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The assassination of King Leopald strikes grief and fear into the hearts of many, but overwhelming triumph in the heart of one.

Rumours fly of treason and murder within its own court, and is silenced upon Queen Regina's coronation. Enforced with the aid of the newly appointed black-masked guards. Three days after the King's death, when she's barely out of her mourning gown, an elegantly planned and grandiose party is held in the palace.

To the many, the citizens and members of noble blood—who shrank at the presence of Cora, and now bow their heads solemnly to her daughter—

To all, there's no mistake of it… the Queen is celebrating.

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She's unsure of what madness draws her.

Marian's no lawbreaker, no thief, not by trick nor trade. But this is important.

A friend's life hangs in the balance.

Even if the grounds is ornate and dazzling, twinkling with candlelight and rainbow-glimmering with jewels upon the rich and powerful of this land, it's not as it seems.

Beneath the Queen's palace, everyone knew about the sickly, cold, malnourished prisoners in the dungeons. The ones most valuable to the Queen and her evil, dreadful plans. They were kept alive long enough for their usefulness, and then never heard from again.

Slain as innocents, Marian repeats to herself, shuddering.

Robin is an innocent, despite breaking the laws set. He gives to those in need, instead of keeping the gold pieces and a month's worth of food and clean water for himself. He surely doesn't deserve a public hanging, or decapitated in front of children, or whatever it's meant to be as his fate.

It's complete madness to try and free him, to sneak into the Queen's dungeons with all its loyal and wicked-hearted guards, but Marian knows she must.

She looks the part, anyway. A nameless woman of good breeding, no visible scarring, no dirty smears on her face or bits of hay in her thick, dark brown hair. Marian knows her beauty—flawless, tan skin, and her deeply coloured and alert brown eyes—gains her entrance, and feels no qualms about it. She's disguised herself before. Marian remembers disguising herself as a pageboy once. It's not her fault that just because she wears a beautiful, diamond-bright dress, that others assume she is nobility.

(Even if it's true, my love, whispers her late mother's clearly disapproving and girlish-breathy voice.)

Marian pushes away her ghosts, and circles the ballroom. She nods when it's appropriate and when she's acknowledged by the guests, but sets her eyes on the twin, mahogany doors to another portion of the floor. The only doors that are being guarded the entire time Marian's there.

As she imagines a possible strategy, Marian senses something's amiss.

And it has to do with one of the guards looking directly at her, barreling forward like a wild boar and jarring aside an older gentleman with a thrust of his steel-plated arms. She manages a disappearing act from the crowd, taking shelter behind a long, pollen-dusted, velvet curtain outdoors on the balcony.

Once she thinks it's safe, Marian peeks out tentatively. Nobody there to greet her.

Nobody, and nothing, but the apple tree growing surrounded by a fence.

She approaches it with slow haste, wincing at the snap! of a broken shoe-heel. It's towering and beautifully cared for, its greenery seemingly lush and its fruit above her so round and red. Marian wonders who might have the time or skill to grow such a thing in the midst of chaos and ruin.

With a start, Marian clutches the space above her heart, noticing the woman beside her. Relief clamours through her—it's not a damned guard.

"Forgive me, I—"

The words roil away, fading into ashes in her mouth. Marian's eyes go childishly wide.

On instinct, she reaches behind her, and instead of a weapon, it's the balcony's railing. Marian puts her weight to it slightly, arms behind her as Queen Regina gives her a brief, disinterested look before plucking one of the apples free.

Her garnet-gem red lips, identical to the apple's colouring, identical to the lace and bodice of her royal, slender gown, press together.

"Did you not expect to be caught?" the Queen asks, contemplatively. As if this is a ordinary meeting to be having.

Marian says nothing, far too nervous to gather an explanation, breathing hard.

Until she does open her mouth.

"What gave it away?"

If Regina is appalled by her forwardness, even at the chance of finding Marian is no more than a rat and a peasant, it never shows. She lets out a low noise, those red, red lips twitching up into a haughty smirk as Regina leans in close. And close, closer, closer still. A finger twirls into one of Marian's dark curls, loosely.

She can feel the physical warmth of the other woman, where Regina's opened lips hover over her ear, where her cheek nearly presses to Marian's face.

"You smell like the forest," the Queen replies, simply.

When their eyes meet once more, Marian tilts her chin up, steadying her courage. She needs it. Her heart is racing—but whether it's fear or wanton need, that's a separate matter.

"What's your name?"

"… Maid Marian," she answers.

Regina's empty fingertips brush against her jaw, curling slightly. As gently as the fruit. She's warm as other girls Marian knew in secret touches and dusky, winter-long hours with nude skin under woolen sheets, and smells sweet like light perfume. There's a fleshy indent above the Queen's upper lip. It should mar her appearance, but it only enhances.

"I wish to… petition a pardon for Robin of Locksley, Your Grace."

She's let go. The appropriate title intrigues her, if Regina's ever-slow and purposeful eyebrow raise means anything.

Marian's shoulders clench in, exposed to the cool night air. She watches the red, red apple cradled the Queen's hand, used along as a gesture, before staring up. The Queen is indeed beautiful. Terrifying and beautiful, and will be the end of all things good and light if the rumours are true. "And why I ever grant such a request? He's committed treason."

"I understand."

"It is punishable by death, isn't it?"

"Then I beg you," Marian says, a little more softly, disbelieving. "Show him mercy."

Queen Regina makes a great show of rolling her eyes, the cruel amusement wiping from her expression. "Do you love him, maid? Is that what this is?"

"No," Marian's tone sharpens. It even makes Regina blink. "But it doesn't mean I wouldn't ask this of any friend whom I cherish."

She's certain this is when it happens. The Evil Queen calls for her black-hearted guards, to drag Marian to a cell and let her waste away in the pits of darkness. Let Robin hang. But, for a moment, a softer emotion morphs into Regina's features and Marian suddenly wants to indulge in it. She would nurse it like a babe, until it were healthy and strong.

"He'll be pardoned." Marian lets out a gasping, amazed sound at the statement. "Until the next time I discover him or you within my kingdom's realm."

Banishment.

But Robin's alive. He's going to be alive.

"I want you off the grounds before the bell tolls another hour, or there will be no mercy by my hand." Queen Regina turns away from her with an stony glare, with her lace-and-gem gown sweeping delicately about her, with the apple now bitten into. Marian's hand seizes out, reaching. She has no idea what's she's doing, but—

"Wait—"

But, forgive her, she leaves an unspoken echo.

Marian clutches onto her, kissing her with the ferocity of every unbidden desire. It's hot and raw sensation, where their mouths are pushed up and slide together. Marian's hands fist into pinned, silky hair. She whimpers as too-long nails dig up her back, into the diamond-bright fabric of Marian's dress and nearly ripping it off her body.

It would be divine, to hear the sound of fine threads coming apart, feel Regina's hands yanking and parting her and raking against the pleasure-damp insides of Marian's thighs.

"You ask too much," mutters, like the beginnings of a warning out of Regina's lips, as she inhales.

Marian lets her eyes hood, as she gazes at the Queen, when another pair of eyes follow the tip of Marian's tongue drag over her bottom lip.

"I don't care—" she mutters back, grinning a little in defiance. "—Your Grace."

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She's gone taut. Like a favoured, worn oak-bow.

This messy, arching thing, weeping and moaning in her lusty abandonment. Marian's dark, sweat-moist hair already thrown back on the silk-fine pillows.

She wants, needs a release, but Regina deliberately holds it from her, using her magic to hold the other woman down. She sinks her teeth against one of Marian's breasts, violently bringing a purplish, bloody flush against her tan, gleaming skin, and torments her sweetly until Marian's all but begging to come down from it.

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Robin pays the warnings no heed.

Neither does Marian.

But she can't return to her queen, not if her life means anything to her.

In the stillness of eve, draped in the moon-beams, Marian closes her eyes and and explores herself, her wetness, her need. She imagines full, red lips against pearly apple skin.

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The last fic for the ouat-ff-exchange! I volunteered to pinch hit for someone who needed a story and LOVED doing this one. Hope you love it too!