They find her in the catacombs of the dungeons after Roland has been put to sleep for the night. Belle has never been one to shy away from danger or mystery or even the filth that has accumulated inside the bowels of the castle, but the chill that grows there is enough to turn away even the most seasoned of knights. It is a deep place she has found solace in. Down, down, down where water seeps between layers of cracked mud and hard gravel stone.
Shadows flicker in ghostly waves, highlighting the crumbling clay steps. Torches illuminate patches of algae covered stone, slick and green and foul smelling, like the black bogs on hot summer days.
Regina takes Robins hand. She is not fearful of the dark or even the filth that grows here, no not the Evil Queen, but rats she is not so fond of and their clawing, peeling squeaks can be heard in the echoing distance.
They have reached the bottom of the castle, as far down as any one person can descend.
Belle pays no mind as they arrive, taking space in what can only be describe as her sanctuary. She is absent of mind, spinning somewhere in her thoughts, most likely of her beloved, lost to her before the curse hit to whisk them all away from Storybrooke. She moves by candle light, wandering the aisles of stacked parchment and ancient books, creased with age and decay.
Despite the lackluster feel, Regina can tell the girl is at home here, taking solace in the musty comfort of withered pages and whispering words. Perhaps they take her away, promising stories of old and new, comfort and adventure. Stories that speak of happily ever after. And she wishes she could leave Belle there, lost in her happy endings, because the hardest part about losing your happy ending is not knowing that you may never get it back, but remembering how wonderful it felt to have in the first place. It is hard to miss what you never knew, but impossible to forget what your heart once beat for.
But Regina needs her present.
So she does the one thing that will break Belle from her reverie. From the depressive sadness she can feel lingering. She apologizes.
It takes the girl for a start, the wide, clear blue eyes staring at her like she's developed some hideous rash or sprouted a second head, but Regina knows it is simply the words. The apologies for hardships she's placed on Belle, and more recently for the loss of Rumplestiltskin. Somehow the girl found it in her to love a monster. Somehow she also finds it in herself to forgive and with a gentle nod, welcomes Regina and Robin to the table of books she has spread out in the center of the tombs.
"I know what it is you seek," Belle says, her lips pulling tight. Thin and almost as pale as her skin. "I have been wondering about this new threat as well."
"So you've been researching?"
"And what have you found?" Regina wonders.
"Not much," Belle confesses. "But there is so much down here to weed through." She sighs and pulls a thick red book towards the pair and flips the dusty cover. "These creatures—the winged ones—come from a land called Oz."
"So not of this realm?" Regina asks.
"No." Belle closes the book and lays down a stack of parchments before them.
Regina scans the pictures, passing them off to Robin. Emerald scrawled towers. Winding gold roads. Poppy plants painted red. And even darker drawings of faces so distinctly human that it is only the feathered wings that tell Regina it is meant to be a monkey. The witch's flying monkeys.
"So it is indeed a land with magic," she says.
"Old magic," Belle agrees. "Though the witch's presence is not made known until much later in the history of Oz."
"So she did not come from that land."
"Does it speak of her desires? Her wants? What became of Oz?"
"It is under the protection of Glinda the Good, a witch named so because of her goodness. Though it is only the Emerald City that remains so. The low lying areas are war torn and full of dangers."
"Yes, and pockets of diseased magic." Belle flips several scrolls. There are recordings of people who returned from the witch's fight, whose bodies now bend with the creak of metal or flop loose with straw.
"What happened to these people?" Robin asks, his face turned back in a grimace.
"It is her magic. It transforms. Destroys. There are accounts of people turning entirely to tin." Belle points to a crude drawing. "Seizing as the walk, forever immortalized as statues."
She flips to the next page and there is a fading image of a woman. Skin like new pine, eyes grey and angry. "This is her, then?" Regina says, taking the image to the light.
"Yes," Belle says. "The only rendering I have managed to find." There is hesitation in her tone then and Regina looks up to catch the girl in a trance, one that has her biting the bottom of her lip.
"What is it?" she asks gently, low enough that Robin, who has taken up refuge in the winding aisles of parchment, won't hear.
"I was down here on my own journey," she says. "And I think . . . I came across something strange, something that makes me think this witch . . . whoever she is, was trained by the Dark One."
"Rumplestiltskin was her teacher?"
"I believe so."
"That does not prove well at all," Regina muses, for if the Dark One was able to spin her so far astray, then surely any other student would be just as dark as the once Evil Queen. Perhaps even more so. "So what else do the manuscripts tell of this Oz?"
"It was a prosperous land taken over by evil. These monkeys that line our borders, they are not animal, but people set under a curse."
"That's why they cannot cross our borders," Regina begins. "If the protection enchantment recognizes them as people, ones who do not belong here, it will not let them through." Her stomach flips. A trickle of relief? "This news will greatly interest the Prince."
It is then that Regina notices the cot and blanket. The empty plates. She looks to Belle with something akin to sympathy lining her face. The girl is sallow looking, pale and weak, barely strong enough to tote around the heavy volumes she luges from one end of the dungeon to the other. "Are you sleeping down here?"
"On occasion," Belle says.
Regina frowns. The girl has not seen sunlight for days.
"You should get out of here more often. Surely one of the bedchambers would be more comfortable."
Belle settles the book she holds on her lap and looks at Regina with enough desperate resolution to pierce her soul. "I will not rest until I get him back."
Regina simply nods. Though she has never understood the girl's affinity for the Dark One, she has found it less of a thing she questions when she considers the once Evil Queen is capable of loving a man and a boy who are entirely whole and pure and part of her life.
She cannot fault Belle, not even for a moment, because if she has learned anything in her life it is that love cuts deep, runs through us like water, and can be just as fleeting. So she knows how tightly one must cling to it. And if ever there was a chance that someone could have survived a turn with death, she would place her bets on the Dark One.
"There's more." Belle shuffles a stack of yellow paper towards her. "Some of it I can't understand."
"Where should we start?"
"Here," Belle says, gesturing to the topmost paper. "This seems to be most of it. Some of it's in Elvish. I don't know—"
"I'm familiar with the language," Regina says softly. "My mother's magic books were always penned in Elvish."
Belle smiles. "I thought you might be. It is an ancient tongue."
"Yes, and I've had many years to practice it."
They read well into the night, looking for everything they can find about this land.
Robin, who looks for his own answers, scours for legends of a cure to the poison that dwells within Regina as she sits knee deep in facts about Oz. And well she collects these tiny tidbits of information her eyes scan for secret answers of another kind . . . a way back to Henry, if such a thing exists.
She plows through works of tiny, bold script until her eyes ache with the desire to close and her fingers grow numb around the books edges.
When Regina's head dips for the second time in five minutes, Robin closes the book on ancient herbs and remedies he has spent the last few hours scouring and takes her hand.
"Come, Milady. The scripts will still be here tomorrow. You need rest."
It takes several more tries for Robin to coax a weary eyed Regina away from the table. They bid goodnight to Belle and he leads Regina up the stairs, cursing himself for not making her leave earlier. Surely the stairs will be enough to do her in.
They make it to her room after a series of breaks. Regina has lost her shoes at some point, resigned to carry the cursed heeled boots. Her gown feels heavy and she wants nothing more than to change.
Robin kisses the side of her head before disappearing down the hall to check on Roland. He returns before Regina has even crossed the room and she is surprised to find he has also changed. She is so used to seeing him dressed for the day, even as he spends the night with her, that she stares in contemplation at the loose fitting pants, and airy cotton shirt he now wears. The ties along the front of his shirt hang open and Regina thinks longingly of the morning spent in bed with him.
She turns with a smile, facing the floor length mirror in the room as she begins fiddling with her corset.
Robin perches against the window ledge and follows the movement of her hands as each layer falls away, until there is nothing but skin for him to marvel at. They have indeed marked each other. He watches her spin in the mirror, his eyes greedy, his lips parted.
"Tell me something," Regina asks once the night dress has fallen over her head, hiding her body from view.
"Hmm," Robin says, his eyes a darkest blue in the dimming candlelight.
"What did Granny really want with you today?"
His smile crawls up one side of his face. "You are too perceptive for your own good," he says. "Come to bed, you need rest."
"I cannot rest when such thoughts fill my mind. What are you hiding from me?"
Robin stands and crosses the room to weave their hands together. Gently he pulls her towards the bed. The one that now resembles more of a cloud than anything else. The longer they stay here the grander the room seems to become and today the staff has outdone themselves.
"Please," she whispers, and it is that one little word, while she looks as soft and vulnerable as she does now, that is his immediate undoing.
"She thinks I am killing you." The words spill before he has thought them through and he grimaces at the way they sound.
Regina shuffles back on instinct, far enough to take in his entire expression. "What?
"Not me, but my love for you and yours for me."
"How . . . how can she think that?
"Because she is wise and sensitive to the things that we are not." He runs his thumb along her face, tracing the edge of her jaw bone. "Her instincts are more aware than ours will ever be."
"Why would she not tell me?"
Robin holds her face now. "Because she knows what you do for the people you love."
"And what is that?"
"The same thing you did for Henry. You put the boy first, as you would me. And she knows this, so she beseeched me."
Regina huffs indignantly. "Perhaps the old wolf should not get involved in such things as my love life."
"Do not blame her, love. She is only looking out for you."
His words assuage her anger. "I know, though I can't say I like what she has to say. Nor do I believe it."
She pulls away, arms wrapping around her stomach, pushing down the writhing nerves that have taken root there. "What does this mean now?"
"Granny thinks . . . well, she senses that when we are together your magic wakens and the poison takes of you. She says you weaken."
"Even though I do not feel it?"
"It is not an outward expulsion of magic," Robin explains. "This magic turns inside you, bound to your very soul."
"So loving you will kill me," Regina deadpans. "How fitting." Always the villain she thinks. Even when she means not to be.
Robin takes her face between his hands again and for a moment looks as if he means to kiss her. But then Regina sees that he is simply staring at her. It is a hard, tedious inspection and she wonders what he sees.
"The old woman is right," he finally sighs. "I have pushed you when I ought to not have."
Regina's hands come to rest over his, both now cradling her face, and her brow furrows as she ducks to look into the eyes that now cast downwards. "I am not some silly girl you took advantage of, Robin. If I didn't want to . . . if I didn't feel well enough . . . I would have told you that."
And she sees then that he blames himself for things that have not yet transpired. For she really is fine for the moment. In fact, except for being brutally tired and yearning to fall asleep in his arms, she has never been happier. "Yes, truly. Now come to bed, please?"
She sits tangled in the sheets, her dark blue night dress fluttering over her pale, moon-lit skin.
He lies down upon the silk sheets next to her, in the mess of pillows that have arrived since their return. Silk squares. And long down filled body pillows. Enough for Regina to prop her shoulders against so she can look at him, uninterrupted. Or else more to burry themselves beneath if they should feel the need. Is their relationship really that evident to the staff?
He faces her, leaving an arm's length between them. "Sometimes I feel as though we must make up for lost time. And other times I feel as though I will spend my life loving you and it will never be long enough."
She beckons him closer with a tug on his shirt and as he slides she fits herself to him, wrapped tight in his embrace. The day has been long and her body is like fire against his, soothing his ache, his worry. She is the heat against his chill, until they melt against each other in warm, contented bliss.
Robin awakes before the sun and attends to the matters of food for the castle. Along with several of his men, the morning's hunt has been a success and the deer they bring down drains in the stables.
After changing his clothes and sitting with his son who has taken a liking to Granny's pancakes, Robin returns to find the Queen still buried in the bedclothes.
"Milady," he calls, drawing her out of sleep. She does not move, but lets out another sigh, lost somewhere on the precipice of dream.
For moments he worries that Granny is indeed right about the toll on Regina, though unseen, can be noticed in other ways.
She groans, a deep, throaty sound and Robin chuckles. Perhaps she is just tired after a long night of reading and climbing the stairs from the dungeons.
"It is well past breakfast, Milady."
She pokes her head up enough to look out the window. The sun is barely level with the tallest trees. Seven. Eight if her senses are way off, though she doubts it. She spent more than thirty years in this realm before casting the curse.
"In the world we came from this is called beauty sleep."
"The time when beautiful people must sleep?" Robin reiterates, a sense of confusion painting the words.
She laughs at his response, a silent shake of her ribs that he feels through the sheets.
"No, it simply means one will get more beautiful if they sleep longer."
"For you that is not possible," he whispers.
She grins against the pillow. "Nice try, thief, but I'm not falling for that. It is warm in bed and the floors are quite chilly in the morning."
"If I promise to keep you warm will you join me for breakfast?"
"Breakfast has neither silk sheets nor down filled pillows, so I think not."
Robin snorts as his hands move beneath the sheets. Regina feels as his fingers brush her hips.
"Don't you dare," she warns.
"And if I refuse to heed the Queen's warnings, hmm? Will there be hell to pay?"
Regina considers this as his fingers send chills down her spine, a smile still tugging on her lips. "Indeed," she says.
His lips brush hers, but barely. She can see that he contains himself, afraid of causing her some internal pain.
His hands move to pin hers, his body shifting onto the bed to run the length of hers and as she breaths against him her insides stir. "Was this your intention all along?" she asks with a playful grin. "To entrap the Queen?"
"Perhaps, though I merely missed your presence."
"And now you shall have it, whether you want it or not," Regina says, shifting under him. Her leg slides around his, hooking him gently to her.
And it is with a groan that he slides off her, too quickly it seems for she notices the absence of his warm weight before anything else.
But there is a playfulness is his eyes, not fear, telling her that he merely has other plans for the morning which do not involve staying in bed.
Regina grins a secret little smile as she uses her freedom to move off the bed and into the bathroom.
She examines herself in the full length mirror as she undresses for the bath. Her hair is loose, uncurled in her sleep, and gathering in waves at the base of her shoulder blades. For a moment she thinks she sees a darkness beneath her eyes. Rings that would speak of insomnia or sickness, but as she draws closer and pulls at her skin, the image disappears. Her cheekbones are a little more prominent, if she really must admit to some fatal flaw, but besides that, and the look of her ribs, which she does not focus on because she does not wish to be able to count them, she is no worse for the wear.
At least, these are the lies she tells herself, because the signs are only there because she is happy.
And surely if this newfound happiness is meant to kill her, she will gladly bear the marks because she knows what it is to live without and she refuses to let herself fall back to that place.
Henry was once her happiness, perhaps one day soon or even years down the road, he will be again. She will find her way back to him. And she would be just as willing to sacrifice everything for him.
Yes, with that revelation she knows she must set to work even harder to find a way to bring about the return of her son. Their reunion will be her focus. Beyond the witch she will seek out Henry's safe return to her.
Robin waits, humming to her from beyond the propped door as she bathes, wondrous hymns of rangers long ago lost to this land, and after being thoroughly washed and soothed, it is in a new silk dress, as blue as his eyes, that she emerges.
His voice cuts out as she ties the sash behind her, brushing her hair over her shoulders. It is pinned loosely at the top of her head, and already the ends have begun to curl.
"You look lovely," he says.
"Yes," she muses. "I told you. Beauty sleep does wonders."
"You are a wonder and by your standards would require no sleep at all."
"Do you always know just what to say?"
"Little John whispers anecdotes to me as I pass in the halls. I'm afraid it is all his doing."
"So, he is the one I should be thanking for your way with words?"
"Oh yes, he is a hopeless romantic. Partial to poetry and moonlit strolls."
"Perhaps he is the one I should be seeing."
"Well, now you wound me, my Queen. For I am not as hopeless as you may think."
"I seem to recall that I have a certain secret weapon that sets me apart from John. And right now, said weapon is waiting eagerly to see his Gina, as he so adorably puts it."
The smile that brightens Regina's face is enough to set Robin grinning as they retire from the chambers and walk the halls, hand in hand, to the lowly kitchens. It is there they find Roland, propped on the counter in front of Granny with his fingers in a mixture that smells heavily of vanilla.
"Helping with lunch, my boy?"
Roland looks up, his eyes playful as he regards his father and as they reach Regina, his lips curl and the shrill squeal of a child presented with their most favourite thing peels through the room. Regina hardly has time to prepare before the little body is wrapped around her legs, vice-like.
"I mis-ded you," he cries, looking up at her through the billows of her dress. His face is round and hopeful and free in a way that she's also missed and she informs him of this with a swift kiss to his cheek. He clings to her still, all the way to the dining hall, and sits in her lap while a formidable stack of pancakes is placed before him.
Regina revels in it. The small weight on her lap, for which she has missed far more than she cares to admit, Henry outgrowing the need long ago. She listens to the tiny sighs and hums of approval as pancakes disappear in between Roland's wild demonstrations with his small hands and a full mouth, but she manages to discern the gist of the excited conversation with Will's help. It seems that Roland is very taken with his new tree fort.
After the late breakfast Regina descends to the catacombs, leaving Robin and the Merry Men to the task of watching Roland who begs them to return outside. Regina is happy to see Will has a parchment of crudely drawn designs, many of which he means to add to the already prolific tree fort. It warms her heart because it means they are happy here. Satisfied with life inside the castle. It was a fear she mulled over, knowing their affinity for the trees, but it seems a solid roof and barrels of aged mead pulled from the cellars agree with them.
When she turns down the dank, dimly lit hall and enters into the catacombs it is not Belle she finds bent over an open book as she suspects, but a nervous looking Snow.
"Oh, Regina," she says, pulling the book closer to herself. "I thought you'd be off with Robin."
"There are questions I've been meaning to find answers to," the Queen confesses closing the distance between them with a curious and swift look around. "And may I ask what you're doing here?"
Snow's nervous smile turns watery. "Emma," she says. "And Henry. I want them back."
The Queen dips her head. "Me too." And as strange as it is to admit that she would gladly take the Saviour back, it's the truth, one she cannot hope to escape from, because at the center of everything—every fight and disagreement—is the burning realization that she no longer has to do it alone. This parenting thing. Emma was here now, and would somehow always be entwined in their lives. As much as that once made her bitter, she sees now how she has come to depend on the Saviour. On her charm and strength and steadfast love for the boy they both call son.
It is because of the Saviour that Henry was spared from a life alone.
"Have you found anything of interest?" Regina asks against the tightness in her throat. The constriction of emotion.
"Not yet. Though I must confess, Elvish was never my best subject. I'm mostly going by the pictures." Snow quirks a smile and Regina sits, taking the offered book.
"Yes, well, this would appear to be a spell for painless decapitation."
"Then those pictures have been slightly misleading," Snow says, opening another book.
Ruby appears around the corner, a twisted smile on her lips as she saunters towards them. "Belle's out cold. Must have been up most of the night."
"You're here as well?" Regina says curiously.
The brunette cracks a toothy smile. "Two words: indoor plumbing."
"Really?" Snow says. "After everything, that is why you desire to go back?"
"One of many reasons," Ruby confesses. Snow glares but the lanky brunette, wrapped in her red cloak, merely huffs and throws her hair over her shoulder. "So sue me, I miss my car. And electricity. And Netflix. I've missed seven episodes of Castle since we've been here."
"I was always partial to Law and Order," Regina muses as she settles in for another long day of research, flipping the page of a volume Belle has left open.
"Yeah, you would like the dark and twisted shows," Ruby growls teasingly.
That earns the girl a smile and Regina sinks into a cushioned chair with a rather light volume on ancient portal mapping. The words are blurred and water marked and there's an entire passage on people getting lost between realms for eternity that Regina chooses to skip because there's something akin to blood marking the page and it makes her stomach whirl.
"So, where is that fine piece of man you've been toting around?"
Regina feels the arch of her brow. It's pulled her gaze above the book. "His name is Robin."
Ruby throws back her head in a laugh. "I was actually talking about Roland. But to each their own."
"He is quite the looker," Snow agrees. "Dimples and that smile."
"Now which one are we talking about?" Ruby questions and to that Snow chuckles.
"I am a married woman, Red. And my eyes do not wander."
Ruby smirks. "You can always window shop. There's nothing wrong with browsing, as long as you don't sample." She looks at Regina. "Speaking of sampling, spill."
"I have no idea to what you're referring, but when you figure out a way to get us back somewhere with indoor plumbing I'll be delighted to discuss it with you."
"You're denial tells me everything."
"Mmm hmm. It's so good you can't talk about it without reducing yourself to a puddle on the floor. I've been there."
"Uh, with who?" Snow demands, but Ruby's smile curves into a taunting draw. "The price of information is information."
"Well that's hardly fair. You know about everything."
"Yes, David and Whale," Regina says. "The mighty conquests."
Ruby snickers. "Yes, tell me about Whale."
Snow finds a new passage in her book and takes to reading it with avid intensity. "That I do not wish to relive."
"Thought not." Ruby's head snaps around. "What about Robin? Tell me, did you tear his shirt off, or was he already ripping at it before you got off the horses?"
Regina rolls her eyes, pulling the book closer to her face to hide the blush that races, unchecked, to her cheeks. "Is your mind always lying around in the gutter?"
"Usually," Ruby says. "Gutters. Ditches. Eavestrophs. You didn't curse me into those red booty shorts for nothing. I made good use of those twenty-eight years."
"It was purely a marketing ploy for the diner. A bit of skin never hurt to drum up business."
"Oh, really? Bringing in the customers. Is that all it was for?"
Regina can't help but snigger. "The look on your Grandmothers face at the site of you didn't hurt my mornings."
"Regina," Snow scolds. "You're lucky you didn't give the poor woman a heart attack."
"She walks around with a cross-bow, Snow."
"Trust me," Ruby says. "I've done worse than red booty shorts. Granny's ticker was not a point of concern. Though I did wish we weren't so understaffed. I could have used some weekends off."
"I'll remember that for the next curse, dear."
"I like this Robin guy. You're much more docile with him around. And while we're putting in for things, maybe drum me up a man like him, too."
"Is the lone wolf settling down?"
"Maybe," Ruby says. "It'd be nice to see how much stock there really is in all this true love junk."
"Well, Snow would be able to answer that."
The pale-faced princess settles the Queen with a gentle glare. "I'm not the only one."
And the thought makes Regina's heart skip. Bypassing her throat altogether and lodging somewhere in her brain, making her head light and fluttery and, for a moment, she wonders if her brain has disconnected entirely.
The morning fades to afternoon and it is with the dawning of dinner that Snow and Ruby take their leave, the two friends offering to wait for Regina. The Queen sends them along, only to notice that they have managed to rouse and convince Belle that sunlight will do wonders for her search, leaving Regina completely alone. It is better that way she thinks, for she is desperate for some sign that she is searching in the right direction and her uncertainty is making her upset.
Every tale of portal making she had been able to find is strewn along the table, burying ancient tomes on Oz and rudimentary portraits of this wicked witch.
It is while she is hunched over the table, fingers drawn up close to a particularly difficult Elvish passage that she had been trying to decipher, that the shadow appears, moving across her line of sight and settling in the light.
"Is this place really so terrible?"
Robins hand settles on her back, his fingers tracing an intricate spider web as she straightens, knowing full well that she has been caught. Even to the untrained eye, it is not hard to discern what the pages refer to, thanks to those blasted pictures of black holes and secret doorways and magic beans.
"No, it's not," Regina says softly. "But it will never be complete. Not without Henry."
There is a quiet moment in which Regina refuses to meet his eye. When he senses this, Robin's hand weaves tighter around her back, forcing her flush against him as his other hand draws up to catch her face. He looks deep into her eyes. Nervous and scared and saddened beyond anything he wishes to understand.
"I do not know how I would survive if I were to be separated from Roland."
"If getting back to him is what you want then I will help you. So long as you promise not to leave me behind."
"Really?" The word chokes out between her lips.
"Of course, Regina. You are my heart and where my heart goes I must follow."
Her shallow breaths ghost across his neck.
Robin's hands draw up to secure her waist, holding her close enough for her to feel the passage of air through his chest each time he breaths.
Her lips tremble as she reaches for his, running the pads of her fingers along his lower lip. He has not kissed her in almost a day. Not a real kiss, and she's desperate now. "Please," she begs.
"Milady," he growls. "Don't plead of me. You know I cannot deny you so." He knows it is selfish of him to want her like this when he knows the poison stirs inside, slowly killing her. Feeding off the magic that erupts within her at their passion. But he cannot deny her. Turn her away. Tell her no. He is not strong enough. Perhaps he is not desperate enough yet. But how long can they continue to toy with her life? How long does she have?
He will find an answer. He will find a cure. That is the only answer.
"Then don't deny me," Regina whispers. "Just love me." She presses her lips to his and he does not shy away.
"If ever this causes you pain," Robin speaks between kisses, "you will tell me, won't you? If our love should become a burden—"
"Then you will be the first to know, my thief."
She tugs him back then and he loses his footing, pressing against her until she is pinned against the table beneath him, pillowed on mountains of loose paper. Now more than ever she wishes for the freedom of her magic to whisk them away to her chambers, away from prying eyes and ears, but for the time being they appear to be alone and in her desperation Regina knows she cannot wait long enough to make the walk upstairs.
She wants him now.
His hands grab at the hem of her dress, pushing it up her thighs. Fingers tangle in her corset, freeing her breasts. He leans forward and lips latch onto one pert nipple, his hand caressing the other, and Regina jerks against him with a gasp.
In the flurry of activity his pants fall away, almost without her realizing, though it is to her immense approval. She hums in the pleasure of his ministrations, already lost in sensation and the need to feel him inside her burns red hot desire straight to her core.
A throaty moans escapes from her lips as he enters her, his mouth stealing hot kisses, his hands groping her backside to give him purchase.
She is small beneath him: lean and at the same time round. He likes these parts of her very much. The curve of her hips. The roundness of her backside. The swell of her breasts. "You are breathtaking," he tells her, whispering her praises against her neck, her chest, anywhere his lips lead him.
She blushes deep.
He kisses her neck again, drawn in by the slender grace of the skin there, nipping and sucking until he has marked her as his own.
She sighs, the sound vibrating against his lips. He follows the curve of her throat, back to her mouth, to capture the rest of the sound with his lips.
His hands trace over her shoulders and down her back, pulling around to her hips.
"Please," she begs through her teeth, fingers weaving into his hair. Tighter. Tighter. Until she thinks her fingers might snap.
He moves gently, finding deeper position within her, settling his thrusts into a building rhythm.
Her legs are pulled up, thighs braced on either side of his stomach. She doesn't move, just waits, her eyes closed as he uses the leverage of the table to angle inside her.
"Milady," Robin pants, his voice thick with emotion and arousal and desire. It lights every cell of her being on fire. "Alright?"
She nods, biting her lip.
He lays a hand over her heart then, feeling it beat more and more erratically for him. He likes the feeling of it, of the control he has over it. Twisting and sucking and caressing. He does not need to hear her cry out because he feels as her orgasm explodes in a thundering series of beats, and feels again as the pleasure wears away, a slow, steady rhythm returning. As even and content as the rise and fall of her breasts, still glowing with his wet attention.
Eventually Robin coaxes her up, fully dressed with her hair tucked away, and out of the dungeons. She is sated and everything spins in blurry fascination. He tucks her close, her head resting on his shoulder as he guides her to her room. A tray is brought up from the kitchens with tea and a small assortment of cakes, but Regina finds that she is not hungry and only desires to lie with Robin, his heart beating in her ear as she drifts off to sleep, forever counting the beats beneath his skin.
Though she knows it not, the twist of poison within her sates the hunger as exhaustion overwhelms, and she goes to bed without eating. Happy, but weary come morning. Wearier and more worn with each passing day.
The next morning dawns slowly, the sun and moon at odds with each other as they fight for space in the sky. But it is not birds they awake to as Regina expects. It is the ragged sound of broken howls. She stirs, blinking languidly, pulling herself from the covers and warmth of Robin's embrace to stand by the window. Peering out past the merging of the day, Regina sees the darkness bleed across their invisible borders.
She recognizes the sound now that she is awake.
Shadow wolves from the Dark Lands. Animals as ruthless and cruel as any army. Set upon the taste of human flesh and the desire to consume.
Set upon the Kingdom.
To the courtyard where people already gather for morning chores. To the rolling hills where the Merry Men take stock of the game.
Regina's heart stops as her gaze skirts the thicket of trees between the castle and the border. The thicket where an extravagant tree fortress hangs. And to the curly mop of brown hair that races across its bridges and turrets.
The wolves howl again and race on, making dead aim for the trees where Roland plays.