"I am your Queen," Regina insists, her new wedding ring still cold against her skin. She wonders if it will ever feel warm, will ever feel a part of her in the way the giggling girls at court suggest it should. Like the ring she keeps hidden beneath the silks of her dress does, a constant reminder pressing into her flesh, but never quite enough to hurt.
"Yes, your Majesty," Jefferson replies, the mockery gone from his tone now. "But my wife is—"
"I. Don't. Care," Regina grinds out the words, her resolve weakening by the moment. She has just this one weekend, with Leopold gone to visit King George, Snow White and her careless mouth mercifully along with him. "You will take me, as I demand."
"The power is going to your head, Regina," Jefferson warns, but he smiles at her like they're dust-covered children again, playing in the fields behind the Mill. "What's so urgent that I need abandon my pregnant wife for the day? You've always mocked my hat before."
"I had no need of it before," Regina snaps. "I can pay."
Jefferson straightens up suddenly, as though Regina struck him. "Keep your money," he sighs, reaching for the strange leather box Regina remembers so vividly. "But you'll owe me."
The Hall of Doors looks much as Regina remembers it, only now she isn't ten years old and wishing Jefferson would leave her alone to visit the horses. This is as far as she's ever been, but her resolve is set that she will continue without him should Jefferson refuse. It can't be that hard to work out.
"Where to?" Jefferson asks, a little closer than he should be. For a moment, if Regina closes her eyes, she can pretend… but no, she needs to keep going; she needs something more than a memory.
"The Land of the Dead," Regina says, eyes still closed.
"Really?" Jefferson sounds stunned, but Regina can't bring herself to look at him. She braces herself, but still the question comes. "Regina, what the hell happened?"
"Don't ask me, Jefferson," Regina pleads, and she sounds every bit as broken as she feels. "Please don't ask me."
"Give me your hand," Jefferson says after an endless minute. "Now, you hold on tight and don't let go until I tell you."
"Okay," Regina agrees, accepting the hand he offers and the warmth of it. He squeezes her hand enough to make her aware of the damn ring again, heavy and unwanted on her fingers.
Jefferson leads her towards a plain black door, and together they step through.
Regina looks around in confusion, taking in the sight of her carriage and the modest house she just left.
"I can't take you there," Jefferson says, and to his credit he sounds genuinely sad about it. "But not even my hat holds dominion over death. Even magic has its limits, Regina."
"I am well aware," Regina snarls, although her whole life has been an exercise in proving that lesson wrong. "I should have known better than to expect anything of you."
"That's not fair," Jefferson answers, with a scowl. "You know I'd do anything for you."
"But not this," Regina spits. "Useless. Why is everyone so useless?"
"We can't all be as wonderful as you, I suppose," Jefferson replies, squeezing Regina's hand, which he still holds. "Who was he?"
"No one you know," Regina sighs, because saying another word on the topic will break her beyond the fragments she's already in. It's work enough, finding away to put herself back together.
"It pains me," he admits. "To see you so sad."
"I don't want your pity," Regina warns him, aware of the shift in the atmosphere.
"I'm not offering pity," Jefferson says simply, and when he steps closer, drawing Regina into his arms, she makes no effort to resist. The wiry strength of his arms comforts her the way that nothing else has so far, and though the tears threaten again, she doesn't let them fall. "My poor, beautiful Regina. I would give anything to spare you a broken heart; you know that's still true, don't you?"
"Why Jefferson," Regina manages to say, her voice full of scorn. "Anyone would think you're still a hapless twelve year-old, still infatuated with me."
"Perhaps I always will be," Jefferson whispers, his breath warm and familiar against her ear.
"Perhaps I can think of a way to make you smile again, your Majesty."
"Perhaps your wife will be unimpressed," Regina fires back, but her body is crying out quietly at the very idea. The solid strength of Jefferson feels like a worthy substitute right now, far more comforting that the cold indifference of her marital bed. "To say nothing of my husband."
"I fear no King," Jefferson replies, cupping Regina's face in his hands. "And my wife won't be home for hours." He makes his point with a tender kiss, barely grazing Regina's lips with his own.
"After all these years?" Regina asks, before taking a kiss of her own, and there is nothing tender about it.
"You make us sound so old," Jefferson mocks, teasing her bottom lip with a playfulness Regina thought was lost to her. "We're still so young, Regina."
She closes her eyes and kisses him, the thought of Daniel on her mind and the taste of his kisses still on her tongue. But Jefferson is right: they are still so young, and there is so much living still to endure. She thinks of how her mother would chase Jefferson away from the Mill every day, telling Regina that they would soon be moving in better circles. Circles that forced Regina to marry a King and not the man she loved; circles that Regina finds herself trapped in, day after relentless day.
"Then, dear Jefferson," Regina tells him when they part, gasping for air and flushed in the face. "Let's find out if you can make me smile, after all."