Author's Note: I've returned with an update! (small as it might be) :-D

I apologize, sincerely, for the time it has taken for this update. I wish I could promise updates will be regular once again, but I don't have that luxury. I can promise that I have EVERY intention of finishing this story and my others.

This chapter is hardly the length of the last two. I had plans to make it longer but I thought it best to cut the chapter in half so you, my dear readers, have something to hold onto, until the next update.

This chapter is unbeta'd. If anyone is available to beta read for this story (and possibly my others) please drop me a line.

Chapter 24


The castle grounds were flooded with refugees. The castle staff was working to keep the refugees fed, to find places for them to stay, and trying to give them the information they sought, help families that were separated reunite and keep everyone calm.

It was chaos, but it was controllable chaos. There were no fires here. No soldiers attacking civilians or other soldiers. There was no bloodshed, only those looking to help heal wounds already made. There were no battle lines drawn here. All were welcome, from Raceen and Hoymel.

Aurora was inside the castle in one of the large halls full of civilians being fed, the kitchen staff overtaxed to feed all the refugees. Aurora was telling the guards that remained at the castle how to handle the influx of people that had slowly tempered through the night. They were trying to divide the stores so all would have something to eat. They were not prepared for such a large number of people. Aurora stared out the window of the kitchen and saw the light of the sun beginning to peek its way inside above the horizon.

Daybreak was here and still no word from Phillip.

"My Queen?" One of the servant women meekly asked as she held out a platter of food the Queen had come in to retrieve.

"Thank you, Mavis." Aurora bowed her head in thanks as she took the platter and vacated the bustling kitchen.

The sound of the trumpets and horns breaking through the air around the castle stopped Aurora's heart as her head snapped to the doors of the crowded dining hall. She shoved the platter she was holding into the hands of a woman in front of her, desperate to reach the courtyard where her boys would be.

"My Queen…?" One of the guards called, but Aurora ignored his calls as she raced out of the gallery hall into the hallway, her skirt flying behind her as she went to meet her sons and her husband.


"Phillip, Desmond! You've returned!" Aurora flew into her husband's arms and held onto him tightly as she kissed both of his cheeks. There was a darkness in Phillip's eyes that she recognized. It was one that often plagued her husband after battle. She soothed away the wrinkles of strain around his eyes and kissed him again, gently. She hugged herself close to him as she reached over Phillip's shoulder to grab a hold of Desmond's shirt. She pulled him closer to them and hugged both men.

"Steven, where is Steven?" Aurora asked as she leaned back to stare into Desmond and Phillip's eyes, having noted Steven wasn't standing beside his brother and father.

Desmond stepped to the side to reveal Steven and Emma. Emma was helping Steven sit. It was as she leaned away from them that Aurora noticed Steven's torn shirt. There were several healers crowding around the couple. The worry that had seeped into Aurora, panic unlike any she'd felt since the dark flu almost took Penelope from them, disappeared as she watched Emma dote over Steven. They were all home safely.

Aurora's feet moved on their own accord until she was kneeling in front of Steven as he tried to wave away their head healer. Her son was as unwilling to be treated by a healer as he was as a child.

Steven's lips twitched as he met his mother's eyes. "Mom."

"What happened?" Aurora asked as she cupped Steven's cheek. Her eyes fell to the skin of Steven's chest, the sight of an enflamed scar catching her attention immediately. She knew every scar Steven had, this one was new, fresh and seemingly newly healed above his lung. It was a wound that should have killed him.

Aurora snapped her eyes to Emma, looking at the Princess for an explanation. Her son would be scarce with the details of his newly healed wound. It was as Aurora held Emma's gaze that the Queen noted a clear cut defiance within them, one that Aurora only ever saw as the White Princess argued with Phillip.

"I was wounded." Steven said as Emma hissed, "He died."

Aurora's eyes widened as her hand fell to the healed wound. It was healed. He was alive. He was speaking, breathing, staring at her with concern and love. He was not like the heartless undead created by dark witches. His soul was still within his body, she could see it shining at her in his eyes. But…

"How?" She breathed the word, the question getting stuck within her throat.

"True love." Desmond stated from behind his mother, smiling at the happy couple. "Emma saved him. She kissed him and he came back from the deh-, he healed." Desmond's voice cracked at the word death, unable to say it, to face his brother's escaped fate so soon.

Aurora looked suspiciously between Emma and Steven. She knew their love was not true. Not in the sense that they all believed. Emma loved Steven of that Aurora was sure, but she was not in love with him. They were not true love bound.

Aurora peered at Emma questionably as she pondered what Desmond was saying, the tale he was weaving about how Steven fell wounded in battle. It was as Desmond recalled Steven's attempt on the Dark Queen's life that Aurora noticed a shift in Emma's features. The blue green eyes of the Princess flashed indigo.

"Then, the Evil Queen, she, she saved you Steven. I mean it. Truly!" Desmond persisted, as if believing no one would take him at his word for Regina's actions. "She saved you. She sent us to father and the healers. Called for our safety to her men."

"So we might watch him die." Phillip hissed as he squeezed Steven's shoulder and felt his warmth. It soothed him in ways he couldn't accurately describe.

Desmond bowed his head at Phillip's tone of voice but Maleficent had already heard enough of Phillip's horse shit on their journey to the castle.

"The Dark Queen saved Steven." She intoned darkly, her hand fisting at her side. Steven was quick to cover the fisted hand with his own, trying to keep Maleficent calm lest her magic seep from her.

"No, our patronage and your true love, the love between the two of you, saved my son." Phillip's nostrils flared at the challenge in Emma's agreement with Desmond. The notion of his son being saved by the Dark Queen was too much for him to bear.

"She gave him time. Without that time I would not have reached him. Even true love could not save him had I been slower to reach him." It had already cut it far too close.

Phillip opened his mouth to respond, his face flushed. They were all tense and the energy around the room bristled with their needs to release their pent up frustrations and emotions.

"Enough!" Aurora stepped between her husband and Emma. Steven looked about ready to stand up from his chair even though he looked ill enough to keep in bed for days. "Emma, I will leave Steven in your care. Desmond!"

"Yes, mother?" Desmond stood at attention, knowing when he was about to be given a task.

"See to your men. Tell them to rest. There will be much to be done come afternoon." Aurora ordered firmly, though she touched his cheek gently to sooth away any harshness he might have taken from her directive.

"Captain Dylan. You're with me." Desmond ordered as he waved his hand towards the Captain who had stood at the door with three other guards quietly, and left the great hall.

"You three," Aurora motioned to the guards, stopping them before they went to follow Desmond and Dylan.

"Yes, your majesty." They replied as they awaited their orders.

"Help Princess Emma bring Steven to his rooms."

"Yes, my Queen." The three soldiers bowed and assisted Steven from his chair, two of the men getting under his arms to hold up his weight while the other assisted Emma in carrying Steven's armor and weapons.

Aurora met Emma's eyes—once again as blue green as the sea foam—as she left the hall. Aurora knew they would need to speak.

"And my instructions?" Phillip asked, his tone mocking.

Aurora glared at her husband, aware that they were alone and she could scold him openly for his actions and his simple mindedness. "You will respect that girl. I do not care if you do not like her. I do not care if you find her insulting. She has been respectful throughout her entire stay with us. Has challenged you, yes, something you loathe in a woman, but she has always been respectful."

Phillip gaufed. "She has openly questioned me in front of my councilmen! She…"

"A right she has, as the next heir to the White Kingdom and as their adjunct here! You have been wrong, Phillip." Phillip's eyes narrowed and his muscles tensed as Aurora continued to berate him. "This battle! This…this war…you may have started, was wrong! And it killed our son!" Aurora screeched.

"How dare you speak to me as if I were beneath you! I am your husband. I am King!" Phillip stepped into Aurora's personal space and yelled in Aurora's face as he bent down a bit to intimidate his wife.

"And I am Queen!" Aurora screamed as she shoved her hands against Phillip's shoulders, pushing him away from her. She hated to be the one to strike first physically; it had never boded well when she was as Phillip often over compensated for not having struck first when he punished her. However she was incensed with anger at Phillip's disregard for her opinion, for Emma's opinion, and his blind hatred for Regina and Maleficent. She did not care if he struck her harder. His blind hatred had nearly cost them their son, and still he could not open his eyes. He would never learn. She could not allow his intolerance and hatred to run their kingdom into the ground.

"Do not forget your place Phillip! I am not beneath you! I am your wife. I am the mother of your children and by the Gods you so love I am an anointed Queen!"

Aurora breathed heavily as she met Phillip's eyes. It was as he advanced on her that Aurora began to calm. Her body loose, muscles ready as he came at her. It was as he went to grab her that she reached out, grabbed his wrist and twisted her body so she was now behind him, with his wrist turned and pressed firmly against his back. He swung out behind him to reach her but she ducked away from him and kicked at the back of his knee, bringing him down immediately. His body no longer as agile as it once was, while she remained in tip top form and shape.

"You are finished ruling over my Kingdom with an iron hand as if you have more right to it then I. You inherited your power from me, Phillip." Aurora ignored the tears that fell from her eyes. He had almost cost her a son, her baby. His pride and ego and religious beliefs had cost others their lives. Other women lost their children, their sons and daughters, and fathers, siblings. "I am no longer willing to stay beneath you!" Aurora quickly backed away from Phillip as he turned on his knees in an attempt to grab at her, growling in his anger at being so easily felled by his wife, by a woman.

"You treacherous bitch! Wait till I get my hands on you. You dare touch me. I am your King!"

"You are nothing but a fool, Phillip. A prideful man seeking glory he was denied in his youth."

Phillip made his way onto his feet, but did not move any closer towards his wife. At his sides his hands were tightly fisted, his knuckles white. "Glory is rightfully mine to be had as the anointed King!"

"Your infatuation with the old ways, the old religion has warped your mind, Phillip." Aurora sighed; this was an argument they had been having for nearly eleven years.

Phillip had turned towards the old ways, the old religion and dogma when Penelope first became ill. He still thought it was his doing, his prayer and devotion to the old gods and goddesses that had saved Penelope's life, not Maleficent and her magic and cure. His beliefs had set him on a crusade to punish all his new eyes found unworthy. He'd had to 'help' Aurora see the correct path more than once or twice during the years and she was no longer willing to bend.

"You were once a brave, noble and kind man. Now you are a coward that strikes against the innocent to prove your strength. You are no better than a child acting out to gain attention."

"I am doing what I was born to do. I rule over my Kingdom. No one else!" Phillip pounded his fist against his chest as he spoke of his kingdom and his rule.

"You've led us straight to the path of war!" Aurora shook her head dejectedly, "You almost cost us our son!"

"SO BE IT!" Phillip's voice echoed through the room, causing Aurora to shiver. "He knew the risks of going to battle. He took them willingly. If his life was to be forfeited so the darkness and shadow that plagues our lands could be stomped out, then it would be a fine death. He would be a martyr for his cause."

Aurora's eyes widened, having never believed that Phillip would risk their children's lives for his beliefs. If losing Steven could not open his eyes to his mistakes nothing would.

"It isn't his cause, Phillip. Just yours." Aurora felt her heart race against her chest as she lowered her voice. "And I swear to you. I will kill you before you cost me another child," She swallowed thickly, "Another loved one." Aurora saw Phillip's eyes widen at her accusation. She made her way slowly to the doors, never turning her back on Phillip. "You've cost hundreds of people enough already. You will not cost them anymore." Aurora swore as she turned on her heel and left the hall and Phillip behind.

She had a castle to run, a family to keep, and a Kingdom to salvage.


Emma moaned as she opened her eyes. The candle light in the room was scarce. Her throat was dry and patchy, and her side burned. Her coughed, the motion straining her injury. Her lips opened in a silent scream, the sound catching in her chest, making it feel tight. She seized up and tried to control her breathing, tried to relax her muscles. She kept her eyes squeezed closed and tried to recall what happened. Why was she in such pain? Where was she?

Her eyes moved about the room, scanning it as she turned her head to the right, a mirage overtook her. There, sitting hunched over in a chair beside her position, sat the Dark Queen, slumbering. The soft rise and fall of her shoulders and the slight whistle of her breath froze The White Princess. The Queen's face was hidden behind a curtain of dark chestnut hair, which fluttered a bit with each exhale she released.

Emma cringed as she turned her head to look at the ceiling. The memories of the battle and waking up to Regina; the Queen being angry at her flashed quickly through her minds eye. But Regina had stayed. After all the insults and promises, she stayed.

Emma groaned as she couldn't convinced her body to swallow without causing her pain. Everything hurt. Everything.

She'd been hurt before, while practicing sword fighting many times. It had taken her being able to collect herself after a particularly hard blow for her dueling partners to take her seriously. Then there'd been the day she met Graham.

He saved her from certain death. She'd been protecting a farmer and his workers when she was stabbed in the back by one of the bandits. The pain had been extraordinary. She had hardly been able to fight off the thieves. If it hadn't been for Graham's wolf she would have been dead. The wolf had lunged at her attacker and the one behind her was killed by an arrow to the heart by Graham. The rest injured and driven away by the famer and his men who'd taken up against the rest of the bandits.

The local healer the men had taken her to had condemned her to death, so Graham took her up on her horse and rode to the royal outpost where she was treated and made stable before being brought back to the castle for further treatment. Her mother had thrown a fit. Suddenly the growth in crime along the borders of kingdoms was taken seriously when a Princess was attacked.

Emma had been bed ridden for two months, castle ridden for an additional three. Half a year she'd been trapped in the castle. It was only her father's insistence to giving her the responsibility of being the White Kingdom's ambassador to Gemwell, Uberta and Derrick's Kingdom, that she could leave the castle at all. Surprisingly the foreign policy and diplomat lessons kept her sane during the six months she was held prisoner in her own castle. The trip to Gemwell took a month each way and she and her caravan had stayed in the Kingdom for three months. Three months that Emma recalled both fondly and with great pain.

Emma groaned as her hands fisted at her side. The pain in her chest was worse. Whatever draught the healer had given her was wearing off.

"It seems our patient has awoken." The softly spoken statement came from a man Emma hadn't seen in over a year.

"Guy…" Emma croaked half of Gaius' name, her voice catching in her raw throat.

"Drink first your highness." Gaius brought a cup to Emma's lips and she tried to guzzle it down. Most of it was spilt or coughed up violently. Gaius frowned at her. "You know better. Slowly. It will soothe your parched throat."

Emma held the healer's kind eyes as she drank slowly. When she finished the cup he withdrew it from her. Emma sighed with ease as her chest began to feel warm. The feeling moved quickly through her body, relieving the pains throbbing inside her. As Gaius fettled around at her side, lifting her blanket to reveal her naked body beneath her eyes flickered towards Regina, self-consciously.

Gaius caught the sideways glance and smirked as he tested the wound site, his concern now the infection that could take hold of the Princess. He hoped the Princess' body and magic would heal her and keep the infection at bay like it had the last time he had treated her.

"You were dreaming last night." Gaius mentioned to distract Emma from the pain she was bound to feel as he drained the wound. "You were screaming."

Emma pursed her lips as she sucked in a deep breath. "I imagine I would be." Emma looked away from Regina's curtain of dark hair as she felt her eyes tear up with the discomfort this check-up was causing. "Draughts make it impossible to wake from the dreams."

Gaius looked sympathetic. Emma released a deep breath slowly so she wouldn't aggravate her wound.

"Do you remember the dreams?' Gaius asked, peering at the Princess through his bushy eye lashes.

Emma's eyes fluttered for several moments as her hands fisted, her fingers squeezing tightly into her palms as her jaw muscles flexed. Gaius watched in fascination as the Princess recalled her visions whether she wanted to or not. Groaning lowly Emma began to come back to herself just as Regina moaned and slowly woke from her sleep. The Queen sighed as she woke, her hand squeezing the edge of Emma's bed as her eyes began to focus on the blonde.

"Emma?" Regina's voice was soft, low, as awareness settled in around her. The Queen reached a hand out and took Emma's fist into both of her own. When Emma's eyes opened and her fists released their grip Regina gasped and dropped Emma's hand. The witch obviously having thought the patient was still asleep.

"You are awake."

"Mmm…so are you." Emma whispered, a smirk quirking over her lips.

The Princess' smirk caused Regina's hackles to rise. She stood from her seat, missing Emma's hand reaching towards hers to keep her seated.

With a curt twist Regina turned her back to Emma, her spine straight and heart racing beneath her chest. "You are awake. Gaius will remain to tend to you. I am needed elsewhere."

"Regina…" Emma spoke beseechingly, hoping to call the woman back to her bedside.

Regina's body tightened at the sound but she did not give in. She nodded to Gaius once before retreating from the room as regally as she could manage. She had kept her promise. She had stayed with Emma until she had awoken. Now there were many duties that she needed to see to. She could not allow herself to remain at Emma's side any longer. No matter how much she felt a longing to do so.

Emma watched Regina go with a forlorn stare. When she doors of Gaius' rooms finally closed behind the Queen Emma turned to the healer.

"She will never make this easy, will she?"

"Make what easy, your highness?" Gaius played coy.

Emma sighed, cringingly only minutely. "Loving her."

Gaius' eyes widened, surprised that Emma could so easily speak of her feeling. Then he saw the Princess' eyes, glazed and her pupils indistinguishable. She was not herself. The draughts left her without fear of her actions, declarations spoken, and the meaning behind such admissions.

"No." He stated, "She won't."

"She…sometimes I wonder if she's…"

"Worth the trouble?"

Emma glared darkly at Gaius, insulted on Regina's behalf. "If she's in love with me." She corrected forcefully. Gaius held his hands up in surrender, not having meant to anger or insult the Princess.

Emma's gaze fell back to the chair Regina had slept in and then stared at the doors the Queen had disappeared through.

Gaius moved away from his vials and stood beside Emma. "She remained all evening. Agonized over what she thought of as your pain. Pain she is angry you feel, guilty over you saving her."

Emma chewed on the inside of her lip in thought. Gaius allowed her the time she needed as he tended to Emma's lesser wounds.

"There are times I know she feels as I do." Emma whispered her voice as soft as a spring breeze.


"Sealy!" Regina called out as she stepped into the war room. Two of her lieutenants stood at attention as she barged into the room. Upon the far wall behind them the large oval mirror came to life, the ethereal image of Sealy appearing.

"Your Majesty." The two soldiers bowed to their Queen. Regina paid them little mind as she strode to the mirror and issued her command.

"Show me Raceen." Upon the mirror images began flashing, switching from one area to another of the sieged city. There were still fires burning but with the Primrose forces retreated they were being tended to by the citizens. "Our forces gentleman?" Regina inquired without allowing her eyes to leave the mirror.

Her men gave her a complete report on the number of soldiers that had been lost, the number of injured and the projected time it would take for the supplies from neighboring cities and Kingdoms to arrive. Regina only half listened to what they were saying. Focusing in on aspects that were of the utmost importance to her, like how many casualties they had suffered and the time it would take for further aide to arrive.

"Leave me."


"Leave me!" Regina finally turned to look at the men, her face stern.

Both men quickly left the room, and stood guard outside the doors.

"My Queen?" Sealy appeared on the mirror, studying the glazed expression upon his majesty's face.

"Maleficent. Show me Maleficent."

"Yes, your Majesty." Sealy's image swirled away, ripples slowly softening out to show the inner rooms of a Primrose Prince being tended to by…

"Emma?" Regina whispered the name as she saw an exact replica of the blonde who she knew to be recovering in Gaius' rooms, tending to Prince Steven's wounds. "Show me to her."

"Yes, my Queen." Sealy's voice sounded but his image did not resurface. The glass of the mirror rippled with magic as it was now a two way line of communication.

"Maleficent." Regina called, watching as the blonde witch snapped her head up and she peered around the room, looking for the source of her voice.

When she finally found the mirror Maleficent stood from watching over Steven's sleeping form and approached the mirror, the glamor dissipating until she was once again the visage of Maleficent, not the White Princess.

"You look terrible." Maleficent uttered, her voice low so as not to draw the attention of the guards outside the doors.

"As do you, Fee." Regina's eyes peered over Maleficent's shoulder to Steven's bed. "It seems your Prince has survived."

Maleficent feels her throat constrict and tears burn her eyes. "Barely. He…" She cleared her throat, "He died."

"What?!" Regina's eyes widen, tracking back to the Prince, sure that she had seen his even breathing.

"He died in front of me. I…I do not know how he returned to me." Maleficent admitted, doing her best not to relive the fear of having Steven's heart cease it's beating before her very eyes.

"True love is a very powerful magic." Regina's voice was soft, too tired to speak any louder. Her energy none existent as she'd spent most of the evening awake at Emma's bedside.

"I have never known true love to act in this manner before." Maleficent admitted, needing to voice her concern. True Love was a powerful magic, but it did not act as true love had in the past. Not with any of the monarchs, their former enemies.

Regina pinched the bridge of her nose, unsure if she could handle adding one more item to her list of things to do. She had far too much to do as it was. Wondering about the properties of a magic that had never aided her was not one she wished to add to the list.

"We shall investigate it at another time. My concern now rests on your presence in the castle as Emma."

"I haven't seen the Princess as of yet."

"That is because she is here."

"There?" Maleficent felt her brow crease.

"She…saved my life. Assassins." Regina spit the word out as if cursing all who'd ever bore the title. "She took an arrow for me." Regina whispered, flexing her fingers as she met Maleficent's unbelieving eyes. "She is resting under Gaius' care."

Maleficent blinked, surprised to hear of the Princess' heroics and yet maybe there was a part of her that wasn't. "Perhaps I misjudged her." It wasn't often that Maleficent admitted to such a folly.

"Perhaps we both have." Regina answered, her voice as soft as her feelings were for the Princess, some of the time at least. Shaking away the sentimentality that overcame her, Regina's eyes cleared, her focus returning. "You will need to remain as Emma for the time being. But remain alert. There is something more at work here and I fear you are at the epicenter of it while in that castle."

"I wouldn't leave even if you asked it of me." Maleficent truthfully responded, her head turning to look over her shoulder at her Prince.

"Take care of him. And yourself, Fee." Maleficent turned back to the mirror; her eyes alight with love for her friend. She smiled softly and touched her end of the mirror. Regina raised her own hand and placed it atop the image of Maleficent's. "I will be in touch."

"Every day."

Regina bowed her head, "Yes, every day."

Maleficent dropped her hand and straightened her shoulders. "Take care of that foolish blonde, will you? Let her know how big of a pain in my rear she is."

A smile formed upon Regina's lips, unable to help the quick upturn. "I shall. Be safe my friend."

"I can take care of myself, Gina. You know no one here is a match for me." She winked as she took a step away from the mirror. "Keep me updated on Raceen and what you may need from Mirdilay, from me."

Regina bowed her head as she too stepped away from the mirror, the connection slowly closed as Sealy's image returned.

Regina turned on her heels and approached the round table with the representations of her armies strategy. Raceen was one of many border cities that were now a target for the Kingdom's they no longer swore allegiance to. She needed to ensure the safety of the people who trusted her, including Emma and Maleficent.

Maleficent's actions while disguised as Emma would complicate matters in ways not even Regina could foresee. With the Kingdoms believing that Emma and Steven were true love bound they would insist upon an engagement and marriage. It would force Maleficent's hand sooner than Regina imagined the shape shifter wanted. With animosities high between all the Kingdoms when the tensions were beginning to settle the engagement would be the celebratory presented to lighten spirits.

The possible (forced) engagement between Emma and Steven was the least of her worries at the moment. Someone had tried to kill her, wearing her Kingdom's armor. The attack on Raceen was the surest way to draw her out into the open.

Assassins were not easy to come by. They were far more deadly than the meager bounty hunters that Regina had faced upon her return to this realm. Assassins, unlike bounty hunters, were skilled, patient, and did not accept open contracts; they were hired for specific missions. Now it would seem like she was their specific mission, their target. Assassins capable of stealing or impersonating Dark Kingdom soldiers were not hired with chump change. Someone had paid these men a great deal to kill her. Who that someone was, now held the Queen's attention.

From the report it was brought to her attention that the assassins were all dead, leaving no one to question on the matter. However they were identified and Raul was running a congruent investigation with his brother who was stationed here, questioning the other soldiers in the barracks. There had been no word on another contract on her head, the last bounty having been rescinded by Snow White when the treaties were signed. Regina hated what kind of position this left her in. Someone was out for her head and it was only a matter of time until they made themselves known. Regina just hoped no one she cared about would get hurt in the crossfire before she could rightly retaliate against this mysterious enemy.

The enemy that made himself plain for all to see sat upon his own throne, licking his wounds Regina hoped. King Phillip had attacked a city under her protection. Their soldiers met upon an open field and closed circuits within the city walls. Innocent men, women, and children were hurt, killed. His actions were swift and hostile. He had no room in his heart to make peace with her, whatever his reasons. The precipice he forced her to stand upon boded well for no one. There would be pain and loss for all if she were to allow herself to step off the edge he'd forced her upon.

War. His actions called for war; a war that Regina had spent so much time trying to avoid with the help of Phillip's own son. To think that all those months of planning was for nothing, that within a months' time of the treaties being signed it was broken. It was disheartening and frustrating. Regina scowled at the ignorance of the King. He was so lost in his own delusions of right and wrong that he would bring death and destruction to everything around him. He would fail. She would see to it that the peace Regina had no intentions of disregarding was not lost to him and his dark and deadly fanciful whims.

Then there was Emma, the Swan Princess, to consider. The foolish girl had been willing to die to protect her. Regina had kept her promise, as she always strove to do. She had stayed with Emma while she slept, but looking into the Princess' eyes, so clear and open and vibrant, left her quaking with fear. Fear of the love she felt for the woman who would so carelessly throw away her life if it meant protecting her. First she would need to ensure that the Princess healed and was returned to her place in Primrose.

If Regina was to trust Emma with her heart she would need to overcome this fear. She would need to work harder to learn to protect herself so she did not require Emma's sacrifices. And yet should Emma give Regina her heart, there were sacrifices to be made, obstacles they would need to overcome, and journeys that they would fail and triumph upon before they could ever hope to find a happy ending.

It just so happened the journey that would test them the most had already begun.

End Chapter 24

Author's Note: I hope that although I cannot promise prompt updates you will continue on this journey with me. Your support and encouragement has not gone unheard or unappreciated. I value each review which speaks of your opinions on this story, every follow and favorite. I cannot believe that there are over 500 people following this story. It's my most popular fanfiction in any fandom and I have you all, and your patience, to thank for that.

Stay tuned. I will be back.