It was late, but no one would miss her, nor even notice her absence. They never did. They never had. She knew they never would.
It was a risk perhaps, sneaking out as she had in her youth. Strange to think she no longer considered herself young, even when her forced marriage to the Prince had only been a few months prior.
The risk was even greater now her mother was there. She really should have listened to her father after his warning; should have listened to herself and to Emma – but she just needed to see the blonde. The want overriding even the most common of her senses, pulling at the very centre of her being and guiding her to where she knew Emma to be.
It was almost as if something was telling her she needed to be there, that she couldn’t wait until morning when she would attempt to demand the allowance to go for a ride once more.
She had rarely felt such a need, a requirement even, that she had to be somewhere. It baffled her and yet was so understandable at the same time. She was certain their love was true, and she knew that meant they completed one another. That they would be drawn to one another no matter what happened. And if felt like such an age since they had any time alone and free of pretence.
Today had been busy, her parents – or rather her mother – ordering that she and the Prince spend the day with them as they tried to ‘correct the course’; just what that meant Regina was still unsure.
It had been tiring, and after ridding herself of her layers and most jewels (she still had an appearance she had to maintain after all; even if she rather not), she slipped on a simpler dress and proceeded to the Royal Stables.
Most of the Castle’s stablehands would be resting in their quarters. Perhaps Emma’s presence there meant they no longer cared to guard the horses as they should. Perhaps that was something that had never happened there. She didn’t know and didn’t care – it just meant the chance of being disturbed was very low, which gave her some comfort, some strength, but there would always be an anxious part of herself she would never be able to shift.
The doors opened with barely a creak. The stables were near silent when she shut the door softly, dulling the sounds of the night.
But once there, she stood aimlessly, looking around with wide eyes and twitching fingers.
The lanterns were dimmed, as if they had been burning for a long while with no one to check upon them. Or no one caring enough to do so.
But more important than that; more pressing and alarming and almost terrifying – she couldn’t see Emma anywhere.
It shouldn’t panic her so, but she felt cold so suddenly, her brow furrowing.
Maybe she had decided to stay in the staff quarters after all –
But that didn’t sound like Emma. At all.
And, when the meeting with her parents and the Prince had been cut short, she had been unable to find Emma that afternoon either.
Her breath caught in her throat. A sudden dread rearing within her, her palms damp and panic all-consuming.
“Emma?” She tried again, her voice high and trembling.
What if her mother had sent Emma home?
Now Emma had done her duty and brought Rocinante there, was there truly any reason for her to remain? Naturally it made more sense to have Emma leave when they did, but if her mother had even an inkling of their hidden friendship – likely more than an inkling all things considered – then would she allow them more time together than necessary? Would she not consider Emma a bad influence on her? Would she not…
Or… or maybe it was her father who had sent Emma away, knowing how much of a risk it was to have them close with her mother around. Or maybe it was due to his own discomfort with the situation or –
A sharp pain.
Her nails were biting into her palm, pulling her from her flying thoughts.
Her eyes snapped to the left. There was a hayloft at the far end of the stables; she couldn’t see much save for the shadowy outlines of bales of hay, messily stacked.
She ran her clammy hands over her skirts, and her breathing grew easier.
She quirked an eyebrow and moved past a sleeping Rocinante to stand below, but just in front of the ledge of the hayloft, placing a hand on her hip as she lifted her head and called out again, “Emma?”
A beat of silence, though she knew it was not truly quiet.
There was rustling besides her – no above her.
She held her breath for a few long, long moments, and then a familiar blonde head poked out over the edge.
Regina’s breath came out in a rush of relief. Tension leaving her in a surge.
Emma rubbed at her eyes with her knuckle, yawning widely as Regina’s eyes narrowed at her.
“I’ve been calling you,” the snap in her words was unintentional, born out of panic rather than any sort of anger.
“Sorry,” Emma muttered sheepishly, “I didn’t hear you.”
In a moment Emma was wide awake and was scrambling down the ladder by the wall, hay stuck to her clothes and in her hair.
Regina shook her head, and as soon as Emma’s booted feet touched the ground, she immediately moved to fuss over the blonde, removing the strands of hay from her with tuts.
Emma shifted her weight between the balls of her feet, face pink as she allowed herself to be preened by the princess.
“Do you even have a bedroll up there?” She moved Emma’s hair back over her shoulders, brushing her hands over her upper arms.
“I didn’t bring one.”
Regina sighed, shaking her head in disbelief, “Idiot.”
Emma’s smile grew lopsided.
“They should have provided you with one.” Regina’s nose scrunched up, trying her best to not be distracted by the blonde’s adorably dopey expression. That was what Emma wanted. “Or you should have told me, I would have gotten you one.”
“I’m fine Regina.”
Regina made a disbelieving noise and stepped back, eyes running over Emma’s form. Noticeably, the blonde shifted her stance, as if posing for Regina’s ‘inspection’ to which the brunette gave a small laugh.
“I didn’t think you would be here, especially not today.” Emma smiled regardless of her words, her excitement of seeing Regina clear to see, “I mean, you said you would be occupied all day.”
“It turned out my mother wished to spend less time with me than I thought; part of the price of being a disappointment I suppose.” The words rolled off Regina’s tongue easily enough, but it seemed a difficulty for Emma to take them in and accept them, her smile falling and forehead furrowing.
“You’re not a disappointment Regina.”
“I came to find you, but I couldn’t.” Changing the subject was also easy enough. It wasn’t that Regina did not appreciate what Emma had to say, or that she didn’t believe Emma’s words were true in her own mind. It was simply impossible for Regina to see it her way. “This afternoon that is. No one had seen you, not that too many have met you since you arrived. Nor could I ask too many for fear of raising suspicion.”
The effect was instantaneous, Emma’s brow furrowing further, though this time for a much different reason. She looked at Regina with a slight downward tilt to her head, shuffling sheepishly.
Regina should have guessed as much.
“Please tell me you didn’t do what I think you did.”
Emma’s gaze dropped to her feet as usual, her weight shifting between them as she wet her lips. Regina’s gaze remained steady despite the younger woman’s actions, until Emma was looking at her again, her arms spreading wide as she spoke with a voice that jumped in pitch, “I was worried about you Regina. He shouldn’t be keeping secrets.”
Regina sighed, trying to help Emma relax as she untied the younger woman’s hair and ran her hands through her curls. Trying to sooth the wild hair back into some semblance of neatness, “And what did you find?”
“I…” Regina’s hand stopped, her other pressing the tie into Emma’s hand. The blonde’s face had creased far more severely than when she was shuffling self-consciously, as if she was straining to find something deep in her mind, “I, err…” Emma shook her head gently, her pupils expanding as she was lost in her own thoughts, “I don’t remember.”
“What do you mean you don’t…?” Regina trailed off, realising how ridiculous that question was. She resumed playing with Emma’s hair, her other hand trailing over Emma’s cheek.
Emma shook her head groggily, as if waking from a stupor, blinking rapidly before her expression smoothed out, “I… don’t remember, because there was nothing to remember.”
The stablehand’s words grew in strength, her form losing its worried tenseness as she spoke, recognition returning to her eyes. Regina smiled; a small, relieved curve of her lips.
“There was nothing, it was just a test to see if you were trustworthy or not.”
Regina’s hands stilled again, her eyebrows rising, “You were caught?”
It was the logical conclusion, that or Emma pieced it all together herself, which was possible. Regina doubted it though, considering Emma had not interacted with the Prince. Had not heard his words first-hand, nor experienced them so.
A shrug, and Emma grinned self-consciously.
“Emma…” Regina sighed.
“Don’t worry; it’s all on my back. You name was not and will not be mentioned, because it had nothing to do with you, after all.” Emma pocketed her hair tie and jabbed her thumb to her chest, her head tilting back confidently.
“Be that as it may –
“Don’t worry.” Emma brushed at a lock of hair that had fallen loose from the intricate style forced upon Regina that morning; as it was most mornings. Regina’s eyes fluttered shut, leaning into the soft brush of familiar calloused hands as her own dropped to rest on Emma’s arms.
“I’m not worried about myself, I’m worried about you.”
“And I’m fine,” Emma stressed, chancing a quick press of her lips against Regina’s own.
Regina’s words died on her tongue, pushing into the soft pressure. But it was gone quickly, Emma pulling back a short way, smiling so sweetly.
And it was all too, too much.
Regina surged forward, caught her hand in Emma’s hair and pulled them into a deep kiss.
A moan, they pressed closer together, Emma’s hands automatically finding purchase on Regina’s hips.
A swipe of a tongue against a plump lower lip and their tongues met, their heads tilting to deepen the kiss as much as they could as heat curled between them.
They moved back, Emma parting with a pant, protesting weakly, “Someone might –
“They won’t,” Regina managed to get out, even if there was a knot of anxiety in the pit of her stomach. This was more important than that. The possibility of being caught far too small to truly be so concerning.
The hard press of the table was at her back swiftly. The discomfort only brief before Emma lifted her with ease, setting her down on the edge.
Their hands moved quickly, exploring and stroking and pulling; Emma’s managed to sneak through the layers of Regina’s dress – simple perhaps, but still fiddly – the brunette’s hips trembled and jumped as Emma’s fingers found the wetness between her thighs.
Regina gripped the back of Emma’s head, tilted her head to the side to allow her lips to explore.
“So wet already,” Emma murmured into her ear.
Regina whined, jerking her hips forward and pulling at Emma’s tunic uselessly, only managing to free it from the blonde’s breeches.
“You’ve been thinking of this?”
“Like you haven’t,” she threw back with a smile, one that vanished as Emma’s thumb slid over her clit, a loud moan working its way from her throat.
“Every minute of every day.” The words ghosted over Regina’s ear, had her trembling and pushing more into the hand cupping her.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Okay, perhaps a bit of an over exaggeration,” Emma admitted, lips nipping at delicate skin before she added with a raised eyebrow, “But not much of one.”
“You idiot.” It tapered off into a sound of pleasure, but Emma’s smile was a sign she had heard.
Emma’s thumb circled and tapped, and it was too much teasing, and it had been too long. She shifted demandingly, gripped Emma’s wrist with her own and pressed down with a whimper.
A skim of fingers against her.
She winced. Unconsciously.
Emma tried to pull back, concern flooding over her features, but Regina held her steady.
“I need this,” she whispered into Emma’s ear. Her body still sore, but knowing there was only one who could ease that. Who could make her feel whole again.
She stroked her fingers through Emma’s hair, pulled back until their eyes could meet. Emotions strong and swimming. Her grip still fixed one Emma’s wrist.
Emma’s head dropped, chin resting on Regina’s shoulder.
She heard Emma swallow thickly, could hear her breath out long and low.
The brush of lips below Regina’s ear had her shuddering.
Two fingers slid in easily, Regina’s hips moving impatiently as Emma proceeded slowly, “Yes,” she hissed, though whether it was from arousal, joy at their actions resuming or agreement to Emma’s words was something lost to both of them.
“I wish we could do this properly…”
“We can soon Emma, until…”
“... Until then,” Emma finished just before their lips met.
She fluttered around Emma’s fingers, feeling close so soon but held back by Emma’s careful pace. She released her wrist, wrapped her arm around the younger woman’s body to pull her even closer.
She pulled back, pouted for a split second before it fell, Emma thrusting faster though still so cautious of further harm to her body. Reading her so well, caring so much.
Regina shuddered, gasping as she tried to push back as best as she could with the surface she was upon.
Emma’s own breathing had picked up almost as much as Regina’s own, her eyes bright and pupils wide with arousal.
Some of Regina’s hair had fallen from its place; Emma pushed it over her shoulder, intending to move her lips down to her neck again.
Regina dug her fingers in a little too hard, Emma jumping in surprise and her hand slipping.
An accidental press of her thumb, Regina gasped, felt her arousal spike.
Emma’s eyes widened, pausing, her head tilting.
Regina’s own eyes were blown wide with her own arousal; she remained still however, showing she was not afraid.
A tentative press of Emma’s hand, more firmly around Regina’s throat, had the brunette bucking demandingly against the fingers that had stilled within her.
A questioning look, and Regina nodded softly. Emma resumed moving slowly until she was back at her previous pace, her other hand remaining around Regina’s throat, intermittently squeezing softly. Regina moved faster in those moments of almost breathlessness, her sounds of pleasure falling quicker and louder.
Emma was carefully watching her every reaction, ensuring that this did not pass into unwanted territory. Confusion in her eyes even as she did what Regina asked of her.
If Regina was truly in a clear mind, free from the overwhelming desire flowing through her form, then she would think of the oddness of it. Of finding increased pleasure in something that should bring her fear –
But had she not said it before? That Emma could do anything, she, herself, could do anything and it would bring them both pleasure.
A curl of the blonde’s fingers, around her throat and within her, had Regina seeing stars. Emma’s fingers catching that spot in her that had her rushing to her peak.
“Emma…” She whimpered, a plea, or a demand, or something. Fire burning through her and shooting along her nerves.
Her eyes locked with Emma’s and –
The grip on her throat tightened further. No longer pleasurable, no longer adding to her arousal. Tighter still, cutting off her air entirely.
She struggled, hands jumping from Emma to grip her wrist. Pulling at the Emma’s strong arm desperately, her eyes wide and filled with terror.
What frightened her the most however, was the emptiness in Emma’s eyes. The bright blues and greens that comprised her irises were dull and dark, her pupils blown wide and unfocused.
The hand slipped from her, joined the other around her neck and squeezed. Rage encompassed Emma’s features, but her eyes remaining blank and emotionless.
Regina kicked out, tried to yell in her confusion and fear, but the grip was too strong. Emma not flinching even at the blows to her sides.
Her vision tunnelled, black encroaching rapidly over colour and light, her heart beating loudly in her ears. Blood rushing.
Everything moved jarringly, colour draining from what she could still see as she stopped fighting. Her hands dropping uselessly to her sides as her strength left her.
Her body slumped, her mind blank –
The grip vanished.
Regina folded over, caught herself on the edge of the table, harshly drawing in breath, her chest falling and rising rapidly. Spots in her vision. Her eyes staring blankly as she came back to herself, from how close she was from the brink. Her ears buzzing and body shaking.
A sudden movement sent her eyes jumping, her head spinning.
Emma had stumbled back, her head had dropped and she was staring at her hands in horror. Her eyes clear again, obvious even with the distance between them.
Regina pressed her hands to her reddened throat, ran her fingers over the hot skin as if it would sooth the pain. Physical and emotional.
Emma had –
Emma wouldn’t –
But she –
A familiar, terrifying spicy scent struck her nose.
Her stomach plummeted.
No no no no –
A swirling mass of dark purple.
Emma was still staring at her hands as the purple disappeared like wafts of smoke. Regina struggled to straighten herself, her hands falling to her sides.
“Mother?” Her voice was rough, barely audible as she tried to return moisture to her mouth. Tried to ignore the pain and tightness in her throat.
Her mother simply looked at her. Looked at her like she had when she had arrived, like she was nothing more than a disappointment. A failure.
But what caught her attention, far more than anything, was the glowing object held in her mother’s hand.
She squinted at it, disbelieving.
“Regina!” Emma was at her side, unaware of the new arrival. There was moisture in her eyes, her form hunched as she looked at her terrified, “I didn’t – I mean I – please I can –
“To think, I was merely checking to see if things were proceeding as they should, and I found this…”
With a jerk of her head Emma noticed Cora for the first time, her words dying on her tongue.
“Such a thing can only cause pain darling.” Her mother ignored the stablehand, focused entirely on Regina, “But you know that now.”
“Mother, I don’t know what you think is happening but –
“No lies Regina, you know better, don’t you?”
“O-of course mother, but –
“No excuses.” Cora snarled, eyes dark as she took in her daughter, dishevelled and hurt, “The heart is too easily swayed. It controls you, blocks your ambition. Prevents you from achieving what you must.”
Regina wanted to protest, to tell her mother that what she said was untrue, that it conflicted so strongly with what she believed. What her father had told her since she was so young.
Cora raised the glowing object to her lips, whispered something to it.
Emma collapsed to her knees. Her eyes blank once more.
Her mother’s lips quirked into a smirk, “Do you see?”
Regina’s heart was beating fast, out of her earlier panic, fear and now complete confusion tinged with terror.
What was happening?
Cora lowered the object.
Emma’s eyes cleared.
Regina rushed to Emma’s side; her neck throbbed with the reminder of what had happened.
But she knew deep inside her that Emma had not been in control in that moment, and now it should be obvious why.
“What…” Emma spluttered confused as Regina helped her too her feet, uncaring what her mother would think. She already knew anyway.
She just prayed it was not her father who had told her.
The object, glowing and dimming like a pulse, was raised high, her mother tilting her chin proudly, “As I said, the heart is easy to control.”
Emma’s… Emma’s heart?
The blonde trembled beside her in such an unexpected display of fear that Regina found her hands gripping Emma’s arms, trying to comfort her.
“Why would you do that? Why would you…”
“She was causing a problem. And now I see clearly why.” Her mother lowered the heart, gripping it in her hand; Emma winced, her breath catching in pain, “You deserve better than this. Than a life of squalor and poverty. You deserve power and wealth, a life of comfort. Others – vermin like her – should bow their heads to you; they should kneel in your presence until their knees bleed.”
Emma was trying to catch her breath, Regina holding her, trying to support her as best she could.
“I don’t want that mother.”
“You are young darling. You have much to learn. You will thank me.”
Her protests were only angering her mother, however weak they were, “She is standing in the way of your destiny. I will not allow her to risk you losing your power.”
“I don’t want power!”
“Not yet, but once you have the first taste, then you will see why I’ve encouraged you into this. Into what you deserve.”
“I don’t! I won’t!” Her words exploded from her, her tight grip on her anger and upset clashing and escaping for perhaps the first time ever.
She saw her mother’s fingers shift, felt Emma quake beside her. Her own heart seized, her arms wrapping tighter around the younger woman’s frame.
“You will thank me; you will see that I have done this for you. To give you everything.”
“I don’t want this life.” For once in her short time on this plane, she prayed her mother would listen to her. Love was something far more powerful than everything else, she had to listen. Had to understand. It was what her mother and father had after all.
Cora’s lips pinched, something flashing through her eyes that had Regina shrink into herself, “She is in the way.”
Her mother’s knuckles flashed white, her hand shaking with the strain off –
Emma cried out, collapsing to her knees, falling away from Regina’s supporting hands and arms.
“Em-Emma?” Regina called out in a panic, her stomach knotting and heart clenching in anguish.
She dropped to her knees, ignored the pain that shot through her. She tried to place her hands on Emma’s arms to calm her, to sooth whatever was happening. But Emma just curled into herself, her face creased with pain.
She pulled Emma to her, tried to cradle her against her chest.
Regina’s eyes jumped to her mother, fell to her raised hand, and it all clicked into place.
Her mother. Surely she would not – could not. Yet proof was there, in front of her eyes and writhing in agony in her very own arms.
“Please Mama,” she begged, so easily, her voice shrinking as she did, “I’ll be good again, I promise, just please don’t take her away.”
Emma’s face was ashen, her eyes screwed shut so tightly.
“I can be good again. I will be good again; I’m so sorry Mama, please!”
She did not realise she was crying until she tasted salt on her lips.
“Do not worry darling, you’ll forget until our heir is born. I will ensure you do not make such a mistake again in the meantime.”
“I won’t forget.” Her mother’s smile gave way to a frown. Regina’s desperation had her clamouring for words; for the ones that would right this, “I mean I will. I will never mention her again. Just don’t do this, please. Send her away, but please don’t do this.”
“You ask me not to take her away, and yet in the very next breath you ask me to send her away.” The statement was accompanied with a smile and a shake of a head, it made that anger in Regina, buried beneath the heartbreak, burn hotter, “You clearly are not thinking straight dear, is that not proof?”
Emma fell from her grasp. Collapsing face first on the floor, her body shaking with the pain radiating through every inch of her. Regina’s hands trembled, tried to soothe Emma uselessly while fighting the urge to curl into fists.
“I do this because I am helping you, not to be cruel.” The organ seemed shrunk in her mother’s grasp, Cora’s fist almost hiding it entirely from view, “You will have such greatness once the nuisances are removed.”
Emma tried to speak, but all that left her dry lips where whimpers and cries; the anger in Regina curled around like the flames of a fire inside her. Burning through the sorrow and fear, consuming it in its heat. It licked at her insides and tried so hard to find an escape. Her hands felt hot, like she had just held them over a grate, her eyes dark and gaze hard on her mother.
Stress made her ears buzz.
She had taken so much. How could she take this too?
She should have known this would happen. Yet she still held a thread of hope that her mother would accept her. Understand what she wanted, but no!
She was trying to take that away. She was taking that away, and all Regina could do was kneel there, watching and waiting as her heart cracked in her chest and the life was squeezed from Emma’s.
How could she…
Was she so weak that…?
Emma’s head twisted, her bright eyes dull and watering and yet Regina could still see emotion. Sorrow. Not for her fate, but for Regina herself.
How – How –
“Now, don’t look at me like that. This is just another lesson.” Her mother rolled her eyes, like this was some joke, “And I’ve waited long enough. This is for our best chance, remember.”
Her hand shook with the strain of crushing something so strong and beautiful.
Emma cried out in absolute agony, curled against the ground. Her breathing weak.
The horses woke, their noises loud but distant in her ears.
The buzzing in her ears grew and grew, drowning out all else.
And the fire flared, it burnt through her, past her skin, forced its way through barrier upon barrier sparked along her skin and then out and out and –
A glow, a trick of the light, and yet when Regina’s breathing slowed and her eyes opened, all was silent.
The whimpers of pain. The buzzing in her ears. Her mother’s ‘lesson’.
Regina stared at her hands, much as Emma had done possibly only moments ago.
How much time had passed?
But her mother too…
Childhood fear had her head rising first, even when her heart longed for her to fight against it. To check Emma be all else. Her hands shook when she saw her mother collapsed against the far wall. A slim stream of blood trailing down her forehead.
A hitch to her breathing, innate terror over what had happened. But overridden in a flash as she gripped Emma’s shoulders, rolled her onto her back and pressed her ear above her mouth.
A soft whoosh of breath had Regina’s pattering heart slow, just a little.
Even so, Emma remained unmoving, as if in something deeper than sleep.
She looked back to her mother, a knot of icy fear forming in the pit of her stomach.
She shook as she took in the sight.
How had she…?
But it was evil. It hurt and conquered and dominated.
That fire in her. That had released like a force beyond all others could only be explained one way.
And she was tainted by its hand.
But… but she had saved Emma with its use. But had hurt her mother to do so.
Her head spun.
She stood, and approached her mother hesitantly, her knees feeling as if they would surely buckle with every step. She stopped where Emma’s heart lay amongst the loose strands of hay, bright and strong in the dim lantern light.
Glowing with a steady beat.
With a trembling hand, and a nauseous feeling in her throat, she picked it up tentatively. Gasped at the warmth and strength that it seemed to emanate as she held it gently, but securely.
It was Emma’s, and it felt wrong to hold it. Too close to what she had just seen.
A small pouch was by her mother’s side; she seized it, but held off placing the heart inside. The warmth it sent tingling up her arm was fighting of the panic and fear. Was slowly untying the tight knot inside her.
She dropped to her knees besides the unconscious stablehand; she didn’t so much as wince at the pain shooting through her legs or the sure to be bruises around her neck.
With her free hand she brushed Emma’s messy curls from her face, ran her fingers soothingly over her features as panic tried to seize her own heart once more.
Tears formed in her eyes, caused by so many compounding factors that she could pin none down.
Was it terror over what was inside her? Anguish over what her mother had done? Horror over what she had done? Terror for what might have befallen Emma?
A sob caught in her throat, burned at her skin.
“Emma, please get up,” she pleaded.
Emma’s eyes fluttered open, though as blank as before as she scrambled to her feet.
Regina held the heart, and she controlled what happened. It was clear now, as it should have been when she watched her mother do it moments prior.
Her hand trembled, the organ cradled in it, and she hastily fidgeted with the bag. Fear at such control scaring her.
But more than that – the power she felt. The strength.
It was only once Regina was stood in front of Emma, after she had slipped the – her – heart into the velvet bag and held nothing but the drawstring that Emma’s eyes looked normal again. Though, now Regina looked closely – now she was fully aware that something was amiss – she could see there was something not quite right in the green depths.
Emma blinked; shook her head slowly as if she had been woken suddenly – as if her mind was muddled and cobwebbed. Which was not far from reality.
“Oh God.” Emma’s eyes grew large with realisation, her hands shaking, “I’m sorry, I didn’t – I couldn’t control myself. I would never hurt you, I swear.”
“I know that Emma,” Regina reassured so easily, ignoring the buzzing need to move within her, “you were made to do it.”
“That doesn’t excuse –
“Saddle Rocinante.” Regina turned, unable to look at Emma when she ordered her.
“What?” She heard Emma stumble, her footfall falling oddly before she caught herself.
Regina lifted the pouch in her hand, studied its size and determined it would not fit in the hidden pocket in her dress. She held it carefully as she moved to the storage area in the stable.
She chanced a glance back, saw Emma pressing a hand to her head and wincing in pain.
When their eyes met Emma’s hand fell, and she stood stronger, even with the glimmer of agony in her eyes.
“We need to leave.” Regina gathered as much as she could, Rocinante had woken in the fallout of what had occurred. She gestured, briefly and without turning, to what she had done.
Emma turned, or so she assumed, eyes no doubt wide as she cursed, “Oh shit.”
Emma stumbled again, gripping the table beside her to steady herself. Her body hunched in the remainder of the pain that her body had undergone, though not a single finger had been lain on her physical body.
Not since her heart was removed – however that was done.
“We need to leave.”
And, even without Emma’s heart in Regina’s hand, the woman moved immediately after the repetition of the order. Out of choice Regina prayed.
They rode long and hard, until Rocinante’s sides grew and shrunk rapidly beneath them and he panted heavily, far more breathless than them – for they were exhausted more from their fear and panic than anything else.
Emma was in no state to ride, could barely do so according to her own comments long before then. Regina had asked Emma to sit behind her. Her arms wrapped around Regina’s waist and her head rested against her shoulder – barely conscious as the adrenaline ran its course. Or Regina’s order to her heart had long since faded.
The dark of the night sky had grown a deep purple as they finally stopped at the edge of a forest clearing. She helped Emma off Rocinante, caught her when she stumbled, eyes half open, and eased her to the ground – encouraged Emma to rest her head in her lap and sleep away her aches for as long as they could risk to do so.
Regina’s throat was dry, her own eyes heavy as she knelt there, her mind catching up with everything that had happened. Her hand ran through Emma’s curls, both lit only by the light of the waning moon.
Rocinante fared no better, nosing at the grass and lapping dew from where it clung.
The dampness to her own clothing was uncomfortable, but unimportant. There were far more pressing matters weighing down her mind and body.
What had befallen Emma.
What she, herself, had done.
How she had done it.
And now, there she was with nothing and no clue on what to do – all that talk of preparation useless when the need to run was sprung upon them.
How will they survive?
Lost in her confounding thoughts, she stayed there unsure of how much time had passed, remained still until the sky was growing a light purple and Emma was stirring with soft mumbles and murmurings. Regina’s hand never stopped its stroking, not even when the blonde was fully awake and rolled onto her back to gaze up at the princess.
There was a dreamy quality about her eyes, her smile sleepy and blissful.
It caused a lump to form in Regina’s throat. Her gaze sliding to Rocinante where he dozed, tied to a tree.
Her hand stilled, and Emma pushed herself up, grunting as she lifted her arms above her head and stretched. She yawned loudly, not bothering to cover her mouth as Regina fidgeted and fiddled with her dress and the small pieces of jewellery that still adorned her.
Emma froze in her over-exaggerated stretch; she was facing away, the back of her clothing slightly damp, Regina did not need to see Emma’s face to guess her exact expression.
Regina shifted, tried to rub life back into her legs and did her best to ignore the building sharp pricks of pain that told her she had not moved enough in the last – however long.
“Oh…” Emma repeated, her hands falling to her side as she turned to face Regina. Sitting herself on her knees, and wetting her lips as she shuffled forward, “Where…?”
“I don’t know. I just kept going until we could go no further.” Regina gave up rubbing the pain from her legs and instead propped them up, wrapping her arms around them as her chin dropped, “We left the road a while ago, Rocinante grew too tired, we had to stop. At least for a while. We were lucky the gates were open.”
Regina couldn’t meet Emma’s eyes. Couldn’t understand why she could not do so.
Their silence was heavy; the only sound the rustling of leaves and the chirps of some insects she knew nothing of.
Emma made an odd sound in the back of her throat, as if she was trying to speak but the words were yanked back by some unseen force.
She tried again, her hands pulling at the material of her breeches, and this time the words came out.
“They will hunt me down.” Emma’s voice cracked, her eyes wide as she looked behind herself into the darkness of the trees. When she looked back she was releasing a deep breath, her lips parted as she built up the strength to say her next words, “But you… you could go back.”
Regina shook her head, biting at her lip, “I was unhappy there.”
“You shouldn’t have to lose everything that you have.” Emma’s voice grew in strength as she spoke, though there was an odd sense of coldness to her words. Like a wall being built. “They will never stop pursuing me until they have their ‘justice’.”
Regina turned then, met Emma’s wide, worried eyes. Her own voice filled with bewilderment, “Justice for what?”
“For kidnapping you.”
How had she not thought of that?
Her staying with Emma would make her more of a target, would it not?
If she left – returned to the castle and the Prince and her parents – then there was a chance, perhaps, that if Emma ran far enough – remain elusive for long enough – that those chasing her would ‘give up’. Leave her be and forget about her.
But selfish as she was, Regina could not leave. Could never of her own free will.
And it was so wrong of her. To be so uncaring, to be so selfish and to pull and grasp at what she wanted, rather than what others needed, or of what was best for them.
It made her just like –
“I need to figure out how to give you it back,” Regina scrambled to her feet, turning her back when Emma craned her neck to look up at her. She headed towards Rocinante.
She had held on so tightly to the bag during the ride, only placed it elsewhere when they had stopped. For it would surely have been knocked and damaged if she had put it in the saddlebag immediately, especially with two of them atop Rocinante.
Rocinante snuffled in his sleep, but otherwise remained unmoving as she reached into the mostly empty saddlebag and drew out the small bag within carefully.
“Regina!” Emma was on her feet now, hands curled at her sides in frustration.
“We need to –
“You need to go.” The complete seriousness in Emma’s words, in her expression made Regina’s heart clench. But more than that was the wetness to her eyes.
And Regina just couldn’t.
She was just that selfish.
“I… I won’t leave you.” Regina swallowed, “I can’t.”
Emma’s bottom lip trembled, but then her head was dropping, her gaze cast to the side. As if she wanted to protest, but couldn’t.
“What,” Emma began after a time. The birds were beginning to sing now, “What do you need to ‘put back’?”
“Emma…” Regina rested her free hand on the blonde’s arm, in part to stop her own shaking, “Don’t you remember?”
The furrow to her brow was enough of an answer.
“My – Cora, she took your heart.”
“My heart?” Emma rolled her shoulders as if her muscles were tense, or the pain from hours prior still lingered in them, “But that is yours.”
Regina’s hand dropped to her side, then shot up to cradle the bag in her other hand.
“No, she took it.” Regina stressed, her hands growing clammy, “With… with magic.”
“Took it?” Emma rubbed at a crick in her shoulder, her brow still furrowed, though the crease had lessened. Emma pressed her hand to the spot above her left breast, her fingers twitching at the material.
She looked lost.
Regina swallowed thickly, rubbed her hands on her skirts and willed her strength to continue.
“I don’t know how she took it, but there has to be a way to put it back.”
“That would be the logical conclusion.” Emma shrugged, her cheeks puffing out, “I think.”
The visible concern on Emma’s face gave way to a look of confidence. Emma beamed at her, all trust and faith, “I’m sure you can figure it out.”
With a small, unsure smile, Regina loosened the bag’s drawstring.
As soon as her fingers brushed Emma’s heart she was hit by a wave of warmth and such strong emotion it left her gasping. The feelings reflected, though the slightly dulled, in Emma’s eyes.
And when she presented the glowing organ to Emma it seemed to beat harder in her palm.
Emma didn’t want to touch it however, and shrank back when Regina tried to get her to take it, Regina thinking that perhaps it would return if given back to whom it belonged. Its beat increased in that moment, a wave of frigid dread creeping from the organ and into the Princess.
She wanted to cast it away in that moment. Terrified of what it could do, that it could affect her so.
But this was not some evil item.
This was Emma’s heart. Not something to discard because it filled her with horror, or that consuming sense of control that flickered at the back of her being.
“Kneel.” Emma did immediately, Regina only managing to squeak out a, “please”, when Emma was already on the ground.
She joined her, the two of them knelt on the ground opposite one another, the heart held out between them as they both stared at it – as clueless as each other.
Emma did not remember it being taken. So the ‘simple’ option to do the opposite to return it was not available. Not that it would likely have worked anyway. Even if she did have –
There had to be a way.
Emma tilted her head this way and that, as if enchanted by the heart; of course, it was something neither had ever thought possible until that night – morning – whenever it was.
If she had to do it that way – if it was possible – then how?
When her mother did such things it was effortless and her expression one of focus. No special gestures or words, no sign of how.
She squinted in the fading darkness, stared as the glow of the heart was still so visible, cupped in her palms.
… She had done it before. A bright force that threw her mother clear across the stables.
A dark act, like all magic.
But there had to be a way.
What had she done?
She couldn’t remember, she had been so consumed by anger and rage and upset. The emotions where everything – they blinded her to all else, built within her until all was anger and then suddenly it was all silent.
And the act done.
Left only with the feeling of horror and the ache of the tender, bruised skin of her neck.
Her gaze flickered up to Emma, skirted over the tension in her shoulders, the left over evidence of a painful grimace on her features.
Remembered how it had torn her so painfully to see Emma, to hear her, consumed by agony.
She had been so close to losing her.
Her breath came out in a tremble, moisture building in her eyes. Emma sensed the change immediately, looking up and locking her concerned eyes on Regina’s. Even with her emotions muted even more now her heart was physically in the hands of another, there was still so much care there. The worry and love that flowed through Regina’s form had her shaking with its force.
Emma’s hands joined hers, cupped them and the heart held within. The warmth supporting and caring. Adding to the emotions. The emotions that she mirrored back, felt them reflected and grow between them until all was them and nothing else existed – could exist, not in their little world – it was just them, safe and loved and cherished above all else and –
Light. Bright and growing and nothing to do with the rising dawn. A colour indescribable as it wound around their wrists like a pair of snakes and in a single moment it seemed to fade white, encompassing their hands fully, swirling and dancing around them, rising like curling wisps.
“Magic…” Emma spoke for them, Regina unable to verbalise anything other than a sound that cracked in her throat.
It hit her. A sudden strike of instinct.
She lifted her hands, Emma’s slipping from her and leant forward, tilted her hands until they were palm first to Emma’s chest, the heart bared.
She pushed, hand shaking as Emma’s gaze dropped, her eyes fixed on Regina’s hand; entranced and overwhelmed. Regina’s lips parted, brow furrowed in concentration and pray. Praying this would work, that she could do this. One of her hands fell to the side, pressed against the right side of Emma’s chest as she was hit by warmth; a warmth that stole her breath and left her feeling high above all.
Then a sharp intake of breath, a sudden lurching of movement and Emma’s bright eyes were locked on hers, moisture brimming at the corners of her own as the edge of dullness shattered. Regina pulled her hand back, felt the addictive warmth surrounding her up to the wrist disappear, her hand empty.
Emma’s throat bobbed.
She was pulled into her lap, cradled to a shoulder as Emma held her tight.
Regina clutched at the back of Emma’s tunic, wished she could be the one to comfort. Knew that she should be. Emma was the one who had suffered, not her.
Emma’s lips brushed her forehead; the tears falling but no more coming.
She was always the weak one, and Emma the strong. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair on Emma.
She stayed there, long enough that her upset had faded, but not enough to be rid of it entirely. She pulled away, stood with the bag from before in her hand as she walked to Rocinante’s side and placed it back in the saddlebag.
She jumped, startled, at a growl from behind her. Shuffling as Emma struggled to her feet and when she turned, Emma’s head was bowed; her form more hunched with pain then before her heart was returned to her.
“I can’t believe I told you to go back!” Emma fisted a hand in her hair, her eyes darting about as she was consumed by panic, “What the hell was I –
“You didn’t remember,” Regina said softly, hiding her shock at the anger in the stablehand’s voice. Seeing that this, coupled with what Emma had done – had been made to do – was leaving the blonde distraught and filled with a building self-loathing.
“I found the secret,” she snarled, her face twisting in disgust, “He had been married before. Many times. Killed them all and you would have been next and I told you to go back.”
Regina’s stomach dropped, but less from what she was told than Emma’s pacing; the self-blame.
“And then I hurt you.”
“My mother took your heart.” Regina closed the distance between them, tried to hold Emma’s hands or arms but the blonde shied away, her anger at herself so palpable that it made Regina’s stomach churn, nausea bubbling up, “She made you do it.”
Emma shook her head, bit at her knuckle until the skin was red, “And she took it so I wouldn’t tell you.”
“My…” Her mother did that to Emma because she didn’t want her to know about the Prince… she would have put her into such danger? And for what? A title, money, jewels? But – but her mother insisted she loved her, that she always did what was best and –
No. Her mother didn’t care for what she wanted.
The night before proof enough of that.
She had tried to take Emma.
Emma – who was pacing and distressed and in pain.
On Emma’s next pass, Regina reached out, grabbed the blonde and forced her into her embrace. Emma was stronger, so much so, and yet she relented, let Regina do what she wished.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Regina repeated, one hand playing through Emma’s hair as the other ran along her spine, soothingly.
Emma pressed her face to Regina’s shoulder, shaking with silent sorrow.
They were bathed in the orange glow of the sunrise when Emma finally stilled, whispering thank yous and apologies all the while, as Regina held and comforted her as she had wished for only a short while ago.
For a short moment, she was the strong one, and she treasured it, treasured being able to give Emma something back when she had given so much to the Princess.
“We… we have to figure out what to do now,” Emma said as she pulled away, wiping at her nose with her sleeve – smiling when Regina scrunched her nose up at the action.
And now they had freedom, of a sort.
Though they had no food. No resources of any kind. Nothing. They had nothing.
“Yes…” Regina sighed, her brow furrowed.
Emma’s arms tightened around her, “My original plan stands, if you still agree though,” she gave a humourless chuckle that ended with a wince of pain, “it’s going to be more difficult than it would have been.”
For reasons unknown to her, Regina found a small smile gracing her face, Emma’s words not filled with fear or apprehension, only acceptance and a positive attitude – always looking to the future, taking the present in her stride, rather than suffering in the past.
“Of course I agree.” Regina poked the tip of Emma’s nose, the blonde’s eyes crossing to keep track of her fingertip. Then leant forward to press her lips where her finger had touched.
Emma stood a little straighter, grinning now.
“We just have to…”
“Figure it out as we go.” As soon as Emma’s eyes dropped, Regina could guess what was coming, “Though… if you want to separate, then we can.”
Regina’s stomach flipped, dropping as it did, “Why would I want to ‘separate?’”
Emma ran her hand through her hair, her words leaving her in one large rush, “They will think you are with me still, they will focus efforts on the singular, just me. I can get you what you need, tell you what to do, you can start your own life. If they catch me I will never tell them what happened – I wouldn’t know to tell them anyway. You could be anywhere.”
“No,” Regina repeated, firm in her decision.
If anything, Emma looked relieved, though she attempted to cover up the desperate expression as soon as it appeared.
Regina felt much the same, relieved that Emma would not try to push her away and take the brunt of what was to fall upon them at any moment.
They would never stop hunting them. The only hope of some reprieved would be to find sanctuary as Emma had mentioned as part of their original plan. Though, to find that, she would need to have something to offer in return, something that would ensure that they would indeed be protected from everything that could happen.
Or – no, she was panicking over what was to come. What might never occur. They might not make it even halfway to the destination Emma already had in mind.
It was the present they – she needed to pour her energy into. Just like Emma. She needed to focus on the now and then.
Rocinante snuffled behind her, waking with the dawn; she resisted the urge to turn around, knowing that with the way Emma was watching her with such care and concern, the action would be misunderstood.
Emma’s hands flexed at her side, a sign she wanted to reach out. But she held back, knowing it best not to crowd Regina. It was only at that slight action that Regina realised she was shaking, her throat dry and anxiety forcing its unwanted way throughout her.
Awareness, like a creeping storm, rushing over her before she could notice it.
She was on her own, without barriers or boarders for the first time in her life, yes she had Emma, but she had never restricted or controlled her as others had. To be out from under the oppressive hand of her mother lifted a burden, but to be without her father added more weight to her shoulders. And now, with nothing, she felt lost and weightless. Like she was adrift in one of the great seas.
She reached out. Emma’s hand caught her own, held it softly and securely, it helped to anchor her. To pull her back to herself, to shore, to the solidness of land.
At her positive reaction, Emma guided her forward until they were both in a comforting embrace, feeling equal as they always did with one another, and only one another. A push and pull, a give and take of strength.
Together, they needed to move forward as best they could. They couldn’t dwell on what could be, but rather what would be if they worked together, trusted and loved one another.
And love was a kind of magic, different from the evil in her mother’s and her veins; it was the truest of powers and could triumph even in the direst of situations. Perhaps… perhaps that was what had saved Emma – and surely her too – and had allowed her to return Emma’s heart.
Perhaps that evil was not in her after all.
Or perhaps – perhaps she was dwelling on this just as she should not. It was a waste of energy and draining what little she had to share.
Emma’s breath brushed against her ear as she whispered something that lifted Regina’s heart high.
The stablehand blushed deeply when Regina returned the words, pressing a sweet kiss to the blonde’s lips before resting her head against her shoulder in the warming, rising sun.
Just a brief respite before they moved forth, tried to determine what to do next.
It was all worrying, filled with dread and fear. But – but as long as they were together – as long as they had such fate and belief in one another – they could survive this. No matter what faced them. She knew that. Emma knew that.
They had found what many would never find, and they would not lose it. Even if it cost them everything.