A LEDGER SQUARED IN BLOOD
By Scribes and Scrolls
Chapter 13: Sweet Endings
Emma had seen some strange sights in her life. Boston was an entire world of strange at times. But the things she'd seen today ...
Snow had given Graham and the palace wolf joint custodial rights to oversee the castle being turned into an animal sanctuary. And the marsupials had wasted little time in making themselves at home. Nikolai and his cousins bouncing up and down on Cora's bed and nesting in her silk robes was one image she'd never erase. Meanwhile Nikolai's dignified old mother had settled herself regally into Cora's lingerie drawer.
The sanctuary came with three rules: no fighting, no biting, no disembowelling. Everyone had looked sideways at Scapulus when the last rule had been read out. He had looked vaguely disappointed and returned to sunbaking on the railing.
Emma slid her eyes over to Regina who was leaning over the balcony, her expression impassive.
"You OK?" she asked, going over to her. "I mean this used to be your palace, right?"
"To the victor goes the spoils," the brunette said tightly. "And the animals won the day. You yourself said they brought down the trebuchet. And they also ..."
She faded out and briefly shut her eyes. Emma slipped an arm around her waist. Regina's mother might have been an evil bitch, and they had both tried to kill her today - but she was still Regina's mother. Her dead mother. Regina glanced at the arm.
"Besides," the brunette added, "The memories I have of this place, apart from one night with you, are all tainted. I am surprised Graham wants any part of it, either."
"He's all about the 'greater good' now," Emma shrugged. "And I seriously don't think he's holding a grudge."
"Do you even know what I did to him?"
"He told me," Emma said softly. "But he also said it's in the past for him … and that you're as different as night and day from the woman he knew then."
There was a heavy silence. Finally the brunette said harshly: "How can you even stand to be with me?"
The blonde tightened her arm at her waist. "Regina, you are not your rap sheet. Hell, more than anyone, I get that concept. You sure as hell are not still her. I could not love someone evil. So what does that tell you? I don't know much but I do know it is possible to change your life, and become who you want to be, not what people tell you you are."
Regina frowned thoughtfully and turned back to the canyon again.
"I want to believe that," the brunette whispered. "And part of me is so filled with hope it scares me. The darkness inside - I just don't feel it there anymore. But what if it's not really gone? How can something that was in me for years just … go … when she died? What if it comes back? What if I…"
A morose expression crossed her face. "What if I hurt you next time?"
"There are a lot of 'what ifs' in there, Regina, and I think you're focusing on all the worst-case scenarios instead of the most amazing thing."
Regina's head snapped to look at her. "Which is?"
"You don't feel the darkness inside you anymore. That's good, Regina, really good."
"Emma," Regina sighed darkly.
"The things I've done..."
"You don't," Regina muttered sadly. "Not all of it. I ... I've done terrible things."
Graham had told her about that, too. Everyone in Regina's palace had known the moment her father's body was laid out - a fist-sized hole in his chest where a heart should be.
Knowing what she had done to her father ... well it explained a hell of a lot about why the brunette had fought so hard to keep Emma from killing. Regina knew well what it did to a person.
"I already know," Emma confirmed softly and reached over and gave Regina's hand a squeeze. "I know about your father – the price you paid for the curse. Well the old you, anyway."
"How can you be so sure she's gone when even I don't know?"
Emma smiled. "Because I have faith in you even if you don't. If you can't trust yourself, at least trust my belief in you. And, just so you know, there's nothing you can do that will scare me off. Come to think of it, you of all people should know that by now."
She gave her a sideways grin and was repaid with a relieved breath. She saw gratitude in deep brown eyes.
Emma wondered how long she'd kept that secret locked inside, too afraid to even name it. Secrets like that owned a person, not the other way around.
"I still love you," Emma added, amused when Regina sent a vaguely incredulous look her way.
Out of the corner of her eye she could suddenly see the absurd sight of marsupials hanging off the door frames and curtains to Cora's bedroom. As she watched, one had discovered its little claws could slow its descent down Cora's curtain, albeit shredding it at the same time, giving a small "Wheee" of delight.
Emma's eyes widened. Not exactly respectful of the dead.
"Let's get out of here," she said hastily, and propelled Regina in the opposite direction.
They ducked into the brunette's bedroom and Regina went straight to her bedside drawer, pulling out the pouch of photos before turning and opening her wardrobe. After a moment she exhaled.
"Actually I don't want any of this," she finally said after staring at the row of clothes. "Too many memories. Let the animals nest in it or shred it for all I care."
She gave it one last look and Emma watched her close the heavy wooden doors with a final thud.
"It's not like I don't have everything I already need right here," she said softly, eyes catching Emma's.
The blonde grinned at the sentiment.
Regina blushed faintly. "Oh be quiet," she said in embarrassment, even though Emma hadn't said a word. Still, she didn't object when the blonde leaned in and dropped a loving kiss on her cheek, then dusted the spot with her fingers.
The brunette felt unaccountably pleased by the gesture and looked down at the pouch she was clutching to hide her sudden awkwardness. Her fingers skimmed through the photos, a rote habit to check they were all there. Regina paused on the oldest photo, of her holding a baby Henry, the look of hope so clear on her face.
She stared at her son's face for a long moment, then wordlessly slipped the photos back in the pouch and into her pocket.
"You'll see him again, Regina. Today in fact. Everyone wants to have a victory party at the encampment, and unite the Storybrooke families with the Resistance. Henry will be there."
Regina swallowed and shook her head. "That's … I'm looking forward to seeing him."
Emma slid her eye sideways, aware something was wrong.
Regina couldn't begin to explain how soul crushing all the developments of the day had been. A victory party – to celebrate her abusive mother's throat being ripped out. To add Henry into her emotional mix? Not to mention the residents of Storybrooke she had cursed, now all with their memories back, all staring at her? Hating her?
Regina paused. "It will be difficult," she finally admitted.
"The party. The people."
Emma looked at her blankly.
"My dear, have you forgotten I will not be welcome? I did enact the curse. No happy endings, remember? I'm the Evil Queen."
"Oh, um, I have a little confession to make," Emma looked up at her from under her lashes. She dropped her voice very low. "I may have mentioned to, ah, a few people what Cora did to you. What she was like as a mother. People are more sympathetic now."
Regina's outraged look made Emma quail.
"Oh really?" she asked darkly.
"Regina, I needed people to believe that you're on our side."
The brunette crossed her arms in anger. "That was PRIVATE information," she scowled. "Do you mean to tell me everyone here now knows ... everything?"
Regina grunted softly in disgust and looked away. Emma could see a dark flush rising up her neck.
"I told you – they didn't believe you were fighting for us. Why would they? It was the only way to explain why you had as much reason as them - more actually – to want Cora gone. And my concern for your personal safety comes ahead of your pride," she added, pleading. "I didn't want them to try and pitchfork you on their way to your mother."
Regina's jaw worked. "How will I face them now?" she ground out.
"You are seriously more worried about them seeing you as a victim of abuse than their Evil Queen?"
"I am no one's victim."
"Facts - not to mention scars - might suggest otherwise." Her eyes flicked to Regina's upper lip.
The brunette huffed in annoyance. "You don't understand. At least when they hated me I wasn't..."
The brunette tilted her head and eyed Emma. "Weak."
"You aren't now. You didn't have any say in what happened to you. The fact you endured it all those years was a superhuman effort."
"Well it wasn't without consequences, now was it?" Regina's lips thinned into a line. "What she did to me, I took out on everyone else."
"Yes you did," Emma agreed quietly. "But the difference is now they know why you did what you did to them. You weren't just heartlessly getting your kicks. You were damaged, lashing out."
"I don't want their sympathy," Regina snapped, "all those pathetic looks and..."
"Well, if it helps, I am sure many of them will still resent the hell out of you for the curse."
Regina quirked her lips. "Now you're just trying to make me feel better."
Emma snorted, but her eyes contained desperate relief at the unexpected joke.
Regina saw it and her heart sank.
Her anger would always be her undoing. Emma had just been trying to help her.
Regina tried to gather her whirling thoughts and not dwell on the fact everyone in Storybrooke would view her as some pity case now. She felt sick at the idea of it.
She sighed. Well, one thing at a time.
She glanced around at the oppressive castle walls and small bedroom that had been hers for months. She remembered the mornings she spent crying. The hours spent burning with rage, as she single-mindedly plotted and schemed to…
"Come on," she said thickly, grabbing Emma by the arm. "I need to not be here anymore."
The blonde nodded, only too happy to be pulled along. Together they made their way out of the building and into sunlight.
They walked swiftly back towards camp, Regina trying not to dwell on what lay ahead, or what lay behind; Emma doing her best to distract her, not even noticing she was waving her father's sword about as though it were her hand, to punctuate conversational points.
They had fallen silent, though, the moment they skirted a particular swelter pool they both recognised.
"Did you want to, you know, say a few words or anything?" Emma asked, indicating Cora's last resting place with the point of her sword.
"No," Regina said curtly. "All that needed to be said has been said."
"OK," Emma said. "If you change your mind, we can always come back another day."
"I will never come back here," the brunette said. "Let's keep going."
They trudged on and Emma began peppering the conversation with silly jokes about her Boston life. It used to cheer her up at the cottage. Regina knew what she was doing and tried to smile. She appreciated the effort. But her heart wasn't in it.
"Did you hear the start of Snow's speech," Emma tried again. "I think the bit about 'animals are people, too' kind of overdid it a little. The wolf actually rolled his eyes at her."
Regina snorted at that. "Well she always did veer towards the saccharine and condescending."
Emma swallowed her grin. "Are you ever going to get on with her?"
The brunette replied thoughtfully: "I truly don't know. And it's not just up to me, is it?"
The blonde flicked a glance at her as though she expected that but her shoulders drooped.
Regina noticed her disappointment. "But she is also your mother," she added. "I can only promise that for my part I will try. And I do have hope that things will change."
"That's all I ask." The blonde glanced back at the castle. "You do realise your demon vulture is still standing guard up there? Is that his new home or something?"
"Oh hell," Regina muttered, "I forgot to dismiss him. I will call him in later. He'll want to be at the celebrations. He always was a party animal."
"Was that a joke?" Emma asked in disbelief.
"No, dear," Regina said innocently. "I mean it. Scapulus is the life of any party. Just don't let him near the punch. Citrus juice makes him go berserk."
"Is that, um, wise – what with all the food and small children around?"
Regina smiled. "He does prefer his food raw and bloody, so no problem with that, and human children are of no interest to him. And if you want to keep your breakfast down it's best never to ask him why that is."
"Oh God," Emma whispered, supremely sorry she'd raised the topic.
The blonde slipped her arm around Regina's waist, happy to have her right at her side. They continued in companionable silence.
"What happens now?" Emma eventually asked. "I mean, will everyone just move over to the Enchanted Forest palace and live happily ever after? Will you go, too?"
"That's up to your parents," Regina said. "The council is going to meet before the party tonight to decide my fate."
Emma scowled. "I swear if they lay one hand on you, I'll show them some of those sword skills you taught me. Like the ogre's spike?" Emma jabbed out her sword in a vicious upward snap to demonstrate.
"My hero," Regina murmured. "Although you keep dropping your guard. We should work on that.
"Anyway, much as she might be tempted, I don't think even Snow will kill the one you love. Not if she wants to have a lot of mother/daughter bonding any time soon. Right?"
Emma brightened. "Hey, you're right. So what is the usual punishment for cursing an entire realm to a backwater town?"
Regina pursed her lips. "I doubt that one's on the books. We will have to wait and see."
"Well where you go, I go."
"That may not be possible, Emma," Regina said. "Dungeons do exist in this world."
Emma shivered. "Please tell me she wouldn't do that to you?"
"It may not be up to her. A lot of people suffered a lot because of me."
"And you saved all their asses today."
"Mmm. Although, they'd probably just see it as self-serving. Me attacking my abuser."
Emma bit her lip. "I am sorry, Regina, about telling them. If there had been another way…"
"I know," she sighed. "What's done is done."
They passed a copse of trees and Emma pointed: "We're here."
Before long they came to the encampment, but not before passing a row of tents that made the brunette stop dead.
"Are they what I think they are?" Regina asked, nose wrinkling in disgust. The canvas walls flapped against the timber frames and the smell… well…
" 'Fraid so. Downside of not living in modern society. No indoor plumbing, no cheeseburgers. And those two do kinda go together."
"That ablutions block is not fit for a diseased slug," Regina declared. "It has to go."
"Well no argument from me," Emma shrugged. "But what can we do?"
Regina eyed her archly, lifted one hand and began to mutter. She snapped her fingers, turning it instantly into a six-star, luxury, marble-lined spa and amenities facility fit for a world-class resort. She smiled at her handiwork. That was more like it.
"Ohhh!" Emma gaped in wonder.
"HEY!" growled a voice from inside at the same time. A split second later it said: "Oh! Heeyyyyyyyyyy."
"Guess you should have checked it was empty first," Emma observed with a laugh.
Grumpy, who had stayed back at camp due to his concussion, emerged a few minutes later looking like all his Christmases had come at once. He walked straight up to Regina and said, gruffly: "For that, you're all right with me, sister."
He had then sidled off whistling and Regina tried to hide how inordinately pleased she was with his reaction. It was nothing compared to the flying hug and loud smack of lips she earned from her lover.
"Now I really see the appeal of magic," Emma announced, then kissed her again for good measure. "You're like an all-powerful Oprah, but with really refined taste."
"Did you even own a TV?"
"Why would I want to do that? All they do is shorten young attention spans and misinform the masses."
"Fair point. Although Oprah did have shizzle."
"Now I know you're just making up words. Do I even need to be in this conversation?"
"You are grouchy. Not that you don't have a right to be," Emma added hastily at Regina's outraged glare. "Come on, let's go and test out your new spa bath. A soak will do us both good. How many jets did you give it?"
"Oh, did you want more?" She lifted her arm.
Emma shook her head numbly. "Did I mention how much I love you?" she said, before hooking her arm in Regina's and pulling her inside the gleaming facility.
The celebration party at the encampment was in full swing - dancing and home-made spirits were flowing liberally. Everywhere was laughter and joy, a weight lifted as the entire Infinite Forest, including its animals, celebrated the death of a dictator. Parents were embracing the reunion with their children. And Storybrooke residents as a whole were welcoming Cora's castle staff into their fold, as Snow and James had offered them all homes and jobs at their palace in the Enchanted Forest.
Regina, freshly scrubbed and soaked, had suppressed a smirk when the rest of the war party had all finally trudged back into camp and realised it wasn't exactly theirs anymore.
Only Clarice would think to stash the fleeing palace staff at the encampment of the army attacking the castle. She recalled Granny's outrage at finding the strange new group baking fish over the fire while Rosemary's mother whipped up a post-war banquet and waited for Storybrooke's army to return.
Granny, still with her blood up, had eyed this kitchen interloper for a long moment with a trained, narrowed eye, before deciding she wouldn't mind sharing cooking duties with someone who seemed to have a clue about one end of meat mallet from another. And so a fast friendship had formed, as the two women rolled up their sleeves and compared spicy entrail stew recipes, as well as grumbling about disrespectful daughters and granddaughters.
Regina had found the whole scene itchingly domestic and uncomfortable as family members reunited and embraced and friendly introductions were made with palace staff. Everyone deliberately gave her a wide berth.
And why wouldn't they?
Then there had been a flash of brown hair and Henry appeared, rushing up to her for a quick hug before latching on to Emma and telling her how brave she was to rescue his mother.
Regina's hands fell to her side, still tingling from the brief feel of him, and then she stared indignantly, watching her son lavish all his attention on Emma.
What was the use? She'd always be the 'bad' mother to him.
Emma slid her an apologetic look and knelt down to hear all their son's excited ramblings about his time apart from the blonde.
Regina found it easier to simply slip away and leave them to it. She found a fallen log at the far edge of the encampment. She sat and watched the party preparations appearing with great speed and then the revellers come out. Music went on - Red had apparently donated her iPod player, an array of tiny but powerful speakers and a supply of AA batteries that Emma had solemnly referred to as "exceedingly generous". Their eyes had locked meaningfully.
Regina felt like she was missing something there.
Food was being passed around - including Cook's fabulous figs. Regina's nose twitched, but she still couldn't bring herself to enter a celebration for this cause.
She had been watching Emma dancing and laughing with their son for some time, a lost look on her face, when Rosemary edged herself down beside her.
She was holding a plate of figs. "Mama and I thought you might be hungry all the way over here," she said sweetly. "And I know how much you like these."
Regina's fingers eagerly reached out before her head could even nod and she gave the girl a soft smile. "Thank you. Tell your mother I am grateful she thought of me."
"We're the ones who are grateful to you – if not for you we'd still be under Cora's rule – or George's and Cora's or… well, we're glad we're not. You are our saviour."
Regina cocked an eyebrow. "No one's ever called me that before," she said with a surprised grin.
"Well it's the truth. And I must say I don't think your Storybrooke people seem to fully appreciate you either," she declared, her brows knitting. "Some of them are being downright mean. I had to threaten one beastly man with my spatula if he didn't stop badmouthing you."
"Rosemary," Regina said with a tiny smile, "I did curse them all."
"Yes, but they got to live with you! In your town! So how could it be all bad? I'd like that very much," she added dreamily. "Sorry, Your Highness, I know you're spoken for, but it's the truth."
"You don't have to call me Your Highness anymore. I am just Regina now."
"Alright," she said happily, "Regina." She pointed to Emma and Henry. "Your little boy looks so adorable with your sweetheart."
"Actually they are mother and son," Regina explained. "Biologically I mean. I am just the adoptive mother." Her lip curled as she said it, unable to keep the resentment from her tone.
"Whatever is wrong?" Rosemary asked, eyes flying to hers. "What's happened?"
Regina huffed, feeling petty, but unable to keep her annoyance inside. "I haven't seen him in months and he barely acknowledged me - he was too busy telling his other mother what a hero she was for saving me. It is clear I am not wanted or welcome."
Rosemary's blue eyes watched Henry for a moment and then her hand sought out Regina's.
"I don't think you're quite right, Your Maj… Regina," she said quietly, clutching her hand. "First, your little boy has barely taken his eyes off you the whole time you've been here. Look - even now he's checking where you are, just to see you're fine. My experience is that little boys don't want to admit to their parents when they've been worried. But he seems to me to be really glad to have you back."
Regina swivelled her head to the dance area where Emma and her son danced. His anxious eyes kept darting over to her and he actually twisted several times to keep her in his sight, when Emma would have whirled him in a different direction. She shot him a tentative smile and was rewarded when he grinned broadly and waved at her.
"See that," Rosemary beamed excitedly. "He just had first-move fear is all. Probably nervous you were unhappy with him or something when you barely spoke to him."
Regina glanced away, trying to surreptitiously wipe her eyes which seemed suddenly moist.
"And as for the people not wanting you – did you know all they talked about for the first hour that they were back was the luxury amenities building you gave them?"
The brunette waved her hand disdainfully. "I'm sure they'll see it as some bribe to win their hearts over or something. And it's not like they'll get much use out of it. It comes down when everyone leaves tomorrow."
"You must never underestimate such a gift, Regina," Rosemary said, boring soulful eyes into hers. "People not used to any luxury will be overwhelmed by such generosity. And if your own people can't see it that way, then I will make sure my people change their minds. In fact, I shall make it my new mission. We really like you Regina, and it's time everyone else sees the person we do."
Regina felt overcome. "Thank you Rosemary."
She smiled sweetly. "By the way I also came over to offer my condolences. On the loss of your mother."
Regina felt a lump rise up in her throat.
"I know we all had a hand in her … passing, but it doesn't change the fact you lost your mother today. And I am sure that is hard for you."
"Rosemary," Regina began, stopping as she felt her voice break. "You are the first person to say that. Thank you."
The blonde woman frowned at that. "You really have some pitiful friends then, you know that?" she declared.
Regina laughed in spite of herself. "Truthfully, I don't actually have any friends apart from Emma. And you."
Rosemary folded her arms. "Definitely going to see about changing that then," she said.
"You know everyone expects me to be happy she's gone," Regina mused. "But I can't. I just feel sadness – for all of it. What she did, and how she died."
The blonde nodded. "I know. Well then, at least let me cheer you up. Come back to the party. I promise to give my very evilest of glares to anyone from Storybrooke who is mean to you."
She looked so earnest, an amused Regina didn't have the heart to point out Rosemary's evil eye was downright adorable and more likely to induce mass swooning.
"I don't think I'm in the party mood," the brunette replied, her eyes moving over the faces of the revellers. Her eye fell to a tall figure standing at the back, manning the music station.
Regina's face lit up. "Although there is someone I would like you to meet," she said and rose. "I know I can't thank you for your friendship when I needed you the most, but I can give you something I believe you'd like very much. Come with me."
The blonde and brunette made their way back to the party, Regina threading her way through the throng, pulling Rosemary behind her.
Regina found Red leaning against a table, fiddling with her iPod and speaker set, playing Fairytale-land's first DJ. Her too-tiny-to-be-legal faded red shorts showed off her long lean legs and milky white skin to generous effect.
Regina tapped her on the shoulder. The statuesque woman turned, a smile rising to her lips, eyes subconsciously moving from Regina's to Rosemary's big blue orbs and then down into that woman's extremely ample cleavage.
That was the other thing that was generous around here.
Red's eyes jumped back up to hers. "Regina," she said politely, "Need something? Wanna make a music request for the party? I have everything from Billy Joel to 50 Cent. Although I'm betting you're more a Melissa Etheridge kinda girl?" She snickered.
Regina stared at her. "Who?"
"Although given some of your former outfits, I'm thinking maybe Lady Gaga is more your speed?"
Regina shook her head in confusion. Rosemary looked between them both as though they were speaking a foreign language.
"Red," Regina said formally, "This is Rosemary – a friend. Rosemary, this is Red. THE Red."
Rosemary's enormous blue eyes grew wider and wider, and her mouth fell open. A curious expression crossed the tall woman's face until a small soft hand grabbed hers and the awed blonde said: "OhmyGodyou'rereallyrealandaliveandIsomu chloveyou..."
She had paused in horror and backtracked, her cheeks aflame: "I don't mean I love you, I mean I am impressed by you so much, I have heard so much about you ... about the wolf hunting, you're a legend and oh I am your biggest admirer!"
A delighted expression crossed Red's face, her eyes sliding back into that cleavage and up again as she responded "You don't say," before putting her iPod down and giving the girl her fullest attention.
Regina noted, just before she turned to leave them to it, that Red had not extracted her hand from Rosemary's. In fact, she had squeezed hers back.
She smiled, her first genuine smile in many hours. This she felt good about. And when it came to Rosemary, it was the least she could do.
She caught Clarice's eye as she walked away, and realised the other woman had been watching the exchange with interest. The servant gave her an approving nod, and Regina inclined her head back. The brunette then watched, curiously, as the woman, all jangling bangles and garish, colourful overkill, headed over to a raucous group of men and asked one to dance. She craned her neck to make out who her choice was.
Of course, the cynic picked the cynic. She saw Grumpy and Clarice leap up and begin a surprisingly well-co-ordinated, highly enthusiastic mutation of some dance she felt she should know but couldn't place.
"Having fun?" a voice asked at her ear.
Regina almost jumped out of her skin. "Eugenia," she said curtly. "And before you ask: I do not have a favourite font, flower, seating arrangement or entrée choice."
"No need to be snippy," Granny said, folding her ample arms. "I just like to be prepared. My, my, aren't you the prickly one tonight? You evidently need more time with your fiancée-to-be."
"And you need more time with your ladle. I am sure there's something or someone else you could be stirring."
"Hmm. I came to ask you to call off your attack bird. He's giving me the creeps."
Regina spun around to look at the meals area, and sure enough Scapulus was perched nearby with a proprietary eye over where the catering staff were nervously laying out food. But his eye kept returning to Granny.
"He just likes you," Regina said, her lips thinning to crush the smile forming. "He doesn't make friends easily."
"Can't imagine why."
"Pfft, his talons are sharper than his bite."
"That's supposed to make me feel better?"
Regina shrugged. "He is what he is. Wait till the karaoke. Then you'll appreciate him."
"Unlikely," Granny said. "And if you keep this up I won't be as flexible on wedding dates. I may find my schedule closing up."
Regina sighed. "Why is it so important to you that we get married?"
"It's not important to me at all," Granny said intently, "But it's very important for you."
The pair locked eyes for a moment, and Regina felt the older woman was trying to impart something. But the moment was gone when Graham's shadow suddenly fell over them both.
"May I have this dance?" he asked with a roguish grin, eyes twinkling.
Regina swallowed, unsure how to let him down politely. After all she owed him a hell of a lot but Emma …
"Of course, dear!"
She blinked stupidly and realised he hadn't even been asking her. Her mouth fell open as Graham and Granny took to the floor, and began an amusingly dramatic version of a tango. They were good – and had clearly done this together before. All Granny needed was the rose between her teeth. As if reading her mind, the older woman snatched up a long salad fork from a table as she passed, and chomped on it fiercely. Interesting look.
"When did those two get so close," Emma asked curiously as she danced up to her, holding a giggling Henry watching Granny.
"Well he always did like her pie," Regina commented absently gazing at the tangoing duo. Emma eyed her sideways. "At the diner!" Regina corrected with a flush. "Her apple pie! You knew what I meant."
Emma arched an eyebrow. "Did I?" she teased. "And I see she has another admirer."
They both smirked at the look on Scapulus's face as his head bobbed up and down in time to the music, watching Granny keenly.
Even as they watched, Granny, clinging on to Graham, swirled by and she waggled her finger at the massive bird. "I'm watching you," she threatened.
Scapulus cawed back, in what seemed to pass as laughter.
Henry stopped dancing and dropped to the ground with exaggerated exhaustion. "You two take over," he declared. "And watch for Emma's left side, Mom – she's a stomper."
"Hey!" Emma protested.
"I just bet you are," Regina smirked, taking her in her arms.
She caught Emma eyeing up Scapulus curiously and commented: "He took a shine to Granny since she nailed that scout bird at fifty paces."
"I was there," Emma said, patting her on the chest. "And the best fun I ever had was finding those last two freaking scout birds on the way out of the palace and stomping their heads in. Fuck that felt good."
"Em-ma," Regina sighed. "Do you have to use that language? Henry is right over there..."
"And not listening to a word we're saying. In fact I'd say he has made a few new friends."
As they watched Henry performed a fairly serviceable handstand, swaying only a little, cheered on by a team of marsupials counting how long he was upside-down, and Nikolai, who also did his own wobbly version of a headstand beside him.
Henry came down first with a shaky tumble and they all cheered their marsupial victor. Henry grinned happily and declared: "Go again?" Without waiting for an answer he was wobbling back up on his hands.
Now all the marsupials were upside down with him, counting up the seconds by banging their tails.
"Are you sure those were the creatures who brought down Mother's highly advanced, cutting-edge, magically-protected trebuchet?" Regina said with a frown. "Because I'm just not seeing it."
Emma snickered. "Yep that was them. Although they did want to adopt Grumpy, too, so maybe they're, er, special?"
As if on cue, the gruff man shuffled past holding Clarice - they seemed to be on their fifth dance now - and Regina had never seen him look so happy. Even the eccentric woman in his arms seemed to have lost her watchful air and was quite enchanted.
Huh. Takes all sorts.
Regina started to relax. Maybe she could do this after all, maybe… A bare second later she was sitting in the dirt, rubbing her arm. Michael, who had been dancing with his daughter, Ava, was glaring down at her and with a mock apology said, "Oh, Your Highness, so sorry, I didn't see you there."
"Hey!" Emma barked, putting out one hand to help Regina, while glaring at him. "You did that on purpose. That was uncalled for."
"Uncalled for?" he asked, his voice dropping to menacing. "Uncalled for like being cursed to forget your own kids for three decades. You know I found out they were eating out of garbage cans in Storybrooke? Homeless! Because of her."
Regina rose gingerly to her feet. "I'll just go," she muttered and turned.
"Oh that's right, just bolt. Coward. Won't even face us!"
"Daddy, stop," a young girl's voice said, tugging on his arm which had bunched into a fist by his side. "Please. We were OK, we're fine now. See? And Henry's our friend. Please don't hurt his mother. Please?"
Emma snaked an arm out to stop Regina striding off and for a moment there was a four-way standoff.
"Regina," a booming male's voice said jovially, "there you are. You can't leave before we have a dance."
She looked up into the concerned, intense features of James. Quickly, Emma gently pushed Regina into his arms, and she was whisked to another part of the dance area, away from Michael and his flashing eyes.
"Thanks," Regina muttered to him.
All around she could see the faces now – the ones she'd cursed, the ones who'd been without happiness. She could feel the resentment, the hurt, the anger. Not in every face, but enough. It stung. She actually realised for the first time she did care. It mattered.
James pulled her closer and whispered: "I did not do this for you, Regina, I did it for my daughter, who I will not see hurt by association. And for that matter, I will not see hurt for any reason – if you get my drift."
Regina cocked an eyebrow. "James are you really giving me the 'Hurt my daughter and I'll hunt you down and skin you alive' speech?"
"I am, as a matter of fact," he said. "So do you abide by my terms?"
"I will not hurt her," she said with conviction, "I love her."
She felt the bear-like grip on her tighten. "I hope so, but I didn't want there to be any misunderstanding."
Regina nodded, and felt more cold eyes on her. How had she not noticed them before? She realised she'd been so happy for Rosemary she'd been oblivious as she made her way onto the dance area.
It had been insane to think she could be among these people and not be loathed.
"They hate me," she whispered and then was shocked she'd said it aloud.
"Some do, yes," he agreed. "Not all. By the way, we had our council meeting – to decide your fate."
"Mmm. Granny, Red, Graham, Clarice I believe her name is, and her friend Rosemary all made compelling submissions for leniency on your behalf. There were others, like Grumpy, who argued you'd changed and didn't deserve to have the entire book thrown at you."
James smiled at that but Regina looked at him impatiently. He hastened forward. "We're exiling you, Regina."
Regina's shoulders sank. "I thought you might." She was impressed her voice still sounded even.
"You won't be allowed into the Enchanted Forest. But the animals are fine with you staying here - you did, after all, fight on their side in this war. The deathclaws and the demon vulture were adamant you be allowed sanctuary here. The wolves and marsupials had no objection."
Regina nodded. But still - no Emma, no Henry. She felt her heart begin to shatter. She looked up into knowing eyes watching her closely. She couldn't even hate them for this. It was inevitable. Hell, she was lucky to still be alive. Emma's revelations about Cora's deeds probably had a hand in that, she decided. How thoroughly pathetic her final years would be.
"It won't be forever," James clarified, as if reading her thoughts.
Regina's head lifted eagerly. "What?! How long? When will I be able to see them again? Emma and Henry?"
"Regina," he sighed, "We're not completely heartless. Everyone knows you love them, and we won't punish them for what you did, either. Just because you can't see them at the Enchanted Forest, doesn't mean they can't visit you here.
"But Henry won't be allowed to live here. That's part punishment and part necessity. He will need to be with the other children and go through schooling and training like all the others in the ways of Fairytale land. It's especially important since he will rule our land one day. Emma will want to stay with him there but, even so, both of them can visit you. He on weekends and by council approval for special occasions; she as often she likes."
"How long?" Regina swallowed, trying to keep the eagerness from her voice. "How long before we can be a family again?"
"Again?" James looked at her puzzled. "You have never been a family."
And that was the moment Regina realised that even in Storybrooke she'd seen her annoying nemesis as 'hers'. Part of her life, integral to her existence. She blinked in astonishment. Just how long had she loved her?
Her brain began to meander over all their shared moments in their old life together but was interrupted.
"One year - and then subject to review," James finally answered her question. "But I suspect by that time cooler heads would have prevailed and there would be no further objections. But, Regina, this isn't about what you have done lately to make amends. It's about healing the wounds of those still bleeding from the past. People like Michael who as you can see grieves every moment of every day for the time he lost with his kids. This is about justice being seen to be done."
A year. It was more than generous. She could scarcely believe James was apologising to her for even that much time in exile.
Regina slid her gaze up to James's eyes. She heard herself whisper hoarsely: "Thank you. And also for ... letting me see Emma."
The man's face shifted into amusement. "Please, as if I could ever keep her from you. She's apparently besotted with you," he said. "And, much as it was hard for me to accept at first, given what you did to me and my family, I can see you have done things the old Regina never would, things that tell me your words are sincere. And if nothing else, I trust my daughter's judgment."
Regina leaned forward. "It is generous. Especially given I kept you from your love."
"If there's one thing I have learnt, Regina," he sighed heavily, "that bad consequences follow when true love is denied. And you more than anyone know that to be true."
Before Regina could respond, he straightened, and dropped his arms, stilling all movement.
"Alright, enjoy the party. Tomorrow we'll leave for the Enchanted Forest palace and you'll stay here. But, before I go, I think you might like this. I am sure you'll know what to do with it."
A jade pendant dropped into her hand and Regina examined it. On one side was a symbol of a claw, and the other a castle with a twisted spire. She knew immediately what the talisman would do and was warmed by the generosity of the present.
He moved away, finding his wife and enfolding her in his arms, leading her into a slow dance.
Regina glanced around. She could see Michael now in a corner, sitting next to his daughter who seemed to be earnestly trying to coax him out of his foul mood. She winced, knowing she was the cause.
She threaded her way back towards Emma who was sitting beside Henry and Nikolai seemingly deep in discussion.
She weaved around a couple dancing past merrily. Rosemary and Red. She could see the two women not only cheek to cheek but hip to sexy hip.
Rosemary's eye caught hers and she shyly mouthed "Thank you" to her. She smiled back as Red dipped the other woman daringly, earning a delighted "Oh, Red!"
She kept going until she finally reached Emma.
"It's time," she said leaning over, whispering in her ear.
"Time for what?"
"I want to show you something. We just have to put Henry to bed and then I'll take you there."
"You had it rebuilt!" Emma exclaimed.
Regina beamed. She had suspected she would be exiled - Scapulus had dropped a hint just after the council meeting. She had wanted to be ready. So she had transported to the cottage's old site, vaporised the debris and planned out a new one. Improved. With room for more than one person.
"It's a little bigger and better than the old one," she said, delighted by the blonde's reaction. "Although it's still within walking distance to the healing spa. I am not giving that up. And we can expand it to make a bedroom for Henry, later, if that's acceptable."
She opened the front door and stepped back, waving the way ahead for her lover. Emma walked slowly in, admiring all the modern accessories - a state-of-the-art kitchen, with gleaming stainless-steel dishwasher, cold AND hot water, a low-slung white leather couch in front of the fire place. Her head turned - an enormous bed.
"I didn't want to improve on the original layout too much," Regina explained, as Emma's view switched between the kitchen and the bed and back again. "I thought you might still enjoy the view of watching me make coffee from bed with next to nothing on."
Emma's cheeks flushed red. "You KNEW! That I, um, ..."
"Of course I knew. I planned for you to find me like that," Regina grinned. "It turns out I rather liked your adoring attention even if I couldn't quite admit it to you at the time."
Emma was suddenly in her arms kissing her passionately and Regina felt a jolt of arousal flood her body.
"Is this like a getaway?" the blonde asked, dropping her lips to her neck. "You know, for some romantic times, when we want a break from the castle?"
Regina frowned and pulled Emma's arms from her neck. "James didn't tell you? I am to be exiled. For a year. You can stay over but Henry can't. But you can both come by whenever you want to say hello."
Emma's face went through myriad changes. "And no one told me? When did this happen!"
"They're all leaving tomorrow," Regina continued. "I'm staying. But there's this..."
She pulled out a jade token and held it out to Emma. "It's from your parents. The claw side, if you tap it three times takes you to the closest hatchlock in deathclaw country - in other words, here. It's the same hatch you came out of at Storybrooke.
"The castle side, if you tap it three times, it takes you to the closest hatchlock to the Enchanted Forest's palace – where your family will be. It means you and Henry won't need to be knowledgeable in spellcasting or to have to walk for hours to come and see me. Just this."
"This is supposed to make me feel better?" Emma sighed. "All this decision-making behind my back? Why would they do that?"
"I guess they felt no need to ask you – everyone knows what your views would be. And how you would react."
The blonde glared at the talisman as if it were personally responsible for Regina's exile.
"It's not that bad," Regina said. "Most people in exile never see their families again. By Fairytale land standards, the council was extremely forgiving. And gifting you that tells me they want us to know this isn't about breaking us up. That the punishment has nothing at all to do with you and me."
Emma held it in her hands and tears formed at her eyes as she stared at it. "It's more than that. You know what this means?"
"Lots of visits?" Regina said hopefully.
"Well that, too. It means my parents want us to be together."
"They care about your happiness," Regina stated simply. "And I suppose they have more reason than most to be protective of true love."
Emma smiled. "True love, huh?"
Regina gazed back at her. "Yes."
"I thought that's what this was but I didn't wanna be presumptuous," Emma grinned and leaned over, capturing the brunette's lips.
"Yep," she decided, "that's what it is. Soooo - how about we give the healing spa a whirl and then christen those sheets?" She waggled her eyebrows.
"That would be acceptable," Regina purred. "Oh, and at the party I may have mentioned to your parents on the way out that you'll catch up with them in a day or so. That you have more pressing business to attend to with me, first."
Emma laughed. "Thought of everything, haven't you?"
"I can't decide what we're going to do about the fact we both like to sleep on the left."
Emma chuckled. "It hardly matters - I don't think either of us will be getting much sleep any time soon."
Eugenia "Granny" Lucas made her way back from the mess area, pleased to have finally washed and sorted every last pot and pan, and put the bread up for tomorrow. She'd had plenty of offers to help but she'd shooed them all away. The truth was she found it soothing, a way to let her mind wander while her hands did the physical work.
She reviewed the night's events. It had been a delight seeing Graham again – they hadn't had so much fun together since their dance lessons back in Storybrooke years ago. It had been their little secret, a way to make slow nights pass in a livelier way, when he wasn't expected to patrol - or whatever the euphemism was he had for his late-night duties with the mayor that Granny wasn't supposed to know about.
But when they took to the floor under the encouraging eyes of their group's instructor, she felt young again.
No one had ever really understood why she had wept over his grave, and she remembered how Regina had eyed her strangely before she stalked away.
Her delight in finding him alive had been incredible. Granny's foot began to tap even as she thought about the fun she'd had dancing with him again tonight. She smiled to herself as she took a slow tour of the camp, its tents dark, although she could see one or two candles lit, here and there, giving ghostly lantern-like glows.
Her eyebrows raised at some sounds she knew not to be the nightlife. Was that Grumpy's voice? She quirked her lips. About time that grouchy old beggar found a way to be happy again, she mused, wiping her still moist hands on her apron.
Another voice filled the air, from a different tent and it brought her up sharply. She sighed. She hadn't lived with her granddaughter all these years not to know her high notes when she was pleased with her company.
She remembered who she was with tonight. A pleasant girl from the other palace. Rose? Rosemary?
Cook had been very proud of her only daughter, and from what Granny had seen of her when she wasn't gleefully doing the two-step with Red, she had every reason to be.
She had no objections to the sweet girl with a pleasant disposition, and she was certainly a far cry better than some of the boorish oafs Red had brought home from time to time.
She made her way to the bathrooms and, just as she had earlier in the evening, found herself gaping at the sight of the magnificent marble spa. It had been quite the collection of spa partners who had squeezed in here at one point – stripped down to their unmentionables and singing raucously, thanks to plenty of libations. Grumpy and Clarice had been especially merry, albeit a little too familiar with each other for social company.
The only thing funnier than the sight of four wet marsupials riding the bubbling jets in the middle of the massive pool was discovering the creatures could form a natural barbershop quartet. The delightful group made everyone else stop their bawdy singing and listen in wonder.
That was until the deep baritone from outside started up.
Regina hadn't been kidding – Scapulus was the life of the party when he got going.
Which reminded her. She opened the door and leaned on the frame, looking outside and called out. "I know you're there. I suppose you may as well come in and keep me company."
The black demon vulture sitting in the shadows cawed in delight and strutted inside the spa area with her.
"Just make sure you sing something other than that weird Celtic-punk fusion thing this time," Granny ordered, slipping off her clothes and stepping into the bubbling waters.
Scapulus sat by her side and tilted his head back and began to sing. It was an animal ballad, she knew that much. If she didn't think about it she wouldn't even notice the lyrics about dying creatures and bleached bones. The tune itself was actually beautiful.
Granny closed her eyes, relaxing.
She even pretended she couldn't hear one particular cry that seemed louder than all the rest that definitely did not come from the bird's talented throat.
"Oh my goodness, RED! Oh yes."
Yes, she definitely hadn't heard that.
Scapulus stopped singing and made a strange noise. Without opening her eyes she muttered: "I can tell you're laughing. Stop it."
Scapulus's head bobbed up and down and he cawed softly.
"I mean it. Where's your mute button anyway?"
Scapulus laughed again but resumed singing.
MEANWHILE, IN A HEALING POOL FAR, FAR AWAY
"Are you seriously expecting me to keep my hands to myself?" Emma pouted, "I mean this is like cruel and unusual punishment."
"I need to get clean," Regina said, eyes sparkling, "That party and all those people, it just wasn't sanitary."
Emma watched as the brunette seemed to take great delight in scrubbing every inch of her naked body in the spa, and flicking her with water every time she got too close.
"You're not OCD are you?" Emma asked, taking the opportunity to scrub her own body quickly and vigorously.
"Is cleanliness OCD now, dear?" Regina let a slow smirk curve her mouth. "Are you telling me you like rolling around in dirt?"
"Alright, that's enough torture," Emma rolled her eyes. She stood to her full height and walked to the edge of the pool and then turned, gloriously naked, water sluicing off her curves. She put her hands on her hips, challenging Regina, who suddenly seemed to lose all interest in scrubbing herself raw.
Emma posed for a moment in the moonlight, well aware she had the brunette's complete attention. "Don't you think you're clean enough?" she asked, voice low and sexy, noting the darkness burning in Regina's eyes, the flash of white teeth as the other woman opened her mouth to suck in a breath.
Regina's nostrils flared. And suddenly she was striding towards her, eyes locked on her body as though it were some sort of delicious prey.
"That's more like it," Emma whispered softly, daring her onwards.
Regina had a feline quality to her that the blonde had long admired but this night, as her wet, toned, olive-skinned body emerged from the churning water, Emma detected an almost dangerous sexual energy radiating from her.
Regina stood well inside her personal space and Emma could feel her body's heat and the hitched breathing as both women stared at the other's body. Emma's eyes fell to the curve of the brunette's neck, the muscles at her shoulders, the supple power of her toned arms. The soft, perfect handfuls of breasts that now heaved in front of her, nipples hard, tight buds.
"No more teasing," Regina ordered in a dark voice, even though she had been the one doing it. Emma shuddered and gave one firm nod.
And suddenly they were pressed together, flesh on flesh. There was a mash of lips and tongues, and there was moaning but Emma, in her haze, couldn't be sure whose it was.
And all she could hear in her head was "Dear god, take me." It was a plea Regina seemed to hear because she found herself flat on her back, one leg dangling into the waters, the other bent on the pool's edge and the brunette spreading her even wider apart, brown eyes burning with desire.
She felt helpless, her nerve endings on fire, barely able to move she as stared at the woman who had now shifted between her legs and was pressing soft lips to her core, nibbling and sucking.
Regina dragged her tongue along the blonde's sensitive centre, suddenly slipping two fingers inside her. Emma realised she was crying out, moaning Regina's name, begging her not to move, not to stop, to take her and own her. Oh god.
And then she was there, shuddering, but before even half her body's erotic waves had rolled over her, she felt herself pulled into the warm waters below. The spa's intoxicating effects were magnified thanks to her heightened senses and her eyes shot open as she felt the explosion of sensations flood her body.
Hands under the water spread her legs again and she felt herself entered again as she shook through her peak. Finally she couldn't take any more and slipped a stilling hand onto Regina's wrist.
The brunette gently slid her fingers out and held them up to the moonlight, never taking her eyes off Emma as she licked them clean.
"Delicious," she purred.
"That was… I have never felt anything like that before. Did you know that the spa could do that?"
Regina nodded, smiling mysteriously.
"Then why did we never … before?"
"I didn't want to give the scout birds a show."
Regina slid closer and wrapped her slippery body around hers. "There are no scout birds anymore, thanks to your vicious size nine boots, my dear," she said and dropped her hand to Emma's.
The brunette pulled it between her own legs and rubbed it over herself, gasping at the friction their tangled fingers created.
"So I think you should put the spa to good use once more," she husked, "and make me scream."
Emma did not need to be told twice and slid her fingers between the warm, soaked folds she felt just above her fingertips. Regina gripped her upper arms and instantly gasped out a strangled cry.
The blonde dropped her lips to her lover's neck and began to nibble her skin, biting gently, as she slipped her hand in and out between quivering thighs. She could see the other woman's arousal in her eyes; hear her breathing becoming deeper.
She lowered her mouth to a nipple and, as she did, allowed her thumb to dance up to Regina's clit.
"Yessss," the brunette hissed, arching into her, "Oh yes, Emma."
She smiled, loving the sight of Regina coming undone in front of her - the vice-like grip the brunette had on her arms, and the way her thighs trembled around her hand.
Suddenly Regina's lips found hers and kissed her with a fierceness she had never felt before.
Their eyes locked for the briefest of moments before she felt the fluttering and the walls clenching around her fingers. She rubbed her with her thumb again and watched as Regina's dangerous glint shattered and was replaced with a mix of emotions – surprise, joy, love … and vulnerability.
Then the intense brown eyes slipped tightly shut.
Emma stared at her in amazement.
"You love me," she said in wonder, then felt foolish for saying it.
A slow smile curved Regina's lips and her eyes snapped back open. "And, of course, you're surprised."
Emma wrapped her in a wet hug, pulling her into the waters so only their heads were above the surface.
"Just getting used to the idea. Being loved is… it's …"
Emma felt lost for words. Regina leaned forward, tilted her head up and looked her in the eye.
"Yes, it is," she smiled at her inarticulateness. "But really, we should probably do this again, just to be sure."
Emma chuckled. "Very funny," she said, leaning in for another kiss. "Maybe you really are marriage material."
Regina sighed. "If you keep this up I'll start to think I'm happy. And all it took was being exiled after cursing an entire world."
"Universe works in funny ways," Emma said philosophically. "Couple of months ago I was running down a street in Storybrooke, waving a sword, with the most awful thoughts running through my head of what I wanted to do to you."
Regina looked at her with interest. "And now…"
"And now," Emma smiled, "I still have some fairly wicked thoughts about what I want to do to you." Her fingers dusted up Regina's chest. "In fact, truth be told, they're the same things I have always wanted to do, if only I hadn't been so oblivious."
Regina twitched her lips at that. "That reminds me…"
"Mmm?" Emma nuzzled her way up to Regina's ear and pulled her lobe into her mouth.
"That day you opened the door to me in your underwear?"
"I kept trying to think of things to extend the conversation so I could look at you for longer."
Emma grinned in delight.
"OK," the blonde said, "The day at the mine, there was a moment when I wondered if you were going to kiss me. Then I was shocked to realise I wouldn't mind if you did."
Regina's eyebrows went up. "That was a life-or-death scenario, our son was in danger, yet your mind was on my lips?"
"Please," Emma sighed contentedly, "You were thinking about my lips, too."
They fell silent for a moment.
"The second day you were in town, when I got you out of jail…" Regina began.
"You got me out of jail?"
"Semantics. Anyway, you were researching Henry's computer trail?"
"Mmm, told you I was good."
"Yes, but I'm better. I already knew what had happened. I just wanted to have an excuse to lean over you and be in your space a little longer. To watch you work. To watch you."
"We'd only just met!"
"Yes. I was drawn to you even then. Despite your dubious love of being behind bars."
"Ha, freaking, ha. Well remember that time when you got Mary Margaret arrested? - and that was just charming by the way - I'd asked to see you outside? I could barely stand when you strutted down the hallway like that. Was that deliberate? Because seriously, that cocky-ass walk you have should be a registered weapon."
Regina gave a low chuckle. "Well I thought you might like the scenery," she admitted.
The brunette cleared her throat. "Speaking of 'charming' acts… That day you chainsawed my beloved tree which I had hand-grown from a sapling?"
"You are not seriously comparing your framing of my mother for murder to my hacking off a tree branch?"
"I was doing no such thing. But do try to focus," Regina rolled her eyes, and Emma almost laughed. Honestly, her lover's dodgy past was the gift that kept on giving. They'd have a lot to talk about later.
"I remember you mentioned it before," Emma said thinking back, "You told me in the old cottage that you might have wondered what I tasted like that day - but then you got all coy." Curiousity burned in her eyes. "So did you?"
"In the middle of being so enraged at you, all I could see was that smug expression," Regina said, lips curling. "I wanted to kiss the look right off your face. And, yes – at that moment I really did wonder what you tasted like. And to be clear, I mean what all of you tasted like."
Emma's eyes rolled back into her head and Regina pounced with a delighted, wicked laugh, nipping along her neck.
"I think it's time for less talking about it, more doing," the brunette husked and her hands began to wander lower.
"Definitely," Emma moaned. "All day, every day and forever."
Author's note: Thanks for sticking with me. And welcome to the new ships – Red Rose, Clumpy and Gravy. I'll let you figure out who's who. LOL. Thanks to my long-suffering beta who informs me she is now ready for a padded cell. I'm taking a fanfic vacation for a while and reclaiming my weekends. All feedback greatly appreciated.