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Treading A Fragile Line

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Her mother was away for a short period of time, a blessing really. It gave Regina free rein to do as she truly wished until her return, something her father was more than happy to encourage with no hesitation. As such, they had spent their morning horseback riding, after a leisurely breakfast of many of their favourite foods. Of course her father spoiled her with treats, as he was prone to do when her mother’s was absent.

She felt far lighter that day than she had in a significant length of time, it was both freeing and uplifting, yet it was sadly to be painfully short-lived. Her mother, and her father on the occasions he went with her, were never gone long when away on Royal business. Even so, a day of true happiness amongst many of pressure and stress almost made all those hard days worthwhile.

Even though she was more than happy to continue riding, they decided to make their way to the stables. They travelled at a steady pace, allowing their horses time to calm down before they were stabled once more. After spending the morning riding she could see her father had begun to wane, for he was not as young as he once was,  and she had to state – very strongly – that she was fine with their ride coming to an end ‘so soon’.

Their silence was a companionable one as they transitioned from grass to gravel to cobblestone, the clopping of the horses’ hooves soon drawing the stablehand’s attention. Regina’s smile widened, if that was even possible, at the familiar blonde who came jogging into view and skittered to a halt before them, hurriedly bowing to Henry then Regina herself.

Pushing a few errant curls out of her eyes, she grinned up at Regina, “I take it you enjoyed your ride.”

“Very much so,” Regina replied, halting Rocinante so her father could move ahead and dismount first.

Emma’s face had lit up at her answer, her form surprisingly jovial and relaxed even with Henry’s presence.

“It has been a long time coming,” her father added as Emma stepped forward to grip the reins of his horse, “So I am glad it was worth it.”

“You should have had no doubt, father.”

With only a small amount of embarrassment, Henry gestured for Emma’s help. With her free hand and shoulder Emma helped him climb down from his mount, taking his weight with almost unexpected ease. It was not truly a shock for Regina to see strong her friend was, Emma had been working there since childhood, it was only natural she would have built up the strength she had.

Once solidly on the ground, her father pressed a hand to his back, stretching slightly as he worked out a cramp. The reminder of how much older he seemed to have become quite so suddenly weighed on Regina, but soon he was standing tall once more, cheerful without her mother’s presence, and that was enough for Regina to dismiss her worries, even with how often she found herself struggling with them.

Henry placed a hand on Emma’s shoulder, a supportive gesture rather than a domineering one, though it had Emma blinking unsurely, “Swan isn’t it.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

Regina guided Rocinante to stand near to her father’s own horse, Rucio, the grey horse waited patiently as Emma still held his reins.

“Let us keep this to ourselves; it is best if my wife does not know.” His words were spoken carefully, as if testing the waters, even though that was unnecessary – Emma would say nothing.

“Of course Your Highness, I wouldn’t dream of telling her. Not that I would lie regularly, or keep truths to myself. Err…”

Emma scratched at the back of her head with her free hand, her eyes jumping around.

Regina tried to keep her face impassive, but soon a smile broke its way through at Emma’s sudden awkwardness and inability to speak straight – she usually had no problem, especially when it was just the two of them.

“That is, I value Regina more than her. Or rather, my loyalty is –

“I understand.” Her father replied, a sparkle of amusement in his eyes as he patted Emma’s shoulder, “I’ll take Rucio.”

Emma’s face had turned red as she had stumbled over her words, and in her moment of rarity (at least in public) she did not protest, instead she handed the reins over with only slight hesitancy.

Henry smiled, before leading his horse away.

The stablehand took a breath and approached Regina instead, clearly expecting some sort of mockery, though she still smiled sheepishly regardless.

She held out her hand, but Regina shook her head causing the blonde to shrug as Regina swung her leg over Rocinante’s back.

“Well don’t blame me if you embarrass yourself by falling,” Emma whispered after ensuring Henry was leading his horse into the stable before them.

Regina shook her head again as she skilfully dismounted to the ground, sparing a glance to her occupied father before swatting at Emma’s arm.

“Hey.” Emma pouted, rubbing at her arm as if Regina’s weak attempt at slapping her had actually hurt.

Regina huffed, placing her hands on her hips and tilting her head up in a weak façade of arrogance, “Sometimes I wonder why we still employ you.”

Emma crossed her arms, cocking an eyebrow, smirking, “You would miss me if I left.”

Regina paused, her lips twitching into a smile even while she tried to maintain an air of disinterest, saying coyly, “… Perhaps.”

“See.” The blonde splayed her hands before her, pink lips pulled into a smile.

“I would definitely miss seeing you make a fool of yourself.”

That familiar pout found its way back to Emma’s face. One that made Regina instantly laugh, a sound Emma tried her best not to join in with, but failed miserably, her own chuckle a deeper sound that warmed Regina greatly.

Their combined laughter dwindled out slowly, and when it did they were both suddenly all too aware of a heavy silence, one that settled over them both unexpectedly. They both turned to the right.

Henry was standing in the stable doorway watching them with a small smile on his face, Emma immediately bowed her head, Regina flushed for reasons she could not be sure of.

Rocinante chose that moment to nudge Emma’s head with his own.

“Right,” Emma muttered, “I’ve got two horses to tend to.”

“It would be beneficial for you to preform your job.”

Emma returned Regina’s smile with one of her own, winking with the eye Henry could not see just to ensure Regina would become as flustered as her. Not that it was necessary, her face was already warm from being caught doing… well she was not sure exactly what, but it made her embarrassed nonetheless.

Taking up Rocinante’s reins which previously had simply hung there (he was far too behaved to bolt), Emma led him towards the stable.

Approaching her side, her father said with a smile, “You may stay with your friend if you wish.”

His smile was one of pride, though she could not fathom why. It made her head drop briefly and her hands tug at her riding jacket.

It was a scarcity to be able to spend time with her father, to truly bond without the sometimes oppressive air of her mother hanging over them.

She didn’t want the chance to escape her.

“We very rarely get to spend time together, I can always return later.”

Emma looked over her shoulder, somehow managing to look both taken aback and elated. Though she really shouldn’t, they had spent whatever time they could together since their youth, and without the worry of her mother at the forefront of her mind, they would have no need to be constantly on edge for the first time in a long while. Not that Regina truly felt on edge with Emma anymore, the blonde calmed her and freed her from those concerns.

“If you are sure that is what you want.”

She wrapped her father into a hug, one he happily returned. Once it was over, they both bid goodbye to Emma, who was pulling out the required tools to groom both horses – something Regina loved doing herself, but was willing to sacrifice that day.

She took her father’s arm as they walked along the path back to the castle, the weather’s brightness mimicking their mood.

There was a pleasant stretch of time and a significant distance between them and the stable before her father spoke, “I am glad you have found a friend. You need someone you can confide in.”

She and Emma had been friends for a long, long time, but this was the first time her father had mentioned it.

Regina bit her lip in a rare action she had long been told to control, “You won’t tell –

“No.” The rest of his words did not need to be said, for they both knew what they were. If her mother found out she had a friend to distract her, she would simply discard Emma and find another stablehand. That was easily done, and it would cost them nothing. Though what it would cost Regina personally, not to mention Emma, was much greater.

It hurt in a way, to know that her father truly did want her to be happy, to indulge her and love her, and yet be unwilling to stand up to her mother’s ways – not that her mother did not love her. Of course she did.

Still, Regina could only hope he would not cave, and would keep her secret, she was sure he would, but a small kernel of worry would always remain. Her mother had… ways of ensuring nothing escaped her notice, of controlling everything. Yet, despite her father’s ‘weakness’, she could not bring herself to feel anger towards him. She loved him, just as she loved her mother even with how stern she was – a sternness that grew now she was nearing the age where her marriageability would only drop.

“I was thinking, as it is such a nice day, that we could dine outside. I have already asked the cooks to prepare your favourite foods again.”

But Regina was only half listening, her body growing tense as the unwanted thoughts circled in her mind. She had wanted today to be free of such things, but no day ever could, could it? Her mother may be away that day, but by the very next day she would have returned and everything would be back as it usually was.

Her breathing grew faster and shallower. She barely noticed as they stopped. Her father turning to her in a near panic, cupping her cheek as he tried to get her to meet his eyes.

“Regina?”

“I don’t want to get married.” She blurted out, her eyes wide and shining, “Why can’t I live my life as I want? I am sure I will find someone eventually and marry them when I am ready. When I know them and love them.”

“Your mother just wants what is best for you.” The words were often spoken by her father, and she knew them to be true, but that did nothing to lessen the tightness in her chest and throat. The panic deep-seated.

“But it is not what I want.” She pleaded, repeating long said words of her own, “I will never be Queen despite her insistence and my constant lessons.”

“We do not know that.”

Perhaps, but unless something drastic and terrible occurred, it would never happen. Not when she had four uncles, all older than her own father, and all with families of their own.

“I just…” She trailed off, finding herself in her father’s comforting embrace again, “Want to be happy.”

His breathing wavered, his arm’s tightening around her, “You will be, someday, I promise.” The heavy tinge of sadness to his words caused a sob to catch in her throat; her finger’s digging into the material of his coat.

They stood that way for a long time, free from interruptions on the quiet path to the Royal Stables. And soon Regina felt her breathing calm, her head clearing and her muscles freeing themselves of the tension that had swiftly built in them.

She pulled back slightly, wondering when she had pressed her face into her father’s shoulder.

“Are you alright now?” He asked, his brow furrowed and his voice filled with care.

“Yes…” Regina replied after a time, “I rather think I am.”

His smile faltered slightly, and she could see how she had affected him with her uncontrollable actions moments prior.

“I am sorry,” her voice was weak, her head dipped.

“There is no need to apologise. You did nothing wrong.”

She pulled out of their hug gently, straightening out her riding clothes though they did not need it.

“Never keep your emotions bottled up, it can only case harm. You always have myself and your friend to speak to.”

Regina nodded her acceptance at his words, detecting that he was speaking from experience. Knowing that he was willing to listen to her was uplifting, yet at the same time she knew her mother would be displeased if she were to find out. If she would even let them have any more time together to do just that. Not if the Royal business was what she feared it to be.

Though Emma, she had her, and she knew she would never judge, and that she would always listen. Just the thought of her friend filled her with happiness and warmth.

“And Rocinante.”

“Yes.” Her father paused to chuckle, “And Rocinante.”

Regina returned his smile, hers only slightly watery. She could still remember the time when all she had was her horse, unsurprisingly that was how she and Emma had met. She had snuck out to talk to the only one who would listen, and there Emma had been, all puffed out chest and over-the-top frown – until she found out Regina wasn’t an intruder. They had been only young girls then, she barely in the double digits, and Emma only a few years younger than she. It was hard to believe they had known one another for so long.

“Now, how about we go see if the cooks have finished our private fest.” She took her father’s arm again, thankful at his attempt to help ease her mind.

In the end, one day of happiness did help her cope with those other days, even when they outweighed the lighter days considerably.

She would spend the rest of the day with her father then later see her friend, with no pressure upon her. She merely had to keep her mind free of worries, and that would be easy if she tried. And she did try so very hard.

----

Originally, years ago, she had been reluctant to climb up into the hayloft, worried that the loose hay would cling to her and she would be scolded for being unkempt. Now, however, she did not care. Not that anyone would see her anyway, not that day.

After arriving at the stable, she paused to fuss over Rocinante, squinting only slightly in the lamplight before, with practiced ease, she climbed the ladder to the hayloft and settled down.

Emma had long ago shifted the square bales of hay to make a small area to lay her bedroll down, she rested it atop loose hay to soften the bedding – something that still made Regina’s nose scrunch in abhorrence, to think that Emma had to sleep outside on the bare minimum of a mattress!

At least she had the shelter of the stables, and it was oddly cosy, surrounded by the bales and the soft glow of a lantern, but Regina still felt the younger woman deserved better.

But Emma never complained, and so Regina said little on the matter nowadays. The first couple of times she had brought up Emma’s sleeping arrangements, the younger woman had dismissed it. After that however, Emma explained that compared to the conditions she once lived in, this was a vast improvement. The answer had been difficult for Emma to say, and to know the stablehand was willing to describe something she clearly felt so uncomfortable with to her, only made Regina realise just how close the two of them had grown.

While she waited for Emma to finish her last checks for the night, Regina moved the lantern beside her to the head of the bedroll, she might not know much, but she did know that leaving it so close to a bale as Emma had was a recipe for disaster.

Emma appeared quickly, her head popping up over the ledge of the loft with her usual easy grin.

Regina smiled, and Emma pulled herself up.

They sat opposite one another, each resting against a bale of hay, Regina’s legs folded under herself while Emma splayed hers out in front of her, uncaring that her boots rested on her bedroll.

As if by magic, Emma produced a wine bottle in her hand; in all likelihood she had pulled it out of hiding from the closely packed hay. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“I must say I am surprised to see you tonight.” Emma tugged at the cork in the bottle with a furrowed brow, the look vanishing into a bright, goofy grin when the cork gave way with a squeaky pop, “Though I am pleased, most definitely pleased.”

“You knew I was coming tonight, why else have that ready.”

“Ah, you know me too well,” Emma replied, offering Regina the bottle. She accepted more out of courtesy than any desire to partake in liquor, taking a dainty sip before returning it to her friend.

“I’m sure the fact I told you as much earlier had nothing to do with it,” Regina inquired, her smile tilting.

Emma simply grinned again, the corners of her eyes crinkling cutely as she took a drink of her own.

“You sure you won’t get into trouble for being here?” Emma asked once she parted her lips from the bottle, her concern obvious.

“I… may have snuck here, but my father did encourage me to spend some time with you before it will become significantly more difficult to do so.”

Emma’s mouth opened to immediately question her, and Regina swiftly realised she had perhaps said too much. Her gaze darted about trying to locate something to distract the blonde with, her eyes soon drawn to the bottle in Emma’s grasp.

“How did you even get that?” Regina asked, only now recognising the label as some of the cheaper wine used for the less important guests. The why did not need to be asked, Emma was entitled to her fun as much as the next person, and it was not as if it was a habit. Emma rarely drank in front of her, and when she did she always tried to share the beverage, in a way, it was her way of celebrating with Regina. Though what on earth Emma deemed worthy of celebrating at that precise moment, Regina could not even begin to ponder.

Unless…

“Is this because my mother is away?” Regina inwardly cringed at the question, after all, that was the topic she was originally trying to avoid, even though her own mind had lingered upon it most of the day.

Emma’s sheepish grin was all the answer that she needed.

“Emma…”

“Yes, but you’re so much lighter when she isn’t around, freer in a way.” The sudden explosion of words had the stablehand scratching at the back of her head self-consciously; she paused before adding softly, “It makes me happy to see you happy.”

Regina crossed her arms over her chest, trying her best to put forward an air of annoyance, but knowing she was failing miserably, “And I repeat my earlier question, how did you get it?”

When they were younger Emma often snuck out to a nearby tavern, but as they grew closer the visits there dwindled. Regina doubted such a place would sell wine anyway, and if it did, not the kind in Emma’s hand.

It was possible Emma had brought it, but her wages were merger, the house and board she was granted deemed payment enough. The wine, while cheaper than most, was still far more expensive than someone of Emma’s rank could comfortably afford.

Regina’s face noticeably fell.

She did not mean to look down on Emma, even in the privacy of her own thoughts. Ranks were not important to her; people were. A person’s rank only mattered to her mother, and she was not her mother, despite how her mother seemed to be trying to live through her.

“Well, I…” Emma paused to take a long drink from the bottle, her gaze wavering slightly as she began to explain, “I made a deal with one of the scullery maids.”

“What sort of deal?” Regina quickly asked, eager to escape from her spiralling thoughts.

“Err…” Emma mumbled, the unfamiliar and unexpected hesitation immediately catching and raising Regina’s concern rather than her suspicion.

Her arms relaxed back to her sides as she watched Emma’s face carefully, a pretty flush highlighting the cheekbones Regina had always admired.

“A kiss.”

“On the cheek?” Regina asked, genuine in her surprise that Emma was embarrassed of that of all things. It was not uncommon to greet one another with kisses to the cheek, but that was typically an upper class greeting. Not something associated with the ‘peasants’ perhaps that was why Emma seemed so abashed.

One of Regina’s eyebrows rose when Emma shook her head in a short, sudden motion.

A silence grew suddenly, boarding on awkward as Regina built up the courage to hazard a guess.

“On the lips?”

The sheepish look had appeared on Emma’s face again, but was swiftly hidden as she took another long drink from the bottle before answering, “In a manner of speaking.”

“But you are not married.” Regina stated with a crease between her eyebrows, her head tilting to the side in an action that was more often seen on the blonde rather than herself, “And you are both females.”

Emma scratched at her cheek, her eyes dropping to her knees as she shuffled uncomfortably.

That action, coupled with Emma’s peculiar behaviour, had Regina focusing on the wording of Emma’s reply, which only made her all the more baffled, “What do you mean ‘in a manner of speaking’?”

Another drink, one that had Emma spluttering a little at the end, one booted foot tapping against the wood beneath them, “Err… Well, a woman has more than one pair of lips.”

Oh.

Oh!

Regina’s cheeks flushed darker, her eyes wide as she understood just what Emma was referring to. Or so she thought.

Emma shrunk in her seat, her knee bouncing as she tried to look impassive, her hand tightening around the bottle.

Regina squirmed in a very unladylike manner, her eyes barely able to rise past Emma’s knees for longer than a few seconds at a time.

Strangely enough, it did not bother her that Emma was partaking in behaviour deemed ‘inappropriate’ to the upper classes. What did, however, was that she had no idea Emma had someone. And that… well that hurt. It opened up an ache in her chest that she had never truly felt before, it settled upon her shoulders, wrapped around her and pressed down. It pulled at her, forcing a depression upon her that was honestly frightening.

And she didn’t understand why.

Was she jealous? Jealous that Emma had happiness when it was a faraway dream for her?

Or upset that Emma had kept it a secret? She had thought they trusted one another completely.

“Who is it?”

Emma’s head jerked in surprise, her eyes unusually wide, “Who is what?”

“Your lover.”

Emma shifted on the spot again, unable to maintain eye contact, as she looked down at her free hand where she was tracing a score in the wood with her nail, “It was Dalia, and we aren’t lovers.”

The words were rushed, the second part of the sentence stressed unusually so. But Regina focused on the name as she tried to picture a face to go with it, and managed after a time to do just that. If she was correct, the maid in question was similar in age to Emma, but without the light hair or complexion that was still so foreign to their home region.

It was Regina’s turn to shift where she sat, a feelingly of awkwardness washing over her. She moved her legs from under her, propping them up instead and resting her chin on her knees in order to distract herself from something she did not fully understand. That was often the case in her interactions with Emma; she could only assume her awkwardness and inability to understand stemmed from having little contact with anyone else, and as such, little social experience to rely on. Even after all the years they had spent together she still found herself more than a little lost at times.

“You…” She began carefully, trying to block out the logical voice in her mind that so often stopped her from verbalising so many of her thoughts, “Said you, erm, kissed her, there…”

At Emma’s somewhat pinkened cheeks and nodding head, Regina continued, feeling far more confident than she had only seconds before. If she could not trust and confide in Emma than who else did she truly have? She could not ask such things of her father, and Rocinante could not speak back to her.

Emma was really the only one capable of, and willing, to help broaden her restricted mind. To teach her of things she was never aware of, or never allowed to know.

“I had no idea of such things.”

“Of what exactly?” Emma asked carefully, her head tilting to the side as her natural curiosity outweighed any discomfort with the matter at hand. A feeling that was mirrored in Regina herself in that moment; something she was both thankful for and baffled by.

“My mother has told me what will be expected of me when I am married.” She bit her bottom lip, her gaze dropping to her arms, which were now wrapped around her legs, “It is not something to garner enjoyment. Yet you offered it as payment for a favour, and she asked for it rather than you demanding it of her.”

Emma’s brow furrowed even as she shrugged, “I didn’t mind it, and she most definitely didn’t.”

Regina watched as Emma hurriedly brought the bottle back to her lips, her eyes wide as she realised she had, perhaps, said too much. Once again, Regina did not feel disgust, but a sense of irritation most foreign to her.

“But it is supposed to hurt, is it not?”

The stablehand’s head snapped up, the violence of the action causing Regina to sit up straight, her legs lowering to rest much as Emma’s own did.

“You believe that?”

“I have read books, snuck from a tucked away part of the library, but they do not exactly fill me with a sense of comfort.” She explained as best she could, especially given her flushed features, “They lay back and wait until it is over.”

“No, no, no, Regina.” Emma shifted, lifting one leg and resting her arm across her knee as she leant forward slightly, one hand held up and moving as she verbally rejected Regina’s belief, “It’s not like that, not at all. Or it shouldn’t be.”

Even with her belief of Emma’s words, for the blonde had never intentionally lied or mislead her, Regina could not help but ask in a rather small voice, “It shouldn’t?”

“Regina.” Emma breathed, and the tenderness on her face tugged at something deep in Regina’s chest, caused the air in her lungs to catch on its way out, and her fingers to pull at the material of her riding beeches which she had been able to wear all day – much to her joy, “Who ever told you that is so wrong. You shouldn’t have to live in fear like that.”

And Emma was right, yet again, for Regina did fear what she had to do more than anything else accompanying her unavoidable marriage to come. And it would come sooner than she would ever want it to.

“It’s meant to be something you do out of…” Emma trailed off, her eyes focusing on the bale of hay behind Regina’s head as she searched for the word she wanted to use, “… enjoyment, I guess is the best way to put it.”

“Perhaps that is true for the lower classes.” Regina cringed at her almost derogatory use of the term, that wasn’t her speaking, not at all. She recalled how her mother thought of those ‘beneath’ them, how she considered them to be on the same level as animals – her mother not seeing animals in the way Regina did – with none of the grace or strength of those above them. She knew it could not be true, yet she struggled with herself to deny what she had always been told, “But not for us.”

Emma ran her hand through her hair, her expression so intensely confused that Regina found it a challenge to meet her eyes. Emma huffed, her cheeks puffing out as she grappled with something within herself in much the same way as Regina was doing herself.

Emma placed the bottle besides her, wetting her lips before she spoke, “Have you never…” Emma motioned with both hands in a rolling action Regina could not begin to understand

“Ever what?” She asked, clearly bewildered.

“You know…” Emma breathed in deeply as if steeling herself before adding in a rush, “Brought pleasure to yourself?”

Regina’s face was ridiculously hot now; she looked towards the lantern as if its glow could save her from this situation she had gotten herself into. Yet, there was a part of her that wanted to tell Emma such things. That wanted Emma to, well, ‘help’ her. To give her the truth of such matters, for now she had come to fully accept the realisation that she knew so little, and what she had been told was far from sufficient. Emma would not lie to her, not even to protect her from things her mother deemed ‘necessary evils’ at worst, and ‘useful tools’ at best – whatever that meant.

“Perhaps,” she began carefully, thinking back with more than a little hesitance, “I made an attempt, but it frightened me.”

Emma tilted her head again, but remained silent, knowing Regina needed time to come to terms with what she was trying to say.

“It was intense, I didn’t understand what was truly happening, and that is what scared me.”

“And the thought it was supposed to hurt?”

Regina gave a small nod, before she took a deep breath, so many questions circling her mind and wanting answers. In truth, she could not recall just what had led her to attempt such an improper act – or was it truly improper? Emma did not seem to deem it so, or at least that is how it appeared to her.

From Emma’s earlier confession on just how she had gotten the wine, and her almost casual way of talking about such a topic and the things she had already said, it was obvious she had a far greater knowledge than Regina. Which naturally suggested she had a wealth of experience also – even with her being the younger of the two.

“You said it is not supposed to hurt, but does that not mean that it can? What was it like for you?”

Emma’s face was a deep red, and her answer was not immediate, the pause between Regina’s question and the younger woman’s answer long enough that Regina became acutely aware of the shuffling of the horses beneath them, and the call of a bird outside even though night had long since fallen. 

“Well, I won’t lie, it did a little,” Emma admitted softly, before adding in a stronger voice, “But neither of us really knew what we were doing and I don’t think I was as ‘invested’ as I believed I was at the time.”

“That was also with a woman?”

“No. But I discovered my preferences rather quickly.”

“And a woman doesn’t hurt?” Regina felt so terribly naïve, but she knew in her heart Emma would never mock her. Never cruelly or when speaking with such importance.

“That all depends Regina,” Emma seemed to be calming now, her face a light pink, it made Regina feel far more at ease, “on whether the person you are with cares, whether time is taken. It’s not really something I can explain.”

“Then show me.”

Emma choked on nothing, her eyes wider than Regina had ever seen them. Hers were much the same as she realised just what she had said aloud, just what it could mean – no, not could mean. What it did mean. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, biting it in her uncertainty.

“What?” Emma wheezed out.

It was too late to go back now; and after the words left her it occurred to her, quite suddenly, just how much the idea appealed to her. How now it was in the air between them she wished she had said something so much sooner, so her incorrect thoughts could have been amended and she could learn long before that moment.

That did not stop her gaze from falling from Emma’s face, or her ears from burning, however.

She trusted Emma far more than anyone else; she knew she would be safe with her. And was this not something common amongst the lower classes? Had Emma not revealed she had… pleasured another as part of a deal that seemed to bare no weight on her? That only seemed to suggest to Regina that it was a common occurrence between women from the class, or at least that was what she assumed. After all, if it was not, then why was Emma not lovers with that servant?

And if it was normal for them to aid and help each other in such away, then why would that be any different between the two of them? Just because Regina was higher up the social ladder?

They were friends, and friends helped one another. Why not be shown such a thing by someone she knew and trusted above all else?

That’s what those who were close did.

“I – that is… I trust you to show me, or rather teach me.”

Emma’s mouth hung open, her complete and utter bafflement made Regina shrink into herself, chewing on her bottom lip once more in the action she had long been scolded for.

“You…” Emma dropped her raised leg, stretching it before her, “May have had too much to drink.”

“I’ve only had a sip,” Regina informed unusually snappy, and looking pointedly at the near empty bottle once again in Emma’s hand.

“Well that may be true,” Emma relented, cheeks puffing out in an awkward smile, “But I can hold my alcohol, and you can’t.”

“I think you’ll find that I can hold wine just fine. Balls go on for so long and much wine is passed around. You have to be able to stomach it, lest you make a fool of yourself.” And how her mother would hate for that to happen.

“I wouldn’t know about all of that, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense.” Emma’s tone was reluctant, almost as if she were taking to herself rather than the woman across from her.

Regina pressed her hands together as if to ground herself, or push herself forward into saying what she knew was out in the open, but which she reached to repeat, even if it turned out to be something that she would regret in the long run. A thought that was rapidly growing in size in her mind at Emma’s reaction, perhaps Regina’s belief it was common was not correct after all.

“I trust you Emma.” She put as much conviction into her words as she could, her fingers trembling against her own hands, “Teach me.”

She could see the twitch of Emma’s jaw in the low light of the lantern, a peculiar look in her eyes, but one that did not leave Regina at anymore unease. Emma shifted, parting her legs and, with a long moment of hesitation, patted the straw covered wood before her.

“Sit here.” The shortness of her words was not out of ire, but clearly from a sense of anxiety. An uncertainty that Regina felt herself, but it was overpowered by her... desire for this.

She trembled as she moved across the small distance between them.

She settled with her back to Emma’s chest, the solid warmth of the other woman pressed against her, surrounding her in a way, did something to her that she did not understand but felt comforted by. It was pleasant – No, it was far more than simply pleasant, it was something else entirely. Something indescribable. How strange it was to feel so much from such an action that many would deem as simple, or perhaps it was caused by the vague knowledge of what was likely to come.

“Do you want me to tell you –

“No,” Regina answered quickly. Too embarrassed by the thought of doing such a thing herself, but less so by the thought of letting another do it for her. How odd that was. “Can you…”

“I…”

“Please Emma.”

Then there was the weight of Emma’s chin on her shoulder, and she could hear her swallow she was that close. Closer to her than she had ever really been before, and they had shared the rare all-encompassing hug on occasion, usually when she was feeling jovial and free, or when the crippling weight she carried on her became too much to bear.

“There should usually be build up,” Regina’s eyes fluttered shut, focusing on Emma’s voice, “Think of someone you desire.”

There was no one. Regina wasn’t sure one was needed, but if Emma said –

Emma’s hands shook as she brushed them over Regina’s arms, trailing down and over the backs of her hands to play briefly with her fingers, before sliding back to her shoulders.

It was a simple series of actions, yet Regina found her chest rising and falling faster, her need for air increasing from the warm, gentle pressure of Emma’s hands. Something that was intensified as this time when Emma’s hands moved down, they did so softly, barely touching her chest and sides. It made something tighten in her chest, made her squirm as she felt a heat settle low in her stomach, spreading further down and tingling.

“But often, on you own or if in a hurry, it is preferably to go straight to the point.” There was a waver to Emma’s voice, barely noticeable.

Emma guided Regina’s legs up, her feet pressed to the wood beneath them and knees raised high. The change of position made her acutely aware of a sudden dampness at the apex of her thighs; it made her heart squeeze in panic at the strangeness, an emotion she was distracted from when Emma spoke.

“Could you…?”

Regina caught onto what Emma was referring to swiftly, with a slight hesitation she moved her own hands from her side where they had laid unmoving, to unfasten the top of her breeches.

“Are you certain about this?”

Unable to verbalise in that moment, Regina instead opted to place her hand atop Emma’s were it sat on her hip, hoping the stablehand would take it for the encouragement she intended.

Her gaze dropped to her lap just in time to see Emma’s hand slip from under hers and into the newly opened gap. There was something about the sight that caused her breath to hitch, that made it a struggle to remain still.

There Emma paused, between two layers of cloth, the warmth of her hand seeping downwards. The weight of her hand seemed to grow, and for some reason Regina wanted Emma to press down rather than simply letting her hand rest there. But more than that, she wanted to feel Emma with no barrier, for she knew that would intensify the foreign feeling quickly permeating her form.

“Are you –?

“Yes.” The sound of her own voice startled Regina, the strength of it – the depth of it – something that had never been heard before, and it spurred both her and Emma on.

Her breath hitched when Emma cupped her, the pressure and heat beyond what she had imagined in the brief time she had given this thought. It felt far better than when she had attempted such a thing herself.

She found herself pushing her hips off the floor without realising, wanting something she could not describe.

The voice in her that doubted this was something common and right, as she had convinced herself, was nothing but a whisper, not even something she would spare thought for anymore. After all, how could something that Emma had suggested was normal and pleasurable, or something that felt so wonderful, be degrading or disgusting?

 She felt Emma’s fingers twitch, a sound escaping her own mouth that she had also never heard before, but one that left her with more frequency when Emma began rubbing just shy of firmly.

Her hips jerked.

Regina tried to keep her breathing steady, but her attempt was futile; her breath continued to catch in her throat over and over again.

She whimpered, tilting her hips up towards the sweeping pressure unconsciously. Seeking something else.

“Keep breathing, Regina.” Emma’s breath tickled her ear, and it made everything that more heightened, that far more acute.

On the next exhale, a singular word escaped Regina, barely audible to herself let alone Emma, “More.”

Emma brushed her lips against her cheek when she spoke; Regina tried not to turn her head into the touch, “If you’re sure.”

A rare whine left her when the movement and weight of Emma’s hand left her, only to return a mere breath later when it slipped beneath her underclothes.

Her cheeks burned knowing Emma would now feel the wetness which she had all but forgotten about. But when she felt the first press of Emma’s fingers, the stablehand made a noise in the back of her throat, a positive one or at least one that felt that way. Either way it eradicated Regina’s embarrassment.

“That’s a good sign,” Emma explained as if sensing Regina’s fading mortification, her fingers skimming lightly over Regina’s most intimate area.

Regina trembled, a motion that turned into a visible twitch upwards of her hips when Emma’s fingers pressed down, slipping between her. Opening her to questing fingers.

Emma’s other arm moved from Regina’s hip to circle her stomach in a half hug, one Regina nestled into.

Regina’s senses seemed heightened in those moments, noticing for the first time the shape and press of Emma’s breasts against her shoulder blades, separated only by their thin spring clothes. The internal reaffirmation of what was occurring made her mind whirl, but she was too encompassed by the new feelings she was experiencing to stop and analyse the thoughts that were bounding around in her head.

When the tip of Emma’s finger brushed her hidden nub, she mewled, the gentle action shooting liquid heat through her body, leaving her shuddering as she gasped for air.

“Are you…” But Emma trailed off as Regina clutched tightly at the arm wrapped around her middle, needing to cling to her friend for reasons she could not comprehend.

Emma’s name left her in a confused, overwhelmed pant.

“It’s okay.” Emma’s lips brushed the shell of her ear as she spoke, “I’ll stop if you want.”

Regina shook her head, sobbing out, “No.”

A second finger joined the first, pressing lightly and tracing small circles that had Regina’s hips rocking without her consent, heat shooting from the spot.

It did not take long for her to reach that point that had scared her so, her fingers and toes tingled, her ears buzzed and the bubble of heat in her centre bloomed and grew into a raging fire.

The muscles in her thighs tightened, she could feel her toes curling in her boots, pressing hard into the bottoms of them as her hips jerked in short, sharp movements she could not control.

A whimper; her eyes closed tightly now, she felt frozen to the spot, the only movement the demanding rocking of her hips. The heat curling in her, searing through her leaving her desperate for more and more.

In that position, even breathing was becoming a challenge, each breath shallower, each intake needed sooner after the last.

“Don’t fight it.” Emma encouraged softly, “It’s nothing to be afraid of.”

And she didn’t, her back arching and head pressing back against Emma’s shoulder as her breath stilled in her lungs, her body freezing for one long moment.

Then suddenly, a rush of movement; her hips jolting back and forth and a loud keening cry leaving her lips; keeping relatively silent far beyond her control now. Her body folded forward this time, Emma moved with her to keep her supported as Regina continued to tremble, moving with her own purpose against Emma’s fingers, until, at last, she exhaled long and hard, relaxing even with the smouldering fire still coursing through her body.

She was guided back into a sitting position, still held snugly against Emma’s chest. Her head rolled to the side, her eyes barely locking onto Emma, for she was far too distracted and consumed by the feelings still sparking beneath her skin, still racing through her body. It was pure instinct that had her run her left hand over Emma’s cheekbone, that had her tracing her hand across her skin to the back of the stablehand’s neck, holding here there. A beat, and she pulled Emma forward to press their lips together.

And what a feeling it was. So soft, gentle even when their noses bumped as Emma altered the positions of their heads, ensuring the kiss was a proper one and not the feeble attempt Regina had made. Her hand slid up, resting now in Emma’s curls, the soft texture making her wish she could comfortably allow her other hand to join.

The sound that escaped her throat as Emma moved her lips against hers was startling; the warmth it invoked consuming her as she mimicked the younger woman’s actions while pushing forward harder, wanting more. Needing it. She felt herself being to burn again.

Emma tasted faintly of the fruity wine she had indulged in, and somehow on Emma the cheap wine tasted far better than the more expensive wines that had passed her lips.

A deep groan, one she realised came from Emma had her pull back slightly so their lips were still brushing, her breathing which had yet to settle had begun to increase rapidly again. That sound, from somewhere deep in Emma did something to her. Something glorious. Sheneeded to hear it again.

“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do this,” Emma murmured, tilting her head to press their lips together once more.

God. How she needed this.

She could happily spend the rest of her days here, in a dark, draughty barn surrounded by horses and wilderness; with Emma.

The blonde’s hand moved across her own leg, and then both of her dry hands were cupping Regina’s cheeks, coaxing them both into a position that was even more enjoyable. Oh, how much more was there Regina knew nothing about?

She shifted forward, not knowing when she had moved to her knees, only aware that she wanted to be closer to Emma. As close as she could. Her other hand, free now to move without awkwardness, clutched at the back of Emma’s shoulder, her fingers pulling lightly at the material of her tunic. One of Emma’s hands remained on her cheek, but the other moved to wrap around her hips, pulling them closer until there was only a hair’s breadth between their bodies.

“Regina…” Emma breathed into their kiss. Another simple sound Regina needed to hear again, for the way Emma had said her name was so different from anything she had ever heard, even from Emma’s own mouth prior to this moment. She needed it to repeated again and again, and –

They pulled apart abruptly, a whiney startling them.

Emma’s pupils were wide, in the soft light of the lantern her face was clearly flushed; Regina had seen her embarrassed many times before, but this was something so much different.

The sound that had forced them apart was slowly absorbed by Regina, her brow dropping with concern.

Rocinante. She would recognise his ‘voice’ anywhere.

“Someone’s coming.”

With that, Emma was gone, rushing down to ladder into the almost blackness beneath them.

Regina shuffled backwards as silently as she could, hoping the bales surrounding her would be enough to hide any shadow she may cast. The warmth that had settled low in her gut forgotten, but still there, throbbing weakly, something made more apparent when she fastened her breeches – having forgotten about them in that kiss.

“Swan?!” Came a gruff voice she recognised as that of the stable master.

“I’m right here.” Emma’s reply was heavy with a cockiness that the man had always tried to rid her off, to little success.

The man huffed, but said no more on the matter, instead choosing to get to whatever point he needed to say so late at night. His boots scuffed noisily against the floor as he moved; Rocinante snorted softly.

“There’s been tell of horse thieves in the area.”

“And you think they are foolish enough to try to steal from here?” The tilt of laughter to Emma’s words brought a small smile to Regina’s face.

“We wouldn’t want anything to happen to the royal horses now, would we?” The annoyance in his voice was easily detectable, but as always Emma didn’t seem affected.

“Of course not, that’s why I stay here after all.”

“No smart mouthing,” he snapped.

“I wasn’t.” The faux air of innocence in Emma’s voice made Regina’s smile grow, even as she worried over Emma enraging the man to the violence present in her youth. When they had first met, after the initial suspicion, Emma had been as joyful as she always would be and had grinned at her despite her heavily swollen eye.

“Keep your eye out for anything suspicious.” She could hear the scowl in the stable master’s voice, “If anything happens it’ll be on my head, and that means it will be on yours also.”

“I’m fully aware.”

“Good.” He moved with steps that echoed loudly in the still night air, “And lay of the alcohol, I don’t want to find the horses missing and you passed out in the horse trough.”

“That was once.” It was a joke, but the man obviously did not find it amusing as he grunted, the stable door creaking as it was opened and banging as it closed.

Regina stayed still until the crunch of gravel had long faded. Only when certain there was no sign of him returning did she move slowly across the loft.

Peering over the edge, she saw Emma looking around the stables, scratching at the back of her neck. It took her a moment to realise she was being watched, then she was looking up at her.

“We should get you back before someone notices.”

Regina found herself frowning, even though she knew Emma was right. She had been gone for a rather long stretch of time, and though she was certain no one would enter her rooms and realise she was not there, the panic that tonight could be the exception re-emerged as always. Still, she found herself saying what she often did, “No one will notice my absence.”

“I would.” The sincerity of Emma’s words sent Regina hurrying to hide her face, an action made easy by turning to descend the ladder.

As soon as her feet touched the ground and she moved back from the ladder, Emma scurried back up it, the light cast in the stable jumping when she moved in the hayloft, she was back quickly, climbing back down with the handle of the lantern clasped in her teeth.

To stop herself from scolding Emma’s carelessness, Regina walked past the other horses in the stable to find Rocinante who had, indeed, woken when the stable master had arrived.

She ran her hand softly over his muzzle; his head was still dipped from sleep even as he snorted softly.

“Goodnight, Rocinante.”

When she turned from him, she saw Emma standing at the bottom of the ladder watching her with a curious expression. When their eyes met, Emma looked away, saying nothing and remaining still until Regina approached her.

Emma held the door open for her, an unnecessary action but one the blonde always did.

They began their journey back to one of the servants’ doors in silence – by that time all of the staff had retired, making it easy to sneak in and out as long as you avoided the guards and the odd knight – The silence was not uncomfortable, both content to listen to the sounds of the night and the tread of their boots on the ground.

Regina was not worried about the horses, even with them being left temporarily alone; any thieves would have a challenge getting into the grounds, and wouldn’t stand a chance of taking the horses if they did get in. She knew little of the designs of foreign castles, but knew many were not walled like theirs.

No longer distracted as she had been, Regina found she could still feel the twitches of something within her, a realisation she steadfastly chose to ignore.

The light from the lantern seemed to strengthen the definition of Emma’s features; the curve of her cheekbones, the strong set of her jaw, the straight slope of her nose. Or perhaps Regina was simply more sensitive to seeing these characteristics in the near darkness, and with the exhaustion she could feel seeping through her form.

A muscle in Emma’s jaw ticked; Regina felt a need to touch the irregular movement and was confused by the urge.

“Have you ever thought of competition riding?”

“Pardon?” Regina asked not entirely sure she had heard correctly, feeling tiredness descend on her like a charging herd. Of all the possible topics they could talk of, that one was most assuredly out of the blue.

“Competition riding?” The light from the lantern sent the shadows around them dancing as Emma gestured with her words, “Racing?”

“I cannot say that I have.” She enjoyed show jumping, though the only ones to see that were her father, Emma and occasionally her mother with her lips pressed into a tight line. She disliked that Regina refused to ride as she was apparently supposed to, something Regina never truly understood. Riding side-saddle was far more dangerous and far less comfortable for both the rider and the horse, or so she believed.

“I think you should try it, not that I’m trying to force you into something or anything like that.” The hand holding the lantern jerked, clearly Emma wished to run a hand through her hair as she often did in such situations, “I just think perhaps it would be worth a go. Give you the chance to try something new that you might like.”

“What makes you believe it is something I would have some skill at?” Regina asked, still taken aback by the unexpected topic. Especially after what had happened such a short time ago.

“You are the best rider I have ever seen, you’re a natural in my opinion and I am sure as Hell that you and Rocinante are not just a fantastic team, but would leave any competition in the dust.” Emma explained with a surprising level of enthusiasm, but not enough to outweigh Regina’s own ingrained doubts.

“You are just saying that because of who I am.”

“Well, Princess, I like to think we are friends before we are employer and employee – even if it is your father that employs me, err…” Emma went a little cross-eyed when she tripped over her words, but soon gave a shrug and continued, “I never lie to my friends.”

Regina was thankful for the shadows cast by the lantern because, as always, when Emma stressed that they were friends it left her feeling a flustered sense of flattery.

“The ones I like that is.”

She side-glanced Emma at the unnecessary addition, but the crinkles at the corners of her eyes gave her true feelings away, if Emma looked close enough to see them.

“Think about it, I don’t want you to think I’m trying to force anything upon you.”

“Thank you,” Regina replied, already mulling over Emma’s words. A rumination that lasted for the rest of their walk.

It was a rather significant walk to the servant entrance usually, but that night they seemed to arrive in mere moments.

Emma placed the lantern on the step of the door and located a key in the crack between two bricks besides it. Regina had already brought up her concern over a key being there, but Emma insisted no one would find it unless they knew where to look. Where Emma had even obtained it was a mystery, the only keys Regina knew of for the entrances were on hooks in the kitchen, naturally on the other side of this very door.

A soft click and Emma was holding the door open for her, Regina fiddled with her own fingers as she moved past the younger woman, a nervous concentration to her form.

“I do not think that is wise,” she said at last, the darkness of the kitchen making her feel small.

Emma nodded her understanding; understanding what Regina was referring to, “If that is how you feel.”

“Thank you though,” she added her tone soft, “for thinking of me.”

Emma’s gaze averted to a spot near Regina’s left ear, the lantern jerking again after she picked it up, “No need to thank me, it’s my job. Well not really, but you know what I am trying to say. At least I hope you do.”

“You’re babbling.” Regina shook her head gently, smiling at Emma.

Emma returned the smile, though hers was decidedly more lopsided as one side of her mouth quirked higher than the other, “There’s a faint possibility that I may be.”

The longer they stood there, the higher the likelihood someone may wander upon them, “Sleep well, Emma.”

“Yeah.” Both their smiles were still firmly in place, Emma’s own leaving a familiar warmth beneath Regina’s breast, “Goodnight Regina.”

Emma stepped back out of the kitchen entrance, pulling the door closed as she did. Regina moved swiftly to the kitchen door, but hesitated there until she heard the click of the lock behind her. Only then did she leave.

With practiced ease she returned to her room with no incidence.

The fire was lit, as it had been when she had left soon after a servant had stoked it for her, though it was of course noticeably lower in the grate. The warmth of the room was a little too high for her liking, though it was likely only due to the temperature difference from coming from outside.

She disrobed and dressed in the simple nightdress left on her bed, and hung her riding clothes up herself, only discarding what needed washing in a nearby basket.

It was only when she was beneath the covers that the full awareness of what had occurred that night washed over her.

Yet, despite knowing that she should be ashamed, horrified even; she wasn’t. Emma was her friend, and as her friend she had helped her come to terms with, or rather, gain more experience with something of which she knew nothing. And that was what friends did, wasn’t it?

Still, as she laid there in the almost darkness, the events replied in her mind. But more than that, she could still feel the roughness of the tips of Emma’s fingers, could still feel the shooting of fire beneath her skin, could still hear clearly that groan that had rumbled from Emma’s throat as they had kissed. God they had kissed as if old lovers!

Heat pooled low in her stomach. She squirmed beneath her blankets, as if that action could rid her of the building moisture at the apex of her thighs. Just thinking of what had occurred had caused it, so she desperately tried to think of anything else, even as she felt the overwhelming urge to press her hand between her thighs to dispel the heat. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t do that because now she knew it would not rid her of the feeling, only intensify it.

Pressing her thighs together tightly, she tried to lessen the feeling and ignore it, willing sleep to take her.

 

 

Chapter Text

Much to her dismay, it was not until a few days later that she was able to go riding again.

After her mother’s return she had understandably been at her side, her mother wanting to ensure she was well and had been behaving as she should, as was usual. After those first couple of overbearing days things had returned to a semblance of normality, which meant she could finally go riding again – her favourite pastime did displease her mother, but she had always allowed it, for the most part.

Brimming with excitement she had awoken long before dawn, and had been ready for the day for just as long.

She had stood on her balcony, saw the sun just beginning to peak over the horizon, and knew that meant there was still a significant length of time until the morning meal. Ample enough time to allow for a quick morning ride and a visit to Emma.

The purple-yellow of the sky made for a more than pleasant sight as she trod the familiar path to the Royal stables. Confident in the time she had, she paused, just briefly, to take in the sounds of the morning birds singing and the gentle breeze of the beginning day.

When the stable courtyard came into view, she smoothed both hands over her hair and straightened out her riding clothes, her boots dealing well with the ground transitioning from gravel to the cobblestones of the yard.

It was peaceful in the morning with only the sounds of the birds chirping and the rustle of the trees’ leaves in the wind. It helped calm her, helped ease any worries, though it was still not as effective as when there was only her and Rocinante riding against the wind.

Splashing caught her attention.

Her nose scrunched as she turned immediately towards the unexpected sound to her right. She saw no horses –

She wrung her hands, eyes wide and only growing larger when she saw Emma hunched over a bucket, cupping water from within to rub at her face with damp hands. The sun glinting off the chain around her neck.

But what caught her eyes the most, was that some of the water had drenched parts of Emma’s pale undershirt, leaving the material in places translucent and tight against her skin.

Emma turned her head towards her, barely twitching in her surprise. That small reaction was covered up by a raised eyebrow and a bright smile, a greeting Regina was used to, but for some reason made her fidget even more that day.

Regina’s stomach fluttered, now doubt from the embarrassment of being caught staring so improperly.

Emma noticed her expression, pausing mid-scrub with her eyebrows raised high, “Don’t worry, it’s not the horses’ water.”

Regina blinked slowly, shaking her head softly to jog her mind onward, “What?”

Emma shook her hands, sending droplets of water flying down to join the wet stones beneath her feet.

“I mean; pardon?”

“I said,” Emma pulled a length of string from her pocket, using it to tie her hair up in a simple style, “Not to worry; the water isn’t from the horse tough.”

Emma retrieved her tunic from the mounting block behind her – allowing Regina a small reprieve in her moment of confusion –Emma pulled on her tunic not caring about the wet spots on her undershirt, nor neatness, and turned with a grin.

“You’re here early today.” Emma tucked her necklace beneath her layers, not because of Regina – she was the only one to know of it – but from the sight of anyone else that may happen upon there so early in the day.

It still made Regina’s heart warm to know Emma would share with her something so special. The chain and the ring upon it all Emma had left from those that had abandoned her.

Emma tilted her head, lifted an eyebrow again. Regina flushed, realising she had been standing there stupidly lost in thoughts and, well, whatever else it was that was affecting her so.

“I,” Regina paused, clearing her throat daintily, “felt a morning ride would be most enjoyable.”

Emma nodded her agreement and smiled. As she moved past the mounting block she paused to pick up a half-eaten roll of heavy, dark bread, she offered it to Regina, but the Princess declined politely.

“I’ll saddle Rocinante,” Emma stuffed the rest of the roll in her mouth, speaking around the bread as she asked, “Or would you rather do it?”

Regina’s nose scrunched up again, but she couldn’t hide an endearing smile.

Emma raised both eyebrows, doing her best to smile sheepishly with her mouth full.

When the stablehand turned, Regina called out, her nervousness returning full force and hands clasped together tightly once more.

“Actually I wanted to speak with you first.”

Halting, Emma turned back to face Regina, swallowing down thickly as her eyebrows rose high again. Her eyes were opened a little more than was usual, the emotion foreign to her face, “What about?”

Regina pressed her hands together and parted her lips to reply, but stopped. Instead she chose to shorten the distance between them before she spoke, far from comfortable with the space separating them.

Emma still seemed bewildered, even more so when Regina moved closer to her; the blonde’s throat bobbed nervously. Regina, not wishing to make Emma feel so uncomfortable, spoke in a rush, “About, well, about the competition riding you mentioned.”

Emma’s eyebrows jumped upwards and back down in a sudden flash of surprise, the tip of her tongue wet her bottom lip before she spoke, a smile spreading across her face, “Really? You’re not just doing it because I suggested it are you? I wouldn’t want –

“No, Emma,” Regina softened any potential harm caused by interrupting her with a gentle smile of her own, her grip on her hands loosening, “I thought it over and decided that I would like to try it.”

Emma stared at her as the words were absorbed. It took her a little longer than was normal, or so it seemed, then she clapped her hands together.

“Excellent!”

Regina jumped, startled, pressing a hand to her chest at Emma’s sudden shout.

There was an extra bounce in the blonde’s steps as she swivelled on her heel and headed straight into the stable.

“What are you doing?” Regina called after her, her heart racing beneath her palm.

“Saddling Rocinante.” Emma stated it as if it were an obvious, expected fact.

“I didn’t…” Regina spluttered as she chased after Emma, “I didn’t think this would happen now.”

“It doesn’t have to.” Emma checked on each horse they passed, hopping up on the bottom of the stall door if necessary, “But if you want, I know exactly how it can happen now, or rather who with.”

Regina followed after her, watching Emma closely. Her lips pursed as she thought over Emma’s offer.

This might not be how she imagined things progressing, as she had assumed it would take a while for Emma to help her arrange a race, or they would have to wait until one was organised by others and she could sign up to participate. It was not as if they could rightly refuse her, she was one of the King’s grandchildren.

Still, the swiftness had taken her by surprise, but in the very short time that had passed from Emma’s exclamation that they could do it now and that very moment, she had calmed shockingly fast.

Looking behind her and out the open stable door, the sky was only just turning light blue, there was still plenty of time until breakfast and that would be more than enough for a race. Or so she assumed, Emma would not have suggested doing it now if she thought Regina would be late for, or miss, breakfast. Her friend was well aware of the trouble she would be in if that happened. And Emma always did her best to stop Regina getting into trouble.

Emma jumped off the bottom of Rucio’s door, dusted her hands and rested them on her waist, “So, what will it be? A normal ride, or a race?”

Regina nipped at her bottom lip, her eyes drifting to Rocinante’s stall.

“Don’t feel pressured or anything.” Emma scratched at the back of her head, trying her best to seem nonchalant.

It did seem like something she might enjoy, and Emma had suggested it just for that reason.

And there was still plenty of time…

A small moment of hesitation, and Regina answered, “Let’s race.”

Emma grinned, the size of it crinkling her eyes and dimpling her cheeks.

“Right.” Emma clapped her hands together again, Regina finding herself mimicking the younger woman’s smile as she spoke, “Let’s get ready then.”

----

A short while later Regina was leading Rocinante – at her own insistence – following Emma’s confident footsteps. The blonde was still smiling broadly to herself, something Regina could not help sharing with her. The joyful nature of the other woman was truly contagious, it was something Regina had always admired – no matter what happened, Emma would smile and stay positive.

If only it were so easy for Regina to do the same. Though, being with Emma did help massively in that regard.

Rocinante nuzzled her cheek, she laughed softly, running a hand over the side of his muzzle. It seemed he was just as excited as she found herself rapidly becoming. The hint of something new was a delightful feeling, and one that grew with each step.

They were heading off in a direction along a path surrounded by trees. She had never been there before, but she was content to follow the stablehand, knowing she would never lead her astray. Not intentionally that is.

It did not take too long for her to detect the sound of raucous voices, a sound that soon replaced the clip-clopping of Rocinante’s hooves and the tread of their boots against the stone beneath them. Emma looked over her shoulder with a supportive smile, and as she turned back Regina felt her face flare with heat.

They rounded a corner, leaving the tree lined path to arrive at another stables, which considering the men milling about, was clearly the stable for the knights or guards.

“I’d wager a gallon of ale it didn’t happen.”

“Of course it did, I –

The group of men fell silent upon seeing them; the two who had been playfully auguring pausing mid-gesture.

“Ah!” A blonde man bellowed, sending Regina jumping at the force of his voice and Rocinante moving back a step, “Swan!”

“Talmadge.” Emma greeted, folding her arms loosely across her chest.

 “Finally decided you want to work for the Knights’ Stable then.”

Emma laughed, shaking her head in refusal, “How many times do I have to tell you, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon.”

“Well then, it will be Sir Talmadge from you.”

Regina blinked. Confused. It wasn’t that she had never seen ‘foreigners’ working as guards for her grandfather, but that was still a more recent trend. When she was a child the only people she saw whose skin tone was so noticeably different were fleeting glimpses of certain Royal guests, or some of those people who delivered grains or similar goods to the castle.

Of course there was also her mother. But she was Royalty from another land.

No. The reason Regina was taken aback was the fact this man was a Knight.

Her grandfather refused to give knighthoods to anyone who did not meet his standards, one of those being that the man had to be a ‘true native’ of their home, or so she heard. But perhaps things were changing.

Snapping from her thoughts, Regina’s form tensed tightly. The stern expression on the Knight’s face sending her heart pumping fast and her stomach dropping. She stepped forward, on the verge of pulling Emma away so nothing could happen to her. Regina knew the look on the man’s face, had seen it enough in her own life.

The Knight laughed.

The whiplash of emotion had Regina perplexed, her form relaxing but still tenser than normal. She didn’t understand, the man had just –

Rocinante snorted besides her ear thankfully catching her attention as she ran a soothing hand through his mane.

“Very funny.” Emma looked over at Regina and rolled her eyes in an exaggerated motion, before looking back at the curly haired knight, “It is one of your free days, isn’t it?”

Talmadge nodded as some of his companions looked at the stablehand with eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Hey.” Emma held up her hands palms forward, “I’m not trying to wrangle anything out of you. I was just thinking that you might like a friendly race – a horse race that is.”

One of the men’s eyes fell on Regina, as if they had not fully been aware of her presence until then.

A stout man cleared his throat, asking gruffly, “With you?” His eyes slid to Emma’s, his forehead wrinkling.

Emma shook her head, stepping back and with a bow addressing the small group as one, “This is Princess Regina, the youngest of the King’s grandchildren.”

With the resounding thump of leather, all the men stood to attention, their mixture of expressions falling way to the strict neutrality so often marring the faces of the guards and knights alike. Emma must have done something unseen by Regina, as the knights’ postures flattered into more relaxed stances.

“She would like to race you.”

Finding her voice at last, Regina took the few steps forward to stand slightly ahead of Emma, Rocinante moving with her.

A spindly man, with skin much darker than her own, smirked, the hint of amusement prickling at something deep within Regina.

Regina tilted her chin up, putting forth an air so rare to her, “A race, Sir Talmadge. One of fairness I would think, I would hate for you to ‘go easy’ on me simply due to my gender or position.”

Emma covered a snicker behind her hand, not at Regina’s expense, but rather the wide-eyed shock of some of Talmadge’s friends. Regina wondered briefly why a knight would keep the company of ‘simple’ guards – or so she assumed, for he was the only one baring the mark of her grandfather’s knights.

Talmadge scratched at the short hair on his chin, looking impressed, an expression Regina scarcely saw on anyone save her father and Emma on the occasions that they could gaze freely at her.

“Unless you’re afraid you would lose,” Emma chimed in, directing her words at the others with a humorous tilt.

“A fair challenge then. We can do that, though…”

“A wager,” the stout man piped up, crossing his arms over his broad chest.

“Not that we would ask for anything from you, Your Highness.” Talmadge bowed his head at Regina to show no ill will was meant by him or his friends.

“If she loses I will buy you all a drink.”

Regina turned in surprise at Emma’s words. The stablehand definitely did not have enough money to buy drinks for herself and the five men; it was not as if she was paid much for her work. Was Emma really that confident in her and Rocinante’s ability that she was willing to wager something she would struggle to deliver, if she could do so at all?

Emma barely batted an eyelid, her arms still crossed loosely. Her complete confidence in this matter was new to Regina, and admittedly intriguing. Perhaps it simply had that much impact on her because Regina had never seen Emma interact with anyone save herself, her parents and the Stable Master.

“And if she wins?” Another man asked, Regina wasn’t sure who, for her eyes were fixed on Emma when he spoke.

The stablehand shrugged, her smile boarding on smug, “I’ll think of something, I’m sure.”

“And it’s a challenge you want?” Talmadge asked, directing the question to Regina when she turned back. He looked up at the now blue sky and back to her.

“My earlier words are still true.”

He smiled politely, the teasing arrogance he had when speaking to Emma completely absent, “I know just the path to constitute such a challenge. If that is what you truly wish for, Your Highness.”

Regina nodded and steeled her nerves as best she could, and as the Knight continued she was pleased to know her efforts had been successful to some extent.

“A good deal of men and the occasional horse have come to harm on the trek, but if it is a challenge you want, Your Highness, then that is how you would find one.”

Out of habit, Regina looked to Rocinante as if to check this was alright with him. The mention of horses being hurt made her stomach churn unpleasantly, but she was certain she and Rocinante would be able to avoid such a fate. And surely if there was truly a great risk, Emma would have stepped in to change the course or advice against it.

Satisfied, Regina returned her gaze to the blonde knight, “Rocinante and I are more than willing to give it a try.”

“Alright then.” Talmadge looked to his friends; two of the five men who had thus far remained silent shook their heads, muttering excuses for why they could not partake in a race.

That left Talmadge, the stout man and the spindly man, all who seemed along a range of differing levels of eagerness. The latter two men shoved and mocked their companions in a manner Regina hoped was friendly, but feared was not.

“The trek is fairly simple, a loop starting at, and going through the woods in the east of the grounds. It’s the obstacles that make it challenging. The woods there aren’t managed as the others are, as these are for –

“For hunting, I know,” Regina found herself interrupting, which was an odd enough occurrence that she could feel Emma’s bewildered gaze on her back, an expression she was certain would instantly change to show how impressed she was.

“Of course, Your Highness.” Talmadge replied unfazed by her rudeness, “We run straight through the woods from where we start, and circle around the outside of the treeline when we break it to return to the starting point. Is that understandable.”

“I believe it is.” Feeling more than a little embarrassed at her improper behaviour before, Regina struggled to maintain a normal, unaffected air – one she hoped she had managed skilfully before that point.

“If you get lost you can just follow us,” the spindly man added with a smug laugh. A sound that had Emma’s lips twitch into a familiar glower, Regina tried to free her off it with a smile to show she was unwounded by the man’s actions.

“Let’s just get ready. I want my drink.” The stout man announced, before jerking his head at the two men who would not be partaking in the race, they turned on their heel to no doubt track down another stablehand. It would be best to ride to the location of the race, the grounds were large and it would give the horses a chance to warm up first. It would also mean it would finish sooner, so there was less risk of her missing the morning meal. Though neither her nor Emma told the men that much.

----

It seemed Emma wanted to put on a show, something Regina found herself going along with as she used Emma’s offered hand and her shoulder to climb up onto the saddle. Partway up, Regina paused as Emma whispered enthusiastically, “Leave them in the dust, Princess.”

The closeness had Regina flushing; certainly from the embarrassment of having help when the knight and guards besides them needed none.

Emma stepped back grinning once Regina was settled. The stablehand moved to stand at the side of one of the two guards who were not racing, with the other guard standing some distance away; the two marking with their positions the starting and finishing line.

“We’ll judge.” Emma pointed towards the guard opposite her, who from his position could see the outside of the wood and so in turn would be able to watch them on their final stretch. Near Emma and the other guard was a clear opening into the forest.

“We go through there?” Regina asked, not because she was completely unsure, but rather she wanted to be absolutely certain, “Then straight through until we leave, then circle around.”

The men she was riding against confirmed her words with nods.

Rocinante shifted beneath her, picking up on her anxious energy.

They were going to do this. They were going to prove –

“Ready?” Talmadge asked. At the affirmation of herself and the two others, he nodded at the three on the ground.

She gripped the leather of Rocinante’s reins tighter in her hands, steadying her breathing. Rocinante would pick up on her nervousness if she weren’t careful, while a little apprehension was good, too much would be problematic.

“Good luck.” Emma directed her words at all of them, though when Regina met her eyes, she gave her a wink and her relaxed smile widened.

The two men marking the start line began counting down.

“Three.”

After a slow, deep breath she felt calmer, the tension beneath her skin shrinking away. Emma was right, she was a natural at horse riding, this may be something new to both her and Rocinante, but they could do it. And she was certain they would both enjoy it.

“Two.”

She loosened her grip on the reins for a moment to stroke Rocinante’s head, helping him calm in case he had picked up on too much of her previous tension. She asked him quietly if he was ready; and if in response, or merely coincidental, he lifted his right foreleg and hit the ground gently with it.

“One.”

She narrowed her eyes determinedly at the woods before them. She and Rocinante were well versed in jumps, a practice that was bound to be useful here. She positioned her weight forward slightly, her heart beating that little bit faster as she waited for the signal.

“Go!”

One word from Regina was all that was needed for Rocinante to race forward at a gallop, the three men at her side as they charged towards the path through the woods together.

Not wanting to exhaust Rocinante, and not knowing just what to expect, Regina did not break into a full speed gallop immediately – that could wait until the final stretch.

Entering the woods, the space available for them narrowed, bringing the four closer together. The sound of beating hooves and crunching leaves echoed in her ears as the trees enclosed them. The path continued to shrink in width.

Too close now.

She pulled Rocinante’s reins slightly to encourage him to fall back. From her peripheral vision she saw the stout man do the same, as the other two raced on ahead.

Trees and shrubs flew in and out of her sight as she followed on the heels of those in front, leaning forward to pick up speed and encouraging Rocinante with her words.

Even through the trees she could feel the breeze grow as their speed did, until she could no longer feel the weight of her braid solidly against her back as the wind caught it now and then.

Her heart was beating faster, something she knew would be mimicked by Rocinante. Her face pinkening with excitement and the air hitting her skin; a smile, bright and large gracing her features.

One of the men in front, who were neck and neck, leant too far to the left to avoid a branch, but he hastily righted himself – Talmadge she thought as the hair seem light. She had no trouble, the branch higher than her seat in the saddle.

A quick glance to her right showed her that the stout man had fallen behind, but only by a horse length.

Those in front were pulling ahead, their horses kicking up dried leaves and their hooves impacting hard upon the dirt.

An overhanging branch barely missed her as she guided Rocinante sharply away from it.

She ducked further forward, maintaining her balance as they jumped a fallen tree.

A yell from behind had her chance a look, just in time to see the man’s horse rear up sending him falling to the ground.

Her worry for him was outweighed by a sudden burst of laughter, one she could not even begin to explain.

The weaker light beneath the leaves overhead grew brighter in front of them as they reached the end of the path. 

As they broke the treeline she encouraged Rocinante to turn using her body weight, placing little effort into his reins. That seemed to be enough for the distance between her and the others to shrink, she drawing even with Talmadge and on the heels of the spindly man.

It seemed to take less time for them to travel the same distance as in the woods, likely due to how now they were riding in an open space. Soon she saw the distance shape of one of the men where they had started.

Now was the time to, as Emma would say, go all out.

She squeezed her legs against Rocinante’s sides, urging him faster with both her actions and her words.

“Come on Rocinante,” she managed to get out, not realising how hard her breathing had grown, “We can do this.”

The distant figures grew larger as Regina pushed herself up, crouching in the saddle as she had seen others do, and indeed it did appear to make them travel faster as in a matter of seconds she and Rocinante were nose to nose with the man who had been in front.

His shock was clear on his face when she chanced a glance at him, his expression twisting into one of single-mindedness as he refocused on their endpoint, kicking hard at his horse’s sides. Regina frowned at his action, and it only made her all the more determined to win.

“Faster, Rocinante.”

Her legs burned from the effort of holding herself up, strands of hair that had escaped her braid flickered in and out of her vision, aggravating her. Yet she continued. They continued.

Her determination to win – a feeling she had never even tasted on the tip of her tongue before – outweighing any other thought or emotion in her mind. But it was not just determination she realised as her eyes landed on Emma. The stablehand had encouraged her to do this, had been certain she would enjoy it, which Regina was. She would win for her.

Another breathless utterance of her confidence in Rocinante, a click of her tongue and they pushed forward that short distance.

In front by the length of Rocinante’s head alone, they passed the finish line to cheering.

Regina, still out of breath, seated herself again, pulled at Rocinante’s reins and circled around as he slowed to a trot, coming to a stop be Emma’s side just as Talmadge crossed the line.

Emma looked up at her, smiling brightly and so wide her teeth showed.

“Well done, Princess.”

“Don’t forget to congratulate Rocinante too.” Regina ran her hand over his neck, both to thank him and to help calm him, for her heart still beat heavily in her chest and she knew his would be mirroring hers, “He did most of the work.”

She looked up just in time to see the stout man had finally caught up with them, completely out of breath.

Talmadge approached her, dismounted now, he had a nasty looking bruise on the side of his face, no doubt from the branch he was barely able to avoid. Yet, despite the darkening of his skin, Talmadge grinned through the pain he was no doubt suffering, “Congratulations are in order then.”

“And drinks.” Emma spread her arms, as if welcoming a challenge, and when she looked at Regina all the Princess could see was pride.

The spindly man huffed, but offered her a congratulations as he dismounted.

“I am impressed.” Her heart slowly returned to a normal beat, but skipped at Emma’s words.

Regina blushed, her cheeks heating, “I am glad I could show I am capable of such things.”

“I said I am impressed, I’m not surprised at all – I knew you could do it.”

In that moment all Regina wanted to do was wrap her arms around Emma. And in that rare moment of carefree excitement, she gave in to the urge.

Under the guise of using Emma for balance, she gave her a grateful hug as she climbed down, still aware enough to know it was best not to do such a thing in an obvious manner in public.

A contact that was cut short.

Rocinante whinnied and bucked.

Not expecting the action, Regina scrabbled for a grip on him, wincing as her feet dug into his flank to maintain a balance she could not hope to keep.

She slid backwards, a yell echoing in her ears as she squeezed her eyes shut in preparation for the pain of falling.

But the impact did not come.

Her eyes fluttered open as she looked around, completely confused.

She soon realised what had happened, as she looked down to see herself hovering above the ground. Spice burning her nose.

Regina yelped as her arms were suddenly held tight to her side by some unseen force, her body moved against her will into a mockery of standing.

She knew what was happening before she saw her, could smell the magic.

“M-mother.”

Cora did not acknowledge Regina right away, even though her gaze was narrowed upon her, instead speaking to the guards Regina could not comfortably look at in her current state.

“Go. You have no place here.”

There were mutters of apology, repeated utterances of ‘Your Highness’, and then the distinct sound of feet shuffling away on the grass and the heavy fall of hooves alongside it.

There was enough give in her invisible bonds, however, for her to peer to her right, which was far more important than a handful of guards she did not know. Emma had caught Rocinante mid-bolt and was struggling to control him as he kicked, battling to get away in his panic. One that also shone in Emma’s own eyes as they landed on Regina.

And it hurt to see that look in Emma’s eyes.

It made her heart clench.

It hurt so much.

“What did you think you were doing?”

A tiny noise escaped Regina’s mouth, her body quivering as she met her mother’s eyes.

“I-I…” Regina stuttered, the rest was lost in her inaudible whispered attempts at words.

Her mother’s dark eyes bore into her own, made her shake against the invisible bonds in dread and fear. For she knew what was to come. If only she had been good.

“Put her down!”

No, no, no, no, no –

“Let her go!” Came Emma’s distressed voice again.

Regina’s face crumpled even as she did her best not to let any more of her feelings show.

Cora’s gaze landed on Emma, a twitch of her lips the only sign that she was caught off-guard by her presence. Almost as if she had not been aware that she was there at all.

Emma looked terrified, her lips parted and eyes wider than Regina had ever seen them. Rocinante barely holding still at her side.

“What did you say, stablehand?”

Emma’s chest heaved, her throat bobbing, “I said let her go.”

“Leave. Now.” There was no room given for argument, and even Emma’s confidence was no match for her mother even on her best days. Emma’s fingers trembled, her hands tightening on Rocinante’s reins, her knuckles flashing white as her nails dug into the leather. “I will have words with you later.”

“Mother…” Regina pleaded, her voice tight.

Cora returned her gaze to Regina, though Regina found her eyes still fixed to Emma. The sorrow present in Emma’s features and the tinge of anger, God, that hurt far more than the look of pure fear from earlier.

“I asked you a question, Regina.”

Regina’s eyes squeezed shut, less from the terror of being caught, and more from the sound of Emma leading Rocinante away.

She swallowed, the action painful as she trembled.

“I… it was to show I was capable –

She sucked in a breath, but it was too short and brief, leaving her lightheaded and the world wavering. Her mind spinning as she struggled to find her chain of thought and complete it.

“I wanted to show you that I could do such a thing.” The meekness of her voice had her mother’s frown deepening, even as Regina explained the reason she had changed her mind about racing. “I wanted to impress you; I wanted you to be pleased with me, Mama. I didn’t mean to be bad, I don’t want to be bad. I’m sorry Mama, I just wanted to impress you.”

“Oh,” her mother hummed softly, Regina feeling herself being lowered back to solid ground, “But I am proud of you darling, you needn’t do such things. It is dangerous and I worry for you so. We’ve spoken of this before.”

“I know Mama.” Regina said once her feet touched the ground, her body freed of her mother’s magic. She had not realised how tight it had been until she was released, how it had pinched at her skin.

“Think of what others would say if they saw you taking part in such pursuits. With low ranking guards of all things.”

“I… I didn’t think of that.”

Cora motioned for her to come closer, and, head bowed, Regina walked forward until her mother gripped her upper arms, holding her at arm’s length.

“You wouldn’t want to be mocked, would you darling?”

“No, Mama.”

“And what would have happened if you had fallen?” Cora lifted Regina’s chin with two fingers, her voice filled with concern.

Her mother was just worried, that was all. She loved her and didn’t want any harm to befall her.

It was difficult for Regina to keep her eyes on her mother, and not drop her gaze to her nervously clasped hands, “I would have hurt myself.”

“Exactly.”

Pinpricks of tears stung the corners of Regina’s eyes as her mother pulled her into a hug, pressing her head to her shoulder.

“I don’t want you hurt, Regina.” Cora brushed her forehead, moving strands of hair out of her eyes, “I allow you to ride, but if you continue to do such dangerous things then I will have to stop you from riding.”

Regina trembled, a sob catching in her throat. Both of her mother’s arms encircling her once more.

“And if you cannot ride, then you know what would happen to Rocinante, don’t you?”

Regina pulled back, tears rolling down her cheeks. Cora freed a hand to wipe at Regina’s face.

“Please Mama, don’t take him away,” Regina’s voice cracked with her desperation, her fear.

“I won’t have to, if you are a good girl and don’t do something so dangerous again.” Cora guided Regina back to her shoulder, running her hand over Regina’s hair.

Regina’s voice was muffled as she spoke, “I know, I’m sorry, I really am, I –

“Shush, it’s okay dear, I know you are.”

Regina pushed herself more into her mother’s shoulder, craving the contact she so rarely got from her. The love she wished was shown in such a way so much more.

“But to learn your lesson…” Her mother said with unusual care, “No riding for a week.”

Regina nodded as best as she could, her shaking subsiding slightly in relief that her mother was not furious, that she was accepting of her mistake. That she was just worried for her.

“Now, we have a morning meal to attend.”

Regina could only nod as her mother pulled back and, with her arm and hand wrapped tightly around Regina’s back and side, guided her away from the area.

----

It had only been three days, and already she found herself praying for each night to come swiftly so that another day could pass. So that she would be that little bit closer to returning to the only thing in her life that she truly loved to do. So she could gain back some of her happiness, feel those short fleeting moments of freedom again.

She had never been parted from Rocinante for so long, nor had she gone so long without seeing Emma – not after they had first met.

For the first time, she didn’t know which hurt more.

She hadn’t fully absorbed what her mother had said on the day of the enjoyable, but never to be repeated, race; not until the following morning when she had restated her words.

And Mother was right. It was too dangerous, and she must have truly worried her mother as, for once, she had not scolded her for ‘riding like a man’. Instead her mother had focused on what ill could have befallen Regina, and what could have gone wrong or caused potential damage.

And she was right.

Too old now for lessons, her days were instead filled with boredom; she had books to read, but other than that all she could really do was attend her parents’ business – but she would much rather not, even if it meant she could spend time with her father, as she was fairly certain it would all be dealing with arranging her future marriage.

As the youngest of her cousins, her marriage had not been the foremost in her extended family’s mind, but now she was of age and her marriageable cousins all settled – there was no one else to hide behind. No more excuses for her father to put forth and her mother to dismiss, and no more significant time for her mother to spend trying to find a suitable man to be her betrothed. For none of the previous suitors that had sort them out had been good enough for her mother, a hidden blessing really.

Regina would rather know nothing about such things happening until she had to, and perhaps when she did, she could learn to love the man, or at least find a friendship and sense of comfort with him – like the one she had with Emma.

Regina blinked blearily in the weak light of the fire.

She had retired many candlemarks ago, or so she guessed from how low the fire had burnt. And yet sleep continued to evade her, her thoughts running rampant. The more determined she was to force herself to sleep, the more elusive it seemed. Such a difficulty had troubled her in her childhood, now what was it her father had taught her?

Ah, right, perhaps if she buried herself in thoughts, sleep would catch her unawares. To think on something rather than what she wanted would make the latter far more obtainable.

And so she struggled to focus her swirling thoughts on one matter, even if it was one she would rather not dwell on.

If it could bring sleep, then that was all that mattered.

Yes… she was certain if her betrothed was similar to Emma, than it would be easier for her to come to terms with being married to someone she had no choice in – to someone she would know nothing off until shortly before their union.

Perhaps he would be as kind as Emma, would allow her to continue riding or even come with her. She liked that thought. Having someone who cared enough to go riding with her, who enjoyed what she did, who shared her passion and encouraged it.

That would be wonderful. It would, perhaps, make up for everything else she would have to experience. Though she would much rather pick freedom – the ability to choose of her own freewill – if she could.

But she couldn’t.

It wasn’t allowed.

Emma would shake her head at the notion, insist that there was no such thing as not having a choice. Try to help her in something that could not be won.

Quite suddenly the image of Emma from that day resurfaced in her mind.

Not of her during the race, not even of the fear or the anger or the hurt that followed. But of her when they first met that morning, when Emma had been occupied and bent over a bucket.

How her curls had framed her face as she washed, how little droplets of water on her arms glittered in the morning sunlight, how they trailed across her visible skin.

Regina was already aware of the strength in Emma’s arms, had seen it and felt it herself. It was only natural to assume she would be strong elsewhere, but it was not until the morning of the race that she had first glimpsed it.

How the water had soaked parts of Emma’s undershirt, how it clung to her skin and how the sight was stuck in Regina’s mind. Clear as when she had witnessed it first-hand.

How else would Emma differ from her?

She squirmed beneath her summer sheets.

Emma was taller, but barely so. Just tall enough that Regina would need to tilt her head upwards to press their lips together again. She had liked that, their kisses that night with the wine and the… the lesson when Emma had helped her learn – as friends did. The softness of Emma’s lips, the way the wine clung to her mouth and the taste had passed to Regina. The feel of her body against hers, strong and firm and warm – how she had craved more… more… she didn’t know. But she had wanted it, so badly.

As if in response, Regina’s lips parted for breath. Her chest heaved as her musings continued, a warmth settling low in her body.

Regina tried to distract herself, think of something other than that night.

How else did they differ? Besides the obvious differences in their facial features, and Emma’s pale skin and hair?

It was not strange to compare herself to another after all.

She had seen only a mostly concealed glance of Emma’s body, but enough that she had seen the definition of strength that Regina lacked, but how else did she differ?

Beneath the layers she wore, and besides the glimpse of what Regina had seen, what else was there?

She pressed her fingers lightly to the covered skin between her breasts; wet her lips in her anxiety; were they similar there?

Similar in size? It was hard to tell with Emma’s loose tunics. Or similar in the colour of their – well, the tips of their breasts? Would Emma’s be dark like her own, or would they be pinker like the blonde’s lips?

Regina shifted again; the warmth was growing unbearable in the pit of her stomach. It felt like a fire building, burning brighter that he very real one in her room.

And… and how did they differ lower?

Even in the privacy of her own thoughts she could not bring herself to name certain things (how like a child!), and yet she found she could not stop herself from thinking about them.

What would have happened if their kiss had not been interrupted?

The heat had grown then as it was in her now, would Emma have touched her again. Would, perhaps, Emma had allowed Regina to touch her?

Regina roughly sucked in a breath at the thought, a strike of heat pulling in her abdomen.

Would she have been… would she have been like Regina had? Wet and hot and have gasped in her ear, asked her for more –

Her legs moved beneath the sheets, seeking a position that would take her mind away from the sudden throbbing at the apex of her thighs. But nothing worked; if anything it only intensified the feeling.

She had ignored it before, for many years even, but now she found she couldn’t.

But… there was a way. And – and it was natural. It was normal, Emma had suggested as much.

And, at least Regina now knew what to expect, and that it was nothing to be afraid of.

It was normal.

And it felt wonderful.

Still, she swallowed thickly, and while the light in her room was nearly entirely gone, she still shut her eyes tightly – just in case.

She reached down, lifted the hem of her nightdress just high enough to slip her right hand under. She paused there for a moment, her hand resting on her soft lower stomach. Her throat felt dry, but the urge in her head was more pressing. The one that begged her to move down. To give in, or rather break through her previous fears, to find pleasure just for a moment.

She took a breath to steady herself.

Then she moved.

And when she cupped herself she gasped, the wetness there catching her by surprise.

But that was normal. It was a positive sign. Emma had said so.

With a trembling hand she parted herself gently, allowed a finger to dip down into where the moisture was greater, then higher to that point that had brought such great pleasure.

“Oh,” she sighed.

It did not feel as intense as when it had been Emma’s fingers, but she was skilled and had been showing her what to do. And even though she was a beginner at this, it still felt wonderful and new and left her wanting more, the urge in her growing stronger, more desperate.

But she couldn’t move. Squeezing her shut eyes tightly, almost as if she feared they would open any second if she did not strain to keep them closed.

The fire spat as it died out.

She couldn’t do this if she knew it was herself doing it, despite what Emma had told her and shown her, she still found herself struggling with the mortification that bubbled in her from even thinking of such things – no, she had to put that to the back of her mind, pretend it was someone else if she had to. Like Emma had told her to do when she had helped her.

But there was no one to think of, no one she loved –

But perhaps if she imagined she was merely reliving what she had done with Emma…

The heat spiked as the image of her friend returned to her mind – no. It was the memories of that night.

She tried to keep a whimper in, her hips jumping and her finger slipping, but failed. Her finger twitched against her. She swallowed thickly, then moved in a slow, short backwards and forwards motion. Heat shot through her, coming from the point of contact so strongly.

She couldn’t hold back her moan, but managed to keep it low.

Her thoughts drifted.

Would Emma make sounds like she found herself doing? Or would hers sound more like that deep groan that had stuck to Regina’s mind, re-emerging at seemingly random moments? Pulling at her core with some emotion she could not name.

The thought had her finger moving faster, rubbing against her nub, her hips rocking subtly into the touch.

God.

Wetness formed in the corners of her eyes; she panted for air, her hips jerked harder.

What would it feel like to touch –

The heat blazed through her, building and building and she was so desperate. The urge all consuming and she needed more but she didn’t know what more was.

On a whim, she mimicked Emma’s movements; circling her finger and –

Her head thumped back into her pillow.

“Oh God…” She rasped out, completely unaware that she had. Her hand moved faster, her hips jolting causing an audible, repetitive sound as her hips rose from and landed roughly against her mattress.

Her ears buzzed; her toes curled, bunching the sheets beneath her; her free hand pulled at the edge of her blanket, pressing against her mouth as her eyes snapped open – the heat reaching its peak in a sudden rush and exploding outwards.

Her back arched, and she bit at her sheets to hide the piecing cry that left her mouth, a sound that was almost a name. Her mind filled with thoughts of her friend, too consumed by what was hurtling through her to realise.

The twinges shooting through her body were too much, yet weaker than when she had been with Emma. Her finger twitched, a whimpered yelp leaving her, she faltered, too sensitive and unable to maintain the movement of her hand – unable to wring out the pleasure that Emma had done for her so easily.

As she relaxed back into her pillows and sheets she noticed the sweat beaded upon her brow, the excess moisture that had formed between her thighs, which clung to not only her finger but the rest of her hand also.

Her breathing took time to return to normal, her heart pounding and audible in her ears. She could only lay there in the darkness trying to calm her body, her hand cupped over herself as if protecting her from something unknown and terrible.

She should clean up, fix the bedding, she should…

Her eyelids fluttered, her breathing evening out. Her worries lost in the fog of sleep.

 

Chapter Text

For her the week had been a lengthy, drawn out period of time, but at long last it had come and gone. Or it almost had. Just one more night and she could finally ride again. To see Rocinante and Emma and have what now seemed to be her few fleeting moments of joy returned to her.

She hadn’t let her mother know just how heavyhearted and despondent she had been during her punishment, nor how relieved she was now. She knew if her mother was aware of how it affected her so, she would deem her pathetic for being so easily overjoyed by such a “common” thing. Perhaps she would even see it as a distraction from what she believed Regina should be focused on; for during the week Regina had done little else but keep to herself and mope silently.

…Perhaps she was pathetic after all.

Regina pinched the bridge of her nose, tried to rid herself of that thought.

No. She had withdrawn, a little, to prevent herself from bringing up her upset over being disallowed from riding. If she had told her mother as much, she might have changed her mind and prevented her from horse riding ever again – she had said she would do so if Regina misbehaved again. And protesting would be misbehaving now, wouldn’t it?

All she had to do was sleep and the next day would be upon her before she knew it.

Yet she found herself pacing in the almost darkness of her room. She had tried to sleep but could barely calm herself enough to do so, and so stood at the windowed doors leading to her balcony chewing at her bottom lip and wringing her hands.

Before her depression over losing the only interest she had – and the only thing she was allowed to partake in that brought her a significant level of happiness – had weighed down on her, preventing sleep from coming. Now, however, it was her excitement for tomorrow that stopped sleep from finding her. Or her finding sleep.

And so she paced again. Pausing at her balcony doors for short, yet long feeling moments before resuming her walking back and forth, fidgeting with her hands as she did.

The fire had been low in the grate when she first left her bed, leaving her in a rapidly growing darkness, yet still she had stayed awake. She knew logically that she needed sleep, that she was tired, and yet physically she did not feel any of the effects of that basic need.

She could see little from her balcony window save from small dots of lights above the treeline – the houses of the town outside – and the stars high above them all.

She bit at her bottom lip again, a small crease forming between her eyebrows in thought.

Perhaps she could…

No, she couldn’t. She had already disappointed her mother once already that week, to do so again could bring forth the punishment she had informed Regina of. She couldn’t lose Rocinante, she could force herself to deal with not being able to ride – but losing Rocinante was something else entirely.

But…

She had never been caught before…

And she truly could not wait until tomorrow. It felt completely impossible, and there was little she thought was not possible.

She was already wearing her slippers, and most of the castle staff – save for the guards on night duty – would have long ago retired for the night.

And she had never been caught – she reminded herself.

It would be a lie if she said she did not fear being caught, what disobeying her mother would mean. Yet, her need – or rather, her want – outweighed her fear, but just barely so. She had never been caught before, that recurring thought brought her some confidence, even though usually their late night meetings would be when she knew her mother was away or would be otherwise occupied.

She wouldn’t be caught.

She couldn’t be.

She couldn’t wait until tomorrow.

With a determined set to her jaw that was somewhat negated by the upwards curve of her inner eyebrows, not to mention the furrow between them; she turned, ready to leave her room.

As was often the case, she made it to the kitchen with no trouble.

There was just enough light coming through the window for her to see where she was going.

With little guilt she seized the lantern left in the kitchen, lighting it with one of the matches left in a pot on the windowsill.

She would return it before anyone would notice.

She used the key beside the door to unlock it, returning it to its place on the row of hooks before going outside.

Once out there it took some fumbling, and a few minor grazes on her hand to find the key on the other side to lock the door.

A quick look around; and she was off on the familiar path to the Royal Stables.

It was dry enough that her slippers would not stain, and the heat of the day had been absorbed by the ground, making her journey comfortable as long as she stuck to the grass when the path changed to gravel.

Though her growing excitement fought of the cold of the night, she still shivered. Even with the lantern in her grasp and the glittering stars overhead, the darkness surrounding her always unnerved her when Emma was not at her side. Even more so now, when the layers she usually wore were absent. The feeling of protection they gave her weakened.

But she knew she was safe, despite the vulnerability she felt. No one could breach the grounds, and she knew there were no such things as the monsters she once feared. The shadows held nothing, and even if she feared they may – which she no longer did – she would simply remember what her father once said, Monsters fear light; be it from a mere lantern or from within yourself.

You will always be safe.

The distant shape of the Royal Stables was soon in sight, and sooner still she saw the hatch in the stable roof was closed, but the slight gaps around it allowed the dim glow of a light source to creep out into the night. It felt like home. However bizarre that thought may be.

The cobblestones were slightly more difficult to navigate, thanks in part to the smooth material of her slippers, but she managed to keep her balance, the lantern swinging, as she headed straight for the stable doors.

She opened the glass door on the lantern and blew it out, before opening the right-hand side stable door.

Once inside, she placed the lantern besides the left stable door before the right shut. When it did close, it was loud enough that she immediately heard shuffling.

At first she thought it was one of the horses, but they were all still asleep from what she could see, so she looked up at the hayloft, knowing it was the far more logical source of the sound.

“Wha’s hap’n?” Emma, who was clearly lying on her stomach, poked her head over the side of the hayloft, her curls curtaining her face. It took her a moment to lock onto Regina, her eyes heavy-lidded and bleary.

Regina nervously wrung her hands, guilt suddenly spiking in her stomach.

“I-I’m sorry for waking you, I couldn’t –

“Regina?!” The sleepiness present in Emma’s eyes and on her face vanished. With a large grin she gripped the edge of the ledge and pulled herself forward to peer more clearly in the near darkness – which had Regina panicking that she was about to tumble headfirst to the ground below.

The joy soon fell from Emma’s face, her concern apparent in the creases forming across her forehead, “Are you okay? Why are you here so late? What happened?”

Emma pushed herself back, scrambling across the hayloft, but Regina stopped her panic with a reassuring smile and a step towards the ladder.

“May I come up?”

“What?” Emma asked, leaning over the edge once more, she shook her head slightly, a lop-sided smile forming on her face, “You don’t need to ask, Regina, come on.”

Emma disappeared, her shadow dancing on the wall across from the hayloft. Regina watched it for a second, oddly mesmerised, before she turned and climbed the ladder.

She felt bad that she hadn’t visited Rocinante first, as she always did, but if Emma had been asleep then she was certain he would have been also. Or rather, he would still be asleep. Really, with that fact in her mind, what was truly the point of coming here so late? She should have known that would be the case for both him and Emma.

Regina ignored the thought, and climbed into the hayloft, settling into her usual position. She had forgotten what she was wearing until the cold began seeping from the wood through the thin barrier of her nightdress. She shifted, trying to find a spot that was warmer, or at least less unpleasant.

Emma was rubbing at her eye with her knuckle, Regina’s eyes dropped down, taking in the loose white undershirt and breeches Emma was wearing. She didn’t even have proper sleepwear.

Regina played with the ends of her loose hair, as Emma covered a yawn, her eyes sharp as they jumped over Regina’s form before landing on her bedroll.

Emma pulled the blue cloak she wore by day, and apparently used as a blanket at night, from her bedroll and leant close to wrap it around Regina’s shoulders.

Regina could not help how she clutched at the ends of the material, drawing it tighter around herself as she fought the urge to pull Emma closer instead. She folded the end of the cloak beneath her, to act as both a cushion and a barrier between her and the cold of the wood. She snuggled into the warmth of the cloak, feeling comforted by the way Emma’s scent clung to the wool.

“Are you alright?”

Regina nodded, noticing how Emma’s eyes kept flickering to her hair, “Yes, I just couldn’t sleep. And tomorrow I can ride again, I wasn’t allowed for a week, but I’m sure you figured that out. And – well, I couldn’t wait.”

“So you came to see me?” Emma’s head dipped as her eyes dropped to her knee, where she played with a loose thread, a smile lighting up her face.

“Well, I am here, aren’t I?”

“You’ve got me there.” The sudden flash of embarrassment faded from Emma as she looked back up, her eyes sliding from Regina’s eyes to her hair once again.

“Is something wrong?” Regina looked down at the strands of hair that had fallen over her shoulder and escaped from the tight enclosure of the cloak around her.

When she looked up, Emma’s eyes were wide, her lips parted.

“Emma?”

“No, no, of course not. I just…” Emma rubbed at the back of her neck, her cheeks visible pink in the light of the lantern, a reaction that had Regina smiling widely, “I haven’t seen you with your hair down before, well, not with it being as long as it is now.”

Regina felt her stomach drop, though she did not know why, “And you… don’t like it?”

“What?” Emma spluttered, shaking her head, “Of course not – wait what I mean is, of course I don’t think that. It’s just different from what I‘m used to, and I do like it. I think I would no matter what you choose to do to your hair. Even if you cut it all off you would still look great – wait, I didn’t mean that as something insulting, I mean…”

Emma trailed off into a large sigh, losing the fight with her own tongue.

Regina sat though Emma’s rambling, trying to hide her amusement, but favouring that over showing just how flattered she felt.

“This is getting awkward now.”

“I think you are the only one feeling that way,” Regina replied, her words carrying a faint hint of laughter despite her attempts not to embarrass Emma any more than the woman had already done to herself. 

Emma gave her a small smile, but it did not last long before she was licking her lips in her familiar nervous action.

“I…”

“Emma?”

The stablehand’s shoulders hunched up, Emma dipped her head again, her expression shifting to one of a sorrow Regina had never truly seen before, “I’m sorry I left.”

It took Regina a long moment to catch on to just what Emma was referring to, no doubt it was about the events after the race, or so she assumed. “You had no choice; my mother sent you away.”

It seemed her guess was correct as Emma gave a soft shake of her head, her gaze dropping to her bare feet. Regina had never seen the usually bright blonde like this; it made her throat tight and heart squeeze with worry. Had something happened?

Wait. Hadn’t her mother…

“What did my mother say to you?” Regina asked, worry gnawing at her over what her mother may have done or said to make Emma behave this uncharacteristically.

Emma shrugged, her gaze not meeting Regina’s and body still tense, “She must have forgotten, I haven’t seen her since.”

If her mother’s actions were not what was making Emma behave in this way, then what was?

“If my mother did not scold you, than why are you so distraught?”

Regina,” Emma stressed her name, her bafflement apparent when she lifted her head and they finally locked eyes again, “I’m not worried about me; I’m worried about you.”

“Why would you need to worry about me?” Regina pushed some strands of hair out of her eyes, her smile disbelieving and unsure.

“God, Regina…” Again Emma was shaking her head in a small, gentle motion, a shaky smile on her face. It was almost as if she could not believe what she had just heard, “I have always, and will always, be concerned for you Regina, because I care for you.”

“But you have no reason to. I am fine. If anything it should be me worrying about you.”

Regina tensed; Emma had reached across the space separating them to rest her hand on her covered elbow – the familiar supportive action not lessened by the shabby, but comfortable cloak between the touch of their skin.

To her sorrow, Emma pulled back when she felt Regina unconsciously stiffen. The brunette pulled the cloak tighter around herself, feeling somewhat ashamed by how much she enjoyed and was comforted by having Emma’s scent surrounding her. It couldn’t be normal, could it?

“I heard rumours, but I didn’t really think of it as true.” Emma was saying softly, almost as if she were talking only to herself, or was unsure if her words would hurt, “I’ve never seen magic before, I mean the real kind. Not like the man at the tavern that does tricks with cards to get coins or drinks.”

Her mother’s magic was what made Emma uncomfortable?

Magic was indeed dark and evil, but it had been used on her, not her friend. And she was certain that would always be the case. She was the only one that her mother had ever used magic on as far as she had seen. And, after all, it was there to correct her when she was bad. No one else.

But – no. It wasn’t the use of magic that made Emma uneasy. Emma had already said her previous actions were due to worry for Regina herself, and yet Regina found that hard to accept – not because she did not believe Emma, but rather she was simply not used to people putting her first. Not even her father did that, not when her mother was around. And it wasn’t as if her mother used magic to hurt her for the sake of it, she did it to help make her a better person. To be good.

Emma shuffled forward slightly, her expression almost pleading, “Has she ever used magic on you? I mean before that day.”

“Emma… I…” Regina tried to sound affronted, nonchalant even, but she doubted she had managed to do that when Emma tilted her head and her eyes softened, perhaps, to a point they had never been before.

Regina dipped her head, averting her eyes to the lantern that was once again far too close to Emma’s bedroll and the hay nearby. Her heart was beating harder beneath her breath, panic rising like bile in her throat.

“I don’t wish to talk about it.” As Regina tried to dismiss the topic, gripping the cloak around her tighter, Emma’s gaze hardened, though the anger in them was not directed at Regina herself. Her anger never was.

“Did she do that?” Emma gestured to Regina’s face, and it took Regina a moment to realise what she was referring to. Unconsciously, Regina pressed a hand to her lips, “You never told me how it happened.”

“Emma, I don’t want to talk about it.” Her eyes were watering now, her chest rising and falling rapidly as she tried to stomp down on the emotions flaring within her.

“Regina you need to tell me, I need to know so I can – I don’t know. Just, do something, anything to help. I –

“I said I don’t want to talk about it!”

Her unexpected shout sent some of the horses below shuffling and calling. Startled awake.

Regina’s chest was heaving, heart pounding and her lips still parted from her cry.

Though it was Emma who seemed the most affected. Her eyes wide and a look of pure hurt was settled deep across her face. Others would not have noticed, but Regina did. She could see it in the way Emma’s jaw was clenched, the slight furrow of her brow a clear sign that she was wounded even as she tried to school her expression.

And that distressed Regina, made any remnants of upset caused anger on her face to twist into melancholy. She leant forward, freeing a hand from the confines of the cloak to grasp at Emma’s forearm.

“Emma… I – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

Emma ran her free hand through her hair, puffing her cheeks out as she breathed out in a long, drawn out sigh.

“It’s fine. I shouldn’t have pushed, just like you don’t push me.”

Regina shook her head, moving her hand up to rest on Emma’s upper arm, the thin material doing little to act as a barrier between her palm and the lean muscle of Emma’s bicep. It would have been distracting if Regina weren’t determined to right what had just occurred. What she had done wrong.

“Don’t apologise Emma, I shouldn’t have shouted.”

“And I shouldn’t have pushed when it was clearly distressing you.” With a nervous chuckle, Emma’s lips quirked into a lopsided smile, “So let’s call it even and forget about it, okay?”

Regina bit back her urge to argue the point, to fight in order to take all the blame off Emma’s shoulders. Reluctantly, she pulled back from Emma, pulling at the ends of the cloak again.

Silence rested heavily on them, both lost in their own thoughts and confounding emotions.

“You shouldn’t be here.” Emma said at long last.

Regina’s voice was small as her eyes struggled to meet Emma’s, “Don’t you want me here?”

“It’s not that Regina.” Emma barely covered her grin, though Regina did not see what was amusing at all, “I just don’t want you to get in trouble. Again. Because of me.” Emma added solemnly.

“Have I been caught before?” Maybe it was a little cruel of her to use Emma’s own type of logic against her, but it was awfully successful – or at least it was when Emma applied it to her. As was ignoring words that did not need to be dwelled upon. It wasn’t Emma’s fault, but if she argued the point Emma would never relent it, insisting on taking on blame that was not hers.

Emma rolled her shoulders in a shrug, her teeth flashing in the light with the force of her smile, the sadness of a second ago melting away.

“And once again, you’ve got me there, Princess.”

“I have to win sometimes,” Regina responded, poking her tongue out as soon as the words left her.

Emma opened her mouth to reply, but Regina knew what she was about to say.

“Without you letting me.”

“Hey.” Emma spread her arms, her bottom jutting out in her exaggerated expression of innocence, “Would I ever do that?”

That familiar warmth formed beneath Regina’s breast, all the worries and concerns melting away in Emma’s presence, and all Regina wanted – quite suddenly – was to be as close as possible to her.

And that was exactly what she did; in a swift movement even she herself did not register, she shifted forward, her knees pressing into Emma’s thin bedroll and, with the ends of the cloak clutched in both hands, wrapped Emma into a hug. Blue wool enclosing them both, like they were in their own secret world.

She rested her chin on Emma’s shoulder, that comforting scent far stronger now, and felt Emma’s arms rise to circle around her waist, pulling her tightly into their embrace.

“I wish…” But she trailed off. The words. The truth that she wished she could stay like this couldn’t be said, not when the thought and urge came to her so suddenly, not when she was…

It just couldn’t.

And Emma didn’t pry. She just tightened the hug, her curls brushing Regina’s cheek as she moved her head, eliciting a giggle from the brunette at the tickle against her face and neck.

She could feel Emma’s smile, and that only made her own grow.

She felt safe. Contented. And she hoped the same was true for Emma.

As she pulled back, she moved her hands from where they still clutched the cloak against Emma’s shoulder blades, letting the material fall from her grasp and pool around her as she pressed her hands lightly against the front of Emma’s shoulders, where she could noticeably feel the definition of the blonde’s collarbones.

She tilted her head slightly to the side, as Emma’s tongue darted to wet her lips, a movement Regina followed. She knew the cause was Emma’s nervousness, but part of her wished for… hoped for…

She was here, late at night, exhausted yet not feeling the effects. So what did it matter? This all felt like a dream anyway. And… what was wrong with something that brought comfort? What was wrong when – ?

“Will you kiss me?”

The taken aback look on Emma’s face vanished swiftly, her expression softening as she answered quietly, “Of course, if that is what you want.”

She flushed, as she was wont to do in Emma’s presence and gave a small, barely detectable nod.

Emma lent in, not that she had far to do so, her lips skimmed Regina’s scar before moving down to kiss her fully. There was no hint of wine on her lips this time. The soft pressure was greeted by a sigh Regina did not fully realise came from herself.

It felt like a weight had been lifted.

It was a simple brush of lips, but the emotion it conjured scared Regina, for it was far greater than she had realised when they had first kissed a week ago. It made her lips tremble against Emma’s, her fingers shaking where they now held the front of the blonde’s shirt tight.

She couldn’t feel what the kiss evoked, not with the fear of disobeying still hanging over her – she had barely stopped it from preventing her from sneaking out in the first place.

Their touch; this kiss was not one of friends. She herself had even described their earlier kiss as similar to that of old lovers. This one was less intense, but the feelings were not. If anything they were stronger, overwhelmingly so. It pressed down on her, made her shake in her fear.

She knew if she let it linger she would be unable to fight what she was feeling. If it weren’t for the pressure from her mother still resting heavily upon her she knew she would allow it, welcome it, crave it. It was all she had ever wanted. But on that night she could not. Not after what had happened.

Not a kiss like this.

Not yet.

Her hands had moved up to rest on Emma’s shoulders at some point, with the purchase it offered she gently guided Emma away from her mouth; an action that tugged sharply and painfully at her chest. She ignored the tug; she had to.

“Elsewhere?”

Emma blinked slowly, but as always caught on immediately to what she was suggesting, “If that is what you want.”

With reddened cheeks Regina nodded again.

That she could allow.

Emma slid her arms up, resting her palms against the small or Regina’s back. She wet her lips again, a slight tremble in her hands as she tilted her head and pressed her lips to Regina’s cheek.

God. She couldn’t believe she had asked for what she had. But, once again, as soon as the words and the implication had left her lips she realised just how much she wanted it. Even when she wasn’t quite sure what ‘it’ was.

Emma moved a hand from Regina’s back to move her cloak out of the way and to the side of them.

Regina couldn’t stop herself from asking something that appeared in her mind relatively suddenly, “You are not doing this because you view it as an order, are you?”

Emma chuckled, the sound coming from somewhere low in her chest, a genuinely heart-warming smile settling on her face as she answered softly, “You wouldn’t need to order me.”

Before Regina could ponder over Emma’s reply, the blonde pressed a quick kiss to her lips and pulled back. Regina’s neck strained as she unconsciously tried to follow after her, her own lips parted despite her earlier thoughts. Emma’s smile was bright and comforting as she guided Regina to lie back on her bedroll, the light of the lantern dancing in her eyes. 

“Lie back, make sure you are comfortable.”

Regina’s eyes flickered nervously over Emma’s face. Her breathing had already grown shallower, and nothing had truly begun yet, it seemed just seeing Emma kneeling at her feet, above her, did something to her.

Emma skimmed her fingers over the skin of Regina’s shins were her nightdress had ridden up. Regina’s breath caught in her chest.

How could such a simple action evoke such a reaction? She could feel the wetness between her thighs gradually building with each subtle action.

She couldn’t ask for more of Emma, for she would give it without question, and even if she stressed she was not acting on orders, in that moment Regina could not dismiss her doubt even with how much she trusted her.

“If you’re sure…” Emma said again. Regina reached down, trying to place a reassuring hand on Emma’s knee but not being able to reach without sitting up slightly. Emma understood regardless.

Her tongue reappeared to wet her lips, and then Emma’s fingers were resting on the hem of her nightdress, her palms warm against Regina’s skin.

Emma’s chest swelled with a deep slow breath. She breathed out just as gradually, and as she did she slid her hands upwards.

Regina shivered – a reaction that had nothing to do with the chill of the night.

The sliding of Emma’s hands stopped, it only took her a glance down to realise why.

She turned her eyes back to the shadowy beams above; it seemed to lessen the intensity of what was occurring. She needed it lessened in that moment, lest she do something she later regret. After, a time that was rapidly approaching, was when she would allow it to build freely.

She lifted her hips, reaching down to aid Emma in rucking the bottom of her nightdress up over her hips, feeling far more exposed than she had ever been before.

Emma hesitated again, her grip light on Regina’s hips.

“It’s okay, Emma.” It was nothing more than a whisper, one she did not fully intend to say, but was thankful she had as she dropped her gaze back to Emma. Feeling a flare of heat when their eyes locked. Feeling herself throb.

They stayed like that, brown and green fixed on one another. Emotions swirling even as Regina could feel the soft slide of her undergarments down her thighs, over her knees and off. She sucked in a soft breath as she trembled, completely bared to Emma’s gaze. She dropped her head back, unable to keep her eyes on Emma when feeling so vulnerable.

But Emma had always made her feel safe, was able to make her feel protected even when she felt so much vulnerability. And in this it was no different.

Emma did not move, not until Regina looked back at her and gave her a soft smile and nod of consent, her fear fading.

Hardly anything had happened, yet that embarrassing, clinging wetness was already there. Clear and gleaming.

Her eyes fluttered open – she wasn’t sure when they had shut – when she felt Emma cup her hot cheek, brushing her thumb against her skin. Regina smiled at the reassuring gesture. The heat in her face only grew with how Emma was leaning over her to comfortably reach her face.

Emma pressed a kiss to her other cheek; a short, sweet press of lips against her heated skin. And then Emma moved down, back to where she was previously.

It was Emma’s breath she felt first, warm but sending her shivering as it came into contact with her wetness.

Her hips shifted upwards without her consent.

She felt Emma’s hands on her legs encouraging her gently into a slightly different position.

“This will make it better.”

Regina nodded, though she knew Emma would likely not be able to see it. Not when she was so close to her centre, her hair brushing against Regina’s thighs.

“It’s okay Emma, I… want this.” She forced herself to voice her thoughts when Emma continued to hesitate, her fingers trembling against Regina’s inner thighs.

“Tell me if you want me to stop. I mean it.” Emma had never spoken to her in such a forceful, commanding manner before. It made Regina wiggle slightly against the thin bedroll. Made her clench.

“I understand.”

Emma meant no harm with her tone; she just wanted to ensure Regina was the one with the power in the situation. She wasn’t used to anyone doing so, but Emma did. She always had.

She couldn’t bring herself to look down, not fully, but she managed to look just briefly enough to see Emma dip her head. Blonde hair curtaining her face.

Regina’s breath caught in her chest, Emma had pressed a sudden and far too short kiss against her intimate flesh before pulling back a little. Regina shook as warm breath brushed against her again.

It lasted only a second.

“Oh!”

Emma’s tongue had pushed down tentatively, spreading her folds and exposing her to her exploration. And God, it felt wonderful.

She tried valiantly to stop her hips from pushing up too far, scared she would hurt Emma, but the blonde didn’t seem to mind the sharp jerk of her hips. Instead of the reaction Regina expected, Emma circled an arm around each of her thighs and pressed closer, and Regina could just make out a sound of muffled pleasure.

“Oh, God…” She cursed quietly; though not low enough clearly as she felt the vibration of Emma’s own reaction against her sensitive skin.

Regina’s breathing increased rapidly, her chest rising and falling far more noticeably than what was normal.

Emma slid up, her tongue skimming across that point that made Regina’s hips buck hard and tingling heat shooting out from where her pleasure seemed concentrated. And she had thought it had felt wonderful when it had been just her finger…

She gritted her teeth with the effort of keeping her breathing regulated. To stop this from nearing its end as quickly as it currently was.

Moans slipped from her lips as Emma focused on that one point, pushing and sweeping and teasing with the flat of her tongue, then the tip.

Regina’s hands tried desperately to find purchase on the bedroll beneath her, her nails digging into the taut fabric.

It was more than she could ever imagine.

It was too much.

Emma’s name tried to wrench its way out of her mouth, only managing to emerge in a choked start and a long drawn out vowel.

Her body felt seized in a constant series of muscle twitches, her hips pulling away in her overstimulation.

It was too much.

And as always, Emma could tell.

Her tongue dipped lower and lower, until her nose nudged against Regina’s nub and her tongue pressed against an area thus far untouched. Regina’s breath stilled, as did her body. Frozen.

A brief press of tongue and the pressure was gone, Emma gliding upwards again. Regina found herself able to breathe once more.

This time the blonde did not focus directly on the source of the most pleasure, instead the tip of her tongue skimmed the sides of it, over and over. Regina’s head pressed back hard, her hips rocking in short motions as she tried to keep them still.

“…Emma?”

With a hesitant motion, Regina reached down with her hand, the other still clawing desperately at the material beneath her. She glanced briefly, could see Emma’s smile in her eyes. And God… seeing her there, her head moving with subtle motions, to see the heat in her eyes –

She took it all as permission, running her hand gently through Emma’s curls.

She felt the flat of Emma’s tongue this time, sliding against the sides of her nub.

Regina’s fingers curled in Emma’s hair, pulling without her consent as her hips began rocking urgently. Her toes curling against the bedroll.

“S-sorry…” But as she tried to loosen her hold and return her hand to her side, Emma freed one of her hands to cover Regina’s own. Encouraging it back into place.

Regina bucked harder now, the grip steadying her hips loosened for a short moment.

Emma’s groan vibrated against her.

“God!” She cursed, not caring that the word left her lips in such a way.

Emma’s grip tightened on her hips trying to hold her in place, but clearly she was holding back as Regina felt herself brushing against Emma’s chin – even her nose, on the occasions that Emma could not keep her mouth in place due to the sharp jerking motions of Regina’s hips.

She could feel herself reaching the endpoint; familiar now with how it felt. Her hand tightened in blonde hair, pulling far too hard.

She tried not to fear it.

She didn’t now.

Couldn’t.

She lifted her head, a whimper leaving her at the sight of Emma between her legs. The sight of her mouth working; working so hard to being her pleasure.

Emma’s eyes locked on hers, the emotion shining in her gaze reflected back though not fully understood. Regina’s hips bucked harder as she stared back, entranced. Unable to look away. The wave within building and building and building –

She peaked.

Her head snapped back against the head of the bedroll, her back arching and the cords in her neck standing out starkly.

Short, irregular jerks of her hips. Emma staying there, stroking her so very softly with the flat of her tongue.

It made it feel all the better. It drew out ever last second of pleasure shooting through her form.

The flicks and licks of Emma’s tongue slowed as the heat in Regina wound down.

Regina exhaled, long and slow. Her body hot, yet chilling swiftly as the air caught on the beads of sweat that had broken out on her brow.

Embarrassingly, she could feel a trickle of wetness between her thighs; but then Emma shot down, lapping at it lightly and the embarrassment faded.

Her breathing was still faster than normal, began to grow more erratic when Emma lifted her head, the light glistened off the lower half of her face.

It made heat swirl in the pit of her stomach once more.

Emma swiped her sleeve over her chin and mouth, and Regina strangely felt a flicker of disappointment at the action.

Regina’s eyes fell shut, and by the time she forced them open Emma was on her side besides her, but resting on the floor – her pupils dilated and lacking focus.

Emma’s eyes flickered over Regina’s flushed face; from her heavy-lidded eyes to her still parted lips, the younger woman’s shoulder flexing.

Regina’s brow furrowed, her eyes trailing down Emma’s arm. Her lips parted more, her eyes wide when she saw Emma’s hand was in her breeches. The material stretched taut over her rapidly moving knuckles.

It only took a second for her to realise –

“Re –

Emma cut the word short, shuddering, her pupils blown wide.

In an instant, before Regina could ponder upon the matter, she cupped Emma’s heated cheeks in both hands and pulled her the short distance between them into a kiss. Doing her best to mimic the kiss they had shared over a week prior; sliding her mouth against Emma’s who pushed into the pressure eagerly. An odd taste clung to Emma’s mouth; one she soon realised was her.

Emma tasted like her.

Regina squirmed, the re-emergence of heat in the pit of her stomach surprising her as it flared, a feeling that only increased in intensity at the groan from the blonde – one that was drawn out as Emma froze in the kiss, her eyes closing tightly.

An inaudible, jumble of a sound fell from Emma’s lips against Regina’s.

Regina try to pull Emma back into a proper kiss rather than the simple press of lips – needing the connection – but Emma’s head jerked back her mouth opening and closing as she suddenly panted for breath, her face flushing and eyes wide.

Regina stroked Emma’s face, watched the feelings and emotion play out across the blonde’s visage. Tried to ignore the heat stoked in her from Emma’s actions, her sounds, her expression as she peaked. Tried to hold herself back from pressing her body hard impossibly close against – on top of, beneath, anywhere – Emma’s own.

Emma’s breathing calmed eventually, the blonde gently pulling away. With light encouragement she guided Regina’s hands away from her face (and oh God, her right hand was damp. The things that knowledge did to her…) and got the Princess to lie on her back on the bedroll.

The stablehand’s eyes darted about the hayloft, before landing on her cloak. With a red face, she wiped her right hand on her breeches and grabbed it.

Emma turned, and helped Regina cover her modesty by carefully pulling the lower part of her nightdress back down, before settling her cloak over her to stave off the chill of that night. It had seemed warmer outside.

Regina snuggled into the cloak, pulling it up high around herself as she watched Emma with suddenly heavy eyes.

The blonde was sitting now, looking into the shadows outside of the hayloft, a hand running through her hair as her shoulders rose high with tension.

She was embarrassed?

Or regretful of what had happened?

The mere flash of thought caused by the latter made her stomach plummet, caused a tightness to form beneath her breast. Too much emotion washing over her for her to continue to lie there, she sat up, holding the cloak tightly around her.

She could already feel the beginnings of tears in the corners of her eyes, but she fought to keep them at bay.

“Emma?” Her voice cracked.

The younger woman instantly whirled around, a worried crease to her brow. In a mere breath she had Regina wrapped in her arms, shushing her softly.

“It’s okay.” She whispered against Regina’s ear, “I’m sorry if I pushed too far. It won’t happen again, I swear. I shouldn’t have done that – I shouldn’t have.”

The princess blinked, both to clear her eyes of blurring tears and confusion, “What are you apologising for?”

Emma pulled back a short distance, her arms still wrapped around Regina’s waist, “I thought I had…” She trailed off, her gaze wavering on Regina’s own, “I thought I had upset you. Pushed you into something you did not want. Done something I should not have done.”

Regina’s smile was watery as she listened. “No, Emma, you didn’t upset me. You never could, you never can.”

Emma’s gaze dropped down to her knees, her arms tightening just a little around Regina.

“You haven’t pushed me into anything. It was all my decision, I was never forced, so don’t even think that.”

Emma’s smile was nervous, but bright, it changed the tightness in Regina’s chest into something warm and light, like a caress. And she couldn’t stop herself from leaning forward, pressing her lips lightly against Emma’s own.

It made the warmth grow all the more brilliant. A warmth that had nothing to do with the heat in her belly – which was now forgotten in that moment – no. This was another warmth all together.

And, in their moment of security and privacy – in that moment of happiness and freedom, Regina finally realised just what it was that she could be feeling. What she had known from their kiss earlier – what she had tried to ignore for the moment, more out of fear, a fear she did not know the cause of.

This wasn’t about what friends do. This wasn’t about comfort or teaching or helping.

No. She had been fooling herself. This wasn’t how one felt for a friend – or at least that is what she thought – nor was this how one feels love for a sister or a family member.

This was another type of love entirely.

This was… this was what she had always been told about?

What her father had told her on the occasions he had snuck around to tell her a bedtime story.

This was…?

“I think I love you.” Emma’s eyebrows twitched upwards, her lips parted. Regina couldn’t keep her eyes on her, had to drop her gaze to a spot on the wooden planks that made up the floor of the hayloft. Her voice trembling as she spoke, “I think I always have.”

“Regina…” Emma freed a hand to cup Regina’s chin, to encourage her to meet her eyes once more.

And when their eyes locked, the tightness came back. Regina’s lips trembled, her eyes watering in the lantern light.

The seriousness of Emma’s expression hurt. It physically hurt, like a slap to her face.

“You do not feel the same?” She asked, trying to keep any hopefulness that she was wrong out of her tone.

She failed spectacularly.

“No, Regina.”

She choked on a sob. Completely pathetically.

She should have known, she should have –

Emma’s expression crumpled as soon as she heard Regina’s sob, shaking her head as she added hurriedly.

“I don’t mean no about how I feel, I mean, I think it is best to think these things over before coming to a conclusion.”

Regina swallowed, the action challenging in her suddenly distressed state.

How quickly she had become distraught! Her mother would scold her for being unable to control herself in a proper manner, “I’m…” She sucked in a breath and tried again, “I’m not sure I understand.”

Emma moved back, placing some distance between them. That possibly hurt even more. She couldn’t tell in the moment.

“You can still feel it, can’t you? The aftermath of what you just felt.” At Regina’s hesitant nod, Emma continued, “That can affect you mind as well as your body, it is possible that what you think you feel and what you actually feel are being clouded right now. Confused by pleasure.”

Even though she did not fully agree, she could see what it was Emma was trying to say to her in her awkward way. It was almost as if she was giving her an opportunity to change her mind. Giving her a choice in the matter. Giving her control.

“Give it sometime, then settle on whether you truly wish to say such things.”

A crease appeared between Emma’s eyebrows, her eyes sliding away from Regina’s own to focus on the lantern. She pushed it with her bare foot, away from the bedroll. Regina narrowed her eyes, held back at tut at the dangerous action.

“I would hate to see you hurt because of it all,” Emma said all emotion before adding softly, “And it would crush me.”

Regina’s head snapped back to the blonde, her eyes as wide as they had ever been.

“Emma…” Regina breathed out, pulling the cloak off her to instead wrap around her shoulders with one hand, she reached forward with her other to cup Emma’s cheek. The tip of her thumb traced Emma’s prominent cheekbone, marvelling at the softness of her skin.

She would wait then – if that was what Emma needed – until she could tell her with clarity. For if her mind was clouded, which was possible considering the way she could feel herself throb with the need to be touched, then Emma would be the same. Wouldn’t she? Though Emma could no doubt control herself, while Regina could not; this was not new to the blonde, but it was to her.

And… and she needed to know if what she felt was true. Because if it was…

If it was…

Emma’s arms came around her once again, Regina shuffled forward, settled with her head resting on Emma’s shoulder. The cloak surrounding them both.

The realisation had rushed upon her like a storm, sudden and unexpected. But perhaps it had always been there, as she had said she believed it had, but she had simply never been open to it before. Never noticed because she had never considered it possible. Never thought such happiness could be so close. Not when she was never good enough for it -

Emma’s arms and warm body where a warmth and support Regina knew she craved. But she had always craved contact with her friend, and now, perhaps she knew why.

“Don’t you dare try to joke about this, Emma.”

She could feel Emma’s confusion rather than see it in her position.

“What?”

“That’s what you do when something scares you.” Regina explained, pausing only for a yawn as exhaustion washed over her so suddenly, “You turn it into a joke.”

Emma’s cheek rested against the top of her head, both of them pressing closer to one another.

“Rest now if you want. I’ll make sure you get back before anyone notices.”

Regina’s eyes had closed without her consent, as she tried to stifle another yawn.

“Hmm…” She hummed, “No one will notice.”

Emma’s chest rose and fell as she fought back a chuckle.

“You know that’s not true.”

But Regina was already falling to sleep swiftly, not fully aware of Emma’s words, nor the gentle press of lips against her forehead.

Chapter Text

Emma had raised an eyebrow, but otherwise remained stoic, saying nothing aside from a typically formal greeting. One Regina returned with uncommon stiffness, her body tense as she collected and filled up a bucket with slow movements.

Emma watched Regina’s ‘guard’ as he finally went to stand at the gate leading into the courtyard.

Waiting until he turned his back fully, Emma pulled a face at him, earning a giggle from the brunette as she placed down the now full bucket of water in Rocinante’s stall.

The tension rushed from her.

It was good to laugh.

The man scared her, not that she would admit that to anyone else save Emma and Rocinante. There was simply something ‘off’ about him, from the way his eyes watched too intensely, to his stilted speech and neutrally cold expression.

Now, with him standing away but watching, they could talk privately though in a far softer volume than was normal for them.

“No need to worry about his hooves, I did them yesterday,” Emma said, pulling herself up to sit perilously on a closed stall door.

“I can see that.” Regina noted, holding Rocinante’s leg and bending at the waist to peer at his hoof, “And a fine job it is.”

“Of course it is.” Regina looked over her shoulder to see Emma’s chest puffed out in pride, “I was raised for the work after all. More or less. Sort of.”

She returned Rocinante’s foot to the ground and selected a metal curry comb from the selection of grooming tools Emma had fetched for her – without Regina asking her – shortly after she had arrived. She would have happily gotten them herself, but sometimes there was no stopping the blonde. Well, most of the time actually.

The repetitive motions of her hand and the comb were relaxing. It was part of the reason she loved grooming Rocinante herself, even though her mother had originally scolded her for ‘doing the work of a commoner’. She liked to think it made her and Rocinante closer, built up their already strong bond.

“Not going for a ride then?”

Regina’s hand stilled for a moment. As lost in her thoughts as she had been, she was surprised by the sudden voice, but only slightly so.

“No, I do not appreciate being watched when I ride.” Regina looked over her shoulder, continuing swiftly when she saw Emma’s bottom lip jut out in a pout, “Though there are certain exceptions. And it has been a long while since it was just us, bonding.”

“Aww,” Emma out the sound, the heels of her boots hitting the stall door as she swung her legs, “I missed you too.”

Perhaps a little cruelly, Regina made her wait.

Rocinante’s eyelids had dipped, and the sign of his contentment made her heart swell with her own sense of comfort and joy.

There was little dirt in his hair, so it was only a short time until she was running the dandy brush over his side in short, flicking motions.

“Who said I was talking about you?” Regina said at last, her lips twitched into a close mimic of a smirk, as near to a full one as would ever grace her face.

“Gah!” Emma exclaimed dramatically, Regina turned at the sound. Emma’s hand was pressed over her heart, her voice strong, seemingly not caring in the least that she was being loud enough to be overheard, “How you wound me.”

Regina shook her head gently, trying to keep a smile at bay, an action that was made an even larger challenge when Emma continued.

“To think! A horse’s company worth more than mine. The noble stablehand.”

Regina bent down again, to run the brush over Rocinante’s legs, ensuring any dirt there was removed, “Okay Emma. I get it, I upset you.”

“Oh dear fates! What have I done to be belittled so?”

“Emma…” Regina sighed as she stood, trying to give Emma as serious a look as she could manage.

“Oh woe is me.”

Regina placed her hands on her hips, the brush still gripped in her hand and pressing against her irritatingly, “Seriously, you can stop now.”

“Oh…” Emma spread her arms wide, lifting her chin to look up as if through the roof and to the heavens themselves, “How the weight of the world rests upon me – argh –

Thud!

Emma disappeared.

Or rather, she disappeared save for the heels of her boots.

Rocinante’s ears twitched up and forward, clearly curious about this change of events.

“Ow.”

Regina bit her lip, but that did little to keep a burst of laughter from getting out. Regina almost doubled over with the force of the sound, her shoulders shaking as she ran her hand over Rocinante’s neck to tell him it was alright. She placed the brush down and moved to peer over the stall door Emma had just fallen off.

“It’s not funny,” Emma muttered, lying flat on her back in thankfully clean straw. The smell of it strong and fresh.

“I – ” Snorting wasn’t ladylike, but was unavoidable when fighting against hard laughter, she gasped for breath, steadying herself on the stall door, “I’m not laughing.”

“Thank God this stall is empty.”

Regina placed a hand to her mouth, anything to try to force the sound back in.

She failed of course.

“Hey! I’m trying to distract from the embarrassment here.” Still flat on her back, Emma spread her arms wide – the exact motion which got her in this predicament in the first place.

“That’s what you get for being overdramatic,” Regina scolded with a large smile that shook as she tried not to laugh again, “Maybe if you weren’t being such an idiot.”

“Oh, name calling now?” Emma huffed.

Regina stepped back, returning to Rocinante’s stall opposite and, after a few long moments, Emma’s head cautiously rose up from behind the door. Strands of straw stuck in her hair.

“Definitely should have tied it up today,” Emma muttered as Regina selected a softer brush to finish off grooming Rocinante’s body.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Emma bracing against the door with one arm, and hopping over it with surprising ease. The reminder of the strength Emma possessed made Regina’s breathing falter for just a second before she regained control of herself.

Emma looked out of the stable doors, her forehead wrinkling and mouth turning down as her gaze landed on Regina’s guard.

There weren’t many horses in the Royal Stables, she noted, though there never had been really. Many weren’t needed, and the stables were rather small in comparison to what she had seen of the Knights’ Stables. The number of horses in there had dropped as the years went on, something that was made more noticeable now there were less than a handful left. The ones that were currently ‘missing’ hadn’t been there when she had arrived, admittedly later than normal as she had bid her parents farewell.

Gently, she encouraged Rocinante to lift his head so she could brush along his neck more effectively, “Where are the rest of the horses?”

“Half of the horses are out exercising.” Emma replied, pulling straw from her curls, “At noon I bring them back and take the others out. I would take them all out at once now there are only a few, but the Stable Master insists that I stick to the rules I was originally taught.”

Regina nodded her understanding; she knew much about those that stuck firmly to tradition even if its impact was clearly negative or otherwise harmful. Being blinded by such things was truly a danger.

“Shouldn’t you be watching them?” The stable was awfully quiet without the shuffling of all the horses there. Not that they made that much noise in all honesty.

“They are in the exercise field, with the other horses. The other stablehands will watch them; after all, there is only one of me. And I can’t be in two places at once.” Emma shrugged, tackling the hay stuck to her tunic now.

“It would be of benefit to hire another, or move one of the other stablehands here.”

Emma’s head snapped up, her eyebrows dropping low, “And share my hayloft – I think not.”

Emma’s mock outrage had Regina struggle with a giggle again.

Rocinante shifted beneath her hands as the brush ran over the hair on his flank. “I was just thinking of you.”

Emma looked down, a tell-tale sign of embarrassment that strangely enough had Regina blushing in sympathy.

She patted Rocinante, the sound surprisingly loud for the softness of the action, and moved to his other side. And, as always, he waited patiently.

“I remember when this stable was full.” Emma sounded almost wistful as she spoke

The blonde’s head tilted in thought, her boot catching on a stone she was soon bending to pick up, “It’s so empty in here now. Compared to when I started I mean.”

She threw the stone with a practiced motion out into the courtyard; Regina heard it bounce a number of times before impacting against the wall. She wasn’t surprised to not hear her guard yell out in anger at the action, or at Emma. Unlike other individuals, he never did. It should be a relief that Emma was not the victim of someone’s ire, but instead it was just another reason the man made her feel so uncomfortable. It was something she did not understand at all.

“When members of your family left for homes of their own, I was sad to see them go.” Emma grabbed a cloth off the stable wall and handed it to Regina in return for the brush, and took the other grooming tools – save for the mane comb – away back to their store.

“Really?” Regina queried as she dampened the cloth in the bucket of water, wringing it out before gently cleaning Rocinante’s face. He huffed but allowed her delicate touch.

“Not sorrow for the people, no offense to your family, but I did not know them.” Emma reappeared from around the corner where she stored equipment, scratching at the back of her head, “I missed the horses. I mean, I grew up here, with them. I grew to know them; I guess you could say they were a substitute for my family. And yes, I have heard all the jokes about how close I am to the horses. So don’t start.”

Emma leant against Rocinante’s stall, resting her chin on folded arms.

Regina tutted, reaching over to pull some straw Emma had missed from her hair. The softness of Emma’s hair and her smile had Regina quickly pulling back, refocusing on her task with burning cheeks, “You really think I would say something so vulgar?”

“Well, no. But there’s always a first time.” Emma freed an arm and tapped her chin with a single finger, her lips tilting into a smirk, “And you did know what I was referring to.”

Regina pressed a hand to her chest, gasping, as Emma returned her arm to its previous position, “You dare question the propriety of a princess?”

Emma snorted out a laugh, “Ah, now you use your title, Your Highness.”

Regina rolled her eyes as Emma pushed off the wall and bent at the waist in an overenthusiastic bow. Overenthusiastic enough that she unknowingly missed hitting her head by a mere hair’s breadth.

“Idiot,” Regina said not unkindly.

Emma grinned as she straightened up, raising one of her eyebrows high in cockiness. Regina shook her head at her, placing the cloth down over the side of the bucket and grabbed the comb to run through Rocinante’s mane and tail.

“After you’ve done that, I’ll swap the horses around.” Emma retrieved her cloak from where she had left it hanging over the wall of a stall, “Unless you’ve changed your mind and would like to go for a ride after all?”

“While I would love to do that, I’m afraid I will have to decline today.” The comb caught on a tiny knot in Rocinante’s mane, she stopped the soft motion of her hand and carefully set about untangling his hair, “I might watch him in the field, after the afternoon meal.”

“If you’re sure.” Emma fixed her cloak in place, tying it deftly without a single glance downwards, “I’ll fetch the others first. You don’t have to rush.”

Emma straightened out her tunic and turned to do just that after Regina gave her a smile and a small nod.

But seeing Emma moving to leave made her hands tremble, made something around her heart squeeze tightly.

“Emma!” She called out, far too loudly for her normal tone. Loud enough that the ‘guard’s’ gaze bore through her.

The stablehand turned, her brow creased as she strode back to the stall, “What’s wrong?”

Regina swallowed, her eyes drawn to Emma’s face, to the worry that shone in her eyes, and the features that captivated her so. Though the latter was a more recent realisation.

She waited – had to – until the weight of the man’s gaze lifted. Emma would understand.

“I… thought over what you said…” Regina wet her lip, lowering her voice just in case, “… that night. And I can assure you Emma that nothing has changed. The warmth you bring me is very much still there, and so yes, I still truly believe what I said. Watching you leave – just now – it… it hurt.”

The expression of rapt attention taking over Emma’s face had Regina’s eyes averting back to Rocinante, his nostrils flaring as if he could pick up on the sudden anxiety that flooded her system.

One of the horses that remained kicked at his stall, eager for his run. A bird on the hunt called overhead.

Emma’s gaze shook as she kept her eyes fixed on Regina’s own. The green far brighter that day than the blue. It caused a knot to tighten in Regina’s stomach, her hands to tremble.

“I needed you to know, and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t blurt such things out –

“You have nothing to apologise for.” Emma chanced a look out of the doors and, perhaps confident that they wouldn’t be seen, reached out her hand across the space between them. Regina grasped for the offering immediately, her grip tight on the blonde’s warm hand, the callouses against her soft skin a comfort rather than an irritation. Something she was sure would surely not be the case with anyone else.

Regina’s bottom lip quivered, barely noticeably, as she asked in a gentle voice, “Perhaps we shall talk about this later?”

Emma’s smile, the sparkle in her eyes, had her confidence grow. Melted away some of her anxiety to make way for the warmth and happiness the younger woman brought her.

“If you wish.” Regina’s hand tightened on Emma’s, the urge to pull Emma closer and press her lips to hers was stopped only by the stall wall separating them, and the fear of being seen by that man, “There is no obligation, I won’t force you to speak of something that makes you uncomfortable.”

“I know you would never.” And Regina truly did.              

Emma squeezed her hand, letting go reluctantly as she stepped back, their fingers trailing over one another’s.

“I should do some work.” Emma set about gathering what she needed, her practiced motions oddly enough catching Regina’s appreciative gaze.

“Yes,” she responded after a time, in part to ground herself in that moment and to pull her from the thoughts that threatened to overtake her mind, “that would make a beneficial change.”

“Oh, haw haw.” Emma stated, before breaking into an actual chuckle as she shouldered the required equipment, gave a quick wink and headed out of the stable with a confident stride. A sight Regina found bizarrely wonderful.

Regina found the smile that graced her face unable to be shifted throughout the rest of the day.

----

Emma was running a hand through her hair, striding back and forth in the wider area at the entrance of the stable. So engrossed in thought was she, that her usual perceptiveness was absent, and she did not see Regina until the brunette stepped away from the door, her hands clasped together tightly.

“Regina!” Emma’s face light up in the weak glow provided by the lantern above them, hanging from a hook affixed to the ledge of the hayloft. Emma cleared her throat, her fist pressed to her lips. “I… I wasn’t sure if you would come.”

Baffled, Regina’s nose scrunched up as she asked, “Why wouldn’t I?”

Emma shifted from foot to foot as if judging something, before she stepped closer, tugging at the bottom of her tunic, “I mean, I knew you meant what you said, but I thought you might not be able to get here with that…” Emma visibly rooted through her mind, but apparently came up empty when she finished her sentence, “… man watching you.”

“Yes, well I have recently discovered that I am rather capable even when others think I am not.”

“Hmm,” Emma hummed, her eyes flickering over Regina’s face as if she couldn’t possibly take her all in at once, or didn’t have enough time to do so – as if she would never have enough time.

For when Regina saw that action she realised she had seen it before, many times over; perhaps she always had, but only now saw it for just what it was.

Still, Regina felt a hint of anxiety in her chest. A worry at the back of her mind that she was misreading what was before her; misreading what was so clearly fact. That perhaps Emma, herself, had also misconstrued what was between them.

Her heart ached, just with the thought that what they believed was between them was just a childish mistake.

“I meant what I said.” A way to convince herself, perhaps, but true. Her grip on her own hands tightened as she forced her gaze not to waver as she repeated her words from earlier that day.

In a change of pace, it was Emma’s eyes that dropped, focusing on a spot on the floor, “I know.”

Emma didn’t look back up, her forehead creasing and lips pressed into a thin line.

Regina’s hands hurt as her hold grew stronger, anything to stop herself from shaking.

Her voice, however, was not so easy to control.

“That upsets you?”

It felt like a twist to her heart, as if someone was wringing it in their hands. The ache growing and growing.

 Had Emma not said, however quietly, that she would be ‘crushed’ if Regina’s words were a falsity?

Then why this reaction?

“I… I am sorry if I –

Don’t apologise, how many time do I have to tell you?”

To her great relief Emma was smiling, her words spoken in kindness not anger, and it helped to settle Regina. Helped her voice regain strength and her body to stop quaking so.

“Know you are not alone in how you feel.” Emma began, her gaze sliding to a spot to Regina’s right. “But I can’t give you what you deserve; I’m just a stablehand without a family, with no home or belongings. I have nothing. You…”

Emma’s shoulders rose and fell with the force of her sigh.

“You deserve something far greater.”

Regina caught Emma’s hands, ran her thumbs soothingly over the backs. The despondency in her words pulled at Regina’s chest, made her stomach drop in panic and grief.

“You know I don’t want this life, more than anyone.” She squeezed Emma’s hands, tried to get her to meet her eyes again.

“I know but, you shouldn’t have to give up everything; you shouldn’t have to be the one to make a sacrifice,” Emma stressed. Regina’s hands fell back to her side as Emma stepped back, distress written across her face.

“I may have many things, but true happiness is not one of them.”

“And you think you will be happy if you have nothing like me, just because we are together?” There was an edge of anger in Emma’s words, but as soon as they left her she had a hand pressed to her forehead and was apologising profusely. There was a moment before Emma spoke again, her voice feeble, “I’ve never had anything, and I can never offer you anything.”

Regina wanted to reduce the distance between them, to hold Emma, to comfort her as best as she could. To share in that feeling of reassurance and support; to take her own solace in Emma’s strength and the scent of grass and hay and - and just Emma!

“I don’t want anything, at least not material. Not physical objects.” Regina’s hands curled tight, not from anger, but from the need to restrain herself from reaching out again. From grabbing and taking what she wanted. She wasn’t like that – she wouldn’t just take. Couldn’t. “I just want the warmth you bring me.” Her voice was growing weaker, weighed down by the force of the emotions thrumming through her. It was the truth, and it needed to be said, the words needed to be released from deep within her. Even if it hurt. “I want you.”

And Emma… Emma’s eyes were watering, shining in the faint lantern light.

Emma’s lips parted.

Her throat bobbed as she swallowed.

The blonde closed her mouth, and when she opened it again, her eyes slid away, “But we can’t be together, Regina, not because or either of us, but because of others.”

Regina’s skin felt icy, particularly her forehead which felt as if she were about to break out into a sweat. Her mouth lost its moisture, her throat was dry and verging on painfully so.

Her grip on her own hands hurt, but it was the only thing grounding her to the moment.

It shouldn’t cut her like this.

It shouldn’t physically wound her to be rejected so.

Her mother always said such feelings caused pain. And Regina had always felt things so very deeply; she couldn’t close herself off like her mother did so effortlessly. Sometimes she almost wished she could.

Like now.

Her eyes ached, scratching as tears strained to form.

When she spoke again, Emma’s voice was near silent and held an edge of apprehension, “It’s not because I don’t want to.”

Relief.

Washing over her like cool water.

Followed by a panic that had Regina’s heart hammering, her head spinning, tears falling freely down her cheeks.

She surged forward, grasping Emma’s forearms before she knew she had moved, “Then – then we leave. Together.”

Emma’s eyes met hers, and all Regina could see were her own emotions reflected back.

“You don’t truly mean that, Regina.”

Emma cupped her cheeks with both hands, Regina’s own still gripping her like a lifeline. Emma’s thumbs moved softly against her skin, sweeping away the tears that trailed there.

And Emma was right.

While a part of Regina did want that; would gladly leave if given the chance, the other part of her wouldn’t – couldn’t leave. She couldn’t turn her back on her parents, couldn’t leave Rocinante and… and the life she was accustomed to. As domineering as it was, she would have no idea of how to survive ‘outside’.

“If I could provide for you, treat you as you should be treated, if you could have everything that you deserve, then I would take you away from here. But I can’t, but...”

Emma trailed off, letting the rest remain unspoken, but understood by them both.

When Regina had calmed and her tears long ago dried, Emma pulled back. An understandable reaction with how heated Regina’s cheeks had grown at their closeness.

Emma paced back and forth once more, and when she stopped and their eyes met again, Regina felt as if she were something truly treasured. Truly loved beyond all else.

Emma’s eyes flickered shut, the woman’s shoulders raising as she took in a long breath – steeling herself – before they fell as she exhaled long and low.

“I’m an orphan.”

Regina knew that, of course, but she felt this time more was forthcoming. And so she waited, feeling a mild level of anxiety, swirled in with a mixture of excitement and perhaps even fear.

“They abandoned me. All they left me with was, well, you know…”

“Your name and your ring.”

Emma nodded, stretching the neck of her shirt out to pull out her necklace, the ring on a simple silver chain.

“I would jump between wanting to cast it away like they did to me, discard it and forget it ever existed, and the naïve hope that they lost me. By accident.”

It was rare for Emma to speak of her past, she would much rather live in the here and now rather than what had already passed, or what was yet to come. The latter being what Regina had rapidly grown to be like herself.

What Emma was speaking off brought Regina both sorrow, and a sense of happiness that Emma was sharing with her something that she had always spoke little of.

Regina closed the distance between them, needing to be nearer the blonde and hoping she felt the same way. Her fear from before forgotten.

“I would hope that they were out there looking for me, and one day they would see this and know who I am. That I would be whisked away to – to some family that had always missed me. Hell, I might even have a brother or sister.” Emma sighed, her shoulders low, “But that never happened. And, while I knew it was just a childish wish. Something that would never happen, I still held some hint of hope deep inside, and so I kept it even when that hope was buried so deep.”

Regina pressed the fingers of her right hand to the coarse material of Emma’s sleeve, and when the woman didn’t move away, slid her hand down to hold Emma’s own.

Emma squeezed her hand and moved closer; the fact Regina’s gesture brought about such an action had joy washing over her, stronger than before.

They stayed that way for long moments, basking in the warmth of one another. Content.

Then Emma released Regina’s hand and raised her own to move her curls over her shoulder before reaching behind her neck. Regina’s nose scrunched in her confusion as she watched the blonde.

Emma unclasped her necklace and held it out, one end in each hand.

“I want you to have it.”

Regina stared blankly.

The words sunk in.

It was a bizarre feeling to feel honoured, treasured and upset all at once. The emotions conflicting inside her, fighting to overtake one another in a massive torrent of disorientation.

She shook her head softly, resting her hands over Emma’s own and pushing, just slightly, to encourage Emma to take her necklace back, “You cannot give me that Emma, it’s all you have.”

“And you are all I want… that came out creepier than I intended.”

“Nothing you could say would ‘creep me out’.” Regina guided Emma’s hands, until the chain was back around the blonde’s neck. She fumbled with the clasp as she fixed it back into place, not willing to move from her close place against the younger woman’s front.

“I mean, I thought it could bring me home, and that is why I want you to have it.”

“You…” Regina’s lips parted, the familiar pinpricks of tears forming at the corners of her eyes, “You mean you think of me as your home?”

Emma rubbed the back of her neck, looking down in her self-consciousness, “Yeah, I guess that is how you could put it.”

Regina pushed up, pressing her lips against Emma’s, her arms wrapping tightly around her neck.

“I love you,” she breathed into the kiss. And as soon as the words left her lips she found she could not stop repeating them, over and over as she kissed and kissed Emma’s smile.

“Think of it as a promise, or a commitment even,” Emma said after their small, short kisses dwindled down.

Regina pressed her cheek against Emma’s shoulder, her arms having moved around the younger woman’s middle at some point.

“That how I feel will never change, and that if one day things change in some significant way. If things move from impossible to possible, then I will be there. I will always be there even if the impossible remains.” Emma scratched at her neck, her eyes moving up as if to catch her rapidly moving thoughts.

To think Regina once though Emma had a way with words. It seemed she was more prone to tripping over her own tongue than Regina had ever truly realised.

Yet, she understood. And she would always understand, even in those moments of utter awkwardness. They had a connection like that, like a thread between them that bound them, which drew them to one another and always would.

And nothing could break that tie.

She could see that now as clear as morn.

“Then love me.”

And Emma knew what she meant. She could always see the implications behind her words, no matter how deep she hid them, or even when she did not consciously know what she wished.

In a few short minutes they were in the hayloft once again. Emma retrieved the lantern from its hook and deposited it by the side of her bedroll.

Immediately, Regina moved it to the safer place, and Emma just laughed and laughed, her eyes shining.

And then they were kissing again. And much like their first kiss, Regina found herself astride the younger woman’s legs. Bodies pressed closer than she would have ever imagined possible, let alone wanted.

She had always feared such closeness, but with Emma she found she craved it. Wanted more even when that was impossible.

Her hands gripped the back of Emma’s shoulders, fisting the material of her tunic as Emma cupped the back of her head, her other hand at her hip.

And yet she wanted to be closer, despite having already acknowledged the impossibility.

She moaned in pleasure and embarrassment as her hips jerked against Emma’s stomach, the heat between her legs growing.

The flicker of Emma’s tongue against her lower lip had her gasping in surprise, just enough to allow Emma’s tongue to slip into her mouth.

Regina fought the innate urge to pull away from the foreign sensation.

Emma would not do something that would cause her upset or harm.

She knew that.

And, as Emma’s tongue cautiously moved against her own, their joint moans were more than sign enough that the unexpected action was a pleasant one.

This time when Regina rocked against her, Emma’s other hand gripped her other hip. Pulled her tighter.

Emma groaned, pressing harder into their kiss.

Regina spared a thought to wonder if the younger woman could feel how hot and… and wet she had become through the layers of their clothing.

“God…” Emma muttered as she pulled just enough of a distance away from Regina’s lips to speak clearly.

Regina’s response was lost in a surprised moan, Emma’s lips brushing just below her ear, sliding down until Regina’s head dropped back.

She trembled as Emma kissed at the centre of her throat. Felt far more vulnerable than in anything they had done up until that point. A feeling that made no sense, Emma had touched her with hands and mouth, had seen what no one else truly had.

And yet this was what made her feel the most vulnerability?

A grumble of annoyance sounded when Emma’s path was blocked by Regina’s dress – she wasn’t sure who the sound came from, but knew it was her own hand that pulled at the ties holding her dress together. Emma’s hands soon joined hers, making the task significantly easier.

“May I?” Emma asked, her fingers moving lower to skim the edge of the material still covering her.

Regina’s response from her lips like a plea, “Yes.”

Emma coaxed her back, away from her which had Regina reaching out, unwilling to be parted. Emma followed though, stayed close. Whispered if she was certain, if she was alright – all answered hurriedly, yet truthfully, and soon Regina found herself free of her clothing, Emma kneeling over her.

Regina’s arms rose to hover nervously above her skin, wanting to cover herself, and yet wanting to allow the blonde see, for she knew no judgement would come from her. Only care.

And there was such warmth there, in Emma’s eyes and in her own chest; not like the fire that burned within, that also yearned for Emma’s touch. This was different. Unique. Something she had not felt in such a way before.

Her arms returned to her sides.

As she lay there, as exposed as they day she was born, she expected that feeling of uncertainty – of vulnerability to return – but it didn’t.

She felt safe. Protected. Cherished.

“I love you,” she repeated, fearing perhaps something she could not name, or maybe that the words would lose strength the more she said them.

But they didn’t. At least she judged so by the curve of Emma’s lips, the slight crinkling of skin besides her eyes.

She motioned for Emma to move closer, until she was near enough for her to reach comfortably.

Hands shaking, she slid them along Emma’s strong back until she reached the hem of her tunic. Her fingers hesitantly curled around the end of the material, her throat feeling dry and the heat between her thighs distracting.

“May I?” She asked, repeating Emma’s earlier words.

Emma chuckled, her smile endearing.

“You never need to ask.”

Those words threatened to leave her again, but she held them at bay, instead pulling at the tunic and helping guide it over Emma’s head. The heat between her thighs flaring at the thought of seeing what she had never seen. That only she would see from now on.

Emma’s undershirt soon followed, and in the heady moment she felt empowered, to be given such permission, such control over another.

And she had been right, far beyond embarrassment as she took in Emma’ topless form.

“What?” Emma asked, her hands jumping in what Regina recognised as an action to cover herself, but unlike Regina herself, Emma had enough control to stop the impulsive action as soon as it started.

Emma’s necklace glinted when the light caught it, resting between her collarbones. Regina’s gaze dropped down further. She had been right. The blonde’s breasts were slightly larger than her own, and her… nipples (she even whispered the word in her own mind!) were a rosy pink. But what drew Regina’s attention more than that were two patches of skin that seemed to shimmer in the light. One longer and just above Emma’s left breast, the other on the top of the right.

Regina knew a scar when she saw one – she saw her own often enough. Had another from a riding accident when she was younger, something her mother knew nothing about.

She wondered what caused them, but more than that, she wondered what other marks they both held. What stained them, physically and mentally? Who? Why?

From two walks of life, completely different, both wearing differing masks, both coping in differing ways, and yet at their core they were essentially the same.

It was startling how such revelations could hit a person quite so suddenly, like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky.

“You’re beautiful.” Regina said at long last, sitting up as she did, as if the change of position would strengthen her words.

Emma’s nervous chuckle made her smile grow even wider, “Of course you only say that once I’m almost naked.”

“I’ve been meaning to say it for a long time.”

“Yeah…” Emma sighed out, leaning forward to press her lips against Regina’s forehead, cupping and stroking her cheek with her hand, “So have I.”

They stayed that way for a few long moments; foreheads touching, Regina’s hand resting atop Emma’s on her cheek, simply looking into one another’s eyes. Seeing the reflection of their own emotions in one another, like looking into a mirror.

When Regina tilted her head, slid her lips over Emma’s, she was guided back down, her head cushioned by Emma’ other hand. And as the kiss deepened, she pressed her hands lightly against bare shoulders for the first time. Felt the shifting of bone and muscle as Emma moved her arms, balancing over her.

It was captivating.

Hesitantly, she reached out with her tongue, and Emma willing let her in, coaxing her gently with her own, drawing moans from them both.

Emma still hovered above, just shy of pressing against her fully. Regina was far too distracted by the new sensations of tongue and mouth and teeth, to put her mind to pulling Emma down as she wished. To press flush against one another, breast to breast, hips to hips. Bare skin against bare skin for the first time.

When Emma pulled back she whined, a sound she was not aware of, both their chests raising and falling rapidly. Both with mouths parted and lips swollen.

And this time she was aware of the feeling of the warm metal of Emma’s ring as the blonde dipped down, pressing a sweet kiss to her lips, to her scar, to her nose, to each cheek. It had Regina giggling like a child, a sound that soon became very un-childlike when the kisses moved back to her neck, inciting more wetness to flow from her.

She had never realised her neck could be so receptive to stimulus.

Regina tilted her head back, revealing more of her sensitive neck to Emma’s lips, sighed when Emma’s hands slid lightly over her ribs and up; tentative fingers skimming the undersides of her breasts.

She slid her hands down against Emma’s back, felt the shuddering of muscle above her. Gasped; her fingers twitching hard against Emma’s shoulder blades when the blonde’s thumbs moved, brushing over the tips of her breasts.

That too was a sensitivity she had never thought of – though she had some faint recollections from those books she had sneaked looks at.

Her toes curled as Emma shifted, accidently scrapping her nail across a nipple.

An apology was murmured into her neck, but Regina’s eyes were closed, her body overcome by the light, teasing sensation. Her need throbbed.

Her breath was leaving her lips haltingly, catching in her throat with ever little twitch of Emma’s thumbs, her fingers softly squeezing her breasts.

Emma’s mouth closed around a spot on her neck, a slight pull and she jerked away. Regina opened her eyes just enough to squint in her confusion at Emma, but the younger woman just shook her head softly and smiled, her cheeks heated with her own embarrassment , though at what Regina wasn’t in the right frame of mind to comprehend.

“Sorry, I won’t do that again.”

Regina opened her mouth to just ask what she meant, but Emma was already leaning down, breath brushing the corner of her mouth.

A short sliding of lips against her own, leaving her tilting her head up for more, and Emma resumed her previous path down. Lips against one collarbone, and then the other. Her stilled hands resumed their motions.

“Oh…” She sighed, feeling Emma’s smile against her skin.

“You like that, huh?”

With her chest heaving, and the heat below throbbing more intensely now, it took Regina longer than normal to respond, and when she did her voice was low and breathless.

“Very much so.”

With her eyes closed the sensations seemed to grow in intensity. The soft touch of Emma’s hands; the gentle pressure of her lips against her neck, her collarbone, the top of her breasts.

Her breath shuddered at that.

“May I do more?” Emma whispered against Regina’s clavicle, and when Regina looked down the blonde’s eyes were bright and dancing in the lantern light, her face pink with arousal.

Regina tried to respond, but had to take a breath to steady herself before she could, “Do whatever you want.”

No, that had come out wrong, it sounded too passive, too unwilling – which was nothing like how she was feeling.

“I mean, you needn’t ask. I am yours.”

Emma’s eyebrows curved up, her forehead crinkling and her smile so sweet it made Regina’s heart hammer even harder. But soon the blonde’s smile tilted up on one side, she gave a small chuckle as she jokingly said, “I wouldn’t say that Regina, you would be surprised by what some people do.”

“Not you though?” Though it wasn’t truly a question; a part of her was unsurprised by Emma’s reflexive fall-back to humour, as poor or confusing as it was in that particular moment in time.

“Well,” Emma began, resting her chin on the back of one of her hands. Seeing her there, watching Regina so intently, had heat coiling fiercely in her stomach, “I would say I’m average in that regard.”

“I would say you’re anything but average.” Regina immediately blushed at the words that she had unwittingly spoken aloud.

“Oh…” Emma’s smirk widened, which lessened the embarrassment, but still had Regina fidgeting below her, “You sure know how to stroke a person’s ego.”

“Only yours.”

As if embarrassed herself by Regina’s truthful statement, Emma slid one of her hands to the bottom of the brunette’s breast and dipped her head.

Regina’s head dropped back, her hand reflexively reaching to run through Emma’s hair.

Emma’s tongue flickered over the harden peak.

A strangled sound left her lips, one that had Emma freezing until Regina’s back arched. An unconscious signal that had Emma take her into her mouth – pulling and releasing her nipple with a soft, almost suckling motion.

Regina’s legs shifted; tried to move in an attempt to pull Emma closer. She didn’t realise just how open it left her, not until she shuddered, her wetness sliding against Emma’s firm stomach.

She tried to pull away, even with nowhere to go, her embarrassment too great, but Emma pressed closer, murmured something against her skin that had her twitching.

The hand in Emma’s curls tightened, she breathed in a rush, forcing herself to relax. She tried to lessen her hold in Emma’s hair, but remembered the encouragement from the last time, her fingers clasped harder for a split second. Emma’s responding groan was muffled by Regina’s breast – a positive sound.

She could feel the weight of Emma’s body where they touched, the heat of her skin. Could feel Emma’s breasts against her lower stomach, the younger woman’s nipples hard points against her; Regina’s own heels slid against the younger woman’s calves in encouragement; making her feel some mixture of joy and irritation at the roughness of the blonde’s breeches.

“Emma,” she pleaded, shifting beneath her. The motion had her sliding against Emma, shuddering as the action shot pleasure through her. She bucked again, needing more pressure, her hips jerking against Emma as the younger woman moved to her other breast, her fingers tracing over Regina’s now wet nipple.

“God!” Her hips rocked harder, the pressure both not enough and more than sufficient as she felt the beginning tingle of the waves of pleasure building within her.

Regina’s toes curled, pulling at the material of Emma’s breeches.

And before she knew it, she was using her free hand to push at Emma’s hip, her other gently encouraging her to lift her head.

Emma’s eyes, pupils blown wide, met hers – an edge of confusion beneath the desire. She gripped Emma’s belt, the buckle warmed by her own body. Too overcome she could only tug impatiently, all but whining, “Emma, please.”

Her body ached with the loss of stimulation, but she needed this far more.

The confusion melted away, replaced by a deeper reddening of her cheeks as Emma nodded. The blonde’s hands rested over Regina’s, guided her motions until leather slid free, the breeches unfastened and everything discarded in a few short moments.

When Emma settled back on her knees again, straddling Regina’s thighs, her head bowed just slightly to show her bashfulness. The princess took in the completely bared view of the stablehand with shortened breath.

Even in the weak lantern light she could see the definition of Emma’s strength, far more impressive than she had imagined – far more adept at spiking the heat within her than her conjured thoughts had. And then there was the wetness on her stomach, glistening, left like a mark from Regina herself. It had the princess wanting to press her thighs together, to lessen the flare of heat and arousal at her centre, the insistent throb and need for the woman before her.

Her eyes dropped past scars and muscle to the wiry curls between Emma’s thighs; they were only slightly darker than what lay upon her head. The urge to touch was sudden; she barely stopped her hands from reaching out to do just that.

Emma moved over her, skin sliding against soft skin. Joint gasps leaving their lips as Emma settled over her.

A sweet, short kiss and Emma was moving down. Pressing her lips against Regina’s sternum, her breasts, her stomach. Regina’s muscles twitched, her hips jumping up when Emma pressed the shortest of kisses just above the curls between her thighs.

Regina’s breath shuddered out, her eyes heavy-lidded as she watched Emma worship her body, with her motions and expressions.

She stopped just above where Regina needed her so much that it was starting to hurt.

But no, she didn’t want that. Not that day. She needed to see Emma, face to face, bodies pressed together. Something she had wanted for so long, and yet had only recently realised it.

She gripped Emma’s shoulders, coaxing the woman up until they were kissing again, lips and tongues moving against each other. Emma’s hand slid down between her thighs, teasing her folds, pressing down to circle her nub until Regina was moaning into her mouth. Hips jerking rapidly, the pleasure rushing to its peak far more quickly than it had ever done before.

Words left her lips, breathed into Emma’s ear, completely unintelligible, her body focusing on one thing only.

Between the indecipherable words and murmurs, she managed to gasp out a, “More.”

“What do you need?” Emma asked, voice soft and completely understanding. It seemed deeper than normal, which did something bizarre to Regina’s body. Had the wetness under Emma’s hand grow.

Emma’s fingers had stilled when she had spoken, and when she shifted back to look Regina in the eye it had their breasts sliding against each other’s, their nipples brushing.

Regina’s eyes squeezed shut. Not speaking until she drew in a shaky breath.

“I – I don’t know.”

“I think I do,” Emma pressed a kiss to the spot below her ear, moving her other arm to lift her weight off Regina just that little bit more, “But I need to see if I can give you that. To see if I am right.”

The crease between Regina’s eyebrows was more than enough of a signal about her confusion. Even with her not understanding, Regina nodded. Her trust in Emma far greater than any worry could ever be.

“You tell me to stop, and I will.”

“I know,” Regina said in a rush, distracted by just how hard she was throbbing beneath Emma’s unmoving hand. Had her hips rocking unconsciously against the blonde’s unmoving fingers.

Emma’s fingers slid down.

Regina’s breathing hitched. Her body froze.

A single finger swirled where the moisture was at its greatest, Regina’s hands clutched harder at the back of Emma’s shoulders, and – ever so gently – Emma pushed down. Softly, so softly.

The intrusion felt odd, not unpleasant, she could feel herself fluttering around the digit, as if trying to pull Emma deeper.

But Emma didn’t give into the pressure, instead pulling back and pushing forward so slowly that it had Regina’s feet sliding against Emma’s calves once more. A soft encouragement.

Through her arousal fogged mind, she realised what it was that Emma was doing. She was probing, as if searching for something. It was almost unnerving, but her trust overshadowed the slight apprehension.

And then the light presence was gone.

“Heh…” Emma half-chuckled, her lips pulling up cockily but eyes showing nothing but warmth and – dare Regina imagine – love. “Horse riding.”

Regina’s brow furrowed further, even as she panted for breath, “What?”

She didn’t feel foolish because of her bafflement, not with Emma smiling at her like she was.

“I’ll explain after if you want?”

And, yes, Regina concluded, she would much rather wait for her answer, what with the heat beneath her skin, the primitive drive for more clouding her mind and pushing her on. The need for closeness burning through her, the throbbing bordering on painful now.

“After.” She agreed, cupping Emma’s cheek and pulling her into an amateur attempt at a kiss.

Emma responded immediately, a happy little hum of contentment against Regina’s lips.

When they parted, Emma’s expression grew serious, “Are you sure you want that.”

“Yes,” Regina answered immediately. Emma, however, waited long after her answer, watching for something Regina did not understand.

Then she smiled, and they found themselves kissing again.

Her thumb stroked Regina’s nub, a single finger pressing into her once more.

With a sharp gasp, their kiss was broken, Regina’s head dropping back and Emma’s lips moving to her neck.

“The clit’s much more sensitive, but this can feel good too.”

Regina’s eyelashes fluttered against Emma’s shoulders, trying to understand what Emma was referring to.

She connected the pieces surprisingly quickly considering how clouded with pleasure her mind had become.

The pace was slow, careful and drawn-out, but oh so satisfying at the same time. Regina rocking against her hand, her movements speeding up until she matched Emma’s pace.

Regina’s fingers dug in hard against Emma’s shoulders, though the blonde did not seem to mind. The princess’ eyes squeezed shut as she shuddered beneath Emma, pushing faster and more demandingly against her hand with her hips now. Pulling against Emma’s finger, willing it deeper as her walls quivered around it and the blonde’s thumb slipped circles around that bundle of nerves that her thighs shaking.

The throbbing built and built, her toes curling.

 She peaked embarrassingly quickly.

Emma held her as she shook with the aftermath, as she panted against the blonde’s skin where her head was pushed against her neck. As she felt the rocketing feeling of pleasure flooding her system. Emma pressed kisses to the top of her head, to her forehead, murmuring sweet words to her – though Regina was beyond understanding with echoes of pleasure still shooting through her body.

When her breathing evened, Emma pushed herself up, just enough to put a minimal distance between them.

Emma’s smile was all encompassing, the lantern light catching her hair making it appear golden, and highlighting the flush on her cheeks that likely mirrored Regina’s own.

And it didn’t seem fair.

That Emma had done what she had, so many times over, and never asked for anything in return. Regina demanded what she wanted, and Emma gave it. But she never offered the same chance to Emma.

Pure selfishness.

Regina sucked her bottom lip, an action that had Emma’s breath leave her in an audible whoosh, and inched her right hand off Emma’s shoulder. And, before her nerve could fail her, moved it down in a rush, pressing past wiry hair to a wetness that had Emma and herself gasping.

“Fuck –

Emma’s arms gave way but she had enough sense left to push herself so she collapsed besides Regina rather than on her.

Regina needed to hear that again. Crude language had never affected her like that before. Had disgusted her even. But here, with Emma, it had her shuddering, had her need Emma’s touch all over again.

She rolled to her side, fluttering kisses over the blonde’s flushed face, a soft contact that Emma hungrily returned as soon as their lips were near.

They shifted, Emma guiding it and she moving instinctively until it was Emma’s back pressed to the bedroll and Regina atop her, too distracted to feel embarrassed by how she was straddling the other’s waist. To feel the press of her weight atop another, to see how Emma’s and her own chests rose and fell rapidly in their desire.

Her hands hovered uncertainly; naturally unsure whether to touch or not, even when logically she knew Emma would let her do whatever she wished – however she wished.

For the first time she realised that there was still a lingering wetness on her finger, and that was from just skimming over Emma’s heat.

“You’re so wet,” the words left her lips before she could catch them, her face flaring up with a heat that had nothing to with arousal, “That is – I mean…”

“It’s because of you.” Emma smoothed a hand through Regina’s hair, the other cupping her cheek, “So don’t be embarrassed to say that. To say anything.”

Emma slipped her hands down Regina’s arms, circling her fingers gently around her wrists, pulling slightly in encouragement. Letting Regina know it was alright.

She rested her hands against Emma’s sides, feeling unsure despite the reassurance to do as Emma had. That she was allowed to do as she wished.

But, after a moment, she had enough confidence to slide her hands over Emma’s stomach, to explore the tantalising skin on offer to her.

Emma’s stomach was firmer than her own, more solid somehow. Certainly more defined to the eye. And she was transfixed, touching and caressing, her hands gliding over supple skin, curving around Emma’s sides and back, Emma squirmed beneath her, again and again until she could no longer bare it, laughing at Regina’s touch.

It only took a moment before Regina’s upset that Emma was mocking her melted away into realisation of the true reason for Emma’s amusement.

“You’re ticklish?”

Emma’s answer was snapped out far too quickly, her face pulled with a challenge into a poor attempt at stoicism, “No.”

Regina lightly gripped Emma’s sides again, around the area where she had moments ago, and sure enough, Emma snorted, her heels kicking against the bedroll.

“You are…” Regina’s eyes lit up with a mischief that had never graced her face, not even in her youngest days.

“No, I really am not – Stop it!” Regina moved her fingers again, seeking out the spots that resulted in the loudest and strongest reaction.

“Not until you admit it.” And she was just determined enough, caught up in a level of sudden excitement far removed from arousal, to do just that.

Emma writhed beneath her batting at her hands with no true force, giving Regina a sense of power she had never felt before. It was almost addictive.

It didn’t take long for the tables to turn, Emma using her considerably greater level of strength to flip them, and they soon found themselves caught up in another deep kiss. Tongues brushing and moans muffled against each other’s lips and mouths. Emma’s hair tickling her skin.

Emma’s hands slid down her sides, her own shakily gliding down to explore what she had only barely grazed before.

Emma grunted into her mouth, hips rocking forward as Regina explored her folds, fingers slipping between and marvelling at the effect she had on the blonde. At the silky feel of hot, wet skin. Emma’s own hands fisted the material besides Regina head, knuckles flashing white.

Emma pressed her face against her neck, lips fluttering over the sensitive skin as Regina grew braver, fingers sliding up and down, but still not pressing where she was most sensitive. Emma’s hips jerked against her own, the movement growing faster when Regina’s fingers skimmed higher.

But then Emma was moving back, away from her, growling out in a huskier voice, “Together.”

Regina blinked, not understanding, but willing to experience whatever new discovery Emma had to show her.

Emma nudged her legs, encouraging her to widen the space between them, “If you don’t like it, or it isn’t enough, we can do something else.”

“There’s a lot I don’t know, isn’t there?”

Emma’s lips quirked into a cocky, but not unkind, smirk, “There’s a lot for you to learn if you want, and even more for us to discover together.”

Regina’s breath caught, not because Emma was shifting them into position, nor because of how exposed she was, but because of the promise – or rather the suggestion – that this, what was between them, would continue. That Emma wanted it for both of them. It made her heart soar and stomach flutter with something that was separate from arousal.

She nodded eagerly, nipping at her bottom lip; Emma’s eyes darkened further at that, her pupils blown wide and face flushed. She reached forward, urging Emma to return to her, needing the closeness. And Emma did that, moving forward and – well there was no other way to refer to it other than – mounted her, pressing their wetness together.

“Oh!”  Regina’s breath hitched, not just from the new sensation, but from just how intimately she could feel Emma’s arousal against her own.

Emma’s eyes squeezed shut for a moment as she drew in a sharp breath, Regina trembling beneath her. Wet fingers reaching for Emma’s arm.

“Shit…” Emma cursed, and Regina whimpered at the word.

She shifted, and this time Regina’s cry couldn’t be held back, their nubs – no, clits, wasn’t that what Emma had called it? – sliding against one another briefly, sending sparks of pleasure shooting through her.

Emma was resting her weight on her arms, one either side of Regina, close enough that Regina could comfortably circle her hands around Emma’s forearms, wanting her closer but knowing that might not be possible.

“Okay?” Emma managed to get out through gritted teeth, her arms visibly shaking not from strain, but with the effort of holding still.

Regina nodded rapidly, taking in the way the position made Emma’s strength even more pronounced. Regina ran one hand up to rest against Emma’s defined bicep, squeezing lightly and marvelling at the firm muscle.

Emma watched her actions, a smile settled on her face.

In a moment of confidence, Regina tightened her grip on Emma’s arms and rocked her hips up.

The effect was immediate, arousal rocketing through her form and Emma’s as the blonde’s head dropped forward, her lips parting as she drew in a shaky breath.

Emma rolled her hips once, paused, then began a slow and steady movement.

Throaty, verging on pleading, sounds escaped Regina’s lips like mewls. The uncontrollable sounds urging Emma on as she slid faster against her. Regina tried her best to rock back, but was too overcome with the sensation, could already feel the tightening in lower stomach. The building of heat searing in her.

Emma was audibly trying to hold back her groans of pleasure, Regina even in her arousal fogged mind could tell Emma was struggling to stay in ‘control’, not for herself, but for Regina.

The barely muffled sounds forcing their way past Emma’s lips were just as stimulating as the glide of their lower lips slipping against one another, and the occasional brush of their clits when the position was just right.

Regina clutched harder at Emma’s arms as the pace increased, nails digging in as sweat visibly glistened on Emma’s forehead as she held herself up, riding her.

Emma folded forward, somehow keeping their lower halves pressing together. She rested on her forearms and pressed her lips against Regina’s, though soon their need to vocalise prevented that, instead leaving them pressing brief kisses to whatever skin was nearest to their lips.

Regina slid her hands up, pressing against the back of Emma’s shoulders, pushing her closer as their hips increased their fevered movements.

Now with each press and slide of them against one another, their breasts grazed against each other, occasionally their hard nipples brushed, and Regina was sobbing, completely over sensitised and barely holding back on a need to beg. The need to peak and feel Emma do the same against her erasing any other thoughts – any other urges – in her mind.

“Oh God, Emma!”

Emma circled her hips, their clits pressing firmly at the right moment, leaving Regina trembling, her lips parted as her breath stilled for a split second.

The sensations reached a crescendo, Emma never ceasing her movements even as her arms shook.

Regina’s nails dug into Emma’s shoulders, her head dropping back as she came with a strangled cry, hips jerking uncontrollably against Emma’s.

The blonde’s pace somehow grew faster, her rocking harder, the press heavier and becoming infrequent as her earlier muffled sounds fell free.

“Fuck!”

The cords in Emma’s neck stood out stark as she lifted her head, eyes closed and brow furrowed. Then her back was arching up, her head dropping down to rest on Regina’s shoulder, as the slide of Emma against her reached its culmination.

The curse, coupled with the uncontrollable, demanding jerks of Emma’s hips left Regina feeling the echo of pleasure, like a far less intense peak but no less satisfying , flowing through her.

Emma barely avoided collapsing, forehead pressed into the bedroll beside Regina’s head as they both panted for breath. Their limbs falling from their previous almost awkward position to rest normally.

They stayed that way, Regina’s arms wrapped around Emma, their bodies pressed close as their ragged breathing slowed and softened.

Regina trailed her fingers along Emma’s back, pausing to soothe the tops of the blonde’s shoulder blades where her nails had bit in. Emma nuzzled her neck, pressing soft kisses against her sensitive skin, but this time as a sign of deep affection rather than to incite further arousal. Not that Regina felt she was capable of anymore of that, not that night at least.

She fought back a small yawn, her body feeling almost weightless.

“My back is going to kill me in the morning,” Emma groaned weakly against her neck, her lips pulled up into a smile, “It was worth it though, always will be.”

Regina hummed her answer, coherent speech feeling like a faraway ideal.

Emma’s arms were comfortingly tight around her, her own much the same as her fingers continued to stroke Emma’s slightly damp back – pausing only to push some curls of hair from where they were plastered to the skin near Emma’s eyes.

Her heart yearned achingly.

What she would give to be able to stay like this forever.

She sighed inaudibly, her eyes sliding shut as she felt the edge of exhaustion wash over them both.

Regina wet her lips in an action that was more often seen on Emma’s own face, her throat bordering on being painfully dry.

“We will find a way.” Her voice was low when she spoke, husky almost but not out of desire, but rather from extended use.

“Hmm?” Emma hummed against her neck, lifting her head to meet Regina’s eyes. The green standing out stark against the blue.

Regina ran the fingers of her hand along the scar above Emma’s left breast, tracing the imperfection lovingly, “To be together, we will find a way.”

She knew, despite the conflicting knowledge in her head, that what they had was special. And when someone found what they had, when they had a connection as strong as this, that no one could take it away. It was capable of doing the impossible; it was stronger than any force. And no one could take that from them.

Not love.

“Yeah…” Emma caught her hand, lifting it from her chest to press her lips against Regina’s fingertips, before adding, “I think we will.”

And Regina knew they would, tears building up in the corners of her eyes that were almost immediately taken away by brushes of Emma’s lips.

They dried quickly, and Emma – after one last chaste kiss – sat back on her heels, moving her hair over her shoulders and reaching behind her neck.

Regina’s brow furrowed for the few seconds it took her to realise what Emma was doing.

Regina lifted her head, tried her best to be stern, “No, Emma.”

But the blonde just smiled, bringing her necklace forward, the warm chain sliding against Regina’s neck.

“Emma I said I wouldn’t take it from you.” Regina tried to talk sense into the blonde, but it had little effect, “It’s all you have.”

Emma simply smiled affectionately, fixing the clasp of the chain around Regina’s neck and lifting herself up high with one arm, “Humour me.”

And Regina did, feeling the pleasant weight of the ring below her collarbone, feeling another type of warmth in her chest at the look of pure adoration – of pure happiness – on Emma’s face. One she mirrored as they remained close, Emma above her, a closeness that no other could be allowed.

Emma dipped lower, until their faces were separated only by a breath.

“Just humour me,” Emma murmured against her lips, pressing down to share the sweetest of kisses.

Chapter Text

Regina pressed her fingers just below her collarbone, feeling the solid shape there – it brought her a sense of happiness and warmth she could not describe. She had been able to bring herself to take the ring off that night, nor any following day after. She doubted she would ever feel able to, nor ever truly want to.

It was odd, that sense of light happiness mingled with a sense of heavy guilt. Emma had little, practically nothing, and she – who had everything, though she wanted little of it – had taken it from her. Had done so intending to return it, but in the end had kept it.

But had that not been what Emma had wanted? Of course, but that didn’t lessen the remorse she felt. And so she, as with most things, pushed it to the back of her mind and tried to not dwell upon it.

It was a challenge, but one she hoped she could manage. Besides, the joy it brought did almost outweigh that guilt.

Perhaps rather foolishly, she would often find herself fiddling with the ring come night, especially on the more difficult days. The way the silver caught the light, the warmth it always seemed to hold (from her she knew, but she rather liked to pretend it was captured there from its true owner) brought her a sense of comfort. It helped her so much, and yet she was unsure just why.

And on occasions she would simply look at her reflection, admire the way the chain hung around her neck and the ring rested against her skin. Basking in the feelings the sight of it there brought her. She could not explain it, but knew it was deep and powerful and far beyond anything else she had ever felt. What else could it be but love? True love, as her father always told her, was magic, or a type of it. A good unbelievable type that was nothing like the evil of all other magic. It could do the impossible, and was the greatest thing imaginable. Far beyond anything else.

And she had found it.

Now she was certain of it.

But that didn’t mean she could be open about it, that she could be so apparent in her happiness; it had to be a secret. Something between her and Emma, which somehow made it feel both even more special and also so much harder. She wanted to share her happiness, but really who else could she do so with, save Rocinante?

Secrets were bad, she had been taught that from a young age. They could only cause upset and trouble and pain. But she saw now that was not true, or rather; it was not always true. There were exceptions, as with most things it would seem.

How could it be bad and terrible when it brought such joy? And as long as it did not hurt anyone – as long as it was not a sinister secret – how could that be immoral or harmful in any way?

The last few weeks had been difficult, however, when she had to remain the way she once was when all she wanted to do was pull Emma close. To hold her hand, to hug, to have natural and meaningful conversation; to simply sit together and enjoy each other’s company, free from anxiety over what others might do if they were to find out – to see what they were doing and disapprove of it.

But, despite all this, they were happy – she was sure of that. Happy to share what little they could; small, hidden kisses here and there, rushed embraces on occasions – something Regina always initiated, as Emma would protest that she deserved something more ‘whole’, more ‘complete’; though said objections soon dwindled down as Emma pressed closer with a bright smile.

Her face heated with just the memory of the week prior, where she had been unable to contain herself and pulled Emma to an unused stall at the back of the stable. With birds singing and the scent of hay strong in her nose, she had came hard, with Emma’s fingers thrusting demandingly and her hand clamped over her mouth.

Regina had never felt so joyful. So carefree and free-spirited and weightless. 

And the change must have been noticeable, for she caught her father gazing at her with what she thought were questions behind his eyes – or perhaps she was seeing things, her apprehension and worry growing quite suddenly. But her father, whether he suspected something or not, was not what made her feel the anxious knot of fear and dread in her chest. The one that appeared so unexpectedly and grew with each passing day.

No, the cause of that was knowing that if her father had suspicions about the shift in her mood, then her mother would no doubt have some as well.

No – her mother would not suspect, she would know. She had a keener eye than her father, little happened without her noticing, in fact Regina was sure her mother knew nearly everything – at least it had always seemed that way. Over the years Regina was sure that only a few things had slid past her mother; her riding accident and the resulting scar, the books she snuck from the library, her friendship and meetings with Emma. Barely a handful of unnoticed occurrences.

But so far, her mother seemed unaware, or she had chosen to do nothing yet nor approach her daughter with her possible suspicions. And perhaps as Regina had thought before, the looks she saw in her father’s eyes where merely caused by her imagination. Perhaps they were not real at all, perhaps they were nothing but a result of the anxiety and fear within her – the worry that they would be caught and wrenched apart. She did her best to dismiss what might not be real as best she could, so they could continue happily with their secret knowing they were safe for now. That it was likely caused by her restless, uneasy mind.

Until that day her mother had interrupted her riding session.

As her mother had informed her that they needed to discuss something of the upmost importance, Regina’s hands had curled tight on Rocinante’s reins until they were white. Her heart pumping fast beneath her breast.

Her stomach had plummeted, the knot in her chest growing and twisting around her heart and lungs, compressing what valiantly worked to keep her moving and functioning. Her mind spinning and the world seeming to lose colour around the edges. She had sucked in breaths as she dismounted, hiding the sight from her mother who had grown rapidly impatient. She had stroked Rocinante’s muzzle, bid him goodbye and kept her eyes downcast as she turned.

Her mother’s back had been to her, clearly demanding that Regina follow. Regina had shared a quick look with Emma who had rushed over the courtyard, confused when Regina had turned Rocinante around mere moments after heading towards the exercise field. The sympathy, and perhaps even dread, in Emma’s eyes had hurt, and when they darted to her mother, Regina could clearly see the uncharacteristic tilt to Emma’s lips, the narrowing of her eyes.

But there was nothing that could be done.

Cora turned back, scolding her for not following immediately, and Regina – once doing just that – glanced back to see Emma guiding Rocinante away, her shoulders high with tension. And Regina’s chest had ached for being parted before they should have that day – from both of them – and her head hurt with the force of her fear, terrified of what might be about to occur.

And that is how she found herself where she was now; sitting in one of the many drawing rooms of the castle, her mother standing before her and her father sitting nervously nearby.

Regina shifted in her seat, her mind whirling.

Her mother shot her a sharp look; Regina’s head dropped, her chest tightening even further until breathing was hard.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled quietly into her chest. Her mother simply nodded, her mind clearly on other matters.

Time stretched on, the only sounds in the lavishly decorated room the anxious clearing of her father’s throat and the shuffle of his weight in his chair.

Her mother’s eyes remained hard on her, but seemed unfocused in their intensity, further strengthening Regina’s belief that she was thinking deeply.

It made her throat dry, her heart hammering.

And then Cora smiled.

And somehow that both lifted Regina’s heart, and gripped it in a painfully tight grasp.

“I have something very important to tell you, darling.”

Regina’s gaze wavered, shot to her father whose head was bowed, and fell back to her mother who stood proud and strong.

She did her best not to squirm in her overly plush seat, longing now for the hard wooden floor of the hayloft, where all her worries were easy to vanquish – at least for a short time.

“Your marriage has been arranged.”

No.

No.

She knew it was coming, but no! It couldn’t, she couldn’t!

Her eyes stung, her breathing shallow as her head dropped.

So soon. Too soon. She thought she might convince her mother…

She thought… true love was the most powerful force. Surely if her mother knew that was what she and Emma had she would let them be together, happily. She would understand, surely?

She trembled as her mother’s words shot through her mind, rebounding inside her head as her chest heaved, each draw of air painful.

But no – her mother wasn’t like that. She wouldn’t accept them.

That was why it was a secret.

That was why it had to be.

But maybe her father would listen. He would wouldn’t he?!

“Regina!” Her mother snapped, “You will behave as a lady ought.”

“Sorry, mama,” Regina breathed out in a rush, her eyes wide as she forced them to remain on her mother’s face. Forced herself to sit straight and proper, her shaking hands grasped tightly in her lap to hide their uncontrollable movements.

Cora’s eyes were narrowed, but her smile remained. Her mother smiled at her so little…

Her hands clasped together tighter, her head rising just a little higher as a flicker of youthful joy caught in her chest.

Her mother loved her after all, didn’t she? Her mother wanted what was best because she loved her. Her father had explained that so often.

Her mother did not mean to intend her any pain.

She just wanted what was best.

Because she loved her.

“Dear, I think –

“Henry.” Cora frowned at him, and he lowered his head again, his mouth closing and whatever it was he was going to say lost in a slow exhale.

The flicker in Regina’s chest was extinguished, the urge to hug her father difficult to fight. He looked so helpless, and she didn’t understand. She had to look away before the ache in her chest ate away at her.

Her mother’s gaze remained on her father for a few long moments, before they returned to her.

“He is Prince Conway. First cousin of King George, and future King.”

Regina’s lips parted in her confusion, but she soon covered up the slip, “Why would he be King?” She asked, her bafflement showing in her words if not on her face; the title of King in her own family went to her oldest Uncle and then his children, not her other Uncles nor any of her other cousins.

“The King’s wife cannot produce an heir, and he is only growing older. So, unless a miracle were to occur, when he dies the title will go to The Prince.”

Regina wasn’t listening, not when the reality of what was happening was sinking in at long last.

She knew nothing of the man, had never heard of him or in truth many of the Royals outside their own region. But this was not what she wanted; this had never been what she wanted. She couldn’t just sit there – she couldn’t just –

“But I don’t want this,” her voice was high, her hands fists in her lap.

“He is older than her by rather a bit, I think –

“You do not think Henry. There is no one else suitable.” Her father’s form grew hunched as his words died once more on his tongue.

She was so young herself, to be with a man older than her by so much – for it must be a lot for her father to say so was… while she was aware that there were often age differences she had always assumed a far smaller gap when she had accepted what was to be – or tolerated the knowledge believing it to be far into the future. What had to be.

But it didn’t have to be now, did it? She had found what many did not. She couldn’t lose that. Someone had to listen.

“I don’t want this,” she repeated when her mother’s narrowed eyes snapped back to her.

“You will thank me in the future,” Cora replied, unaffected by the distress in her daughter’s voice, “When you are Queen.”

Regina couldn’t control herself, her nails biting into the delicate skin of her palms as she looked up at her mother, “I don’t want to be Queen!”

Cora’s smile fell, her lips pressed into a thin line. Regina recognised the signs, knew what that expression could mean, but she couldn’t stop herself. Couldn’t stop her hands from digging into the plush arms of the chair as she pushed herself to her feet, her eyes wide as she pleaded.

“I want my own life. I want to be able to choose!” She stressed, her hands moving with her words and desire to be heard for once in her life. Her mother needed to listen! If she really loved her then she had to see what she thought was best was wrong for Regina. She had to.

“That is not how things work.”

“But they can, Emma has talked of people she knows who choose who they want to be with. Who can choose.”

“The stable girl?” Her mother’s lips twisted down as her anger built and Regina realised, with icy dread, her slip.

“Why can others choose and I cannot?” Her voice was frantic, trying her best to distract her mother from her mention of Emma, “Why am I different?”

“They are lesser. Nothing more than animals, we are royalty, we are better.” Her mother’s expression softened as she moved closer, cupping Regina’s cheek and wiping away the tears rolling down her face, “Isn’t that right Henry?”

Her father’s head jerked in his surprised, his eyes wide on her mother as he gave a soft, reluctant nod.

“We want what is best for you, that is all. You might not see it now, but you will.” Regina’s eyes screwed shut, her form still shaking as she was pulled into her mother’s arms, “You are special Regina, destined for something far greater. This is the first step, that is all.”

Cora swayed her gently in the hug, shushing Regina as she sobbed. Her voice cracked painfully as she tried to speak to her mother, but soon she gave up on words.

Her mother must be right; maybe she couldn’t see that this was the best for her – her head hurt, she didn’t know what she thought or felt anymore. It was too much; her mind couldn’t sort through it all. Confounding thoughts clashing violently.

But she did know that they wanted what was best for her.

She knew that.

But it still hurt.

It hurt so much.

“Shush darling,” her mother cooed gently, “I love you, you know that.”

Regina’s breath caught sharply in her throat at the words she longed to hear.

“This is for your benefit, you know that.”

Regina nodded against her mother’s shoulder, her arms wrapped tight around Cora’s body, her hands clutching desperately at the material of her dress. Needing this contact, craving it.

She did want what was best.

It was not an intentional move to hurt her, her mother didn’t even know.

She just wanted what was best.

That didn’t make it hurt any less.

That didn’t free her from the pain as she sobbed and choked on tears of distress.

It alleviated nothing. And yet she craved this so very much.

----

“Emma!”

The stablehand jumped, caught herself and spun around, her mouth open in surprise.

Regina dashed forward, distantly hearing the stable doors slam shut behind her, and flung her arms around Emma, pulling her tight to her.

“Regina?” Emma squeaked, her arms automatically rising to wrap around Regina’s waist as the brunette pressed her face into the side of Emma’s neck, dampness noticeable against her skin.

The Princess’ shoulders shook as she closed her eyes, tried to drown herself in the familiar welcoming scent that clung to Emma’s skin. The wonderful feeling of her warm body against her own.

“Regina?” Emma asked again, lifting a hand to rub Regina’s back soothingly, her surprise vanishing almost instantly – concern taking its place.

But Regina couldn’t answer. Her throat was tight, her lungs were struggling to draw in breath and her heart constricted painfully in her chest. She buried her head further, praying the comfort from Emma would help ease the pain and rushing thoughts in her head, to calm her nerves and free her of it all. Her fingers pulled hard at the material of Emma’s shirt, trying to hold her closer – let herself be consumed by the moment, let herself forget everything – though, for once, it was impossible.

“Regina, talk to me. Please.” The worry heavy in Emma’s words was enough to unstick Regina’s tongue, to talk though her words caught in her throat and her body still shook with barely contained sobs.

“They found him.”

She could feel the confusion in the tensing of Emma’s shoulders, could detect every minute movement as Emma turned briefly to gaze at Rocinante’s stall.

“What…” Emma began, and Regina could already tell she had a strong suspicion what the true answer would be, “What do you mean?”

Regina lifted her head from the support of Emma’s strong shoulder, her eyes swimming with emotion and tears as they met Emma’s wide, fearful eyes.

“Who I am to marry.”

Emma looked away.

The blonde’s gaze dropped to the floor beside her feet, her lips parted and forehead creased.

“Emma!” Regina pleaded desperately, releasing her grip on Emma’s body to instead cup her face with both hands, to turn her to face her.

She saw the bobbing of the other’s throat as she struggled to swallow, watched the play of emotions she could not name across her face.

“Emma.” She repeated, feeling the blonde tighten her grip around her before lifting her head to meet her eyes again.

And there were tears; tiny, barely noticeable tears building in the corners of her eyes, threatening to flow free even as Emma visibly fought them, fought to put forth a façade of strength.

“Emma, please.” Regina stroked her thumbs over Emma’s cheekbones, felt the hot spark of anger in the others warming cheeks, “We knew – I knew – I –

“You came here for comfort…” Emma’s voice was gravelly, different from the many ways Regina had heard it before, “And yet you are the one comforting me.”

Emma’s shoulders shook as she gave a near silent, humourless laugh, before cupping Regina’s hand with her own – her smile sad as she guided Regina’s hands away from her face, and pulled her arms around her until they were somehow in an embrace that was more consuming than before.

Both of them trembled.

Emotions too strong to name, yet expected all the same, swirling through their minds and pulling tight at their hearts.

They stayed that way for long, long moments. Even with the threat of being found – for Regina in her desperation had not been as careful as she normally was – they remained that way. Trying to comfort one another even when they, themselves, where struggling against their own demons and dread.

And when Regina, at long last, spoke again, it was a weak and emotionless explanation – one she had repeated to herself again and again, to the point it was ingrained in her mind if not in her heart, “My mother wants what is best for me.”

“But it’s not what you want.”

“But it is what is best.” Regina responded, trying her best to ignore the hint of a question in Emma’s too true statement. Trying to ignore the way it hit right where it should have, “Even if unwanted.”

Regina, still in her riding boots, was smaller than Emma, and so it was with ease that the blonde kissed the top of her head, cradling her closer. Regina’s fingers twitched against the rough material of Emma’s shirt, her eyes closing as she nestled against Emma’s shoulder once again.

“If I could find a way to give you the freedom you desire, I would do it.” Emma’s breath brushed against her ear as she spoke, tickled at her sensitive skin with each word, “With no hesitation.”

Regina fought back the hitched sob in her throat, pressed her face closer into Emma’s neck as she tried her best to respond, her voice leaving her words weak and near whispered, “Emma…”

“My words are the truth, Regina.” Strength had returned to Emma’s voice, and when Regina pulled back just enough to look in her eyes, the determination present on her face stole Regina’s breath away. The honesty, the conviction, the barely concealed helplessness hidden in the captivating deep depths pulled at her very soul.

“And I would take you with me – or rather, ask you to come with me,” Regina replied truthfully, her voice strained with the need for it. The want of it. The need for the impossible to come to fruition even though she knew it was a futile hope.

“You wouldn’t need to.” Emma’s hand slid up Regina’s side until she was cupping her cheek, she leant down and pressed a kiss to the other, “I would be there.”

Pinpricks of tears formed in Regina’s eyes – keeping them open seemed to cause the ache in them to grow – her fingers dug in harder against Emma’s back.

Emma’s hand moved to the back of her head, encouraging her to press her head to Emma’s shoulder once more. She relented immediately, seeking the comfort only Emma could give her.

The steady, slightly fast, thrum of Emma’s heart was detectable, and she found an odd solace in it. Regina shifted position, even though it added strain to her neck, to instead rest her ear over Emma’s chest, to where she could hear the sound the loudest, her eyes sliding shut as she willed herself to calm.

With the hand that was not wrapped around Regina, Emma ran her fingers through the waves of Regina’s loose hair, the other tracing soothing patterns along her back.

“We…” Emma began after a time, the muscles in her arms twitching as she worked her throat, “…we can run, as you suggested.”

It was a shock to hear Emma say that, especially after their last discussion of it.

For her to suggest it now…

Oh –

How she wished that was possible.

It was foolish of her to say that the first time. Emma had deterred her then, and now she had thought on it so deeply, Emma had been correct to do so – if for somewhat different reasons.

“There’s no escape from magic.”

With a long exhale, Emma’s chest rose and fell beneath Regina’s ear. She held on tighter.

“I promise you; someday we will find a way to be together.”

Regina pulled back, her eyes roving over Emma’s sombre features as she tried her best to hold back her tears.

“I swear.”

And there was that determination, that honesty that seemed so ingrained in Emma’s form; then they were kissing, desperately, trying to prove just how much they meant to one another in a way that no longer required the words they were incapable of forming in their sorrow.

She just wished it could be true.

But why couldn’t it?

If love could do the impossible, then what was to say they could not find a way?

It might take time, but they could do it. They would do it, somehow.

But until then…

Who knew how long it could take?

Who knew what she would have to endure?

But she could do something, until they could run from it all. Give something to the one who deserved it.

For who knew if they would be together after all?

Perhaps their love, if they were separated, would not be strong enough to do the impossible.

God, she hoped that would not be the case.

“I wish there was a way, for you to…” Regina bit at her bottom lip, heat flaring in her cheeks as she realised what words were trying to escape her mouth. She tried to hold the rest back, but the confused tilt of Emma’s head, the small crease formed between her brows was her undoing. “To… to have me, as a man has his wife.”

“To marry?” Emma asked, her momentary shock giving way to a soft smile, as Regina unconsciously freed a hand from their embrace to press her fingers against the ring hidden beneath her layers of clothes, “That is why I gave you it, my ring, as a promise.”

It was Emma’s turn for her face to pinken in a far more noticeable way than Regina’s own, her tongue darting out to wet her bottom lip.

“If you wanted that.”

Oh… she hadn’t realised… but now she had, her breath caught and her heart felt fit to burst.

“I mean, I should have done it properly, but…”

Emma trailed off, her eyes jumping to the stable rafters and her face seeming to glow with the force of her blush.

To marry. To be bound to someone out of choice and love, not out of a strive for power or tradition.

To be with Emma as such – oh that would be… she couldn’t find the words, but her smile grew wide enough to strain the muscles in her cheeks, her heart hammering with such strength, though this time its cause was not fear.

Emma’s expression was uncertain when she lowered her head, meeting Regina’s eyes again.

“Of course I do Emma, if we could.” Regina dipped her head, looking up at Emma from beneath her lashes in her embarrassment. She took a breath and finally forced the words she wished to say from her mouth, “And… I wish we could lay together as such.”

Emma’s eyebrows shot up, her lips parted as she absorbed the meaning behind Regina’s words. Emma’s arms tightened around her, as Regina dropped her gaze to the straw strewn floor.

She could feel the tension in Emma’s body, though it was barely noticeable beneath her hands.

It felt an age before she answered.

“There are ways,” Emma said carefully, the words spoken gingerly as she resumed rubbing Regina’s back comfortingly.

“I want it,” Regina said before she could stop herself. And it was true, she wanted it, needed it, for it would help her. It would help so much. Who truly knew how much time they had left together? If they could break away before she was swept to somewhere else? Where she would never see Emma again.

And then they may never be able to be together.

The impossible not able to be conquered.

Their time short, more likely than not, and their chance to be together uncertain.

Her throat tightened painfully at that thought.

Emma had been her only friend.

And now that had become something else, something so very precious that she daren’t dream of losing it.

And she knew, or rather hoped, that Emma felt the same way as her.

“Regina, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do.” Emma soothed the words by cupping Regina’s chin with one hand, encouraging her to meet her eyes once more, “You are distressed, we both – you – I mean to say –

Regina giggled in a short burst of sound, her smile wavering in the challenge to not fall apart again, “Tongue tied?”

Emma nodded, her grin small and earnest.

The short moment of carefreeness fell away, leaving Regina peering up at Emma pleadingly.

“I meant what I said Emma.”

“I know you do, you always do.” Emma sighed, though it was not in aggravation at Regina, more than likely it was directed at the situation itself, “But why?”

The answer came quickly, as if it had been waiting on the tip of her tongue since she conceived the idea in a panicked, desperate moment.

“So if there is not time for us, and I have to do what I must, I can picture you, in your entirety. To help ease that of which I have no choice.” Regina swallowed, her gaze wavering slightly but remaining steady on Emma’s own, willing her to understand – no not understand, she already knew that, but rather accept what it was that Regina needed. That Regina knew they both needed.

But there was more than that.

“I want it to be you, always you. No one else, ever. You deserve me, everything that is me. I want you to have it Emma. I want you to have everything that is me. Everything that I can give you.” She trailed the tips of her fingers lightly over Emma’s cheekbone, brushed her thumb over the corner of her soft lips, “I don’t know when I will be leaving.”

Emma’s lips pressed into a tight line, her eyes wide and full of emotion, “I understand. And I want you to know the same is true of me, but even so...” Emma’s head tilted again, her brow curving up with her conflicting emotions, “Regina, are you –

“Please Emma, I need this.” She slid her other hand from around Emma’s back, cupping her face with both now and caressing her smooth skin.

Emma wet her lips, remaining in deep thought for a few moments before finally nodding. She grasped Regina’s hands and guiding them down until she was holding them tightly in her own between them.

“You know I will do anything for you.”

Regina squeezed her hands, felt fear once again curling around her heart. Fear for why Emma would do this – even when she knew the truth the fear would always remain, “Only if you want this too Emma.”

“Of course I do, I said I wanted to – you know, the marriage thing, and – ” Emma shook her head, spluttered as she tried to catch her thoughts and control her tongue. She ran her thumbs over Regina’s knuckles, her smile bright when she calmed, “What I mean is; you deserve to make your own choices.”

And suddenly, in a flash that struck her like a bolt, Regina understood Emma’s behaviour throughout all of their encounters.

The constant questions; of whether she was sure, whether she wanted this, whether what she was doing was alright.

The constant concern and care.

Emma hadn’t wished to ‘force’ her into something, she didn’t want to influence what Regina decided. She wanted Regina to have her own choices, to have her own free will unaffected by others.

It was so clear now.

It made Regina’s lip tremble as she tilted her chin up, pressing her lips against Emma’s own in a short slide of mouths and emotion.

“I can get what we need; a few days at most,” Emma murmured against her lips. Regina smiled into the kiss, gripping Emma’s hands harder as they threaded their fingers together. Pulled closer. Finding that comfort they could only get from one another.

“I love you.”

Emma’s smile was bright in the waning light of the lantern, her eyes shining.

“And I you.”

Chapter Text

It had been difficult to sneak away. It wasn’t that it was more of a challenge physically to do so, but rather a greater challenge mentally. Her mother’s presence was pressing down heavier upon her now her ‘preparations’ were being intensified. She knew it all, but the repetitions were necessary in her mother’s eyes. Too tight dresses paired with uncomfortable measurements, and scoldings for not standing straight enough, for wasting time wanting to ride when she finally had a marriage to prepare for – that she should have been ready for so long ago, as all ‘proper’ girls younger than her had been, like all her age had always been and were now long ago wed. As she would be soon.

She had known it was coming. She had told Emma as much on many occasions, had even shared with her the deep concerns that haunted her. Had told Emma almost as much as she had told herself – a truth which they had both admittedly paid little attention to, and later ignored entirely once their relationship had progressed. And yet, the sudden speed of which the announcement came impacted on her hard.

Impacted on both of them, she was sure.

So sudden, and yet not.

So expected, and yet not.

It made little sense in her bewildered and overworked mind.

The marriage would be soon, her mother stressed. The sooner the better apparently as she was ‘on the other side of the hill’, her marriageability ‘declining’. All truths, she was told, though she saw little legitimacy in them.

But she hadn’t so much as met the man! She had not been able to get to know him in advance of what was to come. Surely meeting and learning about one another first would lessen the anxiety within her. Surely that was the proper course of action? Or if not, then it should be. Would it not have allowed her to become accustomed to something she did not want to occur? To make it that little bit easier?

Surely that made some sense?

But no. None of that was to be. For her, the first time she would see him would be as she walked down the aisle. Forced to be bound into something she wanted no part of.

She had thought there would at least be time.

Time to come to terms with it.

Time to get to know him.

Time to say goodbye.

Time to promise…

But there wasn’t. They were leaving, surely within the next few days.

There was no time.

No, maybe it was not entirely gone. Maybe there was just a little left. Just enough.

Enough to give what little she had. A promise of what she would pray would one day be possible. There were better ways, perhaps, to go about it. But she could think of none, and this… what it would be…

Perhaps it wasn’t the best. But it is all she had, and she was giving it willingly.

Could the impossible be surmounted? She had thought that so often, had wavered between thinking it conceivable and thinking it unfeasible.

Perhaps she would never get her answer. Maybe that was better than knowing it could never be.

The ring against her skin a constant reminder of what she longed for. What she would always long for.

She had felt the warm, supportive weight of her father’s arm around her as her mother told her they would be leaving soon, and with little notice. But the comfort had been short lived, her mother having snapped at her father for coddling her.

At some point she had told her mother that she felt unwell (which wasn’t a completely lie) and needed to retired early. Upon her own uncharacteristic insistence, her mother had frowned but allowed her to go, worried – no doubt – that any illness she may have would worsen if she did not rest. And what a problem that would be.

Her father had smiled sympathetically over her mother’s shoulder; a smile she returned hesitantly and uncertainly when her mother had turned to a servant to order a hot bath. Apparently it would help ease Regina’s unspecified ‘unwellness’.

So she waited in her room, pacing after her wash, wasting time rather than eagerly grasping the opportunity to be with Emma. She wanted to – needed to see her, especially with her uncertainty over when she would be leaving, or whether they would ever be together again – but her fear of her mother finding out was great. Far more so than it had ever been.

Before she could ignore it. But now, after what she had done… when she had been so open in her happiness that her father had noticed, and she had slipped up and mentioned Emma by name to her mother. Well – it was only natural that she feared what might happen to the one she loved so dearly.

She had hoped her mother would understand with time. Understand that her only daughter’s happiness was more important than power, or social standing. Regina had always prayed for that dream to come true, but now she saw that all her hopes may have been for nothing. It had not happened yet, and perhaps it never would.

Wasn’t it too late now?

It had taken her a long time of pacing and fretting and knuckle biting, but at long last she had pushed away the swirling anxiety in her form and snuck away. Blocking out the voice in her head was near impossible, so she let her heart lead her instead. If just for a few short moments.

Ever since the announcement of her marriage to be, she had not had much time to be with Emma. There had, however, been just enough leeway for them to share a few words after that night in the stables, and she knew Emma had gathered everything for her impromptu demand quickly. And then, after everything that had happened, and the shortness of their time together, they had planned tonight to be it. For Regina to give everything to her – to each other. No one would be able to take such a thing from them, no matter what they may try to do.

This wasn’t to lessen what they had done before, as if that had all been insignificant or worthless. This was different. This was new, this was what would be expected of her when what had to occur would; and so she wanted Emma to be the first, to have her in that way. In any way, if there had been time, but there wasn’t. Might never be again.

When she arrived at the stable, Emma was sitting in the hayloft, bare feet dangling over the edge and head bowed.

As soon as she realised the doors were open, Emma’s head jerked up in her direction; a large, goofy smile spreading across her face.

Regina closed the doors softly, turned and squinted in the darkness at the stalls to see the few horses she could make out asleep.

“I – well I wasn’t sure if you were coming.”

The uncommon bout of stuttering (or was it rather common after all?) brought a smile to Regina’s face, but then again, it was so easy for Emma to make her smile so.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Her expression grew a little impish, her voice edging towards a teasing quality no one else brought out in her.  

“Heh.” Emma scratched the back of her neck, her smile twitching into a self-conscious smirk, “Well, you know.”

Regina shook her head, placed down her own lantern and headed towards the foot of the ladder. Emma pulled her feet up and scrambled to hover near the top of the ladder, as if concerned Regina would fall or would need help - something she never usually did, as she knew Regina was capable of doing it herself.

The smile on Regina’s face remained, even as the rough wood of the ladder dug into her palms as she climbed, Emma helping her unnecessarily when she reached the top. Regina was thankful though, placing her hand over Emma’s own and squeezing softly.

Closer now, she could see the nervousness in Emma’s smile, and she was certain it mirrored her own.

But she knew she needed this, they both did, and that was enough to push the anxiety to the back of her mind, along with that little voice.

When Emma released Regina’s hand to move over and fuss with her cloak – which rested on her bedroll – Regina fidgeted with her own hands, instantly missing Emma’s comforting, slightly callous grip on them.

Satisfied with whatever it was she had done, Emma straightened and ran a hand through her messy curls; a nervous twitch seemingly fixed into her smile.

“It’s, ah, all ready, if you are still certain?” Even though it was posed as a question, Regina could already tell that Emma was fully aware of what her answer would be. And honestly, there was no doubting it. Not when Regina had put her mind to it.

The wooden planks beneath them creaked as Regina stepped forward, still wringing her hands.

Nothing seemed outwardly different; nothing at all.

Emma ducked again, changing her mind, it seemed, about what she had done. She messed with her cloak and folded it into a somewhat neat rectangle shape, placing it on the slightly raised head of the bedroll.

Regina sighed, picking up Emma’s lantern and placing it further away from the bedroll, tutting her annoyance as she did.

A low chuckle rumbled in Emma’s chest, “Right. I keep forgetting that.”

“Well you shouldn’t,” Regina scolded not unkindly as she stood straight (how many times had she told her?), “If it were to catch alight…”

“Yeah,” Emma sighed, still a tinge of amusement to her words, “I hear that’s bad for you.”

“Not funny Emma.” Regina frowned, even as her lips trembled with the need to smile.

The need slipped swiftly, however, when curiosity and a hint of apprehension flooded her frame, leaving her pressing the tips of her fingers to her lips. Her eyes widened as she struggled to keep her voice calm, a sudden thought rebounding in her mind.

“It’s not… with magic, is it?”

Emma shook her head, laughter in her eyes as she stood up from her crouch, “No, of course not.”

Of course it wasn’t; magic could only harm and control. It was an evil. Surely it could not do something like that.

Besides, Emma couldn’t use magic in the first place. The fact the thought had even graced her mind in the first place was completely foolish.

Perhaps it was merely a result of the tight tension in her frame.

She ran a hand through her loose hair – having un-braided it before her bath – and knelt besides the bedroll, resting her hands on her knees and swallowing thickly.

Emma scratched at her cheek, cleared her throat nervously and crouched opposite Regina. The blonde’s eyebrow were raised high, her forehead furrowed in her own jittery nervousness.

Regina’s eyes dropped to Emma’s lips, watched as her pink mouth opened to speak, no doubt to once again ask if she was certain, but instead the blonde’s tongue darted out to wet her bottom lip. Regina squirmed, feeling the beginnings of that familiar heat at the apex of her thighs – that had been there, all consuming, with every thought of Emma.

Emma tilted her head slightly, the corners of her mouth quirking up into a warming smile, perhaps noticing where Regina’s gaze had found itself drawn.

Regina shifted again, her finger’s digging in to the bottom of the relatively simple dress she was wearing, unable to move her focus from Emma’s  mouth, from the little crease beside her smile, the slight hint of dimples in her cheeks.

“Will you kiss me?”

There was a brief glimpse of Emma’s teeth as she grinned in an oddly gentle way, her eyes filled with tender emotion when Regina met them with her own.

“You needn’t ask.”

The soaring of Regina’s heart was only affected, for a few short moments, by her own confusion.

Had she not initiated such encounters during those few, short weeks that they had been ‘free’ to be together? Why was it now that Regina found herself so frightened, so in need to ask permission for something she had eagerly been given and received in the not so distant past? It had made sense, at first, but now?

Perhaps it was the enormity of it all.

Not just the presence of something new. No. But rather that this might – well, it might be their last few moments together.

No.

It wouldn’t.

It couldn’t.

They would find a way. Somehow, someway, they would be together again.

The pinprick of tears in her eyes were forced away, not just by her own will, but from the sudden and immediate press of Emma’s lips against hers. The soft slide of the blonde’s hands along her side and her neck, tilting her head, to share the emotions circling around them. To comfort one another. To fight back the pain that was awaiting them outside their little sanctuary.

In here it was just them.

Two people in love.

And nothing could change that, nor break it.

Here, they had one another. The outside world could be long forgotten, the weight upon Regina’s shoulders that Emma eagerly shared, lifted and thrown aside.

They had one another, that was what mattered, not their worries, not the circumstances that pressed down on them.

In this moment, they were both free.

Their knees were touching now, both of Emma’s hands cupping Regina’s cheeks and guiding her into a sweet, pleasing press of lips.

The effect was immediate; her body hot and tingling at the touch, Regina reached up to grip the top of Emma’s shirt and tugged her nearer. Emma tilted her head, freeing one hand to wrap around Regina’s hips as their lips slid against one another.

Regina gasped at the movement, her grip on Emma’s shirt tightening; Emma moaned at the demanding pull of Regina’s hands, the needy slide of her lips. The Princess took her chance, slipping her tongue into the blonde’s mouth, it didn’t take much more than the first stroke of her tongue against Emma’s to coax the younger woman’s tongue into a dance of sorts.

She felt the flood of wetness building, hidden by the skirts of her dress; a moan left her throat and was muffled by their kiss.

Emma’s hand slipped from her cheek, skirting down Regina’s side to join its counterpart around her hips. A brief rest, and then down further still to grip Regina’s ass lightly.

“Oh –

Her cry, much like their moans was barely audible against their lips, Emma taking control as her tongue pushed into Regina’s mouth, sweeping against the back of her teeth – taking what Regina was eagerly offering her.

She was throbbing, and so quickly too, the heat between her thighs demanding Emma. Her fingers, her mouth, anything she had to offer her.

A whimper, and her hands released Emma’s shirt, reaching down instead to pull Emma closer, across that small, insignificant space still between them. Hips to hips.

She gasped into Emma’s mouth, knowing about, yet still somehow not expecting the hardness beneath her. Pressed tight now against her groin.

Her hips jerked, the slight motion sending sparks shooting beneath her skin.

“Sorry,” Emma groaned against her lips, “I should have –

As she tried to pull away, Regina gripped harder, pulling her back. Another moan leaving her lips as the hardness pressed against her again, like a manifestation of Emma’s own arousal – her desire for her.

It left her burning, wetness soaking her undergarments, and needing this. Needing it so much.

Emma’s lips glided against her neck, Regina’s head dropping back to allow her all the access she could give. Breathless sounds left her as soft lips trailed down her sensitive skin, flowing over her pulse point, but never demanding. Never possessive.

“Mark me,” she whimpered, the words coming from somewhere deep inside her.

She had never considered such a thing before, had only heard of it in those books she saw so long ago. But there was something about it, baring a mark – as hidden as it may be – that belonged to Emma. That would remain, even if temporary, as a sign of who she had given her heart and her body to.

“Regina…”

She lowered her head, meeting Emma’s eyes with a determined expression.

And that was all it took.

Whatever barriers or walls the blonde had put up crumbling beneath her gaze.

Emma lifted her hands, fiddled with the ties on the back of Regina’s dress until she loosened them enough to lower the top half. She let it fall to Regina’s waist as she took in the sight of her.

Emma’s eyes shone.

Regina marvelled at her expression; her own chest rising and falling, nipples hard – for she had only slipped on her underwear and dress, leaving behind the other layers she ought to wear, and always did.

But that was not where Emma’s eyes rested.

She was beaming, her eyes bright and her smile so wide it caused that familiar ache to form in Regina’s chest – the throb of her arousal forgotten for the moment. Emma’s fingers skimmed over her skin and the chain around her neck, played briefly with the ring where it sat below her collarbone.

“That is permanent.” Regina watched the soft, reverent movement of Emma’s fingers; the look of wonder in her eyes, “But can be removed; another mark will fade, but cannot be masked so easily.”

Emma’s eyes jumped to her face, one of her hands gripping Regina’s hip, the other still running over the chain gently.

“Please Emma, mark me as yours.”

Regina rested one hand over Emma’s at her chest, the other stroking one of the blonde’s defined cheekbones.

“Mark me.”

Emma dropped her head, mouth pressing just above Regina’s collarbone, catching supple skin between her lips.

“Emma…” Regina whimpered, her hand having slipped into messy, blonde curls. She had wanted it on the sensitive skin of her neck, but she wouldn’t protest to this.

Emma’s response rumbled against her flesh, the blonde sucking and pulling at her skin gently, her teeth scraping on occasion.

Regina’s face burned, certain her wetness had escaped the confines of underwear to roll down her inner thighs.

Emma was surely not faring much better, not with the noises escaping her mouth, muffled wonderfully against Regina’s flesh.

Regina’s hips rolled unconsciously against Emma’s own, the firmness there both frightening and exciting.

Emma’s mouth pulled far more eagerly now; one hand pressed between Regina’s shoulder blades, the other still gripping her hip securely.

It hurt. But the arousal it invoked far outweighed any discomfort, her body trembling and the heat between her thighs demanding more. Demanding Emma’s… anything; for Emma knew what to do. Had taught her much, had allowed her to experience so much.

She needed her.

Emma pulled back with a pop, observing what Regina assumed was darkened skin. She looked down, disappointed she could not see it.

Emma released her hip, stroking the bruised patch of skin above her chest with the tips of her fingers in an almost worshiping manner.

“No one will see it here,” Emma said in a whisper, her face flushed and pupils blown wide.

The edge of disappointment still in Regina, both over not being able to observe it and it not being where she wanted, faded to nothing.

“I can’t wait any longer.”

Emma looked up but kept her head lowered, and Regina could just make out the bobbing of her throat as she swallowed.

She was on her back in a moment, Emma cradling her head until it rested on the blonde’s folded cloak. Regina shuddered as Emma’s hands slipped over her body, invoking unnameable emotions and sensations as she guided Regina’s dress off.

Regina watched from beneath her lashes, saw the myriad of emotions flickering across Emma’s features, lit by the lone lantern behind Regina’s head. Took in with shortening breath, the way it highlighted Emma’s cheekbones, the strength of her jaw, the sparkling depths of her eyes.

Emma did much the same once she was bare; simply kneeling there, taking in all that she could of the Princess.

Regina’s hands rose, resting lightly on Emma’s knees as the blonde moved to straddle her fully. She dipped her head, curls tickling Regina’s skin, to share another deep kiss.

The fingers of one hand teased a nipple, tugging gently, making Regina buck up and her lips part for Emma’s questing tongue.

It was only for a short moment, then Emma was moving down, catching the tip of her other breast between her lips. With a gasp, Regina’s hand fell to catch the back of Emma’s head; she had almost forgotten how sensitive she was in this. The grip encouraged the blonde, her tongue sliding against the hardened flesh, her lips sucking.

Emma’s other hand had fallen away to the side for balance, leaving Regina’s other breast neglected. 

An impatient grumble from Regina had Emma chuckling, the sound tickling Regina’s sensitive skin and sending her squirming, her toes catching on the taut material of the bedroll.

With Emma’s weight resting mostly on her lower half, she found it near impossible to move her hips in an effort to lessen, or rather satisfy, the need at the apex of her thighs.

A scrape of teeth had her jerking; her finger’s curling tighter in Emma’s hair.

“I said now Emma,” she hissed out between teeth gritted in almost painful need.

“My my Princess, how demanding.” Emma released her, the tip of her breast shining, and the blonde’s breath ghosting over it. Regina gasped at the sensation, her need flooding her body; it was a struggle to reopen her eyes.

Emma was grinning, the light dancing in her eyes, and Regina realised why. She was so used to doing what others demanded of her, or ordered. To be the one doing that to another was so very rare. And yet, with Emma, she found she could. She could be that little bit more independent, have that little bit of freedom she would otherwise never have.

She wanted to say something, thanks perhaps, but words were not forthcoming – not with her body demanded attention. So she smiled, bright and overwhelmed.

She reached up, caught Emma’s shirt and pulled.

Emma braced herself with both hands; dragged her lips to the hidden mark on Regina’s skin, paused there before sliding along her neck, leaving Regina wiggling beneath her in her impatience.

Emma chuckled as their lips met briefly, the sound sending chills through Regina’s body as much as the vibration against her lips did.

The blonde pulled away, siting up and reaching down, fiddling with the fastening on her breeches, but Regina caught her hands, shaking her head gently.

“Not like that,” she explained, even as her cheeks burned with embarrassment. Embarrassment over what she would have to witness to have this happen the way she needed it to. They needed it to. “I want all of you.”

Emma’s hands shook beneath her own, her eyes flickering over Regina’s face before she released a long breath and conceded. This time rather than simply moving to unfasten the front of her breeches, she instead moved to take them off entirely.

“I thought you would prefer not having to… deal with it in its entirety.”

Emma was perhaps correct. Regina truly had no interest in seeing it, nor what it was made to replicate, at all.

But it wasn’t the object that this was about; this was about the person on the other side of it. The person controlling it. The person loving her, and giving her so much.

It was Emma she desired, and this was merely another way of expressing it.

And she would give her everything that she had to give.

Even if it was just her body and her words – the promises she wishes she could keep.

Emma had been the first in so many nameless things, and she would be the first in this too. And – she wished deeply – the only one, but that seemed to be a belief that would never ring true. Never flourish as it ought. Not in the near future at least.

But they could find a way.

They would find a way.

Regina closed her eyes, breathing in deeply through her nose as her arousal was forgotten for a moment. This was supposed to be about them. About what may possibly be their last free moments of freedom and peace. She needed to stop letting her anxiety rear up within her. She needed to push it away, if only for a moment. She needed it to vanish.

And, with one low inaudible exhale, it did. The worry lifted, even if only for a short duration, forgotten as she opened her eyes just in time to see Emma arch her back as she removed her shirt, baring herself entirely for Regina’s hungry gaze.

She would never tire of this. Of Emma; of seeing what was only hers to see and touch and feel.

Just hers.

Regina’s eyes trailed over the blonde’s lithe body, over the shiny scars and the defined muscles of her abdomen, and stuttered to a halt when her gaze dropped lower – jumping up as her face heated further.

Emma rubbed at the back of her neck awkwardly, shifting on her knees as Regina took in the… thing with quick, embarrassed glances. Enough to see the straps and leather, enough to see that it seemed to be too large, but she had enough of her sense remaining to know Emma would not have acquired something unsuitable, or… ill-fitting. Perhaps it was merely her warring emotions making it seem far more fearsome than it was.

Where would one even find such a thing?

She forced her gaze to meet Emma’s lowered one, catching her hand in her own to get her attention as she sat up.

“Where did you get it?” She asked, stroking her thumb over the back of Emma’s hand even when she felt her emotions rocket through her; noticeable, perhaps, in the tone of her next words, “How did you get it?”

Regina felt a flare of hot anger in her chest, not at Emma; the soothing motion of her thumb was enough proof of that. No, her anger was at what Emma may have done to get what they needed. The memory of how Emma obtained the wine that started all of this strong in her mind in that searing instant.

The thought of anyone else touching Emma… of her touching them, made the anger surge, bubbling beneath the surface far more demandingly than her arousal ever had. More than any indignation she had ever felt in the past had.

Emma was hers as much as she was Emma’s. No one else’s.

No ones.

They were each other’s. Solely. They belonged together and together alone.

Emma’s throat bobbed as she watched her, light eyebrows rising high as she clutched Regina’s hand tight with her own.

The possessiveness was unlike her, completely foreign to her form, but she couldn’t fight it, her fingers gripping Emma’s like a lifeline – like a guide, trying to aid her in reining herself in.

“Regina…”

Emma’s voice was soothing, like the calm in the centre of a storm, grounding her even as she felt everything around her sweeping out of her control.

“I know what you are thinking.” Emma’s smile was reassuring and oh so sweet, her head tilting just a little bit as she added, just as softly, “Don’t.”

She must have been holding her breath in her agitation, for as soon as that word left Emma’s lips, Regina found herself breathing out in a long, steady stream. Her too firm gripping loosening just that little bit on Emma’s hand as the wave of ownership faded.

“I got it with money, savings, or rather, with a lucky bit of dice rolling to ensure I had enough.” Emma’s hands shot up, as if asking for peace. Regina missed their warmth. “I normally disagree with gambling, it’s a sucker’s game, but this was an exception with some truly drunk men. So…”

“That makes it alright?”

“Well…” Emma scratched at the back of her neck, sucking at her bottom lip as Regina realised just how absurd it was for them to be having a conversation when they were completely bared to one another. As if this was a normal, everyday occurrence.“No.” Emma quickly moved onto the rest of her question, reaching and taking Regina’s hand again, “You are all that I have ever wanted, so don’t you dare think I would be with another – even if there are no emotions attached to them. Not now.”

“But you did before.”

Emma’s gaze dropped as Regina voiced the statement, for there was no need to make it a question, not when the answer was clear.

Emma’s shoulder slumped, “You know I did.”

“To obtain what you wanted.”

“No – sometimes, rarely.” Emma tilted her head back, ran a hand through her curls, before dropping her head forward again, “I know what I did was wrong, but it was all I had. To pretend…”

Naïve, Regina may be for the most part, but the meaning in Emma’s words was obvious. Clear to her now as glass, the pieces, the small segments here and there slotting together as soon as those last two words were released into the air between them.

It should, perhaps, disgust her. Change how she sees everything that had occurred between them.

But it didn’t.

If their places were reversed… well, she would likely have done something similar if she were able to.

No. She knew she would have, for she never would have dreamed that what she desired could have ever come true. Ever. Just like her dreams in her real life.

By this point she was sitting as close as she could, bare legs brushing, and reached to cup Emma’s cheek with her free hand. Her thumb, as always, tracing along the smooth expanse of skin available to her.

“I understand,” she answered truthfully, pausing to brush her lips against Emma’s other cheek, “I truly do.”

For was that not what this was in part about? So when she must do what she must in the not so distant future, she could remember Emma. Remember her scent, the press of her body against her own, the feel of her kisses and her touches.

Her throat felt tight. Her head beginning to spin again.

She would carry it with her; even if they were never to see one another again. It would keep her whole. It would keep her sane.

She felt the tension leave Emma’s body like a physical presence as she released her hand, the blonde’s arms coming up to encircle her waist and hold her as she shifted closer. Their nakedness not an issue even with their bodies pressed together so intimately.

Emma pressed a kiss to the side of her head, and rested her cheek against hers for the long, comfortable minutes it took for her panic and fear to ebb. Regina’s hands had moved to her back, running reassuringly over her skin, along her spine and shoulder blades – taking as much of her in as she could; giving back as much of herself as she could.

“We don’t have to –

“I want to Emma. Don’t doubt it.”

She felt Emma’s nod rather than saw it, pressed together as close as they were.

Peace having returned, she felt suddenly hyperaware of how much of their skin was pressed together, the warmth shared between them. And more than that – she hadn’t noticed it before, but now, as her awareness of their physical positions came to her in a powerful push, she could feel the side of it pressing into her so intimately with how she was now seated in Emma’s lap.

Emma’s arms tightened around her, her fingers tracing patterns along the base of her spine, over the little dip there. Regina rested her cheek against Emma’s shoulder when the blonde lifted her head.

Legs growing numb, Regina shifted forward with her hips, she gasped with a shudder as she felt the hardness nestle between her lips. That felt…

She closed her eyes, knowing if she didn’t she would likely be unable to do what she was about to. What she felt the sudden urge to do.

She shifted again, felt Emma’s breath hitch beneath her ear, felt herself slide across soft leather – her own breath growing shorter as sparks shot from the point of contact.

Another roll of her hips made it easier, her wetness spreading across the leather, helping her glide against it. She gasped, her hands moving to clutch at the back of Emma’s shoulders, her knees pressing hard into the bedroll on either side of Emma’s hips.

Emma’s hands moved down to her own, not gripping, but rather simply resting there, allowing Regina to continue the soft, gentle rolls forward.

With increased confidence, came an increased rhythm; each slide travelling further, the break between them decreasing, until she was moving quickly – demandingly. Panting into soft skin.

Her motion was imperfect, but had enough accuracy to nudge her nub on occasion – sending her nails digging into soft skin and her legs closing in tighter against Emma’s body.

Regina pressed her face into Emma’s shoulder; brushed kisses to the skin there, to the side of Emma’s face, to the corner of her mouth.

Their breasts pressed together, bodies so close, hard nipples brushing.

She could hear now, as well as feel against the shell of her ear, the shortness of Emma’s own breathing. Regina’s mind was too hazed by the building tide of pleasure in the very centre of her being and spreading through her body, to truly decipher why Emma was being affected so.

It was different without the roughness of Emma’s breeches covering it. Hard, yet soft. Pliant, yet firm.

She was building so quickly, everything that had occurred before that moment leaving her so ready for her peak. So prepared that it would take hardly anything to send her over.

Emma’s thumbs stroked over the sensitive skin besides her hips, pressed lightly into the dips there.

The fire spread quickly, her jerks growing erratic in her need for release – the need clouding everything. The phallus was warm now, absorbing heat from her hot flesh and warm arousal. Emma was breathing hard against her neck, whispering things Regina could not comprehend into her ear – all too far away for her arousal fogged mind to understand, all save for two words that stood out, bright and clear, “Good girl.”

Her walls fluttered. She could feel herself clenching, desperate for something to be inside her – Emma’s fingers, perhaps even her tongue – though before the thought had frightened her. Had made her tense and Emma to retreat. But that had been before Emma had thrust within her with curling fingers; had brought her pleasure in a way Regina always feared would only bring pain – now she would allow it. Welcome it.

She would allow anything. As long as it was Emma and Emma alone who did such things to her.

And to be called such a thing when she did it…

She had never been good before.

She sobbed, her breath catching in her throat –

So close.

So cl –

No!

Not like this.

The first time with this had to be how it was supposed to be. She forced herself to release Emma’s shoulders, the blonde hissing at the unintentional scratch of Regina’s nails.

Regina curled her hands over Emma’s, encouraging her to tighten her grip. Not to control the action, but to stop it.

Emma read her perfectly.

It hurt; trying to speak after being so close to the edge. Her body trembled, her legs felt useless, but worse was the twitching of her centre. Angry, no doubt, over being so close but not being able to peak when she so needed to. Had waited for so long.

“I – inside,” she managed to pant out at last, her eyes burning with a hunger, a desire, she could see reflected in Emma’s own.

She was on her back in seconds, much as she was before, with Emma kneeling at her feet looking around for something with a crease to her brow.

Regina drew in a long breath, her clit throbbing and body hot with need. She couldn’t wait, but it seemed she would have to.

Lying there, like that, she could feel something odd sliding down her. She flushed, as it took a split second for her to put two and two together. Her arousal was… was, well, dripping from her. And, lying down as she was, she could feel it trailing down her own flesh, over areas never to be touched.

It made her shudder, almost as much as the brief glance she took at that ‘thing’, enough to see it glistening much as Emma’s face had after she had used her mouth to bring her pleasure.

Emma made her like this – only Emma, and it would remain that way. She knew that for certain, even when everything else was so easily doubted. So unclear and muddled when it came to the future. But her feelings for Emma, what Emma did to her would never change. That was the only thing not covered with the fog of doubt and fear.

She closed her eyes, trying once again to clear her mind of unwanted thoughts; she could hear Emma shuffling around. Hear the wood beneath them creak as she resettled on her knees at Regina’s feet.

She almost regretted opening her eyes. To see Emma kneeling there, mostly naked and with her back straight, she looked the picture of confidence – her face serious as she concentrated on pulling out the cork from a bottle Regina had not seen her pick up. It made Regina squirm against the bedroll.

“Have you done this before?”  She managed to ask.

Emma knew what they needed, held herself in that familiar confident way of hers; what other conclusion was there?

Or there was, until Emma shook her head with a sheepish smile on her face, “No. I haven’t.”

Emma sat back on her heels, the liquid in the bottle shifting as she fidgeted.

“But I know what to do,” Emma admitted somewhat embarrassed, “If that is what you are worried about?”

“I’m not worried Emma, I trust you.”

Emma dipped her head, her smile soft and cheeks red.

When Emma poured some of the substance into the palm of her hand, Regina could see it was thicker than water, but still clearly liquid of some sort.

“This will help.” Emma told her after a moment of remaining still with the liquid in her palm, her hand moved between them, hovered near to Regina’s upper thigh, “It’ll make it, err, easier.”

Regina nodded, even though she was not sure what the substance was and exactly where Emma intended to put it – though she could guess.

“It is safe to put it… there?”

Emma chuckled nervously, not a hint of mocking in the sound, “Of course, it’s harmless. It just helps.”

Regina slid her legs against the bedroll, not entirely comfortable with the idea, but that was only a small part of her. The more dominant part was barely coping with the presence of Emma’s hand so close to where she needed her.

“It’ll help,” Emma repeated in order to sooth her last, worried nerve.

And it worked.

Regina released a long breath, feeling her body relax as she did.

Emma waited until their eyes met before moving her hand the rest of the way.

Regina gasped at the first touch of Emma’s damp finger. The coating warmed by Emma’s hands, taking away any discomfort that could have been. Emma skirted her finger around Regina’s clit; the Princess gritted her teeth in a shot of overwhelming pleasure, hips jumping up. Wetness escaping her.

It was only a brief touch before Emma dipped down, her fingers rubbing the substance around Regina’s entrance, before pulling away – leaving Regina wanting.

Regina closed her eyes, which only intensified the touch of Emma’s hand when she returned; this time sliding into her softly and cautiously, spreading the oil like substance around as she made little circles before once more pulling away.

Regina’s breathing was ragged, she could feel the oil slipping down, mixed with her arousal rolling down and down. She shuddered as she felt it in that place she had felt before; an unexpected want hitting her hard. The thought of what it would feel like for Emma to touch her there –

Her train of thought broke off as Emma slid her finger into her, she twitched, feeling her walls flutter around Emma’s finger as it moved at a gentle pace in and out.

Emma leant over her, brushed her other hand across Regina’s brow reassuringly, moving strands of hair out of the way.

The first finger was joined by a second, both coated and sliding in and out easily.

“Oh, Emma…” Regina found herself sighing; she was throbbing hard, her walls gripping Emma’s fingers tight. Wishing for Emma to touch her more firmly, to finally allow the heat that had been building in her for so long to peak.

Her breath came out in a shudder as she struggled to hold herself relatively still, knowing this was to prepare her – not to tease. Emma wouldn’t be that cruel.

And yet, she felt as if she was going mad. So desperate was she being to feel.

She forced her eyes open, hoping that the sight of what was happening would lessen the feel of it.

Naturally, she was wrong. Emma eyes were flickering from what her hand was doing, to Regina’s face, and back again – her pupils wide, but focused on her work.

The blonde spread her fingers in a sudden move, Regina’s head dropped back with a groan, unable to stop her hips rolling into the motion now. Even though she didn’t want to peak this way, not yet, not until they had done what they had planned.

“I think –

Emma’s voice cracked.

– that you are ready.”

With a desperate nod, Regina clutched at Emma’s arms when she pulled back, needing her atop her now. Needing to feel her skin sliding against her own, to feel her comforting weight and to see the emotion that always swam so clearly in her eyes.

Emma’s fingers slipped from her, leaving her shuddering and willing the presence to return. When Emma shuffled back on her knees, leaving Regina’s fingers to grasp uselessly at the air, she calmed the Princess with a gentle touch to her side and a loving smile.

Emma retrieved the bottle, where it still rested besides them, and poured more into her palm.

Regina had just enough time to scrunch her nose in mild bafflement before Emma’s hands dropped, rubbing the substance over the… thing Regina could not name – if it even had a name – and hesitated even to look at.

Regina could still feel the substance trailing down her skin, tickling slightly; it was a bit of a strange thought to worry about what condition this would leave Emma’s bedroll in.

Emma made quick work of what she needed to do. Soon she was hovering above Regina, resting on her forearms and elbows; she fluttered kisses against her mouth. Sweet, short brushes of their lips.

Regina made a happy little murmur of a sound as they kissed, wrapping her arms around Emma’s neck. Enjoying the feeling of the bodies pressing together.

She swiped her tongue across Emma’s lower lip, was allowed to slip past for a few moments before Emma was pulling her head up, looking between them. Regina was far too captivated with the flush across the blonde’s face, the way her lips seemed darker in these moments and the way her pupils were blown wider than normal.

Bracing her weight on one arm, Emma reached down between them. Regina wasn’t sure what she was doing until she felt the first press against her. Her body automatically tensing.

“Relax.” Emma pressed a kiss to her forehead, her voice tinged with a hint of apprehension.

And it was just that simple.

One word, and Regina relaxed.

Emma’s eyes were focused on her own again, they were filled with desire, heat and love – or so she hoped. The princess threaded one of her hands through Emma’s hair, demanded with soft insistence for their lips to meet again.

“I’m going to –

“I know,” Regina interrupted, the words nothing more than whispers against their lips. Emma nodded, the motion short, before she pushed forward again.

Regina’s eyes closed; her lips parted at the familiar, yet so different sensation.

It didn’t hurt, as Emma had long ago stated it shouldn’t, instead it was more like a feeling of being stretched, perhaps edging towards a slight burning sensation – uncomfortable but oddly not painful.  There was only a slight discomfort when the thickest part slipped in; Emma froze then, letting her become used to the new presence.

The leather was supple, but did not have as much give as Emma’s fingers. It just felt too firm, compared to what she was now accustomed to.

Emma brushed her lips against Regina’s forehead, “Are you okay? Is it okay?”

“Yes,” Regina sighed, the hand that was not in Emma’s hair running along her arm and shoulder.

She could feel Emma pull back, only slightly, and then she was pushing forward again. Inching further in.

Sucking in a breath, both hands clutching Emma’s shoulders, she felt herself shuddering around the phallus, which only worsened the burning.

With her toes curling against the bedding and eyes squeezing shut tightly, she tried to fight off the slowly building unpleasant sensation.

Emma’s breath hitched, a panicked sound as she said in a hurried rush, “I’ll stop.”

Emma tried to pull back, but Regina held her firm, unconsciously wrapping her legs around Emma even as she winced at the increase in the intensity of the burning sensation.

“No.” She shook her head, even when the crease of concern across Emma’s brow deepened, “I need this. I need you.”

Emma’s jaw tightened, a small muscle near her mouth ticking. A long moment passed, one which left Regina wondering if this would be the occasion were Emma would finally not listen to her.

She distracted herself, partly, by the feel of smooth skin above her, beneath her hands and where her legs were wrapped tightly around Emma’s hips.

Then Emma’s lips were at the corner of her mouth, one of her hands trailing down Regina’s body, skimming around the hard peak of her breast and down, down.

Emma swiped her thumb over Regina’s clit, starting a slow, firm circling pattern that made the burning stretch disappear, though the slight uncomfortable feeling of intrusion remained. It felt far better though.

Far, far better. Her hips angled up, encouraging Emma to continue, small moans slipping from her lips at the movement of Emma’s thumb – at how it sparked the arousal in her system.

Short, slow pushes forward and pulls back. Moving with care, deeper and deeper. The brief movements only allowing her a tantalising tease of Emma’s skin sliding against her own, the too rare brush of hard nipples.

Emma’s other arm, folded as it was, held the brunt of her weight with ease. Regina’s right hand slid down, rested on a strong bicep, nails biting into tender skin as her hips tried jumping up into the stimulation. Emma grunted, the sound sending waves of heat through Regina’s lower body.

The repetitive movements continued until Emma’s hips were pressed tight to her own; until she could feel the soft leather of the straps against her skin.

Torturously, Emma paused again, both her fingers and the movement of her hips stilling.

Regina already knew what Emma was going to ask, could see the crease on her brow, the concern in her eyes.

“I…” She paused, drawing in a breath, or attempting to, which was a challenge in her breathless state, “I’m fine.”

Emma’s head tilted, her lips parting, but Regina didn’t give her the chance. Releasing her bicep, Regina pressed her hand on the back of the blonde’s head, pulling her down until their lips met again hungrily.

Regina wasted no time slipping her tongue into Emma’s mouth, groaning at the feel of Emma sliding against her as she resumed moving. The pressure firmer now; breasts pressed together, nipples brushing, each sensation spiking and sending her hips jerking with the need to intensify the pleasure.

Regina tightened the grip of her thighs around Emma, finding some odd pleasure in feeling how Emma’s hips moved, how they shifted her legs up and down. Her feet slid against Emma’s legs, tried to find purchase.

Lips pressed to that sensitive spot below her ear; Emma’s breathing almost as harsh as her own.

“I wish I could feel you.” Regina tightened her grip against Emma’s back, her nails digging in, Emma moving faster at the sensation, “Feel you fluttering around me, trying to pull me deeper.”

“Em-ma.” The blonde’s name was drawn from her lips on the verge of a moan, Emma’s thumb pressed down, moving insistently against the top of her clit, urging her faster and faster to the peak that had been building for so long.

The insistent movement, the faster push of Emma’s hips, the grunts of exertion from Emma’s lips mixing with her own pleased cries, had the searing heat beneath her skin flaring. Building and building, until it had no option but to explode outwards.

A strangled sound escaped her lips, whatever the words were supposed to be long lost. Emma’s lips on her neck, her thumb still circling, but her hips almost entirely still. The only noticeable movement Regina’s uncontrollable jerking against her as she rode her pleasure high.

She thought her cheeks felt damp. Her legs loosened around Emma’s hips, but remained wrapped around her.

When she calmed, she felt Emma’s lips against her temple as she pulled out as slowly as she could – Regina couldn’t hold back a groan at the sudden feeling of emptiness, even though earlier it had felt almost unpleasant.

Emma moved before she could full register what was happening. The blonde pressing her lips briefly to the mark above Regina’s collarbone, as if cherishing it, and then moving down in a flash of golden hair and mischievous eyes.

“E-Emma!” Regina’s cry was hoarse, her hips jumping as Emma hummed, the blonde’s tongue parting her folds, lapping at the evidence of her arousal and her pleasure.

Regina’s head dropped back to the bedroll, her breath rushing from her lungs.

Avoiding her oversensitive clit, Emma’s tongue dipped down, tentatively pressing against the source of Regina’s wetness.

Emma encouraged her to bend her legs, her feet resting against the wood beside the bedroll, opening her even more to an inquisitive tongue.

Regina canted her hips, a silent encouragement that Emma immediately accepted, her tongue slipping into Regina, swiping against her in a soothing manner – as if alleviating their earlier actions, or rather how it had originally felt. Even if the discomfort had only been mild.

Shuddering, she felt her walls trying to pull the muscle deeper, even though it was impossible. Instead, with a startling level of confidence, she threaded the fingers of one hand through Emma’s hair, holding her as close as she dared.

Emma groaned, pressing closer, her tongue flattened, switching between exploring her and a familiar in and out thrust.

It couldn’t be pleasant, not with the substance spread all around, but Emma seemed completely unaffected. Or… or maybe she just wished to bring her pleasure so much that any uncomfortableness was forgotten or ignored.

The delighted, pleased sounds vibrating against her from Emma, had Regina squirming. Did doing this to her really bring Emma such joy?

The sounds had her bucking just as much as the hungry action of Emma’s mouth and tongue did.

The blonde’s nose rubbed against her clit, Regina’s thighs twitched. Hips moving faster as moans fell from her lips – she was still so sensitive, so confused as to whether to push into the pressure on her clit or pull away. It was a sweet mercy that the touch to her clit was merely incidental and not focused.

Emma held her steady, arms wrapped around her thighs, focused entirely on the princess’ pleasure. Regina could feel her peak building in the pit of her stomach, feeling different than before, as if pressing down, trying to escape. Her toes curled, trying to find purchase as her hand tightened in Emma’s hair, her other scratching at wood.

Her second peak rushed over her far swifter than the first – her ears buzzing and white spots forming in the corners of her eyes, but that pressure in her stomach was still there. But as Emma continued moving, her nose nudging against her clit, the pressure gave way, a flood of fluid rushing from her.

Regina cried out, this time in embarrassment as she released Emma, tried to wiggle away.

Emma pulled back, the lower half of her face shining, looking as shocked as Regina looked embarrassed.

“You just…”

Her face flushed, Regina tried to get from under Emma, to sit up and apologise, but Emma held her steady, her head tilting to the side.

“I-I did not mean – I’m sorry, I…” Regina fell still, pressing her hand to her face as if to hide. Made all the worse by the arousal still thrumming in her – as if she had not peaked fully.

“I don’t know what you think you did, but this is not something to be ashamed of.” Emma stroked her thumb over Regina’s clit, the princess whimpering with how oversensitive she felt, “See.”

The touch was light; clearly Emma knew too much would verge on being painful. Regina forced herself to try to see what Emma wanted to show her (she would never make a fool of her after all), pushing herself up on her elbows to look between her thighs to where the stablehand still resided.

A few swipes of Emma’s thumb had the arousal in her spike, Regina crying out suddenly, the pressure building and escaping again. She saw it this time, a surge of clear fluid leaving her, catching Emma’s skin and darkening parts of the bedroll.

Emma’s smile was honest, wide and genuinely unoffended, yet it did little to help Regina with her mortification. Even though Emma saw nothing wrong with this… occurrence. Still, this time she tried not to fight the unfamiliar feeling, tried to relax and not hold back. Emma saw nothing wrong – so it couldn’t be, could it?

And it did feel good.

Regina’s arms shook, moans falling from her, until she could no longer hold herself up and she collapsed to her back.

If anything, Emma’s thumb moved faster, focusing on the sides of her clit until another spurt of liquid escaped her. And another, lessening in amount but not in power.

It continued, seeming to last a while even though only minutes had surely passed, until she had nothing left to give and was twitching in the aftermath. Fluttering around nothing. Until even the sounds of pleasure coming from her were muted and weak. As she lay there, spent, she could hear Emma shifting, here the soft clink of metal and wisp of leather.

Emma was kissing up her body, pausing to sweep soft touches to her breasts, to the mark on her neck. When she reached Regina’s face she kissed the corner of her mouth, holding herself up on one elbow as her other hand played with the chain around Regina’s neck, trailing down to rub her fingers over the ring on occasion.

“Sorry,” Emma murmured between kisses to her face, “I shouldn’t have pushed like that.”

Regina blinked blearily, confused by Emma’s words, but by her eyelashes fluttering shut and open she noticed the tears in the corners of her eyes, and she couldn’t hold back her laugh.

“You have been with many,” Regina tried her best to ignore the tightness that word brought her – Emma was hers now, as much as she was Emma’s – as she cupped the blonde’s cheek, bringing their lips together, still surprised by the taste of herself on Emma’s lips, “Yet you do not realise when someone is overwhelmed with pleasure?”

Emma’s eyebrows rose, her mouth falling open as she absorbed what was being said.

After a few minutes of staring blankly at Regina, the princess took it upon herself to ensure she had clued the stablehand in.

“Not tears of sadness –

“Right.” Emma nodded too quickly, her voice higher than normal. And, despite everything that she had done, on that night and before, the blonde’s face was bright red, her cheek burning beneath Regina’s hand. Emma’s eyes were wide as she wet her lips nervously, her mouth quirking up into a self-conscious smirk.

It was so absurd that Regina found herself laughing again, giggling into kisses as she pulled Emma back towards her, the stablehand joining in.

She couldn’t feel the phallus against her, was too occupied with brushing kisses against Emma’s mouth to check, but could only assume the sounds she heard earlier was Emma removing it.

“What was that?” She asked once they parted, both of their chests rising and falling rapidly.

Emma’s expression was blank for a few seconds, before Regina’s meaning sunk in.

She ran her hand through her hair, the other managing with ease to hold her up. Regina couldn’t help but find something oddly appealing about the way some of her curls clung to her face, damp from sweat.

“Ejaculation.”

“Like a man!” Regina’s voice rose in pitch as the last word left her, her eyes wide as she tried to push herself up, tried to bring herself some protection when she was so bare and vulnerable.

Was she really that disgusting?

“Yes, no. I mean sort of.” Emma had sat back, giving Regina room to sit up straight and to regain her feeling of comfort. The princess’ arms had rose to cross over her body, as if to hide herself from sight, Emma’s face was creased with panic, her hands waving as she tried to speak, “It’s not like that Regina. There’s nothing wrong with you if that is what you are thinking.”

“Of course that is what I’m thinking. It can’t be normal.”

“It’s uncommon…” Emma trailed off, perhaps realising how her words were completely wrong as Regina’s arms tightened around herself, her head dropping. “I mean, it’s rare, but it’s a good thing. Natural even.”

“I…” Regina wet her bottom lip, her hair hiding her face from full view, “I’m not sure if I can believe that.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you.”

That had Regina lifting her head, had her swallowing thickly. Of course she knew Emma would never lie to her, but even so… what she had done…

“I’ve never seen it before, but I’ve heard of it happening.” Emma rubbed at the back of her neck, her lips twitching into her usual sheepish grin, “It just means I did a really good job.”

Regina’s arms loosened, finding some comfort in Emma’s awkward mannerisms, “Well, I won’t deny that.”

Emma’s sheepish expression morphed into one filled with pride and happiness, and before Regina could blink, Emma was kissing her. Brief pecks to her mouth over and over.

She couldn’t help but laugh.

“Okay, okay, Emma.” She tried to sound stern, but didn’t do that too well, as Emma’s arms wrapped around her, kisses being dotted all over her face now.

She giggled, Emma’s joy overwhelming.

It was a few minutes later, when Emma had begun to calm, that Regina rested her hands on the blonde’s shoulders, and in a surge of confidence unlike her asked, “Lie back?”

Emma pulled back, blinked a few times in a row and remained still. It was only when Regina pushed, just that little bit on her shoulders, that Emma moved, still stunned but compliant.

It was only when she was under Regina, and the princess was sweeping her hands up her sides and pressing kisses to her collarbone that Emma managed to speak, “You don’t…”

“I want to.”

Emma’s chest heaved, bringing Regina’s attention to the blonde’s breasts, to the hardened pink peaks atop them. Swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat, Regina hesitated before leaning forward, tentatively touching the tip with her tongue.

The breathless sound that left Emma urged her on. She took the peak into her mouth, doing her best to imitate Emma’s actions. It was an odd sensation of stiff yet soft skin, a slight salty taste catching her attention. A mixture of Emma and the sweat on her skin from exertion.

She tugged with her lips, doing her best to avoid scraping the delicate skin with her teeth. Emma squirmed beneath her, trying to muffle her sounds perhaps out of fear that such noises would startle the princess. Emma’s legs parted further beneath her.

She switched breasts, eager to give back to Emma all the pleasure she had given her in the present and the past. This time closing her mouth around Emma’s nipple with little hesitation, even teasing the hard peak with the tip of her tongue as Emma had done to her. Emma’s hips jerked beneath her, smearing wetness across her stomach, Regina moaned at the sensation, the sound having Emma shifting again, her breathing heavier, the wetness spreading.

“You don’t have to,” she managed to get out in a breathless whimper.

“I want to,” Regina repeated, after she made herself release Emma’s nipple. She busied herself with pressing kisses down the stablehand’s torso, in part to shield herself; to give herself the courage to say her next words, “I want to taste you.”

“God…”

She could feel Emma’s breathing hitch, the blonde trembling beneath her in the onslaught of arousal as Regina pressed kisses against her firm stomach. Felt the quivering of her muscles beneath her lips.

Emma’s hips jerked up unexpectedly when Regina dipped her tongue into her navel, the reaction serving to urge her on.

She hadn’t been this close to Emma’s centre before, had only been able to touch the silky heat briefly.

Tentatively, she parted Emma’s damp folds with her thumbs, astounded by the glistening pink flesh and the sound verging on a strained whimper that escaped Emma. She could see the arousal escape Emma at her touch.

She had done this.

She had made Emma feel this way.

“Don’t tease,” Emma hissed through her teeth, her legs trembling with the effort to hold herself still.

“Perhaps another time.”

Emma pushed herself up on her elbows, her eyebrows raising high from the mischievous words that left Regina without her consent. Face blushing, Regina took the plunge and ran her tongue across hot flesh. Emma’s head dropped back, a groan leaving her.

She had touched herself with her hands, had felt Emma for a short period, but the sensation of touching it like this was something else entirely. She was soft, and warm beneath her tongue, the wetness catching in her mouth and leaving a peculiar, but not unpleasant taste, there.

She was tasting Emma. Her very essence.

A moan slipped from her. She moved up, sliding the flat of her tongue of the hard point she knew would be there. If anything it seemed softer than the surrounding skin, though engorged and stiff by Emma’s arousal. It was an odd contradiction.

Emma’s control broke, her hips rocking in continuous short motions, her hands pulling at the bedroll.

Fascinated by how she could cause such reactions, by having so much power over another, Regina found herself playing. Testing different actions and motions to see what reaction she would receive.

If she pressed hard with the flat of her tongue, Emma’s moans were deep and drawn out, but if she teased with the tip, or circled around the hard point of her clit, Emma’s noises where high pitched and sharp.

She explored all that she could, pressed kisses to her lips, to her clit; dipped her tongue into her briefly, pulled back up to try to see how much she could enclose her mouth around. Caught her clit briefly with her teeth, an accident, but one that had Emma reaching for her head, only to pull back, afraid to be demanding.

Regina wouldn’t have minded. She would let Emma do whatever she wished. It would please them both after all.

Emma was trying to say something, but Regina could not understand. The blonde’s hips shifted faster, her thighs trembling as she tried not to clamp them around Regina’s head.

On instinct she entered Emma with a single finger, taken aback by the feeling of silky warmth fluttering around the digit. She hadn’t thought it would feel like this. She started a slow thrust, but Emma’s hips demanded more, so she pushed faster as her mouth sucked on that hard point. Her body moving as if on instinct.

The high cry told she had done right.

“More,” Emma croaked; it was easy to slip in a second finger, to pick up the pace again. To feel Emma growing tighter around her fingers, pulling at her as if not wishing her to leave – and she didn’t. She knew what that feeling was like. She could stay here forever, just her and Emma, free to do whatever they wished. Free to be together, to be like this.

She curled her fingers, as Emma had, flicked her tongue faster over the point until Emma had clamped hard on her fingers, making it difficult to move them as she undulated around her. Emma’s breath froze, then left her in a rush.

Regina kept moving as best she could, both fingers and tongue, until Emma was stroking her face, encouraging her to leave her, to move back up her body. Regina wiped at her face, tried to remove the dampness clinging there.

The blonde’s lips were darker; more of her hair clinging to her forehead, and her eyes were so bright, so brimming with emotion that it made Regina’s heart clench in her chest. She wasn’t sure who initiated the kiss, but soon they were both murmuring happy into the press of their lips, and in short moment tongues were meeting. An odd mingling of taste that she realised was a mixture of both of them; one of them groaned, she pressed closer, gripped the back of Emma’s head and encouraged her to stay there, their tongues exploring and stroking. Bodies pressed so very, very close.

Emma’s hands were caressing the skin of her hips and back, tilting her head to deepen their kiss. Regina tried to hold herself up, but Emma was having none of that, pulling until her weight was resting on the blonde, who seemed unfazed by the impact.

Regina was the first to break the kiss, a giggle leaving her as Emma’s hand slid against a sensitive spot on her side. She rested their foreheads together, waiting for her and Emma’s heartbeats and breathing to finally calm.

Regina stroked Emma’s cheek, her thumb running over her cheekbone – how she loved the definition of them.

“Thank you.”

Emma’s cheeks rose as she smiled, “Thank you? Really? I think a simple ‘I love you’, would suffice.”

“That too.”

Emma shook her head, laughing between pecks to Regina’s mouth.

“While I would like to stay like this,” Regina began, “I’m feeling a little warm.”

“Oh?” Emma’s brow rose, but she seemed unoffended as she repositioned them, somehow both of them managing to just about fit on the bedroll side by side, their hands still clinging to one another, running over soft skin in order to comfort – to show their love – not to incite further arousal.

The lantern was burning low, and she thought she could make out the shape of the attachable phallus lying nearby. She could see the bottle of liquid knocked to its side, but thankfully Emma had recorked it at some point.

“What are you thinking about?” Emma murmured against her temple as she pressed a kiss there.

“Nothing, I’m just recuperating.” She curled Emma’s hair around her finger, playing with the strands that had always been such a novelty to her.

“Hmm, I think we both need a bit of that.” Emma grinned, her eyebrows lifted high in implication – not that there was really anything to imply, but still, that didn’t stop her.

Though soon Emma’s face was returning to seriousness, a crease of concern on her forehead. It made Regina’s heart squeeze tight.

“You are alright, aren’t you?” She asked, wetting her lip before adding, “There wasn’t anything that you… wish to talk about?”

She could only assumed that was Emma’s own awkward way of asking if there was anything she disliked, anything she did not wish to see or have again, even if there was a large possibility this might be the final time they were able to be together.

An icy chill ran down her spine at that thought. She pressed herself close to Emma’s body, wrapped her arms around her to fight of the unwanted thoughts.

“No…” Well, that wasn’t entirely true, “Though… I wasn’t particularly keen on the – thing.”

Emma nodded quickly, “I understand. It’s gone.”

“No, no. I just wasn’t used to it –

“If you didn’t like it Regina –

“No. It was okay, I was just unused to it, that is all. I did prefer, um…” her chin dropped to her chest, her cheeks heating in embarrassment, “… rubbing against it if I am being honest.”

Emma looked relieved, clearly she had been upset over ‘making’ Regina do something she did not want to do. Or so that was how Emma viewed it.

“I could tell.” Emma jerked her head in the direction of her breeches; where they had landed the crotch was still visible. As was the dark patch there. Surely it should have dried by now –

Regina’s cheeks burned, a sensation that only intensified when Emma chuckled, pecked Regina’s cheek and pulled back looking ridiculously proud of herself.

Emma’s hands ceased their journey across Regina’s body, settling instead on her hips and pulling her impossibly closer until Regina could rest her head on her shoulder. God, Emma was so warm, her presence bringing her a comfort she had never known before, nor would she ever know again.

“I need to get you a new bedroll,” Regina muttered sleepily – knowing from experience that if she were to sleep, Emma would ensure she was back before dawn. Before anyone found them.

“Shush you.” Emma pressed a kiss to the top of her head, running a hand reassuringly over Regina’s arms.

“I love you,” Regina sighed as her eyes closed, exhaustion catching up with her.

“And I you.” Emma’s arms wrapped around her in a strong grip, but comfortingly. The scent of her stronger and calming her heart.

“This might be the last time –

“We’ll find a way.” Emma murmured against her skin, her answer quick and determined, “I promise you I will not rest until I can give you what you want.”

Regina fought against a yawn, nestling against the stablehand’s warm body, wishing she could stay there forever. She would gladly do so.

“I want you.”

Emma’s arms tightened around her, the blonde’s own answer clear.

Chapter Text

She had been there for hardly any time at all, and yet she had already heard the beginnings of rumours. Rumours seeded before she had even arrived.

She had been there barely a day, the wedding set for the day after. She had no time to take in the place, but could see the grounds – though large – lacked the vibrancy of her home. The walls of the castle gaudy and overbearing. Strange that a place where she felt so controlled was what she longed for in that moment. In all of the few moments she had to herself.

But she would be just as controlled here – would she not? It was merely a trade in reality. One prison for another. There had been a way out, but she had not taken it. Foolish.

There was not even enough time to breathe before she was being preened and fretted over. Hair pulled and knotted into a too tight style. The dress she wore digging into her hips, the corset wrenched her breasts up and high into a position that had her wincing in discomfort. All of it did.

Her mother told her she looked the part. Her father that she looked lovely.

She made the mistake of complaining once. Her mother’s look was sharp. She bowed her head and apologised.

Her father whispered that it shouldn’t be long, cupping her elbow and peering at her sympathetically when her mother was snapping at some misinformed servant who had interrupted them.

The ceremony was grand and lavish, but she cared nothing for it. She cared nothing for the fuss and ‘adoration’ of people who were strangers to her, and always would be – she could see the truth. Could see that their eyes were hard on her. Fixed. Taking in a novelty. The novelty.

Something new. Something to be poked and prodded, to be intruded upon until they grew bored or found something new to catch their attention.

Her smile remained vapid, yet unnoticed by all and even by her own parents – though her father’s gaze kept finding hers and in it she could see something – something she could not name. But it was a deep emotion that pulled at her chest.

Almost a sense of helplessness.

Her heart was heavy, and she suspected it would remain so indefinitely. Weighing her down invisibly to all, as it beat mournfully.

It was like a death – to be separated with no hope of ever being reunited. Of ever seeing one another again. Settling on her shoulders a melancholy so weighted that it left her unbalanced, stumbling even as she appeared to walk so poised and strong. The shoes pinching at her feet, her heels surely blistered.

She saw nothing. Her eyes unfocused as she answered as prompted, her hands clasped tightly before her. The ceremony one of this land; her knowledge on it vague and growing no stronger as she experienced it first-hand.

Her mother sat nearby, she could feel her eyes on her even though she had not seen her. Her father’s presence was a comfort, but not a big enough one to make it any easier for her.

It was odd how her thoughts had wandered. The bright room and brighter faces fading into a void as she allowed herself to be consumed by her mind.

It was common for families to merge upon a wedding, but her parents had held off from moving in as they ought. Though it was clear it would happen eventually, if her mother’s implications were any hint.

But… if they had yet to move there, then she could always arrange a visit home. It couldn’t be so soon after the wedding, it would not be allowed, or would be viewed with suspicion. She would have to wait and hope her parents would take their time, and in doing so unknowingly offer her a chance.

And with that chance perhaps some of what was on her would be lifted, or alleviated if only for a short time. Just a short reprieve would help her survive this ordeal.

Maybe… maybe she could convince – no, that would not work well – maybe she could coerce the Prince into taking on another stablehand. And through that maybe she could have some of what she had before back. The happiness and lightness. Maybe she could continue what she had with her – no, that wasn’t a maybe. She would. She wouldn’t be able to stop herself from doing so.

But, it wouldn’t be a continuation, for what they had would never cease to be, even if the physicality was no longer present. No – it would be a chance, a chance to act upon what they both wished for. To run –

And yet, the thought of running seized her heart with dread, made her blood run cold and her breath to catch as unwanted images flew through her mind and behind her eyelids.

The man before her asked if she was alright, someone said that she was merely faint – from the dress no doubt. She said something – probably to assure them she was fine – and proceedings resumed as she fell into her thoughts once again.

No. Running wouldn’t work.

She couldn’t. She was too weak to chase her dreams.

So there she would remain. Separated from the one who held her heart, and whose heart she herself held.

A visit would suffice. Something to help her cope, she just prayed her parents would delay their moving until enough time had passed that a visit home would be allowed. If it would indeed even be allowed.

The ceremony ended. Sealed with a kiss that was too rough, her body bent back helplessly. There was applause, loud and obnoxious as she was swept away. To be washed and preened once more, forced into another dress, her hair pulled and twisted into yet another style.

Her head spun.

----

The Prince seemed kind enough. Their first proper meeting was at the celebration that followed the wedding. She had been there for but a day. And he had already begun dotting upon her unnecessarily with gifts, and now that was joined by praise and compliments – things she had little of growing up, and yet it meant nothing, could never mean anything. Not from him.

At least she quickly grown to doubt he would ever intentionally isolate her.

Even so, despite those thoughts the doubt would remain, even though she thought she knew better.

She tried to dull her rapidly shifting thoughts with wine and fake joviality. Tried to fog her mind in order to free herself, if only temporarily from what she knew was to come. From what had already begun.

She had hoped the rich fruit of the wine on her tongue would be enough to leave her mind blank, unable to recall what was to occur come dawn.

But it was not proper, and so her mother snatched the glass from her hand when eyes were turned away, frowned in disapproval before heading towards the servants carrying the trays of drinks. No doubt to ban her from any more that night.

She had enough though, for the wine to haze her mind and cling to her lips, not that it would be enough. Nothing ever seemed to be enough.

She danced, as she ought, with the Prince and others she knew nothing of. Her father had the first dance, a tradition before he ‘passed’ her to another – to the one she was unwillingly bound to now. He spoke softly, his words lost in the panicked beat of her heart and the blood rushing through her veins. His eyes seemed wet, but perhaps that was the wine she had consumed. Perhaps that was the dampness in her own.

In the end the dances all blurred into one, and she was clueless to any she had met or engaged with that night.

Her feet ached from the heels and dancing, the dress seemed to grow tighter as the night wore into the dark early hours of morning, the material chaffing at her skin. Softer, though, than the one she wore for the wedding itself.

And when it was all over, the bustle of guests and the gaiety of their moods faded away as they departed or retired for the night, leaving the place growing steadily empty. The dread that had been in her for so long blossomed, encompassed her whole being as she stumbled to what she wished would never be. Regina felt the bubbling of breathless panic, but unlike the many times before, neither her father nor Emma were there to calm her. It grew worse, tightening in her chest and beating against her ribs.

She had no choice.

He fear and terror seen as signs of coy hesitancy, her wide eyes those of desire.

She remembered, tales of what should be. The pain she had heard of and which Emma had dismissed as nonsense; at least if it was something that was wanted. And the mark of purity that should be seen.

And so, after it was thankfully over and the Prince left – for what she hoped was his return to his own rooms – she scrambled from the bed with tears in her eyes and pain between her thighs. She seized one of the many hairpins that had been left upon the dresser in the room, and returned to the bed she wished to never lie upon again. She pulled the sheets back, and settled into a position she believed was the one needed.

With a shaking hand she pressed the sharp end of the pin into the tender crease of her inner thigh, she pushed harder until a drop of blood bubbled around the end – she winced at the sensation, but it was nothing compared to what she had to endure shortly prior beforehand – she smeared the dark red blood against the sheets, and prayed it was enough that none would question it. For even if the Prince had no interest in checking, the chambermaids surely would.

She wiped the hairpin on the sheets and returned it. She rubbed at her tired, reddened eyes and prayed they had gone unnoticed. Her heart thumped heavily beneath her breast. She could bear no more of the silence and reminder of it all.

She threw open her balcony doors and stood out, in the cold and wind uncaring. Naked as the day she was born. It was bitter there, the wind, it howled around her and stung at her skin but the pain was nothing compare to the painful ache in her lower body. The winds tried to brush away what she wished to be gone. It was all she could do, until a bath was drawn in the morning, to rid herself of it.

But – she reminded herself – The Prince was a kind man, and this was to be expected. If was what should be. He had not intended for her to be hurt, he had simply not been aware. He had been aware of none of it.

Perhaps that was best.

The pain, of the wind and of her body was nothing, however, compared to the agony in her chest.

Her fingers curled around the cold stone of the balcony edge, tears falling free for the first time that awful day. They trailed down her cheeks, were carried away on the wind as her shoulders shook.

If only she had been brave.

----

Cut off and yet still oppressed.

Alone and isolated, yet crowed all the same.

Enclosed, like the heavily decorated walls were pressing in on her – a constantly moving pressure that staled the air and left her lungs roughly pulling in what little air there was. And yet, still feeling like there was such distance surrounding her, distance between her and others.

It made no sense.

She wanted to be home, desperately. It ached in her head and in her heart.

The customs where she was trapped were different; she had never been raised with the knowledge of them, only the ones from her home. She was certain the servants looked at her strangely, as did many of the Prince’s guests. It made her greatly uncomfortable at first, made her wish beyond all else that she could curl into herself, or run and hide.

She had assumed it was merely due to her being a novelty. Someone new.

She hadn’t understood at first, but then it came to her. She was uncertain, but surely it must be because she was clearly so ‘foreign’ to these people. There had been no slurs, no doubt due to her position, but it left her at such unease that she tried to avoid gatherings – something she failed at considerably.

Then she heard the rumours – in detail for the first time – and her thoughts were confirmed.

She would never – could never – lay with others. Her eyes would never ‘wander’. Well, if Emma was there… but that did not count. Not at all.

All that talk that her type were easily wooed, that eyes needed to be kept upon her – that to her, she would use anything to gain an upper hand. Her body her main weapon. And the rumours only grew more vicious from that. Like physical attacks to her person.

She didn’t understand. She had done nothing to these people. She didn’t even wish to be there.

They didn’t even know her. None of them did.

What gave them the right?

Worse than the rumours though were the dreams.

She would wake up shaking, her body numb and heart hammering. Confused and disorientated.

She would awake expecting to be back home, more often than not, not in her room but rather in the hayloft. Emma waking her so gently and telling her in a tone barely above a whisper that she needed to get back to her own rooms. That someone would notice if she was not back soon.

No one would notice – her usual answer.

I would – Emma would chuckle, her answer common and smile warming.

And Regina would push herself up, yawning. Emma would gather her cloak and wrap it around Regina’s shoulders and stay by her side, guiding her to the kitchen door with a protective and comforting aura that caught and surrounded Regina to.

She always felt so safe with her.

And to wake, with the feeling be ripped from her grasp left her cheeks damp and eyes stinging.

Not dreams. Memories.

She was alone there.

Completely and utterly alone.

But more than her discomfort and isolation – those feelings of being so completely lost – was just as consuming as her desire to return to her true home, and those she was forced to leave behind was.

Her father, she would see again on visits and eventually they would move there – as was the tradition of their home, and surely this land too. But she was uncertain, the customs strange.

Rocinante, who she knew, with heart sinking sadness she would likely never see again. Emma had once said that when members of her family left her home they took their horses with them. She wished she had been allowed, but she was female, travel was supposed to be in the comfort of carriages and only when necessary. Her mother had stressed that point, had insisted her fixation on such ‘unbecoming’ activities was a distraction, and so Rocinante stayed behind.

If he would even still be there.

The brief thought of Emma had her heart fluttering, its pace jumping a beat.

She pressed her fingers to her heart, felt the hint of what was hidden there, felt herself calm at the reminder of what was. And always would be.

She sat at her dresser, staring at reflection she did not recognise.

She only wished she had realised her feelings sooner, then they could have had more time together.

Her heart ached so painfully, for everything, for her home and those she missed and Emma. So much agony for what should have been. Could have been if she were stronger. The hope of scrambling that back gone in an instant. Hopelessness consuming her.

It had only been a week since the wedding.           

----

Many of the books were in the native tongue, a collection most rare in a world where many were forced to learn a unified language. She could understand the benefit one language, but to destroy a unique part of a people made her nose scrunch in distaste. It was already deep-seated in most; she only knew the odd word of her own native tongue.

Still, there were plenty of books in the dominant language for her to read. It was really the only hobby she could partake in anymore. Not that she was truly doing that. For, sitting there in a private room of a sort they did not have back home. She had been staring at the same page for long enough that the fire was now burning low. A servant had tried to stoke it, or so she assumed, but she had sent the woman away, not wanting to be bothered by anyone. Not from this place.

She was not avid in her consumption of wine, never had been, but she had learnt from that first night that it could numb the jagged edges. Aid in coping with it all. And so she drank, always moderate, always controlled – just enough to blur her mind and quieten those oh so demanding thoughts and emotions.

Just enough.

Never more.

Her hand shook when she lifted her half empty glass to her lips, but she was unsure why, the action unconscious, she only realising when the rich liquid was in her mouth.

“You refused the evening meal again.”

Regina’s head shot up, it took a second for her eyes to focus in the almost darkness of the room (the fire had been enough; she hadn’t wanted the servants fussing over the lanterns. Hadn’t wanted any there at all), the bleariness of her eyes was certainly not from too much wine and too little sleep.

The Prince set about lighting the lanterns, the flare of brightness as each caught flame had her squinting – she had been far more comfortable in the dark.

Her lips pressed together tightly as she snapped her book closed, discarding of it carelessly to her side – she couldn’t remember what it was about anyway.

The Prince turned to her, concern in his eyes. They were a vivid blue, twinkling in the lantern light. She might have found him physically attractive if she were older, and so inclined. Perhaps if she had wanted this life she would have been happy.

But who could want this when there were far greater things out there. So much to see that her eyes would never know, not now. Perhaps not ever.

“You really must eat, I worry for you.”

“I have already told you, I am fine.” Regina stood, the familiar prickle of fear settling in her stomach at the disadvantage of being seated, the inherent power imbalance that portrayed – or perhaps the wine was bad. The Prince had never lifted a finger to her, but they never did. Not at first. “You said nothing then.”

“I know how you dislike the attention, so I tried to lessen any that may have fallen on you.”

“My answer remains the same, even in privacy, I am fine.” Regina pressed a hand to her heart, took a breath and a steady step towards the door, “Merely homesick, as they say. I am fine.”

Her reinforcement of her ‘wellness’ had little impact, the Prince shortening the distance between them clearly intent on physical comfort. His arm lifted as if to rest just above her elbow, to offer reassurance she did not want.

She stepped back. His hand dropped.

He sighed, his eyes darker for a second. Such behaviour must have been expected in a ‘new marriage’, or from her ‘type’, as he reacted as kind as ever when he spoke, “Yet I worry regardless.”

“It is of no concern to you,” she tried to say it politely, but feared she had failed that. The Prince, however, seemed unfazed.

“Of course it is, I worry for you because I love you.”

“How can you love someone you know nothing about?” Regina did not mean to snap, but it left her regardless. At least here – she still hoped and prayed – she would not be punished for such a misdemeanour.

The Prince’s brow furrowed, his pupils widening for a brief flash of a moment, then they were normal again.

His thin lips pulled up into a smile, his eyes warm, “You are truthful and trustworthy. Polite, well-mannered, and really rather beautiful – especially in your exoticness – what is there not to love.”

Regina turned away, hands clutched tight. Her voice wavered, just slightly as she spoke, “You see. Those are not reasons to love someone.”

“I do not understand.”

“Then there is your answer.”

She left, not bothering to close the door behind her. She just needed to get away. Needed air and space to herself though she knew that to be an impossibility here.

She didn’t make it far, her steps sluggish and difficult.

The thoughts returning like a tight grip on her form.

She wanted her old life, as difficult as it may have been at times. She wanted the familiarity. She wanted her father and Rocinante and Emma, and – and all she had was this. A life that wasn’t hers – was never intended to be for her. This was what her mother had always wanted for her, not her own dreams and desires. Never her own. Her father had said her mother wished for such a life, and that wish had been passed on to Regina herself.

She thought her mother already had the life she wanted; married to a prince, but her father wasn’t the heir to the throne. She saw now, with her mother’s forceful insistence and this marriage, that it was a throne she wanted. The title of Queen.

There was little possibility her mother would ever have that, but Regina might. Likely would, all factors taken into consideration.

It had passed her mother by, but she would ensure her daughter had it.

It wasn’t the first time she had thought her mother was trying to live through her. But it was the first time she felt completely certain of the thought.

She had always thought that maybe – just maybe her mother would allow her a choice after all. That she would see her sorrow and realise that what she thought best – that trying to give Regina the life she, herself, had always dreamed – was not the right decision, that there were other options. That Regina’s happiness should be found through her own choices, and in some cases her own mistakes.

That would surely be what was truly ‘for the best’.

She was left there, her mind swirling and regurgitating thoughts after thoughts – ones that had always appeared in her mind and were shoved back and forgotten, only to return after a time, over and over.

They would never stop.

Perhaps she should have had more wine.

Her steps, when she finally forced herself to move, were perhaps a little faster than was proper or normal as she walked away, but she found a worming thread of fear settling into her chest and knew she needed to flee lest something were to occur – something long remembered from hidden childhood marks and the invisible ones too.

His voice rebounded of the corridor’s stone walls, polite and still holding a concern that made her nauseous;

“I will have one of the servants bring up a platter, just in case you change your mind.”

 

Chapter Text

The chaise longue in the room that lead to her bed chamber was warmed by the sun, the window in the room large and granting a wonderful view of the grounds. It was decorated nicely, though not to her taste – it was far too gaudy for that. She had changed things around, as best she could, to give her a sense of home. And yet, it still meant nothing to her.

Regina reclined on the sofa, resting on her elbow, her head propped up on her hand. She was trying her best to relax as well as she could there, and she succeeded for the most part – though she doubted she would ever feel the calm and tranquillity she had when she had been at her home.

No – she was seeing things through a haze. Remembering only the pleasant. She was always on edge back home also; tense with apprehension of what would befall her if she misbehaved. Weighed down by what was piled atop her. She only felt the freedom of a lack of worries when she was with Rocinante – or with Emma.

And now they were so far away.

The fragile air of almost peacefulness was shattered as soon as it settled on her.

Regina tried not to show her distaste in her gaze, was barely able to stop herself from jumping up when the man entered her rooms after barely one knock.

She couldn’t bring herself to use his name – even in her own mind.

She sat up straight, trying her best to remain still as she nibbled at fruit she cared little for. Maybe if she did not feel so entrapped she would savour the experience of trying something novel and distinct, but as it was the sweet taste was dulled and unappealing on her tongue. Even with the addition of a dip of honey.

The Prince watched curiously, his eyes drawn to her face and lips – she dropped a sliver of fleshy fruit back to the plate, her stomach turning uncomfortably as she swallowed the bite she had taken down.

It left a bitter taste in her mouth as it slid down her throat. Or maybe the cause of that was standing before her.

At long last he spoke, his voice deep and pompous, and so very pleased, “I see you received my gift.”

She blinked slowly, not understanding at first.

He smiled as one would to an infant that had yet to learn anything of the world.

Regina smoothed her hand over the skirts of her dress, anything to stop her full attention from being fixed on something that filled her with anxiety.

“I worry for you so, and if there is one thing you eat without fail, it is fruit.” His answer made it clear just how proud he was in himself for knowing one little fact. It made her frown escape into the open for just a single short moment.

“So you send a platter.” She responded, her tone edging towards bored. It had become almost a nuisance, one appearing every day for the last few weeks. She had concluded the source swiftly – the servants cared little for her, their interactions limited.

“And you are enjoying it.” He smiled to himself, his large chest puffing out.

Unable to remain seated there anymore – unable to cope with the imbalance the dynamic presented – she stood up as composed as she could manage, abandoning the tray beside her uncaring if she had dislodged anything.

Regina bit at her lower lip, the action rooted in unconscious nervousness. The Prince noticed it, however, concern appearing in his eyes in a sudden rush.

It made her want to shrink into herself – seeing that pity and emotion in his eyes – it should not be there, on his face. He couldn’t truly care for her, for so many reasons. If he did, he would know. And he would stop.

Stop it all.

She schooled her expression, folding her hands before her to steady herself. To hide what was obvious to everyone who cared to look – but there was no one. Not there. To all she simply looked the picture of poise and dignity – as was expected of her.

“I know why you worry.” His brow creased, the vivid blue of his eyes making her nauseous, “And you needn’t.”

The distance between them was gone in an instant. She tried to stand strong, keep her shoulders straight and chin high.

His smile grew, his teeth showing, before it vanished, replaced by sickly worry and alarm. He reached out, his hand like a bull charging towards her.

Regina pulled her arm away before he could reach it; her throat tight.

“It is always like this at first,” he soothed, lowering his arm but not stepping back, “just like with the others.”

“Others?” She asked. Did he mean all women? It would not be a surprise to her if he did.

He simply smiled, his gaze growing distant for a moment. She took the opportunity to step back, her legs hitting the edge of the chaise longue. Her stomach twisted and a chill prickled at her skin.

“I would appreciate it if you left my rooms.” To her credit, her voice remained mostly steady, and her demand clear and strong.

“Pardon?” His brow furrowed, his hands twitching at his sides. Pure confusion.

She tried again, softer this time and less strict in tone. Her hands clutched together painfully, “It is only morning, I still need time to ready myself.”

The Prince pressed his lips together tightly, his head dropping into a nod of understanding.

“So if you did not mind…?”

He pulled at his sleeve, than stroked at the hair on his face.

She held her breath; it caught in her throat when she tried to breathe normally.

Then he nodded again.

“Of course.” He smiled. It made her grit her teeth, “Absolutely understandable – though honestly, how can one perfect perfection?”

She turned her head, focusing on the browning slices of fruit on the platter.

Unlike how such exchanges usually went – when she could not walk away – he left without further protest. Something she was beyond grateful for.

Long after the door shut and silence fell heavily – though on her it felt like a light relief – she breathed out in a whoosh, sitting rather than laying as she had before. Her shoulders tense and hands clasped together tightly in her lap.

Three months.

A quarter of a year.

Ripped so quickly from her home – she did not even having time to say goodbye.

She had coped, so far. Her father missed her terribly, her mother was proud of her – and that was what was important.

Her mother had hugged her so tightly, had told her how pleased she was on the morning of her wedding. She was good. She was well behaved, and her mother loved her so.

This was for the best.

For her best chance.

Still, it had been three months, and while she spent most of her time moving about freely – all but ignored – she was well aware of how constricted she truly was. The Prince insisted she had freedom to go wherever she wished in the castle, save for the chapel in the west wing. But she had no desire to go there, she was never a religious type and neither, it seemed, the rest of the castle.

The restrictions she felt were tightening around her like a noose, even more so with knowledge that her mother would be arriving soon for her first visit. She heard the whispers, part of the benefit of being so oft ignored. The rumours that had been seeded before she had arrived multiplied and were added to. And all due to her having yet to become pregnant, something that was expected within weeks of the wedding night. If not on it.

Her mother’s letters carried a hint of building ire with each one that arrived.

The fear of failure left her tired, ill and made everything all the more stressful. Made everything all the harder for her to deal with.

“Your Highness.” Regina snapped from her thoughts, lifting her head with a frown to the servant standing in the doorway.

With her hair pulled tightly in a fanciful style and dressed in a flattering gown far more expensive than anything she had ever owned before she was married, Regina must have looked a sight for the servant broke custom and waved her hands as she spoke. Her eyes downcast.

“You have a visitor.”

The servant looked as surprised as Regina felt, though the princess maintained a blank expression.

“Thank you,” she said simply. The servant understood her meaning, turned and automatically began leading the way from Regina’s rooms and through the lavish and enclosing halls of the building.

----

Standing outside, surrounded by trees and far from the gardens, Regina could only gape childishly.

“You weren’t to arrive for another week?” She managed to get out after a few long, embarrassing moments of silence.

The gentle breeze of the day caught a few loose strands of her hair, cooled her face flushed with surprise. Her heart hammering in her pleased shock.

Her father – her father – laughed nervously.

He seemed older, though only a few months had passed, his hair seeming that little bit greyer.

It took her longer than normal to find her bearings. Her hands fidgeting; her father’s gaze dropped to her entwined fingers and jumped up to her face. His next words leaving him in the soft steady voice she remembered from soothed nightmares and tear stained cheeks.

“Your mother is not here yet.”

Relief rushed through her, freeing her from anxiety she had not realised was there.

It was a rarity indeed that her mother would allow her father time with her for such a significant length – but then, her mother was proud of her now. Or had been. So it couldn’t really be that surprising, could it?

His smile grew when her own one, free of tension, appeared on her face.

“We rode ahead; I wanted to give you the opportunity to enjoy your gift until she arrives.” He sounded nervous, though she knew she was not the cause. Had he done such a thing without her mother’s permission? That was even rarer.

“We?”

“I brought you a gift – or rather I am returning one to you,” he continued, not hearing her; as her father would never purposely ignore her.

Regina’s nose scrunched up as she tried to think of what her father meant. She caught on swiftly.

“Rocinante?”

Her horse had been a gift from her father when she was young; Rocinante had barely been a yearling back then with spindly legs and a frail frame, and so much eagerness to be with her.

Leaving him had been so hard on her. Made all the worse by knowing the other two people she was leaving behind were with him. Two of the most important beings in her life gone, and her left with only the vague hope of seeing the third again – for they should have moved there by now, but hadn’t, the tradition perhaps not part of this land; but here her father stood, and he had brought Rocinante.

It seemed all in vain when she had left; how she had begged her mother not to take Rocinante from her, only for her, in the end, to be the one taken from him.

But – but when she had left her mother had said he was a distraction, and that was why he could not be taken with her. How had her father changed her mind? That never happened, ever. Had he really defied her?

Her father’s smile widened, and Regina – despite her lessons, ones that had been reinforced over the months of her marriage – threw her arms around him, hugging him perhaps too tightly to her.

Henry rubbed at her back, hugging her as hard as she was hugging him, “He sulked you know. Wouldn’t leave the stables for anyone, except for…”

The sound of trotting hooves across the stone path caught both of their attentions. Parting from their hug, Regina looked towards where the path disappeared around the corner of a hedge, praying that what she believed her father was implying was true.

For if it was…

Rocinante was visible first; healthy and strong. Then the one guiding him.

Regina’s breath seized in her lungs, eyes glued to a familiar blonde.

“Emma?”

She hadn’t changed, not at all, but from the jumping of Emma’s eyebrows the stablehand was surprised by Regina’s own appearance. The blonde’s steps faltered, pausing awkwardly as she stared at the princess and her father. A moment she would surely have grown conscious of if it had stretched too long.

But as it was, Rocinante pulled forward, sending Emma stumbling as she barely managed to hold on to his reins.

Henry shook his head with a mirthful smile.

Regina closed the distance between herself and the pair, running her hand soothingly over Rocinante’s muzzle as he nosed her hand before nuzzling her cheek, “I missed you too.”

“You look… different.” Emma sounded astounded, her grip on Rocinante’s reins loose, “Err, Your Highness.”

“You’re here to stay?” Regina’s question sounded too eager, too hopeful, but she couldn’t help herself – her body suddenly bubbling with excitement and mind filled with possibilities. Having Emma here would make things so much easier, and it would give them the chance they needed. A chance to be together. If they could be.

“Only temporary; he wouldn’t leave with anyone else.” Emma informed her softly, an emotion Regina could not name in her eyes.

“Until we leave,” her father added, joining them, “A stablehand from the Knights’ Stables is in her place, but I doubt he is as capable.”

Emma’s eyes dropped down, her cheeks growing pink, but Regina didn’t notice.

This might be her chance, but… leaving her father? Never seeing him again?

Her throat felt dry.

Regina shook her head subtly, nipping at her painted bottom lip. Emma’s eyes widened at the action, noticeable only to Regina luckily.

“Have you been able to ride since being here? I know how you love it.”

“I tried father, but it seemed wrong without Rocinante.”

Henry nodded and placed a supportive hand on her shoulder, “I know it must have been hard, but your mother –

“Wants what’s best for me.”

“And I do too sweetheart.” The rest of his sentence did not need to be said. His ‘But I would have done it differently’ a long known fact.

Emma stood, shifting awkwardly on her feet, saying nothing.

“We have a week.”

Rocinante nudged her hand, clearly displeased she had frozen in stroking his muzzle and face. She resumed the motion with a humour filled smile.

“I would like a ride, of course, but I understand you have travelled here on horse.” Memories of her father’s bad backs and his increasing struggle to mount and dismount Rucio had her dismissing that as a bonding activity.

“I do not mind going with you,” he insisted with a loving, indulging smile.

“No.” Regina refused gently, the strength inherent in that singular word making her father’s brow crease in wonder and Emma’s head to tilt, “I think I can show you around here, have a private meal, just the two of us.”

She turned a sympathetic look to Emma, knowing she could not join them. But they would have their time together, Regina would ensure that. Just seeing her again made her stomach flutter with the pleasant buzz of excitement. Made her heart pound and body warm.

The stablehand just smiled, shrugging her shoulders.

When Regina looked away she saw her father peering at her curiously; she bowed her head, fussed over Rocinante until the excess heat in her cheeks faded, then pulled back reluctantly.

“He’s being kept in the Royal Stables?”

“Of course.” Emma answered with an overly formal politeness, one that usually she was free of around Regina’s father. In fact, moments ago she had seemed more at ease, the formalness not present, “They have separate quarters nearby for stablehands, but I’ll be staying in the stables.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Regina joked, before remembering her place and noting how Emma’s form seemed stiff. Regina’s brow creased at her odd behaviour.

“Better to keep a close eye on Rocinante, until he settles in, Re – Your Highness.”

“Have you rested since arriving her?” Regina asked them both, distracting herself from the sinking feeling in her stomach. Rocinante seemed fine but she could not be certain about her father or Emma.

“I am fine; as I am sure Swan is –

Emma nodded, her curls bouncing around her face. Her hair seemed longer, curler even.

– You can show me the grounds first, we don’t have to part from Rocinante or your friend for a little while more that way.”

The warmth that spread through her chest had a sad, yet happy smile settling on her face. Maybe this would help to put them all at ease.

And they didn’t have long, she reminded herself, her mother would be here in a week, perhaps even sooner, and then they would be gone before she truly got to enjoy their presence.

Her father could have been greedy, or rude, insisting that they spend their time together. But of course he was not like that; he wanted to offer her the chance to enjoy her time with all of them. He knew how much they all meant to her and he welcomed it. And it made her love him all the more. His love was different to her mother’s, always had been, and he had never seen her as… something to be ashamed of.

“Thank you father.”

She hugged him again, surprised by how much smaller he seemed, only to remember the pinching heeled shoes she was wearing boosting her height. Her feet had grown all but numb to the pain already that day, which while unpleasant, was far better than the first occasions she had been made to wear such things. She would take her riding boots over such shoes any day.

They made her taller than Emma also, not by much, but enough to make her feel an odd sense of awkwardness coupled with her unease – the feeling that something was not right. The blonde’s smile wavered as their eyes met, her green irises swirling with such a mixture of emotions that Regina could not pin down a single one.

Emma handed Rocinante’s reins over, her expression changing once she had done so. Emma raised her hand again, hovered it in the space between them; for a moment Regina wondered if she wanted them to hold hands. But they couldn’t, not with her father there.

“It might be best if I keep hold of them.” Emma gestured to Rocinante’s reins, instinctively Regina’s grip on them tightened, a brief flash of fear that he would be taken from her returning, before vanishing just as swiftly.

Her father nodded, the furrows on his forehead deepening as he acknowledged his agreement despite knowing how it would disappoint Regina.

But Emma was right. If they saw her walking with someone ‘lesser’ then rumours would emerge – or rather, more would join those that already existed. Rumours travelled so fast, grew so swiftly in size. She cared little for such things, but with her mother arriving it was best to stamp out any that already existed, or rather more easily, prevent any more from forming.

Her mother would not be pleased to hear the contents of such things, not when she already had something so important to be upset over.

Reluctantly Regina relented, returning the reins to Emma who offered her a sympathetic smile, a spark of familiar feelings returning to her eyes for a moment.

When they walked, Rocinante positioned himself as close to Regina as he could. He likely would have stayed there, almost attached to her side, even if Emma did not hold his reins.

They spoke of mild, common things as they walked – Emma trying to stay in the place forced upon her, but Henry including her in their topics when he found it suitable.

Emma had sugar cubes stashed in the pockets of her breeches, and handed them to a rather giddy Regina to feed to Rocinante whenever they stopped to take in the sights. Or rather her father did; Regina had seen it all before, and Emma’s eyes seemed more drawn to her, and, she soon realised, her new attire.

“The plants here are different,” her father noted as they walked past one of the many flower gardens she had already grown tired of, “The flowers are fainter in colour. How are you finding the weather here?”

“Pardon?”

“It is colder, is it not? It certainly seems that way to me.” He rubbed his hands together as if to emphasise his point as Regina’s mind tried to catch up to the unexpected topic.

“You grow accustomed to it.”

“And there’s me choosing to sleep in a stable,” Emma muttered jokingly to herself. Regina raised an eyebrow, the corner of her lips turning up in a smile. Emma chuckled to herself, scratching at her cheek nervously.

Regina turned back to her father, pondering over his words, “You’ve never been interested in flowers before father.”

“I suppose it’s something to do with age.” He shrugged in an uncharacteristic manner, smiling humorously.

Rocinante’s lips tickled her palm as he gently took a cube of sugar from her hand, it wouldn’t do him good to eat too many, but he deserved a treat, or more like a few of them.

“Your mother,” her father shifted his balance from one foot to the other, his eyes downcast, “she writes for us.” He rubbed his hands together again, turning to her, his gaze filled with disquiet, “Are you happy?”

Regina ran her fingers through Rocinante’s mane, choosing to watch him instead of looking at her father or Emma. It was rude, she knew that, to avoid meeting someone’s eyes while speaking to them one on one, but she knew neither her father nor Emma would scold her.

Rocinante nuzzled her other hand, pausing only to lick at the loose grains of sugar that clung to her palm.

She swallowed thickly, her shoulders tensing barely noticeably.

“Prince Conway, is… kind to me.” There was more she wished to say, but the words did not wish to part from her tongue. Not when she felt obligated to someone. Of course she was sad; she did not want this life after all. She never had. But The Prince gave her a home, was courteous, spent much of the Royal Treasury on gifts; jewellery, clothes, anything and everything for her. And so it would be wrong of her to be rude about him behind his back.

Besides, she did not wish to worry her father so.

She looked away from Rocinante to see her father smiling softly, but she felt he knew more of her implication than she wished, but he did not question her further.

Emma however… her head might be bowed, but Regina could tell she assumed more, and that there would be questions if they had time.

And they would have time, Regina’s heart ached with the need to touch and sooth the younger woman, to ensure her nothing had changed. That her love had only grown stronger.

From a simple touch of their hands, to those sweet kisses they shared. She needed her.

Henry nodded his head slowly, placing his hand on Regina’s shoulder and squeezing it supportively.

“So,” he said after a time, “I heard there is a maze?”

Regina smiled her thanks, glad the topic was over for now, confirming with a nod of her own as her father dropped his hand back to his side.

“Well then, while I do not feel like getting lost today, I would like to at least see the outside of it.”

“Of course father,” Regina inclined her head motioning for Emma and Rocinante to continue accompanying them for now, though that time was quickly coming to an end, “If you would follow me.”

“No need to ask my dear.” Her father’s smile and good humour was contagious, lifting her mood in seconds back to the level it was before his earlier question.

And, as they continued their journey, Rocinante trotting happily beside her and her father making comments regarding the surroundings, she felt Emma’s subtly concerned gaze focused on her.

----

It was evening when Regina slipped away with relative ease, heading to the stables on the only slightly false pretence of visiting Rocinante. Her father was exhausted from the trip, and Prince Conway was busy ensuring everything was ready for her mother’s imminent arrival.

If anyone noticed her, they said nothing to bring her attention to them.

Emma was where she said she would be, in the Royal Stables, feet propped on top of a table as she reclined in an unstable looking chair.

Maybe it was abnormal, the way Regina stood there taking in the sight. Even more so when she noted Emma’s head was bowed in a doze, her arms crossed loosely across her chest.

A part of her half expected Emma would not be there, not just absent from the stable, but not there, with her, at all. As if someone would swoop down and seize Emma from so near to her own grasp, leaving her empty and alone, her thin thread of hope snapped in an instant.

Yet another part of her feared what this desperation inside her meant. This urge and will to leave behind everything she had ever known for a – for what her mother would call a ‘foolish whim’. But here and now, with Emma so close, the urge was even stronger. And had her father not told her of the strength of love? How it could conquer so much? Had she not dreamed of it?

And yet she was willing to let it slip through her fingers, like sand, due to her own fears.

She sighed.

Emma snorted, her head jerking up as the back of her chair wobbled dangerously.

“Emma!”

Miraculously Emma managed to regain her balance; her feet dropping to the ground and hands scrabbling at the table until she realised she was not about to have a nasty meeting with the hard ground.

Regina pressed her fingers to her lips, trying to stifle a giggle at not only Emma’s actions but her wide-eyed, gaping expression.

It took a while for the blonde’s breathing to calm, but when it did her eyes slid to Regina, and she pouted.

That just made Regina’s giggle morph into a full out laugh.

“Aw, come on.” Emma spread her arms, as if begging for forgiveness, “You scare the life out of me and then laugh at me! What happened to manners?”

“It’s not my fault you deemed sleeping in the early evening a viable activity.”

Rubbing at the back of neck, Emma grinned guiltily, “Well, there isn’t really much to do here. Rocinante’s as settled as expected, and that’s all I am responsible for.”

Regina hummed her agreement, moving past the still seated Emma to Rocinante who was in the stall opposite. His ears pointed forward as he noticed her moving towards the stall door. He nosed her as she came into reaching distance. 

She scratched at a spot behind his ear, one that he had always enjoyed since he was a young yearling. He nuzzled at her palm, his eyes falling half-closed in his contentment.

Behind Regina, Emma’s chair scraped against the stone floor, her boots tapping the only other indication of the blonde’s movement.

She moved away from Regina, but then she was approaching again, her footsteps growing louder. Her presence more solid.

“Here,” she said when she reached Regina’s side. Regina met her eyes, lost for a moment in the vivid colours, before looking down, seeing the carrot Emma was holding out to her.

“Thank you.”

A quick snap and Emma was handing her one half of the vegetable, Regina offered her half to an eager Rocinante who took it immediately, munching away happily. She waited until he was finished before taking the other half from Emma.

“Look at this place.” Emma looked around as Rocinante chewed the second half of the carrot, thoroughly enjoying just how much he had been spoiled that day, “It’s so much bigger than ours.”

“Prince Conway is the first cousin of King George, and his region is far large than our own.”

“So he’s far richer, right?”

“Of course.”

“Eh,” Emma drew out the word, no doubt shrugging, “everyone seems way too rich to me. I honestly can’t see the difference.”

“I suppose it is only something you are sensitive to if you, well…”

“Grew up as you did.” Emma’s answer was immediate. Regina couldn’t quite pin down the emotion in the words, causing a feeling of panicked anxiety to settle in her form. She swallowed thickly, unable to turn around.

“I do not mean it offensively, I –

“It’s fine Regina, I understand.” Emma’s smile was notable in her tone; it helped to sooth Regina’s nerves.

Regina gave Rocinante one final scratch behind the ear before turning to Emma, feeling as if there was something weighing on her mind.

But Emma beat her to the matter, “How are you, really?”

With a dry throat, Regina tried to distract herself with something else – anything else – but found she physically couldn’t look away from Emma’s eyes. Not when she looked at her with such care, such affection and concern. So different to the Prince’s that morning.

It wasn’t right for her to talk badly of anyone, especially not one who provided everything for her. Not when there was an absence of intentional cruelty, not when she was looked after.  

But Emma, she trusted her with her life. And the stablehand had always been able to break through what had been ingrained in her through her lessons; she always allowed Regina a moment of freedom from her restrictions, with no one – her mother – none the wiser.

“I have everything that I should want. It is true what I said of the Prince, he is kind to me.”

Emma’s brow wrinkled, but she said nothing, though her suspicion of Regina’s words was clear to see.

“Truthfulness is important to him, as is trust. He is protective over his privacy, but I have little interest in betraying his wishes.”

“What wishes?” Emma leant against the next stall over, a tilt to her head.

“A wish, rather. That I do not enter the chapel, but is not used anyway. Prince Conway turned his back on religion, as has his staff.”

“You’ve never been religious?” Emma crossed her arms loosely, clearly puzzled.

“No, not really, and I have no plans to be.”

Emma huffed, irritation barely hidden from her face, “If he believes in trust so much, then surely he should be open to sharing everything with you. Trust isn’t a one way road.”

“I’m not sure I’ve heard that saying before.” Regina moved back to the table, picked up an apple core by its stalk and placed it on a nearby empty plate, “But I understand your implication. Do not worry Emma, I am fine.”

“Well I still think it’s not right.” Emma’s voice dropped in volume, Regina heard her sigh, kicking at the ground with her foot, “None of it is.”

Something must have changed about her posture, something that signalled to Emma what she was feeling, for in only a moment Emma was at her side, hand resting just above her elbow. Regina’s tension eased just enough for Emma’s hesitant grip to grow more sure.

“There’s still a way,” Emma said slowly, an edge of trepidation to her tone. “Before the week is up, this could be our chance.”

Regina did not respond. She couldn’t.

Emma moved away, the distance growing between them and leaving Regina cold and fearful.

“If you have changed –

“No.” Regina whirled, the skirts of her dress billowing with the force of the movement, “You know that is not it Emma. If anything my feelings have grown stronger.”

Emma rubbed her hands against her breeches, her brow furrowed. Regina pressed her hand to her own stomach, willing herself to find the strength to say what was needed.

“I feel bound.” Regina averted her eyes, turning to Rocinante as if for comfort. For support in her moment of inability, in her feelings of helplessness, “I wish I didn’t, but I do, and Emma, I am so sorry for that. I wish I was as strong as you. I wish I had that kind of power.”

“You’re stronger than you think.” Emma bounced on her heels, needing to expel excess energy, “I mean, you’re here.”

“I don’t want to be.” Emma’s eyes were wide when Regina turned back, distress creasing the blonde’s brow and clear in her eyes. It took a long moment for the emotion to fade, replaced by realisation.

“I think you misunderstood me.”

“Then what did you mean?” Regina asked in a rush, fearing perhaps that she had accidently said something hurtful.

But by then Emma was rubbing at her neck, one arm crossed loosely across her body, “It doesn’t matter.”

There was more to it than that, Emma’s behaviour and grumbled answer a clear sign of something. Just what that something was Regina didn’t know.

“You will stay then?” Emma’s voice was strained in a way that tugged painfully at Regina’s chest; that had her closing her eyes to hide from the sight of the hurt she had caused the blonde.

Her eyes stinging, Regina shook her head, desperation clear in her voice, “No. That is not what I was trying to say. I feel unable, I wish I didn’t, but I do.”

Emma worried her bottom lip, shifted her weight between her feet, and approached Regina. As soon as she was in reach, Regina pulled her to her. Desperate for the contact she had missed so dearly. Emma responded immediately, wrapping her arms around her waist and resting her cheek against Regina’s own.

An unexpected sob caught in Regina’s throat as she clutched at Emma shoulders. She breathed in Emma’s scent and took comfort in her arms as her body shook. Emma freed a hand to run in a soothing up and down motion along Regina’s spine, whispering comforting nonsense into her ear.

With time, her breathing calmed, Emma bringing her back from the edge of panic she had felt at the corners of her mind. Pulling her gently from the brink and back onto solid ground.

It was even later when Emma spoke, her tone just as soft as before, “There are other ways. I’ve been thinking on it, for quite some time.”

They remained in their embrace, even when Regina lifted her head so she and Emma could see each other’s eyes.

“I wasn’t sure if I would ever get this chance – to see you again I mean.” Emma’s arm around Regina’s waist twitched as she stumbled over her words, her nervous energy catching as Regina felt a fluttering in her stomach as anxiety bloomed there, “I’ve been practicing, with reading and writing. I’m still not that good, but I think I’m at least understandable now, and can understand better.”

“You never told me.”

“That I’ve been practicing? I only really started after you left, I figured if I could get someone on our side to send a message for me, and another here to give it to you, then we could talk.” Emma’s head bowed slightly, as she added in a rush, “Not necessarily to make plans or anything. Just talk if that is all you wanted. Want. ”

“No, Emma.” Regina tilted her head until she could coax Emma to lift her own, “You never told me you couldn’t read or write. I would have helped teach you.” Regina’s smile grew, her eyelashes brushing her cheeks as she blinked slowly, “I missed you too.”

“Yeah.” Emma’s face grew pink, “Well, it wasn’t important or anything. The writing and reading I mean. It’s not like I need to be able to read or write to read a horse, or anything.”

“I disagree.” Regina said easily, “It is a basic skill everyone should have. I would have helped you.” Emma was looking at her boots, ashamed for a reason Regina was unsure of, “But why the secrecy? About sending the letters, not your inability to… about not being taught what you should have been.”

“I’ve seen servants – the ones that can read – look at mail not for them, letters for their employers. I guess they have to do something when they’re bored, so I figured getting someone I can ‘trust’ would mean that wouldn’t happen.”

“The Prince believes in trustworthiness, I do not think he would invade my privacy.”

Emma’s eyes narrowed in thought, her arms reflexively tightening around Regina’s waist, “But he would expect you to tell him what was in a letter.”

That was a valid point, so Regina conceded quickly her own gaze dropping, “… I believe so.”

“So my idea was a good one. Is. If you want to do it, you know.”

Stroking Emma’s arm, uncaring about the rough material of her tunic, Regina’s smile grew even more affectionate, “Of course I want to talk to you Emma.”

She would certainly feel guilty for being deceitful, but had that not been the case before? When she used to sneak out to see her friend? And even now?

Emma stepped back, breaking their hug and leaving Regina grasping for their contact to return. The blonde ran a hand through her hair, puffing her cheeks out and exhaling in a long stream of breath.

“We have a chance now, but I understand your hesitancy – I think.”

“I want to, really I do Emma. I just…”

“Don’t feel able, I know.” Emma scratched at the bridge of her nose, eyes averted in thought, “If that does not change before the week is up, then there is another way.” Emma’s body lurched into movement, her hands jumping as she began speaking excitedly, “We can arrange to meet with the letters, meet halfway between this region and ours. Or meet in a village on the border of the next region over. Or something like that.”

“But my mother has magic, she’ll find us.” Regina reached out, and Emma automatically moved closer, taking Regina’s hand in two of her own. The contact helped to steady the princess, to calm her.

“There’s a region in the north-west, I forget its name but I hear there are fairies there, ones that work with the royal family. We can go there and seek sanctuary. Fairy magic is supposed to be powerful, isn’t it?”

“We have nothing to offer them.” Regina cupped the back of Emma’s hand with her free one, both of their hands clasped tightly before them, “Everything I have been given, that I do not want, will be lost. What can I offer them in return for making an enemy of my mother? Of two regions they are allied with?”

“I have nothing, I know that. But we can figure something out, it will be a long journey there, but I’ll do my best to get supplies. To save up any money I can get, pull some favours. We can head there, and by the time we arrive we will have thought of something.”

Regina’s breathing wavered, her head feeling light.

Emma freed their hands, pulled Regina to her gently; the effect was immediate, Regina resting her head against Emma’s shoulder, wrapping her arms around her tightly.

Emma placed a hand against Regina’s neck and ran it down along her back, clearly wanting to run her fingers through her hair, but being unable with it styled as it was.

“I’m not trying to force you into anything.”

“I know,” Regina replied, voice tight.

A kiss to Regina’s forehead had her eyes fluttering shut, her breathing calming. Realisation washed over her, and her senses caught up. Weakness, perhaps, but she trusted Emma. More than anything. She could trust her with her weaknesses.

She had before.

She could now.

“I’m afraid.”

A hum, a deep sound rumbling in her chest, was Emma’s sign of recognition. Regina sighed, pushing into Emma’s palm as the younger woman cupped her face and rubbed her thumb against her cheek.

“You’re not the only one.” Emma chuckled mirthlessly, her eyes filled with honesty but determination.

Regina straightened up, reluctant, perhaps, to be moving from the intimate comfort of Emma’s body. But with her heels making her taller, the position was not as comfortable as it should be.

She could do this. Fight her fear. Fight her apprehension.

She could be happy.

Even if it required a sacrifice she wished she did not have to make.

“Now, or then, I want to do this.”

Emma’s face lit up, but she quickly tried to cover the reaction, afraid she might frighten the princess with just how deeply she wanted this.

“We deserve to be together.”

“I will do right by you, any way that I can.” Emma’s smile took on a sheepish quality again, her eyes dropping and jumping up in a split moment, “You make me feel like I belong.”

“And you make me feel capable of anything.” She pulled Emma into a short, chaste kiss, putting forth all the love that she could into the action as Emma was completely incapable of hiding her ecstatic smile.

Regina hummed into the kiss, feeling pleasurable heat building beneath her skin.

There was an old saying she knew, something about sealing a promise with a kiss.

They parted before things grew too heated (though she wished they hadn’t), at the sound of a horse snuffling nearby.

Emma’s smile seemed to have become a permanent fixture on her face, her eyes ever bright.

It was a stark contrast to her after their reunion earlier that day.

Regina fiddled with her hands, running the fingers of one over the back of the other. She nipped at her bottom lip with her teeth as her eyes moved to the floor and back to Emma.

“You seemed to behave oddly at first.”

Emma shrugged self-consciously, her smile unsure. Regina’s own was all it took for Emma to verbalise what had her feeling uneasy, “Can you blame me? You’ve changed so much; I thought you would be the same.”

Emma chucked nervously.

“I haven’t had much of a choice.”

Perhaps that was the wrong thing to say, for Emma’s face flashed with a guilt she should not feel. Nor ever feel.

“This is simply what is expected when you are married. Being in a different kingdom means I must follow their customs, and those of the Prince.”

Emma folded her arms, nodding, but clearly displeased, “… I guess that makes sense.”

“It doesn’t.”

Emma laughed; a short sudden burst of sound that caught as a flame does, leaving Regina’s own light laughter flowing free for the first time in a long while, but lasting just for a moment.  

Emma’s gaze dropped, landing on Regina’s bared cleavage. There was a barely concealed heat in her eyes at first; one Regina had seen many times on the faces of others, but unsurprisingly with Emma the act made her breath grow shorter. The disgust she normally felt and masked would never be the case with the unruly stablehand.

There was something else though, mixed in with desire. Hidden just as poorly behind bright eyes, and while she would not normally pry – Emma’s eyes jumped up, her face flushing with conflicting emotions that she swiftly stamped down – things had changed, at least a little.

“What is it?” She cupped Emma’s cheek, encouraging her to look up; Emma caught her hand, bringing it down between them, her grip secure and trembling.

“Where’s my… err…” Shamefaced, Emma shuffled awkwardly on her feet, her cheeks pinkening.

“It’s here,” Regina reassured softly, “It could not be apparent, but I did not wish to hide it away from myself.”

She pressed her fingers over her heart, felt the solid security of the ring there.

Her dresses were all made for her, and it had been easy to complain about the lack of pockets for her to carry things in. Of course they could not be obvious, and so after a talk with the tailor she had managed to convince him a hidden pocket in the breast would be the best option. (Pockets ‘weren’t for women’ after all).

And so it was, all her dress having the same feature. The ring secured over her heart, a reminder of who she had given it to, and who had given her theirs in return.

“It calms me. To have you close.”

Emma blinked, but the meaning of Regina’s words sunk in shortly, her cheeks pulling up with the force of her smile, her hand twitching where their fingers were threaded.

“I wish I had something to give you in return.”

With a shake of her Emma stepped closer, her smile not wavering, “I am surrounded by reminders of you. I need nothing, I already have more than I could ever have hoped to have gifted to me.”

“You deserve more than my words and my heart.”

“And I can say the same to you.”

“The letters.”

“Huh?”

“We shall do it that way; we will both have time to prepare then.”

Had she not been the one who first brought up the idea of leaving together after all? It had been brought out of panic then, Emma had cleared her mind, but now? Well they both wanted it now and saw it so clearly. This was their chance. “I have much available to me here, so please do not do anything drastic, or lose anything you have.”

“I have nothing; or rather the little I do have is unimportant. Save for what you gave me.”

Regina couldn’t help her smile, even as she gave a gentle shove to Emma’s shoulder, “You’re not charming.”

“You love me anyway.” Emma stuck her tongue out, Regina’s lips twitched with the need to smile at the blonde’s antics, but she wouldn’t let her win.

“Though I find myself pondering.”

Emma’s expression returned to seriousness, encouraging her to continue with a kind smile.

“If you trust another enough to deliver the letter, then why not have someone else write it for you?”

“To be honest, I didn’t really think of that at first.” Emma admitted, running a hand through her curls, “But when it did come to me, I thought it better not to. I mean, the words may be mine, but physically they won’t be – if that makes sense. And I think it best to keep what I wish to say just between us.”

“The plan?” Regina asked.

“Well, as I said before, it was just to talk. The plan was only if you wished it to be so.”

“Then you wanted to keep our true feelings private between us.”

“That too, I guess…”

Regina tilted her head, her gaze steady on Emma as the blonde squirmed beneath her scrutiny.

“Okay!” Emma burst out, unable to handle Regina looking at her like that, “I may have been thinking of saying certain things. Which it’s probably best not to…”

“What ‘things’?”

Emma was looking at her feet again, her face creased in embarrassment and shame.

“We have shared so much, you can tell me anything.”

Emma looked around quickly, her eyes lingering on Rocinante over Regina’s shoulder before returning to her. Emma’s voice was low, as if afraid of the horses hearing, “Like how I missed your warmth against me.”

Regina’s heart fluttered beneath her breast, her smile sincere – she had missed that too, and so much else.

Then Emma continued, her words gathering strength but her cheeks still pink, “The feel of your skin against mine. The little sounds you make; your heat.”

“Emma,” Regina gasped, though less out of shock than the thought of Emma writing and thinking such things. And how much Regina felt the same; missing the sight and sounds, the touches and feelings of not just their emotional connection, but the physical too.

The distance between them shrank away to nothing.  Their mouths barely with a breath between them, “I miss the way you feel against my tongue, your taste.”

“Emma…” Regina murmured this time, feeling heat curling in her stomach, feeling the warmth of Emma’s body so close to her own.

“I miss the way you make me feel.”

She pulled them together, burying her fingers in Emma’s curls, tilting her head to better move their mouths against one another. One of them pushed forward, she was unsure of which, and their tongues were free to push and stroke, exploring what they had not in what felt to be an age. Emma’s hands gripped her hips, pulling them as close as possible.

A little ‘mmm’ of pleasure left Regina, a vocalisation that returned when Emma’s hips bucked against her own, a moan muffled in their kiss.

Her hands moved on their own, running along the waist of Emma’s breeches, her thumbs had slipped under the blonde’s tunic, stroking against the firm flesh there.

Emma hissed at the accidental scratch of Regina’s nails, hands roaming across Regina’s covered body, grunting partly out of annoyance at being unable to get to Regina’s skin, and partly due to the princess’ hand slipping down past her waistband.

“Oh fuck…” She groaned.

Heat shot through Regina, Emma’s curse and the wetness that met her fingers throwing her back to memories of what felt so distant, and yet was not.

The blonde’s hips bucked forward, desperate for contact, Regina’s fingers just skimming her clit, tapping and stroking and drawing out throaty sounds as Emma’s fingers grasped at her hips, fingers digging tight –

A neighing horse startled them.

They separated with red faces and trembling bodies, but arms still holding tight to one another’s bodies.

The shock of realisation extinguished the heat of arousal, leaving her gasping.

Not here. Anyone could walk in. It was still early evening, everyone would still be awake, and she had a meal to attend, as was proper even if her father was already resting, and would not be attending.

She parted reluctantly from Emma, trying her best not to show her own disappointment or see it reflected in Emma’s own features. The heat between her thighs was not so easily dispelled.

They would find their privacy soon enough. And once they were gone, they would have all the time in the world to enjoy one another, not just emotionally, but physically also. It still felt foreign to her – to hunger after someone with such intensity. To want them all; mind, body and soul.

It was frightening in many ways, and yet so enthralling at the same time.

Compelled as if by some unknown instinct, Regina pressed her still damp fingers to her lips, taking them in and thrilling at the taste she had missed so. Hunger flashed in Emma’s eyes at Regina’s little, unintentional moan at the addictive taste on her tongue. So much better than the dulled fruit of this land.

Emma watched her dumbly, as Regina withdraw her fingers and daintily wiped them against her skirts, running her tongue over her lips to catch any last drops she may have missed.

It was difficult to ignore the arousal in her, even more so when Emma’s eyes grew heavy, matching her breathing.

An odd sense of pride filtered through Regina’s form, one she could not place, and when she spoke it was with surprising confidence and a husky tone.   

“I would like to go for a ride tomorrow, if time allows it; I would be appreciative if I were to have someone accompany me. It has, after all, been a while since I have ridden and Rocinante has had a rider – at least I assume he hasn’t.”

Emma nodded speechlessly, her mind taking a second or two to catch up with the fact she was being spoken to. She shook her head, her eyes widening as she came back to herself.

“Err…” She began, her eyes jumping over Regina for a few moments, her mouth parted, “He was tethered to another horse for the ride here, he refused to be ridden by anyone else.” Emma shrugged, “I had to use another horse, I don’t normally ride so it was an experience to say the least.”

“So…” Regina closed the distance between them again, reaching up a hand to trail over Emma’s strong shoulder, “about that ride.”

“Hmm,” Emma put forward the pretence of thinking hard, while also clearly being distracted by Regina’s unexpected flirtatious behaviour, “I suppose I can see if there is anyone adequately qualified for such a task, Princess.”

“Yes, well see to it.” Regina could no longer hide her smile, her eyes crinkling first giving her away. As soon as Emma raised an eyebrow at her, her lips tilting up cockily, her façade of hiding her amusement vanished in an instant.

Emma caught her hand, pulled her in with a sharp motion and pressed her lips to the corner of Regina’s mouth. It hurt to push Emma back, to shake her head softly to say ‘no’, but Emma understood, smile still in place.

Regina’s face flushed, her behaviour from seconds before registering in her mind, leaving her embarrassed. The confidence melting away, Emma guided her in again, kissing her temple and soothing Regina’s rising panic.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Princess.”

Regina sighed, her heart slowing to a normal beat, as she basked in the soft pressure of Emma against her, “I look forward to it.”

----

It was simple enough to pass Emma off as a guide for Rocinante, after all she had not ridden for a long while, and he had not been ridden for just as long. Not that the staff there were aware of just how skilled a rider she was, nor would they care.

The exhilaration of riding again, even if only at a jog, mixed with the excitement of having Emma so close to her, had Regina brimming with energy. And so, it was only natural that as soon as they were certain of privacy, they found themselves impatient in their need to be together. Regina jumping down sooner than she ever usually would, muttering apologises to Rocinante – but he would remain with her, Emma would not. At least not until their planned reunion.

Rocinante was tethered nearby, drinking from the stream that ran through the wooded part of the grounds; Regina though, in an odd show considering what had occurred the evening before and many nights prior in the stables of her old home, had insisted they be hidden from his sight.

Emma had jested (especially concerning Regina’s words only the night prior), but had consented, deeming a thick oak tree nearby suitable enough to hide them. It would also allow them the security of knowing Rocinante would be alright and ensured they would know if anyone approached.

Emma’s lips teased Regina’s neck as soon the older woman pulled the blonde to her. Emma had been trying to blather on about something or the other – an attempt at being noble and ‘proper’ – but Regina had little patience for that today. Emma too it seemed, for as soon as they were pressed close her hands and lips leaped to explore Regina’s body as best she could.

“We shouldn’t…”

“You started it.” Emma chuckled against Regina’s neck, teeth nipping lightly at the skin uncovered when she had rid Regina of her riding jacket – discarding of it carelessly.

“We’ll have all the time we will need later.” Regina all but purred when Emma’s lips reached the sensitive spot beneath her ear, the blonde’s hand raised to palm Regina’s breast through her shirt. Regina’s weak protests were nothing more than what she knew she should say, rather than what she actually wanted to; they both knew that.

Regina’s hand clutched the back of Emma’s neck, her fingers played with the small curls there, her other hand running along the blonde’s strong arm.

“I wish you could mark me.”

Emma growled; a sound that startled them both, but also increased the fervour of their desperate actions.

She still remembered the mark above her collarbone, how seeing it had brought the memories of that night together into vivid life. It had, however, faded quickly, and while her memories remained strong, the absence of it left her unable to reach that same intensity of arousal as she had before.

It was bizarre; more than a little concerning in her logical mind, but her emotions accepted and embraced her feelings. Accepted that it felt so right, that it brought her such pleasure. So how could that be wrong?

“Later, when we are free,” Regina panted as Emma still seemed torn between being stunned and being overtaken by arousal, “Please.”

Emma lifted her head, pressed a messy, uncontrolled kiss to Regina’s mouth, and said in that deep tone that had Regina squirming on the spot, “Whatever you wish.”

Regina smiled against Emma’s mouth, feeling truly content for the first time in so long.

The rough bark at her back was an irritation, but did not bother her, even though it may very well mar her white shirt. She didn’t care, not with Emma pressed so close. Even her protests from the evening before – her concerns of being caught – were forgotten in that moment. For all she cared, they were the only two people in the world. They were all that mattered in their little bubble of almost privacy.

Emma hummed appreciatively against the sensitive skin of Regina’s neck, her hands slipping to squeeze the brunette’s ass.

“Oh!” Regina jumped, tried to slap at Emma’s shoulder, but the blonde barely noticed, her hands kneading the flesh hidden only by a few layers of clothing.

“Leather.” She hummed, “I like the leather.”

Regina snorted while somehow still sounding ‘proper’, and this time Emma felt the slap, but barely flinched, a laugh leaving her as she leant forward heavily. Regina sighed, the feeling of Emma’s weight pressed so close adding to her arousal.

“Spent too long around riding equipment have you?”

Emma pouted, her expression comparable to a begging puppy.

Rocinante shuffled behind them.

Regina levelled as serious a look as she could manage with Emma still looking at her with wide, overly innocent eyes.

Emma’s hands squeezed.

“Emma!” She squirmed beneath the blonde’s hands, reluctantly resting back against the tree and pulled the still pouting blonde to her mouth.

The pout fell from Emma’s lips, replaced by a broad, ecstatic grin.

Cupping the back of Emma’s neck, she tilted her head, encouraging their tongues to meet. Emma’s hands resumed their kneading, this time pulling a moan from Regina’s throat, her own fingers digging into Emma’s shoulder.

A shift of position as their kiss deepened, and Emma’s leg slipped between her own. A groan left her as Regina’s hips rocked subtly against the blonde’s firm thigh, wetness building and demanding attention as she throbbed.

God she needed this.

They both did. It had felt so long she had felt this free, this complete, this –

“What...?”

Regina’s eyes snapped open, her breath seizing in her lungs.

No –

Emma froze, a breath from her lips, eyes far wider and more fear filled than she had ever seen before.

They turned their heads as one, the source of the sound standing having only just rounded the tree.

The bright red of Regina’s riding jacket was clutched in his hand. Emma’s eyes squeezed shut at the sight of it, Regina’s hands tightened around her, the blonde clearly blaming herself for the carelessness of both of them.

As if a spark catching alight, they parted by almost jumping back, realising too late that in their shock they had pressed closer, which would only lead to further incrimination. 

She begged whatever deity that might be listening that he had thought it was a kiss only. They hadn’t been that deep in their lust, had they? They were still in the early stages, and so it would not be as bad, would it?

Would it?

“Father…”

Henry’s eyes jumped from her to Emma, and back again in a rapid, repetitive manner.

“I… finished the meeting early. I wanted to see you riding free…” His throat bobbed, shock written across his face and clear to see, his words fell confused and automatically, “I always loved to see you so happy when you ride.”

Emma’s hands were twitching at her side, and she was blinking faster than normal as her eyes struggled to remain on Henry.

“Father…” Regina stepped forward, pleading in both voice and body, “I can explain.”

Her riding jacket was pressed into her hands. She slipped it on distractedly, not bothering to button it.

“Explain what?” Her father’s brow was furrowed, and for once she could not tell what he was feeling.

And God that frightened her.

Her lungs refused to draw breath as they should; a cold sweat formed on her brow and trailed down her icy face.

“I love her, and she loves me, you always told me how powerful love – true love is, and I know I have found it.” Regina pressed a hand to her chest, over her heart, as if to force it to stay beating when it felt so close to breaking. The solid form of the ring there hard against her palm. “Please Papa, please don’t tell her.”

Henry, as if snapped out of a daze, stepped forward, resting his hands comfortingly on Regina’s arms. His expression had grown so soft, so caring that it squeezed Regina’s heart in a tight grip.

Sympathy. His throat bobbed again. He cupped her cheek, stroked his thumb over it much as he did when she was so much younger. But then the touch dropped back to her arms, his eyes averted to some spot to her left.

It became apparent what, or rather who, he was looking at when the softness of his expression disappeared. A stick snapped underfoot, no doubt as Emma shifted anxiously – Henry studied Emma with a hard intensity she rarely saw on her father’s face. No – it was far more suited to her mother’s.

“You love her?” He asked after a few long, fretful minutes. Regina – dread and fear fixed in her form – turned wide eyes to Emma as soon as those words left her father’s mouth.

Emma – whose head had been bowed and her body pulled into itself – straightened up, suddenly firm and strong. Confident.

“More than anything.” Emma’s response was immediate, not a single hint of hesitation in her voice or her posture.

Regina needed to look away, needed to see her father’s face. His reaction.

He nodded, his expression and Emma’s nearing a standoff level of intensity; then he looked away, returning his gaze back to Regina, a smile forming.

“You’re happy.” His brow crinkled as he shook his head, “With her I mean.”

“Yes.” With only a tinge of guilt in her voice, Regina added, “More than I think I ever have been.”

Her father guided her closer, sympathy clear in his eyes, “I cannot promise you she won’t find out.” He dipped his head, then looked to the stream nearby before turning his gaze back to her, “But I will not tell her, not intentionally; she has ways of finding out such things. Most things.”

Her heart skipped a beat – she had never thought… she had hoped but…

She tried to thank him, but her eyes were watering and her words were stuck. The smile that appeared on her face was one of relief.

“Be cautious.”

Regina’s words came unstuck, a small furrow appearing between her eyebrows, “You are here for but two weeks, three at the most,” Regina’s voice cracked, just slightly.

“Even if for just a week more, you must be cautious.” Henry’s eyes closed for a moment, his discomfort with the situation clear, but then he was looking at her again, smiling softly, “A short period of happiness is far better than a life without.”

“Papa – father.” His eyes light up when her old childhood term slipped out, and she couldn’t stop herself from wishing to see that expression again, “Thank you Papa.”

He hugged her again, tight and warm and so rare.

When he pulled back he looked from her to Emma and back again, “I know nothing,” he said simply, then he was motioning to Rocinante as he circled around the tree.

“As I said, I was looking forward to see you riding again. If my memory serves me properly, than there was quite the show jumping course elsewhere in the grounds. How about it dear?”

“Of course, I would love to.”

As they moved back to Rocinante she paused only briefly to squeeze Emma’s hand with her own. As she buttoned up her jacket she took in Emma. She looked a little baffled, a little lost and very taken aback. Self-consciously she fussed with her curls, giving Regina a shaky, uncertain smile when her father was not looking.

Rocinante nudged Regina impatiently when she moved to his side, still not calmed down from seeing her again after so long.

“Well then.” Her father rested a supportive arm around her shoulders, “We have the rest of the morning.”

He turned to Emma, who looked as if she was about to bolt.

“Well, are you going to help her or not?”

“I don’t need help,” Regina muttered childishly, but soon understood why her father was suggesting such a thing when Emma stepped closer and she found herself smiling at their closeness. He watched them curiously, but with a glimmer in his eyes when he noted her contentment.

Emma too seemed calmer now, offering her arm and shoulder for Regina to climb atop Rocinante.

When Regina was settled, the blonde gave a soft pat to Rocinante’s flank and stepped back, “Okay Princess?”

Regina caught her hand, running her thumb over Emma’s knuckles, “More than okay.”

Nervous, still in shock and buried deep in the throes of confusion, Henry still managed a genuine smile at his daughter’s happiness.

 

Chapter Text

They had not found time to reunite in body as well as in mind. Understandable really, the encounter with Prince Henry enough to make them realise what a thin line they were treading. How dangerous it would be if others found out. How close they were to that; how one misplaced word on any of their parts would bring it all crashing down upon them.

She couldn’t say she trusted Prince Henry to remain silent on the matter – she trusted only two; herself and Regina. And really, despite the man’s kindness and clear love for his daughter, he was still unable to protect Regina from her mother’s cruelty. Still stood idly by from what little Emma had seen. And while she knew many unions were not born out of love, she could see he truly did love his wife. He still chose to remain with and love a woman who brought harm and instilled fear into his only child. She would never be able understand that. No matter how complex she knew love to be.

And yet, despite all that and even though Prince Henry was not truly accepting of what he saw, he cared so much for his daughter that he allowed it; allowed them – even if it went against his morals. Not that Emma knew what his morals or understanding of such things was exactly – she just assumed all upper-class people were the same in such regards. Bigoted perhaps, but she had little personal interaction with those people – save for Regina of course – so what did she know?

It felt much like two weights pulling at her; one pulling her towards Regina, needing their closeness and care and all that came with it. And the other pulling her away, feeling like an urge to run, knowing how much damage could be done to them all if she remained. Not that she worried too much about herself – it was Regina she was far more concerned for. The Princess would have to live with whatever would occur.

That didn’t mean she cared nothing for her own life – of course she did. But she cared more for Regina. Nothing would change that, no innate survival instinct, no change in her views; nothing.

And now, on top of all that weighted her mind, Cora was there.

Emma’s lip curled in distaste.

While once she may have respected the woman as she should, years of hearing snippets from Regina that made her teeth set on edge, noticing things that seemed not right – that made something at the back of her mind prickle; like when she had first tried to hug her friend and Regina had jumped away startled and afraid – and then seeing it herself…

Well, it was only natural to find herself filled with rage and venom at just the thought of that woman.

Scolding a child for misbehaviour might be normal – hell Emma had enough bruises in the past to know that was true – but doing all that to Regina? She didn’t deserve it. She was good and kind and everything that a truly pure person should be; she deserved to be treated so much better than a simple classless orphan like herself. It was wrong. It made her sick to her stomach.

But now there was no choice but to leave Regina with her ‘mother’.  That woman didn’t deserve the name. No mother should treat their child in such a way. Especially not a child like Regina. It really was a wonder that she was filled with such warmth and kindness if she had been raised in such a way.

Hell, look at Emma herself – she was bitter, and had such anger in herself and she had not experienced what Regina had. Not as badly. It had always been a challenge for her to fight those feelings in her, to control them. It was easy for the most part, a simple task of blocking that part of herself off.

Today was one of the hard days.

Emma’s jaw was beginning to ache from just how hard she was gritting her teeth.

Regina had mentioned how disappointed Cora was in her due to the lack of a pregnancy. That she should already be with child, and that just made the anger in Emma brim over the edge – and not just because of her own feelings for Regina.

And on top of that, the man Regina was forced to be with insisted that he know everything about her and not allow the opposite to be true. And that was – that was just wrong.

And… well, part of the benefit of being of a lower class was the way rumours and truths passed through their ranks like a wildfire, and while she would normally not pay attention to something that was not the full truth and backed up with evidence, she did take in what was said. And what she did take in – if it was of seeming importance – she would investigate herself, to get to the real core of the rumour. The truth in the centre.

Hence why she was there now, sneaking through the halls of a castle she had no right being in.

Prince Conway – she frowned at just the sound of the name in her mind – she had heard things about him. Nothing clear, nothing more than apparently baseless rumours, but something about it triggered something in her mind, made her skin prickle uncomfortably.

If there was a risk to Regina, even one she was uncertain about, then she would do whatever she could to protect her. Whether the Princess knew that or not.

Just knowing she had done something was enough for her; Regina did not have to know. As long as there was nothing to know that is.

If there was something dark… well, she wasn’t about to let Regina stay where there was a risk to her. Even if she would only be there for a little longer – until their plan was set into motion and they both fled to a different life. Even if Regina protested, which Emma knew she would. She just hoped that wouldn’t be the case… and yet there was some dark part of her –

No.

Emma would protect her.

She always would.

There were no guards or servants or anyone at all on her way there – not that she was exactly sure about where she was going or what ‘there’ was. Her memory told her Regina had mentioned the chapel was in the west wing, she wasn’t sure why she was told that, but she was glad she had been. Naturally it would be on the ground floor, or so Emma assumed. All it took was her wandering around the grounds when she had nothing to do, heading towards the west side of the castle while keeping an eye out for any glaring religious decoration. Which was relatively easy. And when she did see it, then all she had to do was slip in the lone door and walk down the empty corridor towards her destination.

At least she hoped she was in the right place.

The dark stone corridor carried the musty smell of disuse; it stung her nostrils and made her eyes water. Her sight was irritated by dust particles; they fell visibly in the weak light let in through the glass of the thin windows.

With a scrunched up nose she pressed onward, her footsteps echoing in a way that made nervous butterflies flutter in her stomach. The corridor wasn’t even that long, but it felt like it took her forever to get to the two wooden doors before her – surely they led into the chapel, unless she was completely wrong.

This way the rumours could be disproved, which she wanted so Regina would be safe; but there was another part of her, the dark part she had ignored before, that wanted them to be true.

It was absolutely pathetic of her to wish such a thing, even if it was only a small part of herself that did so. A small part indeed, but one that wanted there to be a risk – a thought that made her scowl at herself – just so their plans would be moved forward. Perhaps she and Regina could even leave that night, without the preparation Regina wanted it would be difficult, but they would be together so much sooner. In truth, Emma wasn’t sure she could wait for however long it would take otherwise.

How disgusting was she? Wishing there was a risk to the woman she loved just for her own selfish needs.

She thumped the side of her thigh with her fist, grunting out a breath and trying to ease her own anger at herself.

No point in ifs and buts; she just needed to get to the bottom of this, and then she could decide on what to do; if anything needed to be done.

The doors were unlocked, which immediately set off a warning in her mind. If there was a secret of some sort, surely the door would be locked?

It should have been a sign that there was nothing wrong; but it wasn’t. It made that warning in her head blare.

Unlike the corridor, the chapel was spotless, to an almost obsessive level. The white gleaming and the room feeling so much lighter than the enclosing corridor had. The stark contrast made her nose scrunch up further and brow furrow, and not just due to the brightness aggravating her eyes.

She blinked rapidly, clearing her vision.

She moved forward, almost without realising, past the rows of polished mahogany pews. She had never been in such a place before, and found herself gazing around the high-ceilinged room, to the tall patterned glass windows, and to what she assumed to be various religious paraphernalia.

There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary – at least from her limited knowledge.

So why keep the place off limits? Surely it couldn’t all be due to the Prince having become disillusioned with religion? Or the more important point; why act like there was something of note there? Okay, that might not be how the Prince was actually behaving (she hadn’t met him, but guessed as much from Regina’s words), but his stressing of not going their coupled with his trustworthy speech – thing – whatever, would surely make at least a few people curious. Right?

Hell, that was why she was there.

Or rather, her concern for Regina was why she was there.

She deserved to know the truth; and Emma needed to know if the rumours she had heard were true.

She doubted she would have even heard of them herself if she hadn’t purposely sort out more information on the man. Rumours do travel quickly, but they also tended to be restricted by borders and even towns.

It wasn’t exactly unusual for a man to remarry if his wife passed unexpectedly – but for him to have remarried more than once… and for many not to be aware of what had happened to the others after the first…

She ran her hand over the smooth stone of the altar, her forehead creased as she looked around the room from there.

Nothing strange.

Though it was almost an otherworldly sight to her – like a peek into a world she was never destined to see.

When she turned back around, facing the altar again, she saw a small doorway just off to the side. It was one of those open doorway things leading into another room she had no idea of the name of; but it drew her attention regardless.

In moments, she was standing within it.

The room was fairly large and made of some smooth, white stone – even brighter than what was in the room before it. But that wasn’t important.

Emma’s footsteps echoed, her eyes caught by the odd structures in the room. Long stone –

Her heart hammered.

Shit –

Were those coffins?

It was a church, but –

A few quick steps and she was staring through the glass cover, her breath trapped in her chest.

A woman, looking so very much asleep lay beneath her gaze.

Emma jerked away, tripping over her own feet in her haste to get to one of the other coffins in the room.

Only to be greeted by an almost identical sight; and the next and the next.

Were these…?

Did that mean – ?

She needed to get to Regina. She spun on her heel, chest heaving; only to find herself falling back, her balance thrown off when her eyes landed on the doorway.

“You’re new,” the expensively dressed man hummed, his eyes burning with anger even as his words fell calmly from his lips. A glint of silver dancing between his fingers.

“Your…” Emma stumbled on the word, but caught herself quickly as she bowed far more deeply than she would for any other, “Your Highness, I travelled here with Prince Henry – Your… wife’s father, I was simply looking around and became lost.”

“Of course you did.” His lips curled in the beginnings of a snarl, his vivid blue eyes boring into her. The object in his hands constantly moving even as he remained stock still, blocking the small doorway.

Icy pinpricks of dread struck her face, ran around her form and dragged down her spine as she tried her best to remain strong in her stance. Stoic even when her heart was racing and her breath short.

“I had a magic user long ago ward this place.”

Emma tried not show her confusion as the man began musing to himself.

He held up the medallion he had been playing with, the round coin like medal held aloft as if there was something to see – which there wasn’t, “Heats up if the ward triggers.”

Ward. Of course. He had just mentioned magic.

Then there were the bodies around her.

“Why would you do that?” Emma asked, putting forth an air of innocence. An attempt at showing a lack of knowledge that could only fail. Whether he believed her or not didn’t matter, for surely the outcome could only be one.

She had seen rage before, been on the end of it enough as a child for her insolence, but this was something so far removed from that. The heat in the man’s eyes, the way it grew as he watched her, his body thrumming with energy now when he pocketed the medallion – all struck her heart with true fear. It wrapped around the frail organ, squeezing and pulling and contracting in short bursts of agony.

“There is nothing here.” She spread her arms praying the shake would not be visible, “Save your family’s resting place.”

It could be that, couldn’t it?

“No one is to come here.”

“I didn’t know.” Emma dipped her head, hoping beyond hope that her submissive behaviour would be enough – even when she despised such acts to such people, “I have been here for so short a time. I did not mean to intrude in such a cherished place.”

“Everyone knows.” It wasn’t the sternness of the reply that caught her painfully, but the sound of a heavy step forward.

“And I didn’t and for that I apologise greatly.” Emma took a step to her side as a sign she was planning on leaving, not wanting to lessen the gap between them, but wanting the point to be clear, “I must go, her Highness is expecting a ride today.”

“My wife –

Emma winced at the word, a barely detectable twitch in her facial muscles.

– Is with her parents, and shall be all day.”

“I was certain she told me if she had the time –

“She did not.” He answered, “She would not.”

“Well I should still tend to her mount just in case –

“You won’t need to.”

He moved forward.

The muscles in her body tensed, her body ridged as he moved towards her. He was taller than she realised, could probably out do her in strength in size if not muscle. But she was surely more agile, and she didn’t eat the heavy, over rich foods that they did. She could either outlast him or out run him. She had to.

“Who are they?” There was no point in a ruse, not anymore. Perhaps if she distracted him enough it would give her a chance.

She just needed to get to Regina. Or Prince Henry – he would surely listen, even in his sometimes weakness.

“My wives,” he breathed, moving past as his gaze slipped from her for the first time since this encounter began.  “I loved them – I still love them.” His eyes were suddenly soft as he paused at the nearest coffin, running a hand across the surface as he gazed at the woman within, “If only they had not betrayed me, if they had done as I said I wouldn’t have lost control. They shouldn’t have betrayed me.”

“Betrayed you?” Emma asked, eyeing the doorway. She took a single step towards it.

“The first, she betrayed me. I didn’t mean to do it. But she made me rage. It was an accident. I promised myself the next one would be different.”

He seemed to like the sound of his own voice – well that was a benefit.

“I love her. I couldn’t throw her away, so I placed her here were I could tend to her still. But no one could know. It was our secret.”

Emma worked her throat, tried to keep her breathing even so she would not be caught off-guard, “And the next one came here regardless?”

“Yes. She shouldn’t have, I didn’t mean to but if she had just listened…”

Her hands curled into tight fists, her eyes narrowed and anger boiling.

“You’re going to do this to Regina.” It wasn’t a question.

“Of course not, I love her and she me. I would never harm her.”

“Unless she breaks your trust right?” Emma tried to keep the antagonism out of her voice, did her best to hold back an uncharacteristic sneer.

“She won’t. She is good, she won’t make me angry. Not intentionally.”

And these women did do it intentionally? Every. Single. One?

“But the others – those like you – are not given such respect, for I care nothing for those I do not love.” His eyes narrowed as he turned to her, the softness vanishing as his lips curled down, “Those that betray me like you become nothing more than ash and bone.”

“You’re mad…” Pointing out the obvious perhaps, but with the adrenaline pumping in her veins and the man looking at her with such wildness in his eyes, was it truly any wonder?

“It is those like you who are mad – the untrustworthy who make the honest seem the villains.”

She had to get to Regina.

Or at least where someone else could see this. Could see the madness.

“Right…”

She took her chance.

Spun on her heel. Bolted through the doorway in a sudden flash.

Quick enough to catch him off guard as he yelled, his footfall echoing when she was already halfway down the chapel aisle.

Her lungs fought to draw in air in her panic, her heart hammering against her ribs as she threw open one of the double doors – his footsteps growing louder as he charged after her.

She made it through in a second.

An agonised cry.

Her body pulled backwards as pain radiated through her head, his hand wrapped tightly around where her hair was tied.

He yanked. She kicked out. Managed to catch something solid as he grunted and she scrambled forward, hands skimming the floor as she pushed herself forward, her calves burning, her lungs screaming.

The pain not registering.

A roar of anger and she felt him lunge at her. She threw herself forward, managed to put some distance between them, her gaze shooting back and forward and suddenly she was staring at a detached expression before her and God she was actually pleased and that made no sense and –

“What is happening here?”

Emma staggered, stopping besides the woman, edging perhaps a little behind her for safety of her own person.

“Your Highness –

“I was not asking you stablehand,” Cora snapped, her eyes narrowed on Prince Conway.

Emma was panting with exhaustion and fear and panic, her eyes wide on the still enraged man before them. Terror of one overriding hatred of the other.

Cora would listen; surely, this man posed a risk to her daughter for God’s sake.

“What are you doing here?”

“We were in the midst of an important conversation,” Cora explained, unaffected by the angered man and his snapped out question “And then you were suddenly excusing yourself and running off – I would have been enraged by your rudeness – your impropriety – if it hadn’t been for the scent of magic that appeared so suddenly.”

The Prince’s brow furrowed further, but the blind rage directed at Emma was all but gone when he looked at Cora.

“Of course I assumed it could not be from you, what else was I supposed to do save investigate?”

“She is not trustworthy – went behind my back,” he growled out distractedly.

“He’s a risk to Regina, Your Highness,” Emma begged, spurred into motion quite suddenly and uncaring of the previous dismissal, her desperation palpable. She didn’t like Cora, despised her for her treatment of Regina – but surely even she would not allow her daughter to come to harm, not by anyone that wasn’t her. “He’s mad – a mad man. He had other wives, killed them all. Their bodies are in there.”

“And you touched them?” Cora asked, lifting a single eyebrow before turning back to the Prince whose eyes had widened.

Then he was turning on his heel, “If you did anything…”

He would do what exactly? He had already attacked her, no doubt intended her to join the others he had mentioned. What else could he do?

He disappeared back into the chapel, and Emma moved immediately to leave, but froze in place by Cora raising her hand – though Emma was unsure if she stopped because she wanted to, or because she had been made to.

She could still speak regardless, her heart still pounding beneath her breast, “We need to get to Regina, he is a risk to her. Don’t you see?”

“You use my daughter’s name.”

Something lodged in Emma’s throat, and she tried to swallow it back down.

So caught up in her panic and worry, Emma was completely unaware of her frequent use of Regina’s name. How it came to her so naturally.

Cora’s eyebrow quirked again. Then she was moving closer. The distant sound of footsteps grew closer – their chance to leave passed so quickly.

“Regina will come to no harm,” Cora whispered in her ear, sending chills down her spine, “I will make sure of that.”

“But…” Emma tried, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, her throat growing drier by the second.

“His cousin has little time left, and once the conception occurs and an heir is born, then neither does he.” She said it as plainly as one would talk of the weather, it spiked Emma’s panic more than the re-emergence of the Prince from the chapel, “I will protect what is mine.”

What? No! She was supposed to help. Why was she doing nothing?

The Prince seemed far more agitated in his regard of Cora than before, his hands curled into fists at his sides as he surveyed them both.

“She is untrustworthy.” His brow was low as he stepped forward, but Cora stopped him with a laugh.

“Perhaps…” she began, resting her hand on Emma’s shoulder – and oh, how Emma wished she could shrug her off. “But there is no need to be rid of her in such a way.”

Emma tried to move, but remained rooted to the spot, perhaps out of fear, perhaps by Cora’s own hand.

She tried to speak. To protest. But her mouth refused to verbalise what she need to say. Her eyes darted about wildly as she tried to force her body to do something.

“There is more than one way to silence an inconvenience.”

Cora cupped her face, smiled at her.

Why? It made no sense, it made –

Pain.

Everywhere.

Compressing her lungs, squeezing out every last breath as she struggled and fought, her body surging in sudden movement, fighting the pressure. Collapsing in on itself.

Hands free, clawing at the invisible force holding her throat, desperate in her need for air as her vision narrowed and darken, blurring and blurring. Colour bleeding into shadows and darkness, grey and growing.

Growing.

Darkness.

A spike of searing pain –

 

Chapter Text

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.

“Emma?”

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.

Too long.

Too needed.

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.

Desperate.

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.

“Touch me.”

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.

“Please…”

She heard Emma swallow thickly, could hear her breath out long and low.

The brush of lips below Regina’s ear had her shuddering.

“My Princess.”

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.

“How…”

“Magic darling.”

“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.”

“No –

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.

Cora tutted.                             

Then smiled.

“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’.

All gone.

Regina stared at her hands, much as Emma had done possibly only moments ago.

How much time had passed?

Had any?

Emma. Silent.

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…?

Magic?

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.

Magic. Evil.

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.

“Emma?”

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.

“…Oh…”

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.”

Kidnapping…

Oh.

Oh!

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 –

“Regina?”

“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.

“Regina?”

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.

Emma gasped.

Eyes closed.

Breath still.

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.

Empty.

Emma’s throat bobbed.

Regina sobbed.

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.”

He

The Prince?

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.

“It wasn’t.”

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.”

“No?”

“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.

But what?

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.