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The Tale of Two Mothers

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The woman wrapped her cloak closer around her body. It wasn’t so cold that she needed shielding from the weather, but the tightness of the fabric gave her a sense – however false – of protection. Everyone said the witch was kind and good, but still, she was a witch. And witches were possessed of powers so far beyond the ken of the average person that any interaction with one was fraught with danger, even if the witch you were approaching was a practitioner of light magic. The divisions between light and dark power made very little difference to someone whose sole protection was a bit of homespun wool.

The witch was working in her garden. That eased the woman’s fears a little. It made for a not-very-fearsome picture – a witch on her knees, fingers covered in deep rich soil as she dropped seeds into shallow holes in the ground, tamping the dirt down around them with a wooden trowel.

“Mistress Swan?” the woman called.

The witch looked up, pushing away the lock of yellow hair that had fallen over her eyes, leaving a streak of dirt across her cheek. The woman had to bite her cheek to not smile.

“Please pardon the interruption, Mistress Swan. I am Constance Buckle…my husband is the shoemaker up over in Cherrywood village. I have come seeking your help.”

Mistress Swan got to her feet, brushing away the dirt that clung to her knees.

“Are you unwell, Goodwife Buckle?”

“No Mistress. But…my husband and I…we have tried for so long to have a child. But I can’t. I’ve never been able to.”

“And you’ve come to me?”

“Mother Howell, on Ridge Farm, she said that you’d helped her daughter, when she had the same trouble.”

“Did Mother Howell tell you there is a price to be paid?”

“Yes, Mistress. Three milk cows and a year’s supply of cheese.”

“That was the price for Mother Howell. Your price will be your own.”

“I’ll pay anything, Mistress Swan. Please.”

The witch sighed. “At least wait until you hear the price before you swear to pay it. Come inside, we’ll see what is to be done.”

The inside of the witch’s cottage was dark and smelled faintly of burnt sugar and cinnamon. It was untidy, with tools and cloths jumbled on the table and dishes piled up on the workbench. But even though it was a mess, it was clean – the tools had no hint of rust or dirt on them, and the dishes were freshly washed, waiting only to be put away. Constance Buckle found herself thinking the witch could do with a wife.

Mistress Swan moved some things off the table, clearing a space by adding to the jumble on the workbench. She invited Constance to sit, and then placed a gentle hand on the woman’s belly and another over her heart. She seemed to listen for a while, and then the witch sighed.

“I am sorry, Goodwife Buckle.”

“Oh please don’t say that. Please. Surely there is something you can do to help?” She started to cry. “I’ll do anything, I will.”

“The price will be a high one.”

“Anything. I’ll pay anything.”

“The price will be your child.”

The woman gasped. “No. Please. Take my life instead.”

“No, Goodwife Buckle, not your child’s life. But your child. Your firstborn. Given over to me, and you and your husband will have no further claim.”

“How can you be so cruel?” the woman cried. “Everyone says you are a witch of light magic! How can you ask that-“

“I do not set the price, Goodwife Buckle. But I must ask it. If you want the help of magic, that is the price you must pay.”

The woman sobbed quietly while she mulled over the witch’s words.

“You said my firstborn.”

“Yes.”

“So, I will have others? After the first one – the one you will claim as a price?”

“The one the magic will claim as a price,” the witch reminded her gently. “You will fall pregnant again, after your first child is born.”

“And what will you do with the child?” the woman asked worriedly.

“No harm will come to her. She will be my apprentice, I will teach her the ways of light magic.”

“A girl? My firstborn will be a girl?”

“Yes.”

“And my second? Another girl?” she asked hopefully.

The witch shrugged. “I cannot say, Goodwife Buckle. I cannot see that far into your future.”

The woman’s face grew thoughtful, as she weighed a future with no child at all versus a future where her firstborn was taken from her, but she would have other children to follow. Finally, she nodded.

“Very well, Mistress Swan. I will pay the price.”

The witch sighed. “Be certain of your decision, Goodwife Buckle. I can promise you nothing other than your firstborn will be given to me.”

“But there will be other children,” the woman said, so caught up in her reckoning of motherhood and childlessness that she did not pay attention to the witch’s careful response.

“You will fall pregnant again. But I can see no further than that.”

“I will pay the price.”

The witch rose to her feet and rummaged in the over-stuffed cupboards, pulling out bottles and phials and powders. She mixed up a potion, measuring carefully and sure, and ending up with a colourless, odourless, liquid in a clear glass vial. The liquid gleamed in the vial, catching every stray trace of light and turning it into a sparkling fire.

“Take this home with you. Drink it before the next time you lie with your husband. And remember – the magic will have its price. Do not drink the potion, and you will not have to pay the price.”

“Thank you Mistress Swan!” the woman cried, so caught up in the joy of her hopes being realised that she would not hear the clear warning in the witch’s words. She took the vial, tying it carefully into a corner of her cloak, and left the cottage.

Mistress Swan sat in her quiet cottage for a long time after, as the sun set and the shadows lengthened across her walls. Sometimes she felt the weight of her power was too heavy a burden to bear. She hoped the woman would not drink the potion, but she knew she would.

 

 

The shoemaker huddled into his coat as the wind howled around his ears. The witch made her home at the top of a steep cliff. The only way to reach her cottage was a narrow path that wound its way up the cliff face; mountain goats would cling to the rock in fear if they had to come this way. But Ambrose Buckle was a man driven by something more powerful than fear. He thought of his home, far away from this windswept cliff; a little house with a thatched roof and a nice little garden filled with cabbages and tomatoes and sweet-scented flowers. His little shop stood close to, with the broad half-door where a wide ledge displayed the finer examples of his handiwork. His workbench was set to catch the best of the light, and his tools glinted in the sun, the wood gleamed with polish, and the scent of leather, earthy and rich, filled the air.

When he had been a boy, apprenticed out to a leather-worker, when his life had been nothing but miserable toil and hard words, a shop and home like this had been a dream that he held carefully in his mind. A dream he could share with no one for the certainty of the ridicule that would follow. But somehow, by scrimping and saving, and his own skill, and by a very great amount of good fortune and luck, Ambrose Buckle had been able to set up his own shop, and then build his own house, and then take a wife, who he loved dearly, and who kept him and their home very well.

By all accounts, Ambrose and Constance Buckle should have been exceedingly happy. But every evening Ambrose would come home to a hot meal set out on the table for him, and a wife who grew more and more silent and sad. And every morning his breakfast porridge seemed seasoned with the salt of his wife’s tears.

A child. The lack of one was felt so keenly in his home that Ambrose would gladly have given over every advancement he had made in life, would return to the tannery and a life of drudgery, if only he could hear the sound of his wife’s laughter over the gurgle and babble of their child.

He had asked around. He had spoken to the men who came to mend their work boots and buy dainty shoes for their wives; men with grim faces but gold in their pockets; men who had paid a price for impossible favours. They told him about the witch on the clifftop.

“When all else fails, dark magic finds a way,” he had been told.

“There will be a price. There is always a price,” he had been warned.

“Pay the price, no matter how hard, and you get what you asked for,” he had been promised.

With these words ringing in his ears, the shoemaker climbed the path, his hands grasping and scrabbling at rocks and shrubs to keep from falling. When he reached the top of the cliff, the witch was waiting.

Her hair was dark, and her lips were red, and she wore midnight, and her voice rang out like a death knell.

“What do you want, Ambrose Buckle?”

Ambrose fell to his knees, too afraid to even wonder how she knew his name.

“Please, Mistress Mills,” he quavered. “I have come to beg your help.”

“And what do you crave so much, shoemaker, that you seek out the aid of the darkest of magic?”

“A child.”

That gave the witch pause. “Whose?” she demanded.

“My own, Mistress, if you please.”

“Are you so careless that you have lost a child?” the witch growled, her voice grim.

“No! No, Mistress. My wife. We have tried. But we cannot have a child. Nothing has worked. Nothing.”

“Find another wife,” the witch said, dismissively.

“I could not do that, Mistress,” the shoemaker wailed. “Constance is a good woman and a worthy wife. She deserves a child of her own. Please Mistress, can you not help us?”

Ambrose felt the magic take hold of him and lift him until his feet dangled six inches off the ground. He was pulled forward, toward where the witch stood, her hands on her hips, an impatient foot tapping in the grass. He dared not so much as twitch in case he disturbed her spell. He felt her scrutiny; it went beyond the baleful glare of her dark eyes; he felt the magic sweep through him.

The witch’s mouth twisted in surprise.

“You have been told, there will be a price? The magic always asks a price.”

“Yes, Mistress. I will pay anything. Anything.”

“Men. Always so eager to promise before they know the cost.”

“I mean it, Mistress. I will give anything I own. I will give my own life.”

The witch laughed. “The magic does not want your life, Ambrose Buckle. The price it asks is your firstborn child.”

“A…a sacrifice?!” Despite his avowals, he was horrified.

“No, you fool. What good will a sacrifice be? The magic asks for your child – for you to give your firstborn over to me. And then you can go off and make your wife pregnant again.”

“There will be other children?”

“I did not say that, Ambrose Buckle. You asked for a child for your wife. She can have a child – a daughter in fact – but the price for that is that she will never raise the child. I will.”

“But she will have other children? Children she can keep?”

“I do not see that far, Ambrose Buckle. All I see is her pregnant again. But I see no other child.”

And, much like his wife was doing at the very same moment, Ambrose Buckle heard only the hope and none of the warning.

“I will pay the price, Mistress Mills.”

“Be very sure, Ambrose Buckle. The magic will not be denied. The price will be taken, whether you like it or not.”

“I will pay the price, Mistress. For my wife’s happiness, for the family we yearn for, I will pay it.”

“There are sweeter things to wish for than family, Ambrose Buckle.”

In the back of his mind, behind the hope for the future, and his present fear of the magic that held him, Ambrose Buckle found it in himself to pity the witch who would feel that way about family.

But then the witch disappeared in a flare of purple smoke, leaving him suspended in the air, and Ambrose’s entire mind was filled only with fear for himself.

She did not keep him waiting very long. And when she returned, she brought with her a vial filled with a viscous fluid as dark as the darkest treacle but not smelling nearly so sweet.

“Drink this before you next lie with your wife, and in nine months, she will birth a daughter, and I will come to claim the price.”

“Yes Mistress.”

“Do not drink the potion, and there will be no price to pay. Think well on my words, Ambrose Buckle.”

But again, hope made the listener deaf to the warning.

 

 

Constance Buckle sat on the doorstep of her little house, watching for her husband. He had said he had business some miles away, and he had taken the little cart and horse he used for large deliveries. She could see them returning now, could hear the clopping of hooves on the road and her husband’s cheerful whistle. She looked down at the sparkling vial in her hands. Would Ambrose understand the agreement she had reached with Mistress Swan? Would he be willing to give up their firstborn child so that they could have a second child, one they could keep? It had all seemed so clear to her when she had sat at the witch’s table, but now her reasoning was fading, and she was left only with the rock-hard certainty that this was the only way to bring a child into their lives. She would make Ambrose understand. She would find a way. But – just to be certain – she took a deep breath, took the cork out of the vial, and drank down the contents in one gulp.

 

Ambrose Buckle could see his house, and could see his wife on the step, waiting for him. Two years from now, she could be sitting there waiting for him with a child on her hip. He smiled. That would make everything in his life perfect; a happy home and a happy family. There would be the matter of the price – the child who would never belong to them. But surely Constance would see that was a fair enough price to pay? A child for a family? He looked at the vial that he held so carefully in his hand; the dark fluid roiled against the glass, moving as though it had a life of its own. Constance would have to understand. He would find a way to make her see. But, just in case – he took a deep breath, took the cork out of the vial, and drank down the contents in one gulp.

 

Later, after Constance had welcomed Ambrose home with a hug and a shy kiss and a hot meal; after they had gone to the little back room with the bed that Ambrose had built with his own hands; after they had made love with a desperation and earnestness matched only by their first night together; Ambrose and Constance spoke at the same moment,

 

“There is something I have to tell you.”

Chapter Text

They had argued, of course they had – both quick to throw affronted accusations while deflecting any identical barbs flung in their direction. Then they had retreated into sullen silence. They focused on being angry at each other, because the alternative was too frightening to contemplate. Secretly, they both hoped the potions would not work, and so save them from having to ever see the witches again. But in a few weeks, when it became obvious that Constance was pregnant, they could no longer avoid the enormity of what they had done.

“What are we going to do?” a shaken Constance was the first to break the silence between them.

“We could leave – go where they can not find us?”

But Constance had looked around their home, built with so much struggle and sacrifice, and could not imagine abandoning it; Ambrose had remembered the cautionary stories he had heard – of how easily a Mistress of dark magic could hunt down a man, and what she could do once she had found him. They had shaken their heads simultaneously. Fleeing was not an option.

“Should you go back to Mistress Swan and ask her to release you from your bargain?”

“No. No! I cannot – she was so clear that the price would have to be paid. Perhaps you would have better luck with Mistress Mills?”

Ambrose made a strangled noise.

“I think we would both be better off if I did not return to her. I do not think she would look too kindly on either of us.”

“What are we to do?” Constance wailed again, dropping into a chair and burying her face in her hands.

Seeing his wife in such distress made Ambrose forget any lingering anger he held towards her. He reached out and pried one hand away from her face so he could look her earnestly in the eye.

“They both said magic asked the price. Let magic say to whom the price should be paid.”

“What do you mean, husband?”

Ambrose shrugged. “One of those potions worked. You and I cannot tell which one. Let the witches work it out.”

“So, we’ll go back to both of them?” her voice quavered.

He shook his head emphatically. “No, wife. We have done our part. We have made the bargain. Let them worry about how to disburse the payment.”

“Oh husband, I do not know if that is so wise.”

From what his wife had said, Mistress Swan was severe, but not nearly as terrifying as Mistress Mills. If they only had to deal with the light magic witch, then perhaps he would have been bolder. But the thought of facing the witch on the clifftop again made him shudder in dread. This magic business was too complicated a thing for the likes of him and his wife. It was better that they waited until the child was born. Then, when the witches came to claim the price, they would be so busy sorting out which of them would take her, it was very likely that Ambrose and his wife would pass beneath their notice.

“We will wait,” Ambrose said at last. “What is the worst that could happen? One of them will leave here disappointed. She may rail and curse our luck for a few years. We can handle that, wife. We will have a family of our own soon. Remember that.”

Ambrose was sure Mistress Swan would not even go so far as cursing them. Curses were a thing of dark magic after all. And no part of him doubted that Mistress Mills’ dark potion would have prevailed over the sparkling light that Mistress Swan had provided his wife.

 

Nine months passed far too quickly. Constance Buckle grew heavy with child, but she could take no joy in her pregnancy. Not only was she weighed down by the fear of what would happen when both witches came calling for the child, but also she could not escape the knowledge that the baby that grew inside her was never going to be hers. Every flutter in her womb, every firm kick and pang and ache reminded her that the life she sheltered was not hers to keep. She grew morose as her time neared, the situation made more difficult by the fact that she could confide her secret to no one. For his part, Ambrose grew more cheerful as his wife’s belly swelled; every day brought them nearer to the moment he and Constance would be rid of this burden, and could finally start a family of their own.

And one spring morning, the long awaited day dawned. Constance Buckle awoke in mild discomfort that worsened as the day progressed until she was crying out to her husband to fetch her the midwife.

Maggie Horner was a suspected hedge witch, but she was such an efficient healer and midwife, and brewed such good ale, and her pies were so scrumptious, that the villagers forgave her any dabbling in magic. Maggie Horner was also the one person that Constance Buckle had any hope of understanding her dilemma. So between grunts and wails, while the pain shot through her belly and back, Constance told Maggie as much as she dared of the bargain they had struck.

“You went between dark and light?”

“Yes. But we didn’t know! I sought out the light. Ambrose the dark.”

“And they’ll both come expecting payment?”

“Yes! But we don’t know to whom the price will go.”

Maggie shrugged. “Let’s bring this little one into the world before we worry about that. Though I can’t say as I don’t have a bad feeling about this.”

“I know. I know,” Constance wept.

In the garden outside, Ambrose paced up and down, walking between neat rows of cabbages and lettuce. He wrung a handkerchief between his hands. He had called no friends to stand and wait with him, and he was regretting his decision now. At times like this, a man needed a comforting presence by his side. The kingdom had been enjoying a peace between the witches, ever since the covens had battled to a standstill in an exchange of magic that left the Blackwoods glowing a bright green. Ambrose Buckle had begun to fear that his little cottage was going to be the site of the first exchange of hostilities between witches of light and dark in over a dozen years. He longed for a sip, or perhaps more, of Maggie Horner’s strongest ale, but reckoned now was not a good time to go and ask her for a glass.

 

 

The hours passed, and finally Constance Buckle gave birth to a baby girl. Maggie Horner had the wrinkled, squalling, body in a tub of warm water, washing off the blood and other fluids that came with birthing. She liked to present her mothers with a clean baby, wrapped in a cloth she would prepare specially for each of her charges. She had made a pale cream wrap for this child, embroidered around its edge with leaves of green silk thread and little white and yellow daisies. She had not known when she made it that this blanket would be both little Baby Buckle’s welcome and farewell present.

She had just finished wrapping the baby in her blanket when the room filled with clouds of purple smoke, and simultaneously the door was flung open. Maggie Horner tightened her arms protectively around the crying infant as the smoke solidified into a dark-haired woman, dressed in severe black, and a hazel-eyed woman wearing a linen dress tumbled through the door. The witches had arrived.

Maggie Horner ignored them, and handed the swaddled infant to her mother.

The newcomers saw each other in the same heartbeat.

“What are you doing here?!” they both spat.

“This child is mine!” they both replied.

“Liar!” they both cried.

The air crackled as both witches drew up their power.

Maggie Horner sighed. She missed the older witches – they had understood patience and the importance of conversation before hurling curses and fireballs. But nearly all the older witches were dead now, casualties of the longstanding battle between light and dark. Only these young whippersnappers were left, hotheaded and too eager to strike out at any perceived enemy.

“Remember the truce,” Maggie Horner said, her voice loud enough to cause both witches to turn towards her. “And remember there is a newborn in this room. You are scaring her.”

The witches shifted their gaze from the midwife to the mother; Constance Buckle held her daughter to her chest, arms wrapped protectively around the baby. Her face was pale – paler even than what would be expected in a woman who had just given birth – and her eyes were widened in fear. Oblivious to the tension around her, Baby Buckle was suckling at her mother’s breast.

“Please, Mistress Swan, I am so sorry. I didn’t know what to do.”

The witch’s demeanour changed immediately, going from anger to soothing.

“Hush, Constance. Do not distress yourself. Tell me what has happened.”

“I don’t have time for this, Emma Swan,” the dark witch said angrily.

Emma whirled back towards her, “What have you done, Regina? Did you trick this poor woman into making a deal with you?”

“Trick her? I’ve never seen her before in my life!”

“Enough!” Maggie snapped. “Both of you!”

Regina snarled at her, “How dare you-“

“I dare because I am the midwife,” Maggie cut her off. “And in this room, all the power is mine, lass. Or have you forgotten what it means to stand on the edge, between life and death?”

Surprisingly, Regina eased her combative stance and dipped her head; it was the most miniscule of bows, barely there really, but it did not escape either Maggie Horner’s notice or Emma Swan’s. Emma looked startled, but Maggie nodded.

“Good. Now, this is what has happened. Constance Buckle asked Mistress Swan for help falling pregnant. Her husband – “

“The shoemaker,” Regina interrupted.

“Yes, Ambrose, he turned to Mistress Mills.”

“They both asked-“

“Neither knew what the other had done.”

“How is that-“

“The magic asked the same price,” Maggie continued, ignoring Emma’s interjection.

Regina rubbed at the sudden tension that had developed between her eyes. “But which one of us collects?”

“That is the question we must answer. Well, I say ‘we’. But it is for you to determine.”

“Fine,” Regina snapped. “All we have to do is check which of our spells worked.”

She stalked towards Constance, who cowered back, holding the baby tighter to her chest.

“Please Mistress, what do you want with her? With my daughter?”

Regina’s smile was not kind. “You should be glad, Constance Buckle. I will teach your daughter to be the most powerful dark witch in the kingdom. Second only to me.”

“And if you find it was Mistress Swan’s magic that worked?”

Regina snarled. “My magic does not fail. But if by some…impossible happenstance, that baby is a product of light magic, then I will have nothing more to do with her.”

“Do you promise?”

Regina heard Emma snort behind her, but she replied as though she had not heard the derision.

“The price of magic will be paid, Constance Buckle. But if the magic did not work, then there can be no price asked.”

After a long, contemplative, moment, Constance nodded and held the baby towards Regina.

Regina’s palm glowed with a purple light as she prepared to cast her spell.

“Wait!” Emma cried out. “What are you doing?”

“Testing the child.”

“Why?”

“How else do you propose we determine-“

“No, I mean, why you? I’ll test her.”

Regina’s eyebrow arched. “Do you not trust me, Emma Swan?”

“Not particularly.”

Now it was Regina’s turn to snort derisively, but she moved back, sketched a sarcastic little bow, and waved Emma forward.

“By all means, have at it. We all know that practitioners of the light do not lie.”

“I don’t know where you heard that,” Emma muttered as she stepped forward, “But be assured Regina Mills, I’ll know when you are lying.”

Regina snarled, but made no other comment. She stepped over to stand next to Maggie and watched as Emma spoke quietly to Constance. She glanced at the midwife.

“Have you any advice for me, Mistress?” she asked, her voice quiet so as not to be overheard.

Maggie grinned. “You mean as a midwife?”

Regina frowned, but still spoke civilly, “As someone who stands on the edge.”

“They’re hard work, babies. You wouldn’t think so, them being so small and all. But they are. Take the rest when you can. Take the help when it’s offered. And do not be so proud, Mistress Mills, that you do not ask for help.”

Regina looked irritated, but any remark she may have made was interrupted by Emma’s outburst:

“This has to be a joke!”

“What?”

Regina stalked back over to where Emma was sitting on the bed next to an even-more-worried looking Constance, who was holding the baby in the crook of her arm now; the scrunched up infant face, with her dark eyes and the dusting of pale hair, was focused on Emma. A swirl of magic, still connected to Emma’s outstretched hand, undulated over the baby. The magic had manifested as ribbons of dark grey smoke intertwined with streams of a bright yellow light.

“That’s impossible!” Regina exclaimed. “You must have done something wrong!”

“Please, if you think you can do better!” Emma replied angrily.

“I shall!”

She cast the spell that would seek out the child’s power, confident that it would reveal nothing but a reflection of her own dark magic. Instead all she drew out was the same mix of dark grey smoke and yellow light that Emma had.

“Impossible,” she muttered.

“How can this be.” Emma said.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Maggie Horner asked.

They turned towards her.

“Both your spells worked.”

“Impossible!” they spoke at the same time.

“Yet there is the evidence before you.”

“Please Maggie, what does this mean for my child?” Constance pleaded.

“That she is a product of both light and dark magic. So the price must be paid to both.”

“How are we to do that?” Regina demanded, furious. “This child was to be my apprentice!”

“And mine!”

Maggie shrugged. “You know the price must be paid. Both prices.”

“Fine,” Regina ground out. “We’ll split the years between us. I’ll have her for the first 6 months; you can have her for the next. And when she’s sixteen, she can choose whether she will practice the dark or the light.”

Before Emma could object, or even move, Regina had reached out and placed her hand on the baby’s arm. A flare of magic burst out at the point of contact, and Regina cried out, yanking her hand back as though it had been burned.

“The first six months is mine,” Emma smirked; she reached for the child, but the same flare of magic threw her hand back too.

“This is ridiculous,” Regina said angrily. “What, are we to raise this child together?”

“Don’t be daft,” Emma responded.

But Maggie Horner bit back a snort of laughter and said, “Can you think of any other solution?”

“We can duel,” Regina snarled.

Maggie sighed. “Remember the truce, lass. And remember – you must pay the price too. It seems this is what the magic wants. You must comply or suffer the consequences.”

“Magic can not want this!” Regina cried. “This is just a strange side effect of the combination of our powers.”

“Even so. You must comply.”

The two witches stared at each other. This was unprecedented. Even in times of peace, practitioners of dark and light were barely civil to each other when they met in the street; sharing living spaces and raising an apprentice together was land so unchartered they did not even know where to begin to draw a map.

It was Emma who spoke first.

“If we must, then we must. But we will do nothing to harm this child.”

Regina snarled. “She is my apprentice. Why would I harm her?”

Emma nodded. “Okay. Next question – where-“

“My cottage, of course.”

“Regina-“

“I have made enough compromises this day, Emma Swan.” She turned to Constance. “Give me the child.”

“Please Mistress, be gentle with her. I know I have no more claim to her, but I still gave her life, and-“

“I have already said I will do no harm to her, Constance Buckle. Give me the child.”

The woman wept quiet tears, and she peppered the top of the baby’s head with kisses, but she handed her over without further protest. Regina took her and held her, awkwardly, but securely.

“There. Now. Shall we-“

“Had you thought of a name for her?” Emma asked suddenly.

Constance nodded, her face a twist of sorrow and disbelieving hope.

“Amanita. For my grandmother.”

“That is a pretty name,” Emma said gently. She glanced at Regina, who shrugged; she didn’t care what her apprentice was named.

“She will be called Amanita,” Emma said. “And when she is a powerful witch, when people cry out to her for aid from all over the kingdom, she will remember where she came from.”

“Thank you, Mistress,” Constance wept.

“And now, we must go,” Emma continued. “A clean break will be better for all of you.”

“Yes,” Regina said forcefully. “It is well past time for us to be going,”

She raised one hand to cast the spell that would transport her and the baby back to her cottage.

“Wait, Regina! I came on my broom.” Emma said.

Regina sighed. “Why do practitioners of light insist on making life so difficult? A transport spell is not an evil thing!”

“I like my broom,” Emma said defensively. “And anyway, my aim is never very good – with the transport spell.”

Regina groaned. “You’d rather perch on hard wood and bristles than put in the effort to learn how to do the spell right?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“Summon your broom!”

Emma did, and Regina cast her spell to carry all three of them away.

The room echoed with silence in the absence of the bickering witches and the baby.

“Will she be alright?” Constance asked in a small voice. “My Amanita. Will she be-“ her voice broke off in a sob.

Maggie sighed and went to sit by her side, holding her hand and patting it gently.

“They’ll care well for her. They will. Your child could not have asked for two more powerful defenders.”

But the only thought in Constance Buckle’s head was ‘will my daughter be happy?’ And that was a question that was not so easily answered.

It was not a question on Ambrose Buckle’s mind, when Maggie went to find him in the garden to tell him the business with the witches had been resolved. Now that the price had been paid, Ambrose was looking forward to being able to start their family. It was unfortunate that each of the Buckles were so caught up in their private thoughts – Constance in the sorrow of giving up her child, and Ambrose in the hope of their future – that they still did not remember the warning the witches had tried to give them.

Chapter Text

 

The two witches and their infant charge materialised inside Regina’s cottage. The wind howled around the windows, but the interior of the little house was snug and warm. Regina did not go in for many frivolities – her home was functional and spare – with only two chairs by the small table and one armchair and a smaller footstool by the fireplace.

The cottage was neat and tidy, but there was very little of a feeling of home about it. From where they stood Emma could see the small kitchen area, and the larger space dedicated to the workbench where Regina’s potions and powders were organised in glass and ceramic jars, clearly labeled. There were two shelves of books, obviously well-worn from use, but carefully lined up, with all their spines facing outwards. There were sheafs of paper tidily stacked on the workbench, covered in finely written text. There was not even a cup out of place, forgotten on the floor by the armchair next to a book that had been dropped mid-read.

Emma looked around, searching for signs of where to place a newborn baby. Other than the front door, there was only one other doorway in the cottage, leading to what she assumed was Regina’s sleeping area.

“Is her cot in there?” she asked.

“What?”

“Amanita’s cot. Where will she sleep?”

Regina looked down at the baby in her arms.

“I have cleared out a drawer.”

“What?”

In answer, Regina walked through the door into her bedroom. It was just as neat and tidy as the rest of the cottage; the bed was made up, pillows well fluffed and the counterpane straight; clothes had been hung in the wardrobe and not left to lie wherever she had removed them; the chest of drawers was not stuffed to overflowing. The only thing out of place was the top right hand drawer; it had been left open and Emma could see that it had been lined with blankets and a thin pillow.

“That’s where you want her to sleep?”

The sight of the little space carved out and set aside for the baby brought too many difficult memories rising to the fore of Emma's mind. Memories of being taken from her home and smuggled away under dark of night; memories of frightened but determined-looking women who took her in and 'made room' for her in corners and hidden places, in dusty attics, under kitchen tables, in barns and sheds. 

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Regina, our apprentice can’t start out her life sleeping in a drawer!”

“Why ever not? It did me no harm.”

“Oh.” Emma said, taken aback. “But think how difficult it would be for her if she ever were to find out that we were so unprepared. I mean, I’d never tell her, but-“

“My mother had no trouble telling me.” Regina said shortly. “She said it taught me humility.”

“Oh, Regina,” Emma said softly.

Regina snarled. “I don’t need your pity, Emma Swan.”

“It’s not pity, I assure you,” Emma hastened to say.

All witches, both dark and light, knew that Cora Mills – Regina’s own mother – led the most powerful coven of dark witches in the kingdom. This made her the de facto head of all the dark covens, and Cora took her role as overseer of the entire community of dark witches very seriously indeed. She always said, with some pride, that no one could fault her commitment to the power, not in her coven involvements, and certainly not in her personal life.

Emma knew a lot of Cora’s philosophies, handed down in such sayings as, ‘eradicate all weakness’ and ‘there is no room for softness in the dark’. One of Emma’s coven mothers had made sure all her apprentices understood how Cora Mills thought – “You must know the enemy if you are to face her and survive,” Mary Margaret Blanchard had been fond of saying. So her coven had learned not to fear the dark, but to study it.

Their knowledge hadn’t saved Mary Margaret’s coven though. Cora Mills’ witches had gone through them like a hot knife through butter. Emma had been only ten when that decimation had happened; too young to join the fight but old enough to realise what was happening. She had been hidden away to finish her training in secret, moved from old witch to retired sorceress with very little forewarning, gleaning whatever crumbs of knowledge and skill they could teach her along the way. Her natural affinity for light magic was immense, but her training had been so patchy, so lacking in discipline, that Emma Swan had yet to reach her full potential as a witch. Regina Mills, the product of first-hand instruction by the queen of dark magic herself, had power and skill and control oozing out of her pores. You did not pity someone like that. You understood them, like a sailor understood the storm, and the ferocity it could unleash.

When the witches had reached the truce – just before Emma’s sixteenth birthday – she had finally been able to declare herself openly, and set up her own patch and practice as a witch of light magic. She was the only surviving member of her coven, but it took her a long while before she felt confident enough in her own abilities to take on an apprentice. Amanita was to have been the first step she would take to rebuilding her coven, and to keeping the ideas and practices of her first coven mother alive. She did not want her first apprentice to get her start in magic sleeping in a drawer, but then, she hadn’t planned for any of Regina’s involvement at all. She would pick her battles. Amanita’s sleeping arrangements may soon be the least of their worries.

But then she looked around Regina’s cottage again, and started thinking of her own sleeping arrangements.

“Do you have another room?”

“She’s not large enough to need a room of her own.”

“Not for her! For me!”

“Oh.” Regina had not factored that into her plans. “Perhaps you can return to your own cottage for the night and-“

“You felt the magic Regina. You know that won’t work. We’re supposed to train this child together – and that means living under the same roof!”

Regina sighed. “You can have that corner of the kitchen,” she offered begrudgingly.

“Very generous," Emma snarled, "but no. Look, let’s just go to my cottage. It’s three times the size of this place! You can bring all your books and things.”

“Or I could just add rooms on here. It’ll only take me a few minutes.”

“No. You know I won’t live in any home made by magic.”

“You light witches are ridiculous,” Regina muttered. “You have the power, but you wont use it!”

“Being overly reliant on magic is dangerous. It makes you forget that limits are a good thing.”

“What is the point of magic if you can’t use it?” Regina countered. “As long as you are willing to pay the price.”

“Look, if generations of witches have been unable to reach a compromise between the light and dark, you and I certainly aren’t going to manage it arguing over where I’m going to sleep! Please. My cottage is just sitting there. Three rooms, a wonderful garden. It’s perfect for a young child.”

Regina blamed the various surprises of the day for leaving her so tired that she could not drum up any further objections. She looked down at the still-sleeping infant. She’d be wanting feeding soon, and a change of clothes. Possibly a bath. It was entirely possible that her pristine home was not well suited to the task. Regina could easily magic up all the necessities – milk and feeding bottles and so forth – but she could foresee an argument from Emma Swan at every step of the way, and the thought made her even more tired.

“Very well,” she muttered. “We will try your cottage.”

 

Emma Swan’s cottage was everything she had promised, and even more that she had not.

“How can you live in this filth?” Regina demanded, horrified.

“It isn’t filthy!” Emma replied defensively. “I just haven’t put things away yet.”

“It looks like you haven’t put things away for a month,” Regina muttered. “And what is that smell?”

Emma looked guiltily at a wooden box tucked away in the corner of her warm kitchen.

“Goats. Sick goats. I raise goats. Three of the kids have been unwell. I had to take care of them!” she cried at Regina’s scandalised expression.

“And you thought your hovel was a better place for Amanita than my cottage?”

“It is not a hovel, Regina! And look, I have her room all set up.”

She had gone to some trouble with it. There were pretty curtains hanging over the sole window, the floor had been freshly swept, and Emma had got the local carpenter to make her a cot of carved wood lined with soft cottons.

“It is a very nice cot,” Regina allowed grudgingly, “but I refuse to live here.”

“Regina-“

“We need neutral territory.”

“Oh fine! Where do you suggest?”

 

 

“The Blackwoods?!” Emma cried, recognising immediately where they had materialised. There was still a faint glow of green over the trees, even more than a decade after the last spell had been cast.

“The glow isn’t harmful anymore,” Regina said. “I’ve been here often enough. No one else ever comes here.”

“Because this was a battle zone!”

“Well it’s safe now. And quiet. See, Nan Locket’s house is still standing, untouched by battle or time.”

They were standing outside what looked like a rambling shamble of a cottage, with a curved thatched roof that reached nearly to the ground, and a covered entryway held up by thick logs and covered in moss. It looked like something that had grown out of the surrounding woods, and Emma was charmed by it.

“I’ve heard that name," she said thoughtfully.

“She was a powerful hedge witch. She brokered the first truce between the dark and light.”

“The one that Cora broke?” Emma couldn’t help saying.

“Yes,” Regina sighed. "But that was long before I was born."

"Will we be able to enter?" Even a hedge witch would have placed protections and wards around her home.

"Yes," Regina said striding through the gate confidently. 

And sure enough, the door swung open under her touch, revealing an interior that looked more like Emma's cottage than Regina's - there weren't any books or carefully arranged bottles for one thing - but bigger than the two of their homes put together. They stood in a large room that obviously served many purposes - there were chairs and work benches, and low stools, and tables covered in tools. Four doors led off from this room; Emma assumed they led to the kitchen and sleeping areas. Time may not have touched the outside of the cottage, but it had not spared the inside being covered in dust and cobwebs.

"Will this do?" Regina asked warily.

Emma looked around, and nodded. "Yes. It's perfect. I'll find a mop and bucket and start cleaning up. Find those spiders another home."

Regina sighed, waved a hand, and the cottage was pristine.

"Regina!" Emma said angrily, "You know-"

"Fear not, Mistress Swan. Your room is untouched. But I refuse to sit around and wait for you to indulge your foolish reluctance to use magic."

"It is not foolish," Emma countered angrily, following Regina as she carried Amanita into a small room. Her voice trailed off when she noticed that Regina had brought Amanita's cot with them. It stood waiting in the centre of the room, and Regina carefully laid the baby down, pulling the blankets up around her.

She turned to face Emma and squared her shoulders, already anticipating an argument. They had a lot to discuss about their apprentice and their new living conditions.

Tempers had frayed by the end of it, and the only reason they weren't shouting was because they hadn't wanted to wake the sleeping baby. But Amanita had wakened regardless, demanding food and attention in a piercing wail that had them both rushing to her room, flustered. It had forced them to work together, to compromise, to agree that while they could not have a wet-nurse come live with them, they would figure out a way to obtain and use the milk she would have provided. 

Once they had formed this first understanding, and bolstered by having successfully fed and bathed their infant charge, they had reached an uneasy detente, reluctantly allowing each other to draw on their respective strengths so they could care for the baby. Emma had more experience looking after young creatures than Regina did, but Regina was quicker at coming up with magical solutions to their dilemmas. The sort of solutions that left Emma feeding an eager Amanita from a bottle that looked like the air itself had solidified in her hands. 

She placed the strange bottle down carefully and watched as it dissolved away under Regina's dismissing wave. The effortless display rankled; it was so like a dark witch, to create something so far outside of the norm with such little thought or visible strain. She left Regina rearranging her belongings, creating and filling shelves with the books and vials and bottles she magically transported from her cottage on the cliff. Emma found the mop and bucket and cleaned out her room, before heading out on her broom to haul back her own belongings. She brought the sick goats with her, their box hanging from two straps attached to the handle of the broom. Even though she had placed a stabilising spell around the box, their nervous bleating left her anxious, and she was glad to be back on solid ground so she could introduce the goats to their new home - a little shed behind the main cottage. She doubted Regina would have much to do with the muck of a goats' shed, and so she was happy to claim this place for her own.

By the time she had her goats squared away, she was exhausted, and would have liked nothing more than to sit quietly in a soft chair and drink a cup of tea. But as large as the main room of the cottage was, she still had to share it with Regina. Who was sitting in the most comfortable armchair, by the fireplace, reading a large book; a cup of tea steamed gently at her feet.

Emma sighed in relief when she saw the kettle sitting on the hearth. She poured herself a cup of hot water, added tea leaves, and while it steeped, hauled a second chair over to the fire. Her stomach growled, uncomfortably loud in the silence; Regina looked up from her book, an elegant eyebrow arched disdainfully. Emma sighed, and went in search of something to eat. By the time she returned, her cup of tea was cold, and she had to pour it away and start all over again.

She was grumpy when she finally sat down.

She glanced over at her silent companion, nose still buried in a book.

"How do you know about this place?"

Regina glanced up and shrugged. "I studied with Nan Locket for a while."

"You wanted to be a hedge witch?!"

"No. Of course not. But...there is power in standing on the edge. I wanted to learn more about it."

"Why must the dark be so obsessed with power," Emma spat.

"Why does the light try to destroy what it does not understand!" Regina countered angrily. "You are always seeking ways to curtail our power so you can increase your own!"

"That is not true!" Emma's voice was rising. "We seek to understand your power so we can counter it when it hurts others!"

"My power has never-"

"My entire coven died at the hands of dark witches!" Emma cried. "Don't you dare tell me that the dark power does not hurt!" She pushed back from the table and stormed out of the cottage.

Night had fallen, and despite the eery green glow, the woods were dark and shadowy. 

Regina did not follow her. She did spend the night sitting in the chair, lobbing the occasional fireball into the fireplace just to see the flames leap up. Amanita woke three times, twice needing to be fed and another for no discernible reason, but she finally fell back asleep after Regina, in desperation, picked her up and rocked her.

It was dawn before Emma returned, slipping into the cottage, her body still stiff with anger and her eyes hard.

Regina sighed.

"You have my condolences for the loss of your coven sisters, Emma Swan. But the light witches are not innocent of causing harm."

Emma snarled, and with some satisfaction, Regina saw her hands glow with her rising power. But she made herself say placatingly, "Hear me out, Emma Swan."

"Spit it out then," Emma said angrily, her hands still aglow.

Regina leaned forward. "I was fourteen, still an apprentice, when three witches of the light came upon me walking through these woods. Not far from this cottage actually. They knew me as Cora Mills' daughter. They attacked me, unprovoked." Her hand absentmindedly strayed to her scarred lip. 

"But you were an apprentice," Emma said softly, frowning. "And alone. Even though the dark and light were in conflict, they should not-"

Regina shrugged. "All they saw was Cora Mills' daughter. A child of power. Something to fear. So they wanted me dead."

"How did you escape?"

Regina's smile was thin. "They were right to fear me, in the end."

"You defeated three witches? As an apprentice?!"

Again that delicate shrug, a small movement that belied the stomach-churning terror and blood and horror of that encounter in the woods. 

"My mother had trained me well."

Emma sank into a chair, her wide-eyed gaze fixed on Regina; her power had faded and her bare hands lay twisted in her lap.

Regina smiled ruefully. "I do not tell you this, Emma Swan, so that you should pity or fear me. I learned that day, that people will fear what they do not understand, and fear makes people do foolish things. It does not matter if you stand with the dark or the light, fear makes you foolish."

"I don't fear you," Emma whispered, her own surprise at the truth of her words colouring her voice.

Regina's grin was feral.

"I was only ten when my coven was destroyed," Emma said abruptly. "I spent the rest of my apprentice years being shuffled from witch to witch." She saw a shadow cross Regina's face, and tried to change the subject, wanting to be pitied as little as Regina did. 

"What happened," Emma asked, "After?" She was trying to remember a time when Cora Mills' attacks on light witches had grown worse. She would have been mad for revenge for the attack on her daughter.

"I ended my apprenticeship with my mother," Regina said flatly. "There was no more I could learn from her." 

 Emma couldn't prevent a snort of unsurprised laughter escaping her. Of course Regina had decided to declare herself a full-fledged witch at fourteen. 

"She must've taken that well," Emma said darkly.

"There was more I wanted to learn," Regina continued, her voice suddenly wistful. "So much power in the world that I did not yet understand. Mother couldn't teach me that. So I found others who could."

"Like Nan Locket," Emma said with growing understanding.

"And others like her," Regina agreed. 

"But you're still a witch of the dark."

"And why would I not be? I embrace power, Emma Swan. I do not fear it."

Emma sighed. "I do not fear power, Regina. But there is more to being a witch than using your power." 

"You think I am evil just because I am dark," Regina said flatly. "That I would be capable of hurting a child."

"You have said you won't, and I believe you," Emma responded quietly. She had been taught that reliance on magic made the dark witches selfish, made them too eager to find easy solutions, no matter who or what they destroyed. Until they were consumed and controlled by the power, rather than controlling it. But the more she learned about Regina, the more she questioned whether that was true of all dark witches. 

Amanita chose that moment to demand her breakfast. Regina started to get to her feet, but Emma stopped her.

"I'll go. You had her all night. And we're supposed to be in this together."

Chapter Text

0 - 1 month

 

The tentative understanding they reached had allowed them to spend some constructive time working out how to share the responsibilities of looking after a baby between them. After a lot of heated discussion, they compromised on each of them taking alternate days. From sunrise to sunrise, Amanita would be in the care of one of them, and the following day, the other would take over. 

Agreeing on a training schedule was not so easy, and talking about it almost destroyed the delicate peace that had started developing between them. Emma had mentioned that she would be glad when Amanita was old enough to talk, because she had all these plans for teaching her about light magic. Regina had scoffed and said that she wasn't going to wait that long, she intended to start Amanita's training right away.

Emma had stared at her, waiting for her to say that she had been joking, even as she knew that Regina was very likely incapable of making a joke.

"Regina, she's too young to train! She can't even lift her head up by herself!"

"I know that, but she can still listen, can't she? I'm going to read to her." She hefted a grimoire so Emma could see the cover -  'the big book of little spells'.

Emma sighed.

"Fine, but don't expect her to be able to actually cast any of those before she can speak!"

"I'm not entirely uninformed about babies," Regina said shortly. She looked thoughtfully at Emma and tapped the book. "What's your favourite little spell?"

Emma shrugged. "I don't really have one."

"Someone did give you this book, surely? When you were a child?" Regina asked. "It's fundamental to so many other skills."

"My favourite spell when I was a child was the one that let me charm birds to sit on my hand and sing to me," Emma said, her voice soft and plaintive in a way that made Regina shift uncomfortably. "Mary Margaret taught it to me."

 "That's quite a powerful spell," Regina said, and then covered up her own surprise and discomfort with a petty "I wouldn't think you had it in you."

Emma bared her teeth in what could only very generously be called a grin. "Just because I can't tell you what page it's on in that big book of yours, doesn't mean I'm incapable of casting a spell, Mistress Mills."

"You can't even use a transport spell properly!" Regina said, heated now that Emma was showing signs of fighting back. "Why shouldn't I be surprised that you could handle the quite complex spell of bird-calling?"

"It's not that complex!" Emma said, equally heated. "And even if it was, you have no idea what I'm capable of! You think that just because my training was different than yours, that makes me a lesser witch?!"

"Your casting is sloppy!" Regina cried. "Your spell work is inelegant and you waste all this energy on...on..." she waved her hands about in a frantic mimicry of Emma's spell casting gestures.

"Oh that's just-" Emma spluttered. She dropped suddenly into a deep curtsey. "Do forgive me, Mistress Mills," she said, her voice artificially high and mocking. "I am so sorry that I was not able to have the great and good Cora Mills as my teacher." She straightened and stared Regina in the eye. "I never learned finesse," she spat.

Regina recoiled as if Emma had struck at her, then she caught herself, and lunged forward, snarling.

"Perhaps you could do with some schooling, Mistress Swan." She lifted her hands, curled and glowing with power.

Emma brought her fists up. "Try me, Mistress Regina," she growled.

Emma could see Regina fighting for control; her dark eyes were snapping with anger, lit with a fire and passion that would have terrified Emma had she not already been so furious that she was past the point of calm reasoning. A small voice in the back of her head was pleading with her to back down, to step back, to let Regina have this one; but her anger kept her planted exactly where she was, almost nose-to-nose with an incensed dark witch who had more power in her little finger than any other witch Emma had ever faced. But Regina was fighting for control. Her eyes flashed with fury, her nose flared with laboured breathing, and Emma could feel the crackle of Regina's power; but it did not intensify, and no fireball blazed in Regina's palm. That emboldened Emma, until she felt her mouth curl into a smirk. She lowered her fists and stepped back; she could do this now, now that she knew she could claim this as a victory. She turned and walked away, leaving her back exposed. 

Behind her, Regina growled and muttered expletives. Why had she not crushed that infuriating light witch under her heel? She had not been spoken to with such disrespect since the last time she had been in her mother's house! It wasn't her fault that Emma's coven sisters hadn't been strong enough to fight back. It was their weakness that had left Emma homeless and unprotected, and so poorly trained. Emma would not have lasted two days under the tutelage of Cora Mills! The 'great and good' she had called her, hah! If only she knew how lucky she was to not- Regina's mind slammed shut on that train of thought, and she vented her fury into a fireball that she sent flaring into the fireplace. The flames leapt up, sending sparks shooting up the chimney and filling the room with a roar and billows of smoke that caused Amanita to cry out in fright. 

"Regina!" Emma cried admonishingly, rushing to Amanita's cot.

The dark witch merely snarled and swept out of the room, leaving Emma to soothe the frightened baby until she could fall back asleep.

 

Relations between them were strained for a long while after this. When they did deign to speak to each other, they'd snip and snap over any little misunderstanding. It helped that they only had to see each other rarely during the day; when one cared for Amanita the other would try to find somewhere else to be. But there were times when they could not avoid each other completely, particularly when night drew in, and Amanita was asleep. They each had a bench at which they'd work in the evenings, one neat and tidy, the other already with bottles askew and covered with strange-smelling remedies for all the various illnesses that seemed to plague baby goats. They'd sit there, separated by only a few feet, and say as little to each other as possible.

However, as the days passed and Regina did not make any further comments about Emma's poor magical skills, (although she did comment often about the disorder of the other workbench), Emma felt herself start to thaw a little. She had expected Regina to resist taking care of a baby more, or be slack in carrying out her duties, but the truth was, Regina seemed to be taking the responsibility of looking after Amanita relatively seriously, even though she did use magic far more than Emma agreed with. (Although even Emma had to admit that using magic to change soiled nappies was arguably a stroke of genius). 

The worst challenge Emma faced with Regina was how clueless she seemed to be about a baby's needs. It was almost as though she assumed an infant was simply a scaled down version of an adult, albeit one without teeth and who couldn't feed themselves or walk...and when she thought about it, Emma doubted that Regina would have fared any better with an extremely old or sick adult either. She had the basics down okay - keep her fed, keep her clean, keep her entertained - but beyond that, Regina sometimes fumbled like an apprentice witch. But she persevered, and even though she grumbled when Emma gave her instructions, she tended to follow them. Emma would watch her surreptitiously, the tip of her tongue just poking out from the side of her mouth and her brow furrowed in concentration as she'd carry out a simple task like burping Amanita, rocking her in precise movements that mimicked Emma's own. On more than one occasion Emma caught herself smiling at Regina's efforts, at how hard she was trying to learn from Emma without looking like she was trying to learn.

This was Regina's greatest challenge - to accept that Emma Swan, for all her softness and overindulgent treatment of the baby, was actually more informed and experienced than she was when it came to caring for an infant. She'd had to suffer through pointers on how to hold Amanita so her head didn't loll around alarmingly, and then, counter-intuitively, have Emma tell her to not be afraid to pick Amanita up because she was not as breakable as she looked. Regina would have bathed Amanita with a quick spell, but Emma insisted that she use a basin of warm water (and she was far too irritated to admit that it was...soothing to bathe Amanita that way, and watch her kick her feet out and listen to the contented little sounds she'd make). Regina was not accustomed to being the less-knowledgeable person in the room, and the strain of it was wearing.

 It wasn't so difficult during her days, when Regina could take Amanita for long walks, pointing out all the interesting flora and some of the less-terrifying fauna that lived in the Blackwoods. And in the evenings, she'd retire to Amanita's room and read to her out of the grimoire of spells, while Emma sat at her workbench mixing up yet more foul-smelling potions. But Emma's days were difficult. She'd spend more time on mindless games than Regina thought was healthy; she worried that Amanita's education was suffering greatly from having half of her time spent with as playful a person as Emma Swan. And she'd sing to her. All the time, but especially at bedtime, and even more especially when Regina was trying to decipher a particularly complex spell. And she'd sing the most insipid songs, full of rainbows and birds and fluffy clouds. Regina despaired of Amanita ever learning anything useful from her other mentor, and it rankled that Amanita seemed to enjoy the silliness of Emma's company so much. 

She could hear Emma Swan singing now, and she'd already mistranslated these runes three times because her mind was following along with the words of the song and picturing a boat rocking on the sea; her eyelids were growing heavy and she wanted to yawn and curl up in her chair and keep listening to Emma Swan's voice until she fell asleep.

This would not do!

She stormed over to Amanita's room.

"Will you stop that caterwauling?"

"It's not-"

"I'm trying to work out here, and all I can hear is your screeching."

"Regina-"

"You're probably keeping Amanita awake too."

"I am singing her a lullaby!"

"Why?"

"To help her fall asleep of course! It's soothing."

"Not to me."

"I've never had complaints about my voice. Amanita likes it." Emma cooed at the baby, who blinked sleepily back at her.

"You coddle her too much," Regina said shortly. "She doesn't need singing. She has no trouble falling asleep with me, and I don't sing to her."

"You read to her!" Emma scoffed. 'It's the same thing."

"It is not! I read to her from the grimoire. It's part of her training!"

"Do you think she understands anything you're saying?! She's only responding to the sound of your voice! Knowing she's not alone, and your voice - it's a good voice...for reading."

"You're saying I bore her to sleep, aren't you?"

"What? No! Regina-"

"Just...sing softer!"

"Your voice isn't boring!" 

But her protest went unheard; Regina had stormed away, although she had shut the door gently behind her.

"I don't know why I bother," Emma grumbled to Amanita. "She always assumes I'm attacking her. I like her voice. But don't tell her I said so, okay?" She placed her hand lightly on Amanita's chest and stroked her gently. The baby's eyes fluttered. "You don't mind my singing, do you?" Emma whispered. Amanita's breathing deepened, her eyes closed, and she was asleep. But Emma stayed sitting by the cot, singing quietly

 

 

Emma could hear Regina's voice outside the cottage. 

That was strange. It wasn't that late, but it was Regina's night to watch Amanita. She should have been in her room, or at her workbench; close enough to hear the baby when she woke crying for a feed. It wasn't like Regina to shirk her duties. 

Emma left the warmth of her own bed, shivering when her bare feet touched the ground. It was chilly tonight; there was little cloud cover, and the stars blazed coldly down from an inky black sky. Emma dragged her blanket off the bed, wrapped it around her shivering body, and went to see what had driven Regina out of doors.

The other woman was standing in the open, staring up at the skies. She carried something, a bundle held against her chest.

"Regina?"

She turned towards the voice, and now Emma could make out what she was carrying.

"Amanita! What are you doing with her, Regina??"

"Calm yourself, Emma Swan. I am teaching her about the stars."

"What?" Still half asleep, her brain was groggy and slow.

"It's important to know the constellations. Where in the sky they need to be if you are going to-"

"Regina, how long have you been out here?" Emma demanded as she strode forward. Her brain had cleared a bit, and she was very afraid that she already knew the answer to that question.

"Not very long," Regina started to say. But by then Emma had reached her, and her face was furious.

"Did you bathe her?"

"Yes of course!"

"And then you brought her right out here?"

"The Five Sisters have just risen and -"

"Regina, it's freezing out here!"

"Oh don't be so dramatic, it's not that bad."

"It is if you are tiny!" 

Emma took Amanita from Regina's arms, and sure enough, the baby's skin was cold to the touch, even under the shawl Regina had wrapped her in.

"I covered her up!" Regina protested, trailing behind Emma as she hurried back into the cottage.

"But you left her head bare!" Emma responded, angry now. "And that shawl wasn't nearly warm enough. She's a baby Regina! She needs to be better protected!"

While she scolded Regina, Emma was re-wrapping Amanita, tucking her hands and feet into a warmer blanket. She placed the infant back into her cot, and made sure there were no cold draughts in her room. Amanita whined and complained a bit, but she fell asleep soon enough.

"No more outdoor adventures for her!" Emma said, barely restraining herself from wagging a finger under Regina's nose.

Regina sighed. "You are over reacting." She caught the look in Emma's eyes, and held her hands up as though in surrender. "Fine. Fine. No more star gazing tonight."

But as Emma made her way back to her room, grumbling under her breath about witches who knew nothing about caring for helpless things, she couldn't help but notice Regina dragging her chair to the window that gave a clear view of the night sky.

 

The next day was Emma's turn with Amanita, and Regina packed a basket and headed out into the woods, no doubt searching for obscure plants and roots to add to her collection of powders and herbs. Emma spent the morning as she usually did, feeding the chickens, checking on the goats, and tending to the garden and adjoining orchard, with Amanita either on her hip or laying on a blanket close by. Everything seemed normal until lunch time, when she noticed the baby quivering as she lay on the ground.

She brought her indoors for her afternoon bottle, but Amanita would not eat. The quivering increased, and Emma began to notice a slight glassiness to her eyes. She drank some water, but still had no appetite for milk. Her skin grew warmer, and she began to cry fretfully. Emma tried to soothe her with a bath, but Amanita's skin only grew warmer, and Emma began to worry.

It was late afternoon before Regina returned to the cottage, and by then, Amanita's condition had worsened. She shook and quivered even though she was well wrapped, and she would only have a few sips of milk at a time before refusing the bottle. She slept fitfully and when she woke she grizzled or cried in a thin wail, especially when Emma had to wipe the snot away from her nose. 

Regina entered the cottage so quietly that Emma did not notice her right away, so Regina had a few moments to take in how frazzled Emma looked, how worried she seemed as she fussed over the baby.

"What happened?" Regina asked.

"What do you think? She's caught a cold."

"Because of last night?" There was guilt in her voice.

Emma glared at her. "It certainly didn't help!" she said shortly.

Regina put her basket down and came closer. 

"What can I do? She sounds so unhappy!"

Emma sighed as she felt the now-familiar crackle of Regina's power being drawn up. 

"There's no magic for this, Regina. I mixed up some potion, but it will only help her feel more comfortable."

"But-"

"We have to let the illness run its course. I'll watch over her tonight, and hopefully she's strong enough to fight this off."

"I didn't know," Regina whispered. Emma wasn't sure Regina was even aware she had spoken out loud. "I said I wouldn't hurt her."

There was so much guilt in her voice that Emma found her resentment of the dark witch's cavalier treatment of the baby wavering.

"You weren't to know better," she said tersely, refusing to allow the unexpected thawing of her feelings to show. "Unless you've read it in a book, its obvious you've had no experience with taking care of a baby."

"No babies were allowed in my mother's house," Regina confirmed. "Or animals. Other than familiars. But she preferred ravens. They tended to look after themselves."

She had moved to stand besides Emma, next to Amanita's cot. The baby turned her head towards Regina and gave a whimpering cry. Regina's hand moved, unthinkingly, to rest lightly on Amanita's chest.

"Amanita's not a raven," Emma said, her mind more on the gentleness Regina was showing than on the words leaving her own mouth.

Regina glared at Emma. "I know that. Go to bed, Mistress Swan. I will watch over her."

"It's my night," Emma reminded her.

"You look tired. Let me help."

"Regina-"

"Please, Mistress Swan. This is my fault."

"That's not necessarily true," Emma couldn't stop herself saying.

Regina rolled her eyes at her. "Why must light witches always be so nice? You yourself implied that our adventures outdoors last night had some hand in this."

Emma sighed.

"It won't be easy. You'll need to pay attention to her breathing, and her fever, and see if she'll take some more milk," she listed off all the things she had been doing. "Keep her comfortable, be gentle when you clean her nose. And give her a cuddle if she cries! That's not coddling her! She needs-"

"I will do all that," Regina agreed.

"And no magic! Don't try to 'cure' her!" 

"I heard you the first time, Emma Swan." 

As Emma's instructions grew more forceful Regina began to sound more irritated that contrite, so Emma decided it was best to bring this conversation to an end. She had to admit she was looking forward to a rest.

"Wake me if you think she's getting worse."

"Yes. Fine." 

Regina made a shooing motion with her hand, and Emma glared at her.

"I mean it, Regina. Do not try to fix her on your own!"

"Will you go to bed and let me get on with it!"

 

Despite Regina's, albeit irritated, acknowledgement of her directions, and despite her own tiredness, Emma did not fall immediately into bed as soon as she left Amanita's room. Instead she busied herself with mindless tasks, leaving her door half open so she would notice if it sounded like Regina needed some assistance.

She heard Regina's murmuring voice over Amanita's crying, heard the lifting and moving of bottles, heard Regina settle in a chair. Then, incredibly, she heard singing. 

Regina's voice was made for singing, although perhaps not for lullabies; her voice was husky and lush, and made the lyrics of Emma's favourite bedtime song sound almost sinful. Emma felt her face flush with sudden heat, but she could not tear herself away from her doorway. When Regina finished singing, she thought she'd either repeat the song or move on to reading from the grimoire; she did not expect her to know any other songs. But Regina surprised her again. 

The second song was far different than the first, and not one that Emma had heard before. Instead of rainbows and bluebirds, this one spoke of lonely hearts and lost love and was so achingly bittersweet that tears sprang to Emma's eyes. She blinked them away and closed her door, retreating to her bed, where she was no longer eavesdropping.

 

Emma spent a restless night, caught half-way between sleep and alertness. She'd hear Amanita's crying and rise towards waking, but then Regina's voice would cut in, soft and sweet, and she'd slip back into sleep and confusing dreams, until she wasn't sure whether what she was experiencing was real or illusion. She was glad when the first crowing of the rooster gave her the reason she needed to get out of bed to check how Amanita, and Regina, had fared through the night. 

Emma entered the room quietly; Regina was sitting asleep in a chair she'd moved next to the cot where Amanita lay sleeping. Emma ghosted a gentle hand over the baby's forehead. Her skin was cooler to the touch, her nose only slightly runny, and her breathing was even and steady. Emma turned to look at Regina, and found she was watching her through half-closed lids.

"She's doing better." It was almost a question, so Emma nodded.

"Yes. She looks a lot more comfortable."

Regina did not. There were dark smudges under her eyes and a tightness to her forehead that bespoke a developing headache. Her normally sleek hair was tumbled and messy, as though little hands had clutched at it so often that Regina had decided it wasn't worth the effort to untangle it.

"Go, get some sleep," Emma said. "I'll take over."

Regina held back a yawn behind gritted teeth.

"It's my day," she reminded Emma.

"You were up with her all night!"

"She was only sick because I took her out in the cold."

"You look exhausted!"

"This is my day," Regina interrupted, her voice stubborn and her mouth a sharp line. "And besides, I don't need your help."

"Regina, we can't keep going on like this," Emma said, a little more sharply than she had intended. She saw Regina wince, so she modulated her voice a little. "We are raising her together, let's act like it." Regina started to argue, so she just kept talking right over her. "Look, I am sure you are more than capable of doing everything on your own. No doubt of that at all. But we are in this together Regina. You don't have to do everything alone. Let me help!"

Regina glowered at her, but gave in when she could not prevent a yawn from escaping.

"Oh very well," she muttered as she got to her feet, stretching like a cat in the sun.

Emma had to look away as Regina arched her back and groaned .

She waited until Regina had pressed a perfunctory kiss to Amanita's forehead and left the room before she collapsed into a chair. Something was very wrong. Her mind and body were betraying her. Just because Regina had showed a modicum of remorse and small signs of caring for Amanita was no reason for her to think of Regina that way. Emma wasn't blind or deaf; she knew that Regina was an attractive woman. But she was a dark witch, and heir to the most terrifying dark witch to have ever lived. And Emma was a witch of the light. This was a pointless infatuation. Worse, this was a dangerous infatuation. Dark and Light did not mix. Regina would likely fireball her into ashes if she tried to so much as hold her hand, let alone kiss her. (And oh, she wanted so much to kiss her). Emma gazed glumly at Amanita.

"We cannot tell her, okay? I'd like to stick around to watch you grow."

It was lucky that Regina was so very caustic, and treated Emma as though she were something she'd found stuck to her shoe after wading through a bog. It would be easy enough to not give in to these ridiculous urges she was having.

 

1 - 6 months

 

Amanita's first illness was a watershed event; it forced Regina to acknowledge that Emma did know more about taking care of an infant than she did, it helped Emma to see there was more to Regina than cold efficiency, and it made both of them recognise that their initial plan to divide up the duty of care between them was too artificial and rigid to be effective. So they compromised, finding ways to share Amanita between them while still giving each other enough space and time to follow their individual study and practice of magic. For Regina, this meant hours spent trekking through the Blackwoods or pouring over books, making notes in her precise handwriting, and practicing spells at her workbench. Amanita's favourites were the spells that produced sparkling lights and crackling explosions; she'd giggle and reach out with two clasping hands every time Regina's efforts produced a sound and light show. Every so often, Emma would catch Regina smiling indulgently at the laughing baby, and she could swear that Regina's spells got more sparkly by the day. (She would, of course, never mention this to Regina). 

By contrast, Emma's activities focused on tending to the garden and orchard, and her growing collection of animals (they now had some ducks and rabbits to go with the goats and chickens, and Emma had started talking about how useful it would be if they had a milk cow). Regina would watch her with Amanita, first encouraging the baby to pet the rabbits and grub about in the dirt, then frantically trying to stop her from shoving fistfuls of soil in her mouth or chew on a downy rabbit ear. She could see no evidence of magic, and part of her was pleased with this, because it would soon be obvious to Amanita where the true power lay. But part of her was irritated at how little knowledge Emma Swan was sharing with their apprentice. She wanted Amanita to be the best prepared witch she could be, and Emma's insistence on waiting to teach her anything worthwhile was irritating. A witch didn't need to know how to milk a goat or collect eggs without disturbing the chickens. If that was light magic in action, no wonder Cora Mills and her covens had managed to destroy so many witches of the light.

And Emma did not restrict herself to pointless pastimes at home; every week she would get on her broom and head into the nearest village. She would take with her a box packed with various potions and ointments that she had mixed up at her workbench, concoctions that claimed to treat minor ills and inconveniences like weeping sores, infected scrapes, and overgrown warts. Emma would attend the village's weekly market, setting up a stall from where she would sell her magical gimcrackery. In the evenings she'd return to the cottage, bringing vegetables and bread and cheeses she'd either traded for or bought, and she'd regale Amanita with stories of the people she'd met and 'helped'. Regina would listen in, her lip curled into a sneer. This was magic at its most basic, commanding no respect, and drawing on minuscule amounts of knowledge and power. Again, typical of a witch of the light.

When Emma told Regina one day that she was thinking of bringing Amanita to the weekly market, Regina's first instinct was to laugh in her face.

"Why would you want to take her to the market?"

"It'd be fun! There's a man with a puppet show, and Goodwife Green has promised to make some lemon seed cake-"

"Amanita can't eat-"

"For us, not the babies."

"Us?"

"You like lemon seed cake, don't you?"

"I am not as easily bribed with sweets as you are, Emma Swan," Regina said dryly. 

"It'll be good for Amanita, to get out and about, start getting used to other people."

"I suppose," Regina said doubtfully.

"I thought of taking her on my broom, but then I was worried-"

"You are not carrying Amanita on your broom!"

"It's perfectly safe!"

"It is not! What, are you going to wrap her into that box with all your bottles?!"

"No! I was going to strap her to my back-"

"Emma Swan!"

"She'd be fine!"

"What if she slipped out!"

"She wouldn't! I know how to tie a knot!"

"Why can't you just transport to the village?"

"You know my aim isn't very good," Emma muttered.

Regina glared at her.

"You want me to bring her, don't you?"

"Well...it would make it easier. I could run the stall, and you could show Amanita around."

"Why would I want to-"

"Sometimes there's an old warlock there, with a table of old books."

Regina snorted. "Warlocks know even less about magic than light witches." But she looked a little intrigued.

It took Emma two days of coaxing and wheedling, and a promise to do all the kitchen chores for a week, before Regina agreed to bring Amanita to the village.

 

The weather was gloomy on market day, the sky filled with heavy grey clouds and a gusting wind blew, although no rain fell. Emma started off on her broom before Regina and Amanita left the cottage, and by the time Regina materialised in the village square, Emma had set up her table and was already dealing with two customers. Not wanting to get drawn into a banal conversation about warts or skinned knees, Regina chose instead to wander around the square, inspecting the various stalls with an air of wary disdain. The wind whipped her skirts around her ankles, and chilled her nose; she was glad she had thought to bundle Amanita warmly in blankets and a woolen hat pulled down around her ears. 

Amanita was completely enchanted by everything she saw, twisting this way and that in Regina's arms so she could take it all in; all the children dashing about and laughing, the men with deep voices calling out to their friends, the high lilting voices of young women in pretty dresses giggling as brash young men tried to draw their attention. The dark skies and cold winds did nothing to dampen the boisterousness of market day.

Regina kept Emma's stall in view as they moved through the crowd, but the other witch was constantly busy. She was obviously well known here, and several people stopped by just to talk. Regina noticed that these people would often turn in response to something Emma said, and search her and Amanita out. They'd wave and smile, and she'd glower but nod back in response. No one seemed brave enough to approach her though, for which she was grateful.

She found the puppet show - a miserable little stand behind which cowered a little man who was terrible at altering his voice to match the characters of the puppets he had capering through ridiculous antics. Amanita would not stop chuckling and clapping her hands with delight as they watched. Regina lingered for longer than she would have wanted at the puppet stand; she turned to glare at Emma. It was a wasted glare, because Emma had her back to them as she walked towards a large tree under which sat a gaggle of children and an older woman whose laugh cut clear across the square. They were eating cake. The gusting wind made the edges of the blanket they were sitting on flap madly against the grass. The branches of the tree swayed wildly above them.

Regina did not at first see what caused Emma to cry out, but then she noticed the bulging at the roots. She heard a warning cry leave her own throat. Too late. The bulge grew, and a sheet of grass and sod started to separate and lift from the ground. Regina stood rooted to the spot, her arms wrapped tightly around a squirming Amanita. Time seemed to slow. Emma was still several metres away from the still-oblivious family; she flung her arms up as though to cast a spell, then she disappeared in a rush of white smoke; she reappeared, still too far away and too far to the left, but she was already running even as her body took form. Her hands curled and jerked inelegantly as the magic burst from her, twisting ribbons of brightness that contrasted against the murky air. Her magic wrapped around the tree, and only now did the family see the danger they were in. The old woman shrieked, trying to gather the young ones to her. The older children turned towards the tree, still more interested in seeing what the commotion was about than running for safety.

She heard Emma scream.

"Regina! Please!" 

There was no conscious thought in her head. She gave Amanita to one of the other women who had stood watching the puppets. She flicked her wrists and in the next second was standing by Emma, her magic already wrapping around the shrieking woman and terrified children. She transported them away, sending them to the safety of the square behind them. Her next movement was towards the tree, but she stopped when she realised there was no need. Somehow, Emma's magic had caught the tree, pulling it back towards the ground. The layer of soil and grass that had separated from the ground knitted back together, the branches that had started to split and tear healed and reformed. The tree stood as solidly as it had before. It still swayed in the wind, but it was whole and firmly anchored in the ground again.

Regina stared at Emma.

They were suddenly surrounded by people, their voices raised in alarm and exhilaration. Someone put Amanita back in Regina's arms; she was just realising that something momentous had happened, and her response was to cry. It was an angry cry, a complaint at being given to a stranger and then back to familiar arms before she'd had a chance to be really upset. Regina automatically started to rock her. Emma was bent over, hands clutching at her thighs, breath coming in gasping pants. People were patting her on the back. The older woman was there, tears streaming down her face as she hugged first Emma, then Regina.

Regina still stared at Emma.

Emma finally got enough of her breath back to say, "Thank you."

"Do you know what you did?"

Emma glanced at the tree, then back to Regina. Her eyebrow arched.

"Yes...?" she said hesitantly.

"Do you know how much power that takes?"

Emma shrugged. "Not really. I do know I'm exhausted right now."

"No stamina," Regina muttered.

Amanita's angry crying had subsided to quieter sobs, affronted but willing to let herself be comforted. The crowds still swirled around them, chattering and laughing; she heard talk of cracking open a keg of beer. Regina glanced down at the baby then back at Emma. Emma's face was ashen, and her hands had started to shake.

"We should go," she said. "You look like you need to lie down."

Emma nodded. "I'll just go find my broom-"

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Regina said curtly. 

She snapped her fingers and Emma's broom and repacked box were standing besides them. A flick of her wrist, and she'd transported them back to the cottage.

"Sit," Regina ordered, pointing Emma towards a chair.

She kept Amanita with her as she put the kettle on, brewing up a cup of tea so strong and milky and sweetened with so much sugar that Emma could as well have eaten it with a spoon. 

Regina sat and watched Emma sip at her tea, so focused on the other woman she did not stop Amanita from pulling her hair free from its bun and twisting it into tangles (Regina's hair was one of Amanita's favourite playthings. Regina had given up trying to woo her away with soft toys weeks ago).

She waited impatiently until the tea was gone, then cut straight to the chase.

"That was a very powerful spell."

"So you said."

"You can't transport in a straight line, but you can catch and re-plant a falling tree."

"I suppose?"

"Even though it leaves you as weak as a kitten."

"You said it took a lot of power."

"How long have you been able to do things like that?"

"A while...I mean, I've been a full fledged witch for what, a dozen years now?"

"You've always been capable of this much power?!"

"Yes."

"Why aren't you using it?!"

"What-"

"Do you have any idea how good you could be? If you learned to channel your power well! And not waste it with undisciplined casting!!" She was shouting now.

"I'm sorry...?"

"You're...sorry? You should be! I know women who would kill for your level of power! And you...you cure warts!"

"That's not all I do!"

"Emma Swan! You could be a witch of great power!"

"I am a witch of the light! I am more interested in helping others!"

"Help them by being a witch of great power!"

"Regina-"

"You held up a tree, Emma Swan. And you healed it. And you made it whole again. You didn't even know what you were doing. Imagine what you could be capable of if you had a clue!"

Emma stared at her. 

"You want me to be more powerful?"

"I want you to not waste your potential!"

"But-"

"We're supposed to be training Amanita. She deserves to have a teacher who can actually use her own power!"

"You realise we're on different sides, right?"

"There is a truce," Regina reminded her huffily. "And even your greatest power is no match for mine."

Emma laughed. "Oh good. There you are. I was wondering where you'd got to."

Regina glared. "I am not afraid of power Emma Swan. I have told you this before. Power is not something to be feared. It is to be nurtured. It is a gift, and you are wasting yours."

"I don't think of it as being wasted," Emma said sulkily. "I do good things."

"You could do better," Regina said flatly.

She sighed when Emma made no response, and left the other woman alone to mull sulkily over what had happened.

This was the lure of dark magic, Emma thought; it offered the seduction of power, and if you accepted, it sucked away at your soul until there was nothing left. A dark witch would chase after power simply for the sake of having it, would store up the knowledge of spells and magic, and do nothing to help anyone else. The dark witches took and took and never gave anything back. Except...Emma had called to Regina, had pleaded for help when she was not sure she was strong enough to keep the tree from toppling and smashing into the family below. And Regina had responded. She had come to her aid. There was no discernible reason for her to do that. She didn't even know the family she had helped save. Emma had asked, and she had answered. This was far too much for Emma to process just now, and so she stomped off grumpily to bed. (She spent the evening trying to think of anything but how right it had felt to have Regina stand beside her as they used their magic. Together).

 

 

6 - 9 months

 

Emma Swan would never admit Regina Mills was right about needing to practice her magic. But she had been watching Regina work for months now, would see how she'd pour over books and hunt through the muddiest of bogs to find kernels of knowledge that she would record in her growing collection of journals. And then she'd cast spell after spell, taking even more notes each time. Nothing stopped her. Not when she turned her own hair a bright green; not when she once spent an entire day unable to speak; not the time she'd returned from the woods covered up to her eyebrows in thick black mud that resisted all attempts to be magicked away. Regina Mills refused to be beaten.

It was irritating and inspiring all at once. (And it certainly wasn't helping curtail the urges Emma still regularly felt, to kiss Regina until she was breathless and trembling in her arms).

Emma had to wonder what effect this was having on Amanita, seeing Regina so committed to her craft, while Emma...well, Emma still couldn't transport in a straight line, let alone cast a spell with even half of the complexity that Regina seemed to pull off without even blinking. Would Amanita ever accept that the value of helping others was greater than collecting vats of knowledge and power? Amanita accompanied Emma on all her rounds in the village, meeting men and women and children at all sorts of stages of need and grief and pain. And Emma tried to help each one of them. But part of her had begun to wonder, perhaps, if she had a better understanding of magic, would she be able to help them more? Or quicker? Or more efficiently? If she'd been trained better, if she studied as hard as Regina did, would she be a better witch?

So she'd started listening more closely when Regina talked to Amanita, explaining what she'd discovered or why she was doing something differently this time. She'd sneak peeks of the grimoires Regina still read to her nightly. If Regina noticed, she didn't say anything. Emma practiced in secret, behind the goat shed, and she did improve, slightly. She'd had a long time of inefficient casting behind her though, and it would take more than a few months of practice to overcome that. But if nothing else, Amanita would see that she was trying.

 

Of course Regina knew. It was obvious when Emma was actually paying attention to Regina's conversations with Amanita; the other woman would go so still even her breathing slowed to almost nothing. And she never turned the pages of the grimoire exactly back to where Regina had left off. She'd watched Emma try to transport one day. She'd disappeared in a flare of white smoke and reappeared 50 feet away; it was a perfectly straight line, but she was 30 feet off the ground, at the top of a tall tree. Regina had sighed, but said nothing as Emma started to climb down from the tree. Emma Swan was prideful and stubborn, and if she refused to ask for help, then Regina would not be the one to offer it.

(And if Regina was slightly impressed with Emma Swan's tenaciousness and how quickly she improved her skills, she'd happily spend a week slathered in magic-resistant mud before she admitted it).

 

Amanita did not seem to play favourites. She'd coo and gurgle with equal happiness whenever she saw either of her mentors. She was as content sitting in Regina's lap, babbling at her while she explained the constellations, as she was chuckling gleefully on Emma's shoulders as she showed her how to ride a broom (only two feet off the ground or else Emma risked a fireball to the face from a furious Regina). When Amanita crawled across the floor, she was as likely to head for Regina as for Emma. When she hauled herself to her feet for the first time, (the shock of the heady new vistas that opened up to her at this vantage point causing her to immediately let go of the chair and thump back to the ground), it was to both women she looked for praise and comfort.

There was only one thing in which she'd choose one over the other.

Some nights Amanita would wake in the middle of the night, crying in terror.

The first time it had happened, during a particularly bad storm, Emma had been the first to her room. "I've got her!" she called to Regina. But Amanita would not be soothed, and Regina had come to see what the problem was. Amanita had flung herself towards her and, surprised, Regina had taken the baby from Emma. She kept wailing but she quieted as she snuggled up under Regina's chin, her cries finally easing to sniffles and then to the even breathing of sleep. 

Regina and Emma had shared surprised looks over the baby's head, but chalked it up to an anomaly, and thought nothing further of it. 

The next time it happened, it was the same sequence - a powerful storm rolled in, Amanita woke screaming in terror, Emma was first to her side, Amanita refused to be soothed until Regina was there to hold her. 

The third time - a few weeks later - when they heard the storm, they were both ready. Regina was first in the room, and Amanita curled into her, sniffling but calming almost immediately. Emma stood at the door, concerned. It wasn't her presence Amanita was objecting to. She just wanted Regina. It was the strangest thing. A regular mid-night waking - when Amanita simply came awake for such things as hunger or a wet nappy, she was happy to see either Emma or Regina. But if she woke in fear, it was only Regina who could soothe her. 

The storms came more often now, and Amanita had several bad nights in a row. She was tired and cranky, but Emma had to make her regular visit to the village, even in the pouring rain. There were a lot of people who were relying on her for potions and care. 

Regina did not make too much of a fuss about Emma leaving her home alone with Amanita while she flew off on a soggy broom to do her good deeds. She stoked up the fire, made a stack of buttery toast and hot tea, and curled up on the rug with Amanita. They were playing with some (harmless) dried flowers and seed pods, Regina reciting a rhyme she'd made up about their properties and uses, when Emma returned home, far earlier than Regina had expected her. She crept into the room, her dress soaked, her hair a disheveled dampness around her face, her eyes dulled and haunted. 

Regina sat up in alarm, pulling Amanita into her lap. The baby reached out for Emma, excited to see her home, but Emma only stared at her, not moving from the doorway.

"What's happened?" Regina demanded. "Are you hurt?"

"You remember Amanita's father and mother?" Her voice was flat.

 "Of course. The shoemaker and his wife"

Emma shuddered.

"They were going to the big market up at Harrowvale. They went twice a season apparently."

"Emma Swa-"

"They'd go in their buggy, along the river road."

Regina realised that Emma would not be swayed from the words she wanted - needed - to say. So she stopped trying to interrupt and just listened as Emma continued in her emotionless tone.

"They'd pack it up with shoes and jams that Constance made. Did you know she was a jam maker? I didn't. The river was already swollen, with all this rain. But then the Harrowvale dam broke, and the riverbanks flooded."

"Oh." Regina was afraid she knew what Emma would say next, but made no more comment than that.

"They were swept away."

"Oh. Are they-"

Emma shook her head. "Gone. Both of them."

"No." She had known what Emma would say, but even so, she felt the shock hit her low and hard. She clutched Amanita to her, and the baby squirmed, whining. 

"I need to change," Emma said, her voice still toneless and dull. She brushed past Regina, who found that shock had left her unable to move. Amanita wriggled out of her grasp and made it back to the rug, chasing after the wet leaves that Emma had carried in on the hem of her dress. 

Emma had left her door open, and Regina could hear her sobbing when Amanita entered her room. She wanted to stand, to get Amanita, to leave Emma to her sorrow, but she could not move. She heard Emma speak, her voice muffled.

"You won't ever be alone. You will always have a place with me. No matter what you choose. You'll always know where home is."

Regina found herself struggling for breath; the walls of the cottage seemed to move in, trapping her. She stumbled to her feet and fled the cottage, running out into the rain to stand under her favourite tree. Emma had said the words so easily. She had offered an unconditionality that Regina would once have given all her power for. If her mother had said those words to her all those years ago, how differently might things have turned out? Would Regina still have made herself an outcast, or would she have stayed close by her mother's side? How many more witches of the light would she have killed? Would she have helped Ambrose Buckle or laughed him out of her home? Her head spun with all the possibilities that could have been. But there was no way to be sure which path her life would have followed, to which end she would have come. All she could be sure of was what was in front of her right now, and all she could do was respond to what was happening now. And right now, inside the cottage there was a baby (and a woman, but she did not allow herself to think of that) who needed her. 

Chapter Text

Regina made herself go back into the cottage, drying her dress and hair with a wave of her hand. She could hear Emma, still speaking softly to Amanita, her words punctuated with the occasional sniffle. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and walked into Emma's room.

The other woman glanced at her, and Regina was struck by how very devastated she looked. Whatever she had intended to say was dashed out of her head by her own visceral reaction to Emma Swan's pain. She felt her hands tighten into fists and her jaw clench, ready to fight, but with no visible threat to respond to.

"Is there anything I can do?" she asked, her voice almost pleading with the need to do something. 

"Take her?" Emma asked, holding out Amanita. "I need to -" she looked desperately to the door.

"Of course." She held out her arms and took Amanita from Emma. The child clutched at Emma's dress and whined when Regina insisted on holding her. Emma did not look back as she left the cottage.

 Regina sighed and sat down in a chair so she could rock Amanita to soothe her. She calmed enough to play with Regina's hair, twisting it into dark silky tangles between her fingers. For once Regina did not try to distract her from this task.

 "You must know," she told the child quietly, her voice even and calm, "that I am not sure I can make you the same promise Emma Swan did. I am not very good at...that kind of emotion. But I can tell you this - you can trust her. If she says you will never be alone, then you never will."

 Amanita stared up at Regina, an earnest look on her face, as though she were weighing the worth of Regina's words. Regina sighed.

 "There is one thing I can promise you. I will teach you to be strong, Amanita Buckle. I will teach you to use your power, so that no one will ever be able to hurt you."

 Amanita made a burbling noise and turned in Regina's arms so she could cuddle up under her chin. She sighed deep and long, and put her fist in her mouth, taking a handful of Regina's hair with it. Regina snorted with exasperated amusement and leaned back into the chair. She could hear the rain beat harder on the roof, filling the air with a deep rumbling hiss. She looked to the door of the cottage; it remained shut and there was no sign or sound of Emma Swan. She stood and went into the common room; a brief flare of magic later, and she had formed a small enclosure, ringed by high piles of cushions, in which she put Amanita. She reached over and kissed the baby's head, and placed some of her other favourite playthings next to her.

 "I will return shortly," she told her. "Be good."

 She hurried out of the cottage door, before the wind could blow too much rain indoors, and looked around for Emma Swan. Thankfully the woman had not gone very far. She was standing in the orchard, her face lifted to the pouring rain. Regina cast a spell, causing the falling rain to stream around her in a curve of water as it met the invisible obstacle of her spell, and went out to talk with the other witch.

 "Are you all right?" she asked, somewhat redundantly. It was obvious that Emma Swan was not all right.

 Emma turned haunted eyes to her. "I didn't know."

 "What-"

 "I looked into her future, but all I could see was Amanita. As my apprentice. I didn't see the accident. I would never have let Constance...if I had known...I wouldn't have..."

 "Of course you wouldn't!" Regina said. It surprised her that Emma had even considered the possibility that she could have been blamed in this way. "You were responding to what your power showed you. Following the path your magic laid out. You have no blame here, Emma Swan. I don't think you could have prevented the Buckle's fate. No matter what you did, they would still have been on that road, the flood would still have washed them away."

 Emma looked at her like a drowning woman seeing a hand extended to pull her from the water. Regina's confidence in her innocence calmed the roiling guilt of her thoughts.

 "If it is any consolation to you," Regina continued, "I didn't see it either. I just saw Amanita's birth, and the price I would have to pay for helping Ambrose Buckle."

 "The price?"

 "Taking Amanita on as my apprentice."

 Emma made a surprised sound. "I didn't think of that as a price. Not at first."

 "Not until you met me?" Regina hazarded the guess, and Emma laughed ruefully.

 "Your presence did complicate matters a bit."

 Regina shrugged. There was no point denying the obvious.

 Emma looked less desperate now, the despair on her face slowly being replaced by a more familiar calm amiability. The look on her face may have been returning to normal, but her hair was a scraggled mess and her clothing was saturated, the mud soaking up from the hem to the height of her knees.

 Regina could not stop herself from saying, "Could you not protect yourself better from the weather?"

 Emma looked at her, standing in her muddy shoes but dry clothes as the rain curved around her, and grinned. "Not all of us have your skills."

 Regina snorted. "It's not that difficult. You simply harden the air around you, so it forms a shield. It's not impervious to strong magic, but it will keep most other things out."

 "Oh yes, that sounds very simple."

 "You should practice the spell," Regina said, the first acknowledgement she had made that she knew Emma was trying to improve her magical skills. "Although I suggest you start with a straight line in front of you. If you try for the curve, who knows how far you'll go. This shield will keep air out too."

 Emma laughed humourlessly. “I'll be careful. We've had enough death to last me a while."

 Regina stiffened and glanced back towards the cottage.

 "Will you come inside?" she asked hesitantly. "I left Amanita playing, but she'll be wanting her supper soon."

 Emma nodded firmly, "Yes." Then she answered the question Regina hadn't asked, "She needs us both."

 Regina gave a quick, pleased, smile which she hurriedly extinguished; but Emma noticed it anyway, and her heart lifted. She wanted to reach out to take Regina's hand, to thank her for coming to check on her, but she was not confident that she would not be rebuffed.

"I'll fetch some carrots from the garden, shall I?" she said instead. "She seems to like those."

 "Maybe this time they'll end up more in her mouth than on the walls," Regina replied drily.

 "You could always put one of those shields around her," Emma pointed out. When Regina's steps faltered suddenly, she laughed. "Did you never think of that?"

 "Not really," she said quietly.

 Emma knew Regina wasn't being entirely honest, but she couldn't work out why. She wasn't to know the memories her words had raised in Regina's mind; memories of lessons where she was left behind invisible walls until she was able to use her magic to batter her way free. It had taken her days the first time. She'd learned to be a lot quicker.

 

 

9 - 24 months

 

Any lingering guilt that Emma may have felt was channeled into her care for Amanita. (Her gratitude for Regina’s thoughtfulness only added fuel to her continuing attraction to the woman. But she did nothing more than yearn; she was fairly certain Regina would fireball her out of existence if she had ever tried to kiss her). The added attention was necessary; as Amanita’s mobility increased so did her curiosity, and Emma and Regina were kept on their toes keeping Amanita out of harm’s way. This created a stronger camaraderie between them; there was nothing like shared panic over a child fascinated with her new found ability to stand and walk, no matter how close she stood to the fire or a sharp edge, to draw two women together.

 Other than that though, their lives went on as before, with each woman pursuing her interests and development of her craft. Regina still visited the woods regularly, poured over books, and distilled and measured and mixed all kinds of potions. Emma worked in the garden and orchard, cared for the animals, and continued visiting the village, dispensing her potions and care to all who needed it. Even though her ability to transport herself by magic had improved, she still felt more sure of herself when she was on her broom. But it was harder for her to bring Amanita with her on the broom; now that the child was waddling along on unsteady legs, she expected to be able to go wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted to. She would wriggle incessantly when Emma had her strapped to her back for her flying lessons. Regina had watched them once or twice, taking practice loops around the garden, and put an instant and absolute moratorium on Emma ever carrying Amanita to town in this fashion.

 So Regina would bring Amanita, transporting them both by magic.

 They got to be a common enough sight that the women would stop her to chat. Goodwife Green in particular would always seek her out, and press cakes and pastries on her; 'for the child', she'd say when Regina would try to turn them down, or 'for that nice Mistress Swan'. The woman's gratitude for Regina's part in saving her family's lives was cloying, but nevertheless, Regina put up with it. Goodwife Green loved children, and she would gush over Amanita and play with her and tell her what a sweet child she was; Regina found she could not take Amanita away from that, not so long as she gurgled and laughed and babbled back at the woman.

 She'd catch Emma watching them sometimes, a proud smile on her face. Regina would huff and turn away, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge to herself how much she enjoyed Emma Swan's attention. If they just happened to often find themselves in Emma's vicinity, that was more to do with luck and the small size of the village than any intentional actions on Regina's part. They’d take turns sitting with Amanita on the village green, letting her play with other children. Women would sit by them, engaging them in conversation about whatever was most topical at the time - from illness to the state of the harvest.

 Regina would sometimes be prickly about these conversations.

 “I remember a time when villagers would cower and curtsey when they saw me coming,” she grumbled to Emma. “Not sit down and ask me my favoured recipe for preparing figs.”

 “That may be my fault,” Emma said sheepishly. “I was saying last week how much I enjoyed your honeyed figs. And young Jill, she's very keen on trying out new things. Her husband is a bit of a finicky eater.”

 “Perhaps you should speak with him,” Regina said drily. “There is nothing finicky about your appetite.”

 Emma laughed ruefully. “You can’t be choosy when you change homes as often as I have. As long as it didn’t make me gag, I’d eat anything they put in front of me.”

 Regina was silent for a few moments, her mind drawing unwanted pictures of a young Emma Swan sitting at an unfeeling table, shovelling grey sludge into her mouth fast enough that she didn’t have to taste it.

 “I am glad my cooking does not make you gag.”

 “Far from it,” Emma said softly. Her voice was so wistful that Regina longed for a return to their easy banter of just minutes before.

 “At any rate, I miss the respect that came with fearing ‘the dark witch on the cliff’.”

 She said this while she sat cross-legged on the grass, with Amanita in her lap. Her hair was down, tangled where Amanita had played with it; there was a streak of mashed carrot and turnip on her cheek; she held a stuffed rabbit that she was jiggling at Amanita who was making high pitched squealing noises, her nose crinkled with laughter.

 Emma had to bite her lip to keep from grinning, but couldn’t keep the teasing note from her voice when she replied. “It’s hard to look terrifying with Amanita on your hip.”

 Regina may have glowered at her tone, but she welcomed its return.

 

 

***

 

One of Amanita’s first words was ‘mama’. Regina heard her say it one morning as Emma was feeding her breakfast, carefully guiding the spoon into Amanita’s mouth so that the porridge did not end up in her hair or on the table. Amanita reached out with grabbing hands, fixed Emma with a determined look, and said, “mama”.

 “Did she just call you-“ her voice broke off, unsure why she felt so unsettled.

 Emma turned to see Regina in the doorway of her room.

 “Oh, yes. But it doesn’t mean anything, really. Babies make sounds like this all the time.” Emma realised she was trying to reassure Regina, but she did not know why, or against what.

 Not long after that though, when Regina entered the cottage after a day in the woods, Amanita cried “Rina!” and toddled eagerly across the floor to her, arms outstretched to be picked up.

 Regina looked at her in shock, and Emma started laughing.

 “‘Regina’ must still be too much for her,” Emma said placatingly, as Regina glared at her over Amanita’s head. “It’s a good effort though!”

 ‘Mama’ soon turned to ‘Emma’, but ‘Rina’ persisted.

 

 

***

 

 

Amanita’s training in her mentors’ concept of dark and light magic continued. She would accompany Emma on her house calls now, sitting on the table or chair beside her as she talked to the villager who had asked for her assistance. She’d ‘help’ Emma measure and dole out potions and tinctures, using her own little spoon and bag of herbs collected from their garden. She’d sit with her in barns and sheds while Emma assisted farmers with sick animals. She’d be placed in a woman’s lap so she had something soft and warm to hold to while she told Emma her woes; she’d watch Emma’s face and hear her words of comfort when the woman wept. Over and over, she’d hear Emma say - to strangers and friends - “what can I do to help?”

 With Regina however, she began to learn to cast spells. They were simple spells, but spells nonetheless. By the time most children were celebrating the accomplishment of learning to feed themselves, Amanita Buckle was able to make her toy rabbit dance across the floor, and create a rainbow sparkle of lights that glowed over her cot in the night. She did not yet have much access to her power, and her spells could only affect very small things, or create very weak effects, but every time she was successful, no matter how faintly, Regina would smile and tell her how well she was doing, and how proud she was of her.

 The relationship between the two witches grew and evolved too. Emma kept up her practicing of magic, but now she would openly ask Regina for advice, and when Regina gave it to her, even though she did drive Emma hard, she would not be sardonic about her request. They would spend their evenings sitting in the common room, with Amanita playing between them; sometimes they’d argue about finer points of magic, but more often they would simply talk. Regina would tell Emma about something she’d found in the woods - a slavering beast or a plant that had somehow survived the magical devastation that surrounded it - and Emma would listen with rapt attention, the light of pleasure in her eyes mirroring Regina’s. Or Emma would tell Regina what she’d learned in the village - from petty disagreements between households to which young couples had lately been seen stepping out together. Regina would pretend disinterest, but Emma knew better; she’d catch the sparkle in her eye, or the frown, at all the right moments. Sometimes Emma would tell her about a particularly difficult case, one where all her potions and spells were not working to help ease pain or cure an ailment; then they’d move to the work bench and they’d sit with their heads close together as Emma explained what she’d done so far, and Regina would make suggestions, and help her mix something different or work out a new spell.

 These nights often left Emma in an agony of confusion, especially when Regina leaned so close to her that it would require no effort at all to lean forward and let her lips brush along her neck. But Regina gave her no indication she would welcome such intimacy. Emma decided she was okay with this; they had developed something she thought of as a friendship between them, and that was further than she had ever thought she’d get with the guarded dark witch.

 She hid her desire well, not wanting to irritate Regina or cause her any discomfort. She hid it so well in fact that Regina had no idea at all that there was no reason to berate herself for wondering if Emma Swan’s lips would feel as soft against her skin as they looked; she did not realise that the answer to her question could be had, and had gladly, for the asking.

 

24 - 36 months

 

So the years passed, with the two witches and the child growing closer and growing up together. Amanita and Emma both grew more confident in the use of their power; Regina grew more comfortable with being a partner and a neighbour and a member of a community; the trust between all three of them grew. (The mutual desire between Emma and Regina also grew, even though neither of them had yet learned that the other felt a similar longing.)

 A little while before Amanita’s third birthday though, Regina began to grow distant. She did not spend any time sitting with Emma in the evenings, choosing instead to stay at her work bench, reading and scribbling late into the night. She was curt at breakfast, and would disappear for long hours on her own. She did not share stories of her day, or ask after Emma’s. She became single-minded in her lessons with Amanita, having the child practice her spells over and over, with very little of the cuddles and humour she generally used with her.

 One day, Regina was trying to teach her a new spell; Amanita was not having much success and both woman and child were growing frustrated.

 “Focus, Amanita.”

 “I tryin’!” the child responded, pouting.

 “Use that - use what you’re feeling right now. And focus!”

 Amanita frowned, looking exactly like Regina did when she was concentrating on something that had irritated her, made a chubby little fist and curled her hand open with a tiny flourish.

 Nothing happened.

 Amanita whined and Regina groaned.

 “Try again.”

 “Don’ wanna!”

 “I know you don’t. But you have to try. This is not that difficult, Amanita!”

 “Don’ wanna Rina!” And this time her face crumpled and tears started coursing down her face.

 Before Regina could react, Emma was there, entering the room at the worst possible moment, to the sight of a frustrated Regina and a crying child.

 “What’s going on here?” she asked, picking up Amanita and giving her a cuddle.

 “I tryin’ Rina,” Amanita sobbed into Emma’s shoulder.

 Emma glared at Regina, but not too hard, because the other witch’s face was a mask of guilt. She reached out and gingerly took Amanita from Emma. The little girl flung her arms around her and buried her face into her neck.

 “I sorry, Rina.”

 “It’s all right, my darling,” Regina said, her voice breaking with her own pain. “I’m sorry too.” She sat down in her chair and rocked Amanita until she’d calmed down. Emma puttered about her workbench, throwing the occasional worried look at the woman and child.

 When Amanita stopped crying, Regina set her on her feet and said, “Why don’t you go and read to Rabbit? I think we both need a bit of a rest.” She kissed Amanita on both cheeks, and her forehead, and gave the child a final hug before she let her toddle off to find her favourite toy and a book.

 “What’s going on?” Emma asked again.

 Regina sighed, slumped back in the chair. “She’s having a hard time with the fireball spell.”

 “You’re trying to get her to make fireballs?!”

 “Well, to be honest, it’d be more like a matchstick flame.”

 “Even so. She’s not even three!”

 “I cast my first fireball at three,” Regina said shortly. She stood and began pacing the floor by her work bench.

 “Of course you did,” Emma muttered. “Amanita is not you, Regina! What is going on with you? I’ve not seen you like this for…years now.”

 “My mother taught me how to create fire before my third birthday!” Regina said angrily, as though that would explain everything.

 “And you are not your mother!” Emma shouted. “What is this - some sort of weird competition you think you’re in with Cora Mills?”

 Regina turned furiously towards Emma, “No! But-“ She broke off, took a deep breath, and tried again. “Are you part of a coven?”

 Emma startled back, the question catching her off guard. “No. You know my coven was destroyed. I had no interest in joining another.”

 “I belong to a coven. Cora Mills’ coven.”

 “But…I thought you left Cora when you were fourteen.”

 “I ended my apprenticeship. I left my mother’s home. That was…acceptable. I was starting my own practice, in my own cottage. But one does not walk away from membership in a coven that Cora Mills presides over.”

 “What does this have to do with you pushing Amanita so hard all of a sudden?” Emma asked, not seeing the connection.

 “My mother is a traditionalist,” Regina continued, still seeming to make off-topic comments. “Her coven meets every three years. The last time I attended a coven meet, I told my mother that I would soon be taking on an apprentice.”

 “Amanita.”

 “Correct.”

 “But, what does that have to do with-“ she broke off when Regina looked at her, a derisive eyebrow arched as she waited for Emma to make the connection. “-with…oh. Amanita’s nearly three.”

 “Yes.”

 “You have a coven meeting coming up?”

 “Yes. And my mother is going to expect a report on my apprentice’s progress.”

 “And you’re worried that she’s going to think that she’s underperforming? But Regina…Amanita is an incredible apprentice! She’s doing all these spells that I couldn’t until I was at least eight!”

 “Yes. Well. That’s hardly heartening, Mistress Swan.”

 Stung, Emma struck out, “Are you afraid that your mother is going to call you a bad teacher?”

 Regina looked haunted, and Emma immediately regretted her words.

 “She’ll be sarcastic,” Regina said, her voice small.

 “That’s…that’s not so bad. Surely?” Emma asked. She crossed the room and put a hand on Regina’s arm. Regina shook it off, turning her back to Emma and staring into the empty fireplace. She was remembering when she’d created her first flame; a minuscule little twist of fire, a pinprick of heat on her palm. She’d tried so hard, and put all her energy and focus and strength into it. And her mother had laughed and called her weak.

 “You don’t know my mother.”

 “Regina, you are doing an incredible job with Amanita. I don’t care what Cora Mills says. If she doesn’t see what that child has accomplished, she’s blind, and a fool.”

 Regina made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a strangled sob, and Emma’s breath caught. She longed to be able to put her hands on Regina’s shoulders, or, even better, to put her arms around her and hold her. She felt a deep hatred burning in her belly; if Cora Mills suddenly stood before her now, she would have received a fireball to the face, courtesy of an incensed Emma Swan.

 When Regina turned back to her though, her face was composed and her eyes dry.

 “Thank you, Emma Swan. It is not often that you are the voice of reason.”

 “I..what…hey!” She caught the teasing look in Regina’s eyes just a moment too late, and ended up chuckling helplessly.

 “So, no more fire spells?”

 “Not until she’s older.”

 “Good. This coven meeting, then. Will you be gone long?”

 “A few days. Possibly a week.”

 “That long? But…aren’t coven meetings usually held just over one night?”

 “Not if you’re in Cora Mills’ coven,” Regina said wearily. “There is a lot to do.”

 “Oh. We’ll miss you,” Emma said, struggling to keep the fervour out of her honest statement. “When will you tell Amanita?”

 Regina looked confused. “Tell her what?”

 “That you’ll be away.”

 “Is that necessary? I was going to tell her goodbye the morning I left.”

 “Regina, no! You have to give her more warning than that! She needs to know when she can expect you back!”

 She looked and sounded so distressed that Regina realised Emma was thinking of more than Amanita. Unthinkingly, she reached out and touched Emma’s arm, her hand curling firmly around her bicep. Her touch seemed to bring the other woman back to the present moment, and her eyes fixed on Regina.

 “When you were a child. No one told you, about your coven mother being…gone. Did they?”

 Emma shook her head. “No, not for ages.”

 “Would it have helped? If they did tell you?”

 “It couldn’t have hurt,” Emma said drily. “I was waiting for her to come back and take me home, even as they were moving me around from house to house. And then when someone finally did think to tell me, it was too late. I didn’t believe them. I kept waiting for her. And she never came.”

 “I’ll tell Amanita. In the morning,” Regina promised. She had kept her hand on Emma’s arm, partially because it seemed to calm the other woman, but also because she enjoyed feeling the warmth of Emma’s body against her skin. “And, I’m sorry. For what was done to you. If it had been up to me, you would never have been in that position. I would not separate a child from a mother she loved and who cared for her.”

 Emma smiled at Regina, a wide smile that brought a shine to her eyes. She hadn’t wanted to draw any attention to the fact that Regina was touching her, because she was afraid that would cause the other woman to pull away. But she brought her own hand up to cover Regina’s now.

 “I know, Regina,” she said simply, her voice rich with trust and faith.

 

***

 

In the morning, Amanita came to Regina and said, “I try fire now?” She had a look of resigned determination in her eye that made Regina’s heart sag with sadness.

 She picked the child up and kissed her cheek.

 “No, sweet one. No more fire. Not until you’re older.”

 “But I can, Rina. I can!”

 “I know you can, my darling. So we’re going to try something even more difficult, okay?”

 “More dif’cult than fire?” Amanita asked, awed.

 “Yes. We’re going to make a little rain cloud. Weather witches have tried for centuries to make rain. It’s not at all easy.”

 “Oooh,” Amanita said, her eyes widening with wonderment.

 When Emma came in from feeding the animals, she found Regina and Amanita sitting together at the work bench, giggling to themselves, as Amanita cast a tiny storm in a tea cup.

 

***

 

By the time the morning of Regina’s departure arrived, she had already spent some time telling Amanita about her trip. Amanita knew how many sleeps until Regina went away, and how many sleeps until Regina came back. She knew that Emma was going to take very good care of her while she was away. She knew that, as much as Regina would love to take her with her, this was not a journey she could go on. She knew that Regina would miss her very, very much.

 There were still tears. (Mostly from Amanita, although both Emma and Regina had a suspicious dampness around their eyes before she disappeared in a swirl of magic.)

 Regina gave Amanita to Emma, and gave her final instructions.

 “You will read to her every night, Emma Swan.”

 “Yes, Regina.”

 “And no broomstick rides into town!”

 “Yes, Regina.”

 “And she is to practice her magic.”

 “Yes, Regina.”

 “But not the fire spell!”

 “Yes, Regina.”

 “And be careful.”

 “Yes, Regina.”

 “I mean it, Emma Swan. There are going to be all manner of dark witches in the area, not just the witches from my mother’s coven. Please. Be careful. I expect to find you in one piece when I get back.”

 “I will be careful Regina. We’re going to be right here when you get home. And you…um…just remember what I said. Okay? And take care of yourself. Please?”

 “I will,” Regina said in a surprised voice. And perhaps if she hadn’t been so worried about facing her mother, and so concerned about how Emma and Amanita would fare while she was away, if Emma hadn’t looked at her with such tender warmth when she had admonished her to take care of herself, perhaps she wouldn’t have done what she did next. Which was to take two firm steps forward, give Amanita a kiss on the forehead, then stretch up on tip toe, and kiss Emma Swan’s cheek.

 “I’ll miss you,” she whispered, then stepped back and disappeared in a swirl of purple smoke.

 (That kiss played over in Emma’s mind every day Regina was away. She’d been taken by surprise and barely had time to register what was happening. But she had felt Regina’s mouth against her skin, had smelled the lavender from the soap she used, and heard her voice, breathy and low. She played this handful of memories back every chance she had, cursing the luck that had left her so stunned, that she hadn’t kissed Regina back, that she hadn’t said more, or held on to the woman a little longer so she could ask her what the kiss meant.)

 

***

 

Emma had had to make an emergency visit to the village, called out by a terrified looking husband who she found wandering in the woods screaming her name. His wife was deathly ill, as was their new born child, and would Mistress Swan please come. Emma had gritted her teeth and used the transport spell, carrying her and Amanita to a field just outside the village. Her aim had improved, but still needed some work. She had put Amanita on her shoulders and run the rest of the way, arriving panting and sweaty, but ready to do what she could to help. A grandmother had taken charge of Amanita, squirrelling her away with a gaggle of other children so Emma could work.

 It had been a long and difficult day, but Emma’s magic and potions had won the day. She was exhausted but pleased when she transported them back to the cottage (or at least, had transported them to the woods in the general vicinity of the cottage and trudged the last few hundred metres home on tired feet).

 She bathed Amanita and fed them both a supper consisting of slices of pie that the grateful grandmother had given them. Amanita sat at the table, using her little spoon to carry morsels of food to her mouth; she’d chew thoroughly before she swallowed. Her precise, dainty, movements were so obviously learned from Regina that Emma could only sit and watch with a tired smile on her face. She missed Regina so much right now, she could feel it like a physical ache.

 “Emma,” Amanita said suddenly, “what’s my mother?” (She pronounced it more like ‘muvver’, but Emma knew what she meant.)

 “Why do you ask, sweetling?” she said, taken aback by the question and trying to buy herself some time.

 “Billy” - one of the children she’d spent the day with - “he ask where my mother is. I said I dunno. Then he laugh at me. So I hit him with Rabbit.”

 “Good for you,” Emma said.

 “What’s my mother, Emma?”

 Emma gulped and tried to give Amanita an answer, basing it on her own hazy memories of Mary Margaret. “A mother is…someone who loves you very much. Someone who takes care of you, and keeps you safe. Someone who makes sure you have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep, so you grow up strong and good. She’s just…someone who loves you, sweetling.”

 “Okay.” She chewed a few more mouthfuls. “If Billy ask me again, I say to him where you are.”

 “Oh, Amanita-“

 “And Rina.”

Chapter Text

Cora Mills lived in a castle. This was unusual for a dark witch, although perhaps not so unusual for a dark witch who was driven as much by ambition as by the strength of her own power. Cora Mills had once wanted to be a queen; she had been young and inexperienced, but she had dreamed of wearing a crown and having an entire kingdom bow and scrape at her feet.  She had set about fulfilling that ambition by deceit and murder, but her inexperience had counted against her. She did end up married to a foreign prince, but one so low in importance that when he died (mysteriously), all he had left (a pregnant) Cora was an old castle and a soon-forgotten name. She’d reverted to using her own family name, but had called her daughter Regina – a cruel reminder to herself of her brush with royalty and how badly she had failed.

Most dark witches lived removed from other people – their homes tended to be in the middle of remote deserts or at the top of inaccessible cliffs – in places where they would not be easily disturbed by people seeking to steal their secrets, or asking for their aid in magic. Apprentices were taken grudgingly and only after much vetoing and swearing of oaths; petitioners for magical aid were treated with great disdain and charged extortionate rates more as a deterrent than out of common greed. But Cora Mills’ home was an hour’s ride from the capital city; she could see the lights of all the grand houses from her balconies; she could set out in her carriage on a whim and attend a fine ball or take tea with select noblewomen; the great and good would wend their way to her gates, seeking favours and paying in gold or jewels or information.

While other dark witches only sought knowledge of spells and magic, Cora Mills also hoarded knowledge of people; she’d store all the little tidbits she gleaned from gossip and dinner conversations, and she’d ask pointed questions of powerful men and women who had benefitted from her magic, and by the time she was done, she had an immense knowledge of her targets’ fears and hopes and weak points. She’d sit in her castle and look out at the capital city, and she would plot and scheme, using both magic and her hoard of secrets, until she was the most powerful woman in the city. Possibly more powerful even than the King; certainly more powerful than any other witch still living. She’d broken two truces, killed leaders of both dark and light covens, and had been brought to heel only by the renowned hedge witch, Nan Locket.

But when Nan Locket had finally died, there had been no one left to challenge Cora. She took to calling herself the Queen of the Dark; dark witches came from all over the kingdom to bend knee to her, to swear their loyalty. The witches of the light and the hedge witches seemed to melt into the shadows, giving ground wherever Cora Mills stepped. She ruled the world of magic, undisputed.

 

 

Regina Mills stood at her mother’s gates and stiffened her spine. Her head was still a whirl of emotion, and she knew she could not face her mother like this. Cora would leap on the slightest sign of weakness, and in her current state of mind, Regina may as well have been standing there with her power depleted and neck bared for the axe.

She still had the image of Emma Swan in her eye; dressed in her customary pale linen, her hair falling tousled over her shoulders, her eyes narrowed in surprise that bordered hope. It was the hope that had sent Regina’s mind into a tizzy. She had kissed Emma goodbye and she had spoken the truth. She would miss her. Something about Emma Swan filled Regina with confidence. She didn’t know what it was; perhaps it was the way Emma would smile at her and Amanita in the morning, sleepy and slow, as if nothing in the world could be better than this moment; or perhaps it was the way she’d lean towards Regina when she asked for her opinion, listening as though it actually mattered what Regina was saying; or perhaps it was the way she’d started asking Regina for help – with no doubt or fear in her voice, like it was normal to ask and natural for Regina to comply. Regina knew she would find none of that ease and normalcy in her mother’s castle, and she’d felt the gaping loss of it even before she’d left their cottage.

It had honestly never crossed her mind that Emma Swan may feel a similar way.

But that look of startled hope on Emma’s face had given her pause, had made her start to think that perhaps she wasn’t alone in what she was feeling. And the thought of that had terrified her, and she’d fled.

The last time she had looked at someone with mutual hope and affection, her happiness had bubbled to the surface and spilled over, unbidden, into everything she had said and done. And her mother had noticed, and a price had been paid.

“There is no room for softness in the dark,” she muttered over and over, steeling herself with her mother’s words, until her face was a mask wearing only the faintest twist of a sneer on her lip. She glanced down at what she was wearing, and the sneer grew more pronounced. She was slipping. She had almost walked into a coven meet dressed like a workaday witch. With a snap of her fingers she transformed, exchanging her linens and cottons for leather and silk, her hair sweeping upwards into a bun so tight not even Amanita would be able to pull it loose. Her face was made up, eyes dark-lined and heavily shadowed, her mouth a bright slash of red. Her neck sparkled with jewels and each finger was sheathed in a complex filigree of gold. No knight riding off to do battle with dragons had ever relied so much on his armour as Regina Mills did on her wardrobe now. She bore the weight of her clothing and ornamentation like a shield.

 

Inside the walls, the castle was abuzz; there were dark witches everywhere, walking through the gardens, reclining under trees, strolling along the battlements. They all turned and watched as Regina stalked imperiously towards her mother’s audience chamber. These women were not part of Cora’s coven, but they gathered here on the periphery, hoping for a space to be made for them at Cora’s table. Cora was always magnanimous in opening her home to these hopefuls, and even though she only rarely elevated anyone, the castle was filled with witches eager to take advantage of any weaknesses in Cora’s inner circle.

The audience chamber was quieter. Only the coven was allowed here, some of them accompanied by senior or very capable apprentices. A twelve-year old Regina had been amongst that number once; she remembered how gloriously terrifying it had felt, to lurk behind columns and curtains and watch and listen while the older witches had discussed important things and showed off their best bits of magic. She had been a full-fledged witch at her next coven, fifteen years old, a year’s training with Nan Locket under her belt, and her mother’s disparaging words in her ear. Cora had not been pleased when Regina had declared her apprenticeship over and said she wanted to take charge of her own learning. But Regina had defended herself against an attack from three experienced witches, even if they had only been witches of the light, and even Cora could not deny there was little more Regina could learn from her.  

At her first coven as a witch, Regina had presented her most impressive feat of magic, a transformation spell so complete that seven senior witches had screamed or fainted. Her mother had dismissed her spell with a bored wave, leaving Regina standing shivering at the sudden loss of the protection of her magic.

“You always were a disappointment, Regina,” Cora had sighed. “From the moment of your birth. So much potential, so little accomplished.” She pointed at the next witch, and Regina had disappeared into the background. She’d never tried to impress at a coven meet again, choosing instead to share pieces of knowledge she had uncovered, or intricate little spells that did not do much, but shone with the skill required to carry them out.

Cora Mills would sniff dismissively at each offering, deeming them “Pretty, but inconsequential. Much like you.”

 

 There was a buzz in the audience chamber as Regina entered, the air filled with the quiet voices of witches jostling for superiority over their coven sisters. A hush fell over the group, the silence spreading before Regina as she walked towards her mother. Cora sat in her customary place, the raised dais in the centre of room, in a high-backed throne that had been carved from a living tree. A lone witch stood at her side, a tall, dark-haired woman; this was Cassandra, Cora's chosen lieutenant, she was equal measures skilled, loyal, and cruel.

Regina stood before her mother and bowed.

"You're late," Cora growled.

"How kind of you to wait for me before you started," Regina replied sweetly.

Cora frowned, but decided that she had already started with a misstep. She raked a scrutinising look over Regina, unable to find fault in her appearance, she said instead, "I thought you had taken an apprentice?"

"She is...ill," Regina said in a disinterested voice, turning her head to look around the room, taking in the groups of witches who were pretending to speak to each other while really keeping a cautious eye on what was happening between Cora and her daughter. "She was all blotchy and had vile fluids coming out of both ends. I didn't think you'd appreciate being exposed to that." 

Cora's smile was predatory. "How uncharacteristically thoughtful of you, my dear. Pity, I was looking forward to meeting her."

Regina was glad her mother could not see her face, because she could feel the blood drain away. The last thing she wanted to do was raise Cora's suspicions about Amanita. She fought for control so her voice did not quaver when she said, "Would you like me to fetch her?" She raised her hand as though to cast, and Cora shook her head.

"No. Of course not, Regina. I won't have you making me ill!"

Regina shrugged, "Suit yourself. I like what you've done with the place."

"You know how I live for your approval," Cora snarled. "And stop changing the subject. Tell me about your apprentice. How is she faring?" Her voice was sharp and her eyes piercingly eager. 

Regina thought she heard nervousness in her mother's voice. She tried to buy herself some time to work out why. "As well as can be expected," she answered noncommittally, while her mind raced.

She saw relief flash across her mother's face, and Cora smiled coldly. "That doesn't sound very promising."

Cora sounded pleased, and Regina understood what was happening. Her mother was afraid. Regina had refused to fit into the box she had prepared for her; she had struck out on her own, away from her mother's control. For years though, Regina had worked on her own, living alone in her cottage, devoting herself to study. But now, she had an apprentice; she was starting to leave a legacy that would go beyond the notebooks filled with her thoughts and discoveries. An apprentice meant a follower, a trained apprentice became a source of strength for a witch - and Cora did not want her daughter to ever grow strong enough to challenge her. Regina knew what she had to do.

"She tries," Regina said flatly, projecting a reluctance to talk as hard as she could. "And she manages well enough. She can do all sorts of things."

"Such as?"

"Let's not forget, she's only just turned three. She can make rainbow lights that last all night. Even when she's asleep."

"Rainbow lights?" Cora virtually cackled with delight. "Is that all? No wonder you didn't want to bring her, Regina! She must be as bad as you were at that age."

Despite herself, Regina bristled. "I could cast a fireball at three."

"I'd hardly call that little lick of heat you managed a fireball," Cora grinned. "You were at least six before you could do that."

"I'm sure Amanita will improve," Regina said coldly, hardly needing to act her irritation.

Cora clapped her hands delightedly. "You found the perfect apprentice for you, Regina. An underperformer. Perhaps now you will appreciate how very hard I had to work to make anything of you."

Regina ground her teeth to keep from defending Amanita. This was what she wanted, to keep Cora's focus on belittling Regina, to prevent her from thinking of Amanita as a threat. But it was difficult to stand there and take this treatment without responding; three years of living with Emma Swan and a baby who looked up to her had dulled her memories of what it felt like to be at the receiving end of scorn. She wanted to fight back, but she knew that would lead to disastrous consequences; so she bit her tongue and took her mother's abuse.

Cora stared at Regina for a few moments, waiting to see if she'd make another comment or try to fight back in some way. When Regina said and did nothing, simply stood there with her shoulders slightly slumped and her eyes fixed on a point over Cora's shoulder, her mother sneered and waved her away. 

"Enough of this. Go - we shall be starting this coven meet soon. I've seen enough of you for now."

She waited until Regina had turned stiffly on her heel and walked away before beckoning Cassandra closer.

"Watch her," she whispered in cold tones.

 

The indignities continued throughout the week. It was as though Cora was testing her, needling her endlessly to see if she'd snap. She had Regina placed in the very back of the room; she made a big show of demanding all apprentices be presented to her and heaped praise on every little spark of magic they showed; she had Regina at the end of every line, the position of least respect and importance. The other coven witches could not help but notice how far Regina had fallen in Cora's regard, but they knew they were no match for Regina's power, so instead of challenging or insulting her, they ignored her; they weren't foolhardy enough to go against Cora's lead, but nor were they foolish enough to risk Regina's wrath. 

Cassandra's spies kept a careful watch over Regina, listening behind corners and trailing her when she'd take her solitary walks through the gardens. Cassandra would report back to Cora every night, telling her how little Regina was interacting with the other witches, how thoroughly she was being shunned.

It was a lonely, difficult, week for Regina, and she was glad when it was finally time to stand in the line for departing Cora's castle. Every dark witch in the castle would bid farewell to Cora before transporting away, paying a final homage to the Queen of the Dark. They'd give her little gifts, something they'd have guarded carefully over the week so they could present Cora with a pleasant surprise that would hopefully help them stand out in her memory. Regina's gift was nothing too special, an old scroll she had found in her travels; it was a rarity but nothing of any great power. She was sure Cora would sneer at it, but she would have done her duty and the gift would not raise any suspicions. 

As usual this week, Regina was last in line. Cora looked bored and tired by the time she got to her, and Regina was fairly sure her mother was not feigning either reaction. It had been a long afternoon for both of them. Still, she bowed and presented her gift and said the few words of farewell she had been practicing while she waited.

"You will bring your apprentice to our next coven meet," Cora said with finality. "I am eager to see how well she progresses."

Regina nodded, "Of course, mother." She disappeared in a flare of purple smoke.

Cora leaned back in her throne, allowing herself to relax a little.

"Report?" she demanded of Cassandra. 

"Nothing different, your Majesty," Cassandra said. "She's done nothing suspicious all week. She spoke no ill of you, she's made no attempt to gain support or sympathy."

Cora frowned. "It all seems fine. And yet...I feel something is wrong, Cassandra. Have her watched."

"That may be a bit difficult, your majesty. Her cottage is half a day's ride from the nearest village. Not so easy to have someone simply drop by on her. And she'll pick up any magical eavesdropping."

"I don't care how difficult it is! Work something out. I want to know what my daughter is plotting!"

"Yes, your Majesty."

 

 

Regina reappeared in the middle of the cottage common room. She had been so eager to leave her mother's home that she had not changed her clothing or appearance. Amanita was nowhere in sight, but Emma was at her workbench, lost in concentration as she mixed up a potion. Regina felt the flutter of gladness in the pit of her stomach and a smile started to spread across her face. 

Within seconds of Regina appearing, Emma was looking up, her face worried and hands lifting as she turned towards the disturbance. She froze when she saw who the intruder was.

"Regina?" She made a sound of low, drawn out surprise. "You look...huh. You've not dressed like that for a while."

Regina glanced down at herself and sighed. She had forgotten again. A wave of her hand and she was dressed in more regular clothing, her hair falling from the severe bun to soft waves around her face.

Emma's smile widened. "Hi," she said softly, taking a few steps towards her.

Regina felt her pulse quicken as the woman drew closer. She looked so happy to see her, her eyes shining with the strength of her smile. Regina knew she was smiling too, equally broadly, no matter how hard she was trying to curb her reaction. It was good to be home, and it was good to see Emma Swan, and she could not stop herself showing how she felt.

Before the woman could reach her, a small blur erupted from Amanita's room, toddling with ferocious intent towards her.

"Rina!" Amanita cried, overjoyed. "Rina! Rina!" She flung her arms around Regina's knees then lifted her arms and demanded "Up!"

Regina was laughing as she lifted the child. Amanita hugged her tightly around the neck and kissed her cheek soundly. "You home!" she said excitedly.

"Yes, my darling. I am." She had tucked her chin over Amanita's head; every breath she took now carried the baby's familiar scent to her nose and she felt tears prick at her eyes. She had no idea why she was crying, and she took a deep gulping breath, fighting for some control. 

Emma had stopped a few feet away, her wide smile turned apologetic. "She missed you."

"And I her," Regina assured her.

Amanita started wriggling in her arms, demanding to be set down. Regina released her, reluctantly, but acquiescing to the child's request; she had not expected such an enthusiastic welcome home and she was saddened that it was over. But Amanita clasped her hand and started dragging her towards the door. 

"Come see, Rina!" she demanded.

Regina threw a confused look at Emma, who was laughing. "She has so much she wants to show you." She trailed behind as Amanita kept tugging Regina forward. "You must be tired. If you want to rest, I can distract her for a while."

"No, no, it's fine," Regina said, still slightly bemused by Amanita's eagerness. "I've missed spending time with her."

Emma nodded. "Okay. If you change your mind, let me know and I'll rescue you."

The idea of Emma Swan swooping in to be her saviour made Regina smile. "I'm sure I'll manage,"

Then Amanita had pulled her outdoors, and she missed any response Emma made.

Amanita did have many things to show her; there was a new baby goat, and a handful of new chicks; the apple trees had started showing fruit, small and green and offering a promise of so much more; Emma had started rows of new plants, labelled in the scrawling handwriting that had become as familiar to Regina as her own. Amanita introduced her to each new baby animal, and made sure that Regina had seen the new growth of fruit, and been sufficiently impressed by the small stalks and leaves that had started to push their way up through the dark earth. Then she pulled her back indoors and made her sit on the ground while she showed her the new pages she had read, and had her say hello to Rabbit, and started giving her a series of little things - interesting stones, dried flowers, oddly shaped seed pods.

"She found something she thought you'd like on every walk we went on," Emma explained. She was preparing a meal, watching fondly as Amanita presented Regina with all her treasures.

Regina looked at the growing collection gathered in her skirts, and grinned at Emma. "Did you take three walks a day?"

Emma smiled back. She hadn't really stopped smiling since Regina had got home.

"Something like that," she replied. "The cottage was really quiet without you," she added softly.

"Do you need help, with the meal?" Regina asked, unsure how to react to that admission.

Emma shook her head, "I can manage. I don't think she's done with you yet."

Amanita continued to monopolise Regina until supper was ready; they read, they played with Rabbit, they sorted and catalogued all the things Amanita had found for Regina. Amanita showed Regina the magic she had been practicing, little spells that she was endearingly proud to show off. Regina hugged her at the end of it and told her how very happy she was with her progress.

Over supper, Amanita was finally ready to let Emma get a word in with Regina, so she could fill her in on everything that had been accomplished around the cottage in her absence.

"You have been busy," Regina said at last, her voice fond. Emma grinned.

A loud yawn drew both their attention to Amanita; she was slumped in her chair, eyes drooping shut.

"You tired her out," Emma laughed. "Come on, sweetling. I'm going to put you to bed."

"No Mama," Amanita said stubbornly. "Rina bedtime?"

"Do you mind?" Emma asked. "If you're not too tired?"

"Of course not." She stood and picked Amanita up.

The child put her hands on Regina's cheeks and stared at her intently. 

"You my muvver, Rina," she said sleepily. She gave her a sloppy kiss, yawning just as her mouth touched Regina's cheek.

"I'm what?"

"My muvver." She leaned her head against Regina's chest, yawning hugely.

Regina stood frozen in place. Her tired brain had just worked out what Amanita was saying. A look of terror settled on her face, and Emma startled to her feet.

"Regina?"

"I'm going to put her down," Regina said automatically, moving stiffly away from Emma.

Emma followed, standing in the doorway as Regina put nightclothes on a sleepily protesting Amanita and tucked the child into her cot. Regina's movements were mechanical, the look of fear not quite gone from her face. She kissed Amanita goodnight, and sat back so that Emma could kiss her too. There was no need for a story or a song tonight, Amanita was asleep moments after Emma said her goodnights.

"Regina?" Emma tried again.

She had walked out of Amanita's room, fleeing to the safety of her workbench. The look of terror had returned stronger than before, and she looked around wildly.

"I can't be her mother," she said urgently. 

"What? Of course you-"

"I don't know the first thing about being a mother!" Regina's voice got louder as her fear grew.

"Regina, calm down. Of course you do!"

"Where is all this coming from? Why now?" Regina demanded.

"A child in the village. He asked her where her mother was. She didn't know what that meant. So I explained it to her, and she decided we were her mothers."

"Both of us?"

"Yes. She's started calling me Mama again."

"Well...that makes sense. For her to think of you as a mother. But...not me."

"Regina-"

"What did you tell her anyway? About mothers. Why would she think..."

"I didn't...I just told her a mother was someone who cared for you, and looked after you. Who loved you."

"And she thought...me?"

"Of course she did, Regina!"

Regina was crying now, silent tears running down her cheeks. It took all Emma's effort to not cross the room and hold her.

"I'm not. I can't be. I don't know how to do that, Emma Swan. I don't want to hurt her."

"You don't hurt her! Regina, you've been an incredible mother to her for ages!"

Regina stared at her. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh Regina, you have loved and protected her for years now."

"I have not."

Emma couldn't prevent an incredulous grunt. "Really? Do you think she hasn't noticed? Who is the only person she wants around when she's frightened?"

"Me, but that's hardly surprising."

"Oh?"

"I'm the more intimidating one! If something scared you, and your only choices for aid were you or me, you'd pick me too."

Emma stared at Regina and then shook her head as she snorted with disbelieving laughter.

"Regina, you're a good mother. And not because you're intimidating. Amanita is an intelligent child. She knows what she's talking about when she claims you as a mother."

"I can't be a good mother," Regina said sorrowfully. "I never learned how."

Emma finally began to understand.

"I take it your coven meeting went well?" she asked drily.

"It was...trying."

"And Mother Mills? How was she?"

Regina frowned at her. "Mother was in fine form."

"That good, huh?" Emma muttered angrily. She moved closer to Regina. "Look, just don't go to your next coven meet. It's not worth it."

"I can't do that!"

"Why not? You don't need-"

"You don't know my mother. She wont permit me to just...drop out of her coven. If I don't attend, she'll come looking for me. And she'll find the cottage empty. I've covered our tracks as well as I can, but she won't let it go. She'll keep looking for me until she finds us."

Emma stared at her.

"You haven't told your mother about me."

"Of course not. Can you imagine? If Cora Mills knew her daughter was raising an apprentice with a light witch? She would destroy you. And she'd probably take Amanita."

"You've been protecting us," Emma said, her voice an awed whisper.

"Of course I'm protecting Amanita. She is my apprentice. I said I'd let no harm come to her."

"You've been protecting me too," Emma persisted. Her mind was reeling. Regina had been protecting her from Cora's wrath. There had been no reason for her to do that, especially not at the beginning of their relationship, when Emma hadn't been much more than an irritation fobbed off on Regina by the demands of magic. It would have made her life so much easier if Cora had destroyed Emma, taken her out of the picture and left Regina with sole custody of Amanita. But Regina hadn't done that. She had been true to her word, to accept the price the magic had placed on her. Even if it meant the risk of going against her mother. Regina had been brave from the very beginning, braver even than Emma already thought she was. And she was still protecting them now, going to the coven meeting partially to keep Cora ignorant of Emma's existence; she had willingly exposed herself to whatever unpleasantness had brought her home insecure of herself and afraid to accept Amanita's love. Suddenly all Emma wanted to do was protect Regina in turn; to show her how very special she was.

"Come to my bed, Regina."

(Okay, she acknowledged that may not have been the wisest way to follow through on her protective desire, but she refused to back down now.)

"Have you taken leave of your senses?" Regina spluttered.

"No. No, I think I am finally seeing clearly actually. Come to my bed, please?"

"And what - No! Don't answer that. I see what you are doing, Emma Swan. You're trying to distract me from this mother business. Well congratulations, you've succeeded."

"I'm not trying to distract you. I've wanted this - wanted you - for so long now. I am finally being brave enough to tell you."

"Emma Swan-"

"Please Regina, hear me out. I've missed you every moment you've been gone. That has a way of focusing the mind. I'd be foolish not to at least try. I'd never forgive myself for not telling you. So..." she took a deep breath. "I'm not made of stone Regina, you are very attractive. But more than that ... you are ... oh you are a wondrous creature, Regina Mills. I cannot even begin to explain it - you are ... you've crawled under my skin and into my head, and everywhere I turn, all I can think of is how much I want you. Please, if there is any chance you want this too - please, come to my bed?"

"And what if I tell you I don't feel the same?"

Emma sighed. "Then you don't. And I will stop asking. I suppose if I starve my desire for long enough, it will go away."

Regina looked startled, as though the thought of Emma starving herself of anything was an uncomfortable one.

"You are not unattractive," she said grudgingly.

Emma's smile was blinding. 

"This won't change anything. If I agree. Nothing will change."

"Good. I don't want it to. I don't want to change a single thing about you."

"That's not what I meant," Regina growled. "I meant - I will still be a witch of the dark. Lying with you won't change that. I won't suddenly 'see the light'; I will still raise Amanita in the ways of the dark."

"Good. I mean it. You know I think you're a wonderful teacher. You do so well with her. I don't want you to change that."

Regina backed away from Emma, flustered. She did not know what to do with this acceptance, especially coming so closely after the way she had been treated at the coven meet. But Emma Swan stood before her, looking hopeful, with no sign of deceit in her face or voice. And Regina thought of softness and warmth, and how very much she craved those things despite everything Cora Mills had done to tear that weakness out of her.

"It will change nothing," she whispered again, more an instruction to herself than a warning to Emma. She stretched out a hand towards Emma. "Very well. Take me to bed."

 

How Emma kept herself from whooping in delight, she'd never know. Instead, she took Regina's hand and tugged her gently forward. Moving as slowly as she she dared, she ran her hands through Regina's hair, her eyes fluttering shut at the sensation of silk flowing over her skin. Regina's dark eyes stayed open, fixed on Emma's face as she curved her strong fingers around the back of Regina's head and pulled her the last few inches towards her, so they were standing flush, and Regina's breath was on her lips. Then her mouth was on hers, and Emma had her answer to the question of what Regina's lips would feel like; they were soft and firm and insistent, and Regina's mouth parted in welcome, her breath already drawing faster even before the first gentle swipe of Emma's tongue. She left one hand tangled in Regina's hair and used the other to pull her closer, trapping Regina's hands against her chest. She felt her fingers curl into the fabric of her dress as she deepened their kiss. Emma was shaking with need, but she forced herself to go slow, to release Regina so that she could take her hand and lead her to her bedroom. She kissed her again, at the doorway, with Regina's back against the wall, her hands in Emma's hair, holding her in position so she could return the kiss, fierce and heated. She drew her towards the bed and kissed her a third time, standing with the backs of her knees pressed against the edge of her mattress. She allowed her mouth to wander further this time, moving away from Regina's lips to traverse the length of her neck, down one side and up the other, using her teeth now and making Regina gasp.

She sat down on the bed, leaving Regina standing between her legs. She looked up into Regina's face searchingly, and saw the beginnings of doubt, the edges of fear.

"We don't have to do this," Emma said soothingly. "If you don't want to. We can just lie here. Sleep."

"Together? Just sleep?"

Emma nodded. "Yes. Please? Just stay with me. Let me hold you?"

Regina looked thoughtful for a moment, as though she were considering Emma's offer. Then she shook her head, her eyes suddenly darkening.

"No. I want this. I want you."

"Oh, good," Emma breathed, reaching up for her.

Regina laughed and let herself be pulled towards Emma again. She moved back as she pulled Regina forward, forcing Regina to kneel on the mattress, so she could crawl forwards as Emma scooted towards the headboard. They ended up a tangle of limbs, Regina hovering closely over Emma; she craned her neck upwards and captured Regina's mouth. She was still laughing, interrupting their kiss, and Emma did not care. This was the most glorious sound - Regina Mills carefree and happy and in her arms. She began to unbutton Regina's dress, pushing the material from her shoulder so she could kiss along all that newly exposed skin, biting and licking and sucking at the hollows of her collarbones. Regina's laughter turned to more gasps, her breath hitching as she tried to keep the moans in her mouth. Emma rolled her over suddenly, pinning Regina beneath her; there were more kisses and her hands moved along the buttons, popping more of them open, bringing more skin to view. Her mouth followed where her hands led, and Regina was arching up into her. Emma leaned back on one elbow and reached for the lamp by the side of her bed, making to turn it off.

"No!" Regina's voice was urgent and Emma's hand stilled. 

"Leave it on," Regina continued, gentler.

Emma watched her face for a moment, then grinned. "Ah, of course, there is no room for softness in the dark?"

Regina stared at her, incredulous, then started to laugh. She caressed Emma's face gently.

"What am I to do with you? I am so glad my mother doesn't know you. She would eviscerate you. There wouldn't be enough left of you to scrape off her shoe."

Emma pursed her lips, refusing to be cowed. "I am not afraid of Cora Mills," she declared.

Regina smiled at her confidence; she believed what Emma was saying. "Enough talk of my mother. Leave the light on so I can see you."

"Oh?"

"I've wondered for so long. I think I deserve to see what I've been fantasising about. Don't you?"

"Fantasising?" Emma heard her voice stutter and was unashamed. 

"Mmm," Regina responded, her mouth suddenly occupied with sucking on the pulse point that hammered in the curve of Emma's throat. "So many fantasies."

Emma groaned. "Whatever you need, Regina. Lights on, or off. If you want to make love under the apple trees, that's fine by me too."

Regina's smile was sultry and made the blood rush even harder through Emma's veins.

"Your bed will do nicely," Regina husked.

Then there was not much coherent conversation for a while, their mouths put to a much better use. Emma continued to go slow, taking her time, giving Regina plenty of opportunities to call a halt to their lovemaking. Even when she was between Regina's legs, and Regina was spread open for her and all Emma could think about was how much she wanted to taste, she paused and looked up along the length of Regina's naked body and asked, "Yes?"

Regina nodded desperately, "Yes. Yes, Emma. Please."

The sound of her name - just her name, with no 'Swan' or 'Mistress' tacked on - breathed out with such need filled her with warmth, made her entire body clench, awash with fresh waves of desire. Emma had licked a long slow swath along Regina's slick flesh, and knew she was lost. Whatever Regina wanted, it did not matter what, anything she asked for, Emma would provide; just so long as she could keep doing this. She may have said that out loud, moaning it into Regina's wet heat. It didn't matter, she didn't care. She did not just want to protect Regina any more, she wanted to give her everything and anything she asked for. Starting with as much pleasure as she could stand.

 

It was hours later, and they were both finally sated to the point of exhaustion. Regina was wrapped in Emma's arms and she was tracing lazy patterns along Emma's skin, circling all the marks she had left. Emma had taken her over and over, and then, when Regina had been a sobbing mess, her body rebelling against even the thought of any more caresses, Emma had simply stopped. She had lain back in bed, her arms around Regina and smiled brightly at her, as though there was nothing more to be done. Regina had growled and rolled on top of her, muttering darkly, and proceeded to ravish Emma Swan with a thoroughness that surprised them both. 

She was so lost in passion and desire that she had not spared any thought to her fears. And she had been fearful at the start. The last time she had given herself over to passion like this, Cora had found out and had destroyed the object of Regina's affections. He had been a young stable boy, one of the small army of servants that kept Cora's castle running smoothly. Regina had known him for years, and they had grown closer as they had grown older; Daniel had been kind and gentle and Regina had fallen desperately in love with him. He had been her first kiss, when she was sixteen, and her first lover, when she was eighteen and in Cora's castle for a coven meet. She thought they had been discreet, but someone had seen, and word had got back to her mother. Cora had raged at her, Regina had countered with her desire to marry Daniel, and Cora had gone white with fury.

"No daughter of mine will marry a stableboy!" she had spat. "You have royal blood, Regina! Act like it!"

Daniel disappeared overnight. Regina had searched the castle for him to no avail. Two nights later, his body had been found floating face down in the river. Cora had smiled thinly when Cassandra delivered the news. Regina had wailed her grief, knowing that she would never find the proof that her mother was responsible for Daniel's death. 

"Love is a weakness," Cora had snarled at her weeping daughter. "And you must eradicate all weakness."

Regina had taken other lovers after Daniel, but they had been calculated affairs, her partners chosen for their physical attractiveness and skill rather than for any emotional connection she had to them.

But then Emma Swan had come along, with her confidence and her melting gazes, every caress dripping with devotion, and Regina had been lost. She had not been able to keep herself from wanting this, from giving in to being taken, from taking in return. It could not last, she knew this. Amanita would end her apprenticeship eventually, and then there would be no reason for her and Emma to live under the same roof anymore. Their time together had a definite end date. So she had decided she could allow herself to be weak for a while, to respond with passion, because this was temporary; it would end soon.

Emma tightened her arms around Regina's body and kissed the top of her head.

"Do you want to talk about it? The coven meet?"

Regina sighed, her hands stilling. "Not really. It was...unpleasant. I don't want to spend any more time thinking about it."

She heard Emma growl. "Take me with you, next time. I think I should have a word with your mother."

"Oh? And what would you say to her?" she asked teasingly.

"I hate that she hurts you," Emma said, her voice firm. 

Regina sighed. "I'm not allowing you, or Amanita, anywhere near my mother."

Emma shifted so she could look at Regina; she was glaring. "Do you think I can't handle her?"

"You are a witch of great power," Regina said soothingly. "But my mother is my concern. No one knows Cora Mills better than I do, or has had more experience with putting up with her cruelty. I won't expose you to that."

Emma growled again. "You are not in this alone, Regina. Let me help you."

Regina caressed Emma's cheek. "Oh, my big brave saviour," she whispered, and kissed Emma softly. "I can take care of myself."

Emma sighed. "I know you can, Regina," she muttered. "That's not the point."

"I am not taking you to a coven meet, Emma. Be reasonable! You wouldn't last two minutes. Every dark witch in that castle would be turned against you. You'd be dead long before my mother even got to you."

Emma muttered angrily for a few moments but then sighed. Her shoulders slumped in defeat. "Fine. But you should know. There is not a single person I can think of who I would trust more to be Amanita's other mother." She leaned down and kissed Regina fiercely. "I won't let you doubt yourself in this," she challenged.

Regina sighed. "Go to sleep, Emma."

"I mean it."

"I know you do. Now, go to sleep."

Emma had kissed her again, but had done as she asked. She kept a firm hold of Regina though; it was a strange sensation for Regina, to feel this protected just by being in the presence of another person. Distracted by the oddity of security, it took her a while to fall asleep.

 

When Emma woke, she was alone. The sun was shining brightly, cutting through her curtains, and she turned away from the light mumbling a protest. She reached for Regina, wanting to bury her face in her neck as a defense against the brightness, but her searching hands came up empty. She blinked herself awake and looked around in confusion. Her bed was empty of anyone else. She felt her heart sink. It had been too much to expect, that Regina would stay through the night, but she had hoped regardless.

She sighed deeply and rolled out bed. She filled her washbasin with water and sponged away the remnants of last night's passion. She got dressed and walked out into the common room. Regina was there, sitting on the ground with Amanita perched in her lap. Amanita was reading, and Regina was helping her turn the pages of the book. She looked up when she heard Emma and her face lit up with a smile. Emma instinctively smiled back.

"Emma," Regina said softly, and Emma's smile grew even more ridiculously wide.

"She woke up early," Regina continued, dropping a quick kiss to the top of Amanita's head. "She came looking for me, in my room. She was distressed when she couldn't find me."

"Oh," Emma crouched down besides them and kissed Amanita's cheek. "She must've thought you'd gone again. I don't blame her for being upset."

"Hmm. Well, I told her the next time she was looking for either one of us, if we weren't in our room, to check in the other's room first. Before she panicked." She glanced up from under lowered lashes, a doubtful look in her eyes. "Was that presumptuous of me?"

Emma's eyes widened in surprise when she took in Regina's meaning, and then she grinned wickedly, her face alight with pleasure. "No. No. Not presumptuous at all." She took Regina's face in her hands and kissed her, softly and sweetly but very thoroughly. 

Amanita looked up from her book. She poked Emma in the chest.

"You kiss Rina, Mama?" She sounded more confused than accusatory.

Emma grinned. "Yes sweetling. You may see a lot more of that."

"Why?"

Emma's grin got mischievous, and Regina cut in quickly. "When grown ups are fond of each other, sometimes, they kiss each other like that."

"You fond of Rina, Mama?"

"Oh yes. Very fond."

"Oh. Ok." She turned back to her book

 Regina still looked concerned. "Does it bother you, sweet one? If your Mama and I kiss?"

"You fond of Mama, Muvver?"

"Yes," Regina stammered. 

Amanita shrugged. "Ok." She went back to reading again.

Regina looked at Emma, who grinned, kissed her, and got to her feet. "I'm going to get breakfast ready."

Regina stayed on the floor, a look of bemusement on her face. She watched Emma work in the kitchen; she moved with a swagger and she had the most smug, self-satisfied grin on her face. It really should not have been nearly as attractive as Regina found it. 

Regina sighed, and drew Amanita closer to her chest. She peppered the top of her head with kisses and whispered, "I am very glad to be your mother, my darling."

 

Chapter Text

In essence, nothing changed between them. That perhaps should have been their first warning. The ease with which they went from being two women who shared a living space and the raising of a child, to being two women who also shared the occasional night of passion, should have given them some pause for thought. But truth be told, they were both so busy avoiding their own feelings and thoughts about this new element of their lives, that they left the normalcy unexamined. 

Regina hid behind the mask of only seeking a physical release, and reminded herself often that when their arrangement came to an end, she and Emma would go their separate ways. Emma, who had spent years teaching herself to not fall into the trap of thinking she could trust anything, or anyone, to be permanent, focused only on the current moment and how good it felt to have Regina in her bed. 

So when the occasional night of intimacy became a semi-regular event and then turned into a virtually daily occurrence, neither of them remarked on it. Nor did they call attention to it when the familiarity of the bedroom began spilling out into the rest of their shared spaces; when Emma would kiss Regina for no apparent reason as they prepared a meal, or when Regina would reach up to brush Emma's hair back and tuck it behind her ear; or they'd stand watching Amanita play, and Emma would put her arm around Regina's waist, or Regina would take her hand and Emma would lean into her shoulder; or when night fell, and they would sit in the common room in companionable silence, Regina reading or writing and Emma busy with her potions, they would find reasons to touch - a light stroke of the hand, a gentle brush of lips against skin - or smile in quiet pleasure as they watched the other lost in their tasks. Neither of them asked (not of themselves or of the other) 'does this mean something to you?' 

An outsider looking in on their lives may have called them blind, or foolish, and they may perhaps have been correct in that assessment. Or perhaps they would excuse this blind foolishness. Emma Swan and Regina Mills carried enough loss and hurt between them that it perhaps made sense they would be wary and guarded. That they would not think to ask the other 'do I mean something?' because they assumed they already knew the answer would be 'no'.

And so the years passed. 

Under their watchful eyes, Amanita grew into a little girl who was endlessly curious about the world around her, and who explored that world with the confidence of a child who knew the safety of her mothers' fierce love. Because that was an emotion neither of them had any hesitation about expressing. Amanita heard and saw, often and clearly, that she was loved. Her mothers made sure she knew the answer to the question 'do I mean something?' before she could ever think to even ask it.

 

***

 

Not quite 4 years

 

Emma and Amanita were clearing out part of the old shed that served as goat pen and rabbit coop. Emma had built several enclosures, and a fence, and a large airy extension where the chickens roosted. But as their menagerie of animals grew, so did their need for room to house them. Regina had made it very clear that goats and chickens were not welcome in the cottage (she sometimes made a grudging, and temporary, exception for rabbits, depending on how pleadingly Amanita looked up at her). So Emma was looking for room in the shed to expand.

There was a pile of clutter in one corner; boxes and bits and pieces of worn-out furniture, lumber, and other castoffs had been piled up against a wall and left to gather dust and cobwebs. Emma and Amanita were working their way through it, deciding what was salvageable and useful, and what could be safely hauled away and turned into bonfire fuel.

Amanita was trying, unsuccessfully, to lug a small box over towards Emma.

"That's heavier than it looks, huh?" Emma said, going over to help. She opened the box to see where the weight was coming from. A musty smell rose from the open box, making her cough; the box was filled with books, some leather bound, some covered only with stiffened paper. Emma reached gingerly into the box to carefully pull a few out. She glanced at Amanita, and noticed how wide with excitement her eyes had grown. Emma smiled fondly at her book-loving child.

"Let's see if we can save any of these, okay? Your mother may like to have them."

Amanita nodded eagerly, and they spent the next hour sorting through the box. Emma didn't think there was very much of worth there, it was mostly old diaries, written in a spidery hand, containing long lists of numbers and the odd cryptic phrase or sentence in a language Emma did not recognise. There were a few blank journals, and Emma gave those over to an eager Amanita, after drying the damp pages with a gentle wave of magic. She kept one thing for herself, a leather bound journal filled with carefully written notes and vividly coloured illustrations.

 

 Regina had spent the entire day hiking in the woods, tracking a flying creature she'd spotted a few days ago. She'd come home scratched and bruised but triumphant; she'd found a nest and had spent hours watching and sketching the fledglings. She regaled Emma and Amanita with stories over supper, after Emma had cleaned her scratches, healing the worst of them with a slight frown of concentration and a light touch of magic. It had taken a while for Amanita to fall asleep that night, excited as she was by Regina's tales of clambering up trees and sliding down cliffs to escape snapping beaks. She did finally fall asleep though, and the two women had gone to their own bed, moving naturally towards Emma's room.

They were unhurried when they closed the door behind them; tonight was not a night of urgency or raging heat. Their lovemaking was gentle and built slowly to consecutive peaks that left them warm and relaxed, like two cats who had spent lazy hours toasting in the sun and were now nothing but cozy puddles of contentment, virtually purring with happiness.

Emma was sitting up in bed, half tucked in under the blankets. Regina was sprawled out next to her, lying on her front above the covers. She had her head resting on her folded arms, face turned towards Emma, but with her eyes closed. The corners of her mouth were turned up in a faint smile. Other than her shoulders, which were covered in the tangled waves of her hair, Regina's body was bared to the night air. Emma worried that she was growing cold, and ran a hand down Regina's spine, smiling at the shiver and goose bumps that followed.

Regina opened an eye to look at her and said lazily, "You're going to have to give me a little more time than that, Emma."

Emma moved a hank of dark hair aside so she could kiss a smooth shoulder.

"I wasn't being greedy," she assured her. "I wanted to see if you were cold."

Regina's smile grew broader, and her eyelid dropped shut. "Mmm. No. I feel wonderful," she purred.

Emma couldn’t tear her eyes away, couldn’t stop watching the slight rise and fall of Regina’s back as she breathed, or keep from following the curve of Regina's mouth with a hungry gaze; when she found herself clenching her hands into fists to keep from reaching out and touching, Emma knew she needed a distraction.

"I found something today, in the goat shed."

"Oh, yes. Amanita said you were working out there today. Don't tell me we have more goats to look forward to?"

"A few," Emma said, grinning. "But don't worry, they'll all go to market soon enough."

"Hmm," Regina said disbelievingly. "So, what did you find?"

"Some old junk really, but there was a box of books. I hope you don't mind, I went through them. I thought there may be something you'd like to keep, for your collection."

Regina opened both eyes this time, and smiled at Emma in pleased surprise. "That was thoughtful of you."

Emma shrugged. "We didn't find much. Some old diaries, which I've put aside for you to check. And this."

As she leaned over to pull the book from the table by her bed, Regina turned over and sat up. Her eyebrow arched in surprise when she saw what Emma was holding.

"Oh. It’s mine," she said softly

She took the leather-bound book from Emma and opened it carefully. Emma leaned in towards her as Regina turned a few pages.

“I wasn’t sure. I didn't recognise the handwriting," Emma said into the silence. "But the drawings – those looked familiar."

Regina’s fingers brushed along the pages, tracing under the words that showed only a faint resemblance in form to her handwriting now. Her face had gone very still.

"It’s from when I worked with Nan Locket. She had me record everything of interest I found in the Blackwoods. I’ve never met a woman so keen on cataloguing.” 

Emma grinned. “So that’s where you learned it.”

Regina gave her a slightly exasperated look. 

“She loved making lists.”

“I know. Her diaries were filled with them! I can’t understand most of it. It seems to be nothing but numbers.”

“It could be anything,” Regina said “I’ll look through them in the morning, see if they’re useful.”

She closed her old journal and patted it. “This one we can get rid of. There’s nothing of any worth here. Use it for kindling.”

“Regina! No.”

“It’s not useful, Emma. I wasn't a very dedicated recorder back then. Besides, many of these things will have been lost in the conflicts. Or turned into something very different by the magic that ravaged the Blackwoods. And I am keeping more up to date notes now.”

She made to toss the book into a corner, but Emma put out a hand to stop her.

“If you don’t want it…may I have it?” she asked, hesitantly

“What would you want with an old journal?”

“I could use it, with Amanita. When we’re out flying in the woods, we could see if we can find anything that may have survived the conflicts.” Regina looked unconvinced, so she kept on. “And think how excited Amanita will be, to know that she has a book her mother wrote!”

That made Regina smile.

“Very well,” she said, and placed the book in Emma’s hands. “But remember that most of it won’t be accurate anymore.”

“I think it’s important that she has this,” Emma said, emboldened by that smile. “I don’t have anything like it to give her – something from my childhood. Something with roots.”

 

 

Regina watched Emma with the book; she was so gentle with it, holding it with careful hands, and gazing at it with the same softness Regina sometimes saw when Emma looked at her. Her stomach contracted as she felt an odd mix of fear and longing.

“I think I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight,” she said suddenly, turning to swing her feet to the floor.

“Oh,” Emma said, her voice forlorn. “Why?”

Regina’s shoulders slumped. How could she tell Emma that she was afraid of how strongly she longed to stay? Emma offered affection so unthinkingly, as though she were a fountain of tenderness, washing over everyone who came into her presence. Regina feared she would betray herself by responding with an equal level of affection. It was acceptable to give Emma pleasure, to touch and taste her in ways that made that her whimper and howl by equal measure. That was a physical intimacy that Regina was familiar with, and knew how to manage. But to curl up into her, to lay her head against her chest and let her play with her hair while they both sighed contentedly - that was unchartered territory. That was allowing an emotional connection that she could not afford; it left her open to yet another loss, and Regina did not want to risk finding out how ill-prepared she'd be for this one. She felt this most keenly tonight; something about the way Emma was reacting to her old journal was making her feel more vulnerable than she was accustomed to.

“I just need to be alone,” she said.

She would have to be alone in the end, after all; on that inevitable day when Amanita would choose her own path in life, then Regina and Emma would go their separate ways. Once they had finished paying the price the magic had asked of them, there would be nothing to keep Emma in this cottage, not when she had her own home and her own village waiting for her. 

“Okay.” Emma’s response was quiet, and made Regina feel far worse. She turned abruptly and kissed Emma fiercely.

“I’m sorry,” Regina whispered, even though she wasn’t at all clear what she was apologising for – whether it was for hurting Emma, or for being a coward.

“It’s fine, Regina,” Emma said, not entirely believably. “Whatever you need.”

What Regina needed was to not need so much, but she didn’t say that. Instead, she kissed Emma again, softly.

“Good night,” she murmured against her lips, and disappeared in a puff of purple smoke.

 

 

As the purple smoke cleared, Emma flopped back into her pillows, groaning. They didn’t have sex every night, but if they did, it had become a commonplace occurrence for them to fall asleep and wake up together. She had started taking it for granted, had grown so accustomed to it she had stopped wondering if Regina would stay the night. But tonight she had got caught up in the image of a younger Regina, sitting somewhere in this very cottage, working on the journal Emma held in her hands. She had been picturing her with her brow furrowed in concentration as she wrote and drew; she could see where Regina had crossed out her mistakes, could almost feel the girl’s frustration in the angry strokes of her pen. Regina had been a doodler – the edges of the pages were filled with little drawings, or words written out repeatedly as she had tested for the correct spelling. Regina was so precise in her writing now that Emma had wanted to hold this discovery about her younger self close to her heart, to keep it safe, to entrust it to no one else but their shared child.

Emma Swan was not the most introspective of women. She tended to live in the here and now, and did not spend much time thinking about her motivations or the whys and wherefores of her behaviour. She generally acted and reacted intuitively, trusting her instincts to make the right choices. But she knew herself well enough to recognise at least one driving force in her life – more than anything else, Emma Swan wanted to belong. She wanted a history, a cohesive pattern to her past. She wanted shared memories and stories, something that she could look back on and say ‘I came from this’. And since she could not have that for herself, she had pledged that Amanita would.

She suspected Regina did not feel the same way. She had no doubt Regina loved Amanita, and would protect her with every last ounce of her power. But she did not think Regina wanted the tapestry of connection, the links between past, present, and future that Emma yearned for. She feared that she had worried Regina, when she had made such a big deal of Amanita being so pleased to have a part of Regina's past. She would speak to Regina in the morning, and assure her that Emma would not try to make her be more to Amanita than she was ready for. (That she focused only on Amanita in her assessment of what had happened was a factor of how strongly Emma was refusing to examine her own feelings for Regina and how much she was coming to stitch Regina into the tapestry of her own life).  

 

 

When Emma came into the common room in the morning, it was to find Regina already awake, preparing breakfast. Regina was stirring a pot that smelled of cinnamon and honey, while Amanita was sitting at the table mashing some stewed apples with a wooden spoon. She wasn’t making much of a mess of it, although Regina was obviously keeping a wary eye on her in case she got too enthusiastic.

Regina looked over at Emma as she walked into the room, a smile settling automatically on her face.

“Hi,” Emma said uncertainly, and Regina’s smile faded slightly.

“Mama!” Amanita broke into the unfamiliar awkwardness, “we’re havin’ apples an’ porri’ge. I’m helpin’!”

“I can see that, sweetling,” Emma replied, grinning. “It smells wonderful. May I have a taste?”

Amanita held up her spoon, and Emma had a mouthful of the apple mush and kissed the top of Amanita’s head. When she straightened, she found Regina holding a spoon of porridge out towards her; her face was neutral except for a slightly raised eyebrow. Emma held her gaze, leaned forward and closed her mouth over the offering.

“That’s good,” she said. “Thank you.” She couldn’t stop herself from then asking, “Did you have a good night?”

“I’ve had better,” Regina replied, ruefully. (She’d spent far too long lying awake agonising over her own weakness, and her dreams had left a bitter taste.) She firmed her shoulders and asked, “Are we all right?”

“Yes!” Emma said startled. “At least, I think so. I am. I don’t have…I mean, I’m sorry that I upset you last night, and it wont happen again. Are you all right?”

Regina’s eyes were sparkling with amusement by the time Emma had finished speaking. “I’m fine,” she said. “And you didn’t upset me. I’d tell you, if you did.” She smiled then, with such a teasing air that Emma had to lean forward and kiss that mischievously curled mouth.

“Enough kissin’ now, Mother!” Amanita said firmly, grabbing Regina’s hand. “Breakfast!”

After they had eaten, and tidied the kitchen away, Regina settled at her workbench to start looking through the pile of Nan Locket’s diaries.

Emma sat down in her chair and lifted Amanita onto her lap.

“I have something to show you!” she announced, holding up Regina’s old journal.

“A book!” Amanita said, pleased. “What’s it about?”

“This is a special book,” Emma said. She flipped it open and said, “See, it was written by your mother!” She nodded her head towards Regina, who had stopped working and was leaning back in her chair, watching Emma and Amanita.

“Okay,” Amanita said. “What’s it about?”

“It’s about the Blackwoods. Your mother wrote it when she wasn’t much older than you.”

“Okay, Mama,” Amanita said, without nearly the level of enthusiasm Emma was showing. “We goin’ to ride the broom now?”

Emma frowned in confusion, but said, “Yes. Sure. Go put your boots on.”

Amanita hopped off Emma’s lap and ran to her room.

Emma turned towards Regina, and saw that the other woman was trying, unsuccessfully, to hide laughter behind her hand. But when she saw the disappointed look on Emma’s face, Regina sobered.

“Oh, Emma,” she said gently, standing and crossing the room to take the journal from Emma’s hands. “She’s watched me keep journals about the Blackwoods all her life. She’s not going to think this one is any different.”

“I suppose not,” Emma said dejectedly.

Regina patted her hand, and turned towards the fireplace, the journal still in her hands.

“What are you doing?” Emma demanded.

“It’ll still make good kindling,” Regina said.

“Oh no, I’m keeping that!” She tugged the book back to her. “Unless you’ve changed your mind about letting me have it?”

Regina shook her head. “No, of course not. But…what’s the point?”

“Amanita may not realise this is a special book now. But she will. When she’s older.”

Behind her words was a wealth of regret; she had nothing of Mary Margaret’s except a few memories that she knew were fading as the years passed. Emma looked anxiously at Regina, trying to gauge whether or not she had spooked her again. But while Regina did look pensive, she was not pulling away.

“You are perhaps the most considerate person I’ve ever known,” Regina said abruptly. “It really is quite charming.”

She sounded so vexed it made Emma grin. An annoyed Regina was a wonderful opportunity for teasing.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever called me charming before. I’m not sure what to do now.”

“Don’t get used to it,” Regina muttered, turning back to her workbench. “And be careful on that broom!”

Emma was chuckling as she led Amanita out to the shed where she stored the broom. Her mood had improved vastly, and she was looking forward to the day ahead.

 

 

"It's notes on stars," Regina told Emma a few days later. She had been pouring over Nan Locket's old diaries, and was finally sure she understood. "She's recording rising and setting times, and the movements of the constellations with the seasons."

"Oh," Emma said, sounding a bit disappointed. "Is that all?"

Regina made an annoyed little noise. "Nan Locket loved the stars."

"And lists about stars, apparently," Emma added with a cheeky grin. That made Regina laugh.

"Nan Locket taught me so much about the stars," Regina said.

Her voice was wistful and Emma sat up straighter, paying attention now. 

"I still can't believe that you wanted to be a hedge witch," Emma said softly.

"I didn't want to be a hedge witch. I was fascinated by their power."

"Not to be offensive, Regina, but I am having a hard time seeing you being interested in midwifery and the care of common aches and pains."

Regina stared at her, and sighed. 

"I forget sometimes what a woeful education you've had."

"Hey!"

"Hedge witches ... first of all, they aren't even properly called hedge witches! In the old days, they were known as edge witches. Because they stood on the edges between - between life and death, between dark and light."

"I didn't know that."

"I'm not surprised," Regina said, with no rancour. "Their name was distorted over time. And now people hear 'hedge witch', and think of a woman who is wise about certain things, midwifery and undertaking and how to set a broken bone. They have forgotten, or they ignore, that a hedge witch once walked, alone and unarmed, into Cora Mills' castle and brought her to a truce."

"I never did understand how she managed it."

"Nor do I. My mother never spoke of it. And Nan Locket never would."

 

And that conversation may have ended there if Emma hadn't woken in the night and found her bed cold. Regina was gone again. She sighed. She knew she would have a hard time falling back asleep now, not without something warm to drink to soothe her.

She was in the kitchen when she noticed the cottage door was slightly ajar. Alarm rising within her, she checked Amanita's room - their daughter was sleeping peacefully. Regina's room was empty though. 

She slipped some shoes on her feet and opened the door. She had grown so accustomed to the green glow of residual magic that her eyes were able to make out where Regina sat almost immediately. She was in the orchard, sitting on the ground under her favourite tree. 

The air was cold and Emma shivered. She turned back into the cottage draped the blanket from her bed around her shoulders, and walked out into the orchard.

"It's cold, Regina."

She wasn't wearing much more than her cotton shift and some boots. 

Emma shivered again.

Regina smiled up at her. 

"I wasn't intending to be out here for long. But then the Sisters were rising, and I wanted to watch."

Emma made grumpy sighing noises as she settled on the ground by Regina, wrapping the blanket more securely around her.

"The Sisters....the stars?"

"The Five Sisters," Regina nodded. "My favourite."

"You have a favourite constellation?"

"Don't you?"

Emma laughed. "Not really. Why do you like the Sisters so much?"

"Do you see how they're grouped? Like a ring?"

Regina leaned against her so she could point the stars out. Emma felt the coolness of her skin and shifted so she could draw Regina under the blanket with her. She wrapped the soft material around them both, holding Regina against her. She sighed in contentment. 

"You like rings?"

"Really, Emma." She may have rolled her eyes with irritation, but her voice was fond and amused.

"What's so special about this ring of stars then?" 

Yes it was cold, and the ground was damp and uncomfortable. But Regina's voice was warm and her body was soft, and the entire world had been reduced to just the two of them huddled under a blanket and the wide sweep of stars above them. Emma wouldn't have moved if you offered her weight in sweet lemon cakes.

Regina leaned her head against her shoulder as she replied.

"Nan Locket taught me about the stars. Not just where to find them and how to track them. She taught me the stories of the stars. The Sisters - they are where the first edge witches came into this world."

"Came into it from where?"

"Other worlds. So Nan Locket told me." 

"Other worlds!" Emma scoffed. "Where? Hiding behind that ring?"

"The Sisters are the doorways. And edge witches know all about doorways."

"There's five other worlds out there? Is that what edge witches believe."

"More than five. Maybe five thousand. Or five thousand thousand." 

Regina spoke with a dreamy lilt, and Emma had to lower her head and kiss her.

"Did you like that?" she whispered. "Thinking of all those other worlds?"

"Yes," she admitted. "There was a time I would have liked very much to step through the Sisters. Go...anywhere else."

"Oh." That had sounded painful. But it helped her understand why those stars were Regina's favourites.

They were silent for while. Emma thought about her world without Regina in it. She shivered a little. "I'm glad you stayed," she said unthinkingly. 

She felt Regina startle against her, but the other woman said nothing in response.

"What do you think my favourite constellation would be?"

"Ohhh." It was a long drawn out sound, just shy of laughter. "That's a tough one, Emma. Maybe Aldebar?"

"Wait, I know that one! The bull?"

"The bull who broke into the god of morning's house and shattered his water jug."

"So, that's my favourite because I'm clumsy and uncouth?" Emma asked, not sure if she should be insulted or not.

"You know, there's a second part of that story. The water from the shattered jug fell to earth and ended a drought. Farmers see Aldebar as a sign of luck and good fortune."

"Oh." 

She reached down to kiss Regina again, but the other woman was still speaking.

"On reflection though, I think your star is Demara." She pointed towards a small patch of the sky that was virtually empty of stars, save a few dim points, and one bright light that shone bravely against the dark. 

"The one that's all alone?" She couldn't bring herself to be affronted; there was too much truth in the choice.

"No, Emma. That's the evening star. That's the one that shows the way home."

 

Emma had once told Regina that she would give her whatever she needed, even if it was to make love under the apple trees. This was the night she made good on that promise.

 

 

***

 

Not quite 5 years

 

Emma came out of the Greenwood's farmhouse, looking for Amanita. Her visit had gone on slightly longer than she had anticipated, and the shadows were lengthening. She didn’t want Regina to worry about them being out late.

She followed the sound of children’s voices, and found a group of them on the hillside. It was the time of the day when the main chores of the afternoon were completed, and the children were let free to play; they were running across the grass, waving long green stems at each other while they shouted and laughed. Amanita was standing at the foot of the hill, alone, watching the other children.

“Not interested in this game?” Emma asked as she came up besides Amanita.

The girl shrugged.

“They won't play with me.”

“Oh?” Emma said carefully. “Is that just today?”

Amanita shook her head.

“They said I’m weird.”

“You’re not weird!” Emma said instinctively, her voice fierce.

Amanita shrugged again; it was a gesture that said many things, none of them good. Things like, ‘it doesn’t matter what you say Mama, they think it’s true’.

Emma sighed.

“You’re not weird, sweetling. But you are different. You’re a witch. Or you will be, one day.”

Amanita nodded.

“Not everyone understands magic.”

Another nod.

“And you know what your mother says about people like that.”

Amanita looked up at Emma, a slight frown between her eyes.

“Crush them?”

Emma couldn’t prevent the bark of laughter that escaped her. Amanita had sounded so like Regina, when she was irritated and used her words unthinkingly.

“No, sweetling. The other thing.”

“Oh. People fear what they don’t understand.”

“And fear makes people foolish,” Emma finished.

“So….they’re scared of me?”

“They’re afraid of what they don’t understand, Amanita. They’ll learn, as they grow, they’ll learn the worth of a witch. They won’t always shun you.”

Amanita shrugged again. This uncertain future didn’t help her current problem.

“Let’s go home, sweetling. Your mother’ll be waiting. I’ll let you steer, how’s that?”

Amanita perked up immediately.

“Really, Mama? You think I’m ready?”

“Let’s find out, okay?”

 

The broomstick ride home was uneventful, if a bit bumpy.

Regina was in the garden, weeding the rows of peas and lettuce. She received Amanita’s hug, and listened to her excited re-telling of her first time in charge of the broom with a fond, if slightly concerned, smile.

They finished the weeding together, gathered in a few things for supper, cooked and ate their evening meal, and Regina went over some spell work with Amanita before they both saw her off to bed. There were stories, and hugs and kisses, and good nights. Regina lingered at the door, watching Amanita’s breathing slow and deepen as sleep claimed her.

She returned to the common room; Emma was boiling a kettle to make some tea. Regina sighed, crossed her arms and said, “Are you going to tell me why she’s sad, or do I have to ask her?”

Emma grinned and shook her head.

“Should have known better, huh? There’s nothing really to be done, Regina. It’ll just upset you if I tell you.”

Regina arched an eyebrow and tapped her foot.

“The children. At the Greenwood’s. They wouldn’t play with her.”

“Why not? Did she do something to upset them?”

“No. No, nothing like that. They … They’re just children, Regina.”

“Emma.”

“They think she’s…different.”

“Different?”

“They called her weird.”

What?! How dare they! I will-“

“Regina! Remember, children.”

“Children who have parents,” Regina said darkly.

“We can’t make the children like her.”

“Can we not? I can think of at least three spells-”

“Regina. You may be able to get them to play with her. But not to like her. You know there’s no magic for that. And Amanita wouldn’t want friends who were forced to play with her.”

“But she’s so sad, Emma!”

“I know, love. I know.”

She had her arms around Regina before she registered what she’d said or done. She would have stiffened and pulled back, but Regina was clinging to her, and no power in the realm would have got Emma to let go of her now.

“Did you have lots of friends?” Emma asked, “At her age?”

Regina made a sound of derision.

“There were children in the castle. I wouldn’t call them friends. They did what I told them to. You?”

Emma’s smile was sad.

“I didn’t.”

Regina leaned back in Emma’s arms so she could look at her.

“Really? But you are so…everyone loves you.”

“Now. Not then. Back then, I was the odd girl with strange powers. The girl who showed up out of nowhere, wearing borrowed clothes that didn’t fit, who didn’t know any of the games, or where to find anything. I was the weird one.”

“Oh, Emma.”

“You wouldn’t sound so sympathetic if you’d known me then,” Emma grinned. “I was still an apprentice, even if I wasn’t being very well taught. I knew enough to make a nuisance of myself.”

“What did you do?”

“The usual. Magicked Alice Fisher into the middle of the river. She was a strong swimmer!” she added hurriedly when she saw Regina’s face. “And she said I smelled like a stable.”

“Hmm. I may have done the same,” Regina said grudgingly.

“And then there was Farmer Stone.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask.”

“He had the best apple orchard in Meadowlea. I was…maybe ten, or eleven. I was a good climber, and a fast runner. I’d be over the hedge and up into the trees, pockets full of apples, and gone before he’d got out of his gate.”

“You were a little thief!” Regina exclaimed, not sure if she should be shocked or amused.

“I was good at it too. Until he caught me. He got lucky, or I got careless. Anyway. He caught me. Whipped me all the way home, past all the other children, and their mothers.”

“Emma-“

“I got him back though. His apples, his pride and joy.”

“What did you do?”

“Made it so they grew just fine, and tasted as sweet as ever, if you bit into one as soon as you picked it off the tree. But when you cooked them up – didn’t matter how – stewed, baked with honey – whatever you did, they’d taste of nothing but pepper.”

“How did you do that?” Regina demanded, thinking through all the possible spells that could have had that effect.

“I don’t know what you’d call it. A sort of transfer spell? Any and all pepper in the house would end up in those apples as soon as they warmed up. People were furious.”

“You were so powerful,” Regina murmured. “Even then.”

Emma chuckled. “I love that’s what you’re focusing on Regina, but it’s not really the point of my story.”

“Sorry. What was your point?”

“I used magic to get back at people for treating me like I was a freak, something to be gawked at and taunted. But it didn’t change anything. Alice swam to the riverbank, said I’d tried to murder her, and I was sent on to be another witch’s problem. No one would even talk to me after the apples incident. Farmer Stone ended up giving all his apples away, to anyone who wanted them, except me. I should have been a hero for that alone – no child had to steal apples that entire season. But they would have nothing to do with me.”

“You think Amanita should just allow these children to be horrible to her?”

“No! But Amanita has magic, Regina. She has to learn to accept that power makes her different. And that people will always treat her differently. But it’s better for her to not strike out at them. It will hurt her less, in the long run.”

"You think I'm wrong to encourage her to fight back against her enemies." It was said flatly, a statement, not a question.

"No. Not at all!" Emma assured her hurriedly, "But, we're not talking about enemies now, Regina. They're just confused, scared children. If she uses magic against them, she'll only drive them further away."

“She’ll be so lonely,” Regina said sadly.

“She’ll have us,” Emma replied. “And we can talk to Goodwife Green, and some of the other mothers who have older girls. They’ll understand Amanita better.”

Regina sighed, and leaned her head against Emma’s shoulder.

“I just want her to be happy.”

“She will be, Regina. I promise, we'll make this work.”

"Emma?"

"Hmm?"

"You are not to tell Amanita that story about the apples."

"Ever?"

"Maybe when she's sixteen. After she's chosen."

"Okay."

 

 

***

 

Amanita and Regina were spending a few days away from the cottage. Regina was taking Amanita to meet some other witches who also had young apprentices. These were friends of Nan Locket's, hedge witches in distant parts of the realm, who Regina could trust to keep their visit secret. She had asked Emma if she would like to go with them, but Emma had declined. She had a special project she wanted to work on while Amanita was away. 

The two women were sitting up in bed the night before Regina and Amanita would leave on their journey. It was just a few hours shy of dawn, neither one of them wanting to fall asleep when they could instead use the time to talk or touch. Regina was leaning against Emma, her head tucked under her chin; Emma's arms curled loosely around Regina's waist; she had just finished telling Regina about her plans for the next few days.

Regina scowled. "You're absolutely sure it is safe?"

"Regina, I'm ready. I wouldn't do this if I didn't think so. You know that."

"I do," Regina allowed sullenly. "I'm still worried."

Emma spent quite a lot of time kissing that sullen scowl away.

When it was time for Regina and Amanita to leave however, it was Emma who needed the reassurances.

Amanita was still in her room, saying a tearful farewell to Rabbit, who would not be making the trip with them. Emma pressed Regina up against the cottage door and kissed her.

"You'll be careful?"

"Yes, Emma."

"You'll take no chances?"

"We won't."

"If anything feels wrong, you will get out of there. Immediately."

"Just as we agreed."

"You'll come back to me?" 

Her voice actually shook when she asked the question. 

Regina started to glare angrily, but then saw how Emma's lip trembled, and the haunted look in her eyes, felt how her hands shook with tension, how cold her skin was under Regina's touch.

"Emma," she breathed out, searching for words to make the other woman believe. "Of course. Of course we will. I wouldn't...I couldn't...We'll come back to you." 

She wrapped her arms around Emma and clasped her tight against her body. She was trembling with the effort of suppressing tears.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's ridiculous, I know. But I've not been apart from her and you at the same time, and I'm terrified something bad will happen. I miss you already, and I want you both home!" Emma wailed.

"It's not ridiculous," Regina said firmly. "It's very sweet." She kissed Emma's cheek, and pushed her back slightly so she could look into her eyes.

"Emma Swan," she said formally, "will you permit me to use magic on you?"

"What kind of magic?"

"A spell that will link us. So that if I or Amanita are in distress, and we call out to you, you will hear us. No matter where we are, you will hear us. And the link will show you the way, so even your transport spell will bring you to us."

That caused a small, watery, smile to appear on Emma's face. 

"You think of everything, huh? Will it work both ways? If I call to you-"

"I will hear you. And I will come."

"Oh."

"Will you permit me to use the spell on you?"

"What price will you pay?" Emma asked.

Regina smiled. "Nothing I am not willing to. There will be a slight drain on my power, nothing more."

"Okay, then. Yes. Please."

Regina moved Emma further back so she could use her arms freely. Her fingers wove through an intricate pattern, and a purple shimmer filled the air around her hands. She reached up and touched Emma's temples then moved her hands down towards Emma's heart; purple tendrils of her magic curved in a trail behind her hands. She held her hands against Emma's heart for a few seconds, then pulled them back towards her own temples. The magic that trailed her hands now was a pale red, and Regina's movements faltered for just a moment. She looked up into Emma's eyes and saw the concentration there, and the faint glow of Emma's own magic surrounding her. Regina completed her spell, bringing the trails of red to touch first the sides of her head, then her heart. The signs of their combined magic dissipated as she completed her spell.

"What did you do?" she whispered.

"I'm not sure," Emma whispered back. "I could feel you, your magic. I just wanted to help."

Regina cupped Emma's face and pulled her closer so she could kiss her. 

"I could feel you too." 

Because of whatever Emma had done, they were sharing the spell between them, each of them giving some of their power to keep the link between them active. 

"So, we're good?" Emma asked. "I didn't ruin it?"

Regina shook her head. "No, Emma Swan. You haven't ruined anything."

"Good," Emma said, relieved.

She touched her forehead to Regina's, and they were still standing like that when Amanita came out of her room.

"Are you crying, Mama?" she asked, worried.

"A little," Emma replied, as she let Regina go so she could pick Amanita up. "Because I will miss you and your mother, and that makes me a little sad."

"I'm sorry you're sad."

"Thank you, sweetling. But don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I have lots to do to keep me busy, and you'll be back before I know it. Now, you remember to listen to your mother. And try to be good."

"Yes, Mama."

"And most importantly. Remember to have fun, okay?"

Amanita giggled. "Yes, Mama."

Emma reached out with one arm and pulled Regina into the embrace.

"And you. You remember to have fun too." 

"Really, Emma," Regina said with a long-suffering sigh. "We should go. They're expecting us."

"You'll remember all the rest of it too, right?" Emma whispered as she kissed Regina's cheek.

"Yes.Yes, of course. We'll see you in a few days."

She took Amanita from Emma and transported them both away, waving as they disappeared.

 

Emma watched until the last of the purple smoke had vanished, and heaved a huge sigh. She left the cottage and went out into the garden, to the recently-built little shed she was using to work on her project. This was a place that Amanita was not allowed access to, because the project Emma was working on was supposed to be a surprise.

The interior of the shed was fairly simple, containing a few high work benches, several carpentry tools, a selection of wooden poles and branches, and piles of various types of twigs and straw.

Amanita was ready to fly solo, and Emma Swan was teaching herself how to build her a broom.

She had talked it over with Regina, listening to all her objections and responding with enough evidence that eventually Regina had to concede that Amanita could handle her own broom. Emma had been experimenting with levitation and binding spells for a couple of weeks now. She'd found other woods to tramp through, woods that hadn't been afflicted by a magical battle between witches. She'd collected branches from different types of trees and hauled them home, secreting them away in the shed where Amanita would not find them. She'd read old books, which Regina had helped her find, and talked to some of Regina's hedge witch acquaintances, discussing what sorts of materials made the best besoms. She had collected piles of samples and started building a broom to test what she'd learned.

What she ended up with was an uncomfortable, ultra-basic, broom - a long straight stick of hazel with a bundle of tightly-bound birch twigs to make the brush. Regina had watched as she'd tested it, on a clear night after Amanita was asleep. Emma had swooped around the cottage and their garden; surprised at how fast the broom moved, she'd miscalculated and nearly gone crashing into Regina as she rounded a corner. But she'd corrected just in time, gone whooshing skywards, and by the time she'd corrected again and returned to ground, she'd learned a lot about broom stability and responsiveness. 

She took all the lessons she learned and started to design a broom for Amanita. It would be smaller than hers, and slower - she'd give up speed and maneuverability for stability and comfort. She had already started carving the pole, shaping and smoothing it so that it would fly true. It would take her a few days to finish putting the broom together, and to cast the spells that would make it levitate and move; she'd add extra spells, for stability and to cap the speed at something both she and Regina agreed was reasonable. She had estimated she would be done just before Regina and Amanita returned from their trip. She couldn't wait to see Amanita's face.

 

Amanita's face, when they did return, (materialising into the middle of the common room just as Emma was settling down with a late meal of a cup of tea and a large sweet scone), was a picture of joy and delight. 

"Mama!" she cried as soon as she caught sight of Emma, and dashed across the room so she could hug her. "We missed you!"

"I missed you too," Emma said, somehow managing to keep her cup from spilling tea everywhere as she circled her arm around her child. 

She looked at Regina while Amanita hugged her. The other woman looked rested, she decided. She was calm and content, and she was smiling faintly, and her arms were folded loosely across her chest, and she was there and she was well, and Emma could not stop smiling. 

Amanita was still wrapped around Emma, rattling off a barrage of descriptions of their days away. Emma made a valiant effort to keep up, but it was very much a one-sided conversation. Amanita was so glad to be back home, and back with Emma, that it seemed her excitement had opened a floodgate and the words came pouring out, tumbling over each other in their eagerness to be heard. 

Regina walked over to Emma and kissed her, her mouth gentle against Emma's smile. 

"Welcome back," Emma mumbled, trying to kiss and speak at the same time. 

Regina leaned back, her head tilted quizzically. She took the precarious cup of tea, and the scone, from Emma's hands.

"Is this your supper?"

"I wasn't expecting you till morning!"

"Hmm. We decided we'd rather be in our own beds tonight."

"I'm glad. Amanita will be rested for her surprise."

Of course the child heard that. Her rapid-fire recounting of their trip stopped.

"What surprise, Mama?"

"If I told you it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?"

"Can I have it now?"

"No, sweetling. In the morning. When it's light."

"But Mama!"

"Oh no. You'll have to wait," Emma said.

"Listen to your mother," Regina said at the same moment.

Amanita pouted, "Morning's so far away!"

"Well, we'd best get you to bed then, hadn't we? Morning will come quicker if you're asleep."

They put Amanita to bed, going through their established rituals of washing up and reading and story telling, although tonight they also fielded an un-ending stream of questions about the surprise. Despite her eagerness, and insistence she wasn't tired, Amanita quickly fell asleep once she was warm and safe in her familiar bed, with both her mothers watching over her. 

Emma took Regina's hand and led her from the room.

"The broom - it's done?"

"Finished today," Emma smiled. "Your timing was perfect."

"We interrupted your supper," Regina said, her voice low and throaty.

Emma turned to her. "I'm not that hungry." Her voice emerged several octaves lower than normal. 

Emma's body had gone very still, only her eyes moving as they roved across Regina's body, taking a tally of all the things she had missed; the way Regina's hair framed her face, the warmth of her skin, her voice, her smell - a mix of lavender and something indefinable but warm and familiar, the fact that she was so close all Emma had to do was reach out a hand to touch her. 

Regina smiled under Emma's scrutiny, a slow spreading curve of her mouth that made Emma's heart pound.

"What shall we do with our-"

Regina's words were lost as Emma's lips crushed into hers, Emma's hands grasping her face to keep her in place, moving her so that she was angled in the perfect position for Emma to plunder her mouth. She felt Regina's moan before she heard it; oh she had missed that sound. She pulled Regina closer, so their bodies were pressed together and she could use her hands to roam, while her lips and teeth and tongue coaxed yet more little cries and whimpers of pleasure from Regina.

"What do you want, Regina?" Emma begged, her mouth against the other woman's ear. "Tell me, please."

"You. Now."

Emma groaned in relief and led Regina to her room.

She hadn't slept much in her bed, not while it had loomed so cold and empty without Regina. Instead, she'd spent the nights curled up in Regina's bed, wrapped in sheets that smelled faintly of lavender. But now that Regina was in her arms again, Emma wanted to bring her to this bed, where they had first come together, where they now spent the majority of their shared nights. 

She stripped them both, her movements urgent rather than seductive, laid Regina down and worked her way slowly up her body, until their faces were level and she could gaze into Regina's hooded eyes, and kiss lips already swollen by their passion. Regina's nails raked her back as Emma's hands moved across her breasts and between her legs; she curved up into her, her head thrown back, the tendons of her neck tense and straining as she gasped Emma's name. 

With their bodies so close together, Emma's range of movement was restricted. Her wrist ached with the angle her hand was twisted in, and her back stung where Regina's nails scoured her skin, but her senses were so overloaded with Regina, this discomfort meant nothing. Not when all she could hear was Regina's voice, broken and gasping; not when her body moved beneath her, slick and demanding; not when she could lick up along Regina's neck and taste an echo of that other salt and sweetness she would soon go in search of.

Later, after she'd satisfied the longing to lap at Regina with an eager tongue, after she'd made her mewl and groan and scream, muffled into a pillow, she moved so could lie on her side next to Regina. She gazed with some satisfaction at the shuddering sweaty aftermath of her efforts. 

When Regina's eyes had cleared and her breathing slowed somewhat, she turned so she could face Emma. They lay on their sides, side-by-side in silent contemplation.

"I don't know what I missed more," Regina said softly, but did not expound further on what she meant.

She stroked gentle fingers along Emma's face, following the line of her jaw, outlining her mouth, up along her nose and the curve of her eyebrow. Emma's breathing grew jagged, but she could not move, could not look away; she was caught in Regina's gaze, held by eyes darkened almost to black, that fixed on her with a predator's intensity. 

Emma shivered as Regina's stroking fingers roamed further, down her neck, across her shoulder, along the tensing muscles in her arm. Regina started to speak then, her voice so soft, Emma wasn't sure she intended her to hear her. But she did hear the words Regina was breathing into the still space between them; she was calling her beautiful, saying how soft she felt, how strong, how much Regina wanted her. 

She could not look away, she could not move. She could only draw shuddering breaths as Regina's voice wrapped around her, as her fingers continued stroking along her body, along the dips and peaks of her, until Emma was trembling and whimpering, her mind and body awash in an intoxicating mix of pleasure and need. 

Regina's hand stilled when she reached her hip. Her eyes searched Emma's face, waiting until Emma sobbed and bent her knee, allowing Regina to stroke into the wetness that had pooled between her legs, ready for Regina to claim her. 

Regina finally stopped speaking, her own breathing turning jittery and panting as her fingers swirled and thrust. Emma bit her lip, needing the counter balance of pain to keep her from being swept away too quickly; she could not tear her gaze from Regina's, from the burn of desire she saw there. There was something else there too, a desperation that made Emma groan and clutch at Regina's arm, so she would know that she was not alone in what she was feeling. Her body jerked and shuddered and she was lost and she could do nothing but moan and plead, and not look away. Her climax swept through her, electric and almost-heart-stoppingly good; she quaked, she cried out, and she could finally, finally close her eyes. She felt Regina kiss her, her mouth demanding, taking the dregs of Emma's breath as her fingers kept working to draw her through yet another crest. 

Emma collapsed into Regina's body as the aftershocks ran through her. Regina's kisses were gentle on her face, and she moved so she could cradle Emma against her, wrapping both arms around her to hold her close. It took a few minutes before Emma could raise her head. Regina's face was very still, her thoughts guarded behind careful eyes. Emma gave her a lop-sided grin.

"I'm so glad you're home," she said, her voice dripping with mischief. 

Regina laughed, throaty and rich and better than any music to Emma's ears. She kissed her and cuddled into her. She knew they should sleep; her limbs were heavy and they had both had long days, and tomorrow would be busy. But she had missed being with Regina, not just with losing herself in pleasure with her.

It seemed Regina felt the same way, because she did not protest when Emma started asking her about her trip. She kept her arms around her, fingers moving rhythmically against Emma's neck and the back of her head, or tracing along her arms and back. Emma sighed, snuggled closer, and talked until she fell asleep.

 

She was rudely woken by an insistent finger poking her shoulder. She opened her eyes, squinting in the weak sunlight that filtered through her curtains. She was lying on her front, her head supported on her folded arms. She could feel Regina besides her, one leg pressed against hers and a hand just barely resting on the small of her back. 

Amanita's eager face came into focus as she blinked the sleep out of her eyes.

"It's light, Mama!"

"So it is," she muttered, her mind taking a panicked inventory. She was naked, and unless Regina had got up in the middle of the night, she was naked too. But thankfully they had burrowed under the blankets when their bodies had cooled after their second or third round of lovemaking. 

She felt the hand on her back twitch and a sudden tension in the leg pressed against hers. So, Regina was awake, although she was making no move to indicate it.

"Time for the surprise?" Amanita continued.

Emma groaned. "Have you thought of nothing else all night?"

"No," Amanita said cheerfully. "You getting up now?"

Emma heard the snort of laughter from Regina's side of the bed. The other woman raised her head to glare with unconvincing heat at their little girl.

"Breakfast first."

"But Mother!"

"No surprise until you eat breakfast," Regina was relentless. "You're going to need to eat first."

"Oh." Amanita pouted. "Okay. Breakfast first. Hurry up, Mama!"

Her little hands reached out to pull on Emma's arm. 

Emma felt a brief flare of magic envelope her under the covers, and realised she was now wearing something - her cotton shift, from the feel of it. Regina had managed to dress them just seconds before Amanita's tugging hands pulled the blanket from Emma's shoulders.

Amanita saw them touch and kiss often enough, and those displays of intimacy had long gone unremarked. But neither one of them was quite ready to explain naked kissing just yet, or prepared to answer any of the other questions their inquisitive daughter would inevitably ask. They thought it sufficient that she knew they enjoyed sharing a bed, and that it was perfectly acceptable for two people who were fond of each other. But they were not clear enough in their own minds of what else was between them to possibly make sense of it to Amanita.

So Emma groaned and sat up in bed, leaned down to kiss Regina a rueful good morning, and let her excited child drag her into the kitchen.

Regina followed a few minutes later yawning and stretching and distracting Emma from her task of slathering honey on a platter of oatcakes.

"Mama," Amanita said with a sigh. "Breakfast!"

Regina grinned and drew close enough to kiss Emma's shoulder and steal an oatcake from the platter.

"You baked?" she asked, after she'd eaten a mouthful. 

"I was bored," Emma said truthfully, putting two oatcakes and some apple slices in front of Amanita.

"They're very good," Regina purred. "We should leave you alone more-"

"No." 

Regina kissed her shoulder again, apologetically this time.

"No. You're right. It's not worth an oatcake."

That earned her another kiss, and a cup of tea.

They ate a not-very leisurely breakfast, considering how eager Amanita was to see her surprise. She could barely be convinced to change her clothing to something warmer and hardier than the cotton shift she slept in. 

By the time all three of them were dressed, and Regina had packed up a picnic lunch, Amanita was ready to bounce off the walls. She sat fidgeting anxiously in her chair as Regina tied some wedges of cheese and slices of cured ham, a round of bread, and a jar of apple chutney into a large square cloth. She left two long corners; Emma would tie these securely around her broom handle to carry the food until she and Amanita found a place to have their lunchtime meal.

They had discussed this last night; Emma would take Amanita out for the day, flying slow until Amanita knew the new broom better, but ranging far afield to give Emma a sense of what the broom, and their daughter, was capable of.

When everything was (finally) ready to both Emma and Regina's satisfaction, Amanita dragged them both outdoors. She knew the packed lunch meant they'd be flying, so they had to be going somewhere to see her surprise. She stood by Regina, bouncing impatiently on the balls of her feet, as Emma went into the shed to get the broom. But when she came out, she was holding a broom far smaller than her usual one.

"Did you get a new broom, Mama?" Amanita asked, "Is that the surprise?"

"Not quite, sweetling," Emma smiled. "This one is for you."

"For me?" She sounded so confused, Regina had to smile.

"It's yours, my darling. Your Mama made it for you."

"For me." 

Amanita stared up at Regina, delight dawning slowly across her face.

"I can fly solo?"

"You can, my darling," Regina nodded, smiling down at her daughter, who was visibly vibrating with excitement.

She flung her arms round Regina's waist.

"Thank you, Mother!"

Then she ran over to Emma and hugged her too.

"Thank you, Mama!"

Emma grinned down at her with a satisfied look. 

"You're very welcome, sweetling. Here, go show your mother." 

She gave the broom to Amanita, who turned and ran back towards Regina. She was holding the broom in the approved fashion, in one hand, outstretched to her side. It balanced perfectly.

Emma watched as Regina took the broom from Amanita and examined it, running her hands over the bindings and pulling on the soft twigs she'd used for the brush. She balanced the broom on her open palms and closed her eyes; Emma knew she was testing the spells and held her breath. When Regina opened her eyes, she looked first for Emma. She nodded, just once, but emphatically, and Emma face broke into a wide, pleased smile.

"It's a very good broom," Regina told Amanita. "Your mother has put a lot of time and effort into it. Remember that when you are whooshing around above the bogs and swamps."

"Yes Mother," Amanita said seriously. "No ditching the broom in the swamps."

Regina laughed and kissed Amanita's forehead, putting the broom back in her eager hands.

"Practice your mounting and dismounting for a while," Emma said, coming up to stand besides Regina. "We'll head out as soon as you can show me a smooth mount and dismount."

"Okay Mama!" Amanita cried, excited. She paused long enough to hug Emma again, before moving a few feet away. She placed the broom on the ground, straightened, and waved her hand to cast the spell that should make the broom snap up to waist-high. The broom rolled along the ground a few inches. Amanita gave a frustrated huff and tried again. And again.

Emma and Regina stood shoulder to shoulder, watching their determined little girl.

"It really is very well made," Regina said quietly. "I am suitably impressed."

Emma's smile was so wide, the corners of her eyes crinkled.

"Thank you."

"And the spell work...impeccable."

"Oh." It was a soft sound of surprise.

Regina glanced up to see Emma's face frozen in a shocked expression.

"I don't know why that surprises you, Emma," she said, frowning a little. "I keep telling you, you are a witch of great power. If-"

Emma kissed her.

"Thank you."

Regina lifted a hand to cup Emma's cheek. She smiled softly. 

"You're welcome."

Emma perked up with a hopeful look. 

"Since you trust my skills so much, do you want to come with us? We can make a day of it."

"Not a chance."

"Oh please, Regina?" She was grinning her cheeky grin now, the one that eventually led either to Regina kissing her or leaving the room in a huff.

"You're not getting me on a broom with you, Emma Swan."

Ah, it was going to be kisses then.

"You can have my broom," Emma said helpfully. "I'll take the tester."

"That death trap? You are never going up on that again!"

"It'll be fun," Emma said earnestly. And saw the start of capitulation in Regina's eyes.

"Not today," Regina said, her voice suddenly serious. "You should have some time with Amanita. This is her day."

"Another time then?" she persisted.

Regina sighed. "Perhaps."

Emma was collecting on her kiss when Amanita came up to them.

"Enough kissing, Mama. I've got it!"

She demonstrated a perfect gesture to get the broom rising to the correct height, and vaulted up onto the brush. She sat upright; the broom did not waver. A little hop and she was back on the ground, the broom floating gently to lie at her feet.

"Oh, well done, my darling!" Regina clapped her hands.

"Good," Emma said, nodding. "That'll do. Come say goodbye to your mother. Then we're going to try for Hawksrest." 

Amanita's eyes widened in delight. Hawksrest was a range of hills that bordered the Blackwoods. Emma had often pointed out various features of their surroundings as they had flown over the Blackwoods, so Amanita recognised the name, and knew where the hills lay. It would be the furthest distance she had ever travelled by broom. And she was going to get to do it flying solo, on her very own broom. And both her mothers thought she could do it. No child in the entire realm could have been as happy or pleased as Amanita in that moment.

Regina hugged her, and said, "Enjoy yourself, sweet one. I am so very proud of you." 

She hugged Emma. "Have fun." She kissed her and said quickly, "I'm proud of you too."

Emma's grin stayed on her face long after they had left the cottage behind.

 

Regina spent part of her morning setting the cottage to rights. (It wasn't that Emma was a poor housekeeper, but she only seemed capable of returning things to their rightful place once a fortnight.) When everything was stowed away properly, she settled at her workbench and tried to update her journals with some of the things she had learned while visiting with the hedge witches. But thoughts of Emma kept distracting her.

It had been different to have Amanita to herself; not difficult or unpleasant, but different. She had been the sole person responsible for her care, and it had given her a glimpse of how their lives may have gone if the magic had asked a different price of her, if she had been given Amanita to raise by herself. She had not enjoyed the difference. She had missed Emma's input, missed being able to talk to her about something that had bothered or amused her. She could see so clearly the parts of Amanita that had come from Emma's influence; the stubbornness and bravery; the kind heartedness and generosity; the incredibly mischievous smile that Regina could not resist. 

She did not examine too closely why these were some of her favourite things about her daughter.

Regina Mills had learned, as a matter of survival, to be self-sufficient and rely only on herself, to offer nothing to the world and to expect nothing in return. Then Amanita Buckle and Emma Swan had come storming into her life, and had shown her that things could be different. Giving was becoming second nature to her now, and she was too-easily developing the belief that she could be given, often without her needing to ask. Her protective walls were fracturing, a little more every day.

She would not consider even for a moment blaming Amanita for her part in this. Her daughter loved her, for whatever incomprehensible reason; Regina could only ever be thankful for that love, and strive to be worthy of her child's faith.

Emma Swan's influence however, she was still not ready to come to terms with. The woman made her weak. Regina had taken attractive and skilled lovers before Emma. They had been a means to an end, feeding a need for physical release and nothing more. She had never looked forward to holding a lover after they had coupled, never wanted to lie with the other person nestled against her long after she had taken her pleasure from them. It was unheard of for her to stay awake, when she should have been resting, answering questions about herself and seeking out more insight and knowledge of her bedmate. 

This was weakness; she recognised it as such because this sort of behaviour continued even when they were not in bed. She could not blame it simply on the languour that followed sex. It was a softness that was beginning to corrode her from the inside out. She wished she could find it in her to be more resentful of Emma, longed for the strength to deny herself the intimacy she was falling prey to. But every time Emma looked at her with those melting hazel eyes and that crooked grin, Regina's walls crumbled a little more. 

The ink dried on her quill as she sat contemplating Emma's eyes and smile.

She was entirely vulnerable when the sensation of terror slammed into her.

She could hear Emma's voice, echoing in her head, screaming her name; she could feel the spell that bound them pull, jerking to her feet almost without conscious thought. The link showed her the direction, and without even pausing to consider that she may still be in midair, Regina cast the spell that would carry her directly to Emma's side.

Thankfully, she materialised on solid ground.

There was not much else to be grateful for.

The stench hit her first - the air was heavy with the reek of mud and rotting undergrowth. They were still in the Blackwoods, but far deeper than Regina considered safe. These were the desolate spaces, where the dark and light magic had torn through the Blackwoods, turning everything twisted; she knew all kinds of horrors lurked here, had run into a few on some of her hikes into the woods. This was not a place she wanted Amanita, or Emma, to be.

Yet here they were.

Emma was to her right, the magic pouring from her outstretched hands, screaming in a futile rage at the monster that rampaged before her. 

The monster. There was no other way to describe it. It stood more than twice her height, a mass of thundering bone and muscle, covered in a hide of matted fur and scales. Its head was long, with wide-set eyes that glowed yellow in the murky green light. Its teeth, long and jagged, clashed against each other as the beast howled and fought against Emma's magic. 

With the amount of power Emma was casting, the creature should have been sludge on the ground, or vapourised into nothing. But, even though it screamed and thrashed, the magic seemed to have no lasting effect. 

Regina's hands raised automatically into position to cast. 

"NO!" Emma screamed. "Amanita!"

And that was when Regina realised that their daughter was nowhere to be seen. 

She had assumed the child had taken refuge, hiding behind a boulder or gnarly tree trunk while her mother battled the beast. But Emma's terrified cry indicated something else was going on, a greater danger than the jagged-toothed monstrosity that was being barely restrained by Emma's power.

"Where is she?"

"I don't know!" Emma screamed. Tears streamed down her face. "She's in there! Somewhere!"

Regina turned again towards the monster. Its thrashing had torn up great chunks of earth, ripped trees from the ground, and turned up huge boulders that lay on their sides, covered with foul-smelling mud. And now that she looked, she could see there was something else there; she could see it in flashes as the creature moved; a small bundle, huddled against one of those boulders. She saw pale hair, caught a glimpse of panicked dark eyes. 

Her heart may as well have stopped beating in her chest.

Only a handful of seconds would have passed between the time she materialised and the moment she saw her daughter trapped. She regretted every single one of them. It was too much time, too much could have happened while she had focused on fighting the creature with Emma, instead of saving their child. 

She cast herself to materialise behind the monster, standing between its stomping hooves and her daughter's body. It tried to turn, lunging its long head at her. She felt the teeth rip through her sleeve. Her magic leapt instinctively to her fingers and she blasted a stream of power, striking the creature between its glowing eyes. It howled, but kept trying to turn to face its new tormenter.

She heard Emma scream again, her name this time. She saw the glow of Emma's magic grow stronger; where she was finding the extra power, Regina did not know. Regina poured everything she had into her next blast, every drop of anger and hate her body contained went to fueling the force of her strike. It was not enough. The creature rocked back, but still kept coming. It had decided she was the greater threat - or the enemy easiest to reach - and was ignoring Emma's attack to focus on her.

In the space of a heartbeat, she'd chosen. She'd send Amanita and Emma home. Casting the transport spell would leave her defenceless for vital moments, but it was the only way to be sure they were safe. She raised her hands to cast.

"Regina!" Emma screamed. "Together!"

The monster was already rearing to pound down on her. Its underbelly was exposed. She struck first. Desperation and fear for the child she loved added a force to her magic she did not think herself capable of. She could feel the air around her burn as the power poured from her. Emma was casting too; she felt their magic merge, felt it strengthen, felt it shake her to her very bones. She had never experienced anything this powerful. Nothing could stand against it. Nothing. Not even a rampaging horror spawned by the vilest of magic.

The beast screamed, a long howling cry that tore at her heart with its despair. Then it fell, toppling sideways, away from where Amanita lay. When it hit the ground, she felt the reverberations of its impact. The monster was still. They had slain the beast.

She turned immediately, slipping in the mud but able to reach her child in moments. She could hear Emma struggling through the mire behind her. The little bundle of linen cloth and fair hair was still.

"Amanita?" Her voice was desperate, her hands cold as she reached out to clutch at anything she could. "Amanita. Please."

The girl sat up, and Regina fell to her knees with the relief of it.

"Oh my darling" 

She was filthy, covered with the slime off the forest floor. But Regina could see no sign of blood or other injury, and she clasped her daughter to her chest, sobbing her relief into muddy hair. 

Something moved against her, and she shifted so she could look down. Amanita was holding something as closely against her body as Regina held her. It moved, unfurling a tail and opening its mouth to show tiny needle-sharp teeth. Slitted green eyes stared at Regina, more with curiosity than malevolence, and it emitted a squeaky mewl. 

Regina gasped. "Amanita, that's a helcat! Put it down!"

"He's scared," she whimpered. "I heard him. I had to help."

Emma reached them, dropping to her knees besides Regina. Wordlessly, she hauled Amanita into her arms and hugged her tightly. The helcat did not take kindly to being crushed, and it twisted against their bodies, unsheathing little claws that dug into Emma's belly. She pulled back with a hiss.

"What is that?"

"A helcat kit." Regina answered.

"Is that why?" Emma said, her voice rising with sudden fury. "Is that thing why you came down here?!"

"I heard him cry, Mama. I wanted to see-"

Emma turned towards Regina, her eyes burned with anger and her mouth twisted into ugly lines. 

"This...this is all your fault!" 

She clambered to her feet, pushing back and away from Regina, who had frozen with shock at the unexpected attack.

Emma snapped her fingers and her broom materialised in her hands.

"I can't," she snarled. "I can't. I can't." She leapt onto her broom and flew off, disappearing above the trees before Regina could even say her name.

Chapter Text


As much as Regina may have wanted to, she could not follow after Emma Swan. She still had a scared child to contend with, and they may still be in danger out here in the woods. So she swallowed down her irritation and confusion over the other witch's behaviour and focused on Amanita.

"Are you hurt?"

"No, Mother. Why was Mama so cross?"

"Because she's an - ah - no, we'll talk about that later."

She stood and took a quick but thorough look around, making sure their attacker really was dead, and that there were no signs of another monster coming their way.

Amanita had taken refuge behind a boulder that hid the entrance to a helcat den. Regina spotted the corpse of a full-grown helcat several feet from the boulder. There was a large gash in its side, matting the hide with dried blood and spilled viscera. The broken, lifeless bodies of several other kits were trampled into the mud around it. 

Amanita hadn't moved from the spot where Regina had found her. She still held what appeared to be the sole surviving kit cradled tightly against her chest. Regina could see it squirm and heard the protesting mewls grow sharper. By his size, the kit and his siblings couldn't have been much older than six weeks - old enough to leave by themselves while their mother went off to hunt, but still too young to survive by themselves without her.

"Time to go, Amanita. Drop that creature."

"No! Mother, please. He's so scared!

"Amanita-" she started warningly, but then she looked into her daughter's face, into the pleading eyes brimming with tears. Regina sighed.

"Oh, very well. He can come with us. For now."

She cast the spell to carry them home.

 

***

 

Regina was in Amanita's room, sitting on the bed, with Amanita balanced on her lap. Amanita had outgrown her cot a few years ago. She and Emma had bickered over whether Regina would transform it with magic into something bigger, or whether Emma would build her a new bed. Emma had won that particular argument. (As she perched on the edge of the mattress, Regina was forcing herself to not give in to her current pique and transform the low bed into something wider and higher for her to sit more comfortably on.)

Emma Swan had not yet returned home.

Regina was combing out Amanita's hair. She had used magic to clean away the mud and grime that had covered her daughter's body, and to heal the minor cuts and scrapes she’d suffered, but Regina found it soothing to untangle Amanita's hair with a comb and a patient hand. Amanita had insisted on the kit getting the same magical cleansing, but Regina had drawn the line at combing its fur. The little helcat was rolling around on the bed, playing pounce with an old cushion (Rabbit had been moved to a high shelf for his own protection).

Her daughter was clean and fed, and safe, and only now could Regina bring herself to relax a little. Between sobs and sniffles, Amanita had told her how she had been flying low enough to spot something moving between the trees and hear piteous crying. She had gone down into the woods to see what was happening, and found the kits scrambling around their mother's body as they made the high-pitched cries that had caught her attention. It seemed the mother helcat had taken a grievous injury and had crawled home to die.

Then, before Amanita realised it was upon them, the monster beast had attacked. Amanita had grabbed the only kit she could reach and hidden herself as well as she could. Everything had happened so quickly. She had heard Emma screaming her name, and the sizzle and flare of magic; had seen Regina materialise in front of her to battle the monster. Then there had been urgent hugs, and shouting, and her Mama had flown away.

Amanita leaned into Regina, her voice wobbly when she asked, "Is Mama going to come home soon?"

"I'm sure she will." She kissed the top of Amanita's head.

"She was very cross."

Regina sighed. She'd had some time to think about it, to recognise the look on Emma's face when she had turned on her in a rage. 

"She was afraid, my darling."

"Of what?"

"You being hurt."

"But I am okay."

"She didn't know that, Amanita. She couldn't reach you. And that creature - it was very big and very powerful."

"It was very cross too."

"Yes. And virtually impenetrable to magic."

"What's virt'chly impentr'ble?"

"It means that magic had almost no effect on it. It took both your mother and me to stop it. It could have killed you, Amanita."

"Like it killed the other kits?"

Regina stiffened. She had hoped Amanita had not seen the bodies.

"Yes, my darling. Like that."

"Oh."

"That is why your mother was afraid."

"Oh."

"You shouldn't have been down there by yourself, Amanita. There are too many creatures that roam the deep woods. Creatures altered by magic to be quite monstrous. It's dangerous to be alone there, without one of us with you. Not until you're stronger."

"Yes, Mother." Her voice was very small. 

She was silent for a while after that, and Regina resumed her gentle combing.

"But why did it kill the kits?"

"Because they're helcats."

"But they weren't doing anything! They're just babies!"

"Babies who will grow up to be helcats, Amanita. That little kit will grow bigger than this bed and twice as tall as you are, with fangs as long as your head. Lots of animals are terrified of helcats. That beast must have come across the den and killed off the kits before they could become a threat."

"That's not fair!"

"There are very few rules when it comes to surviving," Regina said softly.

Amanita sniffled.

"I'm sorry I made Mama scared. And that she yelled at you."

"I know, my darling. I'm sure she's sorry she yelled at you too."

"You don't think she's cross with me?"

"I think she was more worried than cross, sweet one. And we know what fear does."

"Makes us foolish."

"Yes. Sometimes we make foolish choices when we're afraid. Like shouting when we don't really mean to."

They watched the kit chew the corner of the cushion, turning his head this way and that so he could grip and gnaw the thick fabric.

"Can we keep him?"

"Amanita! No! I just told you - helcats are dangerous!"

"But he's so sweet!"

"He won't stay this way. Helcats get very big. And scary. No one would ever try to keep one!"

"So what will we do with him?"

"Take him back to the deep woods."

"But he's only tiny! And he's all alone! What if another one of those big things finds him?"

"It'll probably kill him," Regina said honestly. "If he doesn't starve first."

"Mother!"

"Amanita, we can't keep him. Helcats can't be domesticated."

"What's demesti...what you said?"

"Domesticated. It means to take something that is wild and dangerous and teach it to be tame and safe to be around. A helcat can't be domesticated."

"But why?"

"Because...they are wild creatures, Amanita. They are...they are killers. No one has ever been foolish enough to try to raise one as a pet!"

"Then how do we know it can't be done?"

"Amanita -"

"But really Mother. If no one's done it before. Why can't we be the first?"

"Because..." 

Truth be told, the question had taken Regina by surprise. It was such a dark witch question to ask - the 'why not's and the 'how come's were at the core of so much of her own relationship with magic. Her mind froze as she struggled for a way to logically deny her daughter's request.

"Because I won't see you in danger," she said finally. "And neither will your mother."

Amanita pouted. "But look at him Mother, he's not dangerous!"

The kit had rolled over on his back, wrestling the cushion to lay on his belly so he could hold it steady with all four paws as he worried at it with his tiny, pointy teeth. 

"Perhaps not now. But that will change."

Amanita breathed out a sobbing little sigh, and leaned against Regina, tucking her head under her chin.

"But he'll die by himself."

Regina's arms tightened involuntarily around her daughter's body; her mind was filled with images of Amanita crouching alone behind the rock, and of Emma facing off against a nightmare creature with no one to assist her.

"I can't - I'll talk to your mother. If we agree - if, Amanita - then he can stay. For a while. Until he's big enough to take care of himself. Then he goes back to the woods."

She doubted her daughter had heard anything beyond the word 'agree'; her face had lit up so brightly and she hugged Regina tightly enough that she feared for the safety of her ribs.

"Amanita. Are you listening?"

"Yes, Mother."

"I mean what I say, Amanita. First, your mother and I must discuss this. I am not saying yes."

"I know." The big smile had not left her face, which did nothing to ease Regina's doubt.

"Second, even if we do keep him, it is only temporary."

"I know."

"Third, and this one is important for you to understand." Her voice had got so serious that Amanita's smile faded. She straightened in her mother's lap and looked earnestly into her eyes.

"If he ever hurts you," Regina continued. "Or if he ever does anything to hurt anyone in this house - from you to your mother's goats - I will remove him myself. Am I clear, Amanita? Helcats are dangerous creatures. If this kit shows any sign of that, his time here is over. It wont matter how tiny he is."

Amanita's eyes narrowed. "He'll be good."

"But if he's not. Your safety comes first."

The girl sighed.

"Yes, Mother."

"You still want us to keep him?"

Amanita nodded. "Yes, please?"

Regina sighed. 

"I'll talk to your mother. When she gets home."

 

***

 

Regina had time to insist that the kit would not sleep in Amanita's bed, and to conjure up a covered box that mimicked the interior of a helcat den - dark and warm - that she placed in the corner of Amanita's room. She filled it with old cushions so he would not lack for something to cuddle into. They had time to milk a goat and for Regina to magic up a small squat vial to help feed the kit.

Amanita was holding the kit in her lap, her skirt dotted with splashes of milk as she tried to get him to feed, when Regina heard the rustling noise of Emma's broomstick landing and her familiar footsteps along the path.

"Mama's home!" Amanita said excitedly.

"Yes. Give me a few minutes to talk to her, okay?"

Amanita nodded solemnly.

Regina stepped out into the common room as Emma was walking across towards her workbench. Emma's dress, hair, and face were stained with dried mud and slimy green streaks; she must have kicked her muddy boots off by the front door, because she was in bare feet. She was carrying Amanita's broom, and placed it carefully on her table. The broom was also covered in mud and slime and some of the bristles looked twisted and bent, but other than that it seemed no worse for the wear.

"You went back," Regina said, surprised.

"I needed to see you were-" She paused, as though to remind herself she was angry with Regina, and she continued with her voice growing cold. "To check if she was okay."

Regina felt indignation swell in her chest. 

"We're still doing this? You're still blaming me?"

"Who else."

Emma's eyes sparked with challenge, and suddenly it felt like they were back at the start of all this - when they had been new to sharing Amanita, and they had skirted each other warily, making little feints to test the other's defenses. Fine. If Emma Swan wanted a fight, she had come knocking at the right door. 

Regina snarled. "And what pathetic reason could you possibly have for laying this on me?"

"You! You go...blithely traipsing through these woods like everything's fine. She has watched you, Regina. Do you think she hasn't learned?! You think that a little magic and power will keep you safe! That it's okay to go poking at hornets' nests just to see what will happen! That your magic will protect you! But it doesn't! It doesn't!"

And perhaps if Regina had not been so geared up for a fight she would have given more attention to the pain and fear behind Emma's words. But all she heard was an attack, and all she saw was the glaring weakness in Emma's argument, and she struck out at it.

"Did you hear her, Emma? Why she went down there? 'I heard them cry. I wanted to help.'  She certainly didn't learn that attitude from me."

It was as though Emma's anger was a defensive wall she had built around herself, but set on shaky foundations and with loose, ill-fitting, bricks. With one well-placed shove, Regina had brought it tumbling down.

Regina saw Emma's face crumple as her strike hit home.

"Oh gods. You're right." 

All the fear and pain and recrimination were clear to see now. She was gasping, clutching her fists against her chest as though she could press air into her lungs that way. 

"Emma." Regina started across the room towards her. The sneer was gone from her face and voice, to be replaced with growing concern.

 "It's my fault. It's me. I did this."

"No, no. Don't, don't do this." She was babbling now really, but the words were far less important than her comforting tone. She put her arms around Emma, who clutched at her, holding on to the sleeves of her dress like a lifeline.

"It's not your fault. You're not to blame. No one's to blame, Emma."

"I am."

"Emma - Amanita is a bright, curious child, with a heart big enough to encompass us both. Bigger."

Emma gave a snuffly laugh, and Regina pressed onward.

"I don't know if we did that, or if she carried those seeds in her already. But I will not blame you for her courage, or her heart. Oh Emma, it's the best thing about her."

"I shouted at her. At you." 

"I know."

"I'm sorry."

"I know. We talked about it a little, Amanita and me."

"Oh?"

"She was worried you were angry with her."

"What did you tell her? That her mother's an idiot?"

Regina smiled.

"No. I told her you were scared."

"I was. I was."

"I know."

"But that's no excuse."

"It isn't. But it does help us understand. You should go talk to her. She's eager to see you."

Emma took a deep breath and straightened up, releasing her death-grip on Regina's sleeve. She gave her a watery smile, then marched purposefully towards Amanita's door.

She knocked and opened the door, and was immediately engulfed in a hug.

"Mama! You're home!" Then in a more somber voice. "I'm sorry I scared you."

"And I'm sorry I shouted at you."

"Come see!" 

Amanita took Emma by the hand and dragged her into the room. The door shut behind them, leaving Regina alone in the quiet common room.

She picked up the broom and examined it; whatever it had gone through, Emma's construction work had held up well, and the spells were still intact. She put it back on the desk, leaving any fiddling and tinkering for Emma to do. She curled up in her chair and started to read.

She didn't have to wait for too long before Emma reemerged from Amanita's room. She knew their daughter was exhausted; it had only been nervous energy and a need to see Emma that had kept her awake this long. Emma came over and sat at her workbench, facing Regina.

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"Talking to her. That was far easier than I feared. Definitely easier than I deserved."

Regina shrugged. 

"You weren't yourself."

"I was though," Emma said, sadly. "My worst self."

Regina grinned mischievously. "If that was your worst self, you really have nothing on me."

Emma snorted, then said airily, "So, I hear we're acquiring a helcat kit?"

"What?!" Regina spluttered. "I didn't say that! I said we would talk first and discuss it!"

Emma's eyes glinted with mirth as she waited for Regina's protest to end. "How did she get around you?"

Regina sighed. "She asked me how I knew it wouldn't be safe if no one has ever tried to do it before."

Emma laughed. "Oh, she's got you figured out!"

Regina glared at her. "How did she get around you?"

"Ah. Right. Hmm. She said, and I quote, 'he's all alone in the world, Mama. He's got no one else. We have to help him.'"

Regina looked at her for a moment, then started to laugh helplessly.

"Oh, Emma, we have to stand together. We have no chance against her if we don't."

"So I guess we are acquiring a helcat kit then?"

"It won't be easy," Regina said thoughtfully. "He may be too wild to live with people, Emma. I did warn her. If he's dangerous, or hurts anyone in this house, he's gone."

"But you like the idea of the challenge."

Regina smiled ruefully. "I do."

"Me too."

"So, we'll try?"

Emma nodded. She heaved a deep sigh, and turned her gaze away from Regina, staring instead at her fingers twisting nervously in her lap. 

"I wanted to tell you...how it happened. What happened out there today, and why I-"

"You don't have to do this," Regina cut in. Emma's distress was making her chest tighten in sympathy.

Emma glanced up for one quick moment, and Regina saw the glimmer of tears in her eyes before she looked away again.

"Please, Regina. I need to tell you."

It struck Regina in that moment that Emma so rarely asked for anything. Not for herself, and even then not for anything much more significant than something particular to eat or drink. If she ever needed anything from Regina, unless it was in a moment of great urgency or distress, she would hem and haw and skirt around the subject until Regina finally worked out whatever it was she was talking about. It was so rare for Emma to come right out and state her needs openly that Regina found herself putting aside her own discomfort about Emma's distress.

"Tell me," she said.

Another deep breath, and then she was speaking, her voice low and shaky, catching and stuttering in places.

"Everything was going so well. I wanted to see how she did with holding a course - without having someone to follow. So I told her to fly low, and I went high so I could track her. She was just skimming the treetops. She was doing so well. Then I saw something - I didn't realise what it was. I just saw something moving in the trees. I looked away from her. For just a moment. It can't have been longer than a few seconds. But when I looked back for her, she was gone."

Her voice broke in a sob, and Regina reached forward to take her hand. Emma clenched at her fingers, almost crushing them, she grasped so tightly.

"I turned, I went down, but I couldn't find her right away. And when I did, that thing was already attacking. I tried Regina, I threw everything I had against it. It made no difference. I couldn't ... I couldn't risk a transport spell. I didn't know if I could do it. If it would go wrong. Then you came. And you went in there. And you were both so close to it."

She paused to take a gulping breath, clenched harder at Regina's fingers.

"I thought I was watching you both die. That I was losing you both."

Her voice was nothing but raw anguish.

"And I can't Regina, I can't do that. I can't lose you too." 

Regina was besides her in an instant; leaving one hand in Emma's grasp, she put her other arm around her shaking shoulders. She murmured words of comfort against Emma's forehead. If Emma heard her, it didn't stop her halting flow of words.

"I was helpless. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't trust my magic. It wasn't working. And I was so, so angry. And I lashed out at you. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"Emma. You don't...you didn't lose us. You didn't. You kept her safe. You did that. Your power. I couldn't have killed that thing on my own. It needed both of us. And you kept her safe until I could get there."

Emma sobbed brokenly, her face turned into the curve of Regina's neck.

Regina eased her hand free from Emma's grasp so she could put both her arms around her. She realised that this emotional turbulence was taking a physical toll on Emma; even after her wracking sobbing eased and slowed to sniffling, her entire body was still trembling and her skin felt cold and clammy.

"Emma, when was the last time you ate?"

"I don't...breakfast, I think?" she said uncertainly. "But I'm not hungry."

"You need to eat!"  

Emma made a sound of protest. Regina tilted Emma's face up to her and kissed her softly.

"We can talk more later. First, supper. Please?"

Emma sighed and nodded.

Regina set out a meal - something hot and sweet and to drink, and wedges of a deep pie that she warmed with magic so it released a savoury aroma. She made Emma sit at the table and watched until she took a few mouthfuls; only when Emma started eating with focused intent did she move away from the table. She stoked the fire so it blazed merrily, set the big metal basin they used for bathing in front of it, and magicked the tub full of steaming hot water.

By the time those preparations were completed, Emma had finished eating, her hunger having made itself known once she started paying attention to it.

She watched Regina test the temperature of the water.

"A bath?" she asked with a small smile. "Really?"

"It'll help relax you," Regina said evenly. Then she grinned. "And you're not coming anywhere near my bed smelling like a swamp."

Emma's eyes widened in surprise, but she stood and started to undress. As she stepped into the water, Regina began to scatter flakes of soap into the bath.

"That's your soap," Emma pointed out.

Regina's hand stilled.

"Sorry. I didn't think. I'll get yours."

"No. No it's fine. I like the way you smell. Your soap I mean! I like your soap."

Regina's chuckle was warm and teasing and Emma eased into the hot water with a sigh. 

Regina was right, this was relaxing - the heat, and the steam and the scent of lavender, the firelight making shadows dance on the walls, and Regina's hands in her hair and against her scalp, washing the grime away. She sighed again, contentedly.

"Thank you, Regina," Emma said quietly.

"You've already thanked me," Regina replied, just as softly, and kissed the top of her head. "You really don't need to keep saying it."

"Hmm."

Emma yawned, and sighed again.

"I should get out. I'll fall asleep."

She stood, grateful for the fire as she dried herself off and put on a cotton shift. Regina took care of the bath - with a few waves of magic the tub was emptied and everything returned to its place.

Emma smiled, shaking her head.

"That's what I like best about dark witches, I think. If I'd been drawing a bath, we'd still be waiting for the kettle to boil enough to fill the tub."

"Oh, I'm glad we have some uses," Regina said teasingly. She reached up and kissed Emma again, keeping her voice and touch light. "Come to bed?"

Emma nodded and let Regina take her by the hand. Regina started walking towards her own room, but when she felt the hesitation in Emma's movements, she stopped.

"What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry, Regina..."

"Would you prefer to be alone tonight?" Regina asked into the pause.

"No. No," Emma hastened to say. "It's just...Please. Can we sleep in my bed?"

Her voice was so soft, so hesitant, so unaccustomed to asking.

"Of course. Whatever you need."

When they were lying in bed, under the covers, with Regina's arms around her and Emma's face snuggled up against her neck, Emma asked,

"Weren't you scared?"

"Terrified."

"I'm sorry I left."

"That's the last apology you get to make, Emma," Regina said, her voice suddenly stern. "You did nothing wrong - you did not place Amanita in danger, you did not fail in your protection of her. Or of me. I felt your power today Emma. I felt it join with mine, and strengthen us both. I would have been just as helpless without you. Do not forget that, Emma Swan. We are all safe, because of you."

Emma huffed into Regina's neck, and muttered, "I'll apologise if I like." 

Regina turned to her with the start of a frown on her face, and an argument on the tip of her tongue, and looked into eyes shining with some tears but mostly with teasing.

"Go to sleep," she muttered. "You ridiculous thing."

Emma laughed and reached up to kiss her, a gentle kiss fueled by the warm comfort she was feeling. She heaved a deep sigh as she snuggled closer into Regina's arms and closed her eyes.

 

Regina listened to Emma's breathing slow. She reached up a careful hand to let her fingers comb through her hair and trace along the side of her face. She told herself she could stop at any time she pleased, but it was so calming to be able to hold Emma and touch her that she saw no reason to stop.

She knew Emma had suffered loss in her life; they had spoken a few times about what it was like for her - to always be the lone stranger, the girl who was constantly on the move. Emma had spoken of her past with a sense of bravado and, particularly in the early days of their relationship, with anger. Regina had not given much more thought to it than acknowledging Emma's history, and the occasional moment when she felt fiercely protective of the child Emma had been. 

Emma did not often speak about how she felt though - and tonight was the first time that Regina had been allowed more than a glimpse into that. 

As she held the sleeping woman, Regina wondered what it must be like to not know where your mother had gone or if she was ever coming back; to go from being a member of tightly-knit, loving, coven to being an after-thought. How hard it must have been for Emma to grow up never having any sense of permanence, to never really know where or to whom she belonged. 

She thought about how they lived - her and Emma and Amanita - in this little cottage. Was Emma looking at this thing they had with as much hope and trepidation as Regina did? Did she also struggle with the idea that someday she would have to say goodbye to Amanita? Could there also be the (very likely remote) possibility she was concerned about parting from Regina? Regina realised she did not know the answer to these questions because she never asked them. She was too afraid to. She was especially afraid of Emma turning the question back to her; she was definitely too afraid to make herself vulnerable.

Perhaps Emma never asked for what she needed because she had learned that asking was pointless; when no one cared enough about you to keep you around very long, would you not have learned that your needs were unimportant? Cora Mills had made it very clear to Regina very early on in her life that expecting someone else to fulfill your needs was weakness - you should be powerful enough to take what you want. Emma was powerful, but she gave and gave, and never took anything for herself.

The more Regina thought about it, the more obvious it became, and the more angry she grew - not with Emma, but with the circumstances that had led this strong, generous, wonderful woman to feel that she did not deserve everything she wanted.

Today's events had lined up to shake Emma to her foundations - the fear of being alone again and the doubt in her own power combining to leave her guilt-ridden and uncertain. Regina hated to see Emma like this; she missed Emma's swaggering impudence more than she cared to admit. She missed it so much she was willing to do whatever it took to help Emma find that confidence again. 

(But still, even now, when she bordered on the very verge of acknowledging just how strongly she cared for Emma Swan, Regina did not take the next logical step. Instead, she decided that she'd pay more attention to Emma's needs because it would be in Amanita's best interests for her other mother to regain her confidence and sense of worth.)

 

***

Emma stood by the window. She went between staring out at the night sky and watching Regina sleep. It was still a few hours shy of dawn, but she had woken - what had brought her out of sleep her she couldn't recall, but her thumping heart and sweating palms had told her it had been nothing good. She'd lain there willing herself to not panic, but had not been able to quiet her worry. Even Regina's presence by her side did not help. 

She'd managed to slip out from under Regina's arm without waking her and gone to check on Amanita. Only after reassuring herself that her daughter was safe did she come back to her own room. But she could not get back into bed. 

She'd lit the lamp, adjusting it so it only gave off a dim glow, and watched Regina sleep. She looked so peaceful with her hair fanned out on the pillow and her mouth soft in sleep. 

She had said she'd been terrified. 

She hadn't run though. She had stayed. She had brought Amanita home and calmed and comforted her, had helped her understand enough so that she forgave Emma when she returned. Regina had stayed and Amanita had never feared that she would be left alone and lost. 

Emma had left them. 

Regina should have been furious. She had been, for a moment. But when Emma collapsed in guilt, she'd changed. Emma shuddered at the memory. She almost would have preferred the anger. Regina being soft and caring was too much to bear, because Emma did not think she deserved it. 

She had left them. 

Yes, she had felt like an abandoned child all over again. Powerless, helpless, the world crushing in on her. But she should not have run. 

She had come home expecting a fight. Expecting Amanita to fear and distrust her, and for Regina to want nothing more to do with her. But they had both forgiven her, had welcomed her back as though she had done nothing terribly wrong. And Regina had said such things that Emma wanted to weep for the faith she heard in her words. 

Her breath broke on a sob.

Regina stirred at the sound. Emma watched her come awake, her magic already glowing at her fingertips before she had even sat up in bed. She peered around, looking first to the empty spot that should have been occupied by Emma.

"I'm here." 

She kept her voice low, helping mask the fact that her throat was tight with unshed tears.

"Emma?" Regina looked around so she could see her, standing by the window.

"I woke up - bad dream I think. I had to go check on her."

"Oh." Regina settled more comfortably against her pillows. "Was the kit in bed with her?"

Emma had to snort with laughter. 

"No."

"Surprising."

"She was in the box with the kit."

"Of course," Regina sighed.

"It worried me. Finding her bed empty." She had felt the cold dread clutch at her and had been unable to do anything but stare at the empty bed. "But then I thought to look in the box."

"Was she alright?"

"Yes. They were snuggled up and fast asleep." Amanita had thrown out some of the cushions to make room, and it had been a snug fit even so. But the kit was curled up against her belly, and her daughter had been smiling as she slept. "I added a few air holes. But everything was fine."

"Good. Are you alright?"

"Yes."

"Come back to bed?"

Emma hesitated. She wanted to be back in Regina's arms. But she'd been standing here thinking of how little she deserved it, worrying that Regina had only been kind because Emma had seemed so devastated by what had happened.

"Do you want me to leave?" Regina asked. "Do you want to be alone?"

"No!" That was the furthest thing from what she wanted. But she could not say anything beyond that - just make the anguished denial.

As though she realised Emma's struggle, Regina echoed a question Emma had asked her so many times before.

"Tell me what you want, Emma," she said quietly. "Please."

For you stay, Emma thought. For you to mean everything you said. For you to trust me, and to want me, to want me to stay.

She couldn't say any of that! That wasn't what Regina wanted to hear - Emma had been emotionally needy enough already. But she had to say something. Regina was waiting, watching her with a cautious look on her face.

"You," Emma managed at last in a hesitant whisper, like this was a big request, something Regina may not want to give.

She could almost read Regina's thoughts on her face, as her eyes narrowed a little and she smiled seductively. She'd thought Emma was talking about making love.

 Regina held out her hand, but Emma could not move towards her. She could only watch as Regina got out of bed and crossed the room to where she stood. She reached up and kissed her, and Emma sighed into the contact. This was good. It wasn't exactly what she had wanted to ask for, but it was good.

"Here?" Regina asked, glancing over at the chair by the window.

They had made love in that chair often enough, usually when they were feeling a little more energised than Emma did right now. She could remember what it felt like to sit there while Regina straddled her, her dark hair falling around their faces, creating a curtain that blocked them from the world. She remembered Regina's face, how she'd bite her lip and laugh breathlessly while Emma's hands had stroked between her legs.

That wasn't what she wanted right now, so Emma shook her head. Regina took her hand and led her back to the bed. She made her sit down, straddled her lap, and kissed her again. Emma's body was tense and hesitant though, in a way she had never been, not even on the first night they had spent together. Regina kissed her for a long while, but Emma was still slow to respond. Her hands stayed on Regina's hips, steadying her, but not caressing in the way she normally would.

"You're sure about this?" Regina asked, hesitant herself now.

Emma nodded, the tears welling in her eyes and dampening her cheeks. She did want this. Regina's touch had been sure and confident, making Emma feel like her words had - trusted and cherished - even though she may not have deserved it.

"Please. Please, don't stop." She heard the plaintive note in her voice, and saw Regina's face soften in response.

"Oh, Emma. I won't. I won't."

Regina kissed her again, all her caresses as gentle as they could be and still be touching Emma. Regina kissed her mouth, her closed eyes, her cheeks, her chin. Emma had to smile when she did that, and that seemed to embolden Regina to kiss her more firmly, open-mouthed and warm, along her jaw line, and behind her ear, and down the side of her neck. Emma sighed, and her hands moved against Regina, pulling her closer, holding her so she didn't tip over when Emma lay back.

Regina propped herself up on her elbows so she could look down at Emma. Emma's eyes were still closed, and her mouth curled in a faint smile. Regina kissed that smile, and the tip of Emma's nose, and the smile again when it widened.

"Good?" Regina asked.

Emma nodded.

"More?"

More nods.

So Regina kept kissing her, until Emma started to sigh, little whimpers of pleased sound. Regina would ask, gentle questions, seeking direction and confirmation. And at first Emma could only nod or shake her head, but then she started using her voice - saying 'yes' or 'no' or 'more' or 'please'. Regina did everything Emma asked, touching her wherever she indicated, as softly or as firmly as she said. There was no hesitation, no withholding. 

The more certain Regina's touch was, the more reassured Emma felt, until finally something shifted in her and the confidence and ease flowed back into her body. She opened her eyes, heavy and dark with desire, and looked up at Regina; she saw her own desire mirrored back at her.

"Make me yours, Regina." That was bold. That was almost the complete truth of what she genuinely wanted. 

Regina's smile left Emma's mouth dry.

"Oh, I intend to."

 

When Regina had asked what she wanted, Emma may not have originally planned to ask for sex, but she was glad that was where they had ended up. Because Regina had been especially thorough and attentive tonight. Her touch had soothed Emma's disquiet, managing to reach her where words had failed. And now she was lying here, Regina's arms around her, sweat cooling on their bodies, and a pleasant ache in all the places Regina had been so thorough with.

Her mind was still and her body boneless, like she was wrapped in a cloud and let free to float where she willed. Nothing rankled or snagged at her thoughts. Her daughter was safe and happy; Regina did not think her weak and untrustworthy. This was a moment of perfect contentment. 

She had been so sure that she had lost this, had given up any claim to this feeling, because of her fear. Because she had been scared into running. 

She would not run again. 

"Hi," she whispered.

"Hmm?"

"I know you said no more apologies or-"

"I meant it."

"I know. But I want you to know. I mean it."

Regina sighed.

"Emma Swan. I accept your thanks. And your apology. Now, just don't let it happen again."

Regina may have been teasing a little, but Emma was very serious when she said, "I won't."

 

They did not fall back asleep, even though the first glimmers of dawn were just beginning to lighten the sky. Neither of them wanted to leave the warm connection they had created in their bed. They cuddled under the blanket, leaving the lamp burning so they could see each other's faces.

"What was that thing that attacked us?" Emma asked, settled enough to talk about what had happened now without the guilt and fear flaring back up.

"I don't know, specifically," Regina replied. "So many things have been altered by the magic unleashed here. It could have been anything before - a bear, a deer. Who can tell."

"It did have hooves," Emma pointed out, then added musingly. "I wonder what helcats were like, before."

"Oh, they haven't been changed."

"You can't be serious!"

"No, really. Some things are unaffected by magic. You remember the mud hole I fell into?"

Emma did not manage to suppress her giggles at the memory. Regina had been so thickly caked with the magic-resistant mud, Emma had to virtually chisel her out of it. She'd felt like a sculptor, chipping delicately away at the hard brown shell to reveal a beautiful but irritated statue.

Regina glared at her, and Emma brought her giggles under control. 

"There's something about helcats," Regina continued, as though she had not been interrupted. "They have a sort of shielding against magic. They move through the power like it's nothing more than a shadow. No one really understands it."

"They'd make good familiars, then?" Emma asked, grinning.

"If they don't bite your head off first," Regina replied.

"I wonder if Amanita'll take a familiar," Emma said. "I always thought it'd be fun to have one."

"They don't really add anything to your power," Regina said dismissively. But then she thought a little further, and added gently, "But they do make good companions."

"What do you think she'd choose?"

"We're not talking about Dark or Light?" Regina clarified.

"Hmm? No. A familiar. I see her with a goat. Something useful and practical for a witch to have."

"Emma," Regina sighed. "A witch's familiar cannot be a goat! What is the point in that! A good familiar should add to your mystique - should make non-magical folk either quiver in their boots or-"

"She's going to have a helcat familiar, isn't she?" Emma sighed.

"Oh, can you imagine?" Regina said, her voice slightly awed. She thought about Amanita, grown into her power, an independent witch, with her own cottage and her own patch. "She'll be incredible," she whispered.

"She'll be just like you," Emma agreed, smiling fondly down at Regina. "She'll strike terror into everyone she looks at, she'll have power sparking at her fingertips wherever she goes."

"Hah. No, she won't. She'll be like you. Up to her elbows in mud and muck, hammering away at things, stubbornly refusing to use the simplest of magic to make her life easier."

The laughter burst out of Emma, surprised but joyous.

"Is that what you think of me?" she asked, her voice mock stern. She sat up so that she could lean over Regina. The blanket fell away from her shoulders, baring Regina's naked chest to her gaze. "That I'm too hands on?"

Regina sighed contentedly and settled back into her pillows. She ran her hands down Emma's arms and smiled up at her, her face alight with mischief and challenge.

"Indeed."

"I didn't think you minded me being hands on," Emma murmured, as she leaned over to kiss Regina.

The bedroom door burst open.

They both turned in shock to look at Amanita.

Their daughter was looking curiously back at them.

"You're not dressed."

"No," Regina managed to say in an even tone.

"Kitty's awake. He's hungry. Can I go milk a goat?"

"Yes," Emma stuttered "But, wait for me!" she called as Amanita whirled on her heel. 

"Okay Mama. Hurry up! Kitty's really hungry!"

Emma looked back at Regina.

"Kitty?"

Regina sighed. "Our daughter has many, many, good qualities, Emma. Creative naming skills just does not happen to be one of them."

"I'm going out there to help her milk the goat. You figure out a way we can lock this door."

Regina nodded. "We can talk to her about...what she saw...later."

"Later is good," Emma said fervently as she hopped out of bed.

 

Amanita did not, of course, want to wait until later to talk.

Emma managed to answer most of her questions without doing too much damage. By the time they'd milked a goat and fed Kitty, and got him settled down for another sleep, and cleaned up the effects of having a young animal sleeping indoors, Amanita had received enough information to satisfy her at least temporarily.

She knew that she could not come bursting into her mothers' rooms anymore, not without knocking first. She knew that she may sometimes see her mothers undressed together, and that this was perfectly okay, mothers sometimes kissed naked, and that was fine. And yes, her friends' mothers and fathers probably did the same thing. Because that was what grown ups sometimes did, and no it was not 'icky'. It was a grown up thing, and she would understand some day. And yes, Mama and Mother were still very fond of each other. No Mama wasn't cross with Mother anymore. And yes, people who were fond of each other did kiss a lot. And no, that was not 'icky' either.

Exhausted, Emma crawled back into bed besides Regina.

"The good news is, I don't think we've scarred her for life."

"Oh good. I've worked out a way to lock the door so she can still get in here in an emergency."

"The bad news is, I think I am scarred for life."

"Emma."

"No, really. She wanted to know if Billy Greenwood's parents got naked together! Regina! I don't want to think about Billy Greenwood's parents being naked together!"

"You poor, poor thing," Regina laughed.

"I'm not talking to her about sex anymore," Emma muttered grumpily. "That can be your job. You dark witches love answering all the difficult questions, don't you?"

"She not asking about sex though," Regina said thoughtfully. "She's trying to understand about relationships."

"She's not going to be in a 'relationship' until she's thirty," Emma said decisively. "She'll have a helcat for a familiar. No one is going to get anywhere near her." She sounded very satisfied with this deduction.

"You are being ridiculous," Regina said fondly.

Emma snuggled up against Regina's side. "I suppose. I just want her to be happy though. If she ever does take a lover, it'd better be someone who will care for her."

"Someone who will be good to her."

"Someone she can trust." 

The unspoken thought in both their minds was 'Someone like you'.

 

In retrospect, they realised that night really was the slippery slope for them both. They saw each other in a new light now, understood each other differently. Regina saw the vulnerability underneath Emma's strength; and because Regina reacted to that vulnerability with acceptance and protectiveness and care, instead of the scorn she had feared, Emma looked at Regina with a deepened sense of trust. The final push was that each woman, in thinking about Amanita's future and what sort of a person she would be, and what sort of a person they would trust with her happiness, kept coming up with a list of characteristics that described the other woman. As they catalogued the qualities they valued most in the other, It was inevitable that they would acknowledge that perhaps this thing between them was fueled by more than a need for companionship; that perhaps they wanted more from the other than simply physical release; that perhaps they meant more to each other than they were willing to admit.

However, they still had a few distractions to face along the path to this realisation. 

The least problematic of these distractions was a helcat named Kitty.

 

***

 

With his brothers and sisters and mother gone, Amanita, Emma and Regina became Kitty's pack. Amanita loved Kitty with the same fervour her younger self had loved Rabbit. Except Kitty could love her back - could show his affection by seeking her out and cuddling into her while he napped, and following loyally at her heels as she went about her daily chores and lessons. 

He continued to sleep, warm and snug, in his makeshift den. Regina made it bigger so that Amanita could curl up with Kitty until he learned to sleep by himself, without seeking and crying for the other kits. Those were difficult days for Emma and Regina, because Amanita would argue that Kitty would be more comfortable up in her bed, and her mothers would refuse to budge from the position that he would have to learn to sleep outdoors eventually, because that is where helcats lived. 

To prepare him for his return to the woods, Regina created little toys that she and Amanita would use with Kitty, in play and games that would help him learn to track and hunt. 

Emma watched them, rolling around on the ground with the kit. Regina's hair had loosened from her braid, her eyes were sparkling, and she was smiling and laughing in delight as Kitty clambered and leapt after the feathery little playthings she had made him.

"You're good at this," Emma said wonderingly. "I didn't realise you knew so much about animals."

"I don't," Regina replied. 

She held a hand up for Emma to help pull her to her feet; she kept holding Emma's hand as she stood besides her to watch Amanita and Kitty play.

"I know a little about helcats though. I spent some time observing a den of them."

"Really?" Amanita asked, her eyes lighting up. "Did you see Kitty when he was a baby?"

"Oh, no, Amanita. This was long ago."

"Your time with Nan Locket?" Emma asked.

Regina nodded. "I found a den in my wanderings. And the kits were so - fascinating - that I stopped to watch them."

"You mean you thought they were adorable and fun," Emma laughed. She loved stories of an adolescent Regina, cherishing every glimpse she got into the young woman Regina had been - impatient and still rough-around-the-edges, but so curious about everything around her.

"They were...diverting to watch," Regina allowed with a smug little grin on her face.

Emma snorted. "And did you take copious notes?"

"I did, actually," Regina said. "The pack made interesting models."

"You drew them?" Amanita piped up. "Can I see?"

"Oh, probably," Regina replied. "They should still be in that old journal you found."

Exhausted by all the strenuous play, Kitty had fallen asleep, curled up in a warm patch of sun. Amanita begged to see Regina's old drawings of the helcat pack, and so the three of them sat cross-legged in the grass and poured over the journal.

"Oh Mother, they're so sweet!"

Young Regina had captured, in various hastily drawn sketches, the antics of a pack of six kits and their mother. Amanita giggled at the image of one kit hanging off the mother helcat's ear, all four feet dangling in the air. She read the words Regina had scrawled in alongside the picture.

"Is this their story?" she asked her mother.

"Well..it's my notes on their days, and what they got up to, and how they grew-"

"Stories!" Amanita interjected, delighted. "May I read them?"

"Of course, sweetling," Emma said. "We can read some tonight, okay?"

Amanita nodded eagerly.

She was old enough to read by herself now, but she still enjoyed snuggling up in her bed while one or both of her mothers read her to sleep. 

Regina's old journal was moved from its place by Emma's bedside, and found a new home with Amanita. She didn't save the journal only for bedtime reading either, and would often drag it off into the garden where Kitty was napping so she could sit in the sun besides him and read.

 

A growing helcat needed more than goat milk to satisfy his appetite, so Amanita had to learn to feed Kitty different things - eggs she'd collect from the chickens, and meat that her mothers would source from the village farmers. Emma helped Amanita teach Kitty that the goats and other animals in their garden were not for him to hunt. They realised quickly that helcats were intelligent creatures, and very aware of their surroundings. Kitty learned easily enough that the squawking and bleating things were a strange extension of his pack, and should fall under his care rather than be thought of as prey.

As he grew, he'd pad along behind Amanita and help herd the goats into the shed for milking and round up the chickens and rabbits when they escaped their pens. He slept outdoors now, in a warm secluded nook that Emma built for him just outside Amanita's window. He knew the limits of his pack's territory, and so he stayed in sight of the cottage when he went wandering, chasing after butterflies or interesting sounds. 

As an additional deterrent to keep Kitty from wandering off, Regina tried putting up warding spells around the edges of the garden and orchard. But because magic would not directly affect the helcat, she had to be creative with her spell. She created a ward that would make the kit feel disquiet when he neared it, so he would turn back. But then she saw him standing right by the invisible boundary as Amanita approached him, he turned towards the open air where the warding spell was laid and bared his teeth, hackles raised, and hissed in anger. He kept this up until Amanita passed him.

"That's odd," Emma said.

"He's standing guard," Regina said. "He's protecting her from...well, he doesn't know from what, does he? Poor thing."

She took the warding spells down.

 

***

 

Amanita knew that as Kitty grew bigger, they got closer to the day her mothers would have to release him back into the woods. If he'd been more malleable by magic, she would have considered asking Mother to freeze him at this stage, so that he wouldn't grow any bigger. 

She thought this would have been the perfect solution. He wasn't too big, just about the size of the biggest ewe in Farmer Greenwood's herds, but lanky and muscular instead of round and fluffy like the sheep. He still had the pointy chin and big green eyes of a kit, but the pale spots that dappled his tawny coat were darkening as he aged, and he was developing dark bands across his shoulders, chest and face. (Mother said that this made it harder to see him in the shadowy woods when he was stalking his prey.). Kitty's incisors had started to grow too, lengthening and hardening, the first indication of the powerful weapons they would develop into. 

Mother had magicked in a large dead tree from the orchard, one with a thick trunk and lots of strong branches, and Mama had it set up in the garden, digging a deep hole and securing the tree so it would not sway or fall. Kitty learned that the tree was for him to scratch his itchy teeth and sharpen his claws. He also used it to practice his climbing and pouncing. 

He'd pounced on Mother once. Only once. He never caught her off guard again, even though he tried. She'd always notice him just before he leapt, and would transport away before he could bowl her over. Mama thought it was a great game to wrestle on the ground with Kitty. But Mother played differently, played a sort of hide and seek with him, where she'd disappear and reappear all over the garden, and Kitty would chase after her, trying to predict where she'd show up next. He was getting very good at that game, and Mother had to be very quick to avoid him.

Amanita wished that they could all remain like this forever.

But Kitty was growing, and so was she. And soon, she would have to go to the coven meet with Mother, and meet Cora Mills.

It was a name she thought of with some trepidation, mostly because Mother and Mama spoke it only rarely, but when they did, Mama got very angry and Mother got very sad.

 

She tried talking about it with Mama.

"Why does Mother call Cora Mills mother?"

Mama looked at her a little confused until she worked out what she was saying. Then she sighed and got that little wrinkle between her eyes that said she was worrying about something.

"Because she is her mother, sweetling."

This was confusing.

"But she makes Mother sad."

"Yes, I know." Mama sounded really upset by this, and Amanita hugged Mama's arm. 

"Mothers aren't supposed to make you sad," Amanita said, still trying to figure this out.

"No. But not everyone is very good at being a mother. Sometimes they forget the most important part." 

Now Mama sounded sad too, and Amanita moved so she could sit in her lap and put her arms around her neck.

"Ah, it's all right, sweetling." Mama's arms tightened around her, and she felt safe again. "I'll make sure Cora Mills doesn't make your mother sad anymore."

"Did your mother make you sad too?" Amanita wondered. 

She knew Mama didn't talk about her mother very much. She'd really only seen it happen once, and then Mama had started to cry, and Mother had held her and kissed her forehead until she smiled again.

She felt Mama stiffen, and thought that maybe she had asked a Bad Question (not that Mama or Mother ever called them that, but Amanita knew when she had done it by her mothers' reactions. Like the time she had asked if Billy Greenwood's mummy and daddy made his baby sister the same way the mummy and daddy goats made their kids. Mother had gone very red in the face, and Mama had left the room.)

"Mama?" she asked in a small voice, because she hadn't answered yet.

She felt her Mama sigh a little and her body let go of its stiffness.

"No. I was luckier than Regina. My mother knew how to love."

"Does she have coven meets too?"

"No, sweetling," and now Mama sounded sad again. "My mother died, when I was still an apprentice."

"Oh. Was she sick?"

Amanita had helped with enough sick people that she knew that sometimes even her Mama's power and potions could not cure them.

"Hmm? No. She ... well ... someone hurt her. And she never came home."

Amanita thought this was very sad, and she hugged her Mama very tightly to see if that would take some of the sadness away from her face and voice.

What she didn't do was worry about her own mothers. Because for one thing, she had no doubt that both of them knew how to love very well; and for the other, she could not imagine anything being big or powerful enough to hurt her mothers.

 

***

 

Mother was explaining what to expect from her first coven meet. Amanita knew there were still a few weeks to go, but Mother said it was better to be prepared so that nothing would take her by surprise. Mother liked to be prepared.

"It's important for you to get to know the other dark witches and apprentices. See what they are capable of. Form alliances with like-minded witches."

"So, make friends?"

"Well...I suppose you could look at it like that. Although I wouldn't call many women in this coven 'friendly'."

"What then?"

"Dark witches - not all, but some dark witches - think power is the most important thing. The more powerful you are, the better. And to protect their power...well, they protect themselves from other people. They don't let other people get close."

"So, they don't have many friends?"

"No. Not really." 

Amanita thought this coven meet did not sound like much fun, and she said so. This made Mother frown, but it wasn't an angry frown (like the one she made when Kitty managed to rip the stuffing out of half the cushions in the cottage). This looked more like the worried frown she wore when she thought Amanita may be falling ill.

"I've never thought a coven meet should be fun," Mother said at last. "It is my duty to attend - it is expected of me, and so I go."

Amanita nodded. She understood about duty. Her mothers used different words for it sometimes - words like 'obligation' and 'have to'. There were certain things that witches just had to do - even if they weren't very fun, or were messy and took a lot of time.

"I'll be with you the whole time," Mother said, and she could hear the firmness in her voice. It helped her feel better. "I won't let anyone or anything hurt you."

"I know, Mother." 

She did too; there was no doubt in her mind that her mother would keep her safe. And if her mother was there, then she would have fun - she loved playing and spending time with Mother.

"At some point, you will have to meet Cora Mills."

"Your mother." It still sounded strange to her. She saw the worried frown return to Mother's face.

"Yes, my darling. My mother. She is...she can be a little..."

"Mama says she doesn't know how to love very well."

"Well...yes. Your mother is right about that. But Cora Mills does love power, and she is a very powerful witch. And because she is the leader of the coven, everyone must show her a special spell of some sort."

"Okay."

This is what had been worrying Amanita. Her 'special spell' was going to be to make a little storm cloud. She was going to make it go from white to dark grey, then make it rain gently, then pour down and make thunder and lightning, and finally to snow. She had been perfecting the spell for weeks and weeks, but she was worried that it would not be enough for Cora Mills.

She'd never met the leader of a coven before. But Mother sounded like it was an important thing, and she wanted to do her very best.

"Remember though," Mother continued, "If you don't feel like showing her your spell, you don't have to."

Amanita was torn now. She didn't want to be scared. She wanted to be brave. But the thought of Cora Mills was making her very nervous. 

Mother seemed to realise that Amanita was struggling with this, and so she put her arms around her and lifted her into her lap for a cuddle.

"What's the matter, sweet one?"

"I want to try the fire spell," Amanita told her. 

"We've not done that spell in years, Amanita."

"I know, Mother. I think I'm ready now. Please?"

 

***

 

Regina was beginning to wish she had never heard of the fire spell. 

Amanita was stubborn about not giving up, but no matter what they tried, her daughter did not seem able to produce fire.

They were having their regular lesson time outdoors today; Kitty was lolling on one of the branches of his tree keeping a lazy eye on Amanita and Regina; Emma was in the cottage pottering about at her workbench. Amanita was getting more frustrated by the moment, and with every failed attempt, Regina's heart ached for her daughter.

"Amanita," she tried yet again to explain in a way that would make sense to the child, "the first step is to make the spark, see?" 

A little blade of fire appeared in the middle of Regina's palm.

"Then once you have that, you pour a little more power in -"

The spark expanded until the flame filled her palm.

"- and you have a fireball. Then you can throw it, or cancel it out, like this."

She made a dismissing movement with her hand, and the fire snuffed out.

"The first step has to be the spark. You're pouring power into your palm before you have anything there for it to build on."

Amanita's face was screwed up in a frown.

"I can't make the spark, Mother. I keep trying, but it doesn't happen!"

"Right now, what fuels your power is emotion-" She broke off when she saw Amanita did not seem to understand. She held up her hand; an apple appeared in her palm.

"Amanita, push this apple off my palm."

"Using magic?"

"No."

Amanita reached forward and poked at the apple. It fell to the ground.

"See, you have the ability in you - to move your arm and push at the apple. Now, go and push over that log that Kitty is sitting on."

"Without magic?" Amanita asked uncertainly.

Her mother nodded, so she walked over to the dead tree and pushed at it as hard as she could.

"I can't," she huffed.

"Do you know why?"

"It's too big."

Regina titled her head and waited.

Amanita pouted a bit, but tried again.

"I'm not strong enough."

"And what would make you strong enough?"

"Bigger muscles?"

Regina smiled. "Yes. Possibly."

"If I were much taller? Like, as tall as the tree?"

"Yes, also possible. Or, if you had an understanding of levers."

"What's levers?"

"A way to use your strength to move things without needing to get bigger, or get bigger muscles. Now, I want you to think of your magic like your muscles. You can do certain things easily. But some things take more power, or a different way of using the power you have. And as you grow, you will learn these different ways, and you will develop more power. The more you practice, the stronger you will get."

"But I'm not strong enough right now?" Amanita whined.

"You can be, if you can use your emotions to add a little push to your power. That's a quick way to enhance your power temporarily."

"I know," Amanita said, her voice going high pitched with frustration, "But it doesn't work, Mother!"

Regina sighed. Amanita was so upset, if she could focus her frustration, she should be able to create fire. Anger was the most powerful emotion Regina knew - part of the reason she had been able to create a fireball at three years old was that, even so young, she had been far too familiar with her own anger. 

But Amanita was different. She shied away from her anger. It dissipated so quickly. Before she'd really got a handle on it, it had melted away, turning into a less explosive emotion. It made her a wonderfully sunny-dispositioned child, but also meant she struggled with spells like this one.

"It's only one spell, Amanita." Regina said gently. "And one spell does not a witch make. Take your mother. She's never created a fireball in her life. That does not make her less of a witch, and it certainly does not make her less powerful."

"Mama's a Light witch," Amanita said stubbornly. "They don't do fire."

Regina smiled. "No, they don't."

She leaned down and kissed her daughter's cheek.

"You may make fire one day, Amanita. But even if you never do, it takes nothing away from you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Mother."

There was still a little frown on Amanita's face, so Regina kissed her cheek again.

"I love you very much, my darling. And I think we should take a break now, okay?"

Amanita sighed, hugged Regina tightly, smacked a kiss against her ear and whispered, "I love you too." She dashed off towards the orchard to play.

Kitty came alert, dropped down out of the tree and loped after Amanita. He always followed her when she was out on her own. It had become so commonplace, Amanita had stopped looking for him, or calling to him when she went off to do her chores or to play in the garden; she knew the helcat would always be close by. Regina and Emma joked about it a little, saying that Kitty had obviously decided that Amanita was his favourite of the pack, even though it was her mothers who made sure he was fed. 

 

Regina was not in a joking mood when she stomped back into the cottage. 

"Lessons not going well?" Emma asked carefully.

"She just can't get it to work!"

"The fire spell?"

"She doesn't seem to realise she's not ready for it! She just wants to keep trying."

"She's stubborn, once she's got an idea in her head." Emma grinned. "She gets that from you, you know."

"Oh, thank you. That's just what I needed to hear."

"Regina," Emma said, hurriedly crossing the room so she could touch the other woman on the arm. "Hey. What's wrong?"

"It's making her so unhappy, Emma!"

"Because she can't do the fire spell?"

"She's trying so hard. But nothing is making a difference. And I don't want her to think she's a failure. Because she's not!"

"Of course she's not. And she doesn't think you-"

A scream rent the air. 

It was followed almost immediately by a yowling cry.

"Amanita!" they both cried simultaneously.

They transported toward the sound of the scream. Regina materialised closer to their child. Emma was a few metres away and running hard towards them.

Amanita was lying on the ground, clutching at her hand. Wisps of smoke trailed from her sleeve.

Kitty was standing above her, yowling in pain as he pawed and licked at Amanita's hand and arm. 

Regina went to her knees besides her daughter. Emma tackled Kitty. He yelped, but let her manhandle him away from Amanita. When she noticed the burns and blisters on his mouth and paws though, she eased up on how hard she was holding him. 

"Amanita! What happened?!" Regina cried, helping the girl to sit up.

She was clutching her arm at her wrist, holding her hand away from her body. The edge of her sleeve was tattered and burnt. The skin of her palm was scorched bright red, and a small blister was forming in the centre of her hand. 

Amanita looked up at her mother, her bottom lip caught between her teeth, her eyes round and wet with tears. She made no sound, not even a whimper.

Regina was waving magic over Amanita's hand, encasing it in a glowing purple ball of power. 

As the pain eased a little, Amanita took a shuddering breath and whispered, "I tried to make fire."

"Oh, my darling." Now was not the time to scold the child for practicing magic without supervision, so all she did was hold her closer.

Kitty was making a stuttering whimper of pain as he tried to lick at the reddened skin around his mouth.

"Magic wont help him," Regina reminded Emma.

"I know. I'll go get some salve. Do you have her?"

"I do. Go."

Emma disappeared, leaving Kitty behind. The helcat crept closer to Regina and put his head on her lap. He licked at Amanita's arm, above where Regina's healing magic covered her hand.

Amanita smiled tremulously and tried to pat him with her uninjured hand.

Regina's mind was a tumult, her body still on full alert, her heart pounding. Nothing was making much sense in this moment. She said the first thing that came to her lips.

"Doesn't it hurt, sweet one?"

Amanita nodded.

But she was not crying, and Regina could not understand why. 

"You're not crying."

A shaky breath, then Amanita said, "There is no room for softness in the Dark."

Regina gasped, the shock hammered into her belly, sending icy tendrils shooting through her.

"Where did you hear that?"

"Your journal. You wrote it."

"Darling-"

"Crying is weakness."

"Amanita!"

"You said-"

"I was wrong! Oh, Amanita. Crying is not weakness! It's not weak to feel pain. Or to show it."

"It isn't?"

"No, my darling. Not at all. Cry, cry if you want to!" 

Regina was almost crying herself at this point.

Emma came back into the middle of that - in time to hear Amanita quote Cora Mills, and Regina's impassioned denial of her mother's words. 

Amanita leaned her face into Regina's neck and wailed with pent up fear and pain; tears started coursing down Regina's face; Kitty's whining intensified and he tried to lick both Amanita's and Regina's faces.

 

Somehow Emma managed to get everyone calmed down enough to get them indoors. While Emma tended to Kitty's wounds, Regina took Amanita into her bedroom so she could check her burns. The healing spell had done its work, taking the redness and pain away, and draining the blister. There was still a little flap of whitened skin, marking where the blister had formed, and Regina was gently rubbing salve into Amanita's palm.

Emma came into the room and sat besides Amanita, putting her arm round her shoulders. She kept her eyes on Regina.

"Tell us what happened," Regina was saying carefully. She wanted to understand how the spell she had been teaching Amanita could have gone so wrong.

"I couldn't make the spark," Amanita said in a small voice. "So I thought, if I could make it some other way, then I could practice making it bigger."

"How did you make the spark, sweetling?"

"I took the tinderbox from your shed," Amanita replied, her voice even smaller. "And lit a match."

"And when you poured your power in-"

"It got so big so quickly, Mother. Kitty tried to help."

"You were lucky he was there," Emma said, halfway between stern and gentle. 

The helcat had extinguished the magic with his paws and mouth, injuring himself in the process - once the match had caught alight, it wasn't just magical fire in Amanita's palm, and he was as susceptible to the flames as Amanita was.

"Amanita-" Regina started to say. 

Her voice was not even a little severe, but Amanita broke down in tears immediately.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't play with matches! Or do magic without you there. And I hurt Kitty! I didn't mean to, Mother. Really!"

"We will get to that," Regina promised. "Later. Right now though, I want us to talk about what you read in my journal."

"About weakness?" Amanita sniffled.

"Yes. Amanita, I need you to understand something. The things you read there - those are not things that I want you to believe."

"But you wrote them."

"I wrote down what Cora Mills taught me," Regina said carefully. "But she was wrong. It is not weak to show softness, Amanita. Remember that. It is not weak to show you are in pain. It is only weakness when you allow your fear of pain to prevent you doing what is right."

"I didn't do what was right," Amanita said in a sad voice, leaning against her mother. "Did I?"

"You didn't," Emma agreed.

"And we'll talk about that tomorrow," Regina added. "But, supper now, then you can check on Kitty, and rest."

 

Later, when Amanita had fallen asleep, Regina took the journal from her room and sat leafing through it while Emma checked on Kitty. She found the page where she'd written out her mother's directives. So much had happened since, she had forgotten ever writing this. Or perhaps she had willed herself to forget. But faced with it now, she remembered. In line after line of increasingly uneven handwriting, the words burned up at her, pulling her back to when she'd first entered them into the journal. 

She had only been living with Nan Locket a few days. The attack in the woods was still fresh in her mind, and the cuts and bruises still ached on her body. The memory of the Light witches’ screams as they died still echoed in her ears. 

She had not wanted to leave the sanctuary of Nan Locket's cottage. She had berated herself, reminding herself that she was an apprentice of the Dark - worse still - she was Cora Mills' daughter. She should not be so weak and cowardly. No Dark witch would cower here, guilt-ridden and tearful over her own actions. 

She had written the words to remind herself that it was her duty to be strong, to not show any weakness, to not be so soft that she mourned for the lives she had taken. 

That was what Amanita had read - words written when young Regina had felt at her most alone and wretched. If Amanita had read further, she would have found other pages, written after Regina had spent some time talking to Nan Locket, when she had had some room and time to think about what had happened. But perhaps even if Amanita had found those, more hopeful, pages, all she would have paid attention to were these words of despair. Words that told her that you had to be hard and cold if you called yourself a Dark witch.

Regina clutched at the page, tearing it from the book, leaving only a jagged scrap left in the journal. She crumpled the torn page in her fist and tossed it into the fire.

"Regina?"

Emma had come back into the cottage, and was standing watching her from the doorway.

"It's over," Regina hissed at her. "I can't do this anymore."

"What are you talking about?" There was a slight note of panic in Emma's voice.

"I am done. No more. I'm not taking Amanita anywhere near Cora Mills."

"Oh," Emma breathed out on note of relief. "You're not going to the coven meet? Good."

"No, Emma. I've been telling Amanita that weakness is allowing fear to prevent you doing what is right. And that's exactly what I've been doing - I've been weak. Well, no more. I am leaving Cora's coven."

 

 

It wasn't that simple of course. There was planning that had to happen first, and explaining.

Regina had to repeatedly tell Amanita some variation of 'No, my darling, it's not because you can't do the fire spell yet. I don't want your first experience of a coven meet to be at Cora Mills'. That is not what I want for you', before Amanita would believe it wasn't her fault they weren't going.

 

 

And then there was Emma.

Her concern started from the moment Regina revealed that she would not simply not show up at the coven meet.

"But why can't you just not go?" she demanded.  "Why do you have to go there to tell her you're leaving the coven?"

"If I don't make an appearance, she will seek me out," Regina said. "And I don't want her finding us." 

Emma sighed. This was Regina being protective again - trying to prevent Cora learning the truth about how she and Emma shared Amanita.

"It's better I do this on my own terms," Regina said, her voice almost pleading, willing Emma to understand. "I'll go to the meet early, tell her before too many others arrive. She can say what she likes about my decision after."

"You should take me with you. For moral support if nothing else."

"You're not coming anywhere near Cora Mills."

"Again - your mother does not frighten me."

"I know, Emma. But I need to know you and Amanita are safe. And that means staying very far away from a Dark coven meet. You know I'm right about this, Emma."

"But, what if your mother gets sarcastic?"

"I can handle my mother, Emma."

"You don't have to do it on your own."

"I do. I need to face her. I need to do this, for myself."

"You're stronger than she is, Regina."

"I shall have to be."

"So - you'll just tell her and come home? You won't spend the entire week away again?"

"No. There will be no point in that. I'll tell her just before the meet starts. Then I'll leave."

 

That seemed to assuage Emma's worries for a while. But her concern increased as she began to consider all the ramifications of Regina's decision. 

They were lying in bed one night, Emma's arms wrapped around Regina's warm body. They were in that gentle moment between lovemaking and sleep, when they were loathe to end their closeness and so stretched out the time as long as they could with rambling conversation. 

At this point, the upcoming coven meet was never far from their thoughts, and Regina was working through her plans to talk to Cora.

"I'll have to assure her I'm not starting a new coven. I don't want her thinking I'm setting myself in opposition to her, or seeing Amanita as a potential rival."

"So, you're going to be just a lone witch, out on your own?"

"Hmm. Like you."

And that's when it struck Emma.

"You've never been without a coven before."

"No."

"Not that Cora's coven sounds like a great loss."

"Not really," Regina said drily. "Though being a member of her coven does have some advantages - it gives you the opportunity to learn everything you can about your potential enemies."

Emma snorted at that. Her memories of covens were a little different than Regina's. 

"But still. You've never been completely on your own before."

"No," Regina said thoughtfully. "I suppose not."

Emma let that idea sit in her mind for a moment. She did not like how it made her feel. Emma had made the decision to be a lone witch for herself; for one thing, being so traumatically torn from her childhood coven had left her wary of finding a place in a new one. For another, being moved around so much as an apprentice had left her little chance to be part of a community of witches. By the time she was old enough to take care of herself, she had lost all interest in joining a coven. It wasn't until she was tasked with taking care of Amanita that she had begun to think about starting her own.

And for all the difficulties and hostilities that were apparently rife in Dark covens, it was still a part of Regina's life that she would be losing. Emma knew what loss could do to a person. And she did not like thinking of Regina going through that.

"I'll be your coven."

The words blurted out of her without much forethought, but as soon as they were said, she knew she meant them.

"That's very kind, Emma," Regina's voice was low and amused. "But - a Light witch and a Dark in the same coven...talk about your shades of grey!"

"Our entire lives are one big grey area," Emma countered. 

It wasn't something either of them openly reflected on very often, because unconsciously they feared if they did examine the nature of their arrangements too closely, something would unravel and fall apart. And as much as they didn't yet understand what they had, they both were very sure they were not ready to let go of it just yet. 

"True."

"I mean it, Regina. I'll be your coven." Then she offered hesitantly, "Until you find something better." 

There was a pause before Regina replied; Emma felt the stretch of the moment far more because she was holding her breath.

"Some people may say we're almost a coven already. Except without the mistrust and the plotting to steal power from each other."

Regina's voice was teasing, and Emma wasn't sure whether to be glad or upset that she had chosen that route, instead of responding to Emma's unspoken question.

"Would you like me to plot against you?"

"You're being ridiculous again....Besides. You'd be terrible at plotting."

"I would."

They lay in silence for a while.

"Emma?"

"Hmm?"

"You would make a terrible Dark coven member. I would never feel the need to be suspicious or distrustful. I'd lose my edge."

Emma laughed softly and Regina leaned upwards and kissed her gently.

"I'd never find better."

 

***

 

Early on the morning the coven meet was due to start, Regina prepared to leave the cottage. She went into Amanita's room to kiss her goodbye, and found her already awake, sitting up, yawning.

She held her arms up for Regina to lift her out of bed, and wrapped her arms tightly around her mother, cuddling into her.

As she carried her out into the common room, Regina couldn't help thinking that soon she wouldn't be able to hold Amanita like this; her daughter was growing so quickly, before very long she'd be too big for Regina to lift so easily. And she was becoming more and more independent; Regina could not remember the last time Amanita had asked to be carried. 

Her thoughts made her eyes sad, and when Emma saw her she leaned in over Amanita's head to kiss Regina.

"Everything okay?"

"Yes. I should go. The quicker I leave, the faster I can get back."

Emma took a sleepily protesting Amanita from Regina, shifted her onto her hip, holding her in place with one arm. Her other arm she slipped around Regina's waist and pulled her against her, making their trio into a little huddle of warm cuddles.

She pressed a kiss to Regina's forehead.

"Hurry back."

"I will."

"We'll be waiting."

With a sigh, Regina pulled away from Emma's embrace.

"Time to go."

She paused for a moment to alter her clothing - remembering to do it before showing up at her mother's gates this time. Her dress was severe, her face made up in dramatic lines, almost mask-like, concealing any lingering sadness.

Amanita's nose wrinkled with confusion when she saw her mother's change; Regina smiled at her, transforming her face to something more familiar. Amanita relaxed against Emma and waved sleepily at Regina.

"‘Bye Mother. See you soon."

That was the image in Regina's mind when she transported away - Emma Swan holding their daughter, sleep still in both their eyes, smiling and waiting for her to get home.

 

When Regina had disappeared, Emma shifted Amanita in her arms so she could look down at her. 

"What shall we do 'till your mother gets home?"

Amanita shrugged. "Breakfast?"

"Oh, what a good idea! We're going to make her a really nice meal for when she gets back. I think she'll need something nice to come home to."

Amanita perked up, nodding eagerly. "Mushrooms?" she asked, excited.

"Yes! Her favourite! Clever girl."

She put Amanita down. "Go and get changed, sweetling. We're going to have to go hunting for them."

She knew just the place too. There was a quiet spot in the woods where Regina's favourite mushrooms grew. It was close by the mud hole Regina had fallen into once. Chuckling to herself at that memory, Emma prepared for their unexpected jaunt into the woods. 

 

***

 

Cassandra Spindler was a witch of not inconsiderable power. More useful to her however, as she had risen through the ranks of the Dark covens, was her unwavering patience and utter willingness to do what was necessary to achieve her goals, no matter the price.

She stood now at Cora's right hand. But Cassandra had no intention of stopping there. Being lieutenant to the Dark Queen may have been a lofty ambition that more than satisfied some witches, but Cassandra wanted to be more. She did not simply want to be Cora's fist; she wanted to be Cora's heir apparent. Someday, Cassandra resolved, she would sit in Cora's throne and rule all the Dark covens.

There was a slight obstacle in the way of her achieving that particular goal. Cora already had an heir apparent - her own daughter. 

Regina's potential power held an almost legendary status among the Dark covens. And even though Regina showed little interest in taking her mother's throne, both Cora and Cassandra knew that she was a threat; in fact, they thought Regina the more dangerous for her seeming disinterest.

So when Cora set Cassandra to spy on Regina, she took it as an opportunity to further her own agenda.

But much to Cassandra's fury, it seemed that Regina had already anticipated that she would be watched, and had placed counter spells all across her tracks. Cassandra had tried transporting towards Regina's cottage, but was rebuffed by the strongest warding spells she had ever faced. She tried for weeks to chip away at the wards, but it seemed as though Regina's spell simply sucked in whatever power she sent against it and strengthened itself even more.

She tried watching Regina's cottage, first using a magic mirror, but the warding spells made everything hazy and milky. Then she tried using an old-fashioned spyglass, but to get close enough to the cottage for that to be useful would have required her to be inside the wards - which persisted in being impenetrable.

The local villagers - their homes half a day's ride away - were of little help. They all feared 'the witch on the cliff', and none could tell her anything of Regina's habits. Cassandra set her most trusted spies to watch the roads that led to the cliff dwelling, but no one ever seemed to travel to Regina's cottage. No matter what she tried, she could not get more than a glimpse of Regina's gardens.

It took more than half a year before Cassandra realised that the cottage was empty.

 Cora had ranted at her for half an hour when she had made that particular report. 

The trail now beyond cold, Cassandra was given other, more pressing duties. But she never stopped looking for Regina. She sent out discrete inquiries through others of the Dark covens, seeking information about a lone witch raising an apprentice. No one had heard anything. It seemed as though Regina had disappeared off the face of the world.

Cora had ranted some more. But with so little information coming in about Regina, it seemed very likely that she was not plotting against her mother - otherwise Cassandra's spies would have unearthed some sort of intelligence. Cora reasoned she would see Regina at the next coven meet, and would be able to press her for information as to her whereabouts then. So she stopped asking for regular updates, focusing on strengthening her grasp on the Dark covens and ensuring the Light covens continued to be impaired in their efforts to reform.

Cassandra did not forget though.

Wherever she went, she would ask after a lone Dark witch and her apprentice. And she continued to learn nothing of any usefulness, until one day, over two years after she had first started this quest, she heard a story in a tavern.

The storyteller was some sort of puppeteer, who made his living traveling from hamlet to village all over the realm, putting on a mediocre show; he was generally paid in pennies, and tonight he had obviously scraped together enough to buy himself a few tankards. Once the pennies ran out, he began telling tales, hoping to be entertaining enough that someone would pay for the ale to keep his throat wet enough to talk. 

Cassandra was paying him little attention; stories about runaway bulls and cuckolded husbands held little interest for her. But then she overheard the words 'magic' and 'witches', and her focus sharpened. She heard the end of his story - how the dark-haired witch that everyone had thought a bit stuck-up at first had saved the family, while the friendly yellow-haired woman had somehow stuck the tree back in the ground using nothing but some white light. Then they had taken their baby and gone home.

Some witches are highly attuned to portentous moments. Cassandra heard a rushing wind and her chest filled with a cold, heavy weight.

"Puppeteer!" she called out. "Let me buy you another."

In the end, the ale was not enough; the man travelled so much, and his stops were so brief, that all the hamlets and villages blended into one - he could not remember exactly where he'd been when he'd seen two witches working together, Dark magic and Light combining. She'd had to resort to pain before his mind recalled sufficient detail to at least point her in the direction where the village lay. 

It took her a few months more, months where she travelled from village to village, sleeping in mean little inns and eating at inferior tables, before she heard the story told by someone who had actually been at the market that day, who could describe the Dark witch clearly enough that Cassandra had no further doubts it was Regina Mills. 

Cassandra spent a few days more, going to the village, passing as a weary traveller who needed a little while to rest before she journeyed on. She sat in the tavern, and bought drinks, dropping an innocent-seeming word here and there, and listened and listened and listened.

She'd returned to Cora, hiding her own delight in her discoveries, to report that Regina was in the Blackwoods. That Cora Mills' daughter, heir apparent to the Dark Queen's throne, was working with a witch of the Light, raising an apprentice together, living together. 

Cora's fury at first burned white-hot. She raged. She swore she would destroy Regina. Was prepared to burn the cottage in the woods to the ground with her traitor daughter still inside. But then her anger grew cold. She wanted to look Regina in the eye as she confronted her, wanted her to know how very much she had disappointed her mother. Cora and Cassandra sat together and planned.

The coven meet was nearly upon them. But there was enough time. They would be ready.

 

Chapter Text

Cora had inherited her castle from her late husband - the foreign prince who had been sent to this realm to be forgotten by a father who placed little value in his son. Her husband may have been a disempowered prince, but the home he left his wife and daughter was palatial. The main building of the castle was a keep five storeys high, topped by various slanted tiled roofs, and protected by a small barbican that stood flush to high walls and narrow battlements. These walls enclosed acres of sweeping lawns and grounds that had been meticulously tended to by generations of gardeners, and a workforce of serving men and women.

Regina materialised at the castle gates, feeling the warning sting of Cora's protective spells against her skin. Her mother always strengthened her warding spells before a coven meet, when there would be many visitors in and around the castle. Regina knew these wards would wrap around the walls, and stretch upwards and curl over into a giant dome of protection. Any spells made by an outsider would flounder against these shields. No over-eager visitor would be able transport directly into the castle without passing through the gate and being vetted by Cora's guard.

Other queens may have had knights and soldiers, uniformed and bearing sharp-edged steel, but Cora relied only on her magic and a handful of carefully selected witches to keep her castle safe. As a young woman, Regina had spent many a coven meet secretly testing the limits of her mother's warding spells until she had worked out how to break them. She could have done it now - shredded the protections and stormed through the castle until she found Cora, so she could deliver her message and leave. She was nervous enough about facing her mother that she stood and considered this course of action for several minutes. She wanted nothing more than to be done with this confrontation and return to the Blackwoods, back to where Amanita and Emma waited for her.

But in the end reason prevailed; she did not want to do anything that would push her mother into a defensive or attack position. She needed her mother to be in a reasonable frame of mind, not a combative one. She drew a deep breath into her lungs, squared her shoulders, and reminded herself why she was doing this - for Amanita's well being (and Emma's safety); steeled with those thoughts, she approached the barbican and announced her presence.

The gates did not part for a few minutes.

When they did open, she found Cassandra waiting for her, four guard witches at her back.

 

Regina's relationship with her mother's lieutenant was a contentious one. Cassandra had joined Cora's coven when Regina had been away finishing her own training, traveling the realm and seeking out all manner of witches and other adepts of magic and power to learn from. When she had returned, she had found Cassandra installed at Cora's right hand.

Young Regina had so little interest in political dominion, it hadn't bothered her to find a witch of such obvious power and ambition so close to her mother. But Cassandra had not felt the same way about Regina, and she had responded to Regina's return with thinly veiled disdain. The coven had seen the lines drawn, with a powerful but naive Regina on one side, and Cassandra, cold and calculating, on the other.

Regina made it obvious she had not returned to fall at her mother's feet and beg forgiveness for the audacity of her independence. Cassandra countered with an almost stomach-turning obsequiousness, flooding Cora with obedience and loyalty.

To Cassandra's irritation, Cora still pinned her hopes for the future leadership of the Dark covens on Regina. So even though Cora was annoyed that Regina had chosen to travel her own path so early, instead of completing her time as an apprentice and staying under her mother's shadow, she had been prepared to allow Regina back to her place as Cora's heir apparent.

Things may have gone poorly for Cassandra's ambition if Regina had not taken up with a stableboy.

Regina had been too inexperienced to properly hide her feelings; she had flitted around the gardens sighing and writing poetry! She had been seen sneaking into the stables to spend hours mucking out stalls and braiding manes, apparently just so she could be with the boy. And all that may have been forgiven too - for Daniel was not unattractive and Cora acknowledged that a young woman had needs - but then Regina claimed to have fallen in love with him! She had given her heart to a boy with no power or ambition. She had said she would go live with him in a little hovel somewhere and practice the meanest of magic - Cora Mill's daughter, a village witch!

When Cora had learned this, she had sworn that no heir of hers would ever throw away their potential on curing warts and pedaling love potions. Regina was born to power, and Cora was not building an empire of Dark covens only to have her heir throw it all away over a pretty-faced boy who spoke gently to her.

Soon after that, Daniel had ended up dead in the river.

If Cora had thought that Daniel's death would pull Regina back to her, she had miscalculated how deeply her daughter's grief and fear would run. All she had succeeded in doing was hardening Regina's heart against ever falling in love again, and causing her daughter to withdraw even further from Cora's circle of influence. But Cora could be patient. She was sure that, in time, Regina would discover she shared her mother's objectives - to rule the realm of magic. Cora believed that Regina was too fascinated by the power to not grow to want to govern its practitioners.

But, just in case Regina did not come to her senses soon enough, Cora would allow Cassandra to think she would be Cora's second choice. So Cassandra and her chosen witches were permitted to treat Regina as though she were a powerless fledgling witch. Cora encouraged these humiliations, wagering that Regina's pride would soon get the better of her, and she would strike at Cassandra, destroy her rival, and take her place.

The continuing failure of this plan had begun to rankle; but then Regina had taken an apprentice, and Cora's hopes had rekindled. With a follower, someone who looked to her for guidance as an all-powerful witch, surely Regina's ambition would be awakened. And then Cora could fan the flames and her daughter would finally show herself a worthy heir.

(Cassandra, of course, was hoping for a quite different outcome. And Regina had only helped by choosing poorly again, and delivering herself to the judgement of Cora's cold fury.)

 

"Regina," Cassandra's voice was almost syrupy, which made Regina frown. "We did not expect you so soon."

"I do not need to check my schedule with you," Regina replied dismissively, making to brush past Cassandra.

The taller witch moved to block her path; the four other witches pulled back a little and separated to cover the pathway. They had not called up their magic but their stance and demeanour spoke of threat. Regina sneered but made no other reaction - she knew this was just another calculated insult and there was no reason to give in to Cassandra's attempts to call her out.

"We are still readying ourselves to receive guests," Cassandra said, her voice still laced with a poisonous sweetness.

"I am not a guest," Regina spat. "Where is my mother?"

"Preparing herself," Cassandra responded. "She is not seeing-"

"I will find her myself," Regina snarled.

Regina may have seen the wisdom in not directly challenging her mother today, but she felt no such compunction when it came to Cassandra.

"Wait!" Cassandra cried out. The sweetness had dropped from her voice now, but she smiled, showing teeth. "I will go and let her know you are here. Perhaps she will make an exception...for you."

 

Regina stood and waited, tapping her foot impatiently on the footpath. The four witches Cassandra had left behind stood ranged awkwardly around her - trying to not look as though they were guarding her. No one doubted Regina's power, and with Cassandra gone, the other women were not so keen to provoke Regina's temper.

Regina gritted her teeth as the minutes lengthened. Experience had taught her how much Cassandra enjoyed taunting her with small humiliations, but experience had also taught her how to hide her irritation behind a sneer and disinterested air. She could take solace in the fact that this would be the last time she would have to put up with Cassandra's power plays, but she found the irritation served her well as a shield. Her anger gave her something to focus on that was not Emma and Amanita. In the back of her mind was the image of Emma holding Amanita, her daughter's hand raised sleepily to wave farewell; Emma's eyes had been dark with the depth of whatever she'd been feeling, but she had smiled at Regina with such soft affection, she felt her chest tighten with the memory of it. She wanted to be back with them. She wanted it so much, her entire body yearned. It made her weak, this longing; she stood surrounded by enemies, and all she wanted to think about was going home; hugging her daughter; standing shoulder to shoulder with Emma while they prepared a meal; sitting in the orchard, while Amanita chased Kitty between the trees and Emma sprawled on the ground with her head in her lap. Regina needed her magic close to the surface, ready to strike out and defend, but allowing her thoughts to turn to the cottage and what waited for her there made her soft. It was difficult to think about hurling fire balls and attack spells when your mind was filled with memories of cuddles and smiles. So she clung to her irritation, armed herself with her anger, and buried the feelings that threatened to weaken her.

 

"Cora will see you," Cassandra said, seconds after she re-materialised. "She is in the rose gardens. Would you like me to show you the way?"

"I know how to find my way around," Regina snapped back.

She transported towards the gardens, materialising at the boundaries, where the stone walkways met the high hedges. Behind the austere hedges, Regina knew, was a riot of colour and scents. Cora Mills loved roses, but she hid her obsession away behind high green walls, in a distant part of the the castle grounds. Step through the simple gate, and you found yourself already lost in a maze of flowers - growing from pillars and posts; in bushes rising up from the ground - either clipped and well tended, or allowed to run wild; dripping from green arches to make cool, shaded walkways. Cora did not appear to have a preference when it came to the cultivation of roses, unless it was a preference for patternless excess.

Regina stalked between the flowers until she found her mother, sitting at a small table at the end of the garden, overlooking a dense stand of trees growing along a gently flowing stream. There was a pot of tea on the table, and two cups; one was steaming, the other still empty, awaiting Cora's companion.

"Regina," Cora said when she heard her footsteps behind her, "Daughter. Sit. Take some tea with me."

"Thank you Mother, no. I just wanted to-"

"Sit." It was no longer a request. "I hardly see you anymore, and coven meets are always such...time consuming events. I feel we don't talk any more."

"We haven't talked in years," Regina muttered.

"Precisely. And I'd like to change that. Sit, Regina. Before the tea grows cold."

There was iron in her mother's voice that was not to be denied. Regina sat.

Cora poured, the amber stream of tea glowing richly in the morning light. Regina picked up her cup, but did not drink.

"You're alone?" Cora asked conversationally. "Your apprentice is unwell again?"

"No. Amanita is well. She is at home."

"A pity you did not bring her. I was so looking forward to meeting her. Seeing how her training has progressed."

"She is progressing well."

"Hard to believe, Regina. When you will not let me see for myself."

"I have no reason to lie to you," Regina said, just managing to restrain herself from snapping.

"Of course not. She's mastered the fireball then?"

"No. That remains difficult."

Cora glanced over at the sudden pain in Regina's voice.

"You remember how I taught you?"

Regina remembered. Remembered the helpless fury that had filled her until it spilled over, igniting in her palm. In her mother's presence, that fury was never far from her.

She shook her head. "Amanita does not do anger."

"Everyone is angry, Regina. You just have to know how to show them."

"I am not here to talk about Amanita, or my failures as her teacher."

"Indeed. We would be here all morning that in case."

Through gritted teeth Regina said, "Mother, I need to tell you-"

Cora got abruptly to her feet.

"Walk with me."

"Mother?"

"I grow restless, Regina. Sitting still was never my forte. Come. Walk with me. It'll be cooler by the water."

"I will say what I have come to say, Mother."

"And I will hang on your every word. But walk with me while we talk? Is that too much to ask, Daughter?"

They made their way down to the trees. Cora was right, it was cooler here, and the shadows softened her mother's piercing gaze.

Regina squared her shoulders and tried again.

"I wanted to talk to you, about my future with the coven."

"Are you ready to accept a position of leadership?" Cora asked, her voice suddenly eager.

Regina shook her head.

"No, Mother. I still have no interest in ruling after you."

"You were born to be a queen, Regina!"

"I don't want to be a queen! I want what I've always wanted - to be left in peace so I can learn and understand magic!"

"What is the point of all this knowledge if you will not use it?!"

"It doesn't need any further point, Mother! I am a Dark witch - I seek out knowledge, nothing more!"

"You are a witch of great power! Why do you refuse to use that power!"

"I do use it!"

"To do what? Exactly? What do you do with all your knowledge, Regina?"

Regina clawed the words 'help others' back into her throat only by the greatest of efforts. "I collect it," she said instead, her voice sullen. "And I teach my apprentice. That is the way of the Dark, Mother."

"That version of the Dark died long ago, daughter. I should know."

"I have no interest in ruling, Mother," Regina said again. "Please. I never have. I just want...I want to be-"

"You want to be a commoner," Cora said, her voice cold. "Allow others to make decisions that govern your life. You are a daughter of a noble house, and yet you choose to hide away and bury yourself in dusty books, in forgotten corners of the realm!"

"I am a Dark witch! That is what we do!"

"Not my Dark witches!"

"I don't want to be one of your Dark witches!"

Cora took a deep, shuddering breath.

"And so we come to it."

"Mother, please. I want...I need to leave your coven."

"For what purpose?"

"No purpose but my own need - for Amanita."

"For your apprentice? How does your apprentice benefit from not being part of a coven? Of my coven."

"Amanita will not...I won't let you...you won't do to her what you've done to me, Mother."

She cursed her voice for sounding pleading, when she had been trying for strength and firmness.

"What I've done to you? And what is that, exactly, Regina? Made you powerful?"

"My power has nothing to do with you!"

"Oh?"

"Nothing! I owe more to Nan Locket-"

Cora's slap came out of nowhere; her hand snapped across Regina's face, leaving the reddening mark of her fingers.

"The core of your power is due to me," Cora said coldly. "You will not give that credit to some simpering Edge witch."

Regina clutched at her cheek, shaken more by surprise than by any pain her mother may have inflicted. Cora had never laid a hand on her before; she had always relied on magic to curb and control Regina's outbursts.

And Nan Locket had been no simpering village witch. She had been a woman of power, but also one of compassion. She had taken a terrified child and shown her that life could be so much more - so much different - than what she had been led to believe. Nan Locket had not saved Regina's life, but she had shown her how to build herself a new one; a life that was entirely as Regina wanted it to be. Regina felt Nan Locket's presence so strongly it was as though she stood at her shoulder as she stared Cora down.

"I will credit you for giving me birth, Mother. But nothing more than that. My power is my own. Just as Amanita's power will be her own. I am leaving your coven. Amanita will never be one of your Dark witches."

"What will she be then, Regina? A witch of the Light?"

"What?" Regina spluttered, feeling the cold clutch of a sudden fear. "Why would you think that?"

"Oh Regina did you think I wouldn't find out? About you and the village witch? A woman of so little power she flies everywhere on a broom! After the stableboy, I would have hoped you would pick your companions a little more wisely."

An image flashed into Regina's mind, of Daniel's bloated corpse. His body had been in such a state when it was found, she had been denied even the most basic comfort of touching him one last time. He had died alone and probably terrified, and left to the river like so much flotsam.

She could not risk the same fate befalling Emma.

Cora's cold, knowing, smile was a blade that twisted into Regina's gut, churning her emotions even more than the image of Daniel did. The growing panic made her voice high pitched and tremulous.

"She is no threat to you! She just wants to raise our...our apprentice in peace."

She barely caught herself from saying 'daughter'; her mind was spinning, calculating and searching for a way - any way - to keep Cora from realising the full extent of what Amanita meant to her. Cora had shown herself far too willing to destroy what Regina cared for. Emma was already at risk; she could not allow Amanita to fall into the fire too.

"Our apprentice. You share Amanita with her?"

"That was the price the magic demanded!"

"What, that you betray your coven, and your queen. Betray your mother?"

"I am not betraying you, Mother! I am only leaving your coven, not starting one of my own! I am not challenging you!"

"Do you know, Regina, I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. When Cassandra came to me and told me that you had taken up with a Light witch, I thought to myself 'Regina may be foolish, and far too eager to follow her heart, but she is no traitor.'"

This was everything she had feared being made reality - Cora Mills finding out about her affiliation with Emma Swan, and thinking that Regina was maneuvering to overthrow her.

"I am not!"

She could think of no way to convince her mother. What could she do to prove she was not challenging her? Tell her how completely she loved Amanita, how desperately she longed for her to grow safe and happy, how much she was willing to sacrifice to protect her child? She did not think Cora would understand these sentiments; she had certainly never given Regina any indication she felt this way about her.

"But it turns out that Cassandra was right," Cora continued speaking, oblivious to the turmoil of Regina's thoughts. "You are conspiring with the Light."

"No. Nothing like that!"

"Oh Regina, you should never have turned your back on me. You should never have given yourself over to the Light."

"Mother, I don't know what you think is going on between Emma-"

She slammed her mouth shut, terrified of naming the other woman and making her even more vulnerable to her Mother.

Cora sneered at her.

"You're still trying to protect her! Even now! Fear not, Daughter, you've not given anything away. I know all about Emma Swan. And your little cottage in the Blackwoods. Did you really think Nan Locket's ghost would protect you?"

Everything was lost now. Their lives were laid bare before Cora Mills. There were no further shields to hide behind. The only thing left to her was to throw herself on her mother's mercy.

"Mother, please. I swear to you. I have no interest in opposing your rule. The Dark covens are yours. I want nothing to do with them."

"Do you think that makes me feel any better, Daughter? Do you think I have worked so hard - sacrificed so much - for you to simply turn your back and walk away from it all?"

"Is that what you want from me? Then fine! I'll stay!" It would be an easy sacrifice to make if the outcome was to keep Emma and Amanita safe. Better Regina live under her mother's thumb than permit Emma and their child to bear the brunt of Cora's wrath. "I'll be your right hand! I'll rule your covens after you! But please, please Mother. Leave them alone."

"Too little too late, Regina. Your Light witch dares to think she can oppose me."

She could not understand why her mother refused to see. Emma had no interest in power - even less interest than Regina did. She did not want to tear Cora Mills down. Yes, Emma did keep offering to stand by Regina's side when she faced her mother, but that was an act of friendship rather than an attempt to overthrow Cora. Regina had to make her mother see that, at any cost.

"I swear she is no threat to you! Mother, please, do you want me to beg? I will. I will do anything. Please."

"I don't want you on your knees, Regina! A queen does not beg! The fact that you would even offer shows me how dangerously far you have fallen. Emma Swan will be stopped."

The open, direct, threat was what finally stilled her fear and calmed her panic, allowing the reserves of her anger to bubble protectively to the surface. Cora wanted a fight; she'd find one standing before her.

"Not by you!" Regina snarled.

"No," Cora said airily. "I wouldn't sully myself with fighting her. Cassandra however - she is eager for the opportunity. And she will make a better mentor for Amanita than a weak witch of the Light."

And the fury came roaring back in full force, flooding Regina with its heat and power.

"Cassandra will go nowhere near them!"

Cora dared to smile, syrupy sweet in the face of her daughter's fierce rage.

"Ahh. I wonder where Cassandra has got to? While we have been drinking our tea and strolling through the woods."

Consumed as she was by the heat of her anger, it took Regina a moment to realise what Cora was hinting at. But when the import of her mother's words did finally strike home, her body froze over. She felt the terror flow through her, magnified; she realised she was feeling more than her own dread. The binding spell she and Emma had woven between them began to tug.

"Mother," she whispered in horrified tones. "What have you done?"

"Oh look," Cora said cheerfully. "Here she comes."

Regina turned to see Cassandra striding down the path. She was dragging a protesting Amanita with her, the little girl stumbling behind the older witch as she pulled and strained ineffectually against the tight grip on her arm.

There was no sign of Emma Swan.

Regina reacted instinctively. Two fireballs blazed to life in her hands and she flung them in quick succession at Cassandra. Her aim was true, and her missiles flew directly at Cassandra's head; it was a killing strike, but more importantly, the fire would hit high enough to keep Amanita safe.

But Cassandra had been expecting an attack and had shields in place to deflect the fireballs.

Regina had already called up a second set of fireballs, and was striding forward to a better position to strike again. She did not see what moved behind her, but Amanita did. Regina's first - and only - warning was seeing Amanita's mouth drop open and her eyes widen in a look of horror. She spun on her heel, pouring more power into the fire that filled her hands.

It looked like a tall, slender, tree. A tree resting on five curved roots that showed above the ground; with a narrow trunk, fuzzy with a bright green moss; five leafless branches sprouted from the top like a green, serrated, crown. That five-branched crown was leaning rapidly over towards her, as though the tree was being blown by a strong wind; but there was no wind, and the movement looked controlled, like it was intentional, and not merely a toppling motion. Regina was flinging fireballs even before she'd seen the insides of the crown - seen the ridges of what could only be teeth.

Her fireballs connected with the creature, but then they seemed to be absorbed into the trunk - not turned away or dissipated, as they had been when they struck Cassandra's shield. This was more like her magical fire was being sucked into the body of the beast, leaving it unharmed.

She went for the roots next, abandoning fire for brute pushing force. She planned to tear the creature up from the roots, bring it crashing to the ground, then pound it into the dirt. But the force of her strike did nothing - did not even shake the creature. Her power was absorbed, and it still moved at her in that controlled curving fall. She tried to transport away, but she'd left it too late.

The crown - no - the mouth slammed into her chest, driving her to the ground. She felt the teeth pierce though her leather bodice. She heard Amanita scream.

 

***

 

Emma and Amanita had fed Kitty, taken a few minutes to change into clothes suitable for traipsing through the woods, eaten a quick breakfast, and then set out to hunt for Regina's favourite wild mushrooms. They had done this often enough that they had a system; Amanita dragged the basket out of the kitchen cupboard while Emma collected the little curved knives they used to cut the mushrooms. Recently, they'd started taking a broom along - the sample broom Emma had made, the one Regina called 'that deathtrap'. Emma had promised to never ride it again, but she wouldn't destroy it either; she was far too proud of her first broom for that. One morning she'd been hauling logs of wood back to the garden, and she'd somehow got the idea into her head to activate the broom's levitation spells, truss the logs to the handle, and walk them home. Regina had watched Emma coming, the log-laden broom floating along in mid air besides her as she guided it with one hand on the handle; the heavy logs may has well have been puffs of air for all the strain she needed to exert to keep them moving towards the cottage.

Emma had faltered when she'd noticed Regina watching, fairly sure some manner of teasing or ridicule would follow.

Regina had laughed, but it had been a delighted sound, and her eyes had shone with pleasure. She had told Emma that she never ceased to amaze her; her voice was so filled with affectionate pride that Emma had strutted around like she was ten feet tall for hours after. The broom came on all their excursions into the woods now; they'd use it to carry their equipment and haul heavy objects, or let Amanita perch on it when she was too exhausted to walk home.

They found the spot where the mushrooms grew easily enough. They weren't too far from the cottage, in a part of the woods where the trees grew thickly, but not so deep that they risked running into some manner of dangerous creature. The greatest danger here was the pond filled with magic-resistant mud, the one Regina had once fallen into. Amanita never tired of hearing the story of how Regina had returned home furious and covered from neck to toe in a hardened shell of mud that had resisted all her efforts to blast away with magic; and how Emma had to carefully peel her free while Regina had fumed and threatened both Emma and a hapless pond. Amanita did not get to hear this story very often, because Mother would glare at Mama when she began to giggle and then Mama would have to spend lots of time apologising while trying to suppress her giggles. So Amanita made sure Mama told her the entire story now, complete with sound effects and a fairly decent impression of Mother losing her temper.

They had filled the basket while they'd been giggling. Emma was shaking the worst of the dirt off the mushrooms, while Kitty lazed in a patch of sun. Amanita grew restless, until she caught sight of a bright flash of feathers.

"Mama! I think that was an alerion! Mother will be so sorry to have missed it!"

Emma glanced up from the mushrooms, smiling at Amanita's eager face. "Do you think it's nesting close by?"

"Maybe? Please can I go look?"

Emma glanced around; the woods were still and quiet.

"Okay. But don't go far."

Emma watched as Amanita hurried off into the trees, staying on the narrow path. She turned back to her task of cleaning the mushrooms. She knew Amanita would stay close. And Kitty would keep an eye on her.

That was when Emma noticed that Kitty had not followed Amanita. The helcat had stood, but he had stayed close to Emma. He was staring at the trees, in the direction of the cottage. His hackles rose slowly and he crouched, as though readying himself to leap.

Emma looked towards the spot the helcat was watching so intently, assuming there was an animal there that Kitty was preparing to pounce on. She stood; if there was a strange creature about, she wanted to call Amanita back to her side, until they knew more about what was out there.

She was facing the four witches when they materialised.

Kitty howled and leapt.

One of the witches gestured, sending her magic out to uproot a small tree and fling it at the attacking helcat. The tree was a physical object, not a direct magical attack, so Kitty had no protection against it; he was still too young and inexperienced to know how to alter his trajectory mid-leap. He could not avoid the tree and it smashed into him, knocking him unconscious and pinning him to the ground under its branches.

Emma spun away from the four witches; she was looking for Amanita, screaming her name.

She could see her daughter in the trees just ahead, but she was not alone. A tall witch had materialised besides her.

Emma cast a transport spell, desperately flinging herself towards Amanita. She reappeared standing between her and the strange witch.

"What do you-" Emma started to challenge, but the choking spell cut her off. She clutched at her throat, gasping for breath. She felt herself lifted until her feet dangled helplessly off the ground. She heard Amanita scream "Mother!" Then she was being thrown, unable to stop herself from slinging through the air. She hit the ground hard, just in front of the four other witches. She couldn't see her daughter, or what was happening.

All she could do was scream, “Run, Amanita! Run!"

She rolled to her feet in time to see Amanita cast her first transport spell. She'd aim for home, Emma hoped, and the safety of Regina's warding spells. The other witch - the tall one with the cruel eyes - she transported away too. That left Emma facing four witches.

If this had been Regina here in the woods, surrounded by four powerful attackers, she would have stood her ground. Outnumbered as she was, she would have faced her enemies with fury in her heart, and her palms filled with fire, and she would have fought.

Emma Swan turned and ran.

 

***

 

Amanita had not realised that anything was amiss until she heard Kitty howl. She turned back towards the sound; she was still close enough that she could see the four witches appear, and watch one of them pound Kitty into the ground with a tree. She had screamed and tried to run back towards her Mama and Kitty, but another witch had appeared before her, blocking her way. Mama had come to her, managing to cast a transport spell that would have made Mother proud. When the strange witch had attacked Mama, lifting her up into the air and making her gasp and choke, Amanita realised they would need more help. She had screamed for her Mother.

Mother and Mama had both explained to her about the spell they had cast; the spell that connected all three of them, so if she ever got in trouble, all she had to do was call for them, and her mothers would come. But something had gone wrong with the spell. She could feel it leave her, but then it was blocked, like it had run into an impenetrable wall. Wherever Mother was, her spell would not reach her.

The strange witch had flung Mama away, leaving Amanita to face her alone. She heard Mama scream at her to run, so she did, to the safest place she knew.

The little cottage where she lived with her mothers, protected by Mother's strongest warding magic.

Amanita had never transported herself before, but she'd been with Regina often enough when she had cast the same spell. She'd held her mother's hand so she would be drawn along with her wherever she was transporting to. She knew what to do to cast herself home.

She failed to get there.

She felt her spell slam into something. She had to materialise or be battered senseless. She reappeared standing just metres away from the safety of home. But someone had cast new wards - an invisible barrier that stood outside the shields Mother had placed around the cottage. She tried to cast again, towards the direction of the village - where there were people who knew her and would try to protect her. But the other witch was there, and she was casting spells to block any transport Amanita tried.

Amanita was alone, but she'd had six years under the tutelage of Regina Mills and Emma Swan.

She kicked the strange witch in the shin, and while the woman clutched in agony at her leg, cast the biggest storm cloud she could. It wasn't very large, but the lighting bolts that slammed into the woman were powerful enough to make her howl.

For a few moments, Amanita had the satisfaction of seeing her attacker falter. She must not have expected a small child to fight back with such ferocity and skill. But then the strange witch rallied and Amanita felt her throat tighten, as though a hand was clutching at her, cutting off her air. Her vision darkened. Her storm cloud disappeared. She felt the transport spell wrap around her and carry her away.

 

***

 

Regina was no stranger to fear. It had been a common enough emotion in her childhood, especially as she'd never known when the next test of her magical abilities would come, or what form they would take. She'd been tested with darkness and cold and fire and loneliness and pain. She grew so familiar with these tests that she'd learned to conquer her response to all of them. Any threat to her own well-being was met with a contemptuous curl of her lip and as much power as she could muster to hurl. But there was one fear Regina had never overcome - the fear of being unable to protect someone she loved. She'd been tested with it once, and had failed; and that failure had cut her so deeply, she'd built protective walls around herself so she'd never be tested with it again. If she didn't love anyone, she'd never have to be afraid of losing them.

Her walls had crumbled before Amanita.

And now she was about to fail again.

Amanita was in Cassandra's clutches; Cora Mills stalked besides her, gloating; the thing that held her down, crushing into her chest, resisted all attempts she made to free herself. She felt herself grow weaker by the moment.

"Mother!" Amanita cried, as Cassandra dragged her nearer.

Regina felt her heart crack with the weight of her despair. She saw Cora's reaction - the startled, staring glare she threw at her daughter.

"What did she call you?"

"Mother, please," Regina begged. "Let her go. You have me. I will do anything you want. Please. Let her go."

"She called you mother," Cora spat, ignoring Regina's pleas. "Is this your heir, Regina?"

Cassandra had reached them now. She held Amanita back with both hands as the child wriggled and struggled to go to her mother.

"Emma Swan?" Cora asked.

Cassandra smiled with satisfaction.

"A memory. She's rotting in the woods by now."

It was a strange thing for Regina, that moment when she learned of Emma Swan's death. She was lying in the dirt at her mother's feet; a woman who considered her a rival had captured her daughter; some nightmare creature held her down, with teeth that pierced her flesh and seemed to be sucking the life force from her with every move she made. There were a lot of things going on to occupy her attention. But in that moment, when Cassandra pronounced Emma's doom, all Regina could think of was that she'd never again see that crooked smile, or look into hazel eyes alight with affection. Of all the things she could have focused on, Emma's smile and eyes were the only parts of her she could bring to mind. She was fairly sure her heart shattered. She had no fight left to give.

A sound finally permeated her despair. Someone was crying. Someone else was crying. Someone other than her. Amanita was crying.

Regina screamed.

She drew up every ounce of power she had, pouring into it every tremor of loss and despair that shook her. Her hands were still free, and she would blast Cora Mills and Cassandra Spindler to dust, even if the price of that much magic was her own life.

The magic surged from her in a blinding purple stream of power. It went no further than an inch from her fingertips.

The creature that held her pulsed and she felt the teeth dig deeper into her chest. Her power sputtered and faded.

Cora laughed.

"Do you like my little pet, Regina? We found it in the Blackwoods, oddly enough. I think it was a sort of caterpillar once. It would have grown into some nondescript butterfly or moth. But the fallout from the conflicts turned it into this. A creature that feeds on magic. Isn't it magnificent?"

She crouched so she could look Regina in the eye.

"Don't do this mother," Regina gasped. "Please."

"It has quite the appetite," Cora continued.  She reached out and tucked some of Regina's disheveled hair behind her ear, smoothing it off her forehead. "It drained a quite powerful witch in two days. I don't know how long it'll take with you, but it will take all your magic. I'll let you go then. See if your friends in the Light still want you."

"Mother-"

"Oh, and don't worry about your little heir. I'll take very good care of her. Perhaps she will prove to be a better student than you."

"You wont," Regina snarled, repeating the words over and over. "you won't, you won'tyouwont."

She called her magic forth again, driven by hatred and fear and all the despairing love she had for her daughter and the grief she suffered for Emma's loss. She was incandescent with power; her skin shimmered as the magic filled her. The creature moved, pushing harder into her, as though trying burrow into her chest so it could find the root of her power and drink from that source. Agony radiated out from where those cruel teeth were gripping into her. She couldn't stop the tortured scream that tore from her throat as she tried to cast a spell - any spell - pushing through the pain and weakness as the power drained from her, flooded from her in waves she could not curb.

Her eyes were fixed on Cora, but behind her she could see Cassandra, her fingers digging into Amanita's shoulders to try to still her struggling.

Her daughter was still fighting, and despite everything, Regina's heart swelled with pride.

She saw Amanita's face twist and snarl into an expression that Regina could not remember ever seeing on her.

"Stop hurting my mother!" Her voice echoed with rage.

Amanita curled her hands and Regina saw her little palms fill with ... not fire exactly. This was nothing like the bright orange flames that Regina produced. The substance in Amanita's hands was dark grey, shot through with flashes of bright light, like a fractured shadow passing across the sun. Amanita heaved one handful of the dark fire at Cora's back. If her mother had any wards up, they were useless against Amanita's spell, and the shadow flames took hold and started to creep up her back. Cora screamed and turned towards Amanita. She waved her hands frantically, wrapping herself in magic to try to extinguish the flames.

The green monster that held Regina twitched, sensing this new source of power.

Cassandra swore and hauled Amanita off her feet, shaking her to throw off her aim as she flung the second fireball. It struck the feeding creature, and Regina felt it hiss against her.

"Again, Amanita!" she cried out.

But Cassandra was hauling the girl away, and Cora was striding towards them, away from Regina and the creature that still fed on her; Amanita was struggling to produce more of her dark fire, but her palms remained empty.

Everything was chaos and pain. The blood pounded deafeningly in Regina's ears, and when she heard the high pitched whooshing noise, she at first assumed it was nothing more than another sign of her body breaking down. But the sound was familiar. She had heard it before. Heard it on a balmy night, when she stood outside their cottage watching Emma Swan test the first broomstick she'd ever built.

The broomstick came rushing between the trees. It flew lower to the ground than normal, but perhaps that was because it carried double the load it was designed for. There was a carrier basket slung under the broom, filled with a yowling helcat. The broom's rider was a strange creature - it looked like a badly melted clay statue.

Kitty leapt from his basket, catching Cassandra in the back and bowling her over. Amanita went rolling away from her.

The broom banked and turned, the rider angling its flight towards Cora. The Queen of the Dark stood her ground and flung spell after spell at the rider - fireballs, blows of pressure, explosions - nothing worked. The rider kept coming, low and fast. When the broom dashed past Cora, Regina saw the rider gesture. Her mother gasped and clutched at her face. She was labouring for breath, clawing at some invisible barrier that wrapped closely around her head, keeping the air from reaching her lungs. The Dark Queen fell to her knees and collapsed onto the ground.

Cassandra was trying to fight off an attack from an enraged Kitty. None of her spells would work against him of course, so she resorted to kicking him. Kitty sunk his claws into her calf, and Cassandra shrieked in agony. She could not run, not with a hundred-pound helcat lodged in her leg.

The rider landed behind Cassandra, took the broom in both hands, and whacked it across her face. The besom broke with the force of the blow. Cassandra staggered, dazed by the strike. The rider jabbed what was left of the besom into Cassandra's stomach, dropped the broom, and finished with a roundhouse punch to her face. Cassandra's stagger turned into a fall. She hit the ground and did not move.

Everything had happened so quickly, Regina barely had time to register that when the rider's fists had connected, great brown flakes had fallen away, showing glimpses of pale skin underneath.

The strange creature was besides her, and Regina looked up into worried hazel eyes. She finally allowed herself to see what she had known all along.

"Emma?"

"Regina. Hold on, I'm going to blast this thing-"

"No! It feeds on magic. Get Kitty."

The helcat was not a creature of magic, but he did have sharp claws and teeth. He made short work of the giant caterpillar.

By the time the creature was dead, shredded from the roots up until it had collapsed, releasing Regina, Emma had trussed up the still-unconscious Cassandra and Cora. She'd tied and gagged them firmly with strips of material torn from their own clothes.

Regina was sitting propped up against a tree (brown, not green, and definitely not interested in feeding on her magic). Amanita was in her lap, sobbing against her shoulder while Regina stroked her hair and whispered soothingly. Emma came to kneel besides them. She checked Regina's wounds; the creature's teeth had left deep gouges in her chest, but she was not bleeding. Emma waved healing magic into Regina, watching her face carefully to see when she stopped gritting her teeth against the pain.

Regina stared at Emma while she worked.

There were so many things she wanted to do and say and ask.

She went with: "Why are you covered in mud?"

 

***

 

Emma Swan knew her limits. She may be a witch of great power, as Regina kept reminding her, but that power was still more a potential than an actuality. She needed a lot more training before she'd be able to use her magic to do something like fight off four Dark witches. But what she did have was cunning, and a plan. She ran.

Ran for the pond filled with magic-resistant mud.

The Dark witches chased after her, throwing attack spells with poor aim. Emma suspected they were toying with her. She dived head first into the sludge and rolled around, coating herself in a thick layer of protection.

When she rose from the depths, she looked like some sort of monster, dripping dark ooze and grinning manically as her attackers spells fizzled harmlessly against her. It was not hard to defeat a foe who could not land any blows against you, no matter how close you got to them. Unlike the Dark witches, Emma knew how to use her fists more than her magic, but the end result was the same. Four unconscious witches, slathered in mud to keep them from using their magic to free themselves, left tied to trees in the Blackwoods.

She found Kitty, struggling to get free from under the branches of the fallen tree. The helcat was not badly injured, and Emma gathered him up into her arms so he would be carried with her when she tried to transport home, where she hoped to find Amanita safely hidden in the cottage.

She'd run into the same barrier Amanita had, and realised what must have happened. Cora Mills had sent her witches against them. She'd have taken Amanita.

Emma got on her broom and flew towards Cora's castle. She carried Kitty in a basket beneath her. Between her coating of mud, and the helcat's natural shielding against magic, they were able to pass through Cora Mill's wards.

The rest of it was simple; fly low and fast, following the tug of the spell that bound her to Amanita and Regina. Unleash Kitty against Cassandra while she took on Cora; she used the spell Regina had taught her once, to harden the air to shield against falling rain. 'Don't curve the shield around you,' she'd remembered Regina saying, 'it will keep air out too'. She'd canceled the spell once Cora had fallen unconscious. Emma Swan was not a killer. Besides, she thought the decision of what was to be done with Cora Mills should be left up to her daughter.

She summarised the details for Regina, leaving out the terror she'd felt when she'd found Amanita gone and the cottage barricaded against her, or the thoughts that had overwhelmed her when she'd seen Amanita being manhandled and Regina pinned and helpless in obvious pain. She’d managed to use that terror, to turn it into an anger that sharpened her reactions and helped her focus her power during her attack.

The worst of it seemed behind them now, although Amanita was curled up into Regina, sobbing and clinging to her mother. Regina was dry-eyed and grim faced, her eyes fierce as she held and comforted their daughter. All Emma wanted to do right now was gather her family into her arms and never let any of them go.

But Regina was struggling to her feet.

"We need to leave.”

“Regina, you’ve been hurt-“

“Mother and Cassandra will wake soon. These woods will be filled with Dark witches. We have to go. Now.”

Emma looked ruefully at her broom; with the besom broken and tattered, it would not fly again.

“I’m not sure how to get us out,” she admitted.

Regina followed the line of her gaze and sighed.

“I’m sorry about your broom.”

“It’s a small price,” Emma said earnestly. She clasped Regina’s hand, her eyes burning with tears she refused to let fall.

“There is another way,” Regina said, looking away from the intensity of Emma’s gaze. “But I’ll need your help.”

 

They stood shoulder to shoulder, Regina with Amanita still wrapped around her, and Emma’s arms filled with Kitty. Emma called forth her power and poured it into Regina, shoring up her depleted resources. Regina cast the spell that would break through her mother’s wards, and then transported all four of them away.

They re-materialised outside the gate of an unfamiliar cottage. It was an odd dwelling. Built of a rough-hewn yellow stone, it consisted of two sections; a tall narrow hall with a slanted roof was connected by a small, covered, balcony to a squat tower. The tower was topped by a metal roof, almost half the height of the tower itself, that looked like the pointed hat favoured by some witches. The yellow walls of the hall were covered with a bright green ivy; the walls of the tower were bare, but inset with several long, intricately carved, window frames. Three shallow steps led up from the ground to the main door of the cottage; it appeared that living branches had been shaped and formed into the railings of the steps and balcony. The cottage sat in open fields, with a single pathway leading away into the distance. There was no sign of any other dwellings nearby.

“This isn’t the Blackwoods,” Emma said, stating the obvious.

“No. We couldn’t go back there. This is Maggie Horner’s patch.”

“Maggie Horner? The midwife?”

“The Edge witch who brought Amanita into this world, yes.”

Amanita perked up at that. Her sobbing had ceased, but she still clung to Regina like she had no intention of ever letting go. But her mothers had told her stories about her birth for as long as she could remember. She still had the little blanket that she’d been told had been her first gift, and she was curious to see the woman who had given it to her.

As they stood talking, the door to the cottage had opened, and a woman was approaching them. She looked more like a farmer’s wife than a witch; she wore a loose linen dress and a rough cotton apron, dusty with flour. Her dark, tightly-curled, hair was covered with a neat square of white cloth. She was round-cheeked and had crinkles at the corners of her eyes that showed she laughed easily, but her face as she approached them was cautious.

Emma set Kitty on the ground, and Amanita allowed her mother to place her besides him. She kept hold of Regina’s hand.

“Regina Mills. What brings you to my doorstep?”

“You gave me some advice once, Mistress Horner. You told me that I should not be so proud that I did not ask for help.”

“I did,” Maggie Horner agreed, nodding; her face was still cautious.

“I have come to ask your help, Mistress Horner. For my family.”

Maggie Horner looked at the strange little group of people that stood at her gate. She barely recognised Emma Swan under her coating of mud; Regina Mills looked like she’d walked through a battering storm; the little girl - Amanita - while she stared fearlessly back at her, had obviously been crying; and -

“Is that a helcat?!”

“This is Kitty,” Amanita made the introductions.

“What comes behind you, Regina Mills?”

“My mother,” Regina replied honestly, “and all the force of her Dark covens.”

Maggie Horner nodded. “So be it then. You had best come inside.”

She opened the gates, adjusting her wards in the same moment to allow the four newcomers to pass unhindered.

Emma walked through the gate first. Maggie wrinkled her nose when Emma drew close.

“There’s a pump and bucket around the back,” she pointed the way. “Why don’t you go and wash the swamp off you? And take the helcat with you. My cottage isn’t ready for familiars.”

“He’s very well behaved,” Amanita said seriously as she followed Emma through the gate.

Maggie Horner examined the girl for a long moment.

“Amanita Buckle,” she said at last. “I am happy to see you child.” Her face suddenly creased into a huge smile. “The last time I saw you, you just about fit into the palms of both my hands.” She held up her large hands, rough and worn, and gestured briefly; there was a flare of pale green power. “Why don’t you go with Mistress Swan? You’ll find a plate of sweet cakes on the grass. Don’t let your Kitty eat all of them.”

She turned finally to Regina, the last one through the gate.

“I assume you and I will want to talk?”

Regina nodded. “Thank you, Mistress Horner.” She squared her shoulders. “I have come seeking your help.”

Maggie sighed.

“Let’s go inside.”

 

The inside of Maggie Horner’s cottage was a tidy clutter; books and magical implements sat cheek-by-jowl with gardening tools and other, stranger, instruments. Regina looked them over with distracted curiosity while Mistress Horner brewed a pot of tea.

“You look like you need something stronger,” she said, as she placed the cup in front of Regina, “but let’s save that for after we talk. Tell me what has happened.”

“My mother believes I have deserted the Dark in favour of the Light.”

“You haven’t?”

“No! But she will not believe me. And she has threatened Emma’s life. And Amanita’s.”

“And yours?”

“Well…yes.”

“And you came to me because you need to place to hide,” Maggie stated. “How much time do we have - before she tracks you here?”

“I don’t know,” Regina replied with a sigh. “I tried to mask the transport spell, but I was weakened. I can’t be sure how long it will take her to break through my defences.”

“So we’ll work fast,” Maggie said firmly.  “There is a Light coven I could send you to; they’ve stayed hidden since-“

“No, Mistress Horner. No coven on this world would be safe enough from my mother. I have come to ask for magic. Magic that will send my family through the Sisters to somewhere they will be unreachable. Safe from Cora Mills and all her Dark covens.”

“All magic comes with a price,” Maggie said, her voice wary.

“I will pay it,” Regina said firmly.

“You do not know what-“

“I do not care what the price is. I will pay it. I will pay anything.”

“The magic you ask for, no one has done anything like it since Nan Locket passed on.”

“I know,” Regina replied. “And I know that you are Nan Locket’s chosen heir.”

“I am a shadow of her, Mistress Mills.”

“You are all I have, Mistress Horner. Please.”

Maggie sighed.

“The price for what you ask, it will mean your life, Regina Mills.”

“I told you. I do not care what the price is. I will pay anything.”

“Regina?”

Emma stood in the doorway, damp but clean of mud.

“What is going on?”

“Emma-“

“I’ve just been assuring our daughter that we are safe. That you are safe. What is this about, Regina?”

“You aren’t safe yet, Emma. My mother won’t stop -“

“What price are you paying?”

“Mistress Mills has asked for magic, to send you and Amanita somewhere safe.”

“Send us? What about you?”

“I’ll stay here, for Cora to find. If she has me, she won’t care about you.”

“Regina. No.”

“Emma-“

“No!”

She stormed away.

“I’ll see to the child,” Maggie said. “You go and set things right with Mistress Swan.”

 

Regina found Emma pacing in the herb garden on the far side of the cottage. She was muttering to herself as she stalked up and down between the rows of strong-smelling plants and flowers.

“Emma.”

She turned on her.

“How dare you!” Her eyes flashed with barely contained fury, and her voice grated harshly through gritted teeth.

“Emma-“

“What gives you the right, Regina?” Emma demanded angrily, gesturing wildly. “You can’t just send us away!”

“Emma, please, it is the only way to keep you safe!” Regina cried. “My mother won’t stop coming after us. We’ve humiliated her.”

“And where will you send us, Regina, to hide us from your mother?”

“Through the Sisters.”

Emma’s eyes widened in shock. “What - to one of your other worlds?”

“Yes. My mother does not know enough about Edge magic to follow. Others have done it. To escape her during the conflicts. Nan Locket-“

“You’re going to make us run?” Emma demanded in an incredulous voice. “And leave you behind?”

“I have no choice!”

“Yes, you do! We can stand and fight!”

Emma’s tone lay between shocked and disbelieving. Regina always stood and fought. Everyone who knew anything about the Dark witch knew this.

“My mother will turn every Dark witch against us! I will not risk Amanita’s safety, Emma. Or yours!”

“Your mother does not scare me!” Emma shouted, her fury rising with her suspicion that Regina still did not think she was strong enough, or brave enough, to go to battle with Cora Mills.

“She scares me!”

The admission tore from her, and Regina’s face crumpled into desperate tears. She turned away from Emma to shield herself from the dawning realisation and tenderness that chased the anger from the other woman’s face. She could not be weak about this, not now. Not when so much of importance was riding on Emma realising the danger she and Amanita were in.

But Emma folded her arms around her, pulling her against her body, and breathed her name against her ear.

“Regina.”

Her voice was soft and warm and gentle, and it made Regina want to turn her face into Emma’s neck, cling to her, and sob. She took a deep shuddering breath before she could trust herself enough to speak. The words spilled from her, urgent and anguished.

“Oh Emma, please. She’ll hurt you. She’ll hurt you both. To punish me. I’m not strong enough. I can’t stop her. I can’t let it happen again. I won’t. I’ll do anything.”

“Regina, we can be strong enough. Both of us. Together. You know how strong we are, when we work together. Your mother won’t stand a chance.”

Emma shone with that swaggering confidence that Regina found so endearing. And yes, when their magic melded together, Regina felt their power grow and deepen; it was like striking out from shore and diving into the bottomless depths of a warm ocean. Unknown and exciting and welcoming all at once, it felt like coming home to a place she had not recognised she’d been yearning for her entire life. But she could not be sure even that much power would be enough of a defense against Cora’s Dark covens.

“I can’t risk it Emma. If you’re wrong. I’ve seen what my mother will do.”

She felt the brush of Emma’s sigh against her forehead.

“Amanita needs her mother, Regina. Not her sacrifice! What do I tell her? When she asks why you aren’t with us. What do I tell her?”

Regina felt her throat tighten. Emma was no longer angry, and she sounded more despondent than challenging, but her questions cut Regina no less deeply for that. She realised that some of Emma’s sadness was drawn from the unexplained loss of her own mother. She knew how deep those scars ran, and she felt the guilt twist and burn in her gut.

“Tell her that I love you!” she blurted unthinkingly, pulling away from Emma’s arms. “Both of you! And I will not see either of you in danger!”

“If you love us, then why are you sending us - wait. You love us. Both of us. You love me?”

She was staring at Regina as though she had suddenly grown a second head - wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and her hands clenching at her sides.

“Emma, please can we focus on the-“

Emma laughed bitterly.

“I can’t believe this is how you choose to tell me you love me.”

“Emma. I’m sorry, okay.” Regina held a hand out in a placating gesture. “You’re right to be angry. I should have discussed this with you first. Not just made the decision to send you away from your home without talking to you about it. But-“

“Do you think that’s what I’m upset about, Regina?” Emma snapped, “That I’d have to leave this place? I don’t care where I live, Regina! I don’t care what world we’re on! As long as you and Amanita are with me, that’s where home is. I’m not angry because….” Her voice was spiraling higher and faster with frustration, and she broke off, forcing herself to stop and regroup her thoughts.

When she started speaking again, her voice was a forced calm measure.

“Do you want to know what I had planned, for when you came back? After you’d told your mother you were leaving her coven, and you came back to us?”

“Is this really-“

“I was going to cook your favourite meal. Then we’d go out for a walk. Sit under your favourite tree and watch Amanita and Kitty play. And I was going to tell you how proud I am of you, and how important you are to me.” She took a deep breath before continuing in a matter-of-fact tone, “And how very much I love you.”

“Emma-“ Regina tried to interrupt, but Emma took hold of her hands to silence her, and forged on, her tone now coloured with an earnest passion.

“All I want is to be with you and Amanita. A family. The three of us. I don’t care about the Dark and Light, or what the covens may think. I just want us to be together. That’s what I was going to tell you.”

By the time she’d finished speaking, Regina’s eyes were wet with tears, and her hands had curled into Emma’s, trembling within her grasp.

“Were you really?”

“Really. I love you Regina.”

“Oh.”

This should have been more surprising. This was a revelation that in theory should have shaken the foundations of her beliefs about their relationship. But as Regina stood there, with her hands clasped in Emma’s firm grasp, looking up into eyes that were bright with an affection and warmth that was all-too-familiar, she realised that none of this felt incongruous. All sorts of things fell into place - little moments and reactions and feelings they’d both shown. She suddenly realised that they’d been moving for years in this direction, and now that they had arrived, it was pointless to look back in shock and say, ‘I didn’t know we’d been walking along this path’. 

“Please, Regina. Don’t send us away from you. There must be another way to fight back against your mother.”

Regina heaved a deep sigh. She loved Emma Swan, and Emma Swan loved her, and Emma hardly ever asked for anything, and Regina had made herself a promise, that she would do whatever she could to give Emma what she asked for.

If Emma wanted them to stay together, then they would stay together. They would find a way.

“We cannot do it alone.” That much could not be disputed. Even with their combined power, there was little chance they could resist the entirety of Cora’s Dark forces. They would be outnumbered and overrun, and the outcome of their defeat did not bear thinking of. “We will need the protection of a coven. Maggie Horner mentioned a hidden coven.”

“A hidden-“

“Yes. Witches in hiding from my mother. Witches of the Light. We can go to them now, for a while. They will find other safe havens for us when we need them.”

And they would need them, because Cora would not stop hunting them. If she had managed to find them in the heart of the Blackwoods, with all the precautions Regina had taken, there was no place on this world where they would remain undiscovered for long.

“You mean…we’d stay moving,” Emma said, her voice shaking. “From one hiding place to another?”

“We can’t stop in one place, Emma. That would be too risky - for us and for those who would shelter us.“

Emma’s face was troubled. She could see the way their future would unfold - a repeat of her past - and she did not like it.

“That’s no way for Amanita to live.”

“We’ll make it work. We’ll find a way,” Regina promised, understanding what was at the root of Emma’s concern. “She’ll have both of us. It won’t be like … like your childhood.”

Emma shook her head.

“She deserves a stable home, Regina. To not always be looking over her shoulder, always wondering when she’ll have to pack up and move again.” She dropped Regina’s hands and stared up at the sky; it was still daylight, so she could not see what she was looking for. But she knew the ring of stars was up there, waiting. “Going through the Sisters - it will give her that?”

“Yes. I believe so,” Regina said evenly. “You won’t be hunted. And you’ll have time, to finish her training. You can come back again, when Amanita has learned how to properly use her power to protect herself.”

Emma looked back at her, confused; Regina remembered that Emma had not seen Amanita cast the dark fire.

“In the woods today. She allowed herself to be angry, and the magic she produced…it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, Emma. It was a shadow. It slipped past all of Cora’s defences. Who knows what she’ll be capable of, once she’s learned to govern that power.”

“So - we can come back? It’s not a one-way trip, going through the Sisters?”

“No, no.  You can come home. When she’s stronger. When she’s ready.”

Emma nodded, then said stubbornly, “I’m not leaving you here, Regina.”

“Emma -“

“No. You don’t need to stay here, and put yourself in harm’s way. If your mother can’t follow Amanita and me through the Sisters, then she can’t follow you either! So you can come with us.”

Regina sighed. Of course Emma had been paying attention to the little details like that.

“I asked for the magic. The price must be paid.”

“No. Not by you. Not by you alone. We’ll share the price. We’ve done it before. And look how well that worked out.”

“Emma-“

“I heard her, you know. Maggie Horner. She said the price would be your life. And I’ll be damned before I let you sacrifice yourself to save me, Regina Mills. We do this together, or we don’t do this at all.”

Regina found herself wondering, if Emma was any less stubborn, would she love her less, or more. It was a moot question. Emma Swan was rigid with stubbornness, and Regina was tired of arguing.

She pulled Emma to her and kissed her, her mouth fierce.

“Fine. Let’s find Mistress Horner and get this done with.”

 

Maggie Horner found Amanita sitting cross-legged on the lawn behind the cottage. Kitty was stretched out besides her, rolling on his back to expose his belly to the warming rays of the sun. Amanita’s hands were lying palm-up in her lap, and she stared down into them as though she were trying to read the secrets of her future.

“There is a skill to that,” Maggie said, as she lowered herself carefully to the grass. She arranged her skirts primly around her ankles. “My coven mother taught me. Well…she tried. I was never very good at reading the palm lines.”

“Mother says reading palms is more an art than real magic.”

“Mother … that’d be Regina Mills?”

“Yes. Mama is-“

“Emma Swan.”

“Yes.”

“She’s right, your Mother. Telling the future is an art. And often women who read palms, they make suggestions more than anything else. And too many people follow those suggestions, instead of their own lines.”

They heard raised voices coming from the herb garden - Emma’s voice low and grating, and Regina’s desperate and pained.

“Mama’s cross with Mother again.”

“It’s happened before?”

Amanita nodded, cautiously, unsure how much she could share with this strange witch; but Mother seemed to respect her, and her eyes were kind.

“Once. She was very cross. But they made up.”

“And they’ll make up again, I’m sure,” Maggie Horner said, the corners of her eyes crinkling as she smiled confidently. “I suspect they’ll always make up, those two.”

Amanita nodded sagely; this was a not a contention she could find any argument with.

The girl stared into her hands again.

“Is Mother going to be okay? Mama said-“

“Your Mother is a strong woman, Amanita Buckle. And your Mama is right. She will be fine. Already, her power is returning and her strength is growing.”

“I couldn’t stop her.” Her voice was very small, and Maggie leaned forward so she could hear. “I tried. But I couldn’t make more fire.”

“It’s a difficult spell, to make fire.”

Amanita nodded.

“You did well if you managed it, even once.”

“That’s what Mother said.”

“And she would know.”

Amanita looked Maggie Horner firmly in the eye.

“Am I an Edge witch?”

“Why do you ask, Amanita Buckle?”

“When Mother makes fire…it’s red and orange, and it burns like fire. Mine was … different. It felt different. Not like Mother’s magic. Or Mama’s.”

Maggie sighed. “We would be proud to claim you, Amanita Buckle. But you do not stand on the edge. Your power - it is different. But I am not the one to teach you about it.”

“So I am still their apprentice? Mother and Mama?”

“Oh, yes. I would not dare claim you from them, child. That’d be more than my life is worth.”

Amanita smiled, a small, relieved smile. She hadn’t had a chance to tell her mothers yet about her fears. When her anger had driven her to manifest her power in the strange dark flames she had known that this was neither Dark nor Light magic; she had worried that perhaps she would have to have another mentor, someone who stood on the Edge, and could understand her power. But Maggie Horner had said her mothers would not give her up. And she believed her.

Amanita couldn’t hear her mothers argue anymore, but knew they were still talking. Their voices were quieter, but she recognised the sound of love and affection. They’d have worked things out soon, and she still had questions she wanted to ask Mistress Horner.

“Were you really there, the day I was born?” Amanita asked.

“Yes. I helped your mother … that is, Constance Buckle-“

“I know about Constance and Ambrose Buckle. But I don’t know about the day I was born. Mother and Mama can only tell me about what happened after they collected me. Can you tell me? Please?”

Maggie Horner smiled down at the eager little face that was turned up to her.

“I can, child. And it’s a fine tale. You were stubborn - you didn’t want to come right away. Oh, you kept your parents waiting before you made an appearance.”

Amanita grinned happily and settled against Kitty’s warm side while she listened to the story of the very short period of time that was her life before she met her mothers.

 

That was where Regina and Emma found them. Amanita was laughing at something Maggie had told her, and Regina and Emma both paused for a while to watch their daughter caught up in the simple joy of the moment.

Maggie noticed them first.

“Ah, Mistresses Swan and Mills. Have you reached an agreement?”

“We have something to ask you,” Emma said, her voice slightly cold. “This magic that Regina has asked for, can we split the price between us?”

Maggie’s eyes narrowed in surprise. “No one has ever asked the share the price, Mistress Swan.”

“You’re not taking Regina’s life!” Emma snarled, moving to stand in front of Regina, as though there were a present danger she needed protecting from.

Amanita stiffened besides Maggie.

The Edge witch sighed.

“You have walked too long with the dark, Emma Swan. And I do not mean with Mistress Mills. The Edge does not take life.”

“I heard you! You said-“

“I said the price would be her life. And it would. Regina Mills wished to send you before her, thinking she would stay here and distract her mother from trying to hunt you. But that is not how the magic works. It has always been this way. Whomsoever asks for the magic to send someone through the Sisters, they must give their life over to accompanying that person - or persons. They must pass through the Sisters too. They must give their lives over to protect the people they send, keep them safe on the other side.”

“But…that is no price,” Regina said. “I would do that, gladly. It does not have to be asked of me.”

“You are lucky then, Regina Mills. I have seen too many others who have had to choose - to decide whether it is more important to send someone through the Sisters than to stay with those they would be leaving behind. It is not so easy for some.”

“Everything in my life worth protecting stands before you now,” Regina said stiffly.

“I am glad the choice will be easy for you, Regina Mills,” Maggie said with a soft smile. She looked at Emma.

“Do you still wish to challenge-“

“No,” Emma said hastily, “No. Forgive me, Mistress Horner.”

“Good. Then, the magic has been asked for. The price has been told, and accepted.” She got slowly to her feet. “I will go and prepare.”

“When?” Emma asked. “When will we go?”

“When the Sisters have risen, and are aligned in the correct position. Midnight or thereabouts. I’m never quite sure of the timings and positions.” She sighed. “I am not as adept at this as Nan Locket was.”

“Wait,” Regina said. She snapped her fingers, but frowned when her magic met resistance. She concentrated, sent out a stabbing spell, then tried again. Away in the Blackwoods, Cassandra Spindle’s warding spells crumbled around the cottage. Regina’s transport spell located Nan Locket’s old diaries and brought them to her in Maggie Horner’s garden.

“Here. These are Nan Locket’s notes, on the movements of the stars. They may be useful. As her chosen heir, they should by rights go to you.”

Maggie took the old books from Regina and smiled brightly at her.

“Thank you, Mistress Mills. Now, if you need me, I’ll be in the tower, preparing.”

Emma and Regina sat on the grass besides Amanita.

“We have something to tell you, sweetling,” Emma said gently.

“We are going to have to go away. Somewhere very far from here. It will be very different than anywhere you have been before.”

“But we’ll be together. And your Mother and I, we will keep you safe. No matter what.”

“We love you very much, Amanita. And we would not be doing this - we would not be leaving our home - if it was not important.”

“Will we be far away from Cora Mills?”

“Yes, my darling. My mother will not be able to reach us where we are going.”

“Good.” She paused for a moment. “Kitty is coming too, right?”

Emma glanced at Regina, slightly worried. They hadn’t considered the ramifications of taking a helcat to a different world. She wasn’t even sure if he could travel between the Sisters; would his resistance to magic keep the Edge witch’s magic from working on him? If it was like a transport spell, then they could hold on to Kitty and drag him with them, but she’d never even heard of traveling between worlds before, and she didn’t know what the magic would entail.

But Regina was thinking of Kitty launching himself at a witch to protect Amanita, and how fiercely he had fought, even as she had kicked at him.

The helcat rolled over in the grass, chasing the sun, and his head landed in Regina’s lap. His eyes were closed and he huffed a deep contented sigh. She scratched absentmindedly behind his ears.

Family was family. And all her family would make this trip.

“Of course, my darling. We’ll find a way.”

 

They had put Amanita down for a nap. She had wanted to stay close to her mothers, and they’d sat in chairs besides her bed so she could hear their voices as she fell asleep. She kept one hand on Regina’s arm, even in sleep.

Regina covered her daughter’s hand with her own and sighed.

“She’s so worried.”

“It was pretty scary,” Emma allowed. “I was…it was terrifying, Regina.”

She couldn’t say what was really on her mind, not yet. She couldn’t tell Regina that seeing her powerless had felt like the bottom had dropped out of her world. In Emma’s mind, Regina was an immovable force, unshakeable, untouchable. To see her helpless and in pain, and at the mercy of Cora and Cassandra - Emma was still recovering from the shock of it. And, like Amanita, she wanted to keep touching Regina, to reassure herself that she was really there, and safe, and whole.

But she couldn’t tell Regina this, because a fireball would hurt. Regina would want no reminders of her vulnerability. She’d accept it from Amanita, accept the clinging and the closeness and the worried eyes. But Emma was not sure that Regina was ready to accept the same sort of behaviour from her.

“It was,” Regina was saying, agreeing with Emma’s earlier statement.

Emma mentally shook herself to pay attention. Regina sounded … different. She sounded hesitant and unsure of herself.

“I couldn’t see a way out. I was ready to give up. I thought you were gone, and that I had failed Amanita, that we were all lost. And then you came, Emma Swan. On your ridiculous broom, covered in mud, unstoppable and so, so powerful. I don’t think I have ever been so thankful in my life.”

She smiled a watery smile at Emma, and lifted her hand to her lips and kissed it fervently.

“I love you, Emma Swan. And I may not be very good at showing that love, as you have already noticed, but I do. Love you, that is. Very much.”

“Hey,” Emma said softly, her own voice teary now. “I’ve been thinking about it, actually. And I realise that the truth is, you are pretty good at showing it. I’ve just been really blind about seeing it.”

Regina laughed.

“I could say the same thing about you.”

“We are a pair, aren’t we?” Emma grinned. She leaned forward and kissed Regina softly. “I’m glad we worked it out.”

Regina hummed her approval and deepened their kiss.

Amanita was asleep, and Maggie Horner had a spare bed set up in a small alcove, and Regina wanted nothing more than to take Emma to that bed so she could curl up in the safety of her arms and spend the hours until midnight kissing her and telling her how much she loved her.  She felt she had rather a lot of lost opportunities to make up for.

But as she stood and started to draw Emma to her feet, Maggie Horner descended from her tower.

“We have a problem,” she said, her face creased in worry.

 

Regina had once tried to explain to Emma just how many other worlds there were out there beyond the stars. The Edge witches of ancient times had perfected the magic that allowed them to move between the worlds. The Sisters were a giant doorway in the sky, and doorways were a kind of edge; so it made sense that this sort of magic became the domain of the Edge witches.

On this world however, Edge magic had changed over generations; it had grown fainter, its practitioners fading, more and more of them becoming true hedge witches - village witches of little power. Only a few women still practiced the old Edge magic, and even with them, the power was waning. The last truly great Edge witch had been Nan Locket; Maggie Horner had power, but she did not come close to Nan Locket. She would never be able to stare down Cora Mills, as Nan had done, and fight her to a truce.

Maggie Horner did know the magic that would open the doorway and allow Regina and her family to pass through. But it was a powerful spell. And powerful spells left residues. Residues that a motivated witch of power would be able to track.

“If she finds me,” Maggie explained, “I do not know how long I will be able to hold out, before I tell her what she wants to know.”

“Come with us,” Regina said.

Maggie smiled ruefully.

“I will not leave this world unprotected, Mistress Mills. I may be a weak shadow of she whom I replaced, but I will not abandon my duty.”

“Is there a way to mask the residue?” Emma asked.

“That is what I have been trying to work out. But I fear - I cannot do it. I cannot hide the traces well enough.”

“So…we will not be as well hidden as I thought?” Regina asked.

Maggie shook her head.

“Is there nothing-“

“I can think of only one thing. But it will make it more difficult for you.”

“Tell us.”

Maggie placed a parchment in front of Regina. It was covered in strange symbols that glowed and seemed to blend together and separate as the eye tried to read them. She pointed out a section of the parchment, where the ink glowed between blue and green, and the symbols seemed to consist of several interconnected spirals and circles that folded in on themselves. It went on for several inches of parchment, and it left a wobbly feeling in the brain when you tried to pin the symbols down to any sort of permanence.

“This part here, this is the part that shows which of the worlds the spell is sending you to. It prepares you for your new world. Memories and histories. Language, foods - all sorts of things that will help you fit in.”

Regina nodded her understanding seconds before Emma did.

“Now, I can remove this part,” Maggie continued. “Leave the choice of the world random. You could end up anywhere - in any of the thousands of worlds out there. And there would be no way for Cora, or anyone else, to trace exactly which one from the residue of the spell.”

“But we would arrive…unprepared.”

“Yes. Utterly. You’d be alien to the world. And that could be problematic. It has happened before, where this part of the spell was poorly constructed. The travelers ended up branded as mad women, imprisoned and restrained until they were able to learn enough to be accepted.”

“That’s not much of a choice,” Regina muttered grimly.

“It’s a pity we’re not chameleons,” Emma said, trying for humour to lighten the mood. Regina glared at her. “You know, we could blend in..to our surroundings…” Emma added falteringly.

Regina glared at her for half a heart beat more, but then her face suddenly lightened, and she stared at Emma in delight.

“This is why I love you,” she said at last.

“Because I know a lot about animals?”

“No. Because you are brilliant.” She kissed Emma soundly, and turned to Maggie. “Is it possible? To write in adaptation to this section?”

Maggie looked scared for a moment, but then she nodded. “I believe so. But I will need your help, Mistress Mills. I cannot do this alone.”

Regina climbed into the tower with Maggie, leaving Emma curled up in the chair by Amanita’s bed.

Declarations of love and other romantic promises would have to wait a while longer.

 

Maggie and Regina worked through the evening and into the night. Emma fed Amanita and Kitty, brought tea and bread and cheese to the two witches in the tower, played with Amanita and Kitty for a while, then left her daughter reading while she went to check on her… she realised she wasn’t sure what to call Regina yet, how to name this thing that existed between them.

‘The woman I love’ was truthful, but took far too long to say. Regina was more than a lover - Emma wanted, and knew she would receive, more than physical intimacy now - and she felt the word ‘lover’ was inadequate to encompass all that Regina meant to her. What Regina meant to her. That was a complicated thought. It was all tied up with being Amanita’s other mother, and Emma’s friend and confidant, the person she trusted most in the world, the person she’d want standing besides her in times of difficulty and to share her joys, and the woman she wanted in her bed, the one she wanted to wake up next to every morning, until she was old and wrinkled, and had forgotten everything else but how much she loved her.

Emma could not think of one word that meant all that.

She went to check on Regina.

She found the two other witches bleary eyed but cautiously triumphant.

“I think we’ve worked it out,” Regina told Emma. And with a couple of hours to spare. “We’ll have to explain to Amanita, about how to keep Kitty with her.”

“And it will take more power than I believe is possible for one witch to generate,” Maggie added.

“That’s where we come in. You and me,” Regina smiled tiredly up at Emma. “We combine our magic and fuel this spell. Between the three of us, we’ll have enough.”

Emma nodded. “Okay. Good. But first, you will rest. You look asleep on your feet, Regina!”

She led her to the bed in the alcove, and made her lie down. She held her hand while Regina muttered sleepily about wanting to tell her she loved her, and then she kissed her forehead when Regina’s eyes finally closed. Amanita came to sit on Emma’s lap, and they watched over Regina while she slept.

Maggie threw herself into a nearby chair, and watched the three of them broodingly.

“Thank you,” Emma said. “For helping her.”

Maggie shrugged. “It is my duty, Emma Swan.”

“Will you be all right? When Cora-“ she broke off, uncertain how to continue.

“I will do my duty, Emma Swan. And not just because it is the right thing to do. Your child - Amanita - one day she will be a force to be reckoned with. I am glad to have seen her at her start, and play a small part in helping her along the way.”

Her face softened.

“And Regina Mills…she will always be a favourite of the Edge witches. I may be Nan Locket’s chosen heir, but only because Regina is too impatient to ever be a good Edge witch.”

Emma grinned. She leaned over and kissed Regina’s forehead. She reminded herself to try to never be upset with Regina’s impatience again. It had kept her a Dark witch, and if it hadn’t - then none of this would have happened, and Emma Swan would never have found this little family of hers.

 

Midnight was approaching.

They were in the tower, all of them, including Kitty. They stood in a rough circle. Maggie Horner waved at the ceiling, and the hat-shaped roof was suddenly invisible. The stars blazed above them, clearer and closer than Emma had ever seen them. Regina gasped in pleasure. They located the Sisters, the ring of stars that Maggie’s spell would send them through.

“Positions,” Maggie ordered.

Regina and Emma stood shoulder to shoulder, their hands lightly clasped. Amanita sat on the floor before them, her arms wrapped tightly around Kitty. A faint haze of magic surrounded them both - not touching Kitty, but encompassing him, holding him in the same circle of influence that Amanita sat in. A wider circle of influence went around the four of them; Maggie Horner stood outside this circle, looking back at Regina and Emma.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Mistress Horner - Maggie,” Regina said brokenly. “I cannot thank you enough. I wish-“

“I know, Mistress Mills. Now, are you ready?”

They nodded.

“Call forth your magic.”

Regina’s magic manifested first, the bright purple glow of it filling the space between the fingers and palms of their hands. Emma’s came next, a shining white light that wrapped around Regina’s magic. They could feel their power build and intensify; could feel the depth and strength and familiarity of it fill them until their skin glowed with a pale red light.

Maggie Horner nodded. Regina had been right when she had said her and Emma’s magic combined produced an immense power. She unrolled the parchment and started to read, her voice pitched low and guttural as she worked through the dancing, shifting, symbols.

The spell produced a green oval glow, as tall as Maggie was, in the middle of the larger circle of influence. It was close to the little family, but there was not nearly enough power in Maggie to keep the portal from wavering, let alone opening.

“Now,” she groaned, trying to hold the spell so it would not dissipate before-

Regina and Emma were pouring their power into the portal, and Maggie Horner gasped. This was a pure, elemental, magic; untainted by any dark or grim emotions, it was light and buoyant, and so beautiful, if she hadn’t been so busy she would have stopped to weep for the perfection of it. She wondered if Emma and Regina realised how powerful their love was.

But as powerful as it was, Maggie registered with a sinking heart that it would not be enough. The portal was firming and stabilising, but it was not growing. It would not be big enough for them all to pass through. Perhaps just Amanita -

As though she had heard her, Amanita frowned. Maggie Horner saw the child begin to fill with power. It flowed out of her in a dark stream shot through with sparkling flashes of light, reaching up to combine with her mothers’ magic.

Oh yes, there was enough power now. More than enough.

Maggie Horner growled the final incantations that would make the portal pulse and glow and grow until it filled the larger circle of influence.

She watched until the glow grew too bright and she had to close her eyes. She could see the lights dance against her closed lids.

She felt the flow of power cut off abruptly, leaving only her meagre magic pouring out of her. She stopped the spell. She opened her eyes.

She was alone in the tower.

The little family had gone.

Maggie Horner sighed. That was probably the greatest piece of magic she had ever, and would ever, perform; and she could tell no one about it. She cast a little spell, one she had prepared earlier; a forgetting spell, it would wipe from her memory all knowledge of the adaptations she and Regina had made to this spell. She would not be able to recreate it, but that meant that neither would Cora Mills.

And Cora Mills would come for her, Maggie was sure of that.

But Regina Mills and her little family would be safe. As safe as their power and unwavering love could make them. Perhaps it would be enough.

 

 

Chapter Text

It had felt like being stretched very thin, as though a powerful force had taken hold of every limb and extremity, and pulled until the only thing holding her body together had been the memory of who she was. She had filled the sky, as transparent as starlight and as far-reaching and all-seeing. Then she had snapped back together. There had been a moment of blinding pain as she had been forced back into bottle of her body. Someone gasped besides her, but she was too distracted by the turmoil of her own thoughts, and the roiling of her stomach, to pay much attention. 

Her mind was chaos. Layers upon layers of images and sounds and memories, all fighting for space, mingling and folding over and into themselves, until she felt overstuffed, like she contained a multitude of lifetimes. 

When the chaos finally stilled, the first thought in her head was her child. 

"Amanita?"

Their two voices spoke in the same moment - her and Emma both dropping to their knees so they could wrap their arms around their daughter's shoulders. 

"I feel sick," the child said in a piteous little voice. She buried her face in Regina's neck and clung to Emma's arm. 

"It'll pass, sweetling," Emma said shakily, speaking from recent experience. 

"Keep your eyes closed and concentrate on breathing," Regina added. 

She rubbed soothing circles against Amanita's trembling back until she felt the tension leave her body. 

"That was really weird," Amanita said as she raised her head slowly. She looked around her. "Where's Kitty?"

Emma and Regina stood, carefully. Their legs were shaky beneath them, as though they were just stepping onto firm land after weeks at sea. 

"Did he make it through?" Emma questioned Regina, her voice concerned but quiet. Despite her precautions, Amanita heard her. 

"He did, he did Mama. He was right with me, and then he ran away! May I go look for him?"

Regina took stock of their surroundings. They stood in a garden, not a very large one when compared to the castle gardens of a her childhood, but well manicured and landscaped. The lawn stretched before them until it ran into the barrier of an odd sort of fence, made with short stakes of white wood that had been stuck into the ground with the pointed edges facing skywards. This fence would have proved no deterrent at all to any intruder; a long-legged man could have stepped over it without too much exertion.

There were trees beyond the strange fence, and she could just make out two or three roofs through the foliage, a fair distance from where they stood.

"Okay," she told Amanita cautiously, "but be sure you stay within the wards. No. The fence. Stay inside the fence."

"Yes Mother," Amanita replied cheerfully and dashed off towards a boundary hedge that had been so neatly clipped, even a head gardener accustomed to Cora Mills' demands could not have found fault with it.

"Weird..." Emma tried out the word thoughtfully. "That is a good word. Accurate."

Regina nodded. 

"Does your head feel..."

"Stuffed?"

"Yes."

"Like there's two of me in here?"

"Yes."

They walked after Amanita, moving slower than their daughter had. Behind the hedge was a house, made of more slats of pristine white wood; a stray thought in the back of Regina's mind wondered how on earth they were going to keep it clean. Then she wondered when she started using the phrase 'how on earth'.

"It's bizarre, Regina. I can remember her. The Emma Swan who was a Light witch. Who rode around on a broom and could barely string a spell together before I met you. I remember standing in Maggie Horner's tower and opening the portal with you. But then I also remember looking at this house with you. Deciding that this is where we wanted to move our lives to."

She shook her head, reminding Regina of a horse tossing its mane to shake itself free of a bothersome fly.

"It'll pass, Emma," she said reassuringly. "Our minds are trying to make sense of what's happened. To absorb the adaptations Maggie and I built into the spell. It'll become more seamless soon. It wont feel so - bizarre."

"Will we forget?" Emma asked, suddenly worried. "Will we forget the Blackwoods and-"

"No. No. Those are our true selves. Those memories will always be with us. But they'll be faded. They'll stay in the background, until we need them."

"And our magic?"

Regina held out her hand, twisted her wrist through a familiar gesture, and fire blazed in her palm.

"Still part of us. We'll need it. To complete Amanita's training. The price must still be paid."

"It feels like a dream," Emma muttered. "The first time I met you - in the Buckle's cottage, but also at that fundraiser, where you were making a speech -"

"- and you heckled," Regina pointed out dryly.

"It was a good speech," Emma grinned cheekily. "But you were so sure of yourself, I had to do something."

"Of course you did, dear."

"Hey. It worked. You went out with me. I remember our first kiss." Sudden colour suffused her face. "Not the one in the cottage. The other one. On the beach."

"With all the sand. And the sandflies."

"Not my greatest idea," Emma said with a sheepish grin. "Have I said thank you, for giving me a second chance?"

"Once or twice," Regina smiled.

"Oh...this is weird. Two firsts of everything."

"Hmm," Regina agreed. Two first times of meeting Amanita, two first times of making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, two first times of realising she loved Emma Swan and wanted to build a life with her. "We did it in a different order though."

"First fall in love, then have a child together," Emma agreed with a laugh.

"Speaking of which, where on earth has she got to?"

They searched the garden - no rose bushes Regina noted with some relief - until they found Amanita.

She was sitting cross-legged on the grass, her lap filled with the biggest cat ... no, the second biggest cat Regina had ever seen. Instead of tawny fur with dark markings though, this creature was dark grey, shot through with stripes of white and black. He had long, elegant legs, covered with the same grey and dark strippling, but ending in neat white socks. That, and his ruffed chest and tufted ears, lent him an elegant air; he looked like a man all dressed up for a ball. But when he yawned and stretched, extending his claws and showing inch-long fangs, it was obvious that this dandy gentleman came armed for a fight. When he fixed Regina with an alert green gaze, she had no further doubt.

"Kitty?"

"That looks nothing like...how...that's not a helcat!" Emma spluttered.

"This world must not have helcats as we know them," Regina mused. "So he's been adapted. To a breed that looks like it fits here."

"Edge magic can do that? Work on a helcat?"

"That was an ancient magic we used, Emma. World-building magic. Even Kitty would not be able to resist it."

"He's not Kitty anymore," Amanita interrupted her mothers' discussion.

"Oh?" Emma asked, sitting down besides Amanita on the grass. She scratched the cat behind his furry ears, and he closed his eyes in pleasure. His chest rumbled with the strength of his purr.

"He looks exactly like a Kitty to me," Regina smiled, taking a seat on Amanita's other side.

"No, Mother," Amanita said with an eye-roll that was such a perfect imitation of Regina's that Emma couldn't stop herself from grinning. "That name's all wrong for him now."

"So, what is his name now?"

"Fang."

"Fang?"

The cat opened his eyes and blinked sleepily at them. He rolled over in Amanita's lap, presenting his furry white belly for rubbing.

"Fang," Amanita said decisively.

Regina sighed. "Okay. Fang it is."

"Do you get a new name too?" Emma asked.

"No Mama!" Emma received an eye-roll of her own. "I'm Amanita."

"Well, that's a relief," Emma grinned. "My mind's confused enough as it is right now."

They heard the sound of running feet and young voices calling and laughing.

"There's children, Mother!" Amanita said, excited. 

"Yes, my darling," Regina said.

"That's why your mother and I picked this town," Emma added. 

They had looked at several places and finally decided on this sleepy little town with the fairytale-like name because it had seemed the perfect place to raise their child; small enough that it felt friendly and welcoming, but big enough that there was a really good school and lots of children for Amanita to make friends with. There were woods and hills for them to go hiking in, and a lake where they could swim and sail; there was a good library and a semi-decent theatre group, and a diner that served the sort of greasy food that made Emma delighted and Regina despair. (They would compromise on family breakfasts in the diner once a week.)

"Can I go play with them?" Amanita asked eagerly.

"Not just yet, sweetling," Emma shook her head. "We've got stacks of boxes to unpack yet."

The movers had driven away not half an hour ago. They wanted to at least make a start on getting everything sorted and stowed away tonight.

"Aww."

"There's a picnic down by the lake later," Regina said. "There'll be music and games."

"And fireworks."

They had seen the flyers the last time they'd been here, to sign the final paperwork and take possession of the keys. They had thought it had been a good sign - that there'd be something fun to do on their first night here, and an opportunity to get out and meet a section of their new community. 

"You'll have lots of time to play with your new friends then," Emma promised.

"Okay," Amanita said, "But let's go unpack now!" 

"Some rules first, Amanita."

"Yes, Mother?"

"Do you remember, where we really come from?"

A frown of concentration, then a semi-confident, "Yes Mother. We're witches."

"You'll still be our apprentice for a little while," Regina smiled, "But yes. We're witches. This world though, it does not really understand magic, or witches. So we have to be very careful when we leave this house."

"No magic beyond the fence?"

"Yes. No magic beyond the fence. No speaking of magic beyond the fence. No speaking of other worlds beyond the fence."

"I understand, Mama."

"And always remember, your Mama and I love you."

"And we will always be here for you."

"No matter what."

"I know, mums. Now, can we go unpack? The sooner we unpack, the sooner we can go to the lake!"

She dashed off towards the house; the large cat padded along in her wake, his long legs easily keeping up with the running child.

Emma got to her feet and extended a hand to help Regina, even though she didn't really need the assistance. Regina smiled up at her and tucked Emma's arm around her waist as they made their, more leisurely, way towards the house.

"It's getting easier," Emma noted. "The two stories of our lives are settling."

"Hmm," Regina agreed. "Soon, you won't have to focus to remember what it is I do for a living now."

They had made it as far as the door of their new house, but Emma had to pause for a moment to think. 

"English professor," she said finally, grinning. "And a writer. Perfect."

She could see Regina's latest hardcover in her mind's eye; Regina wrote stories, set in fantastical worlds of sorcery and swordplay, that regularly ended up on best-seller lists. She had a relatively small but impassioned following. Even though she taught in a small college better known for its science faculties, her classes were always oversubscribed, and her public lectures were delivered to packed rooms. If English Literature were a realm, Regina would be considered one of its eccentric royals. 

"And I'm..." Emma focused and then glared at Regina, her eyes narrowed in challenge. "I'm a vet?!"

Regina spluttered with laughter as her own new memories filtered through.

"Oh my goodness. You are!"

"Is this payback for all the goats?!"

"No! Oh sweetheart, really. There was no conscious choice! It's the spell. It seeks out what was closest and most realistic to our true selves in this world."

"And your adaptive spell decided I'm a vet."

"Well, you are good with animals," Regina pointed out reasonably. "And you like to help, and you're strong, and you love working outdoors and to get your hands dirty, and-"

"Yes. Yes. All right," Emma cut her off, her initial irritation already passing as more of her new memories came to the fore. She really did love what she did. "I'm a vet."

 "A very good vet," Regina added loyally. "The best vet in the entire-"

Emma kissed her, laughing.

"That's the sort of thing that makes me love you," she whispered fondly. "And is why I-" She broke off. Her eyes widened and her jaw went slack.

"Emma?"

"Why I married you," Emma whispered. "We're married."

"Oh.

They'd been married for years. Before they had Amanita even. 

"You're my wife." 

Emma's voice was still hushed, and Regina could not tell from her tone how she felt about this revelation.

"Is that...are you alright with this, Emma? It - being married - it must be how the spell interpreted what we are to each other. It doesn't have to mean more than that." She was rambling, but she couldn't stop herself. She did not want Emma to feel she'd been tricked into something she was not ready for, or did not want.

But Emma was smiling, her mouth stretching slowly into a smile so wide and with eyes glowing with so much happiness, Regina felt an answering joy clutch at her chest.

"It's perfect," Emma whispered. "It's exactly right. You're my wife."

"I am," Regina smiled tearily up at her. 

Emma kissed her, and it felt like a first kiss all over again, one that had no counterpart in this world or any other.

"I like this spell of yours," Emma murmured against her mouth, in between pressing soft kisses to Regina's lips. "It knows what it's doing."

Regina sighed, leaning into Emma's body and winding her arms around her wife's neck.

"I'm glad you approve. You're still not allowed to bring any goats into the house though."

Emma bubbled with laughter, and deepened their kiss; and things may have got a little more heated if Amanita hadn't come bursting out of her room onto the landing above them, shouting excitedly:

"My blanket! My blanket is here!" 

She waved a wrap of pale wool down at her mothers. The border of neatly embroidered daisies stood out as fresh as the day they had been made. Her other arm clutched a threadbare old toy to her chest.

"And Rabbit!" Amanita added excitedly. "Thank you, Mother!"

She disappeared back into her room as quickly as she had appeared. They could hear boxes tearing open, and Amanita's voice as she talked happily to Fang.

Emma sighed, and pulled Regina even closer against her.

"You really do think of everything, don't you?"

"It wasn't so hard to do," Regina shrugged. "Once we managed to get the portal open, it was just a matter of a simple transport spell."

"What else did you bring with us?"

"A few things," Regina said casually. "Books mostly, some of your potions. Things that will help us train Amanita."

"Ah. That makes sense."

"And this."

A book appeared in Regina's hands. It was an old leather-bound journal. She gave it to Emma, who held it like the treasured possession it was.

Regina had sworn to pay the price for the magic that had brought them to this place of sanctuary. She had sworn to be her family's protector. For her, this in part meant ensuring they got everything they needed to thrive, no matter what world they ended up in.

"Amanita will have roots, Emma Swan. I promise you that."

Emma sighed and kissed Regina again.

"Do you have any idea how much I love you?"

"Heaps?"

"Heaps."

 

The lake had been fun. Her ladies had eaten so much barbecue, Regina couldn't understand how Emma had managed to keep her eyes open long enough to drive them home. (Emma had categorically refused to show up at the festivities in Regina's classic old car. "We don't want people to think we're snobs, Regina!" she had protested, as she'd loaded her old yellow Beetle with the picnic basket, ignoring Regina's comeback of, "So much better they think we're a bunch of paupers with no aesthetic sense at all.") Amanita had fallen asleep in the backseat almost as soon as they had got her to sit still for five seconds. Fang had chosen to curl up in Regina's lap. He'd stand up to butt his head against her forehead occasionally, but mostly he'd just sit there and rumble with contentment. 

They had met several people, including one of Amanita's new teachers, and several children who would be in her class. Amanita had spent most of the evening careening around in the bouncing castle with her new friends, giving Regina and Emma plenty of time to make some new acquaintances of their own. Surprisingly, they had met only one person - the local librarian - who had ever heard of Regina. More people were keen to learn about Emma's new surgery. The people of this town loved their pets, and Emma already had two new clients lined up; a nice man and his dalmatian, and a strangely intense woman with flaming red hair, who ran a sort of exotic petting zoo; she'd been having some trouble with her monkeys, and hoped Emma could help sort that out.

By the time they got home, and got Amanita cleaned up and in bed, everyone was exhausted. Which was why, when something bothered Emma awake, she was surprised to find the bed besides her empty. Concerned, she went in search of Regina, and found her out in the garden, standing under one of the three apple trees they had on their property.

"It's cold, Regina," Emma said quietly, as she approached her.

"The stars are different here."

Regina's voice sounded so lost and so forlorn that Emma's heart beat faster with panic. She wrapped her arms around her wife.

"It's alright, Regina," she murmured against her forehead, running her hands soothingly along her back. "I'm here. We'll learn about these new stars. We'll learn all their stories."

Regina's laugh bordered on the hysterical. She hadn't expected to feel this way. She had wanted to look at the night sky, and had crept out of bed and made her way out into the garden, as she had done often enough before. But then she'd looked up, expecting to see inky blackness and a sea of bright points of light; but the sky had been a pale shade of pink, and the few stars that were able to shine through had been alien and unfamiliar and cold. They gave her no anchor, they told her nothing. And she had felt the despair engulf her. She had never felt Nan Locket's loss so keenly, not even in the moment she had first learned of the woman's death.

Then Emma was there, her arms warm and strong and familiar as the stars above her were not.

Regina leaned into Emma's strength and sighed. She began to understand what Emma had meant when she had said home was wherever her family was. It didn't matter what strange foods you ate, or the odd words you had to use, or that you looked up at alien stars. What mattered was the people who stood and faced these things with you. The people who would hold you up when you faltered. The people who would love you, even when you could not be strong.

"My evening star," she murmured, and she kissed Emma, her cold lips warming as Emma's moved against her. "I don't need any others."

"Come to bed, Regina," Emma said. 

Regina let Emma lead her back to their room.

Maggie Horner had told her to not be too proud to ask for help. And sometimes a protector needed saving too.

 

****

 

Several years later

 

When the portal opened, and a tall woman with pale hair and dark eyes stepped through, everyone knew exactly who she was. They didn't even need to see the helcat at her side to be sure. The other witches bowed, even though they technically did not need to. This was still the Queen's heir, even though she'd been absent for years now; better to be safe and show due respect.

The tall woman returned their bows perfunctorily and stalked through the gardens towards the throne room. No one dared to challenge her.

The Queen was not in the throne; the chair carved from a living tree still held pride of place in the centre of the room, but the Queen preferred her far simpler desk and chair, set off to the side, where the light was better. She needed the light; her desk was covered with piles of paperwork, all of which had to be read and responded to. The Queen was fond of saying that the world of witchcraft ran on ink and the wiles of bureaucrats.

It hadn't always been this way of course. Most of the witches were old enough to remember when the world of witches was governed by fear and ran on the blood of your enemies.

That had been before the Dark Queen had crossed worlds to challenge her heir, and the Shadow Witch had come to her power, and the battle between the Shadow and the Dark had nearly destroyed them all.

The Queen claimed neither Dark nor Light nor Shadow now.

Or rather, she claimed them all.

Never before had the witches been faced with a woman who wielded more than one power; rumour had it that the Queen was virtually an Edge witch too; but that had to be false. No Queen would ever have bothered with a magic of so little power.

Regardless, the Queen had united all the powers. No longer would conflict between Dark and Light be tolerated. It had taken years, and had not been won without bloodshed, but there was a peace now that went further than the hope of any truce. A truce meant putting hostilities on pause, merely banking the flames until someone determined enough came along to fan them back to life. But when the Queen spoke of reconciliation and respect and acceptance, everyone knew that the first person to challenge her peace would be the only person to burn; and they would burn before they had a chance to drum up any support at all. The Queen was ruthless in quashing rebellions, but efficient too. 

Not that any one really wanted to rebel. Except for a handful of disgruntled Dark witches, who had believed too wholeheartedly in the Dark Queen's promises, most witches saw the wisdom of a united witchdom. Once Cassandra Spindler and her minions had fallen, there had been virtually no challenges to the new Queen's reign.

 

Regina looked up as Amanita paused, hesitating in the doorway.

"Hello Mother," she said carefully. "I'm home."