right off the bat with the sleazy way it would work. It would be horribly disgusting, but the ends and the means and all that.

The self-doubt was still firmly at the back of her mind. What if she was wrong? What if it backfired? But today she ignored it for the first time in so long. She wouldn’t know until she tried. If she did fail then she could figure out another way to come at the problem later, maybe with Regina’s help the second time around. It would ruin the surprise, but it would be more likely to succeed.

Court ended with its usual complaints registered, the chicken had been eaten by wolves, a flood had destroyed a home, Lord Danbury was complaining about the peasants not paying taxes as he did every single week. She was about ready to ban the man from the palace, but he had far too much influence. He was old, he’d stop coming so frequently sooner or later.

On the way to the council meeting Emma actually felt a spark of excitement she hadn’t felt since she’d been asked to her first one years ago. The concept of having an idea that wouldn’t be meant with extreme amounts of hostility was heady. The only question now was how to get Regina out of the room. Did she even really want her out of the room? She pursed her lips. Did she want a surprise or a sure win? She could sorely use a win to start off her rule. But Regina’s smile…

She sighed and decided to keep Regina in the room. Perhaps her smile would still be radiant even after the surprise had been ruined. Then again, it still would be a surprise in a way she supposed since this idea was going to come seemingly from nowhere to Regina. It was of no matter if she really wanted to surprise the woman afterwards, alone, flush from victory with her knighthood guaranteed. A win would be a surety with Regina arguing on her side.

They both stepped into the council room, the men inside falling silent and bowing. Emma nodded back and went to take her seat at the head of the table. Regina sat at her right side, picking up the papers that had been set at her place and scanning over them. Emma glanced down at her own set, but looked back up to the men in the room.

“What’s on the agenda today? The search has been called off and the borders reopened, have they not?”

Lord William nodded. “It has. The captain of the guard gave his full report while you were in court, your majesty.”

She nodded. “Good. Has anyone determined the effect it will have on the trade of the kingdom? Gods know our economy needs no more hits.”

Another man went on, explaining the projected effect, it was less than Emma was expecting so she was pleased. It seemed that what they had lost to trade with other countries was greatly offset by higher domestic trade in the wake of her mother’s funeral and her own coronation.

Emma let the meeting continue on as it would, listening and giving her input carefully, looking to Regina for advice when she wasn’t quite sure. It seemed like any other council meeting to her, save the fact that she was running it. It was an odd feeling.

When all new business was covered Emma stopped the gathering of papers with a raise of her hand. “If you will, I have a proposal.”

The men set down their papers and looked at her expectantly. She felt Regina’s questioning stare boring into her. Oh, she hoped this was the good idea that she thought it was.

“Seeing as the rumblings of a potential war are on our horizon, I believe it is prudent for a new batch of men to be knighted. Gods know there are plenty of men in the kingdom who have worked hard enough to earn such an honor, and we will need more commanders of the others if it does come to war. More knights could also train more soldiers, a capability that will be greatly handy if another kingdom does decide to attack.” She looked to every man’s face. “What is your input on this?”

 Lord Roderic cleared his throat. “It’s sound reasoning, your majesty, but the amount of knights we have now is because of the…monetary struggles the kingdom faces. Knights require more pay and the ceremony to knight them is rather costly as well.”

Emma bit the inside of her lip at that. She had thought of that of course, and had an argument for it, but it wasn’t one she was fond of. “I’m well aware, my lord, but it would cost much more to rebuild a leveled kingdom, if there’s even a kingdom left. As for the ceremony…well they’re expensive if held individually. The men will not like it, but we could knight the lot of them at once, such as is done normally in the face of war.”

“We are keeping the threat of war a secret, the men won’t know they’re being knighted as a group in the face of war,” Baron Andreas said.

“The head of the guard knows, does he not?” Regina spoke up.

The man nodded. “Of course.”

“And he’s been told to start readying the troops just in case, training the lot, recruiting if he can, getting a count of the soldiers her has as well as the count of armor and weapons, has he not?” Regina cocked an eyebrow.

Again the man nodded.

“The soldiers are not stupid then, they know what such preparations mean, and if we can’t let the men who are going to the future knights and protectors of the kingdom in on the fact that we might be facing war, then why are knighting them? If they are truly knight material they will not speak a word to anyone if they are told to keep it a secret.”

Lord William raised his wizened face from the papers in front of him. “Tell the head of the guard to bring us a list of the names he thinks should be considered for knighthood. We’ll approve the names and then the ceremony can proceed. The kingdom could use a bolstering of its strength, war or no. It will deter further thoughts of attack from other kingdoms. If enough men are recruited to the guard, their steady pay can help their relatives that will have to bear the taxes raised to keep the army at a bigger size.”

The rest of the council looked to the old man and then slowly started to nod their acquiescence.

Emma almost sighed in relief. Having Lord William on her side both meant that she had indeed had a good idea and the almost guaranteed approval of the rest of the council. Thank the gods.

“Good, I shall speak with the head of the guard and bring you the list as soon as possible.” She looked around. “And unless anyone has anything else, then I do believe the meeting is over for the day.”

Chairs scraped back as quickly as was proper and the men filed out of the room. Emma stood and stretched discretely. The wave of energy she had gained in the face of her idea was starting to flag now that everything was approved.

Regina stood and looked at Emma. “So when were you going to tell me of your little plan?”

Emma stepped back from the table and headed towards the door as well. With her daily duties done she wanted to curl up on the couch. “It just occurred to me this morning. I would have told you sooner, but there wasn’t quite time.”

Regina hummed. “I see.”

Emma rubbed at the back of her neck and blushed lightly. “And also I might have still been debating sending you from the room so I could come to you after the council meeting and let you know that you were going to be re-knighted.” It seemed a little foolish now that everything was said and done.

Regina smirked at Emma. “My hero.”

Emma blushed deeper. “So maybe I was looking for a more enthusiastic reaction than that, but yeah, that was sort of the gist of it.”

Regina laughed long and loud, drawing the attention of every passing servant. The looks they gave her were all various forms of surprise. It didn’t surprise Emma, she was usually the only one who saw anything other than the serious side of Regina. She drug Emma inside their rooms, shutting the door quickly behind them.

The next second Emma was pinned against the door with Regina’s lips on hers. Emma stiffened for just a second before her brain caught up and she kissed Regina back deeply. After so long without feeling the need or want to kiss the other woman, the action was overwhelming. She deepened the kiss immediately. Gods, it felt so good.

Regina withdrew minutes later, face flushed and lips swollen, eyes dark and predatory. “Is this what you had in mind for a reaction?”

Emma swallowed and tried to speak, but her voice stuck in her throat. She wasn’t sure speech would be possible for the next millennia after a kiss like that. She shook her head instead. No, she had just been gunning for one of Regina’s rare brilliant smiles. Though now that Regina had brought this up as a possibility…

Regina’s hand came up to tuck a strand of hair behind Emma’s ear. “Then what was your motivation?”

“Just wanted to make you happy,” Emma finally managed to croak out. “You’ve been so…just so good with everything since my mother’s death and I just wanted to make you happy somehow.”

Regina’s face softened. “Oh, darling, you already do.” She kissed Emma again lightly before drawing back. “And for the record, if you want me like that no overarching gestures are required, just ask.” Regina shot over her shoulder continuing to their bedroom to change, a salacious eyebrow raised.

Emma looked after her, feeling normal for the first time she had in days. Everything was still there, but it was like her body and mind had reached some sort of equilibrium where it could finally sort through everything. And right now what it was telling her was that she should forget her troubles for a few hours and lose herself in Regina.

She had no problems with this plan, wetness already pooling between her thighs from the kiss and the thoughts of Regina calling her name. Once was not nearly enough. She needed to have Regina again and again. She shot off to the bedroom, entering just as Regina was pulling her undershirt over her head.

She walked up to Regina, drawing the woman’s half naked body against her. “If all I have to do is ask, then consider this my question.” She kissed Regina again, hard and desperate.

Regina kissed her way back to Emma’s ear after another few minutes. “I thought you’d never ask,” she purred.

And then Emma was lost to hands on her skin and moans filling the air until it was time for dinner.

 

Chapter Text

The list of knights was approved with little fuss. What little fuss there was, was over Regina’s inclusion on the list, but Emma silenced them quickly. The woman was already a knight before and the kingdom needed all the skilled men and women it could get.

Regina had looked over the list as well and had nodded. She knew all the men and deemed them worthy of the promotion, even said some were long overdue. Emma felt even better about her plan after that. Regina knew better than the council members about this matter, no matter what the old bats said.

She stood in front of a room of kneeling knights-to-be now. Her eyes kept being drawn to Regina no matter what she did. The woman looked splendid in her armor once again, hair pulled back into the efficient bun she always wore while working. She knew she should be paying equal attention to the other knights, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. Surely they understood.

The ceremony was simple. She asked them if they were loyal to the kingdom always, if they would defend it to their dying breath, if they would follow orders as given and never break the faith entrusted with them, and then lowered the sword she was holding to their shoulders in turn and proclaimed them a knight of the kingdom. Doing that twenty times in a row was tedious, for sure, but this was a kind of tedium she was glad to endure.

When she came to stand in front of Regina she almost bounced out of her skin. She couldn’t believe she got to do this for her love. Regina loved being a knight and she got to give it back to her personally. She couldn’t believe it had actually worked out.

But then her sword was lowering gently to Regina’s armored shoulders, with Regina looking dead into her eyes, a smile in them that no one else in the room could see, and it was done.

Emma headed towards the front of the room and stood. She nodded at all the bystanders who had come to watch and spoke. “Thank you all for coming today and watching this honor be bestowed on our kingdom’s best and brightest. However, as is customary, I need a word alone with my new knights. There will be a feast of course and you may make your way there, we shan’t be long.”

The room grumbled into life as everyone shifted from the edges of the room and filed out. Emma watched as the last person made their way past the doors. She nodded at the guards posted there to shut the doors behind them. When they were secure Emma turned and made her way to the throne and sank down.

“Rise,” she commanded.

The knights in front of her rose as one. Emma had to hand it to them, their training was impeccable. “You may be wondering why so many of you were knighted at once, some of you may have figured it out. Now that you are knights of this kingdom you will know for sure. There are rumblings of war from several other kingdoms. Nothing for sure has been heard yet, and we’re hoping to keep it that way. Many of you have deserved promotions for a great while. The fact that part of our plan to deter the threat of war is knighting a great many of you does not take away from the fact that you are the best and brightest men that our kingdom has to offer. You more than deserved this and I greatly wish this honor could have come to you at a greater time, but now your kingdom needs you to continue being the best in every way. May I count on you for this?”

The room roared their affirmation.                                                                                        

“Good.” She nodded at all of them. “Then go celebrate and tomorrow report for your first day of serving your kingdom as a knight.”

The knights bowed their heads once more before walking from the room. Regina was at her side within a few seconds, face flushed. She took Emma’s hand and squeezed.

“I forgot just how heady this ceremony was.” She smiled brightly at Emma.

“Oh you mean being crowned Queen of the kingdom wasn’t enough for you,” Emma teased.

Regina snorted. “Oh no, that was more than enough. It’s just…becoming a knight is different. You’re becoming a part of something. Becoming a Queen is…” She trailed off thinking for just a moment. “you are becoming the something the knights are a part of.” She shook her head. “It’s hard to put into words, but being a knight you know that all your brothers exist for the same purpose that you do and they will have you back. As a Queen…there isn’t that. You are the one and only.” She glanced at Emma. “Well, not one and only, but two is quite the lonely number.”

Emma nodded. “I know. Believe me, I know.”

“There’s comfort in the orders as well. It chafed at first, being ordered around. I’m not exactly built for it—”

Emma started to laugh loudly. “Gee, you think.”

Regina just glared at her. “Yes, well, always knowing exactly what was required of me and being rewarded for a good job, if only with a word or two of praise, has been a comfort to me. Praise when I was younger was,” Regina paused to swallow. “hard to come by.”

Emma reached out and took Regina into her arms. “This is supposed to be a happy day. You aren’t supposed to be thinking about your mother. You’re supposed to be all glowly and smilely and enjoying the honor with your brothers, as you put it, with a little too much wine.”

Regina nodded into Emma’s shoulder. “I don’t like wine. I want mead.”

“I think that can be arranged.” Emma kissed the top of Regina’s hair, missing it flowing down the other woman’s back for a moment. She wanted to run her fingers through it, it always seemed to calm Regina somewhat.

Regina pulled back and nodded, smile starting on her face as fake and then progressing to something much more genuine.  “Ok.”

And this time it was Emma who grabbed Regina’s arm and dragged her from the room. “You know if you like mead better you can always drink that at meals,” she said before they were swallowed up by the banquet crowd and lost to yet another day of feasting.

 

Two weeks passed in relative peace. The kingdom had taken well to her rule. There were no dissidents calling for her head on a platter. Emma was pleased with that. With her mother now dead and the new increased taxes coming to bear Emma was sure that the people would associate her with them instead of her mother. But either the people hadn’t made the connection yet, or they saw that Emma wasn’t actually responsible for the waste of money, that she had actually fought against it. Emma just thanked the gods that the kingdom had had a good growing season and a plentiful harvest and the people had some to spare.

Things on the foreign front had been quiet as well. After the first stirrings of troop movement in the other kingdoms everything seemed to level off. Emma didn’t know if she truly believed this or if they were somehow being fed false information. She was at once relieved and suspicious. This didn’t ring as true to her as the information that there were no peasant rebellions. She frequently asked if the spies they had in the other kingdoms were reliable and was fed the same answer every time. Of course, your majesty.

She had spoken to the captain of the guard after the third yes of course answer. If her hunch was wrong, so be it, but if not she had more people dispatched to the suspect kingdoms to gather more reliable intel. At least she hoped it was more reliable. How in the world did monarchs in kingdoms at war do it day in and day out? She couldn’t possibly put up with this much intrigue.

That had been a week prior and now she was confident that her new men were settled in the other kingdoms. Still, there was no news, but Emma was patient enough to wait. Good information did not come at the drop of a hat, especially to a new comer.

Regina, for her part, was back training with the knights in the god awful hours of the mornings. The captain of the guard had assigned her to start training a group of new recruits on top of her regular training. She regularly missed court, but Emma understood no matter how much she wanted someone sitting beside her that she could discretely roll her eyes at whenever the person complaining got ridiculous. The knight was beside her for the council meetings, and that was what really mattered.

The woman slipped in behind her as she entered the council chambers yet again. After over two weeks from her coronation this was becoming much easier. She felt much more at ease in the room, like she had more of a handle on things. It would be months before she had everything down pat, but she could see the light at the end of the tunnel now.

In front of them the council was a wreck, men running around like chickens with their heads cut off, shouting at each other, no one listening at all. Emma stared a minute floored at the absolute chaos. What in the seven hells was going on? She looked back at Regina with a questioning face, but the other woman shrugged. She had no idea either.

Emma walked to her place at the head of the table and waited for a few seconds. The men didn’t even register her presence. She cleared her throat loudly, but in the din it barely made a sound. Oh for the love of the gods.

“Silence!” Emma yelled at the top of her lungs.

Everyone around her stopped comically in the middle of their actions. A few men even stumbled to regain their balance, having stopped in the middle of a step.

“Someone explain to me quickly what in the world is going on. Why are you all so frantic?” Emma looked around for someone to answer her question, but no one seemed willing. She stared at them waiting them out. They had to speak eventually. She was Queen after all and she had given them an order.

Lord Roderic cleared his throat and stepped forward, beside Lord William. He looked to the old man who nodded once, looking more solemn than Emma had ever seen him. “Your majesty, within the hour we’ve received reports that troops have started to march towards us from Spring Haven. They’ll be here within the month.”

Emma felt like she had been punched in the gut. “What kind of king sends their army out in the right at the beginning of winter?” Gods she had thought as the days had passed that they would be safe until spring. Oh gods the idiots from more temperate lands would try to attack them in the winter. But the same harsh conditions that would work against their enemy would work against her own army as well.

She sank down in her chair. And Spring Haven’s army was triple the size of theirs. They could afford a few losses to cold and disease. Her own army couldn’t. Oh lord gods this was everything she had been praying to stop.

“What are our options?” Emma asked, voice quiet and strained.

“There really only is one, your majesty. We must fight.” Lord William pushed his spectacles back up on his nose. “Spring Haven is not known for its mercy. It’s almost as bad as the Dark Kingdom. If we do not fight people will still die. All the nobility will be killed, and any peasant that looks at them wrong, even if we surrender. You and your wife…well, perhaps it best that we don’t surrender.”

Emma closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Get me the captain of the guard. Send recruiters out to every part of the kingdom they can reach and tell them to bring as many men as they can as quickly as they can. A month is not near enough to train warriors but by gods we’ll use what we’ve got.” She looked at Regina. “What of the men that were recruited to train under the new knights?”

Regina shook her head. “They’ll be better off than anyone new, but against Spring Haven, they’ll be nothing but fodder.”

Emma pinched the bridge of her nose. “Increase their training. Stop when they’re falling over, I don’t care, anything to have them more ready for this conflict. I won’t have them going out any more unprepared than I have to.”

Regina nodded. “As you wish.”

“What are our chances?” Emma asked, swallowing hard.

Everyone stared at her for a long moment. Emma’s heart sunk. She’d already known, but…gods she had hoped.

“We’ve started preparing contingency plans, your majesty for when they get closer to the palace. Your safety will be guaranteed,” said one of the lesser Barons who Emma had never bothered to learn his name.

“What good is my safety if my kingdom is being pillage by heathens with little regard for life? No one else will be safe. I would rather everyone else be protected than myself.”

“But you’re our ruler, you must stay safe,” Lord William spoke up again.

“And what good is a Queen without a kingdom? There is no way I can amass a force to rival that of Spring Haven’s. Where would I even find troops to begin with? The forest? Our allies?” Emma snorted. “As soon as this kingdom falls they will do what’s best for them and pretend they never had anything to do with us and hope to the gods that Spring Haven doesn’t set their sights on them next.”

The room stayed silent for a long time. No one moved so much as an inch, staring in front of them blankly, thinking of what was to come.

“What would you rather have us do, your majesty?”

Emma barely heard the words, didn’t even register who said them. She looked up at the men sitting around the table, the best and brightest of her kingdom allegedly. More like the most privileged and titled, but they were what she had. And these men who had been helping her mother run a kingdom for years, some longer than she had been alive. And these men were assured that this was not a conflict they could make it out of. She took a long breath in until her lungs were full to the bursting. She felt like screaming but didn’t. Perhaps she’d get to see her mother again sooner than she thought.

“I want you to prepare our kingdom as best as you can for war. If anyone is to be protected it is the civilians who aren’t fighting, not me. If this kingdom burns to the ground then I will burn with it.” She looked each and every man at the table in the eyes for a long second. “I want you to expend every single avenue and idea you can think up that will keep this kingdom from falling. I want you to do your gods damn best to protect this kingdom so as many people as possible live to see the next winter. You will put every cell you have into this effort so that Spring Haven will have as small a chance as possible to take over the land that has belonged to my family since time immemorial. I want nothing left on this table. Make whatever plans you want for yourselves, but you will fight as if your lives depend on this, no matter if they do or not. Do you all understand?”

Every head nodded slowly as Emma stared fire at them.

“Good. Now start, and such chaos will not beget anything useful. Calmly start.”

The door opened and the captain of the guard walked in. The council started to talk calmly and quietly, subdued now after her little speech. The captain walked over to her and bowed.

“You wished to see me, your majesty.”

Emma glanced up at the standing man. He would be one of the first to die she thought. He was a brave, if sometimes foolish man who wouldn’t let his men go into a fight without him. “Prepare the army,” She said evenly. “Spring Haven marches on us and will be here within the month.”  

The man paled just a shade before nodding his head. “Of course, your majesty.”

Emma looked at him. “I don’t care what you have to do to get the men as ready as possible, but you will do it.”

The man nodded again. “Yes, your majesty.”

“Update me every day on the progression of things.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

Emma nodded. “Good.”

The man took it as his dismissal and turned to leave.

“And captain?” she said at his turned back.

He looked over his shoulder. “Yes, majesty, is there anything else I can do?”

The corners of Emma’s mouth turned up into a humorless smile. “No, I was just going to wish you the luck of the gods. Gods know you’ll need it.”

The man nodded one final time. “So will we all.” And left.

Emma turned back to the men at the table, who were staring at her. She cocked an eyebrow and they all set to work immediately. Emma looked over at Regina. Her face was paler than normal, drawn, the corners of her eyes squinched just slightly. Emma knew the subtle signs of distress in her wife after all these months and Regina was so beyond distress at that moment it shook Emma just slightly. The woman was a realist of course, but seemed to come down on the side of optimism a little more than not. But if Regina looked like that…their chances were even less than she thought they were.

She reached across the table and grabbed Regina’s hand. Regina squeezed back hard, but Emma didn’t flinch away.

“I won’t be able to protect you,” she whispered after a long moment.

Emma nodded. “I know, but no one short of a god could.” She saw no need to sugar coat it. Regina was one woman, she couldn’t face an entire army by herself and win, even with magic. Spring Haven had their own mages trained to fight, magic wouldn’t be the advantage it would be against her own army. If she survived this was repealing the magic law once and for all and gods damn the consequences.

“I’m your knight. I’m supposed to be able to protect you.”

“And I’m a Queen and I’m supposed to be able to protect the people I rule over. I guess both of us won’t be able to do our jobs.”

“I can’t—” Regina broke off to draw in a ragged breath. “What am I worth if I can’t protect you?”

“Regina.” She waited until Regina looked up at her. When brown eyes finally found hers she spoke again. “You’re worth more than protection to me. You’ve been worth more than that for a very long time. Your job might be to protect me, but that’s not all you are. You are my wife and I love you whether you can take on a whole army and win or not. That’s what you’re worth, my love and so much more.” She squeezed Regina’s hand, even though her own was going numb in the other woman’s grip. “Besides if you really want to play the blame game, I’m most at fault. If I was a better Queen perhaps this wouldn’t have happened.”

Regina made an incredulous noise. Emma just looked at her. That had been her exact point, no one could really be blamed for what they couldn’t help. Regina sighed and lessened her grip on Emma’s hand. Emma smiled at her, a weak little thing, barely there, but it was something.

The meeting went on around them for a few minutes as they sat there holding hands and looking at each other. Emma swallowed hard. She had just found Regina, had just admitted that she loved the other woman, had just found out what it felt like to touch and be touched by her. Gods how was it fair that they were going to lose it all now just at the beginning? Before they could really become anything great? They hadn’t had a chance to grow. Emma had a feeling that in a few years they would be great, blinding, the best there ever was, but they wouldn’t ever get to realize that now, not unless some sort of miracle happened. Her chest hurt at the thought. She wanted to be with Regina until she died, not from a war, but from old age, years from then after a long and happy life together. Not like this, never like this. But that was how it was.

Emma felt bile rise in her throat at the thought. Gods damn it they would fight with everything they had to prevent this. If there was any chance she could have the future she wanted with Regina, the future where she actually became a good Queen and even better wife, then she damn well wanted to take it. But she didn’t even know if there were any chances to take.

She took a deep breath and swallowed down the acid in her throat. There wouldn’t be any chances if she just sat there doing nothing. She had to work for it, plot out every single eventuality, just as Regina had taught her so she could pick the best one. But war was complicated and there was no way she could get them all, but she had Regina and a room full of advisors, surely they could do something. Surely.

But the lead in Emma’s stomach refused to go away, weighing her down. She fought past it. She was a fighter and always had been and it wasn’t going to change now.

She turned away from Regina’s gaze and looked out at the men again. “Bring me a report of the funds we can use for preparations. Gods know we’ll probably bankrupt the kingdom after all this, but if we survive it will be worth it.”

The men nodded at her and set about delegating the task to one man or another. Emma didn’t care, she turned back to Regina. “Where do you think you’ll be of the most use, here or training?”

Regina shook her head. “What in the world is the point?” She snorted. “The only way we could have worse odds was if my mother was attacking us.”

“The point is we fight to see another day, you know that.”

Regina sighed and nodded after a long moment of staring at Emma. “But…it’s hopeless, I can’t get around that.”

“That isn’t the Regina I know. You’re a fighter just as much as I am.”

Regina regarded the fire in Emma’s eyes. “For you.”

“Well then, knight, fight for me.”

She stared at Emma for a long moment, war going on in her eyes. When the conflicted looked faded she spoke, “Alright.” She nodded once decisively. “Training then, troops we need, brain power we have plenty of. You can always ask me about problems later.”

Emma nodded. “Ok, then go, help everything get set up and train your men. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Regina stood, leaning down to kiss Emma on the cheek. “Until then.”

 

Chapter Text

The next few days were a flurry of preparation. Emma had debated and debated on whether to tell the kingdom of the impending attack. She didn’t want to needlessly panic anyone just in case the reports were wrong and she certainly didn’t want to cause chaos within a kingdom that could little afford it at a time when they needed absolute order to pull off anything even nearing successful. But in the end she supposed forewarned was forearmed. The peasants could make their own preparations for the impending invasion, though Emma wasn’t quite sure what in the world they could do if the kingdom, for all its resources could do nothing. But it was better to try than not.

The action hadn’t caused all out panic, but it certainly had complicated a few things. Any available supplies were being snatched up with frightening speed. So far her army wasn’t having any problems getting what they needed, but if the civilians kept it up there would be shortages and Emma was going to have to limit the amount they could buy. She didn’t want to do it, but her army came first in this one case.

She massaged her temples. She’d had a headache for the past few days, ever since the council had told her that Spring Haven was marching on them. Nothing made it better, not sleep or food, not even being in Regina’s arms. Not that she was much anymore. She saw the other woman at meals if she was lucky, when it was time to sleep if she wasn’t. She understood of course, but that didn’t mean she didn’t miss the comforting presence at her side and the ever ready stream of advice. Her heart ached every time Regina walked into a room looking more tired than Emma had ever seen her. She wanted to be able to help, to take that pain away from her, but she knew she couldn’t.

She rubbed her head harder, to the point of pain. It wasn’t like it mattered anyway. Her head hurt enough what was a little more? They were going to need a miracle to survive this. And what exactly was a headache in the face of death?

She looked outside the windows. The grounds were covered in white now. The first snow fall had been sometime within the haze of preparations within the past few days. Winter really was upon them now. The snow was coming down now as she sat there and watched. The scene should fill her with peace she thought, but it didn’t. All it made her think of was the fact that her soldiers would have to be out fighting in those conditions risking their lives and limbs to more than just enemy soldiers.

A gust of wind rattled the panes of glass in the windows. Emma shivered, feeling the draft from where she was sitting. She should close the curtains she knew, but didn’t. She kept staring outside like the snow would have an answer for her. It didn’t, no matter how she wished it.

She stared out at the grey clouds instead. They looked fiercer than normal today. She laughed once mirthlessly. They reflected her mood rather well.

She ran her head through her hair. It had to be in complete disarray by now. She had run her hands through it at least once every ten minutes the whole day through. She glanced up at the window again. Perhaps this storm would slow down the other army, though she doubted it. Nothing short of a full-fledged blizzard would stop Spring Haven and its corps of mages.

She looked back down at the report in front of her, outlining the estimated cost of war that was about to happen. They were going to bankrupt the kingdom to protect themselves, and then some. She had already called in loans from a great many of their allies. Emma hoped to gods that would listen that they would give them the money they asked for. They would need it to survive any length of time. They would get around to how in the gods names they would pay everyone back when the war was over. She would sell the crown jewels if she damn well had to.

She shoved back the papers. She needed out of here. She needed to be outside. She just needed an escape for a few minutes and then she could face this all again. It had been so long since she had been outside the walls of the palace. Did she even remember what fresh air felt like? She was sure she did, but at the same time she couldn’t quite come up with the memory.

She stood from the table, nodding at the other men working around her before walking from the room. The walk back to her rooms was a short one. She grabbed a heavy cloak and enough furs that she knew she wouldn’t be cold and walked right back to the secret passage that led straight to her garden. Though, was it really her garden anymore? She was the Queen now, and it was the princess’s garden. She shrugged, it didn’t matter. Until she had an heir she wasn’t giving it up.

If she ever had an heir. It was doubtful at the moment that she would. Gods damn Spring Haven.

The secret passage was draftier than the rest of the palace, the tunnel hugging the outside walls until it dipped down below the ground. She emerged a few minutes later into the world of white. Her garden wasn’t quite as beautiful in the winter as it was in the summer, but it still had its charms. Her feet crunched over the thin layer of snow to the fountain. She stood there and looked at it for a long moment, remembering every single moment that she and Regina had sat here while they were falling in love. It brought a smile to her face. She hadn’t wanted to admit it at the time, but gods she had been in love with Regina a lot longer than she liked to admit.

She wondered idly if the fountain would still stand even after the kingdom fell. The thought chilled her enough to look up at the sky again. The clouds were deep, dark grey, the kind of violent storm clouds that brought with it the worst of weather. The wind was whipping outside the walls of her garden. Maybe they were going to get the blizzard they needed to slow down the Spring Haven army. Maybe the gods were being as kind as they could to them.

She walked around the garden for a few long minutes, looking over the dead plants that were so beautiful in the spring and summer, not dead, dry stalks with no beauty at all. It amazed her how it all worked, how something so dead could come back to life time and again. Perhaps her kingdom would be like that. She may die, but perhaps later someone would be there to make the kingdom thrive again.

She blinked and a tear slipped over her eyelid. How she did hope. She wiped the moisture away quickly before it could freeze on her face.

She walked around for another few long minutes before the cold got to her. She looked back at the palace, just visible over the walls of her garden if she stood at the very back of the space. She didn’t want to return there, not quite yet, but to stay out would be foolish. The snow was coming down harder, the wind howling. But her mind wasn’t quite settled yet and she knew it would get no better inside. So she stayed, staying closer to the walls to avoid the worst of the wind and snow.

She almost went in when her toes started to tingle with cold, but a few minutes later they were numb and Emma kept wandering. She knew it wasn’t a good sign, but surely being numb for just a few minutes more couldn’t hurt that badly. Emma knew that someone had probably noticed her absence by now. Maybe, perhaps they just thought she had gone off to her rooms, too exhausted to continue for the day. Not that she didn’t feel that way, but sitting inside wouldn’t help her rest, not really. Something about seeing the sky had always been more restful to her than sleep.

And so that was how Regina found her who knew how long later, staring up at the sky through snow covered eyelashes. The other woman frowned at her and threw her own cloak around the Queen.

“Idiot,” Regina said quietly, breaking the peacefulness that came along with snow. Emma had always wondered just why the world got so much quieter during a snow storm. Everything was muffled and once the wind stopped blowing everything was just…still. It was strange to her after living in the palace that there could be such stillness.

Emma looked over at Regina and for the first time realized she was shivering hard enough to dislodge Regina’s cloak from her shoulders. Regina caught it before it went anywhere near the snow below them and settled it back on her shoulders. She took Emma’s hand in her own, and Emma relished the heat they provided. Her fingers had been numb almost as long as her toes.

She didn’t resist as Regina led her back towards the entrance of the secret passage to the garden. Now that she realized just how cold she was, she really did want to go back inside, even if her thoughts hadn’t quite settled yet. They were better, less chaotic, she felt like she could breathe at least a little easier now, but she missed the sense of peace she used to have, back in her days as Princess before she ever took the title seriously. When she went outside then her mind settled completely and whatever had been bothering her was worked out or ignored until her thoughts were about nothing but whatever was around her.

Regina led them through the tunnel, ever patient with Emma. She was clumsy on her numb feet, stumbling over the gaps in the stones she had known about for seemingly her whole life. She hugged onto Regina, leeching her body heat and the unbalanced position didn’t help either, but she couldn’t make herself let go, not when Regina felt so good against her.

They made it inside slowly, emerging by the council chambers. Regina shuffled them towards their rooms, leaving a trail of melting ice and snow behind them. Emma felt a twinge of guilt, feeling bad that she was making some serving girl clean up such a large mess. At least a good bit of the snow had been tracked off in the tunnel. It could have been worse she supposed.

Regina led her into their rooms, standing her close to the fire and stripping Emma of all her layers quickly. She hung everything up to dry before returning with one of thicker blankets off of their bed. She motioned for Emma to sit down on their couch and wrapped up Emma in the blanket. When Emma was settled to her satisfaction she started to strip off her own clothing.

Emma looked at her, eyebrows raised. Regina just sent her a silencing look and kept removing her clothing. When she was naked in front of Emma she nudged Emma’s hands. Emma opened the blanket, unfolding the excess she had tucked around her. Regina settled beside her and folded the blanket around them neatly. Emma immediately curled into her side, feeling the warmth the other woman was emitting so much more now than when they’d both been all wrapped up in clothing. Regina wrapped her arms around Emma and nestled her face in Emma’s still damp hair.

“Idiot,” Regina whispered again.

Emma just nodded. It wasn’t her brightest moment. But she still felt as if her brain was frozen, between the cold temperature and the fear of the impending attack of Spring Haven, it was a miracle she managed to think at all. And yet curled around her love her brain was starting to work again, taking the little peace that she had gained from her outside excursion and putting it to use. The gears in her mind were turning again, trying to solve her kingdoms every problem.

“I know,” she finally said a long time later, after she could feel her fingers and toes again, but wasn’t quite warmed all the way through quite yet.

“You would have stood out there until you were frozen to death.”

Emma heard the catch in Regina’s breath at the thought. “I think I would’ve come in before that.”

Regina shook her head. “It was like you were in a trance out there. I didn’t think you’d respond to me. I was there for a least a minute trying to get your attention before I walked up to you.”

“Oh.” Emma said, looking up from Regina’s shoulder. “I guess…” she trailed off and shrugged. “It felt better to be out there than in here. I just kind of ignored how cold I was getting.”

“Don’t do that to me again Emma, I was scared when I saw how you were shivering. I thought…”

Emma squeezed Regina. “I won’t. Though, next time I should probably just take you with me. With everything how it is, I’m not exactly sure I won’t space out like that again.”

Regina nodded. “Ok…ok, just anytime you need me, as long as you don’t do that again.” She sounded more relieved than words could describe.

Emma nestled into the other woman again. “Have there been any reports of the storm slowing down Spring Haven?”

Regina shook her head. “Not much has gotten through in the past few hours. The running consensus is that it will slow them, even with their mages. There’s only so much you can do against Mother Nature with magic.”

  Emma nodded. “Good. That will give us another couple days hopefully.”

“Yes, hopefully. Not that I see what a few more days will do, but any advantage at this point…” Regina trailed off and started to card her fingers through Emma’s hair.

“Yeah,” was all Emma said before shutting her eyes. She was tired now, so very tired. The heat of the other woman against her and her fingers running through Emma’s hair and such a steady, sedate pace, lulled her to sleep quickly.

“Love you,” she mumbled into Regina’s skin right before she drifted off.

“I love you too, darling.” Regina kissed the top of her head gently and then Emma was gone into a dream filled with snow and magic.

 

Regina was right, the three days they had gotten from the snow storm hadn’t done much. As much as they had stopped Spring Haven’s army they had stopped her own army as well from doing a great many things. Training had to be relegated inside where there wasn’t near enough room for all the men to work, so only those newest and most in need of training had been run through drills. The supplies that had been steadily flowing to the army’s surplus had been choked off, so there was no more counting and organizing to be done. Mostly what everyone had done was sit around, worry, and eat, looking out the windows and sporadic rates to see if the snow had stopped yet.

The forth morning when the sky had dawned clear again the men were sent outside to clear the yards and slowly but surely everything else returned to normal. Or as normal as they got when preparing for a war. Emma would give her right leg to see true normality again.

She looked out the window, down at the still rather snowy courtyards. The snow was trampled down now and dirty enough to look more like mud than anything else. She hoped Regina, wherever she was below her, was staying at least decently warm and dry. Another naked cuddle session would be nice, but never in the same circumstances as the last one. She had managed to keep her promise, she only hoped that Regina knew that she was supposed to hold to the same promise as well.

She sighed and glanced around, not seeing Regina right off the bat. Two weeks until Spring Haven’s army would arrive now. She dropped the curtain back into place and turned back to the council table. She flopped in her chair and looked at the papers in front of her. Some days she felt chained to the damn thing. She suspected the rest of the council felt the same way. She didn’t like all of the men sitting before her, but they had found a certain sense of camaraderie. Emma knew it would disintegrate the second their lives weren’t on the line, but that was of no matter. Almost all of the men had stayed with her, and even if she thought them pretentious gits, they were loyal to the kingdom and that was what mattered now.

Those who hadn’t stayed…well if they lived through this Emma would deal with their infidelity later.

Two of the loans she had asked for from her allies had come through. The funds had already been put to good use, buying supplies of all sorts for the army. She could have easily used the other funds she asked for, but she was grateful for what she had gotten. She wasn’t sure throwing more money at the problem was going to fix everything anyway. Another crate of biscuits would not really matter if they were dead.

She was signing her approval on the sheet of paper when the doors to the council chamber burst open. Emma looked up, stomach sinking. Those doors hadn’t banged open in such a way since the announcement that Spring Haven was marching on them. It couldn’t be good. She closed her eyes and prayed that they hadn’t found a way to teleport an entire army right to their border. They weren’t ready. Oh gods, they were the farthest thing from ready.

She opened her eyes to see a messenger standing in front of her, panting and dripping water onto the carpet at her feet. Emma waited patiently for the man to regain his breath, all the while her blood kept growing colder and colder. She felt colder than she had a couple weeks before. Maybe the chill she hadn’t felt then were transferring to now. She wouldn’t be surprised. The world worked in funny ways.

“What news do you have for me?” Emma asked when the panting was much less pronounced.

The man swallowed and pulled a scroll from his pockets. It was sealed with the army’s insignia. Her stomach sunk even further. Oh gods here was their certain death contained in a scroll.

Emma took the scroll from him.

“It’s from the northern border guards. Whatever is in that scroll had them in quite a panic.”

Emma nodded. “Thank you.”

The man bowed low before walking from the room, breathing still a little labored. Emma wondered just exactly how far the man had run.

She looked down at the scroll. The northern border guards. She scowled, what in the world did they have anything to send a message about. Spring Haven was to the southeast. The kingdoms on the northern border were some of their allies and kingdoms who were indifferent to their existence. None of them would attack the White Kingdom. There was nothing for them to gain, really, not without rather large losses.

Emma slid her nail under the seal and popped it open. The scroll unrolled easily in her hands. She swallowed down the cold feeling creeping up her throat now, stomach still at her feet. She started to read quickly.

And then she read again. And again.

The words weren’t making any sense.

She felt extremely aware of all the eyes on her once again. She felt the weight of their curiosity, but all she could do was keep reading and hope and pray that the words in front of her were wrong. Oh gods.

She looked up at the nearest person, not seeing their face. “Get Regina, get her right now. Go!”

The man shot up and out of the room. Emma glanced down at the paper again, hoping that the words had morphed in the half second she’d looked away. They hadn’t.

It felt like Regina was a long time in coming, staring at the two words that were surely their doom. She knew Regina would come ask fast as possible, though. She knew it couldn’t be that long. But she didn’t feel it. With Spring Haven they had had a chance. A tiny chance, but a chance. There was no way now.

Regina was at her side almost as soon as the door opened. She looked at Emma, worried eye surveying her. She spotted the scroll in Emma’s hands and started to read over her shoulder. Emma knew the exact moment she spotted the words. Regina gasped and gripped her shoulder hard enough to bruise.

Emma closed her eyes again for just a moment before looking up at the council around her. “The Dark Kingdom rides for the White Kingdom.”

And unlike when the news of Spring Haven’s attack came, the room was deathly quiet. Emma desperately wished for noise then. Something, anything to distract her from the rushing of blood in her ears.

Lord William was the first to speak up. “How long?”

Emma looked down at the paper and started to read again. She hadn’t absorbed anything past the words “The Dark Kingdom.” She scanned the paper and her stomach sank even further.

“A week from now. Their mages are helping them to travel more quickly.”

She heard Regina swallow behind her. Emma turned at looked up at the woman. The dark eyes she loved were filled with fear. Regina looked down at Emma after a long second.

“If she’s brought out the mages…she only does that when she wants to completely level a kingdom. Otherwise the regular army is more than sufficient.” Regina’s grip on Emma’s shoulder was crushing now, but Emma didn’t do anything to stop it.

“Oh,” was all Emma said. “Is there any way?”

Regina laughed, loud and cruel. “To defeat the mages? Hardly, not by any regular means. They aren’t like the mages of Spring Haven and other kingdoms. My mother only lets the strongest in and it shows. The shields around them can’t be broken by anything other than almost inhumanly powerful magic.”

Emma raised an eyebrow at Regina. Maybe she could take down the shields. Regina just looked back at her and shook her head just slightly. No, she couldn’t. There were far too many of them and Regina was barely trained.

Emma ran a hand through her hair, letting the hand stop on her shoulder and squeezed the hand that was currently grinding the bones in her shoulder against each other. Regina let go enough to grip her hand a little less tightly. Emma let out a little sigh of relief.

“What about lifting the anti-magic law? Do you think there’s any way we could gather a force enough to even make a dent?”

Regina shook her head again. “No, since magic has been suppressed for so long its likely there are no masters, only people who’ve learned enough to control it and nothing more. Perhaps at the farthest reaches of the kingdom you might find a few more skilled, but they won’t come out. They won’t trust the repeal, not for many years and not without many demonstrations that we are serious.”

Emma bit the inside of her lip. But what if they saw that Regina herself, their Queen, was also a magic wielder, that she wasn’t being persecuted for coming forward? That would be a rather big and rather large demonstration that they were serious. But with the kingdom as snowed in as it was the news wouldn’t get near far enough in the time they had to produce many people, and certainly it wouldn’t be enough time to start training those people who might appear. Emma rubbed at her temples. The headache she had was increasing in intensity.

“And even if they did, they’d be slaughtered before they might make a dent in the shields. The mages in her army have been training practically since birth. They had no reason to hide their abilities. They’ve been training to kill since puberty. There’s nothing short of an act of the gods that this kingdom could do to stop them.”

Emma nodded and turned around to the council. “We need to evacuate as many people as possible from the villages in the path of both armies. If they will not go, leave them. There will be enough people that will and need to go that we cannot waste time on them. Let them take only what they can carry. Tell them what is happening and there should be no problems.” Emma swallowed hard. “And gentlemen, let me say it has been an honor to serve as your Queen and any man who leaves at this juncture shall not be considered a coward.”

The men stared at her.

“My Queen,” Lord Roderic spoke up. “Perhaps now you’ll consider evacuating as well? That plan is still in place it only needs your go ahead to continue.”

Emma looked back up at Regina. Regina looked back fear and fire in her eyes. No. They weren’t leaving.

“No, as I said before if this kingdom burns I will burn with it. Worry about getting your families out of the kingdom, not me.”

The men around her grumbled slightly, but no one disagreed with her outright. Emma was glad. She wanted to see her kingdom to its end, but at the same time she was terrified. The blood was still pounding in her ears, the headache was bad enough that it was starting to blur her vision. She was going to die. Pure and simple. She’d never thought about it before. She was young, so very young, she thought she would die old and grey, years away. She would’ve had time to contemplate death years from now. Except she didn’t. When the Dark Kingdom’s army arrived she would be dead within a day, maybe two.

“For those who have enlisted, tell their commanders to tell the men what is happening. There’s no sense lying to them. If they desert then so be it.”

Emma fought the urge to lay her head down on the table in front of her. Her head felt like it was too light for her body. She wondered if she was about to pass out.

She didn’t. She didn’t know if that was a blessing or a curse.

“Go, do what needs to be done. Stay or don’t, but do what needs done before you leave.”

The room was silent for a few long seconds before the first chair scraped back. The next second a few more, and another few after that. When Emma looked up again after all the men had walked out only half her council remained. Lord William and Lord Roderic sat staring at her. A smile twitched at Emma’s lips. She had thought them loyal to a fault, she was glad she was right.

“I always wondered what those forces in the history book felt right before walking right into their deaths willingly.” Emma sat back. “I suppose I know now.” She sighed. “I suppose you all know now too. Thank you for staying.” She nodded at them all.

“I’ve lived in this kingdom my entire eighty-five years. I won’t let anyone take it without some sort of fight, my Queen,” Lord William said.

“Well, a fight we’ll give them. How good of a fight remains to be seen.” She squeezed Regina’s hand and tugged her over to her normal chair. Regina sat down rather stiffly, eyes far away. “Regina, why don’t you tell us everything you know about her army. Gods know we could use the information.”

Regina looked over at her and nodded, eyes still far away as she began to talk. Emma listened closely and with every word out of her wife’s mouth she felt worse and worse. They had no weaknesses, not that her tiny army could exploit. They were too big, too skilled, too everything to take down.

But Emma sat straighter after Regina was done talking and tried to come up with a battle plan long after the sun had slipped below the horizon. It all came back to the same simple truth, no matter what they did, they were doomed.

When they crawled from the room long after the moon had risen, Emma’s headache was bad enough that her vision was starting to turn black at the edges. She crawled into bed with Regina and shut her eyes, holding on tightly to the other woman. If they were going to go she wanted to take advantage over every single minute she had left with her true love.

As hard as Regina was still gripping onto her, Emma thought she felt the same.

 

 

Chapter Text

A week passed in a haze of panic, fear, and rather futile planning. She stood at her window now, looking out, unseeing. The army below her was prepared, ready to march at a moment’s notice. Emma had already found Regina amongst the crowd long ago. She couldn’t see anything but the woman’s armored covered back, but somehow she knew it was the other woman just from the way she moved. Occasionally her eyes would track from their resting place, staring out at the horizon to find the woman, to make sure she was still there, still ok.

Now was just a waiting game. The Dark Kingdom’s army would cross their borders today. No one knew exactly where, there was speculation of course, an area highlighted of the most likely stretch of land, but the Dark army was not known for its predictability.

And so Emma waited. Waited for the messenger to come galloping in on a sweat soaked, exhausted horse, breathless with the news of the crossing and the subsequent destruction of the northern parts of her kingdom. She felt like she should be nervous, should be terrified, but she wasn’t. She had spent those emotions in the days leading up to this, now she was just numb, resigned. They were going to die today, perhaps tomorrow at the latest, and that was that.

Emma sighed, scanning the horizon again, looking for the signs of a moving army, the dust they would stir up. Though, perhaps they wouldn’t stir up dust in the winter muck. They would have no real sign until the Dark Kingdom’s banner’s broke from the trees. Emma thought that was almost worse somehow.

She glanced down at Regina again. She was still there, sitting on her horse, the beast shifting underneath her periodically. Now and again she would turn to her men and speak a few words of encouragement. She could see from their body language, even this far up, that they didn’t believe a word she said. Emma hoped they appreciated her effort. For Regina this was probably the most terrifying of all. Her mother was finally going to get her revenge for all those years ago, not only by killing her but the entire kingdom she had married into.

Emma laughed once to herself, a bitter, hollow sound. It seemed Regina’s mother did nothing halfway, not even getting revenge. It would be such an admirable quality if it wasn’t applied to the totalitarian rule of her own kingdom and the destruction of Emma’s.

She looked up again just as a horse, galloping at full speed broke from the tree line. Emma closed her eyes and took a deep breath before opening them again. Here was death come to greet them on his horse.

Emma stepped away from the window and made her way downstairs at a sedate pace. The news of their doom would still be there if she took a few extra seconds. Why rush into it?

She emerged into the throne room to see another panting messenger. She was hit with just a touch of déjà vu. It mirrored last week so very much, save the location. She made her way to her throne and sat quietly.

“What news do you have?” she finally asked after a few long seconds.

The messenger stepped forward and handed Emma another scroll. “Majesty, the Dark Kingdom’s army is stopped at the border. They say they won’t cross until you give them permission.”

Emma scowled and sat forward. “What do you mean? Why extend such a courtesy before waging war? It makes no sense.”

The man shook his head. “I don’t know, but the scroll apparently comes from the Queen of the Dark Kingdom herself. She said it should explain everything.”

Emma glanced over at the few guards who were still lining the walls of her throne room. “Go, get Regina.”

One of the men nodded and ran for the courtyard where her army was still waiting. He was back within a minute Regina running behind him. The knight came to her side and looked down at the scroll in her hand.

Emma looked up at Regina, standing at her right, just as she had the week before. “It’s from your mother herself. They’re holding at the border waiting for our permission to enter the kingdom.”

Regina’s eyes widened and then narrowed in rapid succession. “She has to be up to something.”

Emma nodded. “I agree, but what? Why would she need to be up to anything? She could crush this kingdom without any sort of auxiliary planning.”

“My mother never goes for the simple win.”

Emma popped the seal on the scroll and unrolled it. Magic coursed up her arms for second, feeling nothing like Regina’s magic. It invaded her senses, took them over, and made her feel sick. She swallowed hard as the feeling passed to settle her rolling stomach. How could her magic be so vile when Regina’s was so glorious?

Regina set her hand on Emma’s shoulder and fed just a few sparks of her magic into Emma, enough to counteract the last vestiges of her mother’s magic. Emma felt immediately better.

“Magical seal, only lets the intended receiver open it.”

“Oh. Sounds useful. If not for the…” Emma trailed off she wasn’t quite sure what to call the feeling that had flowed through her.

“Dark magic, it wouldn’t agree with you well. You’re the product of true love and light magic and all that.”

“Right.” Emma nodded and lowered her head to read. When she reached the end of the rather short missive she titled her head to the side. She couldn’t have read that right. So she read it again. And again.

Regina grabbed the letter out of her hand after a few minutes, holding it to her face and looking at the letters on the page critically. Emma waited patiently as she passed judgment. Regina handed it back to her after a long moment.

“That is my mother’s writing, without a doubt. There’s no magic on the page but that of the sealing spell. But I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either.”

“Why would my mother want to help us with Spring Haven? If anything she should want to help Spring Haven with us. It goes against literally everything I know about the woman.” She looked down at Emma. “She has to be up to something.”

“Call the council together, we have to talk this over.”

Another guard left the room to follow her instructions.

“What do you think would be worse, denying her request or accepting it,” Emma asked, standing from her throne.

Regina bit her lip hard. “I’m not sure.”

Emma sighed. “That seems to have become a favored phrase of ours.” She walked from the room, Regina right behind.

 

The council room was filled, or at least as filled as it had been for the past week. Emma sat down at her seat, Regina right beside her. Emma slid the scroll forward towards the center of the table.

“It’s a missive from the Queen of the Dark Kingdom herself asking permission to enter the kingdom. The letter is short; it says only that she wants to help us with Spring Haven and their impending attack, nothing else. Do we give them permission or do we turn them away? What do you think is the better option here?”

Emma ran a hand through her hair, tangling it more than it already was. Had she even run a brush through it today? She didn’t think so. What use was brushed hair in the face of death?

Her advisors looked at the letter for a long moment, until Lord William reached out and took it from the middle of the table, slipping his spectacles on and scanning the page. He drew in a breath and let it out as one big whoosh.

“She’s curt and polite here, but I think her words are chosen out of barely concealed menace.” Lord William slipped the letter back into the middle of the table again.

“That’s my mother always.” Regina eyed the piece of paper like it was about to catch fire.

“You think she has another motivation.” Lord William looked at Regina carefully, eyes taking in everything.

“I’m almost positive. Why help us otherwise? It’s known that she and I didn’t part on the best of terms, to say the least. She would rather see me burn that see me happy.”

Lord William nodded. “Yes, so I gathered. I met her once, I try not to think about it. She wasn’t pleasant, cared only for power. I might have botched the trade agreement I was sent to her kingdom to negotiate.”

A humorless smile twitched at Regina’s lips. “Better for the kingdom, assuredly.”

He nodded.

Emma spoke up again. “So what do we do? If she has another motivation letting her into the kingdom would be like releasing a pit full of vipers in the room and locking the door behind us, hoping we won’t get bit.”

Lord Roderic cleared his throat. “But, majesty, if we deny her then she has an army right at our border and a temper that is not to be toyed with.”

Emma sighed and nodded. “Exactly the dilemma Regina and I came to when we received the message. What perhaps is the better question is the better of two evils.”

The room fell silent for a long time. Emma felt the time ticking by, second by second. Cora would not wait forever. They would have to make the decision soon or it would be made for them, and Emma was sure they would not like that outcome.

“Let her come,” Regina finally said. Her eyes had never left the letter the entire time they were in the room. “She may be planning something, but if we can keep her close then perhaps we can find out just exactly what she’s planning and stop it. If nothing else it buys us time to live.”

“Why go to all this trouble, I still don’t understand. If she wants the kingdom she could take it.” Emma just couldn’t wrap her mind around it. If she wanted land and the power that came with it, why go through so much? If she wanted them dead why not come after them now, why make them wait?

Regina laughed. “It’s as I said, there’s no enjoyment for her in a quick death. She enjoys torture more than anything else, I think.”

The whole room shivered as one.

Emma shook her head, clearing it of all the images that had popped up. Cora standing over Regina, slowly killing her while Emma watched. She couldn’t stand it. She would almost prefer sending Cora away to incite her anger and hopefully an attack that would kill them all quickly.

“Ok, so say we do let her into the in kingdom, what then?” Emma asked.

“We let her go nowhere alone, not that that will stop her, we only let her bring a part of her army through, and certainly not the mages. She won’t need them to defeat Spring Haven anyway, and she wells knows it. Let her help defend the kingdom with our combined forces. And every single step of the way we plan out ten different eventualities and perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll get out of this alive. Though I highly doubt it.” Regina tore her eyes away from the letter to look at Emma. “This is her chessboard, and I assure you as long as I’ve been alive she’s never lost a game.”

Emma snorted. “How fitting that it’s the white queen against the dark queen then. And white gets the first move.” Emma gestured at one of the guards. “Dispatch another messenger to the northern border.” She took out a piece of her stationary and quickly wrote out a few lines, detailing exactly what Regina had said about only bringing part of her army, sealing it and handing it off to the man standing beside her. “Tell him to give the Dark Queen that and tell the border guards to let them across and to be as vigilant as possible. No one from the Dark Kingdom is to be trusted, not even the smallest child. After you’re done, bring me the captain of the guard.”

The man nodded and ducked from the room.

Baron Tarrow leaned forward. “What about the men and women we evacuated from the kingdom? They are going to want to come back home if the Dark Kingdom isn’t going to destroy them.”

Emma shook her head. “Keep them out, don’t tell them anything other than the fact that we’re still in danger. They can’t come back yet, it puts too many in the line of fire. If this goes bad as we’re all sure it will, they need be nowhere near it. I know they want to be home, but safe is better.”

He nodded. “Of course.”

She turned to Regina. “Do you have any idea what your mother might be planning, anything at all?”

“I do, and that’s what scares me most.” Regina looked at Emma, eyes intense.

The room was silent again for a long minute. Emma was starting to think that silence was somehow more normal than noise. The palace had always been a lively place growing up, hardly ever truly silent. But this past week Emma had heard it dead quiet for hours on end. Only the barest staff was left, enough to keep the place running and no more. And in these meetings with the council, well what was there really to say?

“What do you mean?” Emma said.

“I have so many ideas, so many things that I’ve seen her inflict on people with the flick of a wrist, for nothing more than executing an order slightly below her standards.” Regina shook her head. “For more important things…there were men in her dungeon begging for a death that never came. And those were the people who had crossed her the worst.”

Emma swallowed. “Regina…”

Regina shook her head. “No. I have no idea what she will do for sure, but it’s as you all think. It’s nothing we ever want to see if we can help it.”

“Are you really sure we should’ve let her into the kingdom.” Emma reached out to take the other woman’s hand.

“No.” Regina moved her hand out from Emma’s grasp. “I ruined an alliance for her. I humiliated her in the worst way. But I am her daughter, and she has always saved the best for me. I’m sure that will hold for vengeance as well. If we had denied her then there would have been absolutely no stopping her. But gods know if there is a chance now. So no, I really not sure at all.”

Emma nodded. “Ok. Alright, we’ll just…we’ll try our damnedest then. And you have knowledge of how she works and Spring Haven will be off our backs. We have some leeway. We just have to use it to our advantage.” She made another grab for Regina’s hand. The other woman needed physical comfort, she could feel it. She didn’t quite understand why she was denying it.

Regina stood instead and Emma’s hand thumped against the table uselessly. “And what advantage is that?” She nodded to the council, leaving Emma looking after her as she left the room.

Emma bit her lip for a long moment. Regina needed her, but she didn’t want her. Did she go after her or not? She sighed and sunk back down into her seat. She would wait for a while. Without the mages Cora’s army was at least a few days out, having to travel the old fashioned way without magic to speed their steps. She could afford to give her wife a few hours to process.

She turned back to the council. “Now, we have to ready the army yet again for the conflict with Spring Haven, but change their orders to make sure they’re always watching the Dark Kingdom.” The men nodded and set to work immediately.

Emma massaged her temples yet again. Gods when would it all be over?

 

The sun was setting by the time she caught up with Regina. She was drilling her men again in proper sword technique. Emma had to admit that for less than a month’s time they had come a very long way. But then again she shouldn’t be surprised, Regina was their teacher.

As the courtyard got darker and darker she waited. She knew Regina would stop soon. She never let Emma go to dinner on her own. Her men were looking rather exhausted anyway. They had been up since well before dawn to await the arrival of the Dark Kingdom. She couldn’t imagine that they weren’t about to pass out where they stood. Emma was about to fall asleep against the cold stone wall she was leaning against and she hadn’t been in the yard doing strenuous exercise.

Finally, as the torches were lit around the palace walls Regina finally let her men go. They shuffled off into the night as Regina put the last of her teaching tools away. Emma pushed off the wall and walked over to her slowly. She knew Regina heard her approaching. Regina’s shoulders tensed just the slightest bit when she was a few yards away, but she never turned to face Emma.

“A copper for your thoughts,” Emma said, walking up and putting her hand on Regina’s armor covered shoulder. She let her hand run through a few of the loose strands of hair falling out of Regina’s braid after a long day.

“They’re not fit for a Queen to hear,” Regina said, still not facing Emma. She started to shove practice swords into the bag before her, almost puncturing the leather with the force.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m not the most proper Queen there ever was.”

Regina snorted, but said nothing more.

“Regina, please talk to me. I want you to talk to me. I know this is bothering you. I can feel it, can feel you. I know you want nothing more than to turn around and crush the air right out of me in a hug.” Emma laughed. “Gods, I want that too. Just please, Regina, say something.”

“What more is there to say? I ruin everything, Emma. I killed an entire wing full of people, I ruined an alliance for my mother that would have brought her so much more power she was practically salivating over it, because I’m here my true love is going to be killed. This is all my fault.”

Emma shook her head vehemently, even though Regina couldn’t see it. “That’s not true, Regina. It’s not your fault that your mother is a power hungry dictator of a ruler. It’s not your fault she’s cruel and has no mercy. It’s not your fault she’s attacking the kingdom. She’s attacking the kingdom because she wants to, you didn’t force her to do anything.”

Regina shouldered the bag of practice swords and walked towards the shed where all the extra supplies were kept. Emma followed right after her.

“But it is. She wouldn’t be attacking the White Kingdom if I wasn’t here. There’s no reason for her to attack otherwise. This kingdom is small, has little wealth, no ties that would bring her anything she wants. The only thing is that I am here. I told you something like this would happen right after your mother sent that damnable wedding invitation to her. She may not have been there, but I was right. She was planning something this entire time, and now here she is knocking on our border ready to kill us all. How is none of that my fault?”

“You didn’t send that invitation to her. You brought none of this onto our kingdom. My mother did.” Emma swallowed hard at that. “Gods know what was going through her head when she did it, but she did. She’s the one who made us unsafe, who told your mother where you are. And if you want to be technical about it, Regina, and follow this back all the way to the first thing that led onto this path, it was your almost marriage to that perverted creep who almost raped you before your wedding night. And that was set up by your mother, and no one else. You didn’t want it. You fought against it. You’ve been fighting against your mother for a lot longer than you realize, fighting to be nothing more than free to make your own choices. And that isn’t your fault, it’s hers for not letting you have them.”

Regina froze at the shed’s door, back ramrod straight. Emma reached out again and grabbed Regina’s shoulder once again. She tugged gently until Regina turned to face her.

“And Regina, it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is anyway, it’s happening, and we’re fighting against it. That’s what really matters.” She pulled Regina towards her and kissed her gently. Regina was stiff for just a second before melting into the kiss, dropping the bag beside her. It wasn’t long before Emma felt Regina’s tears dripping onto her own face. Emma just held the knight harder to her and prayed that everything would be all right sometime soon.

They pulled apart a while later. Emma bent over and picked up the bag, shoving it into the shed and closing the door. Regina just stood there, looking lost and hopeless, tears still streaking her face. Emma grabbed her hands.

“Come on, let’s go inside. I’ll have the servants send our dinner up to our rooms and we can spend the rest of the night curled up on the couch together, ok?”

Regina nodded silently, following immediately when Emma set off towards the palace.

 

 

Chapter Text

Cora had agreed to their stipulations to enter the kingdom, but only in the barest sense. Instead of sending her mages and the rest of her army home, they were camped just across the border. The message that Cora had sent back to them after coming into the kingdom had said it was only as a precaution, just in case they were needed in the fight against Spring Haven, that they would be close at hand. If anything about the whole ordeal convinced Emma that Cora was truly out for their heads, it was that single action.

Two days later Emma was watching again from her bedroom window. Cora’s army would be arriving today. They moved quickly even without magic it seemed. Emma wondered if they were truly without magic with the speed they were moving. From everything she had heard from Regina about the woman she wouldn’t put it past her to disguise a few of her mages as regular soldiers as a contingency plan.

Her whole army was on red alert. The amount of reports she was getting on the activity of the Dark Kingdom soldiers was staggering. Everyone was so paranoid that every single action was something suspicious. Emma didn’t mind exactly, she would rather too much information then not enough, but then again there was no way she could go through it all. What if something got lost in the mix?

There was no time to debate the issue, The Dark Kingdom’s banners had broken the tree line while she’d been thinking. She turned and exited her room, descending to the lower levels quickly. Regina would be standing at the gates already, she knew, ready to greet her mother. She had been on top of the walls since daybreak, watching and waiting. She had slept the night before with her sword by her side just in case. When Emma had cocked an eyebrow at the fact that she was sharing a bed with a rather large sword Regina had just mumbled about protecting her and Emma had let it go. She supposed it was really no different than the daggers that could be found underneath every pillow on her bed, if on a bigger scale.

The knight was exactly where Emma thought she would be, standing behind the gates, trying to stare a hole through them. She walked up to Regina and stood by her side, waiting for Regina to register her presence. As tense as she was, Emma wouldn’t be surprised if she touched her without her knowledge and was knocked to the ground for her efforts. Regina relaxed just slightly and Emma knew she had finally got the message that she was here. She slipped her hand into Regina’s and squeezed reassuringly.

“Open the gates, but leave down the portcullis. We need take no risks unnecessarily,” Emma said to the captain of the guard, standing a few feet away. He nodded and yelled up to the knights manning the gate.

The doors swung open slowly, revealing the first part of the Dark army emerging from the trees. Emma swallowed hard. Regina in the armor of the Dark Kingdom had been one thing. She looked threatening, but Emma always felt something different about her, that her appearance was deceiving, that she wasn’t the killer she appeared to be. These men in front of her, they were the opposite. They wore the armor as if it was a religion.  Menace wafted from them in waves as they moved as one entity. Gods how anyone had the courage to face them was beyond Emma.

She heard the nervous shuffling of her men behind her. She didn’t blame them at all. She only wished she had the same luxury. Instead, she schooled her features into a blank mask, hoping the corners of her mouth were turned up enough to just look like the beginnings of a confident smile.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Regina’s face turn from something bordering on fear to a smile so bright it looked like she was a small child on Winter Solstice morning that had gotten just what she asked for. Emma could see the tightness around her eyes, the lines that relaxed when she was truly smiling, but she was sure that was only because she knew her so well.

Emma eyes scanning over the line of soldiers heading towards them, looking for Cora. She found her, riding a pitch black steed, wearing no armor at all, but a dress of dark red satin, falling around the sides of her horse like blood. Emma took in a sharp breath. And if Emma thought the aura the army gave off was bad, the one that the Queen gave off was twenty times worse. She squeezed Regina’s hand again. How in the gods names had Regina grown up with a mother like that?

They watched as one as the Dark army drew nearer and nearer. All at once an eighth of a league from the walls the army halted. Emma had heard no command, had seen no one turning to give the men instruction, they just stopped on a dime. She wasn’t sure if it was magic or excellent training, but it was unnerving all the same. She supposed that was what this whole display was about, unnerving them, throwing them all off their game. She couldn’t say it wasn’t working.

A few seconds after they all stopped Cora and a small retinue continued forward. It didn’t take them long until Cora was sitting outside the portcullis, looking at the metal as if it had personally offended her. She frowned, but focused through the bars and instantly found Regina.

“Really, dear, is this any way to greet your mother?”

“Just a precaution, mother, we are under threat of war. You can’t be too careful.”

Under her hand Emma felt Regina tense that much more. She wondered how in the world the other woman wasn’t about to snap in half.

Cora sniffed haughtily. “Well, as you can see, there’s no threat here, just my army here to help you, just as I said.”

Emma bit back a bitter laugh at that. Yeah. Right.

“Yes, mother, of course.” Regina turned to the captain of the guard. “Raise the portcullis.” She shot him a significant look, just for a fraction of a second. Emma prayed Regina’s mother couldn’t read the look from so far away, that it had passed too quickly for her to have seen it. She didn’t need to know that all her men were supposed to be on guard, reporting back to her their every move. Perhaps she already had suspicions, but damn if she was going to have them give it away outright.

Her thumb circled gently on the back of Regina’s hand as the metal grate started to rise slowly. She didn’t think it did anything to calm the other woman, but at least it let her know she was there. She always would be there. She hoped Regina knew that after all this time.

When the gate was high enough Cora and her party rode through, stopping just in front of Emma and Regina. Cora made no move to dismount her horse, looking down from the back of the huge beast, lips curled in a sneer.

“Really, dear, your home now is rather…quaint.”

Emma bit the inside of her lip so she didn’t rise to the implied insult.

“How you expect to get anything done with such a ramshackle army is beyond me. Did you learn nothing when you were younger?” Cora sighed and shook her head.

My gods she had known the woman for all of six seconds and she wanted to rip her limb from limb.

“At least you managed to keep your station through all of this, Queen as you always should have been, even if it is of less prestigious kingdom.” She picked an imaginary piece of lint from her dress. “So much better than those little knight fantasies you used to have when you were younger.” She swept over Regina’s armor clad form. “Though I see those haven’t exactly gone away either.” She sighed like the weight of the world was on her shoulders. “Be that as it may, no child of mine will be defeated by the likes of Spring Haven.”

Cora dismounted quickly, landing on the ground much more spryly than a woman of her age should be able to. A man in Dark Kingdom armor came up immediately and took her horse’s reigns. Behind them, outside of the gates the men broke formation all without a word and started to set up camp for the night. 

The Dark Queen came up to Emma and Regina. She looked over Emma carefully, scanning from head to toe, taking in her appearance and attire with a sharp eye. Emma was insanely glad that she had put on one of her best dresses today for this meeting. Cora’s lip curled in disgust when she saw that Emma and Regina were holding hands. She looked back at Regina then.

“Well, most assuredly not what I would have picked for you, but she’ll do,” she said like Emma wasn’t even there.

Emma felt her anger flare. Oh, she was going to show that woman what in the world was acceptable. She curled the hand that wasn’t holding onto Regina into a fist. But that would get them killed faster than she could blink, so she held her temper. Gods she was so much worse than Regina had ever described and Emma hadn’t even seen the murderous side yet.

“Thank you, mother, I quite rather think she’ll more than do.” Regina squeezed Emma’s hand once before letting go. She stepped forward, closer to her mother, loose hands drifting just ever so slightly towards her sword. “But where are our manners, you must be tired and hungry from the journey. Let us show you to your rooms where you can freshen up before dinner. Your men will have rooms for them prepared in the barracks. Our men will of course show them where your horses might be kept while you are here.”

Regina looked around at all the men who sprang into action around them, leading the men Cora had arrived with off, leaving them alone with their own men and Cora. Regina smiled stiffly at her mother before turning, looping her arm through Emma’s and leading the way back towards the palace, Cora right at their heels.

They led her up to the rooms they had prepared days earlier, far enough from their own chambers than Cora wouldn’t be able to stumble into them, but close enough should there be anything wrong servants could find them quickly enough. They left Cora off at her rooms, with a maid waiting to escort her back down to the dining room when she was ready. Emma pitied the poor girl who looked like any loud noise would scare her to death. She didn’t blame her, the stories about Regina were bad, but the stories about her mother were terrifying and Emma wasn’t so sure that anything about them was even remotely exaggerated.

When they were firmly ensconced in their own room, changing for dinner, Emma turned around. “Gods, Regina, I knew you said she was the absolute worst and cruel and mean and a thousand other things, but I didn’t really realize just how bad she was until right now. How did you grow up around her? I don’t understand. You’re such a good, loving person and she’s just…the exact opposite.”

Regina sighed and slipped on a deep blue dress that went with her complexion nicely. She turned to Emma, holding the loose laces. Emma took them from her and started to tie up the dress easily.

“My father, he was the one I learned compassion and love from. My mother…well, as I’ve said my childhood wasn’t exactly the best.”

“That might be the understatement of the year, probably the century now that I think about it.”

Regina hummed and turned towards the mirror, looking over her appearance before freezing for just a second. Emma was about to ask what was the matter before Regina turned from the mirror and acted as if nothing was wrong. She looked up into Regina’s eyes and saw a warning there. She wasn’t supposed to ask. She bit the inside of her lip and frowned, slipping on her own dress. What in the world was going on?

Her knight tied her into her dress quickly and tugged her back out to the sitting room. She looked around carefully, shutting the door to their bedroom behind them. When she was satisfied she stepped close to Emma and whispered into her ear.

“My mother has a great affinity for mirrors, she can watch everything she wishes through them. I think it would be rather a good idea for you to suddenly want all of the mirrors in the palace cleaned all at once, especially the ones in her room. I’m not foolish enough to believe she didn’t travel with at least one, but it will have to be small. The picture will be less detailed that way.”

Emma nodded. “Suddenly I do seem to have the urge to have all the mirrors in the palace cleaned. Goodness me.” The corners of her mouth twitched up just slightly as she whispered back.

Regina kissed her behind her ear, making Emma shiver. “Thank you.”

“Anything for you.” Emma leaned back just enough to capture Regina’s lips in a gentle kiss.

Regina sighed as she drew back. “Come, mother will not be patient if we make her wait. I’d quite rather be there before her anyway.”

“Definitely. I feel like we should have the home court advantage, but somehow I’m not exactly sure we do.”

Her knight snorted. “No, we don’t, but that’s always been something mother’s excelled at, stripping her enemy of every single advantage they ever had and using it against them.”

“Comforting, really comforting, just the pep talk I needed.”

Regina just looked at her and rolled her eyes before walking from the room.

 

Dinner was tense affair. Cora never seemed to miss an opportunity to backhandedly compliment something about Regina, the kingdom, or Emma herself. Emma had just barely restrained herself from going over the table at the bitch. The way she was treating Regina angered her so much so quickly it was a miracle she hadn’t. That was the woman she loved that utter witch of a woman was disparaging. No one did that in her kingdom, but she had to endure it so they all wouldn’t be killed within the next day. It irked her to no end.

But then the meal had finally, finally ended. Emma had stood up as soon as it was polite, remarking how wonderful the food had been and looked to Regina. The other woman hadn’t moved though, still staring at her mother. Cora just smiled up at her, looking for all the world like a snake about to strike and spoke.

“Dear, would you let us catch up a bit alone before bed? I have so many questions for Regina about just how she came to be here and became your wife. I’m sure it’s quite the story.”

Emma bit the inside of her lip again, drawing blood. She almost hissed in a breath from the pain. Damn, the wound had just managed to close over too. She had a feeling as long as this woman was with them her lip wouldn’t be healing anytime soon.

“Why of course,” she said stiffly. “Just don’t keep her up too late, there is much to do to prepare for Spring Haven’s arrival and I’d be lost without my best knight.”

Regina for her part didn’t look at Emma. Emma got the distinct feeling that she knew this conversation had been coming and had been dreading it. She didn’t blame Regina, she wouldn’t want to be left alone in a room with this woman either. But still she squeezed Regina’s shoulder once before striding from the room. She shot the guards a significant look and looked back over her shoulder at mother and daughter still seated at the table. The message was clear, they weren’t to take their eyes of whatever was going on even for a second.

She headed up to their rooms and started to get ready for bed. She knew she wouldn’t sleep before Regina returned to her side, but it was something to do, an activity to keep her mind off of what could be going on a few floors below. Mostly. Getting ready for bed only took so much mind power.

When she was done with that she returned to her window and stared out at the dark night once again. She found it oddly amusing that before Regina had entered her life she had rarely done this, rarely stared out the window at nothing. Instead she was always outside, doing something. What good was looking out at everything when she could be living it? But she did not want to be living this particular turn of events. She wished everything had stayed the same as it had been weeks ago. Her mother was insufferable, but she was still alive and everything wasn’t falling apart at the seams. Yes, that sounded nice.

It was a very long time before Regina stumbled into their rooms, looking paler than Emma had ever seen her. Instantly she was at her wife’s side, looking her over for any visible signs of injury, but there were none. The wounds Cora had inflicted were much more unseen it seemed. So she drew Regina into her arms. The other woman practically collapsed onto her, but after a staggering step Emma just held her up, threading her hands through silky dark hair.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked quietly.

Regina just shook her head and kept hanging onto Emma like she was her only life line. “No, not right now.” Her voice was raspy, like she had been holding back tears for some time now.

“Ok. Then why don’t we get ready for bed?”

Regina nodded but made no move to actually follow the instruction. Emma sighed, she wasn’t quite as strong as Regina was, but she was fairly confident she could manhandle Regina if need be. Regina wasn’t exactly a heavyweight. Emma laid a kiss on Regina’s neck. She heard Regina sigh and collapse that much more into her.

Emma just smiled a little bit. She was glad she could provide her knight some form of comfort. Now that she was supporting most of Regina’s weight anyway, it was easy enough for her to sweep Regina up in her arms. Regina squeaked, startled, but never drew her head out from the place she had it nestled, buried under the curtain of Emma’s hair between her neck and shoulder.

She managed to make it to their bedroom with Regina in her arms, if only barely out of complete and total sheer determination. She placed Regina down gently and went over to Regina’s chest of drawers and grabbed out her normal sleeping attire. With actions that Regina had performed on her a number of times, she helped Regina strip off her dinner dress and slip into her pajamas.

Regina smiled up at her tiredly. “Thank you.”

Emma leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. “Anything for you.”

She went about putting everything away quickly and slipped in beside Regina. Immediately Regina was in her arms, curling around her, tucking her head back into the place it had just vacated. Emma settled back into the bed and kissed Regina’s head.

“Goodnight, my love,” she whispered into Regina’s hair.

“Goodnight. I love you.” Regina already sounded as if she was drifting off.

“I love you, too.” And with that Emma allowed herself to relax back and into sleep.

 

 

Chapter Text

As far as Emma was concerned Spring Haven couldn’t cross their damn borders fast enough. Three days with Cora had been more than enough. Emma was fondly going over strategies to poison the other woman, perhaps kill her in her sleep if she was feeling particularly bold. She cursed every single god known to man that she couldn’t carry out such plans. As a Queen she had to be ready to kill people if needs must, but in those cases she was never the one doing the actual killing. She wasn’t sure she could.

And then she cursed the gods all over again for not making her from stronger stuff.

Being with her mother all week had drained Regina almost completely. No one else could tell, she conducted herself in the best possible manner in front of everyone, as she always did, but as soon as she was back in their rooms she was collapsing into Emma once more. Emma took care of her as best she could, but Regina never wanted to talk and Emma wasn’t about to push her. The extra stress was the last thing she needed. Instead, she just got madder and madder at Cora. She had thought she was angry at her mother, and she had been, but this surpassed that entirely. Her mother tried to have a purpose beyond antagonizing them. Cora just wanted to systematically rip her daughter to shreds and took pleasure in doing it. She wasn’t a mother, she was a glorified tormentor.

And yet here she was saddling up her horse right beside the bitch ready to ride out to meet Spring Haven at their borders. Cora insisted that if Regina was coming, then Emma must too. She herself never missed a battle. Emma was sure she took savage glee in watching her soldiers slaughter the best and brightest of another kingdom. She probably even got off on it. Sick bitch.

Emma paused for just a second, wondering if that by having magic if Cora was able to read her mind. Regina hadn’t said anything about that, but then again if Cora was as good as her knight said she was, then really, would her daughter actually know anything? Fuck it, she didn’t care at this point, she was too furious. Let her hear for all she cared. She tugged the saddle strap a little too hard in her anger. Odette whipped around and looked at her accusingly. Emma patted the horse ashamed.

“Sorry, Odette, I know it isn’t your fault.” She slipped a sugar cube out of her pocket and walked forward. The horse took the cube and chomped happily, rough treatment completely forgotten in light of the treat. Emma laughed faintly. Well, the horse was predictable. She patted Odette’s side once more and then double checked all the straps.

She pulled herself up when she was satisfied. The wind blew through her now that she was out from behind the wind break that her horse had made. She shivered. They have picked a great day to travel, what with it being bitterly cold with a smattering of snow coming down around them. She tried not to glare over at Cora. It was all her fault. They just had to get going today, no it couldn’t wait a day to see if the weather would clear out. And before she was spending time with her daughter and couldn’t be possibly bothered to leave.

Regina rode up beside her, Fierro shifting underneath her restlessly, sensing his master’s unease. “You know my mother can probably feel you glaring at her like that,” she said in a quiet voice, lost in the din of people getting ready to leave.

Emma managed to rip her eyes away. “At this point I’m finding it harder and harder to care.”

Regina grabbed Emma’s heavily gloved hand in her own. “Emma, your kingdom…”

Emma took a deep breath and closed her eyes, turning her face up towards the falling snow. She let out the breath slowly, steam wafting around her face lazily. “I know,” she finally said in a quiet, almost broken voice. “But I wish…” she trailed off. There was a lot she wished for anymore.

“I know,” Regina said, squeezing her hand once before dropping it and returning her hands to the reins. “But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Emma’s eyes popped open. “You do realize how utterly ironic it is that you’re saying that on top of a horse, right?”

The corners of Regina’s mouth twitched. Emma felt a surge of victory. That was the most Regina had smiled in days.

“Perhaps, but the saying remains true, even if Fierro here is letting me ride him.”

Emma huddled down a little, scrunching herself nearer to Odette’s warmth as a particularly nasty gust of wind swept through the courtyard. “We’re going to be icicles by the time we get somewhere we all can camp,” Emma said. She had only been out in the cold air for a half hour, but she was already cold. She couldn’t imagine what her soldiers were like, riding in armor that wicked away body heat faster than they could produce it. She hoped they had on a great many layers under everything.

“Hopefully once we get moving we’ll warm up.” Regina glanced over at her mother who was still standing by while one of her men saddled up her horse for her. The horse wasn’t making it easy, apparently the only one it listened to was Cora and Emma was pretty sure that was because she used magic on the damn thing. For her part their men were mostly ready, standing around in circles talking to one another, holding their horse’s reins, or toting their bags on their backs, ready to go whenever the word was given. There were a few stragglers just finishing up, but they were few and far between. Out the gates Emma could see that Cora’s troops were already standing, eerily still in their lines, camp already packed up hours ago. She shivered again but this time not from cold. Gods she would be glad when her lands were rid of the Dark Army.

A few minutes later Cora finally climbed up on her horse and looked back and Emma and Regina like they were the ones who had held everything up. “Well, are you ready to go?” She asked haughtily.

Emma just gripped her reins tighter and called out to the captain of the guard. “Captain, call the men to march.”

The man standing just behind them turned to his troops, snapping to attention so hard that Emma thought he might break in half. “Fall in!” he yelled across the yard.

Around them men hurried into formation, standing beside their horses at attention, gripping the reins in one closed fist, or looking off into the distance, chest out if they had no horse to ride. Within a minute all was quiet again. Emma looked back at Cora and smiled fakely.

“Why of course we’re ready to go.” Emma gestured towards the gate. “Why don’t you take the lead since you wanted your soldiers to march ahead. It’s only right that their leader be close to them.”

Really Emma just wanted the bitch as far away from Regina as possible, but it wasn’t like she could just say that. Cora nodded, with a pleased smile on her face like Emma had just actually done her a favor. Emma looked over at Regina with questioning eyes as Cora and her entourage made their way through the palace gates. Regina just arched an eyebrow and kicked her own horse into motion. Ok, so being weird was apparently a family affair today.

“Captain, forward march,” Emma threw over her shoulder before riding off after Regina.

She heard the command yelled out, muffled by the wind already howling around her now that she was outside the walls of the palace. She shivered harder. Gods she had thought it was bad before. She was going to be an icicle in less time than a few weeks before.

Odette picked her way carefully over the packed down snow on the path and they both caught up with Regina quickly enough. If she had to guess Regina had held her horse back, waiting for Emma. The thought warmed her, but still she didn’t stop shivering.

“We’re going to lose men to frostbite before we ever lose them to war,” Emma said drawing even with Regina.

Regina hummed her agreement, sound almost lost to the wind even at a close range. “I told them to put on as many layers of socks as they could possibly manage, but you are right, we’ll have to be careful.”

“How are you mother’s soldiers not solid blocks of ice after two days out here?” They were riding over the ground the once had been their camp ground now.

“Magic, how else?”

Emma looked over. “Because she has her mages with her?”

Regina glanced up ahead, deeming her mother far enough away before speaking. “She has a few, yes, but I wouldn’t have expected any different. They’re mixed in among her troops, wolves in sheep’s clothing if you will, but they’re magic is so powerful that I can sense them.”

Neither had Emma, but she growled anyway. “We could have her rightly thrown out of the kingdom for doing such a thing. She wouldn’t even be able to complain because she would’ve violated our agreement.”

Regina snorted. “Ah yes, because my mother is so very reasonable and that logic would prevent her from ravaging our kingdom for even trying.”

Emma huffed. She had a point, but. She gripped her reins harder. “I know.” She sighed and resisted the urge to try and run a hand through her hair. The fur cap on her head would have made that extremely hard anyway.

“There are three for sure, four at most, enough to keep her army warm and allow them to travel faster than they should be able to, no more. They would be able to cause a significant amount of destruction, but there would be options to defeat them.”

Emma settled down a little bit at that information. Options were always good.

“I’m surprised there aren’t more, really.” There was a slight edge in Regina’s voice that made Emma look over. “If she had this trick up her sleeve why not bring more? It unnerves me.”

“Because as long as they’re right in front of us we have a better idea of what they’re doing. So that asks the question what are the rest of the mages doing?” Emma asked, realizing what Regina’s drawn look was about.

Regina nodded. “Exactly. I highly doubt they’re at the edge of our kingdom just having a bonfire and enjoying the relative time off.”

Emma looked back ahead to Cora. The woman looked barely effected by the weather. She was wearing a heavy cloak and no more. There wasn’t a hair out of place on her head. The only indication that the cold touched her at all was the fog of her breath wafting up into the air.

“It all just comes back to the fact that your mother is planning something and we have no idea what.”

Emma saw Regina nod out of her peripheral vision. “Yes, and now she has both of us outside the palace.”

Emma swallowed hard, she hadn’t even thought about it that way. Gods, they were basically sitting ducks. She had fallen for Cora’s bait hook, line, and sinker. She felt so stupid. The anger swelled in her again, but she tamped it down now. Anger was what Cora was relying on, she almost bet on it. She couldn’t fall into another trap like that again.

“And you didn’t bring this up when I foolishly said I would go with you all, why?”

Regina blushed, though the only reason Emma could tell with her wind reddened cheeks was the faint coloring creeping up from what little skin she could see of her neck. “Partially because you really couldn’t, she would have insisted, badgered you into it somehow, partially because I wanted you out here as well.”

Emma smiled and shook her head. “Well, that second reason I can put up with, but you know, next time, tell me of the consequences even if it seems like I have no choice. And especially tell me if you want me to make one choice or another, gods know I almost always listen to you no matter what.” She reached out to squeeze Regina’s arm before returning her hands to her reins. There was no way she could ride even slightly unbalanced today, the roads wouldn’t allow it.

“I know, but I don’t want to endanger you, and asking you to come along would’ve done that.”

Emma just looked at her levelly. “I have a brain, and it can make its own choices.”

Regina sighed. “I know, but—”

“No buts, I know you don’t want to endanger me any more than possible, but let me make the final decision on what I do with my personal safety.”

Regina nodded.

“Besides, I trust you to protect me, so it’s not really like I’m in any more danger here than I would be at the palace without you.”

She saw Regina’s lips just barely twitch at that. She reached out and squeezed Regina’s arm again. They rode in relative silence after that, wind cutting through both of them and making their teeth chatter not long after.

Riding did reduce their shivering, Regina was sort of right, but not by much. Emma’s teeth still clacked together and she couldn’t help it. She clenched her jaw tight, but that only made it hurt worse when her jaw did tremble. She desperately wished they were back at the palace in front of a fire. She imagined her men, especially those walking, were even worse off than she was. She drew her fur cloak tighter around her.

Emma looked around after a little while, not really recognizing where they were, but that wasn’t surprising. She hadn’t been very far from the palace at all. She knew that they had planned to stop somewhere around the tiny town of Blue Mountain, there was a large meadow there that would hold them all, they were sure, and while she knew the geography of her kingdom well enough, seeing it on a map was one thing, riding through it was another. She looked around for road signs to see just where they might be and fervently hoped they had somehow traveled farther than she had thought.

When they reached a fork in the road Emma caught a glimpse of a sign through the blowing snow and her heart sank. Five leagues to Fire Creek, it read. Fire Creek was only a fourth of the way. Gods, they were going to freeze before then. Emma hunkered down even more and settled in to wait. It was going to be a very long, very cold ride.

 

When they reached the camp, Emma was colder than she ever felt before. Under her she even felt Odette shivering just slightly. She hated the fact that her horse was going to be out in the cold for even longer than she was. She hoped all the horses would huddle together for warmth when they were released for the night.

Gods what Emma wouldn’t give for a fire. She watched around her as men hurried to start putting up tents in the snow, pounding stakes into the ground and unrolling swaths of fabric and setting out poles. She knew she should probably get off and help however she could, but wasn’t exactly sure her men would let her, and wasn’t exactly sure she could leave the little warmth her horse was providing her. She really was going to have to feed Odette a whole barrel of apples for putting up with this.

She hopped down when the men were trying to start a large fire in the middle of their camp. She wanted to be as near to that as possible. They looked like they were having a little trouble getting everything going. Emma had started enough fires of her own in her rooms when they had gone out and hadn’t felt like calling a servant that she felt fairly confident helping out with this task. She had no real clue about putting tents up, but this she could handle.

She walked up to the huddled men, stooping over a little bit of hay trying to get it to catch the sparks from the flint in their hands. She watched as they struck it a few times, but the sparks sputtered out almost immediately. Emma frowned, yes it was windy, but even so, the sparks should catch at least somewhat before blowing out, something else had to be wrong.

She stepped forward and cleared her throat. “May I be of assistance?” she asked.

The men looked up and the startled looks on their faces were almost comical. Emma just smiled and held out her hands for the flint. The man with the rocks hesitated for just a second, not exactly understanding what was going on, but then put them in her hands. She immediately sank down closer to the hay. It wouldn’t do to just keep striking and hope. She considered her options and grimaced. She was going to hate herself for this later, she was sure.

She took off her gloves and immediately hated herself. Her fingers stung with cold, but she didn’t put the gloves back on. She reached out for the hay and felt it.

“It’s gotten wet, that’s why it’s not catching the spark.” She looked up at the men around her. “Where did you get it?”

“Over there, your majesty,” the man in front of her, a lieutenant, said. He gestured at a few hay bales stacked between the tents.

Emma frowned, they were out being snowed on, that would get them damp enough at least on the outside. “They’ve been exposed to the elements the whole trip?”

The lieutenant nodded.

“Get hay from the middle of the bale, that should be dry enough to catch, at least I certainly hope.”

The lieutenant looked at one of the other men, younger than him by a few years. He shot off to the bales, ripping a hole in the top most bale before grabbing out a new handful of hay. He hesitated a second before flipping the bale over and returning to them. He set the hay off to the side of the first batch.

Immediately Emma was striking the flint over the new set of hay. The sparks caught this time before being blown out by the wind. Emma hunkered down further over the hay, shielding it from the wind as much as she could before trying again. She almost squealed with joy when the hay caught and started to burn in earnest. She shoved it under the logs, adding a few loose pieces of wood if she felt them dry enough. The flames licked up the logs around it, and the first few caught.

Emma sighed at the warmth radiating out at her. Oh gods, she had almost forgotten what warmth felt like. She scooted back and watched as the fire grew, smiling at her work. At least she had done something in all of this.

She turned back to the lieutenant and handed him back the flint. “Well, now at least we all have a place to get warm.” She smiled at him again.

“Thank you for your help, majesty.”

She waved off his thanks. It wasn’t like her help was completely selfless or anything. The warmth at her back was glorious, the best thing she had felt all day. She wondered if it was possible for her to curl up in the center of the flames and never leave. So yeah, not selfless at all really.

She spent a few long minutes by the flames warming herself and slipping her gloves back on her now warm hands before she looked around. She wondered where Regina was, what she was doing. She had slipped off almost immediately after they had stopped. She bit her lip and debated, leave the warmth and go find her wife, or be warm.

She set off into the camp with a sigh. She could always come back once she’d found Regina. She walked around for a while, not finding Regina anywhere around the mass of her men moving quickly in the cold. Other fires were popping up around the camp site and Emma stopped periodically to rewarm herself. They had travelled south, but gods it didn’t feel like it. The beginning of winter was not supposed to be this brutal. If they lived past this confrontation with Cora they were in for one of the worst winters on record she thought.

Slowly, travelling from fire to fire, she made her way to the edge of her camp. She looked across the expanse into the Dark Kingdom’s camp. The men had left a wide gap between both, enough for a whole other column of tents. Not that she blamed everyone, she didn’t want to be any nearer to those men than they did.

But her gut was telling her that Regina was over in the other camp. She looked around for footprints in the snow, but there were none, not that that really mattered with Regina. She knew how to cover her tracks literally and metaphorically.

She took another breath and looked back at the Dark Kingdom’s tents. There was no movement over there. They had set up their tents with a brutal efficiency that Emma hadn’t known was even possible and then had retreated inside. Everything was deadly still, there were no fires burning, no smoke coming from the tents, nothing. Her crunching through the snow would be heard throughout the camp, she was sure. But Regina was over there, and it wasn’t like she could just leave her or anything. Though it wasn’t really like she was leaving her. Regina had probably gone over there herself. Then again, what if she hadn’t?

Emma started forward. Nothing ventured, nothing gained she supposed. Though what in the world could be gained from this besides the knowledge that Regina was ok, she wasn’t sure. The knowledge her wife was ok was enough, but damn if she didn’t wish there were another reason just to steel her resolve at least a little firmer so she could keep her head high as a Queen should while walking through the camp.

It was like the air changed around her as she stepped from no man’s land into the Dark camp. It was heavier somehow. Emma swallowed and continued forward, hating every crunch that her boots made against the snow. She hurried forward, allowing her instincts to pull her forward towards Regina.

She walked for a while. There really were a great many tents. Emma hadn’t counted the soldiers before, but if this was only part of Cora’s army they wouldn’t have stood a chance in a fight against the full army. She shivered, glad that they had decided to let Cora in, if only for now. A large tent emerged out of the sea of smaller ones, and Emma’s gut told her that Regina was inside. She bit the inside of her lip, of course Regina was with her mother, the bitch just couldn’t leave her alone.

She made a beeline for the entrance, but was pulled back just as she was about to enter. A guard in dark armor that she hadn’t even seen before that moment held onto her shoulder hard enough to bruise. He shook his head, but said nothing, motioning back to her camp. Emma scowled at him and raised her chin.

“My wife is in there and I’m not leaving without her.”

Emma got the distinct impression that could she see the guard’s face he would be arching an eyebrow at her. Instead he just shook his head silently again and gestured back once again at her camp.

“No, I’m not leaving. Regina is in there, and I’m going to be in there too.” She made to move inside again, but the hand on her shoulder tightened more. Damn it all, the bruises from Regina a week ago had just started to fade and she was definitely about to bruise again.

“You hold no authority over me, I am a Queen. And while you just may be doing your job, I don’t care. We are in the middle of a war and I am not letting her out of my sight for any long than I have to, and I will be walking in there.”

There was just a second that the man moved his hand and Emma was walking forward. And then she wasn’t walking at all. Emma gasped at the feeling of being completely weightless, flying through the air. Oh seven hells she didn’t like this. But then she was being set gently on the ground again, a hundred feet away from the big tent before she could even start to panic. She looked back in a daze. The same guard was standing outside the entrance. He gestured back at the White Kingdom camp and then shifted back into a stiff posture, at attention once more. This time Emma knew he would be smiling at her.

She huffed and stared for a long minute. Well, she had found one of the mages she was sure, but there was nothing remarkable about his armor from what she could tell so it wasn’t like it really did any good. Gods damn it all. She resisted the urge to stamp her foot and turned around, trudging back to camp. She couldn’t exactly fight magic, not as she was, she would need Regina for that and that didn’t quite work when Regina was who she was trying to get to.

It was fine, she was cold anyway, she told herself. It wasn’t fine at all. Her mind spiraled to what in the world Regina’s mother could be doing and saying to her. Gods that woman irritated her to no end and every second she spent with Regina seemed to tear the woman into even tinier shreds. If only she had magic she’d throw that guard clear across camp and get her wife and everything be damned.

Instead she went back to her men and helped out with what few things there were still to do and waited. She waited for a long, long time and Regina still never showed.

Emma went around the camp long after it was dark, looking and looking for Regina, but she knew she wasn’t there. She could still feel her wife over in the Dark Kingdom’s camp, so close but so far from their safe haven. But at least if she was walking around she felt productive. Going over to the Dark Kingdom’s camp now would be folly. For all she knew the guard had changed and the man at the entrance to the tent was someone different, someone who wouldn’t be so kind to her. Regina would resurrect her again after she was dead just to kill her for putting herself into such danger.

After the second time she circled their camp she finally retreated back to her own tent. A little fire burned in the middle of the large tent, warming it up just enough to be tolerable. Her saddle bag with all her personal belongings had found its way inside, along with Regina’s things. Emma walked over to it and sorted through it. Most of Regina’s weapons were there, well, all of them except for her sword. That unnerved Emma more than she could say. She wanted Regina to have something other than a sword on her, a little dagger wasn’t much of a backup plan, but at least it was something that could be hidden out of sight.

She flopped down on the bed, only removing her outer cloak. The fire warmed the space, but not by much. She knew she wasn’t going to sleep until Regina was back in their camp. There was no real point in being in her tent other than the fact that it was warm. She almost put on her cloak again and went back out to walking, but knew that would do no good. Even if she wasn’t going to sleep at least she should rest somehow, she knew. She flopped back on the oversized cot and waited, hoping to ever god she could think of that Regina was ok.

 

When Regina finally did enter into their tent the moon was high in the sky. Emma had been watching it from the little hole in the top of the tent to let the wood smoke out. She sat up immediately when Regina walked in, though. She was up and off the bed and into the other woman’s arms before Regina even knew what was happening.

“I tried to find you earlier but one of the mages was standing guard over your mother’s tent and wouldn’t let me and oh my gods are you ok, what in the world did she have you over there for, for such a long time?” Emma said all in one breath.

Regina’s arms wrapped around her slowly. “We were going over what both of our armies would do once Spring Haven appeared, battle strategies and such. I told her that the Captain of the Guard would be happy to talk to her about such matters, but she wouldn’t have it, she wanted me.” Regina’s voice was flatter than normal.

Emma pulled back and looked at her for a long moment. “Regina, are you all right?”

“I’m fine.” She extricated herself from Emma’s arms and stepped towards the fire, holding out her hands to warm them up.

“Are you sure, you aren’t acting like you’re all right. Seven hells, you don’t even sound like you’re all right. Regina what in the world happened over there?”

“It’s as I told you.” Regina didn’t turn to face her.

Emma walked over to her wife. She grabbed Regina’s shoulder gently and turned the other woman to face her. “Regina,” she said seriously. “You were just with your mother for hours on end, alone, or at least without anyone else to mitigate the fact that she’s a raging bitch to you. I don’t exactly believe you when you say that’s all that was going on, not when you’re acting like this.”

Regina looked up at her and then looked away quickly. “Emma, I’m fine.”

“Gods, I should’ve just gone back and had another go at the guard,” Emma mumbled to herself.

Regina looked up sharply at that. “No, you shouldn’t have.”

“Why not?” Emma asked, glad that at least something was normal with how Regina was acting. “At least then I might have actually gotten to you before your mother turned your into a dead woman walking.”

“You would have only gotten yourself hurt, it was stupid of you to go over there in the first place.”

“Well, that was where my gut told me you were and I wasn’t about ready to let you alone with your mother without at least trying to get you out of there.” Emma folded her arms over her chest and titled her chin up.

Regina glared at her. “Idiot. What have I told you about taking unnecessary risks? You are the Queen of the kingdom, you can’t just jaunt off into a potential enemy’s camp and fool around.”

“I could say exactly the same thing to you, you know.”

Regina huffed a breath through her nose. “You know that it’s different.”

“Not to me, the kingdom is important to me, and so are you. Sometimes risks are worth taking for the important things.” Emma cocked an eyebrow at Regina. “And besides, your mother can’t harm me yet if she’s got some grand master plan in the works to kill us all in the most humiliating way possible.”

The little color that had been building in Regina’s cheeks left immediately at her words. Emma scowled and reached forward to cup Regina’s cheek in her hands. She rubbed her thumb gently over the woman’s soft skin.

“So, really, what’s wrong, Regina?” she asked softly. “What happened in there that has you so shut down?”

Regina opened her mouth like she was going to speak, but then nothing came out. Frustration flashed through her eyes for just a second before she shook her head. “I can’t, not right now, please.”

Emma bit the inside of her lip. Something wasn’t quite adding up here and she knew it, but she couldn’t quite grasp onto what it was. She let it go for the time being. “Ok, but like everything else you have to tell me eventually.”

“You know I will when I can.”

Emma leaned forward and kissed Regina lightly. “Well, then why don’t we get some sleep? I don’t know about you but shivering all day exhausted me.”

Regina nodded. “Yes, that it did.”

Emma helped Regina take off her armor quickly and they both slipped into bed. Regina was asleep almost instantly, but Emma stayed awake for a long time, watching her wife sleep and wondering what in seven hells was going on.

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning dawned bright and cold. Emma did not want to pull herself from the warmth of the bed and her wife, but managed. Morning revelry sounded throughout the camp just as she managed to reach for her boots. Like a switch had been flipped Regina was up beside her reaching for her own boots. Emma was always amazed that Regina could get up at the drop of a hat after being dead asleep at such a quiet sound. She either had to wake up on her own or be practically shaken awake.

“Morning,” she grunted, tying up the laces of her boots with already chilling fingers.

“Good morning,” Regina replied.

Emma was relieved that she seemed to sound bit more herself today. She finished tying her boots and stood up, going immediately for her cloak and gloves. Once she had them fastened on she walked over to Regina who was starting to strap on her armor. She forwent her gloves for a few minutes more to strap Regina in quickly. When she was done she reached up and cup Regina’s face. The knight winced a little at her cold fingers, but nuzzled into the touch anyway. Emma leaned in a kiss her, spending a few long minutes breathing her wife in.

When they pulled back Emma felt significantly warmer and Regina’s cheeks were flushed. Emma smiled at the other woman before stepping back and slipping on her gloves. She wanted to keep as much of the warmth she had just gained for as long as she could.

Regina cleared her throat and started to strap on the last of her gear. “Well, if the morning starts off like that it is a good one indeed.” She strapped her sword to her waist with a smile on her face.

Emma snorted. “A little bit cheesy there, but I agree.”

Regina threw one of her gloves at Emma, trying and failing to fight a smile while rolling her eyes. “As if you aren’t ever cheesy, darling.”

“I didn’t say that did I?”

Regina just rolled her eyes again and shook her head. “You’re getting far too good at semantics, perhaps I shouldn’t have taught you to manipulate words if you’re going to use the power against me.”

Emma got the feeling that if Regina was a five year old she’d be sticking her tongue out at her. The image had her laughing and she felt Regina’s glare but didn’t care. Might as well get whatever enjoyment she could out of it. Gods knew it wasn’t like she was going to laugh anymore any time remotely soon.

She straightened up after a second, walking back over to Regina’s side. “Somehow I think you’ll survive. You’re still more clever by far than I am at using words against people.”

Regina hummed and got a faraway look on her face. Emma cursed herself silently. Damn it of course she would say the wrong thing right when they were just having a good moment.  Gods damn it all.

She leaned forward and rested her forehead on Regina’s, hoping to draw her out of the little mood quickly. She was rewarded with a quick peck to the lips and Regina’s nose rubbing against hers gently. Emma sighed and drew Regina closer to her. With the armor in-between them it was awkward, but they managed.

They stood intertwined for a while, listening to the sounds outside their tent of the men starting to tear down the tents around them. They would need to get moving soon, but Emma thought that one moment to themselves wouldn’t hurt. They hadn’t had many since the start of this and she had a feeling they wouldn’t have many after, at least not for a long while.

They pulled apart sometime later. Emma smiled, gentle and warm, before stepping back and gathering everything left and shoving it into her saddle bag. Regina did the same beside her and soon they were completely ready to go.

Regina grabbed her arm just before they could exit the tent. “I love you, Emma,” she said, a look that Emma couldn’t quite read flitting across her face.

Emma filed the look away for later and said, “I love you too, my knight,” fighting a growing feeling of unease in her stomach as they emerged out into the bustle of camp.

 

The second day’s ride had been just as cold as the first, but the wind had died down somewhat. Emma was still frozen when they stopped at the border of the White Kingdom to make camp, but she didn’t quiet feel as if she was going to freeze to death on the spot. Small mercies, she supposed.

This time when they were setting up camp she made sure to keep Regina in her sights at all times. She didn’t want her to go anywhere near the Dark Kingdom’s camp without her knowledge. Preferably, she didn’t want Regina to go over there at all, but if she had to she was damn well going with her. Whatever was wrong with Regina had started in the camp, she was sure of it. Or at least it had come to a head when she was over at their camp. She wasn’t exactly sure and she didn’t think it actually mattered.

But Regina didn’t go anywhere besides running around camp making sure everything was set up according to her requirements, and for that Emma was glad. She was even more glad when everything was set up and they could retire to their tent after grabbing some of the rather…interesting food that the soldiers on food duty had made that night. Palace food it was not, but then again Emma thought that should be expected. Regina just shot her a look that told her not to ask and she had eaten it as quickly as possible.

Back in their tent there was another fire warming the space and Emma sighed, slumping down on a fur that had been set not far off from the fire. She warmed herself thoroughly turning over bit by bit until her whole entire body not only had feeling, but was flushed red with heat. She was never complaining about how hot it was in summer again.

Regina just watched her with an amused space, sitting on their cot unbuckling her armor slowly. When she was done she came to sit by Emma. Emma wrapped herself around the other woman, appreciating the different type of warmth another body contributed.

“When should Spring Haven get here?” she asked, eyelids starting to droop. Now that she was warm it was getting increasingly hard to stay awake.

“Mother’s scouts say sometime tomorrow, though it will depend on the conditions what time, they’re predicting late afternoon to evening. The troops will have to be made ready, but there might not be any fighting tomorrow.”

Emma nodded into Regina’s side. “Ok.” She sighed heavily. “I wish I could be out there with you.”

“I know you would be if you could, darling.” Regina’s hands started to card through her hair. “But you’ll stay in the captain’s tent where I know you’ll be safe.”

“I know.” She snuggled into Regina even further. “As much as I hate that your mother made me come with you guys I’m kind of glad she did. If I was back at the palace I’d be going out of my mind with worry, wondering if you were ok. I think I probably would’ve run the messengers ragged.”

Regina hummed her agreement. “It’s a good thing you’re here then.” She was silent for a long moment. “I feel as if I shouldn’t be glad you’re here because it puts you closer to the danger, but I too am glad you’re here. Your presence helps keep me grounded more than you’ll ever know.”

“In the face of your mother, you mean?” Emma mumbled.

“Yes, she has the effect of making me forget just who I am and what I stand for at times.”

“Well, you’re Regina Mills, my wife and Queen of the White Kingdom, and knight extraordinaire who I love very much.” Emma hoped what she was saying made sense. It really was hard to keep her eyes open now. The moment Regina stopped speaking for longer than a minute she would be asleep, she could feel it.

  “I am all of those things gladly.” Regina pressed a kiss to the top of Emma’s head. “And I love you very much too.”

Emma could hear the smile in Regina’s voice and her body flooded with a warmth that had nothing to do with heat. She wondered idly why love felt so warm, but knew she wasn’t awake enough to reason that out.

“It’s just hard to remember that I’m not a little girl in the Dark Kingdom when she’s around. She makes me feel so helpless.”

“We have true love, you’re never helpless.”

Regina was silent for a long time after that and Emma fell easily to sleep.

 

The ground rumbled under Emma’s feet. It was odd how far off the ground shook in the wake of a moving army. Her men as well as the Dark Kingdom’s were already well outside the camp, lined along the border, waiting for Spring Haven. Emma paced outside the Captain’s tent. In the middle of camp it was safe enough to be outside. The battle would be far off. Besides, even as cold as it was she couldn’t stand to be inside right now, not with a bunch of commanding officers hashing and rehashing battle plans. Emma had been taught enough about strategy to understand what they were saying, but she had no interest. To change tactics now would be foolish, the men would be confused or the message wouldn’t spread to all of them in time. No, such changes had to be reserved for the middle of battle when the plan that was already in place truly needed changing.

And yet the men inside were doing just that, but with their him-hawing around she doubted they ever would decide anything, for which she was immensely glad. Regina didn’t need to be in any more danger than she was already.

So she waited and the rumbling underfoot got stronger and stronger until it stopped. Emma looked up in the direction of the battlefield, but there was too much between here and there for her to see anything. She swallowed hard. Oh gods, this was it.

A deafening cry arose, sending the few birds that stayed in the kingdom for the winter scattering from the trees, the ground started to rumble again, and then all Emma heard were the sounds of battle. She tried to take a deep breath and failed. Regina. Oh gods, she hoped Regina was ok. She hoped her men were ok. She hoped Cora somehow got magically struck with an arrow. But mostly she hoped that Regina was ok.

She needed to get away from the sound. Suddenly inside the tent didn’t seem like such a bad place to be anymore. She ducked inside, relieved that the sound muted just a bit, if not by much. The men inside the tent were more frantic now, moving around at an exaggerated pace. Messengers came in and out rapidly now, giving reports of what was happening. The men moved pieces on the board according to what they said, formulated and then reformulated plans. Emma listened intently, anything was better than the sound of the battle outside. She was glad that now the battle had begun they were immensely faster at making decisions.

And so the hours until dark passed slowly, agonizingly slowly. Just when Emma was about to lose it the sounds of battle stopped outside. Emma stood immediately and looked around. The din had been in the background for so long it was too quiet without it. Emma was on the next messenger that ran into the tent instantly.

“What’s going on?”

“Spring Haven has sounded the retreat. We’re not sure if it’s just for the night or for good.”

Emma closed her eyes. She so strongly hoped for the latter than it physically hurt. “What of our troops, how did we fare?”

“Well, your majesty. As unsavory as the Dark Kingdom is, they are excellent fighters. They took the brunt of Spring Haven’s force with ease and left us only what we could handle.”

Emma nodded. “And my wife, have you any news on her wellbeing?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know for certain. There haven’t been any reports of her falling, but that’s all I know.”

“Thank you.” Emma turned away from the man and exited the tent hurriedly. She turned to the entrance of the camp, where she knew her men would start showing up soon enough.

It seemed like a small eternity until the first men started to show up, dragging makeshift stretchers behind them with the wounded lying, bloody and pale as the snow beneath them. Emma swallowed hard, but made herself look at every single one of them just to make sure it wasn’t Regina. To her immense relief none of them were Regina, but her heart still hurt seeing the men from her kingdom coming back bruised and bloody, some of them clearly not going to make it through the night. She swallowed hard. The crown was weighing heavily on her in that moment and there was nothing on her head by the hood of a cloak.

Almost her entire army had to have walked by her by the time Regina appeared from seemingly nowhere, leading Fierro, both of them looking haggard and worn. Emma rushed forward and drew Regina into a hug, not caring that the woman was sticky with blood. She wasn’t going to think about that, just as long as none of that blood was Regina’s.

“Are you alright?” Emma said, pulling back and giving Regina a thorough once over. “Are you hurt at all? Even a little bit? Sprained ankle, anything?”

Regina just shook her head mutely.

“Are you sure?”

Regina nodded. She leaned heavily into Fierro’s side. The horse seemed like he was barely going to support his master’s weight, but her somehow did.

Emma wanted badly to point out that Regina wasn’t acting like she was ok, but something told her not to push. She just nodded and let out a relieved sigh. “Ok, thank the gods. Just, thank the gods.” She took Fierro’s reins from Regina. “Why don’t you go back to the tent. I’ll take care of the big guy.” She patted the horse affectionately on his nose. “And then I’ll grab a plate of whatever is for dinner and come back and we can eat.”

Regina reached out and squeezed Emma’s hand before turning away and heading in the direction of their tent. Emma watched her for a long minute until she was obscured by the crowd. She looked at Fierro.

“Was it that bad?” she asked the beast quietly.

He whickered quietly and looked away.

“Oh.” She scratched behind his ears. He huffed softly into her shoulder. “Well then, let’s get you all fed. I bet Odette has been missing you all day just like I was Regina.”

The horse came easily with her when she stepped away from the spot they’d been rooted to. She tended to him quickly, wiping away the spots of blood and mud and whatever else on his coat with a damp cloth and brushing him thoroughly. He munched listlessly from a bale of hay while she worked. When she was done she turned him loose near Odette in the temporary corral that had been set up for all of the horses. He went directly over to her horse and nuzzled her side, leaning against the white horse heavily. Odette turned and nuzzled him back.

Emma smiled at the displayed, lips just barely turning up. Well, who would have thought. It looked like their horses liked each other, quite a lot by the looks of it. How fitting.

She turned away and made her way back through camp quickly, picking up two plates of gods even knew what for dinner. It was hot, that was all that mattered, though by the time she got back to their tent it was barely even warm. She set the plates in front of the fire to warm them while she turned back to find Regina. The knight was already out of her armor, splayed across the bed in the most graceless position that Emma had ever seen.

She walked over slowly. “Regina, I brought us both dinner.” She patted Regina’s foot lightly.

Regina jolted up and reached for her side as if she was about to draw her sword. She shook her head immediately and snapped out of it. Emma saw her swallow hard and she nodded, getting up stiffly and walking over to the fire, sinking down as if gravity was too much for her. Emma frowned and went to sit beside her.

The knight shoveled the food into her mouth quickly enough Emma was sure she tasted none of it. She ate much slower, watching Regina’s ever move out of the corner of her eye. She wanted to help her wife, could feel the distress radiating from her, but she wasn’t sure how. Regina wasn’t talking, so it wasn’t like she could ask her. She just finished her meal and set aside their plates when they were both done. Regina stared at the fire for a long time sightlessly after that.

Emma sighed heavily and weighed the options she had. What was the best course of action? She bit the inside of her bit and scooted forward slowly, giving Regina plenty of notice. Regina twitched when she first started to move, but made no move other than that. When she was firmly pressed against Regina’s side she wrapped her arms around the other woman and drew her into a tight hug, pressing Regina’s head into the side of her neck. She waited for a few seconds, hoping she’d done something right, or at least not horribly wrong. Regina was stiff for a few long moments before she melted into Emma. She felt a few stray tears splash onto her neck, but they stopped as soon as they started.

Emma just held onto Regina like the world depended on it, and she supposed her world did depend on it. She rubbed soothing circles on Regina’s back and soon Regina’s breathing evened out. She pressed a kiss into dark hair and sighed quietly.

With the way they were curled up together like this there was no way that Emma was getting them up off the floor and into their cot. She looked around carefully and reached out, grabbing the other fur by the fire with the tips of her fingers. She lowered herself down gently, laying the extra fur over the both of them. With the fire beside them it was a little over warm, but that would change as the fire started to fade out, she knew. Regina’s weight on top of her was comforting. She counted every single one of the knight’s breaths and thanked the gods over and over again that Regina had come back to her.

She fell asleep like that, thoughts trailing off in the middle of one of her thanks. She hoped whatever god she had be praying to at that instant understood.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning revelry sounded before the sun was even up. Emma groaned as Regina jolted against her, waking her as well. Beside her Regina drew in a shaky breath. Emma reached across the furs and gripping her thigh lightly, offering comforting. Regina looked down, eyes dark and cloudy for a few seconds before her eyes cleared and her body relaxed. Emma smiled weakly at her and rubbed her eyes with her other hand.

“Gods damned early wake up calls,” she groaned. She arched her back, stretching. Sleeping on the ground hadn’t exactly been her best idea, even if it was on top of furs and a healthy coating of snow. Her ribs still ached where she’d been laying on them.

Regina snorted quietly and hauled herself off the ground, walking over to their cot and grabbing her armor. She started to strap everything on slowly, watching as the blood from the night before slowly flaked off now that it was dry.

Emma got up quickly and took the straps from her. She brushed off the dried blood with little more than a flinch and continued to put it on her knight. She had to admit, she was getting a lot faster at this; Regina was outfitted in her armor once more only a few minutes later. She reached up and cupped Regina’s cheek lightly. Regina looked down at her, brown eyes warm, but not nearly as light as they normally were.

“What are the odds that Spring Haven returns today and doesn’t just disappear into the ether?” she asked quietly, thumb starting to trace circles on Regina’s cheek.

Regina bit her lip in thought. “They suffered moderate losses yesterday, but nothing they couldn’t recover from. Their retreat last night was probably more of an opportunity to regroup and rethink their strategy than an actual retreat.”

Emma resisted the urge to bang her head against Regina’s armored shoulder. She dropped the hand on Regina’s cheek to her hand. She gripped them hard. “Alright, if they come back this morning I want you to be careful again. Please, gods, just be careful.” She swallowed hard. “It was hard enough letting you go the first time, and now…” she trailed off, images of injured men being dragged back to camp, covered in blood. “Just come back to me, my knight.”

Regina nodded, her gaze holding Emma’s. “As my Queen commands.”

Emma raised up on her toes so she could kiss Regina lightly. “More importantly as your wife commands.”

That drew a few short chuckles from Regina before her face turned serious again. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

They both stood and made their way out of the tent and Regina was gone again in a swirl of men and commands.

 

Emma wasn’t sure what she did this time to pass the time. She didn’t remember and didn’t want to. The day passed in a blur with the sounds of battle in the background. She saw the messengers come and go from the camp, but barely registered their presence. She wanted nothing to do with the command tent today. She should be there she knew, she was Queen after all, but she knew the men in there did not need her. She knew nothing about war, and so she was anywhere else.

The day was warmer at least, that much she did register. Warmer being very comparative to the few days prior, but it was something. She didn’t almost die of hypothermia walking around all day. She was glad, she wasn’t sure she would’ve felt the cold, she was that far gone again.

And so night fell slowly and then and only then was when Emma made an appearance at the command tent. Soon the messenger that told them everything was over for the day would be there, at least she fervently hoped. She wasn’t sure if she could make it through the night if the battle continued. She wasn’t sure that if the war continued past that day if she could send Regina off again. Gods, she needed to learn how to fight so she could ride out at Regina’s side. She thought she could handle that at least a little better. Maybe Regina could teach her to access the magic of their true love and she could wield that as well as a sword, anything that could help protect Regina.

Emma did not get her wish. The battle didn’t stop as night fell, but continued. She kept perking up at every messenger, but she knew with the din in the background that they were not carrying the message she wanted. She paced in the tent again, not daring to leave anymore just in case.

She was about ready to pull out her hair when the noise just stopped once again. Emma’s head whipped around and looked towards the battlefield even though there were many layers of cloth between her and actually being able to see. The minutes stretched on, but no messenger came. Emma’s shoulder muscles grew even tenser. She was going to hellaciously sore when this was all over, but that didn’t matter now.

Emma jumped when a triumphant cry filtered back to them. Oh gods, had that been their army or Spring Haven’s? She hadn’t been paying attention to the reports, had they been prevailing all day or had they been slowly losing? She looked over at the board the commanders were keeping, but nothing made any sense to her in the moment. She just turned back to the entrance of the tent and waited.

A messenger burst in, out of breath, gripping his sides. “Spring Haven has surrendered,” he gasped out.

Emma sank to the floor of the tent. “Oh thank the gods. Thank the gods.”

The man looked over to her. “They wish to speak to you, your majesty about the terms of a truce. Queen Cora doesn’t seem to like the idea. She wants to bargain on your behalf.”

Emma shook her head vehemently. “No, this is my kingdom that is being attacked and I will broker the truce. That vile witch of a woman will be nowhere near negotiations.”

The man nodded, finally catching his breath and standing up straighter. “So I should bring their King here then, majesty?”

Emma nodded and stood herself, knees still a little weak, but holding her. “He’s allowed four soldiers with him, but no more or the negotiations are void.”

“Yes, your majesty.” He turned and hurried out of the tent again, running back to the battlefield.

Emma looked around. Gods damn it, now that she was about to meet with another monarch she couldn’t leave the damn tent. She wanted to know Regina was ok, and she wanted to know it now. If she didn’t know all she was going to be thinking about while talking to Spring Haven was Regina.

She looked up at the first man in front of her. “Get someone to find out if my wife is ok and bring her here for the negotiations, if she doesn’t come here herself.”

He nodded and set off quickly.

Emma breathed a sigh of relief and waited, only marginally more patient now. Ten minutes passed, at least Emma guessed so, before she heard louder stirrings in the camp, jeers from her men, angry shouts she couldn’t quite make out the words to, but she knew that the Spring Haven contingency had to be in her camp. She looked at the entrance of her tent coolly and waited.

The Spring Haven King looked haggard and worn when he finally walked inside. Emma smiled inwardly at the sight. Good, the man should pay for trying to invade her homeland in some way or another. Then again, perhaps all of his men who had died would be price enough. It just wasn’t personal enough, though. Emma bit down on that line of thinking. It wouldn’t do to become too vengeful. That would make her exactly like the woman one camp over. She shivered at the thought.

“Your majesty,” she said, voice level and face blank. “I’d welcome you, but seeing as what just transpired I’m not in such a welcoming mood.”

The man bowed his head. “Understandable, Queen Emma.”

Emma gestured over to one of the chairs, vacated by the commanders when the King had entered the tent. “Sit, let us discuss the terms of a truce.”

The man walked over and sat down heavily. Emma sank into her own chair across from the man with as much grace as possible.

“What are your terms?” The King asked, slumping forward, arms on the table.

“Well, I think the most obvious should be your immediate withdrawal of all your troops from my kingdom and a binding statement that you will never attempt something like this again.” Emma pursed her lips, thinking for a second. “And I do mean binding, not just a piece of paper stating some easily broken oath, a magical vow should suffice.”

The King paled at this. “Your majesty, I don’t see why something like that would be required.”

Emma leveled him with a glare. “You don’t see why? I see completely why it’s necessary. I saw a great many reasons why it’s necessary being dragged by this very tent on stretchers, bloodied and in great amounts of pain. I’m sure I’ll have more when the dead are brought back as well, when I have to send out scouts to families to let them know their sons and husbands are dead. You may not see why, but I do. I will not have something like this happen again if it’s in my power to stop it.”

She lifted her chin. “Or have you forgotten that the Dark Army is backing us and this battle could continue on until absolutely none of your army is left, including yourself.” Emma cocked an eyebrow. “It would be quite easy for me to crush what’s left of your kingdom after your army has fallen and take everything. Goodness knows my kingdom could use the gold in your coffers, not to mention the land. A favored noble could be appointed to rule the land in my stead and live in that gorgeous castle of yours. I’m sure they’d love that.”

“This doesn’t sound much like a truce settlement.”

Emma bared her teeth. “The truce part of this bargain is you get to escape with your lives, your land, and a good deal of your money. You will offer up a payment to the White Kingdom as well.”

The King sputtered. “What? But why?”

Emma shrugged. “War is an expensive business, and you are the loser. War is not kind to the losers. And I am not kind to people who have killed many of the best men in my kingdom. Do you understand?”

He swallowed hard. “I quite liked your mother better.”

“Yes, I bet you would. She would’ve given you much more than she should have.” Emma went over what the kingdom had spent to get ready for this war, and the outstanding loans they now had to other kingdoms quickly. “One hundred and fifty thousand gold pieces will be delivered to my palace within the next month or the truce we sign here will be null and void and I will come after you with every single resource I have and I will not stop until I have your kingdom.”

He stood up suddenly. “I need to speak with my advisors about this.”

Emma just sat back and looked him over, bored expression on her face. “Why, you know what they’ll say. You have to take the deal. You’ve lost far too many men to do anything else. And there’s no way in a month’s time you’ll be able to get together and army that will be able to defend against anything stronger than a flea. You leave this tent and I consider our negotiations over.”

He sank back down and glared at her. “You bitch.”

Emma hummed. “I suppose it does take one to know one.” She glanced up at the commanders who had moved to the edge of the tent. “Dispatch a messenger to Queen Cora, tell her I’m in need of her magic to tie up some loose ends on the truce.”

The man paled even further. Emma was almost sure he would pass out. “Queen Cora is going to be magically binding me?”

Emma glanced back at him. “Who else did you think it was going to be? This kingdom isn’t exactly known for its magic, in fact it’s quite the opposite. I’d rather like to change that, but that’s for the future and therefore not to your benefit.”

“Anyone else, I don’t care who, just not her,” he pleaded.

She laughed once. “No, I think not. Gods know how long it would be before we could find another magical practitioner that would bind you to my standards and then you might get ideas and we can’t have that.”

Actually Emma didn’t really trust Cora to do the binding to her standards either, the sneaky bitch, but hopefully by then Regina would be by her side and could monitor her mother and make sure the job was done right. Regina might not be able to do such a high level spell, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t trace the flow of magic well enough to know if everything was right.

Emma sat back and looked at the man once more, smile on her face. She grabbed a piece of paper and started to write out in flowing script the terms of the truce. She sat back after a few minutes and looked over everything and then reread it again. She thought she tied up every single loose end, but she would have Regina look over everything when she got here. She wanted to make sure that when the slimy bastard across from her signed this piece of paper he wouldn’t be able to so much as blink in her kingdom’s direction the wrong way.

She nodded once and pushed the piece of paper back on the table and smiled over at the King of Spring Haven angelically. He tried not to sneer. Good. She didn’t want him to like her in the slightest. After everything was done he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it anyway, why not have her fun while she could.

Minutes passed as she waited for Regina and Cora to show. She thought for sure that Regina would be there by now. It hadn’t taken near as long to come back the day before. Maybe she was helping carry in the injured, or maybe even the dead. She suppressed a shiver at that. Regina was just so very alive it was hard to picture such a gruesome picture. Yet, she could see Regina doing it, because the men killed were men she served with and it would be her last service to them, making sure their bodies returned home.

Emma looked up at the movement at the entrance to the tent. The man she had sent to find Regina was there, face pale. He motioned for Emma to come to him. Her stomach dropped to the floor. If he didn’t want to discuss it in front of the Spring Haven ruler, then whatever he had to say wasn’t good. She swallowed hard and fought to keep her breathing even. Oh gods, oh dear gods, she repeated over and over again in her head as she got up and walked over to the man, let Regina be fine, let her worry for nothing.

“I’m sorry to tear you from negotiations, your majesty, but I’ve found your wife.” He wrung his hands and kicked at the ground.

Emma closed her eyes and waited for the worst news of her life to cross his lips. With how he was acting… She felt tears prick at her eyes. Oh, they had been happy for such a short time. Why would the gods do this to them? She thought they favored true love couples. Apparently it wasn’t true.

“Where is she?” Emma asked, voice a strained whispered. She didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t think she could. She didn’t want to see the pity on the man’s face.

“In the medical tent, your majesty. She’s having her wounds tended by the best of our medics, but they aren’t sure of her prognosis.”

Breath rushed into Emma again. Oh sweet gods, she wasn’t dead.

And then the punch in the gut of the rest of his words landed. She wasn’t dead. Yet. She looked around frantically. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t be here when Regina was slipping away. She glanced over her shoulder at the King, looking at her intently. She prayed that her face gave nothing away of her current distress, but she knew her expression had to, she was much too upset to even try for the casual blankness that Regina achieved like breathing.

Regina. Breathing. Gods. She looked around again. She had to do whatever it took to keep Regina alive and well. She just had to.

“Send another man to intercept Cora, tell her she’s to come to the medic tent if she wants her daughter to live. She will say yes, she can’t let Regina die by some soldier’s sword, that would be too easy.” Another glance back at the Spring Haven King. “He goes nowhere, send one of his men back with the message that he’s in the middle of lengthy negotiations. I will be back with Cora later to seal this deal, but only when Regina is stable. It’s all he deserves after attacking the kingdom.”

The man in front of her nodded. She pushed past him and started to run towards the medic tent. Oh gods, Regina, her Regina. She was supposed to come home safe to her. She had said she would. A lump rose in her throat. How was it that a knight that could take down some of the finest men of the other kingdoms all over the world was struck down in a mere battle such as this? It didn’t seem possible and it sure in the seven hells wasn’t fair. But then again Regina would tell her that life wasn’t fair, and battle most definitely wasn’t either.

She didn’t care. She couldn’t lose her love. It wasn’t possible. She wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t just waste away if Regina died. Running along the camp she realized that so much more of her was tied up in the other woman than she thought. It would be so hard to exist without her in the world. She could deal with Regina being far away, just so long as she was in the world and could be happy somewhere else, but this wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that at all.

She arrived at the medic tent minutes later and burst in, heart beating out of her chest from more than just the exertion. She scanned around, but didn’t see Regina immediately, but then again, there were so many men lying on makeshift cots she wasn’t sure she ever stood a chance. She strode up to the first medic she saw and grabbed his arm. He whipped around, with insults clearly ready to fly, but paled when he saw her.

“Your majesty.” He bowed as much as the death grip she had on his arm allowed him.

“Where is my wife?” Emma demanded. She looked around again, but still didn’t see her. She had to get to Regina. She had to do everything she could to make sure she lived.

“She’s back in the back, my Queen. The others are trying to stop her bleeding and stitch up her wounds.” He swallowed visibly. “From what I’ve heard it isn’t good.”

“Take me to her.” She glanced down at the man the medic was tending and winced. He obviously needed care, but he looked like he could survive a minute without tending.

The medic nodded and slipped by her, walking towards the back of the tent quickly. A scream stopped Emma dead in her tracks for half a second. Regina, she would recognize her voice anywhere. She ran forward, making her legs move as quickly as possible. She wasn’t sure they had ever felt that heavy, nor was she sure she’d ever run so fast. She outstripped her guide easily and went immediately in the direction Regina’s voice had come from. She burst through canvas curtains and gasped at the sight before her.

Regina was laid bare on the table, tan skin almost sheet white now, covered in blood. A group of men worked around her, shouting orders at each other. Emma hardly paid them any mind. She couldn’t take her eyes from Regina. She had never seen her wife look so vulnerable, not even when she had freaked out over her mother and almost reverted to a child. The sight sent shivers through her, made bile rise in her throat. She felt as if she was about to pass out. There was no other way around it, her love looked on the verge of death.

She glanced up at Regina’s face after a long second. Regina’s eyes were shut tight, face drawn into hard lines and pinched creases. The only indication that Regina was even still conscious was how her eyes darted around under her eyelids and the way she kept biting and re-biting her lip.

Emma was at her side in a second, dodging around medics quickly. She positioned herself by Regina’s head, mostly out of the way, and started to stroke her fingers through Regina’s hair. Regina’s eyes blinked open slowly and looked up at her in response to the soft touch. Her eyes took a long moment to clear and show recognition.

“Emma,” she rasped out, voice rougher than Emma had ever heard.

“Shh, don’t talk, you need your strength for other things right now.” Emma kept her fingers running through Regina’s hair gently. “Looks like you got yourself into quite the pickle, my knight. I thought you promised to come home safe to me.” Emma shut her eyes tight to avoid releasing the tears that were gathering in the corner of her eyes. “But that’s of no matter. You’ll make it through this.” She tried to sound sure, but there was just so much blood everywhere that Emma couldn’t even tell where Regina’s actual wounds were, let alone if she was going to actually be alright.

“You just have to stay with me and let the medics do their work and you’ll be back by my side in no time.” She leaned down and kissed Regina gently on the forehead. She hovered just above Regina’s skin for another second. “Is there anything I can do to help you magically? I know I don’t have any intrinsically, but what about the true love magic we both share?”

She pulled back and looked into Regina’s eyes. There was no clear answer for her in the brown depths. Regina’s shoulders shrugged just slightly, drawing a pain filled moan from Regina’s mouth.

“Ok, alright, just don’t move then, darling.”

Emma kept her fingers moving and closed her eyes, trying desperately to reach whatever energy existed between her and Regina. She knew what the sparks of magic that Regina had sent skittering across her skin had felt like, surely she could conjure that again. Surely. She had to. She prayed to the gods yet again. They must be getting tired of her continual pleas, Emma thought, because no matter what she tried she couldn’t find the warmth of magic within her. She wanted to stomp and cry, but she just kept up her soothing petting and opened her eyes again.

Regina’s eyes were closed again now. Emma looked over her face, and she wasn’t exactly sure that Regina was awake now. Her mouth had gone slack and her face muscles weren’t quite so tense.

“Regina,” she said. “Regina!” she called again when Regina didn’t respond. She tightened her hand in Regina’s hair and pulled. It was enough to have brown eyes blink open just slightly. “Regina you can’t pass out right now, darling. You have to stay awake.” Emma wasn’t sure what instinct told her this was true, but she wasn’t about to fight it.

Regina just moaned again and closed her eyes and after that nothing Emma did could manage to make her stir. There was no need to keep the tears at bay now that Regina was asleep. Emma tears slid down her face easily, hot and scorching. They fell gently over Regina’s face. Emma wiped them off one by one, but it did not good, there was always another the next second.

The medics worked around them for a long while. Emma barely registered them unless they bumped into her. She kept her focus on Regina and willed her to wake up again.

One of them touched her on the arm sometime later. She started back and looked up at him, with wide confused eyes. He smiled tiredly at her, barely more than a quirk of his lips, holding his hands up in a placating gesture.

“Your majesty, we’ve done everything we can. All of her wounds are sewn up internally and externally. She’s lost quiet a lot of blood, though. It’s up to her now whether she makes it.”

Emma swallowed hard and nodded. She looked back down at Regina again, noting the blood had been washed from her body and she was covered now with a white sheet.

“What do you think her chances are?” Emma asked, voice thick with tears.

She felt the man shift beside her. “I’m not certain, majesty. From what I know of her she is a fighter and that makes all the difference.”

She looked up at him, fire in her eyes. “I did not ask for a placating answer. I asked you what are her chances.”

The man looked at his feet and sighed. “I’ve seen wounds of this magnitude before in the last war. No one I’ve treated has made it through the night. But as I said, she’s a fighter, and it really does make a difference, my Queen.”

Emma closed her eyes and let out a slow breath. “Thank you for your honesty.”

She paid no mind to his thanks as he left the room, leaving Emma and the prone form of her wife alone.

Eventually her tears dried, but she kept standing there, letting her fingers card through hair that was still unnaturally soft.

 

Chapter Text

Cora burst into the tent much later, in a huff. “Honestly, your men do not understand the meaning of waiting.”

Emma jerked out of her revelry and stared up at the woman. A muscle in her eyelid twitched as she fought lighting into her. “They don’t understand waiting, because I told them that it was of the utmost importance. Did you not listen? I recall one of them had specific orders for you to come to this very tent as soon as possible if you wanted your daughter to continue living.” She glanced down at Regina, whose chest was still moving, if only shallowly.  “She still lives, but through no fault of your own.” She looked back at Cora and there was no masking how much she hated the woman in front of her now. She didn’t have the means, not with Regina so close to death.   

Cora waved her concerns away as if they were a pesky fly. “Please, she is my daughter. It will take more than a few sword pokes to kill her.”

Emma looked down at the three rather large slashes that marred Regina’s skin. “Those are some rather large sword pokes.” She extricated her hands from Regina’s hair. “Can you heal her or not? Do you even know healing magic? Is that why you took so long, you hoped she would die while you dawdled so you didn’t have to reveal there’s actually something you can’t do?”

A wave of Cora’s hand and Emma could speak no more words, no matter how she tried. She glared at the woman and took a step forward. Cora just laughed at her fury.

“Oh, dear, there isn’t a kind of magic that I don’t know. Healing magic is quite useful, and anything I deem useful is mine…” she trailed off and pinned Emma with a significant look. “And anything I find not worth my time, well, it isn’t around for long.”

Emma’s eyes narrowed and she wished that she could tear into the woman standing in front of her, but whatever enchantment Cora had on her wasn’t budging. Oh, when Regina woke up they were going to have to have a long talk about speeding up the time line on getting her mother the seven hells out of her kingdom be it dead or alive.

Cora stepped forward and touched her daughter’s legs through the sheet, eyes slipping shut. After a moment her hands started to glow deep red, almost exactly like the color she was so fond of wearing. Her eyes fluttered open after a minute and she pulled back the sheet, probing at the wounds. Emma was glad Regina was asleep already, it did not look like Cora was being gentle at all. After feeling them all Cora picked the second gash, running from Regina’s right hip to just below her breast. It started out just as a graze, but by the time it ended it had been very deep before the medics had closed it. The witch laid her hands on the cut and they started to glow blood red again. Under them the wound started to knit together slowly.

If someone heinous hadn’t have been doing the healing Emma would have gasped. Magic was a truly wonderful thing sometimes. She glanced up at Cora who was focused entirely on her daughter. Even if the magic sometimes came from the worst of sources.

When the wound was completely gone Cora stepped back and took a shaky breath. She looked at the other two injuries for a long second before grabbing Regina’s thigh and healing the wound there. This time the magic from her hands did not glow as brightly and the gash took longer to close. The Dark Queen looked up at Emma when the slash under her hand was healed, face paler than usual.

“She will have to do the rest on her own. I fixed enough of the blood loss so that she will live.” She gestured to the remaining sword wound that trailed down Regina’s shoulder onto her back. “That was the least severe, as long as she keeps it clean and infection free she will be quite all right.” She sniffed and stood up straighter. “But it wouldn’t have happened if she had just thrown these foolish thoughts of knighthood away when she was younger.”

For one shining moment Cora had actually been at least tolerable in Emma’s book. And then she had ruined it. Emma sighed, of course she did, why would anything be different. So Emma just continued to glare at her.

Cora shook herself just slightly. “Come, I heard also from your rather excitable messengers that you needed me to make a truce magically binding. I can’t imagine it will be anywhere near deserving of my magical talents. Gods know you’re probably as bad as your parents at bargaining, but needs must I suppose.”

If she’d been able to speak the only thing anyone would’ve heard was a string of curses vulgar enough to put a sailor to shame. But still, she followed Cora as she swept from the room, not even bothering to check if Emma was following. She really did need that truce magically bound or else Spring Haven would be at their border again with even more men. She glanced back at Regina once, biting her lip. She’d be back soon enough.

 

Cora read over the truce as the King of Spring Haven cowered in his chair across the table. The corners of her mouth quirked up just briefly as she set down the paper on the table. If Emma had to guess she looked slightly…impressed. Emma didn’t know if she should feel good or bad about that considering the source.

“Perhaps you aren’t as hopeless as your parents.” Cora reached over the table and snatched the King’s hand. She pulled a dagger from somewhere within her dress and slashed the man’s palm. He cried out in pain and she just rolled her eyes. “Honestly. It’s a dagger, not a sword, you’ll live.”

She turned his hand over the paper letting the blood drip onto it slowly. When she deemed it enough she let go of his hand, but not before she wiped her dagger on his sleeve. She turned and looked expectantly at Emma. Emma bit her lip, but held out her hand. Cora efficiently sliced the blade over the fleshy part of her palm. She hissed in a breath, but nothing else.

Cora looked up and sneered at the King. “It’s quite bad when a woman takes pain better than you do.”

She let go of Emma’s hand a second later and touched the edge of the paper. It started to glow that deep red before flashing bright white and then fading once more to a normal color. She stepped back from the table.

“There,” she said to Emma. “It’s done. He won’t so much as be able to speak an ill word against the White Kingdom, let alone attack it. As for your money, it will be here as you requested, he won’t have a choice in that either.” She smiled, a sickly sweet thing that made Emma’s stomach turn.

She started to walk out. “Have your Captain come speak to mine. I would rather not be camped out in this gods awful clearing for anything longer than necessary. He will have what he needs for us to move out in a timely fashion as long as he asks.”

And with that she was gone.

 

Emma found herself back in the medical tent later that night after everything was taken care of and the King of Spring Haven sent on his merry, or perhaps not so merry, way. She kept watch by Regina’s side through the night, but Regina didn’t stir. She fell asleep with her head on Regina’s cot sometime just before dawn.

She awoke the next morning when Regina jerked awake to the sound of revelry. Emma looked around confused for a long second before everything hit her. She gripped Regina’s uninjured shoulder and pushed the woman back down into bed. Regina glared at her like she had no idea what in the world she was doing, but went with it anyway.

“No, you’re not going anywhere today, Regina. You almost died yesterday. You aren’t leaving this tent until the medics give you the all clear.” 

Regina’s glare shifted into a confused scowl for a few seconds before realization dawned on her. She reached up to her shoulder and probed her only remaining wound gently. She reached for the other two and frowned when she found no evidence of ever being hurt there.

“What—”

Emma cut her off before she even could really get started. “You had wounds there yesterday, but…” she trailed off and took a shaky breath. “The medics did all they could and sewed you up admirably considering the state you were in, but you had lost so much blood, they were almost positive that you weren’t going to make it. I—I couldn’t let that happen. I asked your mother to come here and heal you.” She gestured to the wound on Regina’s shoulder. “She was able to reverse the blood loss enough to where you wouldn’t be in danger and heal your two worst wounds, but she ran out of energy before she could heal that one.”

Regina had paled considerably as Emma explained everything, which considering she was still pale from blood loss, made her look like she was a few seconds from dying. The imagery made Emma close her eyes and take a deep breath. She stood and started to pace the small room.

“My mother healed me,” Regina said, more a question than a statement.

“She did.”

“Why?”

Emma turned to look at her wife, stopping her pacing for one long second. “Because it would be too easy for you to die on the battlefield. Or at least that’s my running guess.”

Regina took her words and rolled them around in her head for a few long second before nodding.

“She was a royal bitch about it too, but then again I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything else.”

Regina snorted but said nothing.

“She helped with the truce with Spring Haven, made it magically binding. That idiot of a man, if he even deserves to be called a man, will no longer bother us. Seven hells, he’ll be lucky to even think a bad thought about us. It was scary, your mother looked almost proud of the truce agreement I drafted. I didn’t know whether to tear it up or be relieved. I’m a bit of both really.”

She knew she was babbling, but her wife was alive and awake and she didn’t think she could stop now if she wanted to.

“And anyway your mother was sort of the last resort because I tried to heal you using the magic we share, but I just couldn’t find it and I don’t understand. It’s true love magic, and I sure as hell love you, but I just felt nothing, none of the warmth I feel when your magic sparks over me, at all. It’s really weird, but your magic when it does things to me feels remarkably like when I think about loving you, all nice and warm. I really like that feeling, and yesterday I just couldn’t find that feeling and it was so cold and I was so scared and you were dying and I couldn’t do anything so I just walked readily into the vipers nest because it saved you and gods I just don’t even care about the consequences right now because you’re alive.” Emma took a gasping breath, most of that had been said all in one go.

“Emma, come here,” Regina said calmly. She patted the cot beside her, scooting over just enough to give Emma room.

Emma walked over and sat down as instructed, gazing into Regina’s face and not believing that this was all was real, but not being able to do anything else but believe because anything else would destroy her. She felt like she was being torn in two.

“I’m not dead. I am fine.” She moved her arm and winced. “Mostly fine,” she amended. “It’s nothing I haven’t faced before. She grabbed Emma’s hand and between their fingers magic rose, sparking out gently. “You couldn’t access the magic because you were too panicked. Magic is emotion, and true love’s magic arises from the feeling of love. You were too panicked to center yourself in love and draw on the energy.” She leaned forward and kissed Emma’s forehead. “It’s ok, it takes a great deal of practice to look past what you’re feeling in the moment to focus on what you need to access your magic. If you want I can teach you later.”

Emma nodded fervently. “I do. I want you to teach me everything. I want us to repeal the magic ban and I want to learn everything I can. I want to learn how to fight as well. I can’t watch you go off to war without me again. Not after this, never after this.”

Regina looked at her for a long moment before nodding. “I suppose that’s fair. When I heal we can start.” She gestured at her shoulder. “I don’t exactly think I can fight much like this.”

Emma looked down at the magic sparking between their hands. “How do I heal you?” Emma asked.

“Emma, that’s higher level magic that I only know a bit of. I’ll be fine, like I said, it’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”

“No, Regina, how do I heal you. I can’t—I just really can’t see you injured in any way right now.” He voice broke in the middle of her sentence and she had to swallow back tears.

“Emma—”

Emma just shook her head.

Regina sighed and place one of Emma’s hands on her shoulder. “Don’t be disappointed if you can’t do it, darling. Like I said it’s high level magic.” She patted Emma’s hand once before dropping her own in her lap. “Concentrate on the love between us.”

Emma was feeling that easily at that moment, between the fact that Regina was awake and Emma was touching her, she felt like the cold outside was just a passing nightmare. “Ok,” she breathed, eyes sleeping closed to feel everything that much more intensely.

“Now, focus on pulling that feeling down into one point instead of a force that’s filling all of you.”

Emma frowned and scrunched up her face. How in the world was she supposed to do that exactly? It wasn’t exactly like the feelings inside her had tangible edges that she could grab onto and ball up at will. Magic was ephemeral. Its user wielded it, but not physically, it responded to thought not action. She wondered though, what would happen if she thought about balling up the energy inside her, if the magic would actually respond. It was worth a try at least.

Again she concentrated on the love filling her, picturing it filling from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She thought about grabbing the edges around her toes and pulling up. She gasped as the magic in her body actually responded. The second she lost her concentration it snapped back into her toes again. Damn it.

She tried again, working harder than she thought she’d have to, to be able to gather all the energy within her to a point, glowing solidly in the middle of her chest. She sighed in relief and triumph, but made sure not to lose focus this time.

“Ok,” she said quietly.

“Now, take just a thin stream of that energy and channel it towards me and my shoulder, thinking all the while what you want it to do, how my shoulder looks when it’s healed. You have to do this while keeping the energy flowing from the ball you’ve put it in and at the same time keep the ball compact as well. This is the hardest part, darling. You’ve done remarkably well to just get this far.”

Emma’s scowl deepened. Seven hells, she’d barely gotten the thing into a ball, thinking of one thing at a time. How the hell was she supposed to do three things at once now?

She would find a way, that was how.

She took a deep breath and imagined a thin steam of the golden energy filling her to branch out, letting it slide up her arm in a wave of heat and light. The ball flickered within her. Emma cursed silently and focused back on it. It had taken too much time to form to let it fade. The energy she had been channeling up her arm returned obediently to the ball after a second.

She bit the inside of her lip. Ok. So that hadn’t worked out well. How in the seven hells did anyone triple task like that?

“It’s takes a lot of practice to be able to do everything effortlessly,” Regina’s words filtered into her mind slowly, like they were coming through a wall. She felt Regina’s hands petting her hair gently. “You’re farther than I ever got during my first lesson. You’re a natural, darling, but please don’t push too far.”

Something was nagging at the back of Emma’s mind. There was a way to do this that wasn’t so hard, she knew it. She just had to figure it out. Honestly, who the hell could actually focus on three things at once? There had to be a trick.

She thought for what felt like a long while, watching the ball pulse inside her chest in time with her heart. In the background she could hear the beating of another heart, Regina’s, perfectly in sync with hers. If she didn’t push the idea would come to her.

It was relaxing sitting like this and somehow at the same time completely exhausting. Maybe it had something to do with keeping energy so cooped up when it was meant to be spread out. She would ask Regina later.

The idea hit her. If she focused on the ball and the stream of energy as one object, it would be easier. She wouldn’t be doing three things at once, only two. And if being Queen had taught her anything, it was how to do two things at once and do them well.

She reached out again, focusing on the ball and imagining its shape changing gradually. Lengthening the stream gradually took a great amount of time, but the ball never flickered. Emma fought the urge to cheer and whoop with her success. The stream reached her hand, flowing out her fingers, waiting to be told what to do. Another deep breath expanded her lungs. She could do this now.

Keeping one eye on the strangely shaped ball she pulled up an image of Regina’s shoulder, bare and whole, reflecting the pale morning sun. She pictured the skin as it was now and willed it to look as it once had. She felt the magic respond almost instantly, flowing out of her and into Regina. Her wife gasped under her and shifted. Emma quickly shifted with her, not willing to waste all the work she’d just done.

When the magic stopped flowing, waiting for her next command, she blinked open her eyes. She moved her hand slowly and smiled. Regina’s skin was completely brand new, not even a scar marred the surface. She looked at Regina and beamed.

“I did it,” she breathed. Her eyes slipped closed and it was extremely hard to keep them open. The ball of energy disbanded within her and rushed back into her limbs. She hummed at the pleasant feeling. Her limbs had felt like something was missing the entire time she had been focusing.

“You did.” Regina pulled Emma forward to lay beside her on the thin cot. She pulled Emma flush against her and wrapped her arms around her. “Now, sleep, I know you want to, need to really, after that.”

Emma nodded into Regina’s shoulder. “Yeah,” she mumbled. “I didn’t know magic was so tiring. It doesn’t feel like it when you’re doing it.” She snuggled closer to her wife.

“No, no it doesn’t. It’s easy to overtax yourself. But now, darling sleep.”

“’kay. Night.”

“Goodnight, my love.”

And with that Emma was dead asleep within seconds.  

 

 

Chapter Text

When she woke up she felt as if she’d been thrown from a horse. She groaned loudly and covered her eyes with her arm. Seven hells she had a headache. If that was what one called their entire head splitting open, she supposed.

Something shifted beside her. A pair of hands nudged her arm aside and started to massage her temples gently. The relief was almost instantaneous. Emma moaned and arched into the hands. She was going to fucking knight whoever was massaging her temples right now. She didn’t even care about the consequences. Fuck it, maybe she would even make them a minor baron or something, give them some land, enough to make a decent living off of, yeah that was a good idea too. It would piss all the nobility off too and there wasn’t really much they could do about it. It was settled. She just had to open her eyes and find out who was actually touching her.

She groaned again. Opening her eyes right now seemed like a monumental task. She would have better luck holding up the sky than she would opening her eyes even with the relief of the massaging. What in seven hells had she ever done to deserve pain like this? She was trying to be a good Queen to her people, wasn’t that enough?

A bit of magic flowed over her skin. She felt her pores soak it up greedily. She gasped as the pain lessened enough that she could blink her eyes open just slightly. Regina sat above her, hands still massaging the fragile skin of her temples gently.

“Good morning sleeping beauty.” Regina leaned down and kissed Emma’s forehead, just barely brushing her lips against it.

“I’m not the Briar Rose. I really don’t want to be. I met her once, not a big fan.”

Regina snorted. “Of course you weren’t. Why would you enjoy the presence of a girl so entirely vapid?”

“I didn’t think she was an airhead or anything.” She paused for a second. “Well, not much anyway, I think some of it was an act, but the other part…well. But more that she was the perfect princess compared to me and my mother kept comparing me to her. It got annoying after a while. Mother kept going on and on about how her match with Phillip was favorable.” Emma rolled her eyes and instantly regretted it. Her head throbbed for a few seconds before the pain faded enough for her to speak again. “Mother didn’t have eyes. The woman was totally in love with her husband-to-be’s friend and bodyguard, a woman from Qin, not exactly the princess ideal.”

Regina laughed, unrestrained, but managing to keep her voice low enough so she didn’t hurt Emma’s head any more than it already was. “Oh, darling, you have to realize the irony of you saying that.”

Emma frowned. “Yeah, well,” she huffed. “I wasn’t promised to marry anyone but you.”

“Fair enough.” Regina smiled down at her and shook her head. She kissed Emma’s forehead again and drew back, taking her wonderful hands with her.

Emma moaned at their loss, but found at least she could still function this time without Regina making soothing circles against her skin. “When you said magic was exhausting and it was easy to push too far, I had no idea it meant I’d wake up with a headache straight from the lowest depths of seven hells.”

“I did try to warn you, dear.”

“Yeah, well,” she said again and glanced at Regina’s now fully healed shoulder. “Something tells me it was worth it.” Still, she raised a hand to her head and started to press at the skin. She vaguely thought about trying to sit up but immediately dismissed the thought. “How long was I out?” she asked instead.

“A day and a half or so. The medics were frantic over you, but I managed to calm them down. They thought my mother had done something to you. When they saw I was more healed than I had been…I think a few of them have put the pieces together, but they’ve said nothing.”

Emma nodded. “Our men are loyal.”

“That they are.” She brushed a piece of Emma’s hair behind her ear. “Are you hungry at all? Something tells me you haven’t eaten in longer than a day and a half.”

Emma thought about it. She knew she should be hungry, but she really wasn’t. She looked at Regina and shrugged. “Maybe something small. If there’s some sort of soup around I’d go for that.”

Regina nodded. “That sounds like a good idea.” She got up from the bed, jostling Emma only minimally.

She slipped on her boots and turned back towards Emma. “Be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”

Emma just glared at her, but she was sure it looked more pathetic than threatening. Her wife was a downright comedian.

Regina came back fifteen minutes later carrying two steaming bowls of soup and bread. Emma had inched herself slowly up into a sitting position, using one of the tent poles to brace her up while Regina was gone. She reached out her hands. Regina sat the soup carefully in Emma’s hands. When the smell hit her she almost moaned. Gods, she hadn’t been hungry until just then, but now she was famished. She tried to contain her hunger, but she had the liquid gone in a few minutes and the bread gone not long after. She felt bloated and a little disgusting afterwards, but she was warm and full, so it evened out rather nicely.

When Regina set her soup bowl aside, grabbing Emma’s as well and setting them on the ground, Emma took the opportunity to speak. “So, how many times has your mother been in here to demand we leave soon?”

Regina shrugged. “She herself hasn’t been here, but there was a messenger from her both days just barely after dawn. I sent back replies that told her even with her readily available supplies a non-magic army can’t just get up and go with injured men. The plans of course have been progressing smoothly, and we should be ready to leave within the day, but I couldn’t exactly tell her that the real reason we weren’t heading out was you.”

Emma hummed her agreement. “Gods know what she would have done with that information.” She stretched, feeling a lot better now that she was fed. “But I’m glad we’re almost ready to go. I’m very ready to be home.”

Regina nodded. “As am I.”

Emma rubbed at her head. She felt better sure, but the headache was still there, if only at annoying levels now instead of debilitating. “How long until the headache goes away?”

“I’d say by end of day you should be feeling normal as long as you take it easy.”

“Ok, as long as taking it easy means we can get out of here and back to our tent.” It stank of death and sickness in the tent, even if they weren’t among the hoard of soldiers just outside their little makeshift room. Emma was sure the smell was even worse out there. As much as she felt for her men, she really didn’t want to be around here anymore than she had to. The stink along with her headache was making her a little nauseous now. She needn’t be reminded just how close Regina had come to death.

“That’s fine. Do you think you can walk?”

Emma considered this for a moment. “Maybe?” It had taken her a lot of effort to sit up, but since she was feeling better she might be able to manage it.

“Are you asking or telling me?”

“Both?”

Regina smiled and playfully rolled her eyes. Emma stuck out her tongue and started to scoot towards the edge of the cot slowly. She threw her legs over and gently pushed herself to her feet. She stood there for a few long seconds before taking a cautious step forward. Almost immediately her knees gave out. Regina was at her side in a second, keeping her from hitting the ground. She scooped her up more fully into her arms a second later.

“So that’s a no then,” she said just a few inches from Emma’s face.

“Yup, seems to be a no.” Emma’s eyes darted to Regina’s lips. It had been days since she had last truly kissed the woman and in that moment she wanted nothing more. Regina was alive. She was alive. Somehow they had both survived the war against Spring Haven together. It was a miracle really.

There was still Cora to consider, but that was beside the point for now. They had to count what victories they could.

She leaned forward and captured Regina’s lips. She sighed as warmth flooded through her. Magic, that was what the warmth was, true love’s magic. She knew now. It flared brighter within her as she thought of just how much she loved the woman holding her, of how grateful Regina had lived. She looped her arms around Regina’s necks and deepened the kiss.

Regina in the middle of the battlefield still managed to taste as she always had, that same addictive sweet-spice that always made her head swim. Regina’s tongue flicked inside her mouth, drawing a low moan from her. She wanted this so badly. Maybe she even needed it.

She pulled back just slightly, eyes managing to flutter open slowly. “Regina,” she rasped, voice much deeper than it had been minutes before. “Take us back to our tent.”

Regina bit her lip, indecision in her eyes. She knew what Emma wanted, and most assuredly wanted it too, but she was concerned about Emma’s weakened state. Emma started to kiss down Regina’s jaw, lightly nipping at the flawless skin, stopping at the juncture between neck and shoulder and sucking hard. Regina was hers and even if no one else saw the mark she left, she would know.

A groan left Regina’s mouth and Emma knew she would get what she wanted.

“Ok,” Regina breathed shakily. “But you have to put your boots and cloak back on. It’s still too cold to be going anywhere without them.”

Emma hummed her agreement into Regina’s skin.

Regina sat her down on the cot, grabbing Emma’s boots and cloak and handing them to her wife with shaky hand. She took a deep breath and stepped back, steadying herself while Emma laced her feet quickly into her boots. Such a great amount of effort when they were just going to come off minutes later.

When she was done she looked back up at Regina, a smile on her face. “Carry your damsel to her quarter, my knight.”

Regina snorted but walked over and scooped Emma up easily. She carried her out of their little room and into the main room of the medic tent. The smell was just as bad as Emma thought it would be out here. She hid her face in Regina’s neck and breathed in the faint smell of jasmine, of things alive and wonderful, and not of death.

When she felt the tent flaps hit her as they emerged into cold air she drew her face back and took a gulp of the cold air. It cleared her head greatly. She would make sure the soldiers in that tent got the best care possible when they returned to the palace and if they didn’t make it, she would make sure their families were well compensated and they got the funerals they deserved. It was all she could do, she knew, but the knowledge still frustrated her.

Regina squeezed Emma to her, as if she knew what Emma was thinking. The knight looked down at her, sadness in her eyes. She bent her neck and kissed Emma on the cheek.

“You’ll do right by them, my love.”

Emma nodded. “I hope so.”

“You will.”

Something in Emma relaxed at Regina’s certainty. She leaned more into Regina and closed her eyes, feeling the other woman breathing and moving against her.

The magic rose again as the walk continued. Regina rubbing up against her in such a way was extremely distracting and the thankfulness from earlier flooded back. Her knight was alive. It may be selfish of her, but everything else paled in comparison to that fact. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around it, that Regina was alive after seeing her on the operating table, pale and almost lifeless.

Emma gripped harder onto Regina and willed them to walk faster to their tent. This had to be real. She had to confirm it was. Regina needed to be pressed firmly up against her, with no way to tell where she ended and the other woman began. Then, and only then would she really and truly believe that this was real.

Regina finally bore them to their tent and sat Emma down on their cot. The fire was already blazing, warming the room more now that it wasn’t so deathly cold outside. She unwrapped Emma’s cloak from her shoulders gently and took off her boots with the same care. She looked down at Emma with fire in her eyes as she stripped the same items of clothing from herself and laid down beside Emma.

Her hand came up to cup Emma’s cheek gently. “Oh Emma,” she sighed, eyes closing slowly. When they blinked back open again Emma saw the same longing she felt reflected back in Regina’s eyes.

Emma reached up and held Regina’s hand against her face, nuzzling into the callused skin. She laid a gentle kiss on the tanned palm and let out a slow breath when Regina shivered at the action. Her hand left Regina’s and reached out for Regina’s hip instead, drawing the other woman close to her.

Regina was always so warm. She didn’t understand it, even in such cold weather it felt like she walked in from a hot summer day in the sun. Her eyes fluttered closed. It felt wonderful against her skin.

Lips were pressed against hers the next second, kissing gently, barely brushing against her. Emma leaned just a little forward to capture Regina’s lips more fully. They kissed gently for a few long moments, barely more than chaste pecks, like they couldn’t quite believe the other was there. She felt Regina’s hands wrap in her hair, pulling just enough to draw a breathy moan from Emma, vibrating against plump lips. Regina smiled and kissed her again, deepening the kiss almost immediately, tracing every ridge of Emma’s mouth that she knew made her gasp and clutch at anything that could anchor her.

Emma for her part just laid back and enjoyed everything thoroughly. She may have started this back in the medic tent, but now she wasn’t in control at all, and she was perfectly ok with that. She stroked Regina’s tongue languidly. There was no hurry, nothing to do but kiss the perfect woman in front of her for a good long while.

But Regina had other ideas. She tugged harder on Emma’s hair and rolled them. Emma let out a breath, landing squarely on Regina’s supple body, jarring her from their kiss. She smiled down at Regina, cocking an eyebrow at her wife. Regina’s answer was to take Emma’s hands in her own and bring them up to cup her breasts. Emma took in a shaky breath, Regina’s nipples were already so very hard under her palms. Gods the woman was going to kill her.

The knight arched up into her hands. “Emma, please,” she whimpered.

She swallowed hard. Somehow, without words being said she knew exactly what Regina was asking for. She didn’t need this to be slow and gentle. They had done slow and gentle before, their first time, but even from the get go that wasn’t particularly their style. They balanced pleasure and pain when they made love. She shivered at the memory of the nail marks she had had down her back for a few days after their second time. Those had set off one of the best orgasms she’d had so far. And yet, she knew this time would be even harder and rougher than every time before. They needed to know the other was really and truly alive and could function at their fully abilities at least in some way.

And for once Regina wasn’t going to be the main aggressor. The thought sent Emma’s stomach into knots. She didn’t have the experience that Regina did. Sure, she gave as good as she got, but was she really going to be good dictating the speed everything was going?

She shook herself just slightly and drew Regina into a bruising kiss, opening her mouth and kissing her hard and deep until both of them were panting hard through their noses. Emma’s hands scrabbled between them, ripping the hem of Regina’s shirt from where it was tucked into her pants. She pulled Regina up just enough to get the garment over her head and threw it gods knew where. Her hands were against Regina’s bare skin in a millisecond, pinching and pulling Regina’s nipples hard enough to drain all color from them. Regina moaned loudly in response, hips pressing up into Emma.

Emma pulled back and smiled down at Regina with her cockiest shit eating grin. Regina’s eyes blinked open slowly now that they weren’t kissing like it was air. Her eyes were fogged over with lust, almost out of her mind already. Emma raked her fingernails down Regina’s abs, the little hiss of pleasured pain that she released making Emma clench hard.

“Emma,” she moaned turning her head into the pillow under her.

Emma lunged forward taking the bared neck as an opportunity. Her mouth set to work biting and licking and sucking all the way down the smooth skin, leaving enough marks that no one would be mistaken that the woman under her was hers. No matter what Regina wore, unless it was her full armor, someone would see some of the bruises. She smiled wider, almost feral now, at the thought.

Regina started to squirm hard under her, whimpering and softly pleading. Her hands came up to try and draw Emma to her, but Emma was having none of it. She grabbed Regina’s hands in one of hers and pinned them above her head. Regina’s eyes blinked open in pleased surprise before Emma kissed the look right off her face.

“Do you need it, Regina,” Emma asked, voice deep and rough. She almost didn’t recognize it.

“Yes,” Regina breathed out, arching into her again.

“Do you need me to fuck you so hard you won’t walk right for the rest of the week?”

Emma had no idea where this was coming from, but gods, she was wetter than a river and from the way Regina was squirming that much harder under her, she would bet her wife was enjoying this too.

“Gods yes,” the knight almost sobbed.

“Good.”

Emma’s free hand was under the waistband of Regina’s trousers in a second, stripping them and her underwear off easily enough. They went the same way as Regina’s shirt and Emma groaned as she cupped Regina for the first time. Wetter than a river was an understatement. She ran her fingers through the wetness and brought them up to her face, shining and covered even after such a light touch.

“Gods, Regina, you’re so wet.” She licked Regina’s essence off her fingers and her eyes fluttered shut at the taste. She lunged forward again and kissed Regina hard, letting her taste herself on Emma’s tongue.

Emma’s hand slipped down again to trace nonsensical patterns through Regina’s slit. Gods, she loved how the woman felt under her, so warm and wet and wanting and fucking perfect. She could spend hours like this, laying above her wife, running her fingers through her most intimate parts and listening to her whimper. It would be her own personal version of heaven.

From the way Regina was whimpering under her it might be her own version of hell. But Emma was just enjoying herself so thoroughly she couldn’t quite end it just yet. Regina would get what she needed all in due time. Gods, when she did orgasm Regina was going to be a beautiful sight. Emma almost sped things up just to get to that sight, but controlled herself. The longer she drew this out the more out of control and stunningly beautiful Regina was going to be when she came. She wasn’t sure she was going to survive it.

Regina squirmed enough to wedge a leg between Emma’s, pressing up with a firm thigh into Emma’s core. Emma moaned loudly and started to grind against the leg beneath her. Gods almighty, it felt so gods damned good she could come in just a few seconds, she was sure of it. But she stopped herself, with a great amount of difficulty. A quick one off wasn’t what this was about as much as her body wanted it. Seven hells, though, she hadn’t even realized she was aroused enough for such a primal reaction.

She pulled herself off of Regina’s thigh and spread Regina wide around her. Regina instinctively locked her legs around Emma and drew them that much closer. Emma shuddered out a breath as Regina’s dripping core pressed up against her stomach. Gods. She was going to self-combust by the end of this wasn’t she?

Her fingers started to stroke against Regina again, a little harder and faster, still avoiding any place Regina really wanted to be touched. Regina’s whimpers grew louder and louder as the minutes passed.

“Emma, please,” she cried.

“What do you need, love?” she rasped, leaning down to whisper in Regina’s ear.

“More, gods please more.”

Emma stroked harder, using the whole of her hand. “Like that?” Emma moaned.

“Yes, no, gods please inside, fuck me.”

Emma almost came hearing the profanity slip out of Regina’s mouth. Gods, dear gods.

Immediately her fingers were slipping inside Regina, first two fingers and then after only a few strokes a third. Regina let out a gasping moan and arched her back far enough that Emma thought it was going to break. She quickly established a rhythm, hard and brutal, wet smacking sounds filling the air of the tent. It sounded like a fucking symphony to her combined with all the noises Regina was making, little pleading noises and loud moans. Occasionally Emma joined the sounds, she couldn’t help herself, Regina was just too beautiful under her, writhing, body begging desperately to come since Regina herself was beyond words now. Gods she was dripping down her own legs now and onto the bed sheets, mixing with the sweat they’d already shed.

Her thumb came up to rub intermittently against Regina’s clit. The knight’s mouth opened in a silent scream, body locking up and the new bolts of pleasure coursing through her. Emma knew Regina was close. So very, very close. She needed to make Regina come now. Physically needed it just as much as Regina did in that instant. She added a fourth finger into Regina, thumb still hitting her clit and curled her fingers just so, hitting the rough patch within Regina.

Regina’s walls clamped around her like a vise and she let out a primal scream, louder than Emma had ever heard come out of her mouth. She moved the hand holding Regina’s arms down over her mouth, muffling the sound. She prayed no soldiers had been around to hear it. She was not getting out of this damn bed even if the tent was burning around her. The look of absolutely ecstasy on Regina’s face would keep her here long past death she was certain. She flicked at Regina’s clit gently, drawing out the orgasm as best she could.

When the last of the tremors passed through Regina and she slumped back bonelessly on the bed, Emma withdrew her fingers gently and licked them clean slowly, savoring the taste. Gods that had been absolutely wonderful.

She collapsed down next to Regina, arms encircling the other woman and drawling their bodies together. Regina’s curves fit perfectly into her own, she was always amazed by that fact. It was quite cheesy to think they’d been made for each other, but since they were true loves, wasn’t that actually the case? She shrugged just slightly. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but how good Regina’s skin felt against her in the chilly air. She reached up and drew the blankets over them in the chilling air.

Regina nestled back into her, eyelids drooping heavily. Her fingers laced with Emma’s hand that had come to rest on her stomach. She cleared her throat a few times before she could actually get words out.

“That was…” Regina trailed off, at a loss for words.

Emma didn’t think she’d actually ever witnessed the woman speechless, or at least that she remembered. Gods, she had caused that. She smiled to herself and mentally patted herself on the back. Good, now she didn’t feel quite so inexperienced in the bedroom. Immediately her mind flew to some of her more private fantasies that she thought were too ridiculous, but now, perhaps maybe they weren’t too ridiculous after all. Gods above if they lived through all of this she was going to try every single one of them, or at least talk to Regina about them and see if they were possible and if she wanted to participate.

If that wasn’t giving her something to live for, she didn’t know what would.

“I agree,” Emma finally said, kissing Regina’s bare shoulder.

Regina huffed, voice heavy and tired. “I didn’t even say anything.”

“But it’s what you didn’t say that was really important.”

She could feel Regina’s eyes roll even if she couldn’t see it. Regina turned around in her arms slowly, limbs still obviously heavy in her post-orgasmic bliss. “I’m not sure if I should be insulted at that statement or what.”

“Pleased that I can read your mind?”

Regina snorted. “Perhaps.” She leaned forward and kissed Emma lightly. “If your new mind reading powers told you that I thought there were no words for what just happened, then perhaps.”

“Something like it,” Emma said, smiling softly.

“Well then, pleased it is.” She moved forward to kiss Emma again, deeper this time.

Emma swore she felt Regina’s tongue caressing hers down to the balls of her feet. Gods. Her hips started to twitch without her permission, seeking any sort of friction they could find. She felt Regina smirk into the kiss at her reaction and it just turned her on even fucking more and she wasn’t ever sure she was going to think straight again after this.

Then Regina was sitting up, breaking the kiss with Emma and Emma whimpered loudly. No, gods, her wife had to get right back down there and kiss her like she meant it or Emma was almost sure she was going to die. She sat up too, chasing Regina’s lips with her own.

Regina’s eyes held laughter as she watched Emma scrabble up. The knight guided Emma easily to straddle her lap. With the slight height advantage Emma’s breasts were right in Regina’s face, and from the look on her face, that’s exactly where Regina wanted them. Just before Emma could lean down and kiss the woman again, Regina’s mouth was on her, sucking hard and biting none to gently.

Emma’s body arched hard into the contact, little arcs of pleasure bolting through her at top speed, going straight to her core. “Oh, gods,” she moaned, barely able to attach the syllables together. “Regina.” Her hands found their way into Regina’s hair, pulling hard and earning a moan against her skin that buzzed through her. Seven hells, if Regina ever made that sound after this, she was going to come on the spot, she knew it.

Regina’s other hand came up to stroke Emma’s other nipple into a hard point. She toyed with it gently long enough to make her hard enough to ache. And then she pinched hard and Emma couldn’t decide if what she was feeling was pain, pleasure or both. What she did know is she needed to come, and she need it right then.

The knight’s hand dropped slowly, like she could read Emma’s mind. It stroked gently over a soft, lean stomach, tracing the muscles that twitched under it for a few moments that felt like an eternity to Emma. Just a bit lower, and those fingers would be where she so desperately needed. She groaned pitifully. She was sure this was a form of torture somewhere.

Regina’s hand once more started to move downward, but instead of delving between her legs as she wanted, it continued on, smoothing just briefly through the short, groomed hair on Emma’s mound and moving to stroke her legs from knee to the very insides of her thighs and then back again, repeating the process on both legs so many times that by the end Emma was making a string of noises she wasn’t quite sure were wholly human, begging Regina without actual words to have mercy.

And then Regina was three fingers deep within her, with no warning or preamble and Emma could have wept in relief. The stretch around Regina’s fingers burned almost uncomfortably, but then Regina started to move slowly, building and building to a punishing pace and Emma cared nothing about it anymore. Her hips thrust down on Regina’s fingers, just in time with her wife, driving her wilder and wilder. Her orgasm was going to hit her harder than a knight at a joust and gods was she going to welcome it.

Regina’s mouth switched sides, leaving behind a wet, glistening, red, much abused nipple in her wake and set about bringing the other to the same state. She looked up at Emma with eyes dark enough to seem to eat the light around them. The carnal joy on her face was breathtaking.

Emma felt herself clench from the look alone. Oh gods, there were just too many feelings right now to take it. She felt like she was going to overload, fry every single brain cell she had and end up some sort of brainless shell. But dear gods, was that a way to go.

Her hips increased their pace, slapping now against the skin of Regina’s thighs loudly. The white heat inside her was building and building, burning so bright now she could barely see. Her eyes slipped closed and patterns played out against her eyelids, swirling in a display of colors Emma wasn’t sure she’d ever see again.

A brush of Regina’s thumb against her clit and Emma was so far gone a search party would never find her. The colors and patterns devolved into white starburst that started to turn black and close in on her. She heard herself screaming Regina’s name vaguely, but nothing really registered beyond the all-consuming pleasured fire coursing through her. Oh gods, how was this even possible?

She slumped hard against Regina what felt like an eternity later. She had not one single bone left in her body, she was damn well sure of it. Oh holy seven hells.

Regina kissed her hair gently and lowered them to the cot, drawing the covers over them just as Emma had done earlier. Emma herself as content to just lie on her wife and let the world pass her by while she absorbed everything about the moment, the feel of Regina’s skin under her, the sound of her heart beating strongly and breath whoosing in and out of her, the residual magic that crackled around them. She wondered idly if there was another cloud of magic around them, like there had been during their first time. Surely that had been intense enough to do something. But Emma couldn’t muster the energy to open her eyes and look.

What little strength she did have she used to situate herself in a more comfortable position and to wrap her arms firmly around Regina. Oh, she was going to be hard pressed to let her wife go after that. They were alive, so very alive right now, beyond a doubt. Everything that had plagued her mind before had been wiped so very clean. She felt more a part of Regina now than she ever had before. She wouldn’t, no, couldn’t let that go.

“I love you,” she mumbled into the skin of Regina’s collar bone. “I love you so much I think it should be spilling out of my ears by now.”

Regina chuckled under her, sleep and sex dragging the tone down. “I love you too, darling, more than anything else that ever has been or will be.”

Emma laughed. “You always were better with words.”

Regina kissed Emma’s hair. “Yes, well, after being fucked so thoroughly I’m not sure anyone is quite so good with words.”

“Yeah, maybe.” She snuggled more against Regina. Oh gods, she really was tired now. “Night, Regina.”

“Goodnight, my love.”

And for once in a good long while she didn’t dream of war and destruction, only love.

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning Emma put everything in motion to speed up their departure. Almost everything was in order, but making arrangements for the injured and the dead were holding them there. Her men had not taken any of Cora’s aid while she and Regina had been recovering, for which she was immensely glad. The only way she would take that snake of a woman’s help was if they desperately needed it and would die without it. Owing her for Spring Haven was one thing, she wasn’t about add anything to that ledger without need.

Her men would have everything under control within a day, her captain assured her. All spare hands were crafting stretchers from the trees surrounding the camps to supplement what they already had. Only a few more were needed before they could move out.

And so Emma passed a day with Regina glued to her side, going through what paperwork they could to set the kingdom back in order when they returned to the palace. She thought over the council, sighing as she read a report a messenger had brought about the effect everything had had on the other parts of the kingdom. A great many people had fled, most of the council really, along with a large amount of the nobility and some of the more well off peasants. The kingdom needed everyone in it to make it work as it should, but she couldn’t justify bringing everyone back just yet.

She looked up at the black pieces still left on the planning board from the battle. No, she couldn’t do it when the Dark army could level her entire kingdom with just a blink of a few of their mages. It was winter, it was less important that everyone be back in their places. There were no crops to be planted or tended and trade was a slow crawl thanks to the season. The money from Spring Haven would fill the gaps in revenue the kingdom suffered.

Her thoughts flew back to her mother. How in the world she had done this for over twenty years without ripping her hair out she wasn’t quite sure. She sighed heavily and ran an ink splotched hand through her hair. She missed her now that everything had calmed at least for the time being. She wished she could ask the woman advice, even if she didn’t agree with what was said, it could provide a starting point. What she really desperately wanted even more than that was just a simple hug, but everything along that line was a fool’s errand and she wasn’t sure why in the world she was even thinking of it. There were more important things.

Her captain cleared his throat behind her, startling her out of her thoughts. She turned around to face him. Things like making sure her soldiers got home all in one piece. Or at least in as few pieces as possible. Yes, there were more important things.

 

The ride back to the palace happened without a hitch once all the necessary supplies were readied. They made slower time than before, taking three full days to get home now that there were injured men to consider. Emma was never so glad to see the palace walls than she was on the third day. Travelling in the winter was miserable at best and she was rather tired of it. She knew her men were as well. They would all be thankful for a warm fire, a hot meal, and a comfortable bed.

She dismissed her troops as soon as they filed into the courtyard with orders to attend to the dead the next morning. It was cold enough that another few hours weren’t going to hurt them now. She knew some of the men lived at the far reaches of the kingdom and the dispatches sent out with their bodies deserved at least one night of good rest before embarking on another journey.

Cora, for her part had remained almost silent through the whole ride back. It unnerved Emma almost as much as seeing the forest of black tents surrounding her palace yet again. She had swept past them as Emma was giving her final orders to her troops, not saying a word to her or Regina. She couldn’t decide if it was a blessing or a curse. She hoped the woman would just leave after a few days’ rest, but she knew that wasn’t going to be the case.  

Regina and Emma climbed the stairs wearily to their own chamber. Emma almost wept at the sight of a lit fire in the fireplace in front of their couch. She threw off her cloak and boots, stripping down to just a long sleeved shirt and her leather breeches and collapsed onto the couch, drawling a fur blanket around her and sighing loudly. Oh gods, this was heaven, warm, warm heaven.

Regina chuckled at her antics, sitting down beside her, taking the blanket and rearranging it so it covered both of them and leaned into Emma’s arms. Emma corrected her earlier statement, no, this was warm heaven. She let her fingers play with the tip of Regina’s braid idly. They stayed silent for a long while, drowsing in each other’s arms.

“Thank the gods that that’s over,” Emma finally whispered into Regina’s hair.

“Only one part, darling.”

“Small victories count.”

Regina nodded into Emma’s neck. “They do.”

They stayed together until the fire burnt low in the grate. There would be much to do the next day, but it didn’t matter then. They would deal with everything then. Only then. There was no need to worry about it until then.

When Regina fell asleep against her, breathing deeply against Emma, she debated on just settling down to sleep on the couch as well, but decided against it. A real bed was too good to pass up. She nudged Regina awake once more and led them to bed, stripping off her shirt and pants, not bothering with a night shirt, she was too tired. Being in the palace now after so many days of being out in the cold left her feeling a little warmer than usual anyway. Regina, to her delight did the same thing and soon they were curled, skin pressing together so very intimately, drifting off to sleep once more.

 

Emma blinked and blinked again and a third time just to be sure. Because what was in front of her shouldn’t be happening. Couldn’t be happening. But Cora was sitting in her chair at the head of the council table like she fucking owned it and Emma’s blood was starting to boil in her veins as she realized that what she was seeing wasn’t a trick of her imagination. Oh, no way in seven hells.

“Cora,” Emma said with a smile and sickly sweet voice, gliding forward easily from where she had stood frozen in the doorway for a long moment.

The woman glanced up at her, eyebrow arched in a look that was pure Regina. Emma shivered at the comparison. “Yes?” she asked, voice bored.

“How is it that my council has earned the privilege of your presence?” She wanted to snort at the word privilege, but managed to hold it in. Now that Regina wasn’t on the verge of dying she could play politics again.

The council for their part was staring at Cora like she was about to take their heads off. They were sitting a few seats down from where they had been in the weeks before, not far enough to seem cowardly, just cautious. Emma didn’t blame them at all. She didn’t want to be anywhere the witch either.

“I found myself rather bored and I knew that you had this meeting ever day so I decided I might as well do something useful with my time.” She shrugged like the answer was of no consequence.

Emma bit the inside of her lip. “And as much as that sounds like a privilege, surely you understand that the inner workings of a kingdom are rather private. Besides, Regina and I have everything under control.”

Cora laughed. “Of course you do. Just like you had Spring Haven all under control without me.”

She suddenly wished the Regina had taught her offensive magic instead of healing magic. She desperately wanted to just throw the woman out of the room herself.

“Not every kingdom has a battalion of mages at their disposals to lay waste to any enemy that dares face them. We were doing what we could with what we had before you came.”

At this Cora sat forward. “And think what you could have if our kingdoms allied. Then you would have a battalion of mages at your disposal, as you put it.”

Emma’s eyes narrowed at the other woman. Where in the seven hells was Regina to help her navigate through this? She had the horrible feeling that one misstep here and it would be the end of everyone in her kingdom.

“My kingdom would gain much from that arrangement,” which was true in its own way. They would gain an army that could actually defend them from any threats and they would gain another trade partner. With the Dark Kingdom being farther north that could be rather lucrative for them, supplying the Dark people with food stuffs that only grew in warmer climates. But… “What exactly does your kingdom gain? I’m not disillusioned. I know on paper this kingdom is worth little more than the land it’s on. We have no resources that can’t be found elsewhere. We have very little wealth and no access to the sea. Why exactly would you want to form any sort of alliance with us?”

“I would get to see my daughter and help her succeed.” She looked Emma over carefully. “And perhaps help you as well. You proved yourself to be much more competent than I thought with the truce between your lands and Spring Haven. You truly thought of everything with little more than a blink. If I allied with you, you could take this kingdom from something that’s worth nothing to something that others will drop to their knees for. I could teach you what I know. Gods know that your mother did nothing for you, taught you nothing useful. She didn’t understand that you have greater visions for this land than a little farmer’s haven. She didn’t understand that teaching isn’t a process of memorization and regurgitation, but a way to take a seed of an idea that has come before and build upon it. I understand these things.”

Half of Emma was screaming for her to run, to get out of the room now, that this was part of Cora’s plan to end them all, that she should be so very angry that this bitch of a woman was insulting her mother. The other half couldn’t help but be intrigued, to think that Cora was right. What side was going to keep them alive longer? Would any side keep them alive longer? She froze for a long moment, desperately thinking everything over.

“You could be a great Queen, Emma, someone just has to teach you,” Cora said, voice softer than Emma had ever heard it.

Emma looked up and met the other woman’s eyes. Amazing for all they should look like Regina’s eyes, they were the same exact color, they didn’t at all. Cora’s eyes were harder, darker in a way that had nothing to do with color. Would it be so bad if she went along with Cora’s plan if she kept in mind that everything she was doing was to humiliate them and kill them later? If she rejected her help now that would almost definitely lead to her commanding the army stationed just outside the walls to attack. Or would it? Surely Cora had a backup plan that wasn’t destroying them so quickly. Regina said she was all about drawling out her wins for her maximum satisfaction.

But what would her next plan be? Would it be worse than the one she was so clearly facing? She fought the urge to run her hands through her hair. That was a sign of weakness and she damn well knew it. She just stared into Cora’s eyes hard, looking for any sign. There were none of course. Her face was even blanker than Regina’s, an accomplishment in and of itself.

And as dangerous as all this was, Emma wanted exactly what Cora was offering, even if she really didn’t want it from the other woman. She wanted someone to teach her. She had managed to lead her kingdom for almost two months, but that entire time she felt like she was just barely keeping everything above water. There was no way she could keep on like that. One wrong move and everyone would be drowning. She needed help from someone that knew everything there was to know, someone that would let her learn and apply the lessons as she wished. Cora wouldn’t be that person, she knew, not with the way Regina acted, but she had said all the right words and Emma so wanted it…

“Ok,” Emma whispered. She cleared her throat quickly and said in a firmer voice. “I accept your offer.”

The smile that Cora offered her was radiant, almost a carbon copy of Regina’s. Emma resisted gasping at the sight.

“I’m glad you can see sense.” She gestured at the chair at her right hand. “Shall we get started then?”

Emma nodded and sat down, looking at her council expectantly. She would tell Regina about all of this as soon as she could. That would be fine, it had to be. She had made the best choice she could in the situation. Regina would understand that.

She hoped.

Her council stared at her like she had grown two heads while she had been away. Finally Lord William cleared his throat and started in on an expense report that needed her attention and soon the others followed suit, speaking about whatever needed to be to keep the kingdom running.

She felt Cora’s eyes on her the entire time and tried not to shift uncomfortably. She was infinitely thankful that the meeting was short. The men bowed to her and Cora and filed out quickly after all business was done and Emma sat back and sighed.

Cora cleared her throat delicately, garnering Emma’s attention. “You’re far too gentle with them,” she said, voice sharp.

Emma’s eyebrows furrowed. “I mean I don’t think so. Those men are the ones that stayed even when I’d given leave for them to flee in the wake of your army and Spring Haven. They’re the most loyal people to the crown there are. The council as a whole? I would agree with you. I would never act like that with all of them assembled. They question my power too much as is without the nicer treatment.”

Cora waved her hand, brushing away the words easily. “Dear, it matters not if they are the most loyal or the scum on your boots, you can’t afford to be so lenient with any of them. As it is your kingdom is so very unstable, it only takes one of them to think that you’re far too kind for there to be an attempt on your crown. And of course you don’t want that, do you?”

Emma frowned but shook her head. “Well, no of course not, but these aren’t the men who would be planning a coup. I don’t see what treating these men any worse than I already am will gain me. Contempt would lead to a coup faster than any supposed weakness. Enough men on the full council resent me that my true allies all just sat in the room with us. Wouldn’t being cooler in temperament towards them just lose me what allies I do have?”

The older Queen snorted. “You don’t need any allies at all, not truly. People are just something you use for what you need and when they have served their purpose you send them on their way again.”

Cora waved her hand and Emma was silenced once again. Her eyes widened and then narrowed to slits. She really, really did not like this particular trick of Cora’s.

“For me to teach, dear, you have to let me talk. Let me speak and then think on what I’ve told you for a time. Try a few ideas if you must to confirm the results. Truly learn what I mean before you start to question it, you understand? If after a few days you have questions then I will answer them.” Cora arched an eyebrow and continued on.

“Now these people on the council aren’t your friends. Why councils even originated was so that the monarchs of a kingdom could keep track of those families that were in a position that they could possibly use to overthrow them. A literal manifestation of keep your friends close but your enemies closer, if you will. Of course some men were promoted to the council through their friendship and service to the crown, that’s how any reward a monarch can hand out works, really. The thing you haven’t quite learned about politics, dear Emma, is that wolves in sheep’s clothing are everywhere you look. Just because these men sit in support of you now doesn’t mean at least one of them isn’t planning on overthrowing you when they have gotten close enough to do so. In politics the long game is much more important than the short game, and everyone is always trying to take the Queen. Treating these men with a little more…distance, coolness, what have you, won’t allow them to get close enough to do so.”

Cora stood up from her chair. “Think of that, dear, I’ll be in my chambers until dinner if you need me.” And with that Cora waved her hand once more and swept from the room.

Emma slumped back in her chair in the empty room and sighed loudly now that she could make noise once more. What in the gods’ names just happened? Emma wasn’t exactly sure, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be. Cora’s words shouldn’t have made sense at all. She was a crazy tyrant. But yet they had and Emma was scared about what that meant about her thinking.

She got up and finally walked from the room. She needed to see Regina. Now. Regina was the only one that would be able to talk real sense back into her. Cora was a snake. She was manipulating her. Emma knew that. She knew that. She really did.

She ran her hands through her curls as she wound her way through the palace halls, grabbing a heavy cloak on her way. Regina was out in the courtyard delegating who would go out to the villages with the bodies of their fallen comrades. Emma didn’t envy her in the slightest, didn’t really want to see the damage that the war had wrought on her kingdom first hand, but she needed Regina more. Her head needed to be in the right place for them to outwit Cora and protect her kingdom and she wasn’t anywhere near the right place right now.

 

The fresh air brought a breath of life into her. She closed her eyes for a second, inhaling the cool air. As much as she hated staying in the cold for a week or more the outdoors still calmed her even now. She looked around and found Regina not far off, standing in the middle of the training yards, walking among the dead carefully. Emma picked her way over to her wife, swallowing hard against the images of Regina lying there with the rest of the dead instead of alive and healthy.

Regina looked up at her, the sound of her boots crunching across the packed down snow alerting her to Emma’s presence. “Emma, what are you doing out here?”

“I need to talk to you and I couldn’t wait. I needed out of the palace. Regina…” she trailed off not even sure where to begin now. Was there even a right way to tell your wife that you had agreed to let her abusive tyrant of a mother teach you about politics? No, there probably wasn’t.

She dove in head first and hoped for the best. “Your mother was sitting in the council chambers when I walked in like she owned the place.”

She heard Regina’s intake of breath clearly even in the noisy courtyard. “What did she want?” Regina asked in a strained voice.

“That’s the thing…it was weird. She didn’t demand anything ridiculous, like repayment for her services or for us to submit to her rule. She wanted an alliance with our kingdom, but I really think that might have just been her opening salvo.” Emma ran her hand through her hair again. It was going to be a tangled mess by the end of the day. “She said she wanted to teach me about politics, to teach me how to be Queen.”

Emma took in a shaky breath and looked Regina in the face again. The other woman’s face was unreadable, but the fingers gripping the clipboard in her hands were starting to rip the paper underneath her gloves.

“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if saying yes or no would be better. You weren’t there and I tried to think it through but there really didn’t seem to be a good option because her teaching me is about as good an idea as armor with breast cups and holes but so did saying no to her because her army is literally right outside our gates and I just—” Emma gasped in a breath. “I said yes because that seemed like the best option that would keep us alive for the longest so we could formulate some sort of plan. But I’m not in any sort of mindset to do that right now because she got into my head, Regina. She said all the right words and I didn’t want to say no to her, even though I knew that should be a perfectly valid option considering who and what she is. And now I really think it’s a bad idea that I agreed because gods know if she could do that in one meeting who even knows what she could do in time, but I don’t see a way out of it.” Emma swallowed, tears pricking at her eyes. “I think I just royally fucked up, but it was such a catch-22 I don’t see how I couldn’t have.”

The sigh that Regina let out was long and loud. She had gone pale again, like she always did when her mother was brought up in conversation. “It’s—It’s ok Emma.” She reached out to Emma with shaky voice and hands. “You were right, this is the option that will give us more time to think of a plan to thwart her. You picked the best option you had. It may be a fucked up situation as you put it, but that is nowhere near your fault.” The grip Regina had on Emma’s hand now was starting to really hurt, but Emma didn’t protest.

“Now…” Regina trailed off. “Now you’ll just have to be strong. She’s a master manipulator. It’s easy for her to get into people’s heads. It always has been. I’ve seen her bring hardened war veterans to tears. You just have to keep in mind that she’s using you the entire time. You can’t ever lose sight of that or we’re lost. Do you understand me?” Regina shook her just a little, a slightly unhinged look in her eyes.

Emma nodded. “Ok,” she said in a meek voice.

Regina stepped back. “Ok, alright, good. Because if you fall under her influence…” She swallowed visibly. “Then she’ll have us both in short order and we won’t see the final blow coming, let alone be able to plan for it.” She paused again, struggling with her words. “I never have been able to rid myself of her influence completely.”

“So this plan of hers to crush us completely and humiliate us and then kill us, it starts with this, getting us both under her thumb,” Emma said, wishing with all her heart that somehow this would be a nightmare she’d wake up from any time now.

“That’s part of it, yes. I don’t know what else she’ll do, whether she might be happy with having us completely under her control, or whether she’ll kill us. Or perhaps she might keep us alive for a while and then kill us. But who knows how she’ll kill us. I just don’t know. Emma,” she reached out towards Emma again. “I don’t care what she does to me, but you can’t let her get to you. You’re too good. I love you too much to see you end up under her control. I just can’t.”

“How do you think I feel every single time you cower in fear of the woman,” Emma answered, voice quiet. If I make the promise to you that I won’t let her get to me, you have to make the same promise. The only way we’ll get through this is if both of us are all here. I went into a panic without you there to help me make a decision when she was there. I came directly here afterwards to straighten my head out. Without you I can’t.”

“Gods,” Regina said, closing her eyes. “Ok, for the both of us then. We have to meet with the council to inform them of everything without my mother knowing. How we’ll do that I have no idea. Now that she’s in our palace nowhere is safe, nowhere at all. Though if you met with them with my mother presence I’m quite sure they’re smart enough to figure out at least some of it on their own. Page boys will be our best bet for communication, but the messages will have to be mixed without other documents of course. And even then there’s no guarantee.”

Emma swallowed. “Well, there’s a guarantee we’ll be dead if we don’t try, so.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

“What about that page boy who served you during the tournament? He loves you. He’ll carry any messages we want without question,” Emma said quietly.

A pained look crossed Regina’s face. “I don’t want to put him in harm’s way. He’s just a boy.”

Emma cocked an eyebrow. “So are all the page boys Regina. That’s kind of in their job description.”

“I don’t want to use him then. He’s a good boy. He doesn’t deserve to be used as a pawn.”

“Regina, you just basically said we can trust no one. That boy worships you. He wouldn’t cave to Cora if she offered him a treasury full of candy and all the toys he could want and a guaranteed knighthood. I know you’ve almost become a mother figure to the boy and you don’t want to use him because of that, but what choice do we have? We don’t know where any other page boy’s loyalty actually lies.”

Regina let out another long breath, closing her eyes and turning from Emma. “Gods. Just, gods. If I hadn’t lost my faith a very long time ago I might be inclined to pray.” Her voice was barely a whisper in the wind. “Go, find him and send him to me. I’ll send out the first round of messages with the reports on how the dead are being delivered home and the supplies needed to do so.”

Emma stepped forward and squeezed Regina’s shoulder. “I’m sorry Regina. I don’t want to get a kid involved either, but there are a hell of a lot more kids in this kingdom that are counting on us to keep it together and come up with some sort of plan. It’s war even if there isn’t a clear battlefield.”

Regina hummed quietly. “You do not know war, Emma. This has been child’s play so far and I’m quite afraid if we have to start compromising and sacrificing lives now just to keep ourselves in the game then who knows what in the world will happen later. When will it stop, when will we say enough and admit defeat? Do you know Emma?”

“I can’t know something like that, Regina, it all depends on the situation and the variables we have to play with. We won’t know something like that until we’re living it.”

“No, I don’t suppose you can. But at some point our trying to save the kingdom might end up destroying it.”

And with that Regina started to walk away, leaving Emma standing alone in the middle of a field of dead bodies, completely floored.

Chapter Text

The first round of messages were delivered by dawn the next day. Emma was relieved. Cora expected her to try out her advice today, she knew, but she didn’t want to drive away her most loyal men by doing so. She hoped that the letters would give them time to prepare, to not take anything she said or did to heart. Gods this was all so fucked up.

She walked into the council chambers and found Cora sitting in the exact position she had been the day before. The Dark Queen smiled at her. Emma repressed the urge to shiver. Twenty-four hours without the woman’s presence had done much to clear her head. She could see that everything Cora had said the day before was wrong, so very wrong. They were the words of a tyrannical ruler, the exact opposite of what Emma herself wanted to be. She knew how to be commanding when she needed to be and she knew when to be kind. Both had their place in a monarch despite what Cora said.

She sank down to the right of the older woman and offered her what she hoped was a convincing smile in return. She as beginning to understand just why Regina was so good at keeping her face blank as a mask. She would have had to with this woman in front of her just to survive. Emma hoped against hope that she had learned enough from her wife to get by.

She wondered just what it was about the Dark Kingdom that turned out rulers exactly like Cora. In the hundreds of years that the kingdom had been around, Emma remembered no king or queen within the history that she had been forced to learn as a child who had been kind, or even anything less than ironfisted. At best they were cruel at worst insane and more than a little sadistic. If Regina had stayed there those years ago she wondered if her wife would have turned out the same way. She couldn’t imagine that Regina would, but there was no way to be sure.

“Have you thought about my advice?” Cora asked, voice smooth as silk.

Emma nodded slowly. “I have, and I’m really still just not sure about it. It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught or experienced. It’s quite hard for me to accept.”

Cora’s lips pursed. “Perhaps you should try it as I instructed before you make your final judgments. Today’s meeting should be a perfect place to try. If you find it still ineffective for you, we can move on to the next lesson. As I said a teacher is someone who will let you learn the lessons as they are taught and apply the principles in new ways. As long as you have the knowledge then you can use it at your will.”

Emma nodded along as if everything she was saying made perfect sense. Her mouth felt extremely dry, her heart was trying to beat out of her chest. She was so worried that she was going to make the wrong move, that she was going to fall into the woman’s trap hook, line, and sinker.

But when the men of her council walked through the door she glared at them like they had all done something to personally offend her. She looked them all over as they sat down as if they were so far below her she was lowering herself just by acknowledging they were there. Beside her she felt Cora smile. She wanted to throw up.

“I don’t have all day,” her voice was quiet and icy, something out of her own nightmares. “Get on with it.”

Lord Rochester cleared his throat and spoke up quickly, outlining the previous day’s work restoring the men to the barracks and the supplies not used to their rightful places.

Emma cocked an eyebrow. “And that was important for me to know, why?”

The man blanched just slightly. “Well, your majesty, you said you wanted to know everything about what was going on within the kingdom during this time.”

She snorted. “Everything important, I thought you were smart enough to suss that out for yourself. A Queen has no time for the little details. There are much more important things to concern my time with at the moment. This kingdom is on the verge of bankruptcy and gods know how long it will be before another kingdom thinks that we look like good pickings and comes after us. Unless there is a problem with how the men are settling in I don’t need to hear about it for ten minutes, my lord.” She sneered his title like it was some sort of insult. “A sentence, perhaps two will more than suffice.”

“But, my Queen you were perfectly happy with how I was giving the reports before.” He swallowed.

The look she gave him was enough to make the temperature in the room drop just a few degrees. “That was before I saw a great many of our men injured and slaughtered in a war that we most assuredly wouldn’t have won but for outside help. My time is better spent preventing another conflict from happening than hearing about how the men were tucked in to sleep with their gods damned teddy bears with a glass of warm milk!”

Lord Rochester finally sat down. “Yes, my Queen,” he said quietly. “I won’t make the same mistake again.”

Emma swallowed hard against the urge to vomit. The words that had just come out of her mouth left the bitterest of tastes. How in the seven hells could anyone be like that on a regular basis?

And yet she felt her heart beating faster in her chest and a sense of power and accomplishment she hadn’t felt before. It was different than the feeling she got putting an errant council member in his place. It was more powerful. She had just made a very powerful man bend to her will with nothing more than a few hard looks and scathing words. She felt more in control than she ever had in front of her council.

She wanted to throw up more at the thought. No, Cora was not right, this was not how to treat the men in front of her. She was only doing this to play a part, only doing this so they could live another day. She wasn’t like this. As soon as Cora was gone she would go back to the same old Emma who only cut people down when provoked.

She kept repeating that to herself, but as she looked up at the other members of the council with a cold, expectant look on her face and saw them flinch back just the slightest bit, she wasn’t sure she believed herself. Regina’s words rang in her ears, at what point did trying to save the kingdom destroy it. At what point did trying to save herself destroy herself. She didn’t know. She wasn’t sure she ever would.

Beside her Cora was preening, proud of her student. Emma felt the smugness coming off her in waves, like she already believed that Emma would see her point of view now and follow her instruction to the T without having asked Emma herself. She wasn’t sure she ever hated anyone more than she did in that moment.

“Anyone else have anything else actually important to tell me?” Emma asked, teeth bared just slightly.

The men before her looked at each other, looks silently daring the others to stand and speak. None of them moved.

“By all means move at a glacial pace, we clearly have all the time in the world before the next invasion.” Considering the next invasion was sitting right outside the palace walls, the invasion part already complete, perhaps they did in a twisted way. Emma’s stomach lurched again. There was no way she could eat before tomorrow’s council meeting and keep anything down. She was only managing right then because of sheer force of will. It would be so much easier with an empty stomach.

Lord William slipped on his spectacles and spoke up, highlighting the most important aspects of the kingdom’s financial situation, going over what the money from Spring Haven would be used for when it came.

Emma nodded after his report, approving of all of it. She looked around. “Now see, is that so hard?”

A couple men shook their heads, but most stayed silent and still. They all looked down at their papers.

Lord William spoke up again. “With your majesty’s new stipulations, I believe that’s all that we have to report.”

“Good. I expect you to keep doing whatever needs be done to keep the kingdom running. Take care of the details of course, but do not bother me with them until they become significant enough for my attention. I hope you’ve learned that from today’s meeting at least. You’re dismissed.” She turned from them and back to Cora.

The older Queen nodded at her, dark eyes watching the council file slowly from the room. When the door shut behind them she smiled. “Now what do you think? Didn’t that go so much better for you?”

Emma opened her mouth. She had to do it. She had to agree and bite the bullet and just get it over with no matter how hard it was to say. Even if she threw up as soon as—

“Yes,” she said, word slipping out of her mouth without her conscious effort. She didn’t want to think about what it meant that it had been so easy. Oh gods, she needed Regina right then.

Cora reached out and gripped Emma’s hand, squeezing once hard enough that Emma had to resist a squeak of pain. “I told you so, dear. I haven’t ruled a kingdom for all these years without knowing what I’m talking about. You applied the concept differently than I would have, but that’s what learning is all about I suppose.”

Emma nodded. “Yes, it is.” She withdrew her hand under the guise of straightening the papers in front of her, slipping them into the file she kept just for the myriad of council notes she had. “If that was the first lesson what is the next?”

Gods, she didn’t want to learn anymore. Anything at all but that.

Cora hummed. “I’m not quite sure yet. Why don’t we see what comes up?”

“Alright.”

“Good,” Cora stood up. “Now, I have a council meeting of my own to run, the imbeciles won’t get anything done right without me.” And swept from the room.

Emma let out a sob of relief when the door slammed behind her and sank down onto the table in front of her. Oh gods what in the world had she gotten herself into.

 

She found Regina handing over the next few missives for the council members to the little page boy. He scampered off right as she reached Regina’s side. She stared after him for a long second.

“He’s a good little boy, Henry.” She sighed heavily. “He reminds me of my father in more than one way, not including the shared name.” She turned to Emma. “I don’t think I’ll forgive myself if he’s hurt.”

Emma swallowed and nodded. “I know.” She ran a hand through her hair. “We need to end this quickly. Regina, I don’t know how long I can take this. She’s getting to me much too easily. I don’t want to treat the people under us as literal pieces of shit, but…she just makes it such an appealing option. Today during the council meeting I felt so powerful.” She put a hand over her mouth. “I don’t understand how you did it for so many years, living with her and still ending up a decent person.”

“My father had a fair amount to do with it. He was useless against my mother, but he loved me more than words can convey.”

“You don’t speak of him often. All I know is that he was the one to get you sword lessons and that he loved you. Other than that you never say much.”

“Because everything else doesn’t bear remembering.”

Regina walked off towards their chambers, pace clipped. Emma struggled to catch up with her. The woman could move when she wanted to.

The doors to their rooms closed behind them a minute later. Emma reached out to Regina now that they were behind closed doors, but Regina avoided her, stepping away towards the fire. She settled down not on their couch, but in one of the other chairs. Emma scowled. What was going on?

“Regina?” She asked, walking over and kneeling by the other woman. “What’s wrong?”

“Why ever would you think anything was wrong, dear?” Regina stared at the fire, not even sparing the barest glance for Emma.

“For one you aren’t looking at me or sitting on the couch. For another thing you start speaking like your mother when you’re angry. I only started noticing it since she arrived, but it’s kind of uncanny how much you can sound alike.”

Regina’s eyes narrowed, but she still didn’t look at Emma. “And do you suppose that comparing me in any way to my mother would be a good way to quell my anger if I was in fact angry?”

Emma felt the blush crawl up her cheeks. It seemed she still had the talent of sticking her foot in her mouth. “Well, no, but I guess I just wanted to share that little observation.”

Regina hummed but said nothing more. Emma stayed by the other woman’s feet for a few long minutes, trying to wait her out. Her knight, though, had an infinite supply of patience and the upper hand in their current conflict. She could wait as long as she wanted while Emma squirmed.

“Regina, really, what’s wrong? I can’t fix it if I don’t know what’s wrong. Considering you won’t look at me it’s definitely something I did, but I don’t understand. Please, Regina, I can’t have you be mad at me right now. I don’t think I could stay sane if you won’t talk to me.”

“Because it’s all about you right now, isn’t it?” This time Regina did look down at her, eyebrow cocked and face a blank mask, but her eyes sparked with anger.

Emma’s brow scrunched. “Well, no, of course it isn’t. Why would it be? Everything that’s going on right now is about the continued survival of the kingdom.”

“Then why is every word out of your mouth recently about you. You may relate it back to the kingdom, but it’s about you at heart. Have you thought about anyone else? About the little boy who you’re putting in harm’s way? It’s different putting soldiers on the battlefield, they volunteered for it, they know what they’re getting into, but a child Emma? A child. He thinks he’s running messages about the cleanup of the palace grounds. He knows nothing of the danger, not any more than anyone else. They all know my mother’s dangerous, but he has no idea he’s on the front line.”

“Regina, we’ve been over this. He’s our best way right now to communicate with the council. Gods know it’s not like we can talk to them during the council meetings, not when your mother is forcing me to treat them like the mud on my boots.”

“Is she really forcing you?” Regina’s eyes burned into Emma’s, the weight of the question settling between them like a suffocating weight.

“Regina!” She exclaimed, offense and anger rising within her. “You know your mother, she can make you do whatever she wants. And gods know right now I have to play right into her hands to make her think she’s gotten what she wants. We agreed that I had to in order to keep us alive longer, remember?”

“Then, why, Emma, did you say it felt good to do so, to treat our allies like less than mud?”

“Because it did!” Emma shot up and started to pace the room. “It did, ok? And it made me want to throw up everything I had in my stomach and then some because it did. Regina, I don’t want to be like your mother, but she’s inside my head and I don’t know how to get her out and that’s why I come to you because you’re my rock, but right now you’re not being a rock at all.”

“And you think rushing the plans ahead, when we have no plans at all, just so you can stop feeling uncomfortable is the best choice?” Regina stayed seated, calmly staring at the fire again.

“I don’t know what else to do! Do you want me to end up like her? Because that’s what is going to happen if we don’t do something quick. She’s too damn manipulative and too damn clever for that not to be the outcome. Not unless I have some damn help!” Her hands curled into fists. “I thought you understood that, Regina.”

“I don’t understand endangering people needlessly. I thought you understood that.”

The words stopped her cold. Emma’s hands unclenched and she stared at Regina for a long second. “Gods,” she whispered and sat down hard on the couch. “Just, gods.” Was that what she was really doing right then by asking for the plan being rushed ahead? It had to be, didn’t it?

“I don’t even know right now.” She ran her hand through her hair again. “I think the choices I’m making will save more than it hurts in the moment. Is it not true?” She looked at Regina with a beseeching look. She really didn’t know.

“Have you ever considered the eventuality where no one gets hurt? When was the last time you thought like that? When was the last time you thought in terms of people instead of victory? That’s exactly how she thinks Emma. You can’t think like that.” Regina’s eyes found hers for a short moment before looking away again. “I can’t be with you if you think like that.”

The words hit her like a gut punch. “Regina,” she said taking a step towards the other woman, but stopped sensing it would be the wrong thing to do in the moment. “This is why I need you at my side. I’ve lost sight of that, you’re right. I shouldn’t be thinking in terms of how few people have to be put in danger to win, but how can we win without putting anyone in danger, you’re right. I’m not sure the latter is possible against your mother, but you’re right I should be thinking like that at the start at least. It’s just—” she blew out a long breath. “I don’t want this to change me, but I don’t think I know how to prevent it. No matter what I’m trying to do what’s best for the kingdom always, you can see that right?”

Regina’s hard demeanor thawed just slightly. “I can, but Emma, the difference between a good ruler and one like my mother is how they go about doing what they see as the best for their kingdom. People who are viewed as tyrants often think they’re doing what is good, it’s all just about point of view. Rulers who are solely in it just for the power, who want nothing to do with what’s good, they’re fewer than you think. My mother happens to be one of them and it skews the perception having someone like her so close, but nevertheless it is true.”

Emma walked back over to the couch and sank down again, flopping across the length of it, legs splayed haphazardly over the side. “Do you have any idea how we’re going to do this without putting anyone in danger?”

She heard Regina let out a quiet breath. “No, no I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stop thinking of a way.”

“But if we just keep on with that, doesn’t that mean we don’t get anywhere?”

“I didn’t say it would be the only contingency I would be considering, nor should it be the only thing you’re considering, but it has to be where you’re rooted, what you’re always thinking of, even within other plans. There’s a difference between that and thinking how few people need to get hurt at the outset.”

“I feel like I knew that a very long time ago and it’s just disappeared from my mind. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this with sanity intact.”

Regina was quiet for a long time. The sounds of the crackling fire filled the room. Emma’s thoughts were free to roam in the quiet, even though she wished they wouldn’t. Cora had been in the kingdom for two weeks and yet it felt like months. She felt like she had changed more in the last two days than she ever had and it scared the ever living fuck out of her. How was is possible that someone caused that amount of change…unless the person was willing to let it happen.

She swallowed back another wave of nausea. No. It couldn’t be. She wasn’t like Cora, she just wasn’t. She didn’t want to be like that. She was a good person. She wanted to be a fair, honest Queen who helped the peasants just as much as the nobility. She did not want to be a tyrant who cared only for their own power.

Regina finally spoke up again drawling Emma from her thoughts. “The witch who taught me magic all those years ago kept telling me my entire stay that all magic comes with a price. I never did quite believe her. There was no price ever exacted on me for making a bunch of apples teleport across the room. It took me a great while to figure out that she meant much more powerful magic had a price, magic that may not be so…wholesome, but it’s not restricted to the darker arts, just more prevalent. This conflict we’re in, perhaps to win there will be a price. After all, the amount of effort that it will require is akin to those more powerful spells that do come with a price. Perhaps we’re aren’t meant to make it through this conflict with our sanity intact, maybe that is the price we have to pay.”

Regina stood from her chair and walked towards their room, saying nothing more. Emma stared after her for a long time, lead filling the bottom of her stomach and a cold feeling washing over her. Maybe Regina was already right.

 

Chapter Text

Despite everything the army was settling back into the palace quite well. The skeleton staff that remained were keeping up with the work admirably also. Emma would have to commend them when this was all over she thought. If it was ever all over. She lived on hope.

And as much as she hated to admit it, the men of the council were being so much more efficient as well. Everything was running like clockwork despite there being so few of them to take care of all of the work along with everything to do with the plan to oust Cora permanently. She didn’t want to think it, but maybe a little bit of fear did go a long way towards a better kingdom. But if she thought that then she was one step closer to being Cora, so she kept that thought process firmly locked away in the back of her mind.

She had sent word around the kingdom that court would be opening back up again now that crisis had been adverted, but only for the most dire of cases. Her exact words had been life or death. She didn’t expect many visitors, but there would be some with a very loose definition of life and death, she was sure. She could almost picture the exact nobles who were repeat offenders that she was sure would show up. If they were in the kingdom at least. She hadn’t had a report on the number of people who had started to trickle back into the kingdom yet. She wanted that soon. She’d have to demand it in the next meeting. Ask for, she thought, she meant ask for the report next meeting, not demand it.

Cora wasn’t in the room with her, but somehow she knew she was somewhere watching somehow. She wasn’t sure if it was through magic or a servant, but she felt the weight of her eyes on her no matter what. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do if someone actually came in with a problem. She couldn’t treat her subjects like she had been treating her council. She just couldn’t make herself do it. But she knew if she didn’t Cora would be waiting in the wings with another lecture about how she should be much less giving, that it would sink her kingdom faster than anything to be kind to the rabble. She didn’t want that lecture. She didn’t think she could come through it unscathed.

But how was she supposed to toe the line between what she knew was right and what would keep her sane after the conflict? Maybe she wasn’t supposed to, maybe she was supposed to sacrifice a little of herself to protect those she ruled over. But if she did that now and Cora really did get to her…then her peasants would be in even worse shape later than if she sent them off now with a cool reception and a gentle word of reprimand for disobeying her strict orders of life or death.

If they really needed help, though, that would be a tricky situation. She couldn’t send them off with a lecture about how life or death really meant life or death, she would have to help. It was her duty as Queen.

She sighed and closed her eyes. If there was someone who truly needed the help she would do it and stand the lecture form Cora and hopefully get through it. If it was someone who really didn’t need the help right then, then she would send them off with a word to come back later when the kingdom wasn’t still on red alert. It was decided then.

She waved at the guards at the ends of the room to show everyone in and took a slow, deep breath and closed her aching eyes for just a moment. She never remembered feeling so tired and drained, not just physically but emotionally, but she knew she couldn’t let it show. When her eyes opened again her mask was in place, face set in indifferent lines, just the barest hint of a smile on her face. Just this and a council meeting today to get through, plus meals with Cora, and planning to over throw the bitch for good, and... What had started out as an encouraging thought quickly turned to a daunting list and she decided to stop thinking just for a moment.

The few people that were waiting were shown in and Emma was almost relieved to see faces that were familiar to her. The chronic offenders were here and no one else, thank the gods. A breath she didn’t know she’d been holding wooshed from her body. This would be easy then for once. Cora might say she was too kind, but she wouldn’t be able to go into full lecture mode.

From the time that the minor baron in front of her opened his mouth Emma’s face morphed into a scowl. She glared at the man, willing him to notice her irritated demeanor and to shut his idiotic mouth, but he continued on oblivious. After a few minutes Emma waved a hand noticeably and he frowned deeply at being interrupted, but nevertheless shut up.

“So what I understand is that you came to court today, a court I said that was only for life or death cases until the kingdom was more stable, to plead your case that the taxes need to be higher because too many people have fled from under your rule to keep you in the lifestyle you’re accustomed to.” Emma’s voice was barely more than a whisper. Everyone in the room sat forward just a little bit to catch her words.

“Well, yes, of course, because if I can’t feed myself then I will die.”

Emma’s nostrils flared. “My lord, exactly how much money do you have in you coffiers right now?”

“A little over ten thousand gold pieces.”

“And that’s not enough to feed you for now and years to come?” Emma sat forward and cocked an eyebrow, waiting for his answer.

The man sputtered. “It takes a good amount of money to keep everyone in the household fed, what with all the servants.”

“And did it ever occur to you that you could cut a few expenses by limiting the amount of foreign delicacies you consume? Just an idea as we are in the middle of a very instable period and prices on those goods will only go up. Most people in this kingdom would kill for ten thousand gold pieces to live off of, a good deal of those people could make it last their entire lives. But somehow you cannot and you see fit to come to court when the orders are only for life of death cases. This is no more life or death than any of the last ten times you have come to court and told me the exact same thing under different guises. The taxes will not be raised. You will get no more money than you already are. If you cannot live on what would be considered a king’s ransom to most I have no sympathy for you. Go, and if I see you in court again with this complaint I will not hesitate to throw you in the dungeon of a week or two to show you what life or death really looks like.”

The man had paled considerably as Emma spoke. He swallowed hard, nodded once, bowed quickly and not near low enough to convey the respect he should have, and fled the room without another word.

Emma sat back and looked at the other people in the room. “Now, the rest of you, consider carefully if it is truly life or death and if it is, then present your case, if not, get out and come back when the restriction is lifted and I will gladly help if I can.”

The few people left before her looked at each other slowly and filed from the room in silence.

Emma let out a large sigh. Thank the gods. That could have gone much, much worse. And it had been great to have an excuse to tell off that idiot baron. He really did have it coming, even if she had been perhaps a little more harsh than she should’ve been. Cora would only approve. Crisis averted.

Just as she was about to rise from her throne footsteps came pounding down the hall towards the throne room. Emma held her breath and waited, praying to whatever gods that would listen that it was just a rambunctious page boy running with a message of little import.

Her prayers were not answered. A girl, not far into her teenage years dropped into a clumsy curtsey before her, legs giving out halfway through, sending her crashing to the ground. She drew in big gasping breaths of air for a few seconds before she swallowed and looked pleadingly up at Emma.

“Your majesty,” she panted out, “you have to help us.”

“What’s wrong, child?” she asked. She couldn’t bring herself to be harsh with the girl. Her voice was the softest anyone had heard it in days.

“My village, it’s at the base of the mountain in the north of the kingdom, Meadowpines if your majesty knows of such a humble place. There’s been an avalanche, more than half the town is buried. Everyone else if working to unbury as many survivors as they can, but we don’t have enough people.”

“When did this avalanche happen?”

“Early this morning. I rode here as fast as I could. I was the only one that could be spared for the purpose. I’m not strong enough to try to help otherwise and I’m the best rider of the younger ones.”

Emma nodded. “And so you did well coming here so quickly.” She looked over at a page boy. “Get me the captain of the guard immediately. Tell him it is a matter of life or death.” And it really was. The slower their response was, the more people would die at the base of that mountain. She swallowed hard. The crisis wasn’t averted it seemed, but damn those consequences if lives were saved.

The boy ran from the room and Emma watched him go. She felt the weight of Cora’s eyes on her even more now and she tried not to shiver. Instead she looked back to the girl.

“I know of Meadowpines, your village is not large, but of a good enough size. How many do you think are buried?”

“One, maybe two hundred, no one was really sure with everything going on.”

“Understandable.” She resisted the urge to fidget. “I will send a company of soldiers with you. You will have to lead them back. A fresh horse will be provided for you. I’m sure the steed you rode here on wouldn’t be able to make the trip back at any speed at the moment.”

The girl nodded. “Of course, your majesty. I will do my best.”

Emma didn’t miss that the girl’s hands were shaking, but made no mention of it. She was sure that at her age she would have been terrified as well at handling something so momentous. She appreciated the brave face the girl was putting on, though, she would be a force to be reckoned with when she was older, Emma thought.

Her captain of the guard came in the doors a minute later, bowing low. “What does my Queen need?”

Emma gestured to the girl he was standing beside. “Quickly gather a company of men to send with this girl. Her village has been hit by an avalanche and they need help digging out survivors. The girl will lead them where they need to go. Provide her with a fresh horse from the stables and accomplish this as quickly as possible. Lives are at stake here captain.”

“Of course, your majesty,” he bowed again and looked down at the girl before him. “Follow me little lady and we will get everything ready.”

The girl looked up at Emma one last time. “Thank you, my Queen.” She curtsied again this time, no less clumsy, but she did not collapse.

Emma nodded once and watched as the pair before her turned and hurried from the room. Her stomach filled with lead at the same time it felt light as air. She had helped. Her actions would save lives. Her actions might damn more. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, but it had been the right thing to do.

She stood form her throne. There would be no more audiences today, she didn’t think. Still, she left instructions with the guards in the room to send anyone to her who had a legitimate problem, since court usually lasted much longer, people would expect the longer window and she knew a contingency wouldn’t hurt. But anyone with a real problem would have been there when the gates opened barring any incidents.

She strode from the room, heading to the yards immediately. Cora would find her later. She still had the council meeting to attend, but she wasn’t about to let the woman find her before that. The Dark Queen would never set foot anywhere near the yards unless she needed to get to the stables so she could leave the palace. She wouldn’t come looking for her there. At least Emma hoped. If her mind was anything like Regina’s, so completely determined, she might be wrong, but if she was at least she would be near her wife.

Regina was leading a class when she walked out into the cold air. The recruits she had taken under her wing a two months before were starting to look and perform like real soldiers. Gone was the bumbling and the lack of confidence when they held their swords. Their stances were firmly planted on the ground, swords moving like a continuation of their arms. They would be ready to fully join the guard within the next month, she guessed. She would have to ask Regina later.

Her knight called for the men to break up into pairs and spar. She turned, heading for the barrel of water kept in the yard for the men to drink from when on short water breaks. Emma walked over and leaned against the stone wall behind the barrel. Regina looked up, mouth starting to pull into a smile before it stopped. Emma sighed, she supposed she deserved that in a way, but she wished she didn’t.

“Your men look good,” she said, smiling even though Regina wasn’t.

“They do. I want to keep them for a few more weeks, but then I believe the regular training regimen of the guard will suffice for them and I can take a new class.”

“You’re a really good teacher, you know that?”

Regina snorted and cracked the thin layer of ice that had formed on the water. “You’ve barely even seen me teach, how would you know?”

“I watched you a lot in the breaks between meetings before the war with Spring Haven. You were patient with them and took your time demonstrating things. I couldn’t hear anything of course, but seeing was enough. The fact that your men will be ready before anyone else’s speaks of that as well.”

Regina dipped her hands in the water and took a long drink. When she stood up again water was trailing down her neck and chin. She wiped as much of it away as she could, but still missed some. Emma stepped forward, reaching out to wipe away the rest but one look from Regina stopped her. She dropped her hand and stepped back.

“It will only be a week, two at most earlier than everyone else. It’s nothing impressive. It’s most of the new knights’ first time teaching. This is far past the first time for me.”

“I was just trying to compliment you, Regina.” She held up her hands, palms out, in the universal gesture of surrender.

“Surely you can find a way to compliment me without insulting my fellow knights.”

“I never said anything near an insult about the other guards. Their training regimen is great and all and they’ll turn out fine soldiers. It was just meant to a pure compliment to you.”

Regina rolled her eyes. “It was implied within your words. You more than anyone should know about implied insults, that’s all politics is.”

“Regina, gods, I don’t play politics with you or with the men. They don’t deserve that level of idiocy thrown at them. Quite frankly I could deal without it at all, but the nobles do so love it.”

Regina just hummed and looked out at the men, sparring eagerly now, dancing around the courtyard, dulled blades flashing. The woman yelled out a few helpful comments and paid no mind to Emma for a few minutes. When she looked over again her eyes were still hard, darker than normal, and not in a good way. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to come out here after all. Maybe she should’ve just taken the inquisition from Cora. She wasn’t fairing much better out here after all.

“Why are you here? I didn’t expect you until after the council meeting with your daily whine about how my mother is making you into a monster, but you just have to go along with it.”

“Regina, I get you’re angry at me, but there’s no need to be cruel. You pointed out the error in how I’d been thinking. I’m trying to fix it. I’m not exactly expecting brownie points here, but since you’re my wife I was at least expecting not to be attacked every time I see you.”

Regina regarded her for a long second. “That still doesn’t answer my question. What are you doing here? The Queen comes out into the yard everyone notices. It’s distracting for my men.”

Emma ran a gloved and through her hair. “I’m avoiding your mother until the council meeting,” she said quietly. “A girl came to court today. Her entire village has been buried under an avalanche. It fit the description of life or death so I helped her, sent a hundred men out with her to help those who managed to escape try to find as many survivors as possible. I know your mother is going to give me the tenth degree about it, I knew it as soon as the girl opened her mouth, but it was the right thing to do and I don’t want to doubt that, at least not until I have to see her. Maybe if I avoid her long enough I’ll be able to firmly root it in my mind that it was the right thing to do, but with how she’s been playing me like some sort of twisted violin.” Emma shrugged. “The farther away they get the less anyone can do about it, anyway. I can’t call them back after a certain point, there would be no point.”

Regina let out a slow breath. “I see.” She pushed off the wall. “Stay here then and try to blend in as best as possible. I don’t want my men anymore distracted than they have to be.” She looked out at the men again. “And don’t let yourself get too cold,” she added in a voice so quiet Emma almost didn’t hear it.

She watched her wife walk away. At least that last comment meant she cared still on some level, but Gods it was all so fucked up right now. She wished that Regina would be as understanding as she was before they had left to battle Spring Haven. She had never pressured Regina, never did anything but comfort her even though she wished Regina would tell her mother that her life was her own and there was nothing she could do to change that. But then again, when Regina was weak willed it only affected her, not an entire kingdom. Somehow she did manage to stay strong against her mother in politics, if mostly by avoiding her. But Emma had no kind of experience with someone this manipulative. She had no idea what to do and Regina did. She needed her help, she wished Regina could see that. She wanted her love back. It hurt having Regina mad at her.

So she leaned against the wall for a few hours, watching Regina run everyone through their paces and then send them off for lunch. She slipped inside a few minutes before the council meeting was to begin and steeled herself. Being in the yards hadn’t helped her as much as she had wished. Until she found a way to make everything up to Regina she supposed that was going to be how it was. Everything was falling apart just when it shouldn’t be.

She sat down in her chair, or what had become her chair. She refrained from shooting a glare at Cora. Gods damn it all she was the Queen of the kingdom, that was her rightful place. She was the one who was supposed to run her kingdom, not some crazy witch. She sighed and gripped the edge of the table. This was not the mindset she needed to be in to get through this. Not yet, not until they could take out Cora. Then she could let every iota of her ire show. And she looked forward to it greatly, but for now she straightened and looked out at the men in front of her.

“Well?” She arched an eyebrow.

And then the men were off and running, being as brief and to the point as possible while still telling her what she needed to know. If nothing else, Emma did enjoy the shorter meetings. She would enjoy them more if the increased amount of free time didn’t give her so much time to think.

And before she knew it the men were filing out again for the day and Emma was left alone with the Dark Queen. Emma contemplated getting up and telling Cora that there was some business she had to attend to immediately, but she knew that lying would get her nowhere except probably thrown back in her chair and restrained with magic. The tension had been rolling off Cora in waves through the whole council meeting and it wouldn’t do to poke the dragon further.

They sat in silence for a few long minutes. Emma read through the papers her council had given her, making notes on what she needed to do when she got the chance. She wasn’t going to let Cora see her sweat. She worked as if nothing was wrong, as if she didn’t have instincts that were shouting at her to get out of the room.

When she shuffled the last paper in the pile with the others Cora spoke up. “Really, dear, I thought that we had gone over that you can’t be too kind to the rabble.”

Emma looked up into beady, dark eyes, watching her intently. She was struck in that moment by how much Cora resembled a snake poised to strike. It was fitting; the woman certainly was a snake all right, in more than one way, not just looks.

“I don’t think I was overly kind today. I did what needed to be done and no more. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would call threatening to throw someone in the dungeon for a few weeks kind.”

Cora waved off the comment with a little irritated motion of her hand. “Of course I don’t mean the idiot baron you dismissed. You did well with him, the little imbecile of a man. You’re quite well aware that I mean the girl and her village. You were much too kind to them. They have their own resources they should have dealt with it.”

“They’re a village of four hundred people with half of them either buried or missing in the chaos. They don’t have the man power or the training that our soldiers can provide. Never mind that the girl interpreted my instructions about only coming to court if it was a life or death issue correctly. She was the only one who did and two hundred lives does go a bit beyond the call of what I said. Why shouldn’t I have helped her? That’s what the crown is here for, to rule over the people and provide what they can’t.”

Cora snorted. “No, the purpose of the crown is to rule over the people and show them what their true place is. As Queen you owe no one anything, not the nobility and especially not the peasants. They should learn to deal with their own problems instead of leeching off the crown. You keep them safe from foreign invasion and you don’t kill them yourself, that is enough.”

She looked at Cora for a long moment, considering her next words carefully. “On the first account we aren’t exactly doing so well on. We just finished off a war with another kingdom and it seems that there’s still a foreign army camped outside the palace walls. To the peasants I’m not quite sure I’m holding up even that end of the bargain. And if we bring up the subject of taxes the subject of not killing them myself also becomes just the slightest bit grey as well. They’re barely low enough for them to live, and that was before this whole fiasco with Spring Haven. The money from the King will help, but gods know for how long it will last if anyone else attacks. So really, if you think about it, helping out that village was the least I could do.”

“That village is of little importance, there was no need to waste precious resources on it if you’re so worried about money. There aren’t enough people there to put up a significant resistance, and even if a few of them did get it into their head to revolt against the crown in light of your refusal of help, they are so far isolated from the next town over, it hardly would’ve mattered. The town serves little purpose, it isn’t on a trade route nor does it produce anything else of note, you could have left it buried without any losses, but yet you had a soft heart anyway.” Cora arched an eyebrow. “It seemed that you listened far too much to your blue bird loving mother.”

Anger surged thick and hot through Emma. “And what if I had? What of it? What if this is just me applying the knowledge you imparted to me in my own way? What happened to letting me learn on my own terms? I followed your advice with the baron because he deserved as such. He’s a greedy, slimy bastard of a man who needed to be put in place ages ago but I was far too nice to do so, perhaps you’re right, but now I think he’ll stay clear of this palace for a good while if he knows what’s good for him. Villagers? They are very, very aware of their place. They need no reminding, not when my tax collectors come knocking on their door and strip them of what little extra they have. Saving a few of them from freezing to death seems like a small favor in return, if only so the kingdom can continue treating them like little more than cash cows.”

Cora looked thoughtful for a few seconds. “Well, I hadn’t quite thought of that. They will more than make up for any money you just foolishly spent on saving them in taxes within a few years. Anything after those next few years is just icing on the cake. I suppose you are right. And of course since you acted quickly more of them will be saved so of course there will be more money and in this kingdom where mismanagement has been so rampant that money is quite crucial.” She touched her fingers to her chin. “You think outside of the box, dear, I like that.”

Emma just stared dumbly at the woman for a few seconds. How had Cora even gotten that out of what she said? That was the total opposite of what she meant, it was a derisive comment after all, not to be taken seriously. Yet, here they were and Cora was even praising her over it. Her head spun. Gods what in the world was this woman? Treating the peasants as no more than money bags for the kingdom wasn’t what she wanted. Taxes were important of course, but she wanted their own money to benefit them just as much as it benefitted the kingdom. She pressed her fingers to the back of her neck and kneaded hoping the spinning of the room would stop somehow.

The silence stretched on and Emma became aware that Cora was waiting for her to say something. Emma didn’t know what to say. Was going along with Cora a better option or should she fight for what she believed in? What was the right choice here? The peasants were going to be saved no matter what. No one was going to be hurt by this fight except her and no one was going to be hurt if she just nodded and smiled. She desperately hoped anyway.

“I always have been one to go against the grain,” Emma said, smiling weakly. The fingers working the muscles in her neck were not making the dizziness go away. She hoped that she was able to get out of her chair and get out of this gods forsaken room when the time called for it.

“So I’ve seen. You must learn to control that impulse for it to truly benefit you, but I think it can take you far with the right precautions.” The corners of her mouth twitched up. “I see more of myself in you than I do my own daughter. Funny how these things work out, that I find more a kindred spirit in my daughter’s wife than my daughter.” She shrugged as if it meant nothing to her. “Such is life I suppose.” She turned her eyes back to Emma, surveying her intently. “Until tomorrow then, dear. You might want to see the palace doctor about that headache of yours. You can’t afford to be out of commission right now in any way at all.” A dark, predatory look crossed her face for just a millisecond. Emma thought she might have imagined it, but she wasn’t betting on it. Cora left the room in her normal dramatic sweep, leaving Emma alone yet again.

She sat there for a few long minutes. She hoped the dizziness would pass after Cora had left the room, but it wasn’t going anywhere it seemed. She wanted to curl up and wait until it had passed, but she knew she couldn’t especially after that look Cora had just worn. Maybe if she just managed to relax even for just a few minutes it would abate. All she really wanted in that moment was for someone to hug her and tell her that everything would be fine, but it wasn’t like Regina was about to do that when she was still angry at her.

But her father wasn’t angry at her. He had barely even seen her since the declaration of war from Spring Haven. He hadn’t the cause to be angry at her yet. And Emma knew her father, he would tell her what she needed to hear, even if it wasn’t strictly true and right now that was exactly what she needed.

She stood slowly, steadying herself on the table. Once the initial bout of dizziness had passed she found she could at least stand on her own. She took a few steps forward and walking seemed to be ok as well. She wasn’t sure she wouldn’t look like she was completely hammered walking down the hall, but it would have to do. She drug herself slowly through the halls and towards what she hoped was solace.

 

Chapter Text

She walked from the council chambers and towards her father’s office. He had been spending a great deal of time there, or at least she heard. She hadn’t had the time to check. He had been left behind to run the kingdom proper while Emma and Regina ventured forth with Cora to the warfront, so it made sense in a way. Emma wouldn’t doubt if he was doing all he could now to help take some of the stress of running a kingdom off of Emma without her knowing it. She really did love her father. He was such a good man and she really didn’t appreciate him enough. She would fix that when this was all over, if it ever was.

The going was slow, but she made it well enough. She raised her hand and knocked on her father’s door. She closed her eyes while she waited. She was just so tired and the dizziness wasn’t helping and she just wanted everything to go away.

Her father called from behind the door for her to come in. Emma opened the door and slipped in, shutting it behind her. She leaned back against it, dizziness spiking for just a second. She heard her father stand, chair scraping over the floor quietly. He was by her side in a second, smelling just as he always did of sun and animals. She relaxed just a fraction.

“Little bird, what’s wrong?” He father asked quietly, hand coming up to cup her cheek.

Emma’s eyes blinked open and a wry smile painted her face. “What isn’t, father?”

He chuckled once. “Yes, well, I meant what’s more immediately wrong that you showed up here looking like you were about to pass out.”

Emma stepped forward and hugged her father hard. “I think I’m just a little overwhelmed right now.”

Her father’s arms wrapped around her, coming up to stroke through her hair lightly. She felt like a little child again right after she’d had a nightmare. He always used to hold her like this and tell her everything would be fine, that dreams couldn’t hurt her. He couldn’t do that now, even though Emma wished. Her nightmare this time was reality and reality could and would hurt her.

“Regina’s mother?” He asked quietly.

She nodded into his chest. “She’s the main thing right now, but it’s just everything. I wasn’t ready for this. I’m not ready to be Queen, but here I am already with one war under my belt and an army sitting outside the gates that could plunge us into another one and our coffers are barren. I’m not exactly starting out with a good track record and trying to get everything back on track while trying to get her out of the palace it’s just—it’s too much I can’t do it.” She felt tears pricking at her eyes. She blinked, letting them soak into the fabric underneath her face. There was no point in holding them back now.

“Emma,” he said softly, pulling back just enough to look down at her.

Emma looked back with teary eyes, feeling smaller than she ever had before. He reached out and wiped the tears from her cheeks but more came an instant later and his work was undone. He just sighed and cupper her face instead.

“You’re doing the best you can. There are monarchs who would have folded under the pressure by now, but you haven’t. You may not have a good track record, as you call it, right now, but you handled each situation that was thrown your way the best you knew how. It’s not your fault that Spring Haven decided to attack, nor is it your fault that that witch is in our palace. The only thing you can control are your actions, and they have been more than enough.”

Emma shook her head hard enough to send her hair flying. “But they aren’t. She’s—Cora, she’s just, I can’t fight her and everything else. She’s getting inside my mind and I…What happens, Daddy, when I don’t realize what she’s saying is wrong, anymore?”

He drew her over to the seating area in front of the fireplace. He gently pushed her down on the couch and motioned for her to stay put. Emma watched the fire as she listened to her father walk across the room and opened the door to his study. He called for a page boy and little footsteps came running. He murmured something to the boy and sent him on his way, coming back to the couch and setting himself down, throwing his feet up on the table in front of them. Emma smiled just faintly at the action, all peasant and no king in it.

A few minutes later a knock came on the door and a serving girl came in with a tray. Her father removed his feet from the table, indicating the girl should place the tray where his boots had just been. He thanked the girl warmly as the girl curtsied and hurried from the room.

He looked down at the two mugs on the tray and smiled. He picked on up and handed it to Emma. She blinked down at it for a second before a true smile broke out on her face. Hot chocolate with cinnamon, it had been a childhood favorite of hers, trust her father to remember such a small detail. She took a sip and sighed, relaxing just a little more.

Half the cocoa was gone before her father spoke up again. “You’re a good person, Emma, and that woman is not. There won’t be a point where you don’t realize she’s wrong anymore because that’s not the kind of person you are. It’s not the kind of person your mother and I raised you to be. I have faith in you.”

The words caused her to tear up again. “But, Daddy, I already have. There have been things she’s made me do, and I’m not even sure anymore if she made me, that have been horrible, mistreating literally everyone around me, and it felt good.”

“Yet, even while it felt good you knew it was wrong.”

“Well, yes of course, I don’t want to treat the council like I’m one second from executing them, at least the men who are still here. The full council…well, some of them could use a good death threat.”

Her father snorted. “That’s true, but you would never do it.”

“Not unless they gave me no choice.”

He nodded. “Of course. Monarchs can’t be wholly a sinner or a saint, you do what you have to.”

“But there’s a line between have to and want to, and she’s just getting in my head and I think if I’m not careful she might be able to get me to cross it without me thinking anything of it.”

Her father shook her head. “You’re a smart young woman, little bird, and as stubborn as your mother. No one will get you to do anything if you don’t want to. She may be able to get you to think it feels good, but you’ll never give in. As soon as you thought it felt good what did you think immediately afterwards?”

“I wanted to throw up because of how wrong it felt.”

“I’m going to tell you something that it took a great while for me to learn. Your mother was the one who finally got the point across to me. The first thought you have is what you’ve been conditioned to think. The second thought is who you really are. I don’t think you’re in any danger Emma, as long as you keep sight of that.”

Emma sat back, finger tracing around the rim of the now empty cocoa mug. Her mind turned her father’s words over and over, examining them, seeing if they were true. She wanted to believe them. They were, after all, exactly what she had come here to hear, but now that she had heard them she wasn’t quite so sure. If she somehow talked herself into believing those words and they weren’t true at all, that would just endanger more people. She didn’t want that, couldn’t have that happen.

But the words were ringing true in her mind, she sensed no falseness. She swallowed hard and closed her eyes, letting out a slow breath, tears pricking at her eyes for an entirely different reason now. She was just so damn relieved. The last of the tension leaked from her body and she practically melted into the couch.

Her father scooted closer to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “That isn’t to say there won’t be times you won’t have to work to keep sight of everything, but I know you’ll put in the work. You’ve never been afraid of hard work, only of disappointing those around you.”

The words hit her like a gut punch and she tensed up again. If her father hadn’t raised her she would be slightly frightened by how well he knew her sometimes. But she supposed that’s what made him so good at giving her advice and telling her everything that she needed to hear.

He squeezed her closer and laid a kiss on the crown of her head. “And little bird, you could never disappoint me. You’ve been running this kingdom well for the circumstances. I’m proud of you and if your mother was here she’d be proud of you too.”

Emma heard her father’s voice tighten on the last sentence. She curled up into her father, resting her head on his chest and wrapping her arms around him. “She’d be proud of you too, Daddy. I wouldn’t have been able to do everything half as well without you.”

He scoffed quietly. “I haven’t done anything.”

Emma glared up at him. “Don’t lie to me, I know you’ve been in here working behind the scenes to make everything run as well as it has been. You may only be taking care of the mundane things, but I don’t think you realize how well that helps right now.”

He looked affronted that his cover had been blown.

She just smiled at him. “Servants talk, and don’t think I haven’t noticed the fact that no one has asked me about requisitions of candles and whatever else the palace needs to run.” She waved off the tasks. “The palace matron usually comes in once a week to council meetings with her needs, but I’ve not seen her once since mother’s funeral. The only one with the knowledge to take care of everything is you. Thank you, Daddy.”

He blushed lightly. “Well, it’s the least I can do, little bird.”

She laid her head back against his chest again and sighed. She hadn’t called her father Daddy in a very long time. It made her feel like a small child again, but somehow that brought her a small measure of comfort. It reminded her of times when courtly manners hadn’t existed for her and there was only her parents and happy sunny days long before etiquette lessons and being groomed for the throne. And as helpless as childhood was, it was also safe. And safety was the thing she wanted most at the moment.

“I think I’ve made Regina mad enough at me that forgiveness might be a very long way away,” she said after a long while.

“Why do you say that?”

She listened to her father’s heartbeat under her ear for a few seconds before answering. “I’ve never seen her that angry. Truly angry at me. Before, even before she was assigned to my guard, when she was angry at me it was different, it was more like frustration that I wasn’t taking my position as a princess seriously. Since then it’s been frustration and fear that I haven’t been taking care of myself. Now, now she’s actually furious at me. I understand where she’s coming from, but I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Why is she angry?”

“When I was talking about dealing with Cora, I lost sight of the fact that we should be trying for a plan where no one gets harmed. I started thinking of people as pawns. I hadn’t even realized it, I guess. I just wanted Cora gone. Everything became about me and my struggles and not the kingdom’s in a way. She saw right through it all and she just, I’ve never seen that look in her eyes and I’m not sure I want to again.” Emma bit her lip hard. What she just said went against everything her father just said. She had lost sight of being a good person, if only for a moment.

“When we’re desperate we do questionable things. You have to learn from it and not repeat it.” His fingers carded through her hair slowly. “That doesn’t change anything I just said, Emma, I have faith in you. Perhaps you weren’t coming from the right place, but you wanted the end to be the right thing.”

“How can you say such things when I just threw everything you said into the fire and watched it burn?”

“Because I know you and faith needs no real evidence, that’s what faith is.”

Emma never recalled loving her father more than she did in that moment.

“And as for Regina, well, sometimes the most important thing isn’t to try and make Regina forgive you, but to fix the problem she was angry at and let her come around on her own. She will, she loves you too much to stay away for long. You both are like your mother and I in that respect.”

Emma held in a snort at that. She wasn’t so sure about that.

“True love doesn’t let you stay apart from each other like that, I don’t think,” he continued.

Emma sighed for a long moment, a little tiny grain of hope flaring in her chest. “You think?”

Her father smiled warmly. “I know. Your mother would try to stay angry at me and longest it ever lasted was a week and then she just marched into our rooms again, glared at me, and kissed me and suddenly all was completely fine again. The times I was mad at her I was lucky if I lasted a day.” He laughed, but it was tinged with longing. “True love is an odd thing. It binds you so completely together that I don’t ever think you truly can be apart again. At least willingly.”

“Mmm, maybe. I mean it’s not like we’ve physically been apart, so at least there’s that. But it’s just so hard to have her angry at me.”

“It is. But if she hasn’t left your side even while she’s been furious, then perhaps all isn’t lost. Not that I think it ever was.” He kissed the top of Emma’s head gently. “The fights where they walk out and stay gone for more than a few hours at a time, those are the worst ones. And it seems like you aren’t quite there yet. I think the two of you will survive. If anything Regina is probably more disappointed than truly angry.”

She winced. “I’m not sure that’s any better than angry, in fact it might be worse.”

“In a way, maybe, but it means she still cares, and you obviously care. And I think that will be enough to get you two through anything. Not saying it won’t be hard, because obviously the both of you have things to talk about and talking things through doesn’t always go as planned, but I see you two becoming the next great love story throughout the lands. I have faith in the both of you and in the love I see in both of you.”

 She took a deep breath and smiled tentatively as his words sunk in. He was right, she thought. “Thank you.” And Emma meant that in so many more ways than those two little words would ever let her articulate, but they were all she had.

“Always, Emma, always. You and Regina both are my daughters and I’ll help the both of you in any way I can.”

She hugged her father that much harder and let herself relax. There were no more words she could say, but she hoped he knew just how much that meant to her.

From his smile, content and warm, she thought he did and was glad.

 

When she found her way back into their rooms, Regina was sitting on the couch, in her pajamas already, hair loose around her shoulders, looking more relaxed than she had in a very long while, even while her shoulders were tense. Emma thought how much a testament it was to how bad everything was right then that such a pose counted as relaxed.

She went over, kicked off her boots and sat on her own end of the couch, not saying anything. She smiled at her wife, a small, sheepish little thing, and curled up, tucking her feet under herself. Despite relaxing with her father for quite some time she was tired and wanted nothing more than to just sit in front of another fire and maybe pick up a book to read just for fun. Gods, how long had it been since she had done that? She didn’t think she remembered. It had to have been before her mother died, surely. She shuffled around on her end table, coming up with a book quickly.

She set to reading while Regina just stared blankly into the fire. Her father was right she was just going to have to give Regina the space to forgive her and not make her do anything. That would only lead to a worse argument. No one made Regina do anything. Not even if they desperately needed her.

Though, for now, Emma was ok. After her talk with her father she felt so much better. She didn’t feel Cora’s words pressing on her mind like a crushing weight anymore. She didn’t feel like she was thirty seconds from turning into an evil dictator. She needed Regina to help her through, of course, but she could wait until the help was freely given. In the meantime, like always, she would be there for Regina.

Had she been recently, though? No probably not. She sighed quietly, disappointed in herself. She had been so wrapped up in herself in more ways than one. Regina was supposed to be her be all end all, not her second place. She laid her hand on the cushion between them innocently enough. Regina would see through the gesture easily if she thought about it, but she had tried to disguise it as just shifting around to find a comfortable position. Regina could take her hand if she wanted and ignore it if she didn’t. There was no pressure in the gesture, at least she hoped, and it showed she was there if Regina wanted her to be.

She’d read half a chapter before she felt Regina’s hand slip into her own. The tan hand squeezed hers gently and Emma squeezed back. They both said nothing, just sat in companionable silence, but Emma felt more at peace than she had in a very long time. And when they finally slipped off to sleep for the night, the nightmares weren’t quite so terrible.

 

Chapter Text

Emma was eating breakfast in their rooms when a knock came at the door. She scowled at the door. Normally no one disturbed them before they made their first appearances for the day, especially now that there was just enough staff to keep the palace just functioning. There weren’t any more maids to pester them about helping them to get ready and the cleaning girls came only every few days often long after they had left. Emma quite liked the solitude, really. Whenever the full staff was back she would have to set up regulations around her own chambers so the place was her safe haven from everyone else.

Another knock dragged her out of her reverie. She stood and quickly made her way to the door and looked out, but saw no one. A small voice cleared its throat and Emma’s eyes darted down to find the page boy, Henry, staring up at her.

“Is Her Majesty Regina here, your majesty?” he asked, voice measured and perfectly polite.

Emma found the corners of her mouth turning up despite herself. “She is, but she’s still asleep, do you need her urgently?”

He shifted from foot to foot, indecisive. “I think I do, my Queen.” The paper in his hands crinkled as he started to ball his hands up, then stopped at the sound of crunching paper. He looked down and blushed just slightly at his own fidgeting.

Emma opened the door farther and motioned the boy in. “Make yourself comfortable by the fire while I go get her then.”

The boy nodded and walked towards what had been her favorite chair before Regina moved in and had made the couch her favorite piece of furniture. She slipped inside their bedroom, closing the door behind her. Regina was resting peacefully still against the pillows, lines that were present on her face during the day nonexistent. Emma felt a little bad about waking her, but needs must.

“Regina, my love, there’s a visitor for you.” She reached out and caressed Regina’s shoulder gently.

Regina drew in a deep breath and opened her eyes. “Who is it? Is it one of the guards? Can you tell them that we get one morning off a week and I don’t know about them, but I was planning on catching up on a few hours’ sleep?”

“It’s not a member of the guard, it’s Henry.”

Regina sat bolt upright and was getting ready before Emma even had a chance to blink. She pulled on a pair of fur lined leather pants and a thick wool shirt, tucking it in quickly, before slipping on boots and walking out into the living room. Emma didn’t think she’d ever seen anyone get ready so fast in her life. What in the world?

She walked out into the living room as well to find Regina crouched low, looking right into Henry’s eyes as she spoke with him in a hushed voice. Emma walked closer so she could hear what in the world was going on, but by the time she was actually close enough to make out words she only caught the tail end of Regina’s last sentence.

“—it’s important, you understand?” At the little boy’s nod Regina stood. “Ok then, darling, then go.”

He nodded again and hurried from the room, a tangle of young limbs and nervous energy.

Emma walked up beside Regina. “What in the world was that all about?” she asked.

Regina just shook her head and turned away from Emma. “If you think you’re in danger of falling under my mother’s spell it’s better that you don’t know.”

Emma scowled. “But Regina—”

“No buts,” Regina cut her off. “Why do you think I’ve been handling this without your help the entire time? It’s not that I couldn’t use the help with the coordination of all the important players, but that you’re so very close to my mother right now. I know her better than anyone else, Emma. It’s a miracle she hasn’t picked up on something from you, and you barely know anything. Can you imagine if you did? She has ways of pulling information from the most unwilling person, can you imagine if you were actually under her spell, even part way, how fast you would tell her everything?”

All the confidence that her father had instilled in her was immediately ripped away and crumpled into a tiny ball. If her own wife thought she could succumb…She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. Maybe she wasn’t the good person her father thought her after all.

And yet as much as it hurt, she couldn’t not agree. Regina had a point, there needed to be at least a degree of separation between the plan and Cora and she was that degree.

“What if she starts after you?” Emma asked. “Then it won’t matter if you’ve told me or not because she’ll have you.”

“I’ve put up with her manipulations for far longer. I know her games and while I’m nowhere near immune, after the last few days, Emma, I know I’m much better off than you.”

A little bit of anger seeped into her. “How much better off Regina? The three days before we left for the border you were almost fucking catatonic after coming back from speaking to her. How is that any better? It’s obvious you let her get in your head just as easily as she got into mine.”

Regina’s face hardened. “You have no idea what she said to me after you left each and every time. You would have been more than catatonic if you had gone through that.”

“Maybe, but since you never told me what the hell she was doing to you, I won’t know, now will I?”

“Go to court, Emma,” Regina walked back into their bedroom.

Emma followed after her. “No, I’m not going to go to court when we’re in the middle of a discussion. And besides it’s not for another half hour yet, but that’s beside the point right now.”

“Is it really?” Regina’s voice was cool and level as she pulled her sword out from its scabbard and grabbed a polishing cloth and set to work. She fingered the edge after a few seconds of polishing and frowned. She picked up a sharpening stone and putting down the cloth, the grating sound setting Emma’s nerves on edge.

“Could you maybe not do that right now, Regina?” she asked, jaw muscles clenched.

“It’s a perfect time to do it. I don’t have anywhere to be, nothing important to do until after lunch. With all this extra training my blade hasn’t been getting the attention it needs.”

“Regina, it’s a piece of metal. I’m your wife and we were talking. I’m little more important.”

Regina looked up at her, eyes sparking with anger. “If this all goes south this sword will be what protects my life and yours. I think it’s quite important that its sharp enough to cut something, don’t you?”

Emma blew out a loud breath and counted to ten in her head. “Ok, fine, whatever. Back on subject, you say I don’t know what you went through like it’s my gods damned fault that you haven’t told me. It wasn’t like I wasn’t there and supportive. I didn’t want to pressure you into saying anything you didn’t want to, but I was there in case you did. I held you everything single night after you came back, but now you’re using the fact that I don’t know what happened as a weapon against me and it’s bullshit Regina.”

“What’s bullshit is the conversation we’re having right now. It’s branching out of your incessant need to know literally everything, both about the plan that’s underway and what my mother did to me those three days. No matter what you say right now you are not going to know either.”

“No, Regina, this started out of the fact that somehow you’re so much better at standing your mother’s attentions when you aren’t. You can be a gods damned superior bitch when you want to be, you know. I never said I was going to push about the plan, did I? I fucking agree with you. I was just bringing up a fucking point, ok? Gods, so sue me for wanting to know what in the world was going to happen if she came after you. I don’t see why I bother to care if this is the response I’m going to get.”

“Because it’s all about you.”

“And of course it’s right back to that again. Regina, I told you I’ll try to be better about that. You were right I wasn’t in the right state of mind, ok? But right now it’s a little hard to be, but gods damn it I’m trying now and thinking about it every time I make a decision. And you’re sitting here just throwing it all right back in my face.”

“It’s been two days Emma. Spare me your dramatics if I don’t think you can hold on for long to your newly enlightened attitude in the face of my mother after only two days.”

Emma felt warmth build within her, a fiercer heat than anything she ever felt when she was using True Love’s magic. It felt darkly intoxicating and she reached for it. It slipped through her grip, but left promises of being back before fading away again, leaving Emma seeing red. She felt her nails dig into her palms and blood beaded around the cuts, but she was beyond caring.

“You’re just like her. My trying is never enough for you, is it? It never was for my mother either.”

“Oh please, you’ve acted like she was a saint since she died, don’t play the mother card here, not while my own mother is attempting to kill us both.”

“I haven’t acted like she was a saint. I’ve been mourning what could have been and you know it. Gods know what would have happened when she got back. She offered a way out, a way that we could mend everything in time. But I never got it and I lost a mother. As much as I hated her at points I never stopped loving her because in her own way she was trying to be a good mother and when I was younger she was the best anyone could ask for. I’m sorry your mother is a psychotic bitch and you don’t understand any of that, but don’t take it out on me. You’re just afraid you’ll turn out just like her because gods know it’s a possibility for you, especially when you fucking act like this.”

She knew immediately that she’d gone too far when the words left her mouth. Regina’s eyes flashed up to her own, golden purple rimming her irises, fury and pain lining her face. Emma didn’t know what to do. She was still so very angry. She wanted to apologize and she wanted to stand her ground and she knew she couldn’t do both. She closed her eyes and unclenched her fists, breathing out slowly. This wasn’t how the conversation had been supposed to go. She was supposed to be working to let Regina have the space she needed to forgive, not make her angrier. She needed to bite the bullet and apologize and she knew it.

“Regina—” she started.

“Don’t.” Regina’s voice was low and tight, drawn like a bow about to fire.

Emma opened her eyes and looked to see the other woman focused on the wall behind her. She didn’t see any sparks of magic, but she knew they were just beneath the surface, that Regina was desperately controlling herself. The air smelled of metal and burning, like anger itself.

“Go to court, Emma.” Her eyes met Emma’s, golden-purple turning a few shades darker around her eyes. “I don’t want to hear it.”

Emma stood there for half a second debating on apologizing anyway, no matter what Regina said, but decided against it. They were both dangerous in this moment, incensed past common sense. The best idea would be for her to leave and apologize later when they had both cooled off, but damn if she didn’t want to risk a bolt of magic to the face to apologize anyway.

“Ok,” she said quietly. “But I’ll be back later, you can count on it.”

Regina snorted derisively and went back to sharpening her sword with fervor Emma hadn’t seen before. She walked out and hoped to the gods that court was interesting today. She needed the distraction.

 

Court wasn’t interesting. No one had come in, which in the long run was for the best, but it allowed Emma to go over and over the argument she’d had with Regina, feeling worse and worse about it every time it replayed in her mind. Gods, if they were a normal married couple they’d still be in their honeymoon phase, but they hadn’t gotten that and now they were starting to rip each other to pieces. She felt absolutely horrible about it all. Somehow they needed to find a way to deal with the stress other than tearing into each other. But she had no idea how to do that and they had to get to a place of forgiveness for that plan to even work and she was even at more of a loss at how to get there.

What she had just said to Regina was unforgivable. Regina never said it, but Emma knew it was her greatest fear, becoming exactly like her mother. She tried so hard to be a good and just person while balancing the realities of knighthood and the crown. Emma knew it, she really did, but it was so easy to lose sight of that in the heat of anger.

She shivered, remembering the feeling of the odd magic against her. It had felt so very good at the time, but now she felt bile rise in her throat every time she thought about it. She had no idea what it had been and the only other person that would know was now completely livid at her so she really had no way of knowing. She supposed Cora might know, but that was like poking an adder with a stick and just hoping not to get bitten. Hopefully whatever it had been could wait for an explanation.

She walked towards the council meeting. She wished that skipping council meetings was an option to her again as it had when she’d been a princess. She didn’t want to think about facing Cora at anything less than her best, but it had to happen. Leaving the woman in a room alone with the men who helped run her kingdom was asking for ruin served up on a silver platter. Though at this point, she wasn’t sure she wouldn’t ruin her kingdom all on her own anyway.

Emma was the last one to arrive. She walked to her seat with her head held high. Being Queen had its advantages sometimes. No one could question you. She felt Cora’s eyes on her, probing, but Emma ignored them. She turned to her men and cocked one eyebrow. They jumped into the briefing right away and Emma sighed silently and sat back listening. Problems in the supply line to the border outposts she could handle. Problems like those had definite solutions, emotions and fights, well they really didn’t. Then again, neither did the woman sitting beside her either. She had too many problems on her plate without answers and she always had hated that, as a small child in lessons and especially now.

She waved off her men when they were done again for the day and stood almost immediately herself. Cora looked up at her with hard eyes.

“And where were you going in such a hurry?”

“There’s a good deal to be done today, I was going to go get started on it. It wouldn’t do to dawdle when so much in a disarray already.”

“Sit, we have things to discuss or have you already forgotten our arrangement?”

Emma cursed in every single language she could think of. She just wanted for once to actually be able to slip out of the room without someone stopping her. She especially didn’t want this confrontation to happen. She sat down anyway.

“Something seems off about you today. What is it?”

Emma shrugged noncommittally before cursing herself for the casual gesture. Fucking hell, the last thing she needed was Cora going on about how to hold herself as Queen. Like she hadn’t heard enough about that in etiquette lessons.

“It’s nothing of any import. Just a bad day, you know how it is.”

Cora titled her head to the side, looking at Emma carefully. Emma got the distinct impression that she was being watched by a snake about to strike instead of a woman. She didn’t quite understand how Cora could move so…inhumanly at times.

“No, I don’t think it’s anything so trivial. The air around you is different, your energy is flowing differently, slower. Such changes don’t just happen at the drop of a hat. I admire that you are working through it, but you can’t have anything distracting you right now. Perhaps if you talk about it, it will help.”

Oh gods above the last thing she wanted was to talk to Cora about her problems, especially her problems with Regina. Especially since all the problems she was having with Regina right now were stemming off the fact that Cora was in her palace trying to kill them.

“I don’t know. I talked to my father yesterday about a good many of the problems I’ve been having. It helped a good deal. I felt more myself afterward than I have since this whole war business started.” It was all true enough and she hoped Cora took the explanation and left her alone. Of course she wasn’t that lucky.

“No, no, that may be true that you talked with your father and he may have coddled you into feeling better, but something between then and now has changed it.” Cora’s eyes went to the space just around Emma, looking at something that Emma couldn’t see at all. It creeped her out exponentially.

“It’s just a discussion Regina and I were having earlier. Like I said, it was nothing, or at least it’s nothing that we can’t get around once we cool down a little. We’re both very temperamental women at times, it’s natural to have a disagreement now and again.” Gods damn it all she had said more than she had wanted to, but there was nothing she could do about it now.

“Ah, your first fight, that could explain it.” Again her eyes tracked back to the blank space around Emma.

Emma shivered. “Yeah, it was over something trivial and it’s just all the stress that has been on us recently, I think. I’ll make it up to her later and all will be well again. It won’t distract me from my duties. As you saw I made it through that meeting just fine.”

Cora hummed noncommittally. “Yes, well, see that it doesn’t.” She paused for a minute, looking Emma in the eye. “But be careful, dear, Regina can be very unreasonable at points. Forgiveness might not be as easy as you think, and we wouldn’t want our royal couple falling apart, now would we?”

The words hit Emma hard, but she didn’t let her face change at all. She just nodded and Cora with a blank look on her face. “Well, I thank you for the advice. I know relatively little about marriage, but I do know a great deal about Regina. I think it will work out in the end.”

“Yes, well, let’s hope you know her as well as you say then and then all will be well.” She stood from her chair. “But if it doesn’t, I’m here as your teacher of course to help you through any issues that you might have. After all, good teachers should be there at all times, don’t you think?”

Emma sighed as Cora left the room yet again. She was beginning to wonder if Cora just had a thing about dramatic exits, or at least about leaving the room before Emma. She wondered just exactly the woman thought the exits would get her, but then again she probably didn’t want to know.

She hauled herself out of her chair again and walked towards the door. She really didn’t know what to do now. She did have a bit of work to get done, but with her delegating a great deal more to her council members in the light of Cora’s ‘advice’ she barely had enough to last her a few hours. What she would do after that was beyond her. She felt as if she couldn’t go back to her own rooms right now for fear of running into Regina before she had cooled down enough. Emma herself had calmed in light of Cora, but a great deal of her own anger had been doused when those stupid words had left her mouth, so she hadn’t needed much cooling down to begin with.

But then again Regina probably wasn’t going to go near their rooms right now anyway. Knowing her she was probably beating the shit out of her trainees or another guard to take out her frustrations. She would probably be out in the yard until she had to come back to get ready for dinner, slipping into a dress with just enough time to fix her hair and run right back out the door. But then again if she was there Emma didn’t want to interrupt her.

Her head spun. Gods she had no idea what in the seven hells she should do. Work first, that would allow her at least a few hours to puzzle out what to do next. And if she still had no idea at least that would be a few more hours that Regina could use to vent some of her anger somewhere else. With that decided she walked towards the rooms she had claimed as her own offices not long after she had become Queen, not having the heart to take over her mother’s own offices in the wake of her death.

She sat down at her desk and tried to get some work down, but just ended up staring at a piece of paper for a very long time.

 

She walked into their rooms right before dinner, needing to freshen up. She looked rumpled, like she’d spent an entire day in the office, pulling at her hair. Which had been exactly what she’d been doing, but she knew that no one else needed to know that. She paused as the door shut behind her and listened. There was no rustling coming from the bedroom. She sighed and she wasn’t quite sure if it was relieved sigh or not. On one hand she really did want to talk to Regina, on the other she had a public appearance to make at dinner and she really didn’t want to be anymore stressed out than she already was. She needed to appear normal now more than ever.

She walked to the adjoining bathroom and looked over her reflection carefully. She pulled a brush through her hair and sighed. It didn’t look that much better really. She’d hadn’t been taking care of it as she should recently, but then again, who was going to blame her for that.

The answer was everyone, a Queen was supposed to look flawless at all times. She sighed and experimented with a few hair styles to see if anything made her hair look a little less limp and messy. Nothing really did, so she settled for washing her face in the basin of water left in front of the mirror. She cursed as the cold water hit her skin. She really hated winter. The water the servants left out was always ice cold when she went to use it no matter if she waited two minutes or two hours.

She toweled off her face and looked back in the mirror to find Regina standing behind her, leaning on the bathroom door. Emma jumped just the tiniest bit and she saw the slight smile the action brought to Regina’s face. She turned to face her wife.

“Regina,” she said and then stopped. She really had no idea where to go after that.

Regina just walked into the room and nudged her aside. Emma stepped away and watched as Regina took a wash cloth and dipped it in the water, scrubbing her face, neck and chest of the sweat that had gathered there. She desperately searched for the words she needed, but found none that would do.

Regina finished up, taking a towel and patting herself dry. She released her hair from the braid it was in and set to brushing it out. Emma stepped forward then, taking the brush from Regina’s hands. She was ever so glad when the other woman let her. She pulled the brush through long chocolate hair, watching at it became soft and shiny under the attention. How in the world Regina managed it, she’d had no idea.

She put the brush aside and started styling Regina’s hair simply. She gathered Regina’s bangs and braided them, joining the long strands of hair behind Regina’s head and letting the braid drape down her back once more. Practical in that it kept Regina’s hair from her face and pretty enough to do for a dinner that wasn’t a super formal occasion. She squeezed Regina’s shoulders when she was done and stepped back.

Regina turned to her. “Emma…” she trailed off, not quite knowing where to start either.

“I really am sorry. You trusted me with everything about your mother that you were able to tell me, and I just threw it all back in your face. You’re nothing like her and I never should have said you were. I just…I want to help you in every way I can and I get frustrated when I can’t. You not telling me what Cora was doing to you during those meetings are part of that, but I never should have pushed, ever. I’m sorry.”

Regina sighed heavily. “I know you are, darling.” She reached forward and tucked an errant lock of Emma’s hair away from her face. She frowned at the blond hair below her fingers. “You haven’t been taking care of yourself.”

“Hasn’t been time.”

Regina quickly traded places with her and set to work on Emma’s hair. Emma’s eyes fluttered closed at the feeling of the brush against her scalp. She forced them open after a few seconds and looked up at Regina in the mirror. The other woman was focused on the task before her, but she started to speak.

“And I’m sorry that you feel at least in some way like I don’t trust you enough to tell you what happened. It’s not that, I just…can’t. I don’t want to relive it in a way and in another way I don’t want to burden you with it.”

“But I’m your wife, you’re supposed to be able to burden me with it.”

“I know, darling, but that doesn’t mean I want to, you understand?”

Emma nodded, drawling a frown from Regina who titled Emma’s head back up with her hands and gave Emma a look that told her to keep still. Emma shot her a sheepish look and smiled.

“And I know that you’re trying, but surely you must realize that it’s not exactly in my nature to trust so easily. Especially on what I view as a second chance.”

Emma swallowed hard. “I know. I do know you, Regina. And if I stopped to think about everything I’m pretty sure I could suss out exactly where all of our problems are stemming from with all our psychological issues. Well, maybe anyway, but that’s beside the point. It’s just, you never really think of that in the moment. It just hurts and that’s all that comes to mind.”

Regina’s hands were gentle in her hair as she set about braiding her hair in a strange way, the hair coming out of the braid continued down to her shoulders, as if it was a waterfall. Emma instantly loved the style and wondered exactly why Regina had never shown her the style before that moment.

“It does. I understand. And I can’t promise anything, but I love you and I do trust you and one day maybe I’ll tell you everything, but for now.” She shook her head. “And I’ll reserve judgment on your progress of changing how you think at least for a little while. But you have to promise me that you will never, ever, put my mother and I in the same sentence like that again.”

“I know, I won’t.”

“Good,” Regina said as she secured the last piece of Emma’s hair.

Emma smiled and stood up, turning to Regina. “Does this mean I’m forgiven?”

“I think it means we’re on the way.”

It wasn’t the answer Emma wanted, but it was one that she would take.

 

Chapter Text

A few days passed in a haze of stress and Cora’s ever looming presence. Even with Regina’s warming to her once more Emma still felt like she was losing her mind although she had someone to talk to. She felt like she had to choose her words around Regina now when she was talking about Cora and really, that didn’t feel like she was letting out the stress she needed to. It certainly helped, but it wasn’t enough.

She sighed heavily at the empty throne room yet again. No one more had come in the last few days, which was for the best. The situation with the village buried under the avalanche had been resolved as best as possible. Fifty people had been rescued alive in some state of injury, the rest…their bodies had been recovered for the most part at least. A few members of her guard were still there helping them rebuild and clear away what was left of the snow, a fact that irked Cora to no end. She didn’t need anyone else showing up and asking for help with that on her plate. She would give them the help of course and damn the consequences, but if she could avoid it…

It was just the absence of people within the palace was getting to her. Growing up in the palace it was always a lively place; people were everywhere at all hours of the day. Emma missed the bustle, missed the lively atmosphere. Then again, she wasn’t exactly sure there would be a lively atmosphere even with the whole palace staff there, not with Cora’s army sitting right outside.

Even after seeing them every day for over two weeks they still gave her the creeps. She was sure everyone else but Cora had the same reaction. It was hard to be cheerful and lively with something so ominous sitting right outside the door. It was just one more thing helping to chip away at the tenuous grasp she had on any form of sanity.

Emma sat up at the sound of footsteps. She looked out the open door to the hall. Was someone actually coming after all this time? She prayed for the answer to be yes as fervently as she wished for it to be no.

Her spine straightened almost painfully when Cora walked into the room. The woman hadn’t yet shown her face in Emma’s throne room, only in council meetings. She had a bad feeling about such a public appearance. She eyed the guards around the room carefully. She knew all of them at least in passing and could trust their silence to an extent. Servants always talked and this visit of Cora’s would get out one way or another in time. Which was exactly what Cora wanted, she could almost guarantee. Oh gods above.

Cora came to a stop at the steps leading up to Emma’s throne. She curtsied, though not even near low enough to convey respect from one monarch to another. Emma bit the inside of her lip hard enough to draw blood at that. Cora damn well knew what such a display meant. She seethed. What in the world had she done to deserve such a thing? Word of her disrespect would get out faster than anything else and weak was the last thing Emma needed to appear, but what could she do in the face of the Dark Army.

“Your majesty,” Cora began, voice slippery enough to make Emma wince internally.

“What brings you to court, Queen Cora? Surely you have no emergency that my kingdom can help you with.”

Cora waved off the suggestion. “Of course not, but perhaps my kingdom can help you.”

“You’ve already helped us a great deal, your majesty. I can’t see how my kingdom could possibly impose any more favors onto you.”

“It would be something…mutually beneficial, no real favor, you understand.”

A cold feeling coiled in the bottom of Emma’s stomach. What in the world was going on?

“And tell me, what could be so mutually beneficial between us?” She looked Cora in the eye and cocked an eyebrow. She didn’t like the look in the other woman’s eyes, like she was winning and there was absolutely nothing that Emma could do about it. She felt like she was freezing from the inside out.

“Alliances are usually mutually beneficial, you understand.”

“Of course, but what would an alliance with us get you?”

“One can never have too many trading partners. Your mountains, I hear they have diamond mines abandoned long ago when your grandfather made that pesky anti-magic law. My kingdom could use those, most certainly.”

Bells went off in Emma’s head. Those diamonds contained some of the purest magic there was. It was powerful, potent stuff that in and of itself was magically neutral. It could be used for light or dark magic of epic proportions. The stories of what the fairies could do with just a pinch of it, the ridiculous, farfetched wishes they could grant, were astounding. And absolutely the last thing Cora needed access to. She needed to deflect and now.

“As it is, the law still stands. I couldn’t grant you access to the mines if I wanted to, I’d be breaking my own laws and what kind of monarch would I be if I did that?”

“As far as I see it, it would be rather fortuitous for you to repeal that law.” She shot Emma a knowing look.

Emma swallowed hard. Did that look mean she knew about her and Regina or just Regina? She had to know about Regina, there was no getting around that since Regina had destroyed half a damn castle with her magic, but if she knew about them together…

“You’re right, and there have been a few talks about repealing that law, especially in the face of the war we just fought, but no definite action has been taken as of yet.”

Cora rolled her eyes. “Dear, it doesn’t take much definite action to repeal a law, you are Queen.”

“And as a Queen I do have an advisory council who I would like to consult about this matter, as well as another monarch who rules this kingdom at my side, or have you forgotten your daughter was also a Queen in this land?”

“No, no, of course not. I’m sure she’d like to see the law repealed as well.”

Emma could have fucking strangled her for that. It wasn’t going to take a genius to figure that reference out. But Emma was royalty and knew how to deflect with the best of them if only she got her shit together and actually thought instead of fearing the bitch in front of her.

“Of course she would, she hates to see anyone in our kingdom oppressed because of who they are.” She shot Cora a significant glance.

Cora hummed noncommittally. “Of course. It would benefit everyone really. The mines reopening would create more jobs for your peasants, open up a whole new industry. After all, your kingdom isn’t known for much other than farming. A kingdom can’t grow like that.”

“I’m well aware. I have quite a few plans to right that when the political climate stabilizes.”

“Ally with me and the climate will stabilize quickly. No one would dare attack my kingdom.”

Emma nodded once, just a bare inclination of her head. “Fair enough, but the kingdom will not always have your army sitting right outside the palace gates. You are a fair way away from us, even using magic to help your army travel at a greater speed. Who’s to say that one of the kingdoms on our border doesn’t get the idea in their head to attack? Your army would be too far away to do us much good then. The conflict could be over by the time you get here.”

“Who would risk it? And better yet, who would risk my retaliation after the attack is done. Everyone knows that I could not let something of that nature stand without retribution.”

Emma thought quickly, searching for something, anything to rebut that claim with, but there was nothing. No kingdom would be foolish enough to stand against the Dark Kingdom, especially when incensed. Not any of the border kingdom’s anyway. They were all much too small for that. Qin maybe, they were large and had a huge, efficient army, but they were far enough away that they posed no threat to anyone. Agrabah could match the Dark Kingdom in magic, but distance was again a problem. Spring Haven had been the only local power that had even a flicker of matching Cora, and she knew exactly how that conflict went since she’d seen it with her own eyes.

Gods, if Cora wasn’t a snake, this would be the alliance of her dreams, an alliance that would provide a large trade partner and guaranteed the security of her kingdom, it was a one in a million thing. And damn it all if it wasn’t tempting, if only the slightest bit. There would be too many questions if she didn’t take the alliance with Cora. She couldn’t fend off that sort of enquiry right now with a plan to overthrow, or at least get rid of, Cora in the works. Even if Cora was the devil incarnate, the devil you know was better than the devil you don’t, that was exactly the line of reasoning every noble would throw at her if she so much as hinted that she was going to turn Cora away.

And it was exactly what Cora wanted and she damn well knew it. She looked at the woman in front of her, eyes sparking in a way that was almost unreadable, but Emma saw just the slightest sliver of the smug look Regina got after being completely right in the unyielding brown eyes in front of her. What in the seven hells was this woman getting out of this alliance besides the diamonds? The diamonds would please her, certainly, but she wouldn’t look quite so smug.

“I’ll take your proposal to the council today. We will discuss it,” she shot another look at Cora to say that she would not be welcome at this discussion, “and I will return the verdict to you tomorrow morning if you would be so kind as to grace my court once more, your majesty.”

Cora bowed her head, just a tad bit more this time, the corners of her mouth curling up like the Cheshire cat. She thought she had it all won, and damn it all if Emma wasn’t certain she had too. “Of course. Until tomorrow then, Queen Emma.”

She turned and swept from the room in her normal dramatic fashion.

As soon as she was out of earshot she turned to the nearest guard. “Go get Regina. I don’t care what in the seven hells she’s doing right now, you get her in here as soon as you possibly can, yesterday would have been nice, understood?”

The man nodded once and set off at a sprint and Emma sat back and put her head into her hands for just a second. Oh holy seven hells, fix the thing with Regina and of course Cora pulls another move just to throw her even farther off balance. She pulled her head up almost immediately, though, and sat up straight again, looking like nothing could ever be the matter.

Regina was by her side in five minutes flat. Emma had to admit she was impressed by the guard who she had sent to fetch her wife, that was as close to yesterday as possible. Regina looked over her with worried eyes, clearly checking for visible wounds. She looked into Emma’s eyes when she found none and looked to see if she was mentally intact as well. Emma shook her head just slightly and stood.

“Come, my love, you have to attend today’s meeting.” She shot Regina a look that said not to ask anything until they were behind closed doors.

“Of course,” Regina said, stepping beside Emma as they both walked from the room.

Emma took them through back passageways that she hadn’t used in years just so that she could get them where they needed to be much faster. She pulled Regina aside just before they exited the last passage. The cobwebs told her that no one had been through here since the last time she had as a girl. If there was any part of the palace that Cora did not have control over, it was here.

“How do we know your mother isn’t watching and listening to us in our rooms?”

Regina shook her head. “She’s powerful, but she’s not omnipotent. She has to have a vessel to watch through. Notice how there are no mirrors within our rooms, or anywhere that important conversations are had?”

Emma thought it over for a second and nodded.

“The second we received the missive that my mother was coming for us I had the servants pull the mirrors for that exact purpose. I told them it was some ridiculous redecorating thing, of course, so they acted as if nothing was wrong while taking them down so my mother wouldn’t be wholly suspicious, at least at first. Now, it doesn’t quite matter if she suspects anything, they’re down and she had to rely on much less magical ways.”

“Right. That was a good amount of forethought.”

Regina looked at her. “That’s what it takes to be able to survive my mother.”

“Yeah.” She swallowed hard. Gods her life had become some intrigue filled mess. She shook her head and pulled Regina from the passage and out into the hall right before their rooms. “Then we can discuss what we need to in private.”

Regina slipped in behind her as she opened the doors to their rooms. She swept her eyes over the room carefully, looking for anything out of the ordinary, but it seemed like everything was just as it should be. If Cora now had to rely on less magical means to watch them, Emma was certain she had a good number of the skeleton palace staff on her payroll now. Which of course meant that nowhere was truly safe until it had been confirmed to be so.

Regina it seemed had the same idea, casting a spell, golden purple magic flowing form her hands easily and dispersing from the room. She turned to Emma when nothing happened and nodded. Emma sighed and went to sit on their couch.

“Your mother is up to something again.”

Regina snorted. “Of course she is, when isn’t she?”

“Fair enough, but I mean now she’s making visible, public moves, more public than her intrusion on the council meetings. She came to court today.”

That stopped Regina dead in her tracks. “And what did she want?”

“An alliance with our kingdom. It’s something she’s mentioned before, but only to me, nothing had ever been made official. Now, she’s made that move in front of everyone on public record. On paper it would be foolish not to accept her offer of course. We’d almost be certifiable if we didn’t. Which is of course is what everyone is going to think if we don’t because everyone realizes she’s a snake in the grass, but at this point literally everyone else—”

“Would rather be in bed with a snake that’s been recently fed than a pit full of them. Yes, of course.”

“Yeah, it’s exactly where she wanted us. She has a hell of poker face, but she almost has the same look you do when you feel overly smug about something.” She winced. “Sorry, I know I shouldn’t compare you, but you do share some mannerisms. You can’t help it since she’s your mother and all.”

Regina nodded tightly. “Yes, well.”

Emma shook her head. “What are we going to do Regina? We can’t just accept, but we can’t just not accept.” She slumped against the back of the couch. “And as part of the alliance she wants the diamond mines to be reopened.”

Regina turned towards her so quickly she wrenched her neck. Her hands came up to absently rub at the strained muscles as she spoke. “She can’t have access to those diamonds. Emma, she’s a terror now, but she has limits and so do all her mages. The only thing that’s stopping her is the fact that magic can be exhausted, and rather quickly if you’re doing complicated spells. The diamond dust does not have that problem. If she gets access to the mines she’ll take as much as she wants and gods know what she’ll use it for.” Regina had gone that pale color that Emma was starting to associate with anytime Cora came up in conversation.

“I know, believe me, I figured that out. But she made a list of points in front of everyone at court today that sound much too tempting for anyone who isn’t looking beyond the surface of such offers. She went on about how reopening the mines will create jobs and make the kingdom more than just a tiny little farming kingdom and how repealing the magic law will benefit everyone and allow people to be treated equally and be who they truly are.” Anger flared within her. “Of course that was after she insinuated that you wanted the law repealed because you have magic in front of everyone and their brother.”

Regina breathed deeply. “I can’t say that it surprises me. She’s going to try in any way to force your hand. Repealing the law under the guise of the mine will give me plausible deniability about the magic until such time as it’s actually acceptable to have it. If we don’t repeal the law for that…then it will be assumed I do have magic and gods know what some idiot noble would do about that. And if we don’t, then some idiot noble is going to go poking around where they don’t belong and we end up in the same place. She’s cornered us.”

“Yeah, I thought the exact same thing.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Do you happen to be anywhere near ready with a plan to take out your mother before this becomes a problem?”

Regina shook her head. “Of course not. It’s going to take much more than a week to plan for something like that.”

Emma sighed. “That’s what I thought, but I had to ask. What do we do?”

“Accept the alliance. She’s given us no real choice. It will cause less immediate strife and buy us more time. She’s only just starting to mobilize a larger plan. Gods know how many steps the plans going to have, but this, this is only the first big one.”

“And here I thought messing with my mind was one of the rather large steps.”

Regina laughed and there something bone chilling about the sound. “No, dear, that was only the beginning, her playing with you, if you will. It probably had no real importance in the greater plan beyond confirming that you would react as she predicted.”

Emma groaned loudly. “Great. Just fucking great. If I can’t handle that how am I supposed to handle anything larger she throws at me?”

Regina reached out and squeezed her hand. “I’ll be here and as you told me what seems like decades ago, we can do anything together. Perhaps you were wrong about anything, dear, but damn it all if we won’t try.”

Emma nodded. “But Regina, that means you really have to be there for me this time.”

“I know you understand why I was mad at you, but perhaps next time I can be a little more vocal and less silent and seething about the matter. I’m always here for you, Emma, even if I’m mad at you. As long as you’re trying, that’s all I ask.”

“Ok, the same goes for me. Trying is good.”

Regina brought Emma’s hand to her lips and kissed it gently. “Good.”

Emma shivered at the fleeting contact of lips. “Gods, I love you.”

Regina smiled slowly, lips curling up into a rather large grin that did not show her teeth. “I love you too. Fighting or not, that doesn’t change, I just might want to strangle you a bit more than normal.”

“A bit more than normal? You mean there’s a normal level of wanting to strangle me?” Emma squawked. Her eyes were smiling back at Regina, though.

“Oh, your majesty, you damn well know there’s a normal level of wanting to strangle you. You’re an infuriating woman, though I suppose much better than you were before I got to you.”

Emma hit Regina lightly on the arm. “The same could be said for you.”

Regina snorted, but let the comment slide. She leaned forward and kissed Emma gently. “We’ll do this somehow. Gods know you’ve inherited your parent’s capacity for dumb luck. Perhaps we’ll put it to use.”

“I like when you’re optimistic.”

She kissed Emma on the nose before standing up, pulling Emma with her. “Yes, well, since you’re the doom and gloom one recently, perhaps I’ve stepped up.”

Emma regarded her wife for a long second. Regina wouldn’t be this optimistic without some reason. She was far too practical, bordering on pessimistic. Something had to be going on that was giving her hope. The thought warmed Emma entirely. She didn’t push, but perhaps there had been some sort of break through with the plan, even if it wasn’t close to completion yet. She let herself imagine just for a second that everything was close to the end and she relaxed just a fraction.

“I doubt it, but thank you.” Emma squeezed Regina’s hand. “So, what should we tell the council? Do you think we should even ask their opinion on the subject or just tell them that we’re accepting the alliance? Wait, the council chambers are one of the important rooms without mirrors, right?”

Regina nodded. “I believe half the reason she even comes to council meetings is because there’s no way for her to listen in. There are old, powerful wards on that room that are like no magic I’ve ever seen. They have to be from when the kingdom was first founded an eon ago before the magic ban was even a distant twinkle in the universe. I couldn’t tell you how even to go about breaking them. The magic they’re woven from, it’s…different. It’s not like mine or my mother’s or even yours. It’s like a language long dead and forgotten. The only thing I can get from them is that they prevent others from magically listening in. My mother should be able to do nothing with it. Her presence in the meetings tells me that she probably can’t, but I wouldn’t want to assume. Gods know the woman has had infinitely more time and experience with magic than I have, and she dabbles in arts that are…unsavory at best. I’m not exactly sure what some of her books would contain, ancient magic might be one thing covered.”

Emma scrunched her brow at the flood of information that Regina had just given her. “Ok, so safe, right. But about the council?”

“Right.” Regina shook her head, clearing her mind of thoughts of magic. “I would tell them that we are accepting the alliance because there’s no other option. Not that I believe the men in the room are foolish, but because there has to be no room to back out of this on the off chance they are.”

Emma nodded. “Ok.” She tugged on Regina’s hand. “Come on then. Gods know they aren’t going to like this. Besides, your mother’s spies will be expecting us to meet with them anyway.”

Regina hummed her agreement and followed Emma from the room.

 

Telling the council had been much more anticlimactic than Emma would have guessed. By the time they had shown up, almost every man on the council had heard of Cora’s stunt and had already surmised that there was no feasible way to get out of it. Emma had cursed silently that they had found out so quickly. Word travels fast in a palace, of course, but she had thought that there would be more than an hour gap between the meeting and everyone knowing, especially with only the guard, Cora, and herself being there.

She bit her lip in contemplation. One of her throne room guards was either loose lipped, or on Cora’s payroll in one way or another. It was an unsettling thought. She wondered if there was a way to ferret out who it was without tipping off anyone else. Probably not, she would just have to be careful in the future, like she wasn’t already, but being even more careful couldn’t hurt.

Emma sat in her throne room again the next day, waiting for Cora to sweep into the room in her usual style. She had a feeling she would be waiting a rather long time today. Cora was definitely the type of person to gloat, and making her wait was going to be her way. Emma settled down in her throne and made herself comfortable.

She let her mind wander to the things that needed to be done. The list was endless, even with her council and their own underlings taking care of a good portion of the work now. She wondered how in the world her mother had done so much, but then again her mother had not reigned in a time of war, at least in Emma’s recollection. She might have had to delegate more things then, she didn’t know. Snow had never really told her about the war other than the fact they had lost. No one in court had talked about it really either, probably out of deference to her mother’s wish to keep rather silent. She wished her mother had talked about it. Maybe she would know now what to do, or at least have a little clue.

But that wasn’t exactly going to happen now. She supposed she could go look up books on it, but they wouldn’t really tell her much beyond the solid facts. Things could be learned from the fact, sure, but they weren’t the personal accounts and lessons that were learned. Those would have been the most help, and gods even knew if something like that existed in written form. Probably not with her mother’s reticence.

She sighed and leaned against one of the arms of her throne. So many things should be different. But if she had a gold piece for every time she wished that then she would be a rich woman all over again. She stared at the door some more and continued to wait.

It was a long wait for Cora just as she predicted. The appointed time for court was almost over when she swept into the room, wearing a grander dress than Emma had seen her in before. It was deep red, as everything Cora wore, but there was a layer of delicate black lace over the fabric, looking like she was coated in dark fairy gossamer. For all Emma knew it could have actually been dark fairy gossamer. It wouldn’t surprise her if Cora had some sort of alliance with them. The dress was obviously made just for her, making her look younger than she was with the excellent tailoring and the color setting off her skin just so. She looked like she was there to slaughter every single one of them and laugh while going it, and in a way Emma supposed that was the truth.

“Queen Cora, so you’ve returned,” Emma greeted her.

“Of course, this is the day you told me to come back, is it not? I never forget an appointment.”

Emma held back a snort. Of course she wouldn’t, not when Emma wanted her to. “Of course, it is the day, if not the time.”

Cora waved the concern off. “Time dear, isn’t of importance in something like this.”

“Some would say time is of the utmost importance in this matter.”

“Then they are fools. There are no wars to be fought. No one would dare attack while we are here. I’m sure everyone in the surrounding kingdoms knows that the Dark army is here and many of the kingdoms beyond as well. Movement of my army is carefully watched for good reason.”

“Be that as it may, perhaps it is best to hammer out the terms of our alliance quickly instead of dallying. A firm alliance will discourage people from attacking even more. For all they know until an alliance is signed you could be here to kill us all and what’s to stop them from trying to join you and get on your good side?” Emma shot Cora a knowing look so fleeting that she was sure Cora would question whether it had happened at all.

“Oh so you’ve all agreed that an alliance between our kingdoms is in both of our benefits?” Cora titled her head like she genuinely didn’t know.

Emma bit the inside of her lip and resisted the urge to lash out. “Yes, we have. So now comes actually working out the terms of our alliance, of course.”

“Oh good.” Cora shot her the fakest smile Emma had ever seen.

“Yes, I believe both of our kingdoms will benefit greatly.” She blinked a few times to keep her eyes from rolling. “Now, perhaps you should come to today’s council meeting in order to work out a favorable agreement?”

“Of course, I will be there. Of course you don’t mind if I bring an advisor or two to help with the process, do you?”

Well, Emma couldn’t very well say no to that, but that didn’t mean she trusted it at all. Gods even knew what letting Cora’s advisors into the council chambers would do. A thought popped into her mind. One of them would almost certainly be one of her mages. The wards on the chambers probably bothered Cora to no end, getting another magical practioner in there would allow for another chance to break them. She would need Regina in that meeting with her to monitor whatever was going on. She needed Regina in the meeting anyway so Cora didn’t screw her over royally. She hoped Regina could do both.

“Of course,” she said, and shot Cora a fake smile of her own.

“Good, good, we shall see you there then.” She bowed shallowly yet again and left the room.

Emma slumped back against the throne and resisted the urge to groan. All she seemed to do anymore was hold back any expression she ever wanted to make. In this next meeting she was sure that would be all she was doing as well. One day she would kill to just be able to say and do whatever she wanted, maybe it would be less stressful. She doubted it though. She pulled herself from her throne and walked to the council chambers to start preparing for Cora’s return.

 

 

Chapter Text

Cora sat in her normal seat at the head of the table, her two “advisors” on either side. Emma tried to act as if she wasn’t fazed by the seating arrangement, but she was livid. Cora sitting in her rightful seat was one gods damned thing, but her servants? Totally another thing. She was the Queen of this kingdom, damn it and hat should mean at least a little respect. But that was what Cora wanted, for her to be angry. Gods if the woman couldn’t play her like a fiddle.

Instead she just sat at the other end of the table with Regina at her right hand and her own advisors filling in the other seats around her. If Cora was going to play games she was going to play right back in any way possible. If that meant there was a good sized gap between the two parties then so be it.

“So, Cora, your wish for this alliance is that we open the diamond mines again?” Emma asked. She wasn’t going to let Cora have the first word.

“Yes, and also trading contracts with you. Both will benefit our kingdoms equally, I believe.”

Emma nodded and looked around at her council, taking in their responses. If this was just about trade with a wealthier kingdom Emma would be ecstatic, but of course not. The council, for their part were wearing good poker faces, looking thoughtful as they should, but Emma saw the wariness in their eyes.

“Any particular resource that you have in mind?” Lord William asked.

“Your kingdom does not have much in the way of tradesmen, especially metal workers. As I see it the mines will need metal work done, both to support the roofs of the mines and for pick axes. My kingdom sources most of its food from other places and as you are a mostly agrarian kingdom I think something can be worked out.” Cora smiled at the old man with just a tad bit of menace. “For all the other trades, well, I can’t say that the goods your people produce are anything more than functional. If someone would want something…nicer, then that would be where my kingdom would come in.”

“But that would take business away from the tradesmen that we do manage to have,” Lord Roderic said.

Cora arched an eyebrow at him. “The way I see it, no it won’t. The nobles and tradesmen with ample money never buy the simple things that your tradesmen make. They almost always outsource, buying things from other countries, am I not right? If I’m not mistaken I see very little of your own kingdom’s work within the palace itself, but I do see a great deal of Argaban lace and woodwork from Qin and not to mention the art from every kingdom far and wide but this one it seems.”

“That was other ruler’s prerogatives that put such things here, not mine. Who’s to say that I didn’t want more of my own kingdom’s wares here?” Emma bit the inside of her lip again and tasted blood. She wondered if the wound would ever heal at this right. She seemed to reopen it at least once a day.

“Think of it this way, dear, my kingdom has its own peasant class that will be in need of functional wares without frills that are within their price range. The market does work both ways, even in this case.”

Emma kept her hands from coming up and rubbing at her temples. “And your peasants cannot find someone within their own kingdom who can provide goods for them at the right price?”

Cora’s fingers traced idle patterns on the table in front of her. “They are…harder to come by. It’s not made a secret that my kingdom does not cater to peasants in the slightest.”

If that wasn’t an understatement Emma didn’t know what was. Almost all the men in her army were peasants seeking a job that actually would pay them more than a starving wage.

“Besides, if your craftsman have more business, then they will train more apprentices, and who knows, those apprentices could go on to break into the finer goods market. There would be higher demand after all.”

“Fine, fine,” Emma waved off the line of reasoning in a gesture that was a little too much like Cora for her own liking. “Your point has been made. Such trade will be initiated. The farmers will be glad to know that there will be more money to be made and I’m sure the tradesmen will see the light eventually. Now, the mines.”

“Yes, I’m afraid that’s a nonnegotiable part of the alliance. Gods know I can find another kingdom to supply me with food and cheap goods. The diamonds are the only thing that set your kingdom apart. Who knows, if your grandfather hadn’t been an idiot all those years ago and closed the mines your kingdom might have progressed into something much greater than it is now. Diamonds are getting rarer and rarer in the world, let alone in the immediate area. But the shortage has never been something that had plagued your kingdom.”

“And if it does?” Regina spoke up for the first time. Emma watched her, sitting up so straight it looked like her back was about to break and her fingers were gripping her dress under the table hard enough to turn her whole hands white.

Cora shrugged. “It will be a disappointment, but when those mines closed all those years ago diamonds were plentiful. I don’t see why that would have changed in the years they have lain dormant. There will be some diamonds, even if there aren’t as many as I wish. And after that, well my kingdom is well versed in magical wares and to get to the diamonds you have to repeal that pesky anti-magic law. The market here for such things will be wide open and that will have to do.”

Lord Rochester spoke up. “But, Queen Cora, repealing such a law is harder than just wishing it to be. A great deal of our people believe that law is to protect them. Most don’t even remember what magic is like, other than it is supposedly evil. We could have more than a little backlash for such a move.”

Emma had to give it to the little man, he had some balls. She looked him over. Funny, she thought him to be an extreme coward before this, perhaps her original assessment had been wrong.

Cora leveled a glare at him and the man flinched. Or perhaps not.

“The repeal of one law for economic opportunity and political stability. Peasants are so very stupid, but I do believe they will see that there is only one choice here. Besides, who will dare speak ill of the repeal while my army sits right in the middle of your kingdom?”

Anger flared within Emma. How dare the woman threaten her peasants like that?

“Surely it will not come to that,” Lord William said calmly. “If the reasons are clearly explained to why we have come to this alliance, then nothing of the sort will happen.”

“You put entirely too much faith in peasants, old man. Besides, they are not owed an explanation.”

“Perhaps they are not owed it, but they deserve it. And I’m not exactly sure that you should be throwing stones at glass houses, you are not so much younger than me.” Lord William smiled, looking for all the world like a harmless old man when he was anything but in the moment.

Cora visibly seethed. “You will watch how you speak to me, I am a Queen.”

“And I am an old man with nothing to lose. I will protect my kingdom at any cost.”

They stared at each other for a few long seconds. Emma swallowed hard. Gods, whatever everyone was putting together to overthrow Cora had to be bolstering their confidence, almost dangerously so. Emma prayed that they got through this meeting in one piece because at that moment it didn’t look like they would.

Cora stared long and hard at Lord William before surprising Emma completely by snorting loudly and rolling her eyes. “If you want to make a fool of your kingdom, so be it. I will have no part in the announcement.” She looked at Lord William again. “In fact, why don’t you make the announcement then, old man? I can’t think of anything more fitting if you’re so set on the idea.” Cora mumbled under her breath about old men and their tendency towards idiotic ideas.

“If that is what you wish for this…alliance to proceed, then yes, I will be more than happy to make the announcement. I will make it later today if it pleases you.”

Emma looked over at Lord William. Sure, the man was old, but he was the most respected man in the kingdom bar none. His ideas and advice had guided the kingdom through many hard times. And yet Emma had no idea what he was doing, provoking Cora like this. Had the man truly gone off his rocker in his old age? Or was there actually a method to the madness? Emma couldn’t see it either way, but that meant nothing in the scheme of things. She knew there were things going on in the palace she knew nothing about, just because she couldn’t see them didn’t mean they weren’t there.

Cora nodded. “Yes, that will do. With the announcement today I will expect the law to be repealed by week’s end. I would expect it sooner, but gods know that government requires so much infernal paperwork to have one law passed and even more to have one retracted it. It’s nonsense if you ask me.”

Emma shivered. She thought it was nonsense too. It really didn’t comfort her to know that she and Cora shared an ideal that Cora hadn’t twisted into her mind. But she supposed that it was bound to happen at some point. The thought didn’t make her feel any better.

She looked around at her council, taking stock of whether they thought the task could be done in such a short time frame. A few looked apprehensive, but for the most part the men were nodding. It would be harder with so few of them, but it would work out in the end she supposed. If nothing else more of the everyday tasks could be passed off to her council’s underlings while they were working on everything. At the end of this she was going to send all of those poor overworked souls to the summer palace for a week or two to just relax. Gods knew they would need it by then if they didn’t already need it now.

“We can manage that, your majesty.” Emma nodded.

“Good. After that I see no reason why you can’t have the mine up and running within the month.”

Emma scowled. “Surely it will take more than a month to make sure the mine is outfitted for safe work. I won’t send my people into a place where they’re more likely to die than not. Besides, such accidents will slow down production for who knows how long after each incident.” The only way she was going to win this discussion was to speak Cora’s language. She valued production over human life, but those two things were more than wrapped up in each other in a mine. She would get her to be a decent human being by any means possible.

Cora looked thoughtful for all of a second. “Fine,” she bit out. “I’m sure you have someone who will be able to survey the mines and know what measures will be needed to fix them.”

They didn’t, but she wasn’t about to say that. Someone could be found from one of their true allies as soon as the meeting ended. “Yes, we do.”

“Good. You will let me know the second you know what is needed if your kingdom does not have it. Consider the materials a gift, if you will, to celebrate our alliance.”

More like to expedite whatever she wanted with the diamonds. “Of course.” She smiled again stiffly. “Our men will work as quickly as possible to make the mine safe for use. While they are at it I will have them survey to see how many useful veins there are still within.”

Cora nodded. “Acceptable.”

“Now, if that is all you wanted from this alliance perhaps we should start with our terms?” Emma cocked an eyebrow.

“If you must,” Cora said exasperatedly.

“Good, I suppose the most important herein would be protect from attacks both foreign and domestic, that includes your own army. It’s no use to use if we are protected against everyone but you. There’s no one else who can match you. If part of your army were to get any…ideas, well, I think I’ve heard enough from you about how weak our own particular army is.”

A thunderous look crossed Cora’s face. “If I’m forming an alliance with you why in the world would my army attack you? Wouldn’t that negate the alliance? Are you even listening to the words that are coming out of your mouth?”

“I am, and while you are a fearsome leader, that doesn’t mean that there might not be an uprising within your own army. I know how the men are loathe to fight against their brothers, but I want that guarantee that they will.” Really, she just wanted in writing that Cora’s army couldn’t attack her period. If she worded it right on a magically sealed contract that would be the exact outcome, and if she knew Cora well enough she would demand a magic contract to ensure she would get her diamonds.

“Fine, if you must have such a foolish guarantee you will get it I suppose. It wouldn’t benefit me if the mines were compromised in any way.”

Emma hummed noncommittally. “Anything else you gentlemen can think of?” She looked around the table but saw shaking heads. They were getting protection and trade out of the deal, that was all they really needed, even if it was from a snake.

“Well then, what do you say to writing everything out?” Emma looked up at Cora and this time the smile she shot the older woman was more genuine. Maybe she was getting a handle on handling Cora after all.

 

They had written out the alliance in no time with the help of all their respective advisors. Cora, as planned had demanded the magically sealed contract with an expression that looked pained. Emma had almost laughed at that, but had managed to keep her face a blank mask. Regina beside her had had the small twinkle in her eye that had belied the other woman’s amusement as well.  

But still, in the grand scheme of things they had only won one little thing away from Cora. There were still many, many things the other woman could do to them. They could be amused for now, but only for what seemed like the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things or they would be over taken quickly enough. And that was no laughing matter.

Emma handed off the alliance treaty to the librarian and told her to find the safest place she could for it. She had three identical copies in her notes from the day’s council meeting complete with the magical seal. Regina had duplicated them with a barely there movement of her wrist as she was handing the paper over to Emma. She didn’t trust her mother not to storm into the library and take the contract back by force. There were only two ways to break a magically sealed contract, both parties had to agree that the arrangement was at an end or the contract could be burned and the ashes burned again while the magic released from the burning ashes was taken and contained elsewhere. It was usually not worth the time and effort to go through such a process. The magic had a bad habit of escaping into the world no matter how you sealed it. The contracts were meant to be unbreakable after all. And magic once cast was nothing if not goal oriented.

But yet, she was sure Cora would do exactly that if it meant that her army could mobilize against them for even the shortest time. It wouldn’t take long for what she wanted to accomplish anyway. So they made copies of the contract. It wouldn’t matter if Cora found one and burned it if there were others that existed in the world the seal would still be in effect. One in the library, one in their rooms, and three more scattered throughout the palace in completely random places would do nicely. Emma wondered idly if it was a good idea to make a few more copies and distribute them to the far corners of the kingdom. But that could have unintended consequences. If they made too many copies it could stretch the magic too thin to be effective, though she wasn’t sure about that effect. She would have to ask Regina. And if they sent copies to distant parts of the kingdom then they wouldn’t have direct control over them, or at least easy access to them. Having a few hidden in the palace wouldn’t necessarily mean that a servant wouldn’t find them, but if they did at least Emma and Regina would know almost immediately. The same couldn’t be said of distant outposts. But then again the contracts would be safer from Cora the farther away they were.

She sighed and walked away from the library, running her hands through her hair. She would just have to ask Regina later what she thought of the matter. They would think something through together.

A few minutes later found her in her rooms. Anymore she couldn’t stand being in the rest of the palace unless she was truly needed. The feeling of being watched made her skin crawl uncomfortably. Her office offered some refuge from that, but not much. As soon as word traveled that she was in her office, no matter if she wanted to be left alone or not, there were always a flurry of knocks of people seeking her out, servants bringing her papers, and others seeing if she was comfortable. The people almost never really needed her, and if they did they found a way to get to her and the paperwork she collected every day before she went back into her rooms. Once in her rooms it was now becoming understood that she was not to be disturbed there unless it was dire emergency. It was as close as she was ever going to get to true privacy as a royal and she would take what she could get.

 Oftentimes she found she was more productive anyway within her rooms even without counting the interruptions. Without the noises of the bustling palace filtering in through the door she was more able to focus. So she sat down on her couch once she was in her rooms and set to work, scribbling on paperwork until Regina walked in a few hours later.

Emma looked up and smiled at her wife, setting down her pen and stretching slowly, working out the kinks in her neck from being hunched over so long. “Hey.”

“Hello, dear.” Regina smiled back at her and started to strip herself of armor as soon as the door closed behind her. She sighed as the weight left her shoulders, relief palpable. She walked into their bedroom and deposited the armor, changing quickly into a suitable dress for dinner before walking back out to the living area.

“It might be an odd thing to say, but after a long day in armor a corset almost feels like a break.”

Emma snorted. “Right.”

Regina laughed. “As I said, it might be an odd thing to say.” Her hands went up to her hair and started to comb it gently with her fingers. Once the tangles were tamed down some she started to brush it out with slow and even strokes.

“No matter what you’re in, you look amazing.”

“Thank you, dear.” She set the brush down when her hair was bright and shiny again. She bit her lip for a few seconds, playing with the ends of her hair before leaving it to drape around her shoulders, doing nothing more to it. “I feel two different kinds of attractive when in armor or dresses. Both are equally pleasing and come from the same place, but different nonetheless.”

“Huh, wouldn’t have guessed.” Emma scooted over and kissed Regina’s neck after moving her hair aside carefully.

Regina sighed and leaned into the contact. “They’re both rooted in feelings of power in a way, but…it’s hard to explain. Masculine and feminine are the completely wrong words for it, because I always feel very, very female no matter what, but…”

“I get it in a way. Like how I feel in breeches and shirts versus dresses.”

“Yes, I suppose that would be the same principle. Maybe dangerous in armor and cunning in dresses would be more how to describe it. Both almost mean the same thing in a way, but different.” Regina shrugged. “I don’t have the words for it.”

“Don’t need the words for it. You’re you and you’re incredibly beautiful no matter what.” Emma kissed Regina for a few long seconds before drawling back.

Regina sighed and leaned into Emma. “So are you, darling.”

Emma hummed, placing another kiss on Regina’s hair. “One of these days you’re going to take my compliments without feeling the need to return them.”

“It’s not that I feel like I need to, I just want to. I could say the same of you and compliments if I wanted.”

Emma thought about it for a minute. She couldn’t really ever recall doing that, but then again she hardly ever went long without complimenting her wife in some way so she accepted it. “I think we just love each other too much to lay off.”

Regina nodded into Emma’s shoulder. “Even when you’re being an idiot I do so love you.”

Emma laughed. “Thank you for that rousing compliment. But I love you too even when you’re being an idiot.”

Regina scoffed, but Emma could feel the other woman smiling into her shoulder.

They sat for a few moments in silence. Emma yawned. She wished they could skip dinner, but they definitely couldn’t on the eve of signing a rather large alliance contract. Gods damned politics. Her hands found Regina’s and squeezed once before pulling the other woman up with her.

“Come on, better get this over with.” A few papers fluttered off Emma’s lap from where she had left them. She bent over and picked them up, shoving them into one of her many folders. She was really going to have to start using the filing cabinets in her office soon just to get rid of some of them.

One of the contract copies caught her eye. She frowned and handed it to Regina. “I know we said we were going to hide the copies around the palace, but what do you think of the idea of making a few more copies and sending them to distant corners of the kingdom?”

Regina fingered the edge of the paper gently, thinking. “It would put them further away from my mother, but give us less control over what happened to them.”

Emma nodded. “Yeah, that was what I was thinking. But do the pros outweigh the cons? I couldn’t decide.”

“I know of a few outposts that could be trusted with the job in terms of secrecy, but of course if my mother ever got word that they had a copy of the contracts they would be razed to the ground faster than they could blink.”

“That would be the story with most of our outposts. Well, really all of them, but…” Emma shook her head. “The contract remaining intact is vital to protecting a great many lives, but the possibility of willingly sacrificing our men in the outposts doesn’t sit right.”

Regina hummed and nodded. She hand Emma back the contract. Emma stuffed it back in the middle of her stuff and walked over to the cabinet where she put her folders when not working on them. The magical lock Regina had installed bathed the piece of furniture in a gentle purple-gold glow for a second before fading. When Regina had explained the spell to her she had been fascinated and wanted a magical lock on just about everything had it been practical. The lock was tuned to only open to the person whose magic it was made from. Since she and Regina shared the same magic they both could open it freely.

“True enough, but if everyone did their jobs correctly then they would not have to worry about attack. We would be putting them into danger, but nothing that couldn’t be controlled. Only we would know where the papers are as well as the men who had them of course, and only the two of us would truly know what the papers are. It’s not uncommon practice in times of war to scatter important documents around the kingdom to keep them from being obtained. If we put it in that light I don’t believe the men would come to much more danger than they are already in. They are trained to protect the kingdom or die trying and that would include protecting its secrets.”

Emma bit the inside of her lip. “There’s not exactly a good outcome, but I agree. How many more copies can you make before the enchantment wears too thin?”

“Three more, maybe four, but three would be safer.”

“Three it is. If we send one to Raven’s Den, White’s End, and Cypress Grove then they should be far enough apart to do us good.”

Regina shook her head. “Not Raven’s Den. My mother’s had spies there for years. White’s End is a good choice, but I’d go for Maple Place and Orange Village before the other two.”

“That puts two of them closer together than I’d like. It would only be a day and half between them.” Emma frowned.

“But better that than with men who aren’t completely loyal. Besides, no one ever thinks to look close to the place where another was found.”

“Or it’s the first place people look,” Emma muttered.

“My mother won’t think us that clever. Though there is always the distinct possibility she will search near and far if she finds one. So in that case, either way it does not matter.”

Emma titled her head from side to side considering. “All right, send them their then. We’re going to have to do this without your mother noticing and we’re going to have to gather a lot more inconsequential papers to hide the contracts within that way it actually looks like we’re doing what we said.”

Regina nodded. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. I’ll let you know when everything is in place.”

“Ok.” She stepped towards Regina again. “Come, I think we’re a little bit more than fashionably late for dinner at this point. Hopefully none of the nobles are causing a ruckus at not being fed.”

Regina snorted. “Yes, right.”

Emma snorted with her. “Right.”

They left the room together at an unhurried clip. What was a few more minutes to torment a few cranky nobles? They’d get fed eventually. And if Emma felt a little bit of glee at the slightly petty action, well, she had to get her amusement from somewhere in the middle of a war, right? She chuckled and continued on with Regina at a stately pace.

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma walked into her council chambers the next day and to her utter surprise Cora was not there. She looked around suspiciously for the woman. Why would she miss this meeting? They were going to discuss the repeal of the magical ban today, which was totally something in Cora’s best interest to preside over. And that woman did not miss out on something that was in her best interest.

She stepped back out the door and looked around. A page boy turned the corner at a run. Perfect. She called for him and was met with Henry’s hazel eyes. Even better.

“Are you on an important errand right now?”

The small boy shook his head. “Cook sent me to give a message to the Quarter Master, but that can wait if her majesty needs me.”

Emma nodded. That wasn’t a vital message, probably just the old cook wanting to know the updated count of people in the palace that she had to feed. “Go to Regina and get her for me, please. Tell her I’m in the council chambers and that her prompt appearance would be wise.”

The boy nodded and ran off again.

Something about this didn’t sit right with her. Cora was always ten minutes early at least, if not more. And she still hadn’t showed up and the meeting was due to begin any minute now. She looked back at the closed doors to the council chamber and frowned. What if…?

She closed her eyes and reached out for her magic after a quick look around to make sure no one was around to see her. The magic responded more easily this time, doing her bidding after only a few attempts. It flowed from her hands towards the council chamber and stopped. Well, that felt like a barrier, but Emma had no idea if that was what the barrier felt like before. For all she knew it could be one of Cora’s making. She needed Regina to look over everything to make sure that the wards on the chambers still existed and that the room was safe to speak freely in.

She stayed in the hallway waiting for her wife. She knew nothing of real import would be discussed by her councilmen until she actually entered the room. It didn’t matter if they had saw her come in and almost immediately depart, she could make up an excuse for that easily enough if the wards were broken and Cora was listening in. She cursed herself for not asking Regina about the wards the night before, but she had been too focused on the copies of the contract and their distribution. She supposed that there were worse things to be distracted with.

Regina showed up a few minutes later. She looked at Emma questioningly. Emma stepped forward and hugged Regina lightly and whispered in her ear.

“Your mother isn’t here and I’m suspicious. Can you look over the wards on the room just in case?”

Regina stepped back from the hug and nodded. “Of course, darling, nothing would make me happier.” She smiled as if Emma had just asked her to eat a bar of chocolate instead of make sure their safety was intact. Emma had to admit her wife was a wonderful actress when she really tried.

Regina walked into the room with Emma right behind. Almost immediately her eyes glazed over as she walked to her own chair, the one that Emma herself had been occupying in the face of her mother’s takeover of the chair at the head of the table. Emma sat down in her rightful chair and sighed. She didn’t think such symbolic things would mean so much to her when she was Queen, but right now they were almost like a safety blanket.

She cleared her throat and looked at the men. “Sorry about the delay, I figured that Regina should be with us today since we are repealing a major law and both Queens should be present for such an occasion to make it all the more official.”

They all nodded like they accepted this answer without question, but she saw more than a few glances at her wife with questioning eyes. She reached out and gripped one of Regina’s limp hands on the table and looked over everyone.

“Now that our guest is gone from the council meetings, I want you to know that this changes nothing.” The significant look she shot them was enough to make all the men look at Regina once more. They knew something was up now. “But why don’t we start first with normal business. I suspect that the law repeal will take some time, of course, and we don’t want to get behind on anything.”

The men nodded and started on their normal reports. Emma half listened while keeping an eye on Regina. Her facial expression hadn’t changed. Emma didn’t know whether that was a good or bad thing, maybe it was just neutral and Regina was still looking. She wondered how long it took to survey a ward on a room of this size. If Regina wasn’t done soon the councilmen were going to run out of things to talk about and Emma would have to find some way to distract them further.

She cast one more look at Regina before launching into a discussion with Lord Rochester about the prices of grain just to make the time stretch out longer. The grain prices were fair for the middle of winter and she was well aware of it. She just hoped that Cora thought her stupid enough that she really didn’t know what a fair price was.

Finally, after the grain conversation had died and Emma had started up a new discussion with Lord Roderic about the soldier’s pay Regina came back to life and Emma relaxed just a little bit. She looked over at the other woman and cocked an eyebrow.

“It’s safe. There were traces of her mage’s magic, but from what I could tell they didn’t manage to break the wards, only probe them. No other spells have been laid. The room still remains secure.”

Emma truly relaxed back into her chair now. “Thank the gods.” She saw Regina swallow hard and sat up just a little bit.

“It may be a bit early to thank them now. Now there’s the question of what did my mother deem more important than this meeting?”

Emma sighed and put her head in her hands. “Is there any way to find out?”

“No, if it’s more important than a key step to get at the diamonds she will have covered her tracks well enough.”

“Of course not. That would be much too easy, wouldn’t it?” She looked up at her council members. “I want you to send out inquiries anyway. Need I even say they need to be discrete inquiries? I think you’re all wise enough to know what happens if we aren’t discrete in this matter. Likely we won’t come up with anything, as Regina said, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Quite frankly I’ll be a little suspect if we do find anything, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” Emma sat up straight again. “Now, onto business. Lord William, what have you found out about the particular law in question? How broad is it. I do believe everyone knows the implications, but the devil is in the details with laws. I can’t recall ever actually reading the law itself, only the surely bastardized interpretations of it in my lessons.”

“It’s a bit more wide ranging than it’s actually thought to be. Your grandfather was very…adamant that all traces of magic be eliminated from the kingdom, to the point of declaring one of the subsections of the law to be the disposal of any and all children born with magic or suspected of being born with magic.”

“Gods above,” Emma breathed out. “Leading with that might just boost the repeal’s popularity, no one likes to see children dead.”

“Indeed, the law gave the king a great deal of extra powers that he saw fit to have to ‘defend against magic and its evil.’ During the first few years of the ban he used them constantly, jailing people suspected of magic for nothing more than sneezing really. He’d seize their property as well to inspect for magical objects and then when the person in question was proven innocent would return nothing. If the law hadn’t been so popular it might have caused an uproar. But after a few years he was distracted by other things and the few people with magic who hadn’t fled the kingdom had gotten the message and did not advertise their abilities.”

Emma’s stomach turned at the knowledge of what her grandfather had done. She’d never met the man, but she’d always imagined a kindly old man when she was little. When she had gotten older and had learned about his rule in her lessons, she had been disillusioned. No one who ruled a kingdom could truly be kindly, but this, this was even worse than she thought.

“Will it be much work to make sure that literally every single one of the powers that were instated in the law are repealed along with it?” Regina spoke up, face a shade paler than normal.

“No, it shouldn’t be as long as the repeal is written up systematically following the original law. It will take a day at most to complete. The law itself is rather extensive, almost a book as they all seem to be.”

Emma nodded, she’d seen the huge tomes upon tomes that contained all of the laws of the White Kingdom in the library. There was a special room just to house them all. Emma was rather sure that there were books filled with laws that weren’t followed anymore because they were forgotten by people and ruler and probably a fair number of laws that said and did the same thing for the same reason. It didn’t help that each law was almost a book in and of itself, trying to account for literally every contingency.

“Good, good, there will be no mention of children being killed in this kingdom again if I can help it.” Emma shook her head. She was infinitely glad now that she hadn’t met her grandfather. She had a feeling they would have gotten along even less than she and her mother had at the end.

“What of the peasants, how have they responded to the news?”

Lord William nodded, pleased. “Well, your majesty, when they realized that there is to be another option for steady work with better pay they jumped at it. Not everyone wants to be a farmer or in the army, nor do they have the skills to be a craftsman. It’s a good middle ground for them. They’re, of course, a little wary, but that’s nothing time will not fix. It’s nothing that will stop the repeal.”

“Good.” She looked at the papers in front of her and sighed. “Gods know if the parents of the children within the kingdom now aren’t worried about starving, perhaps their children can learn a trade, maybe even get some education instead of working the fields. It does benefit everyone. Though the farmers that remain will need incentive to do so, more land, better compensation, something of the sort, we can’t have everyone running off to the mines. Something will have to be thought of at a later date, though the trade contracts with the Dark Kingdom will help us some.”

Everyone around the table nodded in agreement.

“A few of you start brain storming ideas. The rest of you work with Lord William to draft the repeal. I will read it over when you are finished at tomorrow’s meeting. Lord Roderic, I leave you in charge of finding someone who will start the process of making the mines safe. I don’t think I need to stress to you how vital it is that you do so quietly, but also find someone who has a good reputation for such things. The last thing we need right now is a mine collapse.”

The men nodded again.

Emma stood for the table. “And I do believe that is everything for the day, gentlemen. If there is something that needs my immediate attention you know where to find me.” Regina rose and stood beside Emma as she nodded her farewell. They exited the room quickly and walked towards their rooms.

Emma shut the door behind them and turned towards Regina. “What do you really think your mother is doing?”

Regina sighed and walked over to their couch, tugging on the hem of her shirt. “If anything, I would say that the way you worded your contract yesterday has put a kink in her plans and she’s trying to find some sort of contingency. What that contingency is, I can’t be certain. She has to protect us against other armies and her own can’t attack us, but that still leaves a great deal open. There would be really no need to find all the contracts and burn them, not if there’s an easier way. She’s probably figured that we’ve made at least one copy. She should know I have the ability. Why search when you could hire a band of mercenaries?”

Emma paled at that. Could Cora actually hire a band of mercenaries and get away with that under the contract? Had she covered that? She had said attacks both foreign and domestic, wouldn’t that cover mercenaries? She thought she had done well with that wording, but was it too broad?

“Could she really do that? Shouldn’t that be covered?” Emma bit her lip hard.

Regina sighed. “Mercenaries, perhaps not, but if there is some way around the wording you laid down my mother will find it. She’s very good at things like this. It said that she had to defend us, it never said she had to do it well. She could well hire the mercenaries, send her weakest soldiers after them with terrible orders knowing they would be killed, and that would cover her obligation. She could sit back and watch us burn after that. Of course she would never make it that obvious, but it could be something along those lines, or it could be something completely different.”

“Gods, just when I think I’ve gotten one step ahead of your mother, not even one step ahead, really, it’s more like I just caught up with her, she goes and runs a mile ahead.” Emma threw her arms up in the air and screamed quietly.

Regina hummed, a humorless little sound. “Welcome to being a monarch. There will always be those much more clever than you and you have to fight to keep up and keep your kingdom safe.”

Emma walked over to the couch and flopped down. “Yeah, well, I don’t have to appreciate it. All the other monarchs I met while growing up were all idiots. Why is it that when I’m actually Queen I find the ones that aren’t idiots?”

Regina scooted over and drew Emma down to her lap and started running her fingers through Emma’s hair. Emma relaxed slightly at the feeling, but her mind was still going in circles. Just for once she wanted to win, truly win and not have to come face to face with another problem three seconds later.

“I don’t know, but that seems to be the way of things,” Regina said finally.

Emma sighed and shook her head, dislodging Regina’s fingers for just a moment. She stilled and Regina went right back to combing through her hair lightly. Emma closed her eyes and rubbed them with one hand. Gods. Just. Gods. She let herself lay there for a few long minutes, turning into Regina’s stomach and breathing in the scent that was wholly her wife’s own. They would survive. They had come this far, hadn’t they?

She pulled herself up, gathered her things and set to work on another round of paperwork that had to be done, leaning into Regina. Regina grabbed a few sheets and set to work beside her. Yes, they would get through this. She had to keep believing that no matter how many times she got beaten down. She leaned over and kissed Regina on the cheek before settling in to read another report.

 

The magic repeal was done a little over a week later. It was entered into one of the huge books in the library and officially announced across the kingdom. Nothing had changed with the announcement, no magic users suddenly started casting spells left and right, but then again Emma hadn’t thought that anyone would. She understood where they were coming from. She wasn’t any more forthcoming with her magic either, and from what she had gathered, neither was Regina. They both wanted to be far distant from the conflict with Cora before they truly showed the extent of their powers. True love’s magic would be obvious to anyone who knew what to look for, she was sure. And the peasants, well they didn’t trust the repeal, and after reading the extent of the law, Emma didn’t blame them. Perhaps when this was all over she and Regina could come forward with their magic, provide an example of how accepted magic was now, but that would come later.

For now, the entrance to the mines was being unblocked with the repeal, slowly but surely. Her grandfather and not wanted anyone in those mines, not even the smallest rodent it seemed from the reports of just how much rubble had been piled in front of any and all entrances, even the air shafts. Her soldiers were working quickly along with the expert that Lord Roderic had found swiftly and quietly as instructed. He had hired a team of stoneworkers to help him clear and stabilize the mines, the closest Emma’s kingdom had to anyone that worked in a mine. They knew rock at least, so they were a suitable enough choice.

When the man had come to her originally she had instructed him to be very, very thorough in the inspection and subsequent safety improvements in the mine. She had shot him a significant look and then a look out beyond, in what she hoped was clearly the direction of the Dark Army. An understanding look had come over the man’s face as he agreed to do just that, so Emma hoped that the real message had gotten across clearly.

Now, all there was, was to wait. The bulk of Cora’s trade contracts would not start until the spring brought fairer weather. The mine was the only thing that could be worked on. Emma secretly hoped that the other woman would leave until the mine was ready to start producing, but she knew she wasn’t going to get such a thing. Cora stayed, though her presence had become rarer. It pleased Emma as much as it unnerved her.

So she threw herself into work, as did Regina. Her first class of soldiers graduated with honors amongst the guard and she was on to training a new class of men. Emma could tell that Regina did not like the new group as well. Apparently the captain of the guard had given her the hard cases considering she had done so well with her first group. They were much lazier and taxed Regina much more, but she still came home with a satisfied, if exhausted look. Emma found the stories of idiotic trainees rather entertaining if nothing else.

And so a month passed in relative quiet, driving them even deeper into the heart of winter. Emma stood looking out on the kingdom from her room’s window. The snow was piled high, the paths barely more than tunnels anymore. The only place where you could still see the ground were the training grounds and that was only because the men were assigned shovel duty as their warm up exercise. Something was going to have to be done soon about the piles of snow in the corners of the yard soon, but that could wait for another few days she supposed. When it got up to the tops of the walls then she would worry.

A knock sounded on the door behind her. She turned and looked over her shoulder for a long minute. Who even knew she was up? Or did they know she was up? She hadn’t yet emerged from her rooms from the day, choosing instead to pass what little quiet time she had watching her wife from the window leading her recruits in a series of basic drills. It was soothing to a degree, watching the repetitive movements and observing her wife, face flushed with cold, surveying her men with intense focus.

The knock sounded again. She sighed and moved towards the door. Whoever wanted her had a good reason, or at least they should. If they didn’t, she wasn’t above a lecture and some glaring to get the message across, not when the mornings were the only time she truly got to herself, not when her rooms were her personal haven away from court life.

She opened the door to find the man who had been hired to ensure the safety of the mines, Joseph. He looked at her with the bright silver-grey eyes of those from the northern kingdoms and shifted his burly frame slowly, somehow conveying more nervousness in the slow movements than if he had fidgeted constantly. He cleared his throat and spoke after bowing low.

“Sorry to be disturbin’ you, your majesty, but I needed to talk to you as soon as possible. It couldn’t wait until the council meetin’.”

Emma looked him over, seeing sincerity in his eyes and stepped back. “Come in then.”

He ambled past her and stood, waiting for her to show him where to sit. She led him to the group of seats a little farther from the fire than her favored couch. She motioned for him to sit as she walked around the room, gathering two glasses of water and casting simple spells about the room that Regina had taught her to make sure the room had not had listening spells cast on it. When she found none she went back to her seat and sat, handing the other man the second glass. She sipped at her own glass and waited for him to speak.

He took a great swallow of water before clearing his throat again. The man set the glass down on the table between them and looked up at Emma once again. “I know you wanted me to be…thorough with the safety inspection of the mines, and I thought that you would want to know that a new man showed up the day before last, claimin’ he was to help me. He was evasive when I asked him if you had sent him. I went along with it until he started to hurry along the men, not quite cuttin’ corners just yet, but not doin’ the job as you specified. He’s not from you, is he?”

Emma shook her head and sighed. She should have known Cora would try something soon. She had been much too silent as of late. “No, no he is not.” She debated for a long minute about what to do with the man now in her mines against her will. “Send him to me, say I have summoned him.”

Joseph shook his head. “He didn’t know I’d come here. I’m not sure I want him to know. He’s not right, your majesty. I work with a good bit of men, they’re not all there in one way or another, you see, but this one is different. I don’t like the feelin’ I get from him.”

“Then I’ll send a missive back with you to my soldiers who are there, they’ll be able to give him the message and he’ll think nothing of it.”

He nodded at that. “That’ll do well.”

“Good, good.” Emma got up and went to her desk, drawling out a piece of her stationary from one of the locked compartments. She scribbled down continuing orders for her troops at the mine and a few added lines about how she wished to see the new mine safety director at the palace as soon as possible. That would get the job done. The other man would be there in two days at the latest. She folded up the paper and sealed it with wax quickly, enjoying the feeling of pressing into the soft substance for just a second before pulling away.

Emma walked over again to Joseph and handed him the missive. “Thank you for coming, Joseph. You were right to do so. In the future if I send anyone to the mines I will send you a letter informing you of such. Anyone else who shows up, tell me of them immediately. Lord Roderic picked the right man for this job. You’ve done an excellent work so far.”

The man smiled at her and stood. “Thank you, your majesty, I try.” He took the letter from her and tucked it into an inner pocket close to his heart. He patted it once and continued. “I’ll make sure this gets there safely.”

Emma nodded. “Thank you. Just make sure you yourself get there safely. My kingdom is not within the safest of times, you understand.”

He nodded in return. “Of course, your majesty.”

Emma escorted him from the room and sighed as the door shut behind him. Now the only question was, what was she going to do when the man actually got to court? He obviously was Cora’s man and Cora was going to know if the man did not report back to her or if he was ejected from the mine by her orders. She needed another game plan for this. She thought hard for a few minutes, returning to her window. Regina was no longer in the yard, or at least where she would be visible. She might be off taking a water break or exchanging out weapons, wooden swords for practice battle axes or something of the like.

An idea dawned on her just as she caught her first glimpse of Regina again. She strode from the window and opened her door. She walked quickly towards the library.

The librarian greeted her with just a hint of surprise. Emma hadn’t done any of her own research for anything since becoming Queen. Part of it was resentment of all those days she had slaved away for nothing for her mother, part of it just the lack of time. And maybe there was just a hint of bitterness that her mother was right, there were a great and varied number of things that had to have reports done in order to make the most informed decisions. Which she had known, but she was right about the lower level nobles being the ones to actually do those reports. It was of no real matter now.

“Your majesty,” the older woman said, standing fluidly from her chair and curtsied. “What brings you here today?”

“I need books on the diamond mine. Please tell me my grandfather didn’t have those destroyed as well.” She prayed to the gods for a long minute while the woman thought. Part of her grandfather’s anti-magic law had outlawed any books that had to do with magic, and had forced the burning of any books that were found.

“I’m not exactly sure,” the old woman said after a long moment. “The books about the mine that would still exist would have to be ones that did not mention the magical properties of the diamonds. Almost all of them would have, after all, it’s the most fascinating part of the mines.”

“I just need anything, anything at all. Mine manager’s logs would work. I just need to know something about where they should start digging.” Emma’s stomach sunk. The woman in front of her always knew where everything was, to the most obscure little piece of paper. This didn’t bode well for her search.

“Well, if there is anything left, I know where it would be. Give me a few minutes, your majesty, the records are squirreled away so the general populace can’t get to them. At least they had the sense to keep up the organization system or it might be days before I would get back to you.”

Emma nodded her understanding and the older woman walked off. She walked over to a couch and sank down, listening to the quiet bustle around her. No matter if there were fewer people in the palace know, information was still a drawl and was always needed. She felt eyes on her and hoped none of the people watching her were Cora’s. The odds of that were probably slim. Someone in the room probably reported to her in some capacity. It was a good thing she’d had the presence of mind to cover up what she really wanted to do with the records. The librarian was trustworthy, but gods knew how well sound traveled in a quiet library.

Emma twiddled her thumbs for a good long while before the librarian came back, a few cobwebs coating the skirts of her dress, holding a thin book, yellowed with age. Emma stood quickly and walked over to meet her. The older woman set the book into Emma’s hands carefully.

“That’s all I could find on first look. There’s a great deal down there, if you would like I can keep searching, but that seems to be a manager’s log from the last few years of the mine’s operation. I don’t know if that will help you in what you’re looking for, but it’s something to start.”

Emma bit the inside of her lip. No, she was quite sure that she could get what she wanted out of this book if she tried hard enough. She just had to do it quickly, Cora’s implant safety inspector would be there soon. “Go ahead and keep looking when you can. The more information the better, but I’ll see what this little book contains. Oh, and while you’re down there, if you see anything at all about magic that wasn’t burned, bring it up. There’s no need to keep books of information from the public anymore. If there are spell books, though, make sure Regina says they’re ok for public consumption. Information is good, another dark wizard on our hands isn’t quite so great.”

The woman nodded. “Of course your majesty.”

She turned to go. “Thank you for finding this,” she called over her shoulder and she walked from the room.

She walked as quickly as was seemly back to her room. When she was back on her couch she opened the book carefully and started to read. The writing was barely legible in places with misspellings and words she didn’t think existed scatted throughout. Obviously whoever the mine manager had been, he hadn’t been very well educated, only well enough to get by it seemed. Emma’s head started to hurt after only a few pages of trying to decipher the words in front of her, but she pushed on. She had to find what she was looking for.

Halfway through, she found the words she’d been looking for. In the man’s stilted script read ‘pulled team from branch C, ran dry six months ago, no exploratory digging has yielded any results, probably run dry.’ Emma sighed and closed the book. Thank the gods. She massaged her temples and sat back. Branch C, she would assign the man to oversee that branch and then, even if he did deem it ‘safe’ and started to mine he would find nothing. Meanwhile her man and the branches that actually would yield diamonds would still be working at a slower pace. It wasn’t fool proof by any means, but it would be something as long as the other man didn’t get impatient and call the branch dry too early. Perhaps she would throw in a few tidbits about it being a special assignment for him, that she had read in old mine logs that the branch had shown signs of a huge vein about to open up. That would keep him busy for at least a little longer she supposed.

She set the book aside on the end table. She would hide that later. It wasn’t going to be out of her sight for a good long time, at least until the deception had passed, or until her man actually produced diamonds in his own sweet time. She idly thought about burning it, but decided against it. There could be other useful information in there that she might need. For now she would just hide it in her magically warded cabinet as with everything else.

She sighed heavily. When would be the tipping point? When would she ever be more than one step ahead of Cora? Was she ever one step ahead of Cora? It certainly never felt like it. Cora still had her grand plan, whatever it may be, and Emma was only just keeping up with the little tidbits Core felt like revealing. The older woman had to be miles ahead of her. No, she’d never been one step ahead at all. She put her head in her hands and just barely kept from cursing the world.

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma sat in her throne room two days later when the new mine safety inspector walked through the door, all charisma and working class charm. Emma knew immediately why Cora had chosen him out of whoever knew how many men she had at her disposal. Not only would the men in the mines listen to him, but she could almost see Cora’s face, pleased as punch as she thought about Emma being impressed with him as well. After all, he was a charming peasant, and Emma was just so softhearted, why wouldn’t she take to him immediately?

She ground her teeth at the image. Cora was trying to play on her perceived weaknesses. Fine, all was fair in war, but gods damn it all if liking peasants was a weakness. That didn’t mean that she couldn’t spot a spineless weasel, and the man in front of her, bowing much too low even for a peasant, was a spineless weasel if she ever saw one.

Oh, he was charming, said all the right things, had all the right looks, but there was just something about him that Emma was sure would have set her on edge even if she hadn’t known that he was one of Cora’s men. It was that kind of charisma that screamed that the person behind the attitude thought they deserved everything. And everything meant everything, money, goods, women, be they willing or not. In choosing what she thought was the perfect peasant to trick Emma, Cora had inadvertently circled back around into the attitude that she hated from all nobles. Emma wondered idly how it had even happened. Cora was always so careful about planning these things.

It hit her like a freight train. The man was test. Of course he was, he had to be. There was no other reason that Cora would pick someone she knew Emma would hate. But what kind of test was he, and had she already failed it? If he was a test to see if Emma had someone reporting back to her in the mines, then she’d already failed, but that was a stupid test. Cora had to know that she had people in the mines reporting to her. It was still her kingdom after all, and those who worked in the mines were employed by the crown. No, it had to be something different.

She thought about it as she regarded the man in front of her silently for a minute. He was still talking, going on about how honorable the men in the mine were and how honored he was to be working with them, how grateful he was to Emma for allowing him to work there. He should have shut up a good two minutes back, Emma thought. Now he was just laying it on too thick. It was pathetic really. But she supposed without court training you never quite learned that subtly might be for the best in some situations. Peasants were much more straightforward.

He had to be a test to see what Emma would do with him. If she banished him from the mines Cora could claim that she was not holding up her end of the contract and then could rightly force her way into the mines. If Emma didn’t banish him, then she would still get the added benefit of the mines being opened faster, no matter if the mines might not be as safe as need be.

Emma bit the inside of her lip. If that were true, then Cora only needed a limited supply of diamonds, she didn’t care about a sustained supply, or at least she didn’t care right away. But why?

It had to have something to do with her plan for her and Regina. That was the only plausible explanation at this juncture. Emma was sure there were others, but it seemed like Cora’s entire focus was taken up by Emma and Regina. She had left her own kingdom for months at a time just to see whatever this plan was through. So she needed the diamonds for the plan.

But what kind of magic was so powerful that Cora, a powerful sorceress in her own right, would need diamonds to help power up her magic? Emma swallowed hard at the thought. She didn’t think she would like it, no matter what. She would ask Regina later, to see if she had any clue, but chances were it would be the same as always. Regina would not know for certain, she could only guess.

Dread pooled in her stomach as she held up a hand to stop the mine safety inspector’s spiel. He looked at her with a charming smile pasted on his face, looking like he was hanging on her every movement. Emma resisted the urge to glare down at him and instead returned his smile with a fake one of her own, leaning just enough forward so he could catch a glimpse of her cleavage. Her smile turned to more of a smirk when he glanced down and didn’t look up for a long moment.

“Anden, was it?” she asked, voice light and airy.

The man nodded, tearing his eyes away from her. “Yes, your majesty.”

“I find myself rather…” disgusted, enraged, sickened, “charmed, by your speech. Perhaps if you’re so honored to work in the minds would wouldn’t mind taking on a special project for me?”

She batted her eyelashes just a tad.

“Of course, your majesty, whatever you need.” He stood up taller and puffed out his chest.

“Great, you see I’ve heard some rumors from old mine men that there was a branch within the mines that was showing signs of a huge vein just about to open up before the mine closed. As it is now, it will be one of the last ones to be secured and one of the last ones to be checked for active pockets. I know that Queen Cora is rather anxious to begin our trading, and I’d like diamonds to be available as soon as possible in as large a quantity as possible. You understand?”

The man nodded. “Of course, I will have diamonds for you before you can blink.”

Emma smiled again. “Good, good, the C branch of the mines, was where this rumor was centered. You know I only entrust this task to you because of your reputation for fine work and your kind words.”

“You won’t be disappointed.”

Her smile widened. No, she wouldn’t be at all. Not with this nitwit in front of her running the show.

“I’m glad to hear it. If you could get to work just as soon as possible I’d be grateful.”

“I’ll ride out today then and be back to work by afternoon tomorrow at the latest.”

Emma nodded. “Thank you.”

“No, thank you, my Queen.” He bowed and all but ran from the room.

Emma’s smile disappeared the second she was alone again. She fought the urge to throw up. Slimy bastard. She felt tired all of a sudden, though it was still morning. Gods, her rule was going to be so very, very long at this rate.

 

Three weeks, it had taken that idiot three weeks open up the C branch of the mine. Her own mine safety inspector had barely cleared the junction between the branches in the same amount of time. He wouldn’t let any of the men in his charge even approach the C branch, let alone go in it. So when Emma had received word that the man was holding an opening ceremony she politely declined, stating that she had far too much work, but that she was pleased with his results. She was sure that Anden was seeing a knighthood in his future. All Emma saw was the possibility of banning the name Anden from the kingdom. Too bad that was a little too dramatic an action for the circumstances.  It was a pity.

She did, however, forward the invitation to Cora and took far more than a little pleasure in the act. Let the woman risk her neck if she wanted to, it was no skin off her back. It was wishful thinking, but she hoped that Cora went and got smashed by a particularly big boulder. Cora wasn’t that stupid, though, so she supposed sending the invitation would have to be enough.

Even if she wished for Cora to meet her untimely end at the hands of an unstable mine, she didn’t wish for her men to as well. She sent word to Anden that work may continue on as long as there were regular safety checks before each shift, to be done thoroughly, with no corners cut. He could spare one man from a shift for an hour to save the rest of them. To make sure he did as she instructed she sent word to Joseph as well, telling him to check up on the other man and check his figures, no matter how he had to do it.

And so work started in her mines, though she hoped it was a long while before diamonds were actually found. She needed as much time as possible to find out what Cora was up to. She had fed her suspicions to Regina, but as she predicted, Regina had only guesses to what her mother could be up to.

Now, with winter showing the first signs of breaking its grip on the land, Emma was busier than ever. Trade agreements were being hammered out anew with other kingdoms, road repairs were being catalogued and planned, crop prospectuses were being put together, preparations to get the fields ready were being worked out. After the relative quiet of the winter in terms of administrative work for the Queen, preparations for the first signs of spring were overwhelming. Emma was almost glad the Cora had forced her to put more responsibilities on her council members. She could hardly breathe as is, she couldn’t imagine what it would be like if she had kept up her former level of involvement. It scared her more than a little bit that Cora’s advice, at least in some way, had been helpful, even if it hadn’t been gone about the right way. But there was no time to think about that.

She needed the rest of her council back, really. Ten men plus her and Regina were not a sufficient force to run the kingdom. But at the same time she did not want to call them right back into danger. No matter what she wanted, as soon as winter cleared, people who had fled in the face of Spring Haven and the Dark Army would come flooding back to their homeland, and Emma knew it. It looked peaceful on the surface now with such a powerful ally on their side, no matter how unnerving they happened to be. She was going to have to deal with it no matter what. Better to have the work force to deal with it, than not she supposed. If she was worked to the bone just to keep her kingdom afloat there was no way she could stop Cora.

She sighed and shuffled another stack of papers in front of her. She would bring up the possibility at the next council meeting if Cora wasn’t there. After the first few weeks of being completely absent she had started to show up sporadically again, almost invariably when Emma had news from the mines, though there were a few times when she had showed without the impetus of the mines. Emma had tried unsuccessfully to figure out what the common denominator between the other times had been, but had come up with nothing. Perhaps it had just been Cora keeping her on her toes, though she highly doubted it.

Regina walked into their rooms, shedding her armor quickly and dropping it off in the doorway to their rooms before returning to their sofa. She took some of the stack from Emma and flopped down beside her, smelling of sweat and the icy tang of winter. Emma scooted over so she was leaning against her wife and sighed. Regina wrapped an arm around her for a second and squeezed, taking it back a second later to begin writing on the paper in front of her.

“What’s todays work about, farm animals, seedlings, how much gravel will be needed to patch the main highway?”

Emma groaned and leaned against Regina’s shoulder. “Taxes of the Southern province.”

Regina let out a long breath and went back to writing. “Then it seems I lucked out and got the expected expense report of the royal orchards.”

“Hey! No fair, that sounds a lot easier.”

Emma made a weak grab for the paper. Regina twisted out of her way and smiled smugly at Emma. “Your loss for not getting to it sooner.”

Emma groaned loudly and flopped her head back dramatically. “I knew being a Queen entailed a lot of paperwork, but gods I didn’t know it was this much. How many trees have we killed in the last week alone? I’m going for an entire forest.”

Regina hummed out her amusement. “Sorry, dear, but I think it’s a little less than that.”

“So you say.”

Emma sighed and worked for a few long moments, reading over the numbers in front of her that were starting to all blur together. She needed a break. Tax reports in her kingdom had to be perfect with just how empty their coffers were. The money from Spring Haven had helped immensely, but almost all of it had gone to paying war debts. Only the barest portion had gone back to replenishing the gold they had lost fighting against the bigger kingdom. So the numbers in front of her were much too important to work tired.

She set aside the paperwork and flopped onto Regina. It amazed her how Regina predicted her movements quickly enough to stop writing every single time. Whenever Regina decided to lean on her too hard her paperwork always had stray lines on it. Knightly reflexes were something to be feared, she supposed.

“What are we going to do? By the time we refill the coffers of the kingdom we’ll be old and grey. I mean, a lot of what I wanted to do as Queen required at least a little cushioning just in case it didn’t work out as planned. Providing that we survive your mother we will be just scraping by until we have children, maybe longer. Not exactly conductive to sweeping change.”

“If you look at it another way it’s a perfect time for sweeping change. There’s almost nothing to lose.” Regina looked down at Emma slumped on her side. She signed the paper she was working on with a flourish and set it aside.

“True enough in a way, but we can’t just risk everything. There are the peasants to think about. The nobles could survive well enough on their own elsewhere with the money they have, but we could be taking away what little stability the peasants have. It’s a mess.”

Regina hummed noncommittally. “If we survive my mother, darling, I suspect we will have less than nothing. She’s never lost, but if she does, she will make sure we suffer in return first.”

Emma sat up. “Yeah, well, it takes money to build schools for the peasants. It takes money to build plumbing to reduce disease. It takes money to do almost everything. I want a council made up of only peasants to advise what the common people need, but I can’t expect them to work for no pay, they would starve.”

“Cut the salaries of the regular council. Gods know they don’t need the money. Reduce the palace decorating budget, we don’t need that either, not if you truly plan on starting to buy our own kingdom’s wares. Find some way to do it. I know you can if you think about it.” Regina looked over at Emma fondly. She reached out and cupped Emma’s cheek. “You have a brain, use it.”

“But will the nobles even let me do any of that stuff?”

“You have final say on the decorating budget. There are a great many things that you have final say over.”

“But you always taught me to worry about the political fallout of my actions.”

“Emma, there are ten men in the council who did not run when the going got tough. Those are the ten men’s opinions you need to worry about. Keep them on your side and they will persuade everyone else. If they can’t, then they will be by our side come what may.” Regina ran a hand through her hair. “If we survive my mother, then perhaps I’ll revise my rather conservative outlook on risk because risk is the only thing that will get us through this.”

Emma bit her lip hard. For the first time in a long while she did not taste blood at the action. It seemed in the last few weeks her lip had managed to heal. Huh, she hadn’t even noticed.

“Well, if it’s for the good of the kingdom…”

Regina smiled at her. “Exactly.”

She looked back down at the tax report. “But what about the trade contracts with your mother? I know a great many people are excited about the new market open to them. When we take down your mother that market will be closed off to them once again.”

Regina shrugged. “There will be other kingdoms that will trade with us, especially now that the diamond mine is running again. They will trade anything you wish with them to get ahold of the diamonds.”

Emma thought that over for a few seconds, frowning. “But don’t we have at least some responsibility to make sure the diamonds don’t go into the wrong hands?”

“The beauty of a monopoly, dear, is that you do have control. We can pick and choose with who to trade. We can pick only trustworthy kingdoms to trade with. Though that does not guarantee that the diamonds won’t find their way into the wrong hands now and then, but that is a risk no matter if we trade them or not.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Regina laughed. “Of course I am, darling. I’m your wife. Wives are always supposed to be right.”

Emma knocked into Regina lightly. “Hey! I can be right sometimes too you know.”

Regina smiled warmly at Emma. “Of course, dear.” She leaned forward and kissed Emma lightly. “You did marry me, after all.”

Emma snorted. “Sometimes I wonder why.” She smiled, eyes twinkling in jest.

Regina rolled her eyes and looked down at her stack of paperwork. “Worry about the trade contracts later, we have to get through today first. Don’t forget that. People will make money while the trade lines are open and we’ll come to the rest when we get there.”

“Yes, dear.” She righted herself on the couch and pulled up the tax report again. The numbers weren’t blurry anymore, thank the gods. But… “Regina, is there any way I could persuade you to take this tax report off my hands.” She turned to Regina and gave her the best puppy dog eyes she had.

Regina considered it for half a second. “No.”

“Regina,” she whined. “Training our army is a noble cause and all, but that gets you out of all the nasty paper work, pretty please?”

Regina just smiled at her again. “No.”

Emma glared, but then had an idea. She set aside the work again, crawling across the couch and grabbing Regina’s stack of paperwork as well. She set it aside and then set herself in the paper’s place, right on top of Regina’s lap.

“Is there really nothing I can do to persuade you?” Her lips were a scant inch from her wife’s.

“I’m listening.”

Emma smirked in triumph and kissed Regina, lightly at first, but escalating quickly into something much more passionate. A few minutes of heavy petting on the couch and Regina was carrying her into the bedroom, paperwork forgotten.

When they finished up just as the sun was setting over the kingdom, naked, sated, and sweaty, Regina turned towards Emma.

“I’m still not doing that tax report.”

Emma laughed and laughed until her stomach hurt. Of course she wasn’t, but that didn’t seem to matter now. She just pulled Regina into another kiss, still laughing.

 

Chapter Text

Two weeks later it all came crashing down. Emma smirked humorlessly, looking out the windows of her room. It was a beautiful day, one of those days in late winter that fools you into thinking spring is just a few days away. Still a little chilly, but with a warmth in the air that speaks of greenness and growth, while the snow melts all around, creating puddles everywhere. It was far too early for spring, but it was a nice break nonetheless.

But of course the weather outside would completely disregard what Emma was feeling. She sighed and turned away from the sun, retreating further back into her rooms where the atmosphere more matched her mood. It seemed that the C branch of the mine was not as barren as she had read. She snorted. Of course when she was lying through her teeth she would be completely right. A few layers of rock down from where the mining had stopped all those years ago, there was, as Emma said, a rather remarkable vein of diamonds. From what the experts said, they were some of the purest they’d seen in a long while. Of course they would be.

Emma wanted to scream. Cora would have her diamonds now and she still had no idea what in the world the woman was going to do with them. She looked up at the ceiling and wondered if the gods could hate her any more than they already did. She supposed she shouldn’t ask questions like that. That was just inviting more tragedy. But that didn’t make her feel any better.

Oh, she could buy some time with the refinement of the diamonds, cutting them down into useable sizes would take time. The instruments had to be made, the ones from the previous operation of the mine had been destroyed to limit temptation. After all, only diamonds could cut diamonds, even the magical kind held to that principle. And Cora wouldn’t want them in their raw form. No, if Emma had to guess she would either want them in gem form, or perhaps ground into powder. Emma almost laughed at the image of Cora using fairy dust.

But then again, there were dark fairies like Maleficent, and they used fairy dust just the same to do horrible things. Dark fairy dust was destructive to even touch, Emma didn’t want to know what Cora could do with it, casting a spell. Gods help them all if she managed to make dark pixie dust.

She wondered if there was any possible way for them to lace the diamonds with impurities after the fact. So what they had been assessed to be the best quality in some time. That didn’t mean that first impressions couldn’t be wrong after they had been refined some more. And with the quality of magic diamonds lately from other kingdoms, being better than anyone had seen in some time did not mean much. Was there something out there that could deactivate the gems? Or at the very least make them much less effective. She would take anything at this point.

She sighed, what she would give to have a vast magical library at her fingertips. The librarian had done her best, but her grandfather had been very thorough. The only books left in the kingdom about magic were written in languages so old that no one spoke them anymore. Regina had been just as clueless as she had and the librarian herself only recognized bits and pieces, not nearly enough to have any real understanding. And other books would be delayed by the snow. There was still at least one more good storm in the season, Emma could feel it.

Gods, she hated this. All those preparations to slow everything down and she had shot herself in the foot. When would it ever end?

When Cora was in the ground or when she and Regina were, that’s when it would end and she knew it. It wasn’t a comforting thought.

She would address the council tomorrow, they could come up with options for what could be done, provided Cora wasn’t there. She prayed the older woman wouldn’t be, time was of the essence in this. She wondered how likely it was that the diamond experts were being paid on the side by Cora. Pretty likely she supposed. If there was a way though that, that the gem experts weren’t being paid off, that they could use their knowledge to somehow slow everything down, then gods they were going to do that for sure. If not, well, she hoped that in the interim that Regina and the council had done something, made some sort of progress on their plan. Regina hadn’t looked overly happy in a while, which she supposed meant no new breakthroughs. That wasn’t exactly comforting either.

She felt like ripping out her hair. At this point she wished Cora was just like every other fucking ruler on the face of the planet who wanted land, money, or power. She could find a way to deal with that that wouldn’t kill them all. But Cora didn’t want any of those things from them, those were just perks in all of this, that was the one thing she did know. Gods, why did she always know the things that set her on edge? Was there ever going to be something that she knew that comforted her?

Well, she supposed knowing Regina loved her enough to go against her all powerful bitch of a mother was comforting, but that wasn’t exactly what she meant.

She flopped down on her couch and looked at the paperwork around her. There was even more now than there was two weeks ago. She was getting less than six hours sleep a night just from having to work on everything to keep the kingdom running. She hadn’t brought up bringing the rest of the council back out of stubbornness, but she was going to have to, and soon, like yesterday if she was truly honest.

At least Lord Henrie was still in the dungeon. That would keep the biggest thorn in her side out of her way during all this. But still, dealing with twenty other men on her council was going to be a chore in and of itself, it always was. It was a chore she didn’t need. Maybe Regina was right, maybe she just had to rely on the council members who had stayed with her to help police the others. Lord William would be great help, but the others, Emma wasn’t so sure of their abilities. She put her head in her hands. Gods above.   

All of this was much too complicated. Regina could probably help she supposed, but she had other things on her plate. Maybe Lord Roderic would be of help as well, but he wasn’t as well respected in the council. She sighed again. Gods she was sure sighing was all she did anymore.

Regina opened the door and flounced in, looking more pleased than she had in weeks. Emma looked over at her, head just above her cupped hands. She cocked an eyebrow at her wife. Regina disregarded her and walked over to their couch and flopped down, armor and all. Emma wasn’t exactly sure how Regina was comfortable doing any of that, but she supposed someone who wore armor every day for over five years Regina had found a way to move comfortably in armor in every situation.

“What has you so pleased?” Emma asked outright. An eyebrow Regina could ignore. Words she could not. Or at least not as easily in any case.

Regina popped up again and went to the small cart of wine. She poured herself a drink and sat back down again, still smiling. “Nothing completely amazing, dear, just the progress of my students. It seems I may have finally gotten through to them. They’re starting to take everything seriously, some of them are even starting to excel.”

Emma snorted. “Took them long enough. They all acted like it wasn’t an honor to serve their kingdom when they first got here.”

Regina hummed her agreement. “Yes, well, I thought I was getting through to at least a few of them in the last few weeks, but the last few days have just been excellent. They’re starting to really gain an understanding of sword fighting and the guard’s code as well. I thought they would never truly understand, but somehow they’ve gained at least the basest sense of care recently. They are not my last class by any means, but they are much better than they were. They still have a great way to go before I recommend them for graduation, but this is finally a true step in the right direction.”

Emma smiled at her wife and scooted closer to her. “That’s great, I’m glad they’re finally getting their act together. It’s about time. I thought you were going to have to kick a few of them out to show that you were truly serious about all of this.”

“I did as well. I think perhaps that last week they saw that there truly was a bite behind the bark and it might have straightened the ring leaders out.”

“What did you do to make them see that as one of the few women in the guard and the only woman knight you truly meant every word you said?”

“I had ten of them come at me at once and took every single one of them down within sixty seconds. Sent a couple of them to the infirmary to get patched up. Then looked at all of them and told them that if they actually applied themselves that they would be able to do the same thing, but if they didn’t they would be puny little weak men that would never know honor.”

Emma snorted. “A little harsh, but I can’t say I disagree. You know they’re probably totally planning on at the end of their training asking you to repeat that little stunt in the hopes of kicking your ass, right?”

Regina waved it off. “Of course I know that, but they’ll be freshly minted troops. They won’t be a match for me even then, it might just take me a little longer to knock them all down. It’s nothing I can’t handle darling, trust me.”

“Alright, if you say so, but don’t get hurt. I don’t think I could stand that.”

“I’ll do my best, but it will be nothing more than a few grazes if I do. I have faith in your magic. You’ll be able to heal me.”

“But the point is I don’t want to have to heal you.” Emma frowned at the knight.

“Yes, well, I know, but it is a fight, Emma. My profession isn’t without risks. Both of my professions aren’t without risks, really.”

Emma bit her lip at that. She did have a point. “Fine, but I get to say I told you so if I have to heal you and I get to lord if over you for at least a week.”

“Half a week and we have a deal.” Regina smirked.

“Fine, fine, whatever you say, but better if you just don’t get hurt at all.”

Emma settled back into the couch once more. Regina started to take off her armor now that she had drank a good bit of her wine and the buzz of happiness she had carried into the room had started to be replaced by another kind of buzz. She sat back when her armor was in a neat pile and sighed, sipping her wine again and closing her eyes. Emma thought she looked extremely beautiful in that moment, bathed in firelight, completely content for the moment. It had been a good while since Emma had seen her so relaxed. Emma just stared for a few long moments before closing her eyes and basking in the moment herself.

But all moments had to come to an end and there was much that she had to discuss with Regina. “I’m thinking of sending for the rest of the council,” she said quietly, just barely pitched above the crackling of the fire in front of them. Emma didn’t miss the cold when it was gone, but there was something to be said about a fire. It was so relaxing to watch and listen to that it made winter seem special in some way.

“There’s just too much work for us and the council to handle, especially with your split duty between the council and training. It’s only going to get worse as summer comes along and trade picks up once again. And sometime soon I’m going to have to lift the emergency only ban on court. The people are going to need somewhere to vent their issues soon enough. And they’re going to start wondering why I haven’t lifted the ban when there is feasibly no reason not to,” Emma continued on.

“True, true, but we’ll have to be careful around them. It was clear when they left the kingdom without any question that their loyalties aren’t wholly to the kingdom.”

Emma laughed humorlessly. “I think it was pretty clear before that that their loyalties weren’t wholly to the kingdom. They were almost all selfish gits with an agenda that only benefitted them.”

“I can’t say I disagree in most cases. There were a few who were just cowards, but that doesn’t serve us any better than those who are self-serving. Both kinds of people will be easily convinced by my mother that acting with her is in their best interest.”

Emma ran her hands through her hair a few times, making a tangled mess of it. Regina frowned and scooted over, reaching out and gently starting to untangle the rat’s nest that Emma had just made of her hair.

“Which is great, because what we need is everyone but the ten men already here working against us even more than they normally would. If we invite them back where would be hold the meetings that we don’t want Cora to know the exact goings on? The second the others come back Cora would have a spy among them. If we’re lucky she might give us half a day before she convinces one of them to report back to her. Gods know she already has who knows how many of the servants on her payroll.”

“Yes, well, we could always establish that those men who stayed are now your personal advisors. It would be seen as a reward for staying by all those who left since you would be giving the men here now seemingly more power and influence.” Regina bit her lip and thought for a few seconds. “I’m not sure if my mother would see through it or not. Perhaps when she realizes that she can get no man on the inside of those meetings, if she didn’t realize then at least she would become suspicious.”

“Can we afford her becoming suspicious? And are you really sure she doesn’t already have an inside man on the council that’s here?”

“I’m positive,” Regina said quickly and firmly.

“How are you that positive? You’re the one who’s always on about how powerful and scary and persuasive your mother is. Seven hells, I’ve seen it in action.”

“Trust me, Emma, I am.” She looked at her wife with a look that said to drop it.

Emma thought for a few seconds about pushing the issue, but decided against it. The only way Regina could be that sure was probably magic. And if it had to do with something about overthrowing Cora, well, she probably shouldn’t know about that. She was off of Cora’s radar for the most part now, but that didn’t mean Cora couldn’t start popping up again sooner or later. Gods knew that every time she still showed up at a council meeting she was all over Emma like glue. If she started making a habit of it again Emma was not going to be in good shape.

“Fine, fine, but gods know you better be sure with your life. Lord William and Lord Roderic I can see without any trouble, and even Lord Rochester to an extent, but the rest of them…they’re honorable, good men, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be persuaded somehow.”

“Yes, I know, but I’m sure. I wouldn’t trust your life to anyone who I didn’t fully know was truthful in their allegiance.”

Emma blushed just slightly. “Well, when you put it like that.”

She sighed and sat back. She looked around at the vast pile of paperwork. “So are we going to call them back? Do you really think it’s a good idea?”

“Good idea or not, it has to be done.” Regina traced the bags under Emma’s eyes gently. “You’re pushing yourself too far as it is.”

Emma sighed again and nodded. “I know, but…” she trailed off there was really no use for a but in this case. She couldn’t do anything about it. It would take time to train new council members, and time was something they didn’t have. Most of the men Emma would have picked for a council before all of this had fled the kingdom anyway. She thought she wouldn’t blame them for their choice, but a part of her did in a way. This was their kingdom and so very few of them would die to protect it. She wasn’t sure if she wanted people like that on her council, but in a way they were a necessary evil. Not everyone was as fervently loyal to the kingdom. Very few really were if she was honest. It was the nature of the beast she supposed.

Regina cupped her cheek. “I know, darling. We’ll talk it over tomorrow with the council and get their opinions. But chances are they are going to say the same thing. They are working just as hard as you are, if not harder considering all of their extra activities.”

“Yeah, I guess. Gods, I really do hate catch-22’s.”

Regina hummed. “Don’t we all.”

Emma looked down at the paperwork again. She really, really didn’t feel like picking up anymore and working. Dinner was soon enough that she could probably justify it. Probably. If she didn’t think very hard about it. She had already done the easy stuff to convince herself to actually get started on the work in front of her hours ago. Now it was just all tax reports and gods knew what else.

She groaned and threw her head back. Regina’s hands came with her, cushioning the blow her head would have taken from the back of the couch. Regina glared at her, but it had no intensity.

“Sorry,” Emma mumbled, eyes closing easily. She was so tired now that she had stopped really doing anything. That had been a real mistake on her part she was beginning to realize.

Regina scratched at her scalp and few times. Emma hummed out her enjoyment and sunk a little deeper in the couch. A minute later Regina withdrew her hands.

“Take a nap dear. You look dead on your feet. I’ll fill out paper work in the meantime and I’ll wake you up when it’s time to get ready for dinner, ok?”

Emma nodded and mumbled out her agreement, already halfway asleep before Regina even finished speaking.

 

It was decided unanimously that the rest of the council would be summoned back. Emma managed to convince the rest of them to hold off on summoning the rest of the palace staff back. The palace was working just fine with the amount of people it had already. Cora did not need more eyes as far as she was concerned. The council had reluctantly agreed, but only for the time being. Emma had to agree, soon they would have to come back if only to maintain appearances. It was rather unfortunate really, but needs must. It would be horrible for those who returned to no longer have a job, but for now that was neither here nor there at least until the winter was over.

So the letters were sent across kingdoms to wherever her council had found refuge. Emma was hopeful some had been lost in the confusion, that they didn’t know where they were. They need more people to work, surely, but that didn’t mean that they needed the entire council for the same reason that they did not need all of the palace staff back. They only needed enough to lighten the load just enough so that everyone could function. But her men had been thorough keeping track of where everyone had gone and it was only if the other council members had lied about their whereabouts that they would be lost. Even then they did have spies in all the other surrounding kingdoms so it wouldn’t take that long to find them all. The ones who had deserted the kingdom before Emma had given the orders…well, she hadn’t given instructions to bring them back to the kingdom. It was one thing to flee with her blessing, it was quite another to run without it. If they came back she would deal with them, but Emma had a feeling they wouldn’t have the guts to show their faces.

Emma smirked just slightly at the thought. But if they did show…well, perhaps Cora would have another thing to praise her for that Emma wouldn’t feel quite so bad about. The men would have it coming, though she would be sure that their families saw nothing of their punishment. It would not be their fault that their husband or father was a coward. And anything that would take Cora’s focus off of the diamonds even for a microsecond would be worth it at this point.

Within reason, anyway, she hastily amended her thoughts. The men needed to be punished to show she was not a weak Queen who tolerated such disloyalty. But there was no need for excessive cruelty just to drawl Cora away from thoughts of the mines. Gods above. Emma shook her head.

She wondered how many of the council would show up before the snow even thawed on the ground. She supposed it would depend on where they started out from that would determine when they showed up, but they were power hungry men and Emma was sure that much wouldn’t deter them if they truly wanted to be there. So all there was to do was wait. That seemed like all she ever did anymore. Wait for the council to show up again, wait for the snow to melt, wait for Cora’s inevitable attack. It was an endless waiting game and Emma was growing so very tired of it. There was only really so much that her mind could take of being on edge constantly waiting for the next shoe to drop. How long would it be before she slipped up again?

She closed her eyes and rubbed at her temples. Better to not think like that she supposed. Being self-defeating was not the way of the House of White. They were all painfully optimistic in their own ways, Emma was no different. Or at least she was before the start of this conflict with Cora. She wasn’t so sure she fit the family mold now. She wondered idly if that was for the best of worst.

It was of no matter. There were things to do, endless paperwork to file, a kingdom to run. The rest of the council would be there when they willed and she would deal with them all then. She would be more able to deal with it then with less work on her plate.

She flopped to her couch again as she seemed to do more often than not and set to work once again.

 

 

Chapter Text

A month later the beginnings of spring were truly upon them and all the stalling that Emma had been doing with the diamonds was at an end. The first batch were fully processed and ready to ship out no matter what else she did to stall. She was sure Cora knew about the situation, she had eyes everywhere it seemed. But she had yet to come to Emma and demand the diamonds be traded to her as was her due. Emma was sure it was a test, but of what she wasn’t sure. She was magically bound to deliver the diamonds and she could delay as much as she wanted, but now that they were done the weight of the contract was starting to weigh on her. She would have to give them to Cora sooner rather than later to avoid a great amount of pain on her part.

So Cora would get her precious diamonds no matter what, test or no, but still, she remained silent. To say Emma was unnerved was a slight understatement, but she held out. But when one day turned into a week into two she couldn’t quite stand it anymore. Her head was constantly pounding and she could not sleep no matter what she did. She knew Regina felt the same way, though wasn’t sure why. She could see Regina’s face drawn constantly in pain, eyes squinched at the corners and an excessive amount of holding the bridge of her nose to lessen the pain. But Regina hadn’t signed the contract, only she had, so Emma wasn’t quite sure why it effect Regina so badly, but then again since she was a ruler of the White kingdom that could have been why. Or perhaps the magical bond, it didn’t matter, it all led to the same outcome.

Half a month after the diamonds were finished she gave the go ahead for the trading of diamonds with Cora to begin. Lead had lined her stomach while she was signing the order, but it had to be done even if she was signing her own death warrant. Now all that was left to do was sit back and wait for the show to begin.

She walked into the council chambers for the second time that day. Enough of her council had returned in the month and a half since their summons to allow Emma and the council of ten who had stayed enough reprieve to form a completely different council, advertised as Emma’s trusted advisors on all things, but truly just the only men she was even half sure she could trust the smallest bit.

The men looked up at her from much smaller stacks of paperwork. Emma was eternally grateful for that. She walked over and took her seat and looked at her men in front of her. They all looked at her expectantly. Emma sighed and opened her mouth to speak. There was no need to put it off.

“The diamonds are ready and I can think of no other reason to delay. The contract consequences are starting to weigh heavily on Regina and I. Unless there is any other way that any of you to delay I’m going to have to give the ok for them to be traded to Cora.”

Everyone in the room looked around at each other. No one spoke up after a few long moments. Emma sighed again and sat up straighter.

“That’s what I thought. I need you all to be on the lookout for any moves that Cora makes after they are given to her. I have more than a sneaking suspicion that she will make a move once she has them. Her magic combined with the magic in the diamonds will be enough to do something catastrophic. The diamonds will take two days to get here if the people carrying them are not told to hurry after the two days to get the message to ship them here. You have four days total to come up with any sort of plan, four and half if the messenger I send to the mines does not leave today. I trust you’ll be efficient. Fortunately this first shipment is small. I’m not entirely sure how much Cora needs for whatever she is planning, but hopefully this will not be enough and will give us more time. But better to be prepared now, you understand.”

The men around her nodded.

Lord William spoke up. “Perhaps we should contact the fairies, they might have more of a clue what Cora might be getting into with the diamonds. It could give us a leg up.”

Emma’s stomach twisted at the suggestion. She wasn’t sure why, but the idea did not sit right with her. Fairies were supposed to be the paragon of goodness, but there was still something bothering her.

“Can the fairies really be trusted?” Emma asked, turning towards the wizened old man.

“Well, I would say we could trust them much more than Cora herself.”

Emma snorted. “That isn’t a lot of trust there.”

“No, but information is information, your majesty.”

Emma bit her lip. “It is, my lord, but I’m not sure about this plan. For all intents and purposes it sounds like a good plan, but there’s something that doesn’t ring right with me about it.”

The old man nodded. “Well, gut instinct is important in a ruler at times. I can look into it and see if they would be an asset to us rather than a setback.”

Emma nodded her agreement. “That’s an amiable compromise.”

“Good. Once upon a time the fairies were a great ally to the kingdom. There should be some resources from that time lying around the library.”

“Maybe, maybe not. If not there are a few of our allies that do have alliances with them. They will have more information. Gods know there are less of them now that diamonds are so very rare. If they don’t come to us soon they will. It’s preemptive research I suppose.”

“Yes, well, I will look into it to the best of my ability in the time frame we have.”

“See that you do.” Emma looked at the rest of the council. “The rest of you should see what you can find on others who have used magic diamonds extensively. There might be someone less…unsavory than the fairies to ask if we do a little digging. I don’t think I need to stress that this should be done with as much discretion as possible. If worst comes to worst we can always say that we were looking for other trading partners for the diamonds, but it’s better that Cora doesn’t know, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes, my Queen,” the men around her answered together.

“Good.” Emma started to rub at her temples again. Her head was really starting to pound. She hoped the act of just sending the letter off to the mines for the delivery of the diamonds would be enough to get rid of the pain. If it didn’t go away until Cora had the diamonds she was going to have a very, very long next few days, especially if the pain kept getting worse as it had been.

“Go, do what needs done then. Update me if there is anything urgent as per the norm.”

Emma stood and looked out at her men once, nodded, and left the room. She was going to need a good deal of willow bark tea to even think of getting her head to stop pounding. She grabbed a serving girl and told her to bring a pot to her room. With that done she swept into her rooms and shut the curtains, glancing down at Regina working her soldiers in the yard. She wondered how her wife did it with a headache like this. Regina had to be made out of something harder than the steel of her sword, she was sure.

She sat down on her couch and drew a blank sheet of paper to her and started to quickly draft up the letter for the messenger. There were a few more blots of ink than usual, but Emma wasn’t in the mood to care. She signed the letter quickly and folded it up, sealing it with a bit of wax a second later. Her head did not feel any better and that did not amuse her in the slightest. It was going to be a very long next few days.

The serving girl arrived with the pot of willow bark tea. Emma handed off the missive with instructions to give it to a messenger with the directions to leave in the morning. The girl nodded and was off. Emma poured herself a cup of tea and downed the scaling liquid quickly, looking for relief. She burned her tongue to hell, but she didn’t quite care. She couldn’t remember ever having such a bad headache in her life. Gods damned magic, this was horrible.

Or perhaps gods damn only certain types of magic. She really did enjoy the wards on all her important documents, though that could be done without she admitted. What couldn’t be done without was the connection she had to Regina. Part of that was not magic of course, love happened magical or not, but it would be different and Emma was quite happy with how it was now. She loved feeling so connected with her wife. And of course the healing magic that had saved her those months ago after the war with Spring Haven couldn’t be done without either. Perhaps she just wanted the gods to damn dark magic. Yes, that would suit her purpose quite well.

She downed another cup of still searing hot tea and prayed instead that her head would stop pounding sometime in the near future. It didn’t.

 

Sometime much later Regina walked into their rooms and set about her normal routine. Emma awoke from the light nap she had fallen into and groaned loudly. Just the noise of Regina rustling around was enough to send her head on another pounding spree. Her head was going to kill her she was certain of it. How Regina was still upright she had no idea. She was incapacitated after almost over dosing on willow bark tea.

“Why isn’t it stopping?” she asked Regina instead, her voice barely above a whisper. If the quiet noises Regina was making taking off her armor hurt, her own voice was ten times worse. When had it been so gods damned loud?

“I don’t know.” The pain in Regina’s voice was evident, if only to Emma herself. The words sounded even, as if nothing was wrong, but Emma could tell they were bitten off just a bit more than usual.

She managed to blink open her eyes and Regina’s face was set in a neutral expression, but the skin around her eyes was drawn tight and she was paler than normal. She was in a great deal of pain, but somehow she wasn’t letting it affect her as much. Perhaps because she had more experience with pain, Emma wasn’t quite sure. Maybe she just had a higher pain tolerance in general.

“I wrote the damn missive, gave instructions to have it sent, I set everything in motion. Shouldn’t it have gone away by now? I’ve fulfilled my contractual duty gods damn it all.” Emma’s voice raised just slightly at the end but she severely regretted it in the next instant. She closed her eyes, wincing hard. Her hands automatically came up and started to massage at her temples, but it brought no relief.

“Perhaps my mother has added something to the regular compulsion spell. It wouldn’t surprise me.” Regina sat down on the couch and nudged Emma back. Emma complied weakly and scooted so that her back was against the cushions of the couch. Regina laid down in front of her wearily. Emma’s arms came up and wrapped around her wife. She buried her face in the crook of Regina’s neck, feeling a little better at the action both for the relaxation it brought and the lack of light.

“I know you said each compulsion manifested differently for each person, but this is ridiculous. I’d rather just be unable to resist the compulsion to do something. This is out and out torture.” Now her voice was barely loud enough to be heard and yet she still felt Regina wince under her. She didn’t blame her, she was cringing too.

“It achieved its means didn’t it?”

Emma groaned quietly. “Yeah, sure, but gods Regina, I feel like I’m going to die. I’m of no use to the contract if I’m fucking dead.” She took a few deep breaths to lessen the pain. “Do you think that the message has to leave the palace before the pain dissipates?”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps, but in all technicality it should have ended the second you made the decision to stop withholding the diamonds. I’m not versed in all manner of magical contracts however, so I’m not entirely sure. However, if this lasts, or increases until my mother has the diamonds I have a sneaking suspicion that it really might be my mother’s doing.”

“Have I mentioned how much I hate your mother? Because I do. I really, really, really, do.”

“I can’t say I’m entirely fond of her either.”

“If she could do this the whole time why didn’t she use it earlier?”

“Because then we would have just thought it a blinding headache. We wouldn’t have connected the pain with an action that she wanted. With the contract in place now we would almost automatically assume that it had something to do with that before we ever even thought about anything of her doing. Perhaps she even thinks we’re too stupid to think about something other than the contract causing us pain.”

“I have a headache cleaving my skull in two and yet I’m still fucking sentient enough to think about your mother somehow being the cause of all this. How stupid does she think we are, gods.”

Regina chuckled quietly. “It’s only a possibility that she thinks that, darling, but if she does, well she always has thought rather highly of her own intellect and generally thinks that no one else has two brain cells to rub together.”

Emma grumbled. Yeah that sounded about right for the old bitch. Gods, the pain was making her crabby in the worst way. She burrowed more into Regina and willed herself not to think about the pounding in her head. It would only get worse if she thought about it. But then again that was really the only thing she could focus on for more than two seconds at a time, so what else was she supposed to do?

“If your mother really is the cause of this I’m going to kill her resurrect her then kill her again. I fucking hate headaches.”

“Really, dear, I couldn’t tell.”

Emma could hear the laugh in her wife’s voice, but couldn’t be angry about that. Regina was the only one who actually understood how much pain she was in, and she could never be cranky about her wife being happy while in pain. So she just grumbled again in reply instead of snapping as she would have at anyone else.

“Try to get some sleep, darling. I already told everyone that we would not be down for dinner and to not send any food up. We won’t be disturbed and hopefully in the morning the pain will be gone.”

“Shouldn’t we move to the bed to sleep?”

“Do you actually want to get up?”

“Gods no, but wearing a corset to sleep in isn’t what I want either.”

Regina paused for a second before moving her hand in a lazy motion. In a second they were both in their night clothes, under the covers of her bed. Yeah, gods damning only black magic would work when the rest of magic could do this for her. She sunk into bed and sighed. Regina nestled close to her and they were both out within minutes.   

 

Emma opened her eyes in the morning and immediately regretted it. Holy seven fucking hells. She knew it wasn’t bright in her rooms in the morning, most of the light was blocked out by the curtains still hanging on the windows to block out the remaining winter chill, but gods it felt like she was sitting on the center of sun. This had to end. And it had to end now. Before she and Regina stroked out from the pain.

There was one way to see for sure if this headache was caused by Cora. At least she hoped to gods it was a sure way. She wasn’t quite thinking straight with her head pounding like a bass drum. Gods help both her and Regina at this point if it wasn’t Cora being an absolute fucking bitch. If Cora was behind this she was going to string her up. Fucking torturous bitch. But then again what exactly did she expect from a totalitarian dictator, rainbow stickers and unicorns?

She gingerly pushed herself up and even without her eyes open the world spun around her. Oh, this was going to be so, so much fun. She eased herself out of bed and to her feet. She leaned heavily on the bed as she guided herself only on memory and touch towards the door. The space between the end of the bed and the door was treacherous. She tilted more than a little sideways at points. Or at least she felt like she did. She wasn’t really sure of anything anymore and there was no way she was opening her eyes unless absolutely necessary.

She made her way slowly through her rooms, only stubbing her toes a couple of times. The furniture had been in the same places for practically the entire time she had lived in these rooms and that helped immensely. She opened the door and pried open her eyes finally. If she thought her rooms had been bright, the hallway was blinding and sent little spikes of pain right into her brain. She almost groaned but managed to hold it in. It was still all about appearances even when her head was exploding.

Then again, what did appearances matter at the moment? She was basically in the hall in her nightgown. Whoops. She hadn’t exactly thought about that, but it was too damn late now.

Emma looked around slowly, not jarring her head, until she found what she was looking for. She called quietly for a servant girl who was bustling down the end of the hall. She was surprised the girl had heard her, but she immediately turned and hurried towards Emma. She curtsied and the motion made Emma that much dizzier.

“What can I do for you my Queen?”

Emma scrunched her eyes shut. The girl probably had a pleasant voice and all, but gods, right now it sounded like nails on a chalkboard.

“I need you to get Lord William for me. As quickly as you can. And tell the captain of the guard he is to take over Regina’s training duties today. Something has come up that we have to work on.”

The girl nodded. “As you wish. Anything else?”

“No, thank you.”

The girl curtsied again and hustled off.

Emma slumped again the door frame for a second before she managed to find the energy to push off the wood and retreat into her rooms again. She needed to put on something at least a little more decent before Lord William got there, but just the thought of that exhausted her. She didn’t think she could do it. Maybe just a dressing gown. That wouldn’t take that much effort. It wasn’t like the old man hadn’t seen it all before. He had been married and had kids.

She shuffled into her bedroom and dug around for her dressing gown. She hardly even wore it. When did she ever have time to laze about in the slightest? Usually she was up and in her dress for the day within twenty minutes of waking. But she managed to find it even with her eyes only half open and she was extremely glad. She slipped it on and tied it shut just as the knock from Lord William sounded.

She took a deep breath and made the trek back across her rooms and opened the door. The old man stood there with a smile. Emma said nothing but gestured him in. She drug herself over to the chairs and flopped down as ungracefully as human possible. The old man found his seat and looked her over critically.

“I would ask if you are ok, your majesty, but I think that would be a rather foolish question, wouldn’t it?”

Emma nodded. “Very. Quite honestly, my Lord, I feel as if a sword has been rammed through my eye socket and left there and I believe that might be putting it mildly.” She sighed and started to massage her temples again, looking for even the tiniest bit of relief. “Regina and I have had a headache for the past few days. We thought it was a side effect of the contract for delaying the delivery of the diamonds to Cora. Yesterday, however, when I took the steps to start the delivery for all accounts it should have stopped. As you can see, it hasn’t. If anything it’s worse. Regina thinks that this could be her mother’s doing, and now that I know the message for the diamonds to be delivered has left for the mines, I’m quite sure of it.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked.

Emma sighed. “I think that maybe if Cora gets word that the diamonds will be with within the week she might call off the spell. That would give proof that it was her, or at least as much proof as we’re going to get. Send an official message to her. If it stops then we know it was her. If it doesn’t my brain will be mush before morning so there will be no real point. And if you could take over the most important of my duties today that would also be greatly appreciated.”

“Of course, my Queen.” He nodded and made to stand. 

Emma held up a hand to stop him. “I assume you’re Regina’s second in command for all of…” she trailed off and then just waved her hand. He would know exactly what she meant. “If this is true and Cora is behind this we are going to have to either find some way to stop this or speed up the time line. If she’s been holding something like this back, something that could harm us so directly, I don’t want to even begin to contemplate what she’s got hidden up her sleeve. She’s just been toying with us if that’s true, making us bend to her will and seeing just how little effort it would take. I don’t think I need to impress upon you that the sooner we start upon this the better and since both Regina and I will be rather…indisposed today I would appreciate this getting started without us.”

The man nodded. “I will see that it gets done.”

“See that you do. If it turns out that this is truly the contract instead of Cora, which at this point I don’t see as being a likely possibility, it’s not as if the preparations will go to waste. I tire of the woman in my kingdom. I tire of living on this edge. I understand that as a ruler that often times it is like this, but enough is enough.”

“Understood.” The man made to stand again and this time Emma did not stop him.

“Have a good day, Lord William.

The old man chuckled. “I would say the same to you, your majesty, but I think that might be a bit cruel.”

Emma smiled at him, but she was rather sure it looked more like a grimace.

He smiled back kindly, nodded and left the room.

Emma collapsed back into her chair. Gods all she wanted to do was go crawl back in bed with Regina, but she wasn’t sure she could. She had spent the little energy she had making sure her kingdom was taken care of for the day. She groaned. Why hadn’t she sat down on the couch? At least then she would have somewhere to lay. Gods she had picked the worst chair too in her desperation to sit down. She wasn’t sure the situation could get any worse really. Of course she really shouldn’t think that because that would be exactly when the situation would get worse and gods damn it that was the last thing she needed.

She sat still for a great many minutes, gathering the strength she knew would be needed for the short, yet seemingly endless trek to her bed. She managed to push herself to her feet again, and gods the dizziness was back in full force and then some. When she took a few steps she felt as if she was walking on the wall instead of the floor, completely sideways. The disorienting feeling made her even dizzier. It was a hell of a vicious cycle.

But she managed to get into her room in one piece and over to the bed with only one stubbed toe. Good gods she was not going to want to wear shoes tomorrow at this rate. Her toes were going to hate her. If she ever had the energy maybe she could heal them just enough to get through the day. She collapsed next to Regina, shrugging out of the dressing gown just enough to be comfortable again. She curled up next to Regina and almost cried in relief. Oh thank the gods that everything was over now. She didn’t have to move for the rest of the day.

And of course that moment she realized she had to pee and she hated the world all over again and vowed to kill Cora the moment she saw her next. She should have never said that things could get worse.

 

 

Chapter Text

When she woke again the room was still light. She scrunched her brow. Was it still the same day as when she had gone to sleep the last time or was it the next day? She looked around like the room had answers for her, but of course everything just looked the same, so there was no help.

Her eyes widened in realization. She didn’t have a headache anymore. She didn’t have a fucking headache anymore. Sweet gods almighty she could cry. She looked beside her. Regina was still asleep, but her face was smooth this time, truly relaxed in a way it hadn’t been in days. She wasn’t in pain either. Whatever they had done had worked, whether the contract was finally letting go of its grip on them or Cora had finally stopped being evil. She needed to talk to Lord William to find out which. But whichever it was, she was just so relieved she wasn’t sure there were any words to describe the feeling.

She reached out and stroked a lock of Regina’s hair from her face. Her wife’s eyes blinked open a few seconds later. Emma smiled down at the sleep hazed brown eyes staring up at her.

“Emma?” she mumbled, voice still deep and scratchy from sleep.

“Morning, sunshine. How are you feeling?”

Regina took quick stock of herself. “Better, a lot better.”

Emma nodded. “Me too.”

Regina frowned and sat up beside Emma. “Must have been the contract then.”

“I’m not sure. I woke up earlier, maybe even yesterday, I’m really not sure, and everything was worse. I sent Lord William off to deliver a message to Cora that the diamonds would be in her possession within the week since it seemed that sending the message to the mines hadn’t worked. I’ll have to talk to him to see which it was really later.”

Regina looked thoughtful and nodded. “Not exactly a foolproof plan, but definitely has advantages.”

“Yeah, well, after my brain almost scrambled it was the best I could come up with.”

Regina stretched languidly. “Gods, I’m so hungry. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t nauseous and didn’t have to force myself to eat.”

“Headaches are the worst.” Emma pushed herself out of bed and set about getting ready quickly. She needed to know if it was Cora or not behind their headaches. She had set the plans in motion to deal with the consequences if she was, but there was definitely more that needed done.

Regina followed Emma’s example, pushing out of bed and getting ready for the day. She groaned as her unused muscles stretched for the first time in a long while. Emma grimaced at her in sympathy. At least she had managed to get up for that little bit whenever it was.

“Training for the next few days is going be slightly agonizing.” She laced up her corset by touch and turned towards Emma waiting for her to tie it. “But that can wait for a day at least.” She sighed as if that fact disappointed her greatly.

Emma snorted and stepped forward lacing Regina up quickly. “Don’t act like you aren’t slightly glad to put off more pain after the last few days.”

Regina just shrugged. “Perhaps, but I don’t like being anywhere near out of shape more than I don’t like pain, so it will be done. There are just more important things to attend to today.”

“Fair enough.” She grabbed Regina’s waist and turned her around. Her hand went to cup her wife’s face gently. “I’m just glad you’re ok now.” She leaned forward and kissed Regina gently. Regina returned the kiss immediately, turning it into something akin to desperation. It seemed like their kisses reached this stage far too often anymore, seeking urgently to remind them that the other was still there, that they had made it through yet another trial intact. Emma wanted for every kiss they shared to be less about life and death and more about just how much they loved each other. She wondered how long it would be before they got to that point, or if they ever would again.

But then Regina was invading her mouth, all sweet spice, and she stopped thinking all together for a few moments. It was wonderful to just be for a little while. It felt like a privilege that she hardly got, that wasn’t meant for royalty at all. Their money and influence could do much, but this was the price, just existing in the moment. Emma missed the feeling immensely, but was so, so glad that Regina could do this to her, if only for a little bit.

They pulled back a little while later. Emma breathed out slowly. “Wow, so…” she trailed off for a few moments before laughing loud and long. “Months of being married and yet you can still make me a wordless idiot. Congratulations.”

Regina smirked at her and leaned in for another quick peck to the lips. “It’s one of my special abilities, dear.”

“Well, you are an amazing woman, shouldn’t surprise me that you have many talents.” Her smiled took on a salacious edge.

Regina just rolled her eyes. “Come on, I want food more than anything right now and if you continue your clumsy flirting we just might end up back in bed, and I do not even want to see our bed for the next century or so.”

Emma laughed. “Well then, your majesty, lead the way.” She mock bowed towards the door, arms sweeping out wide.

Regina chuckled at her antics and led the both of them from the room.

 

Later they were sat in front of their council after they had had their fill of food. Emma had eaten more in one sitting than she was sure most people ate in an entire day, but once she had seen food she couldn’t stop herself. Regina had been right, it had been days since they had really eaten more than a little at a time.

But the solemn faces in front of her had the food sitting in her stomach like a lead brick. No one had spoken yet, and yet Emma knew that something had gone wrong in her absence. She looked over at Lord William, but he just shook his head ever so slightly. She would have to wait until later then for his input when the rest of the council had left.

“Alright, is anyone going to start or are we just going to sit here wasting all of our time?” Emma asked finally. “What has you all so tongue tied, is another army attacking?”

The men around her flinched visibly. Emma closed her eyes, it couldn’t be.

“No, your majesty, it isn’t another army attacking,” someone finally said.

Emma opened her eyes and looked over all of them again. Well then, perhaps the flinching was just at the thought instead of the reality. “Then what is it?”

“The operative word is another, your majesty. The Dark Army’s border contingent is moving around. Messengers have been sent to Cora to ask what is going on, but she hasn’t responded. It might be nothing, they have been in the same spot for months. It could just been that they have exhausted the resources there and are moving on, but we have no idea.”

Emma sighed. She drew a piece of paper in front of her and started to pen a missive to Cora herself. “Well, we know that they cannot attack us, so we are safe from that at least. But yes, we should know what in the world they’re doing anyway.” Tension leaked from her. So it wasn’t as bad as she was imagining. Thank the gods.

From there the council meeting progressed as normal and afterwards Emma sent all those who weren’t on her so called special advisory council away. She looked up at Lord William and willed him to start after a minute of waiting. He nodded at her and spoke.

“I delivered the message to Queen Cora as you directed yesterday. Of course she didn’t do anything to make it completely obvious that she was behind your incapacitation, but I have a strong feeling that she was after talking to her. Something was off about how she reacted to the news of the diamonds being on the way to her.”

Emma nodded. “And the fact that was a day past when the messenger was sent to the mines that the headaches let up. It’s not definite proof in the slightest, but…” she trailed off and Regina picked up.

“It is enough for now.” Brown eyes locked with the blue of Lord William and a few silent words passed between them.

Emma sat back and watched. It seemed like the plans she set into motion yesterday were going to be continued. She was glad she had acted early then. Regina would have at least some sort of framework to work off of today.

“The diamonds are two days out at most,” Emma said, breaking the silent moment. “Whatever needs done needs done quickly.”

The room nodded to her and set to work immediately. Emma looked to Regina. With all of the regular work of the kingdom done there was no need for her to stay. She trusted that Regina would have everything well in hand. She had until this point. So she nodded at Regina and stood up.

“I’ll be in our rooms if you need me,” she squeezed Regina’s shoulder on her way past and left the room. She supposed now that she really could be involved with the planning if she wanted. It had been months since Cora was truly interested in her and she did want so desperately to be doing something useful, but she had a feeling she would get nowhere. Now it wouldn’t be that Emma needed to stay out of the planning in order to keep the plans safe, but Regina would want to keep her out of the planning to keep her safe. And she knew that that would be a losing battle if she ever even attempted to take it up.

So she walked to her rooms with a sigh, poured herself a glass of wine even though it wasn’t even midday yet, and set to work on yet another stack of paperwork. The glorious life of a Queen indeed.

 

Two days passed. She could feel the council holding their breaths, waiting, just waiting to see whatever move that Cora would make now that the diamonds were in her hands. But whatever she wanted to do either took time or she had no plans to enact it immediately. The thought crossed Emma’s mind that maybe whatever Cora wanted the diamonds for was something innocuous and that was why nothing had happened, but she quickly threw that thought out as soon as it came. It was Cora they were talking about after all.

And so they settled in to wait for whatever it was that Cora was doing. Emma wondered idly if whatever Cora was doing would happen with some sort of fanfare or just creep in slowly and horribly and wait to be noticed. She wondered if Cora had control over that sort of thing or if it was just a spell by spell thing. Somehow she didn’t think Regina would take being asked if their doom would announce itself in ominous smoke or thunderous applause kindly. She wasn’t quite sure that she wasn’t jinxing something by thinking about it. Gods knew if that was actually a thing then it would definitely apply to magic.

With each passing hour she felt the tension rocket up another notch. She wondered how long it would be before someone broke from the stress of it all. Emma herself was strangely calm. She’d had months and months to panic now. Now she just felt like she supposed a Queen should, level headed and ready for anything. That being said, she did notice the tension headaches she was getting, she just chose to ignore them as she always did.

And so a week passed, fading into two until something shifted, but it wasn’t something dramatic and magic filled as Emma had been expecting, but between her and Regina. It was the stupidest time she could think of to have their first really bad fight of their marriage, but it happened none the less. They never really had been the couple with the best timing after all.

Emma walked into their rooms after another long day, massaging her temples. There was going to be a point where kneading the tender flesh under her fingers was just going to lose all effectiveness for even the tiniest of headaches for as much as she used the trick. But now was not that time and for that Emma was grateful.

She flopped down on the couch and groaned. Waiting was nothing new to her, it seemed that ruling was nothing but hurry up and wait, but that didn’t mean she didn’t grow tired of it. She wished Cora would just have the decency to put them out of their misery. She made no move to start another pile of paperwork. She wanted to just have a minutes reprieve from it all.

She was still resting on the couch when Regina entered their rooms in her normal pre-dinner fanfare. Emma didn’t open her eyes, just waved lazily in Regina’s direction and smiled.

“Hey,” she said softly.

“Hello,” Regina bit out, armor crashing to the floor.

Emma sat up at that. Regina did not mistreat her armor, even on her worst days. If she was throwing around the means to the livelihood that she loved, then whatever had happened to her at training had gone past worst and circled right around to downright horrible. She looked at Regina’s drawn face and that only confirmed her assessment.

“What happened?” She asked, concern lacing her tone.

“What makes you think anything happened?” Regina snapped back. She threw the rest of her armor down and flopped in a chair as far from Emma as possible. Even in her huff, she didn’t mistreat her sword, so Emma knew that not everything was lost. She sighed and sat back. This was going to be a long conversation she could already tell.

“Well, it might have something to do with the way you’re throwing your armor around like it did something wrong. It also might be the way that your face is drawn into a