Title: The Queen and the Witch

Summary: The Queen is dying. A witch is sent for. A deal is made.

Rating: K+ for mentions of death?

A/N: ...I really don't know. When I sat down to write, it was with a completely different story in mind, and this came out instead. There may be more chapters, but this is meant as a one-shot. Enjoy?

She was met only with silence, and she wondered if she'd arrived too late, and death had already claimed the 'fairest of them all.' But finally, a tired, thin sound fell from lips once as red as blood, "...I require a favor."

The door closed behind her as soon as she was ushered into the Queen's bedchamber. Dark eyes adjusted to the brightness of the room, and the first thing she noticed was the painting. A young girl with dark, curling hair, incredibly pale skin and lips far too red to be really healthy stared back at her. The fireball itched to form immediately, and she struggled not to simply let it fly and set the image aflame. The girl depicted was far too like the one who ran rampant over her memory. Taunting her. Until she forced herself to remember that that girl- the one she had known- had ultimately been reduced to this frail pile of loose clothes and fragile limbs on the bed before her.

And oh, the witch got no small amount of satisfaction from seeing her like this. The urge to burn receded, and she smiled before bowing before the stricken figure on the bed. "Your majesty," she curtsied, bending low as was required but unable to keep the gleeful delight from entering her voice.

She was met only with silence, and she wondered if she'd arrived too late, and death had already claimed the 'fairest of them all.' But finally, a tired, thin sound fell from lips once as red as blood, "...I require a favor." Pleasantries had been among the first things to go, when the illness had first wreaked its havoc upon her.

The witch approached the bed, close enough to see the lines of pain that had destroyed much of the beauty and vitality on the face before her. And she did not bother to hide her smirk of victory. At the end, when it mattered, the Queen was finally beneath her. "Healing has never been a specialty of mine, I'm sure you know. And even if it were-"

The dying woman had her turn to laugh, then. Or at least try to. A weak, reedy sound that ended in wracking coughs. A handkerchief pressed quickly to her mouth came away red when the coughing ceased. "I'm not asking you to heal me," the Queen groaned out in a tired whisper. "The Reul Gorm herself has tried, but there is no cure, magic or otherwise, for my... condition." As you well know, went unspoken, but still filled the air between them nonetheless. The Queen's eyes closed for a long moment, and she was quiet so long the witch felt that she may have fallen asleep. Or worse.

Though loath to do so, she slowly sat down on the bed, watching the dying woman's face for a faint flicker of proof that life still coursed through her. But even weak as it was, she could feel and sense the heart pumping. Fluttering, stilted, frail beats. But beats, nonetheless. She almost laughed again at it. "I owe you no debt, dear," she said instead, and her gaze hardened as soon as the Queen's eyes opened again to look at her. "Rather the reverse," she continued. "Why should I do anything for you?"

"A deal, then," she groaned. The dying Queen turned her face away, surprising them both by having strength enough to look towards the painting that hung on the wall. "...I understand you've a daughter."

The witch avoided looking at the painted image, looking instead at the crumpled woman before her. "I do." Her eyebrow raised as she thought on her child."What does she have to do with anything?"

Tiredly, the Queen waved off the question with a thin and brittle-looking hand, shaking with the effort. "I'm sure you want her to better herself. To be raised in station and grow to be strong and beautiful." She turned back to the witch with a pointed look in her gaze. "And, knowing you, powerful."

"True power endures," the witch responded automatically, her tone sharp and cutting. "It is the only thing that does."

A weak nod from the Queen, and tired sounding-sigh. "So you've said." Another sigh, another shallow, reedy breath, before she continued. "My daughter..." she looked at the painting again. "...my daughter will need a mother."

The witch practically flew as she stood from the bed, her fury rising as she stared incredulously at the Queen whose mind had obviously withered along with her body. Which was not supposed to have happened. "You cannot be serious! If you honestly think that I-"

"I did not mean you!" Sunken eyes grew wide in horror at the thought. And the adamant correction had come a bit too quickly, for it brought about another round of dry, heaving coughs.

"Oh, for goodness sake!" the witch muttered, and suddenly a goblet of slightly fizzing liquid was in her hand, tipping slowly between the Queen's lips, cracked and chapped beneath her cosmetics. Still just as vain, to the last.

The Queen drank it down without protest. Really, at this point, what could the witch really do to her? The coughing abated, and when she next took a breath, it was far less labored. She did not say 'thank you.' The witch did not expect her to.

"I did not mean you," she said again, less adamantly. "I meant your daughter."

A black eyebrow arched incredulously. "My daughter? Why would you-"

But the Queen cut her off again, not wanting to have to wait the time it would take for the witch to determine her motives. The potion giving her strength of voice enough to do any interrupting would only last so long, and her time was limited enough as it was. "My child will have a mother," she almost spat. "Yours, a kingdom." As dawning comprehension filled the other woman's eyes, she offered her hand, shaking a little from effort. "Do we have a deal?" Her eyes never wavered as she glared up at the witch. A witch she'd known far, far too long, really.

A witch who was incredibly amused. "And I will be grandmother to your precious little Snow," she laughed. "Yours and... his." The amusement of her tone died for half a moment, as it always did when she thought of him. "And any additional of his children will be my grandchildren. My 'common, impure' bloodline on the throne." Her amusement was back, and she did laugh, flaunting her victory in the dying woman's face as much as she could. "Isn't that precisely what you didn't want, dear? Or was I always right, and that was only ever a poor excuse- a concession to your own fear?" The Queen's lack of reply was the only answer she needed, and the witch nodded, vitriol creeping back into her voice. "I thought as much. It's all become a bit poetic, don't you think?"

For an instant, the fire that she'd once known so well sparked into the Queen's eyes. She almost snarled at the witch, her extended hand no longer shaking. "Your daughter will be Queen, Cora. Isn't that precisely what you wanted?"

The familiarity of her name coming from her was jarring, inundating the witch with memories she did not want to recall. A happier time, when those lips had been untouched by vanity, let alone sickness, and had whispered her name quite often. Usually accompanied by tender, fleeting caresses and sweet kisses in the gardens. And the last time she'd heard it, when her own hand had been outstretched and waiting, and she who would be Queen had turned to leave her with nothing but tears in her eyes and ice hardening in her heart. Lost in such memories for a second or two, the witch was silent for a long moment, until she shook herself, and smiled again. It wasn't pleasant. "And here I wondered if there was anything left of the old you in this decrepit husk you've become."

The potion was losing momentum, the energy it had granted her dying quickly, and the Queen looked so much more tired. Her hand began to tremble again, but her voice stayed strong, if stilted. "Do. We have. A deal?" she demanded. And knew that really, she wasn't in much of a position to demand anything. Not from Cora.

The witch considered a moment, just watching as lines of fatigue burned themselves back into place on the Queen's face and body. It was now somehow less satisfying than she'd have thought it would be. "Very well, then."

And she took the offered hand. And tried not to think of how utterly... happy she'd have been, once, to have held this same hand another way, years ago.