So I found this on my hard drive, all sad and alone. Just as a note, this was written after Skin Deep, but before Red-Handed. Thus, a lot of things we know now were unknown when this was written. Enjoy! :)

The Chessmaster | A Oneshot

Chess is the touchstone of the intellect.

They sit together in a castle, high above the clouds. But the castle has only one room and a staircase.

The fireplace burns and snaps, changing color with every mood it feeds on. Emma furrows her brow in concentration as Regina sits regally in her chair, smirking. She is sure that she will win. But Emma can't lose. Henry counted on her.

Good won't lose this time. Not if she can help it.

Below the castle in the sky, there is a picture-perfect barely field. Fat, fluffy clouds float by. Mountains loom in the distance. The wind is but a breeze.

Two enormous armies wait for their orders in the middle of the barley field. Those wearing ivory armor are saying goodbye to their loved ones and taking their places. Those wearing black are already wielding the sword and ready for the blood that is about to be spilled.

Rumplestiltskin giggles and crouches, his hands curled into claws.

Emma takes her knight and moves it. Regina moves a pawn two squares forward without hesitation. (The two armies on the earth roar and charge.)

The castle trembles. A bead of sweat forms on Emma's brow and trickles down her temple, but she is too focused on the chessboard to wipe it away. Regina's smirk widens and she gestures to the board. "Your move," she whispers coolly.

"I know," snaps Emma. She is all too aware of the lives at stake. She takes a deep breath to calm her jittering nerves and pushes a pawn forward two squares.

The battle rages as they play their little game. Finally, Emma takes Regina's knight with her pawn. Regina, in turn, takes the pawn with her queen.

In the perfect barley field (where the sky is tainted red), Tinker Bell flutters over the corpse of Dame Gothel and spins around, squealing her victory to the world. She flies up to the sky and is promptly hit with a glowing ball of green fire.

Peter catches her in his hands before she hits the ground. He hovers inches above the soil, searching the fairy's pallid face. Tinker Bell squeaks at him, raises her tiny hand, and folds in on herself. Within moments, all that is left of her is yellowish fairy dust. Peter cries out and whirls around, instinctively reaching for his dagger, searching for his best friend's murderer.

Maleficent shrieks with laughter, gives Peter a salute, and disappears into the writhing armies.

Emma licks her lips and begins looking for a way to entrap the queen. After she makes her move, Regina moves the queen back to its side by the king.

They both take a pawn, and a knight is left behind, threatening a pawn heading toward an open spot at the end of the chessboard. Emma takes it with her queen, leaving an opening for Regina to take it. But her queen is protected by one of her pawns and Regina is not so stupid as to sacrifice her queen.

Rumplestiltskin watches the Snow Queen splinter into icicles and melt. A pair of hands grabs his arm and he turns to a dark-haired beauty with wide brown eyes. A full quiver is strapped to her back and an arrow is notched in her bow.

"You're safe," he breathes. "I thought Isilde—"

"Ssh," whispers Belle, cupping his face. Her curls are knotted and mussed, her face has a scar that had not been there previously and her eyes carry the ghost of pain she endured at the hands of the Queen, but she is still so, so beautiful to him. "I'm okay. I've always been okay."

He knows she's lying and calls her out on it. "But—"

Belle's eyes focus on something over his shoulder and she steps around him, brandishing her bow at someone. "Not today, witch," she hisses. Rumplestiltskin turns around and crouches, ready for the attack.

Maleficent grits her teeth and teleports away in a show of green fire. Belle giggles hysterically, a behavior she did not have before the hospital, and pumps her fist in the air.

He would have laughed if he wasn't so scared of her newfound bloodlust. "Thank you, dearie," he says.

Belle touches his arm, gives him a shark-like smile, and sprints away. He refocuses on the battle and lunges at a foolish guard whose back is turned.

Back at the castle in the sky, Regina is still composed. Emma is coming undone at the seams. They've each only taken four pieces—two pawns and two knights for Emma; four pawns for Regina—but it already feels as if the Evil Queen is winning.

She suddenly spots an opening and straightens. Her hands stop trembling.

She moves her knight to a safe square and smirks. The black-square bishop and the king are endangered. "Check. Your move."

Regina moves her king one square to the right, protecting her bishop. Emma almost wants to swear, but she bites her lip and takes a pawn instead. It's still check.

What she doesn't notice is the bishop six squares away diagonally. Regina smirks and takes the knight.

Down below, the sea-witch Ursula wrenches the trident out of a dark-haired prince's hands and stabs him. Eric blanches and slumps to the ground. His heart is attached to a prong when the sea-witch pulls the weapon out of his body.

Somewhere, audible even over the cries of war, a redheaded woman screams and barrels toward Ursula.

Her cry echoes on the breeze drifting through the castle. Emma curses her stupidity and takes a black pawn with her own. (Flora waves a hand and a whole column of black-armored guards are transformed into flowers.)The fire dies down and snaps as a wooden log becomes ash.

Regina moves her pawn to endanger Emma's remaining knight. The blonde swallows and takes the pawn with her open bishop. More sweat gathers at the nape of her neck. The Evil Queen still wears her façade of sweetness.

In the barley fields below the floating castle, a black wolf prowls toward a red-caped, brown-haired prince locked in combat with one of the Queen's men. He stabs the man and pulls his sword out of the man's body just as the wolf lunges.

Someone screams, "Philip!" but it is too late. Philip turns around to see the wolf almost upon him—

—and a blindingly white blur slams into it, intercepting the animal at the last possible moment. A snow-colored wolf with a red and black eye each pins the other wolf down and snarls at it. Before Philip can react, a wet glob of something is tossed into the tall yellow field, the black wolf has gone limp and the Huntsman's avenger's throat is stained red.

The Big Bad Wolf has fallen.

"Thank you," says Philip shakily. The Huntsman's wolf merely gives him a growl and stalks away.

The Queen takes a pawn with her bishop (and Sleepy's throat is slit) and smirks, sitting back in her chair. "Check."

Emma castles, and the rook is an opposite square away from the bishop's reach. Regina raises an eyebrow, but doesn't complain.

Snow White approaches the tanned sorcerer, holding a sword and dressed in furs once more. "No," she hisses. She glances at Sleepy's cooling body and blinks away the tears. "You won't win. Not this time."

Jafar smirks, strokes his goatee, and stays where he is. "Maybe another time, then, pet."

Regina moves a pawn forward. Emma takes her chance and moves her knight, compromising both of the Queen's bishops as well as a pawn that has been stopped by one of her own.

Regina stares at the board and chuckles. "You're smarter than I thought you'd be, Miss Swan."

She moves the bishop on the red square away from the knight. Emma takes the other bishop and breathes a sigh of relief.

In the battle below, a gust of wind knocks Snow down. The sky is howling and bloody with the wounds of battle. She clutches her head and sits up, breaking off pieces of barley as she does so. Jafar towers over her. He raises his serpent staff and growls a chuckle. "Goodbye, Snow White," he hisses.

She gasps and blindly reaches for James's sword. Her hands wrap around its hilt and she swings it toward the dark wizard's body just as another sword blossoms from his chest.

She pulls it out of his side just as quickly and scrambles backwards. Jafar gasps, his bronzed face suddenly stark white, and clutches at his chest. Then he cackles as he tips over, his face permanently frozen in a gruesome smile.

Philip pulls his sword out of the man's body and sheathes it, holding out a hand for Snow. "I've always wanted to kill that bastard. You're not hurt, are you?"

Snow smiles and takes his hand, bending down to grab James' sword. "No, I'm fine. Thank you, Philip. I don't know what I would have done without you."

Philip grins and opens his mouth to answer, but Snow gasps and points, cutting him off. A hysterical, human Ariel is hurtling toward a laughing Ursula at full speed, and no one is making any attempt to stop her. The two exchange a glance and run.

Emma sighs through her nose and brushes her hair out of her face. "Uncomfortable?" asks Regina innocently. The blonde glares at the smirking Queen and scowls.

"All of this is for Henry," she says, and takes a pawn with her opposite rook. Now all the pawns in that row are vulnerable to Emma's offense.(And James stabs the liar who took Pinocchio from Gepetto oh-so-long ago; Honest John is dead.)

The best defense is your offense, she recalls Henry telling her back when there was a Storybrooke, back when there was a curse, back when Henry was still here. She grits her teeth and waits for Regina's move, ignoring the tears that have suddenly pricked the Queen's eyes.

The fire dies down as it consumes the newfound grief.

The next few moves are a flurry of blood, hysteria and tension (and the Blue Fairy, two more dwarves, some trolls and several black-clothed guards lose their lives). Emma moves her bishop and announces "Check" with hoarseness in her voice that had not been there before. The board has been narrowed down to a handful of pieces on both sides.

She can almost smell the death and pain on barley battlefield below her.

Regina maneuvers her way out of check and, on her next move, slides the bishop down two squares and smiles. "Check."

Emma's heart leaps in her throat and she takes the bishop with her other rook, a move that the Queen had not been expecting. She hisses and bites her lip, the first show of nervousness Emma's seen . . . ever.

She tries hard not to gloat in her face.

Even if Henry would have wanted her to.

Ariel and Ursula are wrestling for possession of the trident when Snow and Philip reach them. Abruptly, the human form of the sea-witch throws the redhead off of her and points the trident at the duo. "Don't take a step closer," she hissed.

Snow and Philip freeze. They couldn't have moved if they wanted to. Satisfied, Ursula turns to the trembling Ariel and sneers. "Daddy's not here to save you now, girly!"

"I hate you," seethes the mermaid. Ursula mocks a pout and raises the trident. Snow wants to scream, but she can't.

"Aw, that's too bad. Goodbye!"

Someone slams into the sea-witch before she can kill Ariel. James rolls over on top of the sea-witch and punches her in the face. Snow's legs are allowed to work again and she kneels at the mermaid's side. Her eyes are wide, glassy, and she has thrown herself over Eric's body.

"You need to go, Ariel," she urges, shaking her shoulder. Ariel shakes her head, sobbing. "Ariel, you need to go now."

"She killed him. She killed him!" She shudders, hysterical, and Snow feels like crying along with her. Eric had been one of her closest friends.

She doesn't have to look over her shoulder to know that Philip and James have taken care of Ursula. "She's dead now," she assures.

Two balls of green and blue hover around them and enlarge to become Aurora's fairy aunts. "We'll take her," says Merryweather. Eric's bloodied and battered body is levitated and Ariel gets up on shaking legs to stumble after them.

Snow gets up and turns, meeting James halfway with a passionate kiss. Neither of them notices how the faraway thunder booms and how the sky bleeds. "Be careful," he gasps afterwards, brushing her matted and sweat-soaked hair out of her face. "Be careful, Snow."

"I will be. You'll find me after this is over?" she whispers. He kisses her again and squeezes her hands.

"Always. I love you."

Snow beams, unsheathes his sword and wheezes, "I love you too. See you after this blows over."

Regina now has her rook, her queen, and a handful of pawns. Emma has her rooks, her bishops, a knight, her queen and one pawn. The grief in the air is replaced with desperation. She sees Regina's dark eyes clear and the Queen sits up straighter, filling Emma with dread.

She has a strategy. She can see it in her eyes.

Regina moves her rook and takes her black-square bishop with a vicious smile. (Thomas is speared by a giant with a simplefee-fi-fo-fumand Cinderella holds her baby back at the safe house and cries, knowing that her prince will not come back this time.)

Emma's mouth goes dry and she refits her strategy, trying to come up with ways to corner the king and another piece. She moves her rook to the opposite end of the board, taking a pawn with it.

(A spell from Flora's wand shoots out of the barley and Baba Yaga's pestle transforms into a flower. The hag crashes into the ground, a resounding snap is heard, and that is the end of that.)

Regina raises an eyebrow. "What on earth are you planning, Miss Swan?"

"Oh, trust me, I'm winging it," she replies.

The Queen makes a face and moves her queen, cornering the rook via diagonal squares. Emma, in turn, moves her bishop to protect the rook. After Regina's retreat, the blonde moves her only white pawn left forward in an attempt to cross the battlefield to the other end, making sure to guard it with her queen. (Rumplestiltskin is running across the barley field, taking down soldiers left and right, but never letting go of the beautiful brunette archer's hand.)

Emma moves her knight, endangering both her queen and rook. Regina smirks. "Clever, but not clever enough."

She moves the queen one square aside. Emma maps out a course and takes a pawn (and Philip stabs the Beanstalk Giant in revenge for Thomas),endangering the queen again. Regina's eyes narrow and she moves the queen. Finally, she is too far away after a brief chase to endanger her knight, and Emma takes one of the black rooks.

Philip spins around and notices the Pied Piper leading a group of his own soldiers to the cliffs by the sea. His back is turned, a small miracle that Philip notes to thank his stars for. The prince rushes toward the Piper and drives his sword through the man's spine.

The Pied Piper chokes on his own blood and doubles over. Philip pulls the sword out of the man's body, not feeling sorry in the least for what he just did, and glares at his now-sheepish army. "As you were," he snaps.

They rush back into battle, and Philip rolls the Pied Piper out over the cliffs to his death.

Regina takes her knight with her queen (and Philip is killed by a purple spell as Maleficent enacts her revenge). In response, the blonde scoots her pawn forward.

Her pawn is three squares from the other side. Regina notices this and moves her queen to the pawn's future row. She is too preoccupied with her strategy to see how she is diagonally across from Emma's queen.

She notices her mistake just as she takes her hand off. "Wait—"

"Too late," says Emma with relish. She can imagine Henry throwing his fist in the air and grinning. She takes Regina's queen and replaces it with her own, relaxing as she does so. "Check."

The game is hers. She's sure of it.

Rumplestiltskin stops short and pulls Belle back when he spots Maleficent. The witch is laughing and knocking aside their army like toys. "You stay here," he orders her under his breath. Belle's eyes widen.

"What? You can't mean that you're going to face her alone! I won't let you."

"I'll be perfectly safe, dearie," he assures her. "I'm Rumplestiltskin."

Maleficent shrieks with laughter and, out of the corner of his eye, he spots her starting to change forms and almost groans. He really doesn't need the chit to be turning into a dragon; it would only make Belle more paranoid.

Belle hisses and her fingers dig into his arms. "No," she whispers. "Please, don't go."

You shunned her. You had her love and you let her go. It's your fault. It's your fault.

Rumplestiltskin closes his eyes and draws her aside, taking her bow from her hands. "Give me an arrow," he instructs her. She does and he slips it in the notch, magically adding poison to the tips, enjoying his newly returned power coursing through his veins. "Listen to me, dearie. Once I kill Maleficent, I want you to run. Run away and don't look back. Over this field is our mansion—the safe house. Go there."

"No! I want to stay. I want to fight." She says this with relish and her hands are curled into fists.

He chuckles and wraps his free arm around her, thanking the gods that she is alive and whole and not dead. "I'm not losing you again, dearie," he mutters under his breath.

Belle returns the embrace and pulls away after several moments, her eyes glassy. "What do you mean, again? You never did."

Maleficent turns to them, slit nostrils flaring. Green smoke billows out of her mouth. It's only a matter of time before she finds them. He grits his teeth and crouches down, moving through the barley that still stands tall. "Go!" he snarls over his shoulder.

Belle doesn't move. He's not sure whether or not he's grateful for that.

He aims the arrow. Maleficent rears up, snorting fire and blood, and kills more men with every swipe of her claws. He lets the arrow fly.

The poisoned arrow pierces her heart, right where Philip's sword had from oh-so-long ago. Maleficent screams and the sky rumbles its agony. It was his magic that had saved her the first time, and it will be his magic that will undo her the second.

The sky is tainted black and crimson, the barley is crushed beneath hundreds of pairs of feet, but the Queen's army will fight tooth and nail.

Belle lowers her head to hide a smile at the success, making Rumplestiltskin giggle. He giggles again, takes Belle's hand, and starts running for the mountain.

The castle in the sky shakes. Dust and small stones from the ceiling rain down on them, but nothing hits the chessboard. Emma shakes the grime from her hair and takes a deep breath, allowing a small smile to blossom on her face.

She moves her last pawn forward, one square away from her destination. Regina pushes her king up a square, allowing her last rook—her last line of defense—open to take whichever piece that replaces the pawn.

Emma moves her bishop and announces, "Check."

The next few moves are a flurry of cat-and-mouse. Emma announces check three more times and manages to protect her pawn with her rook and her bishop. Then, after the Queen moves her king once more, Emma moves her pawn forward and replaces it with a knight. As expected, Regina takes the knight with her rook, which is taken by the bishop.

Snow White whirls around and comes face-to-face with Sidney Glass, otherwise known as the Queen's genie. "Sidney," she says, relieved. Sidney stares at the trampled barley, and it is then that she notices he has a dagger in his hand and is dressed in black.

His expression is so devastated she wants to hug him, but she holds herself in check. This could be a trick. He is still as devoted to the Evil Queen as he was before the curse. "Genie, why are you doing this?" she whispers.

Sidney looks up and frowns. "She took my power. She's forcing me to do this. The only escape I have is death. But she will be pleased with me if I take your life instead."

He advances on her, raising the dagger, and all the fighting instincts from her time in the woods kicked in. She raises James's sword and the two blades clash against each other at the hilt. She twisted her sword downwards suddenly, throwing all her weight behind it, and the curved dagger is wrenched out of the genie's hands. He stumbles back and falls down, and she points the sword at his throat.

His eyes grow wide. "You're not—you're not going to kill me, are you?" he stammers. He sounds so afraid, so desperate. Snow White hesitates, wondering if she should spare him or not. Her stepmother imprisoned him. It couldn't be his fault that—

A burst of red dust explodes, sending her flying. She lands on the ground with an audible crack somewhere in her body. The sword rolls away, just out of reach, and Sidney stands up, grinning. She tries to get up and cries out at the blinding pain in her arm. Red blossoms across her fur sleeve.

"You always were too kind for your own good," sneers the genie. She stares up at him, more afraid of him than she was of Jafar, and is helpless as he begins to chant. "Ego vocant super deos—"

White fur brushes across Snow's face. The Huntsman's wolf growls low in its throat as it steps over Snow protectively. The very sight of the wolf—the one that was responsible for the reason the curse was broken in the first place—is enough to make Sidney falter, then stop his chant altogether.

The wolf snarls and lunges. Someone grabs her good arm and helps her up. "Snow," breathes James, staring at her wound in horror. "What happened?"

Snow snorts and pokes his chest, which is bruised and bloodied, with her good arm. Tears of pain well in her eyes, but she blinks them back. "Why are you worrying about me, James? You're ten times worse than I am!"

The wolf yowls, snapping their attention back to the situation at hand. Sidney has knocked the white wolf over, but his throat and torso is peppered with claw marks. He stands up and grabs Snow White, twisting her bad arm and continuing his chant. Snow screams and almost blacks out from the pain.

James grabs her fallen sword and points it at Sidney, who grins manically. "If you kill me, you kill her, prince!"

"Let her go, Sidney. Don't do this," he urges.

Before he can respond, the wolf gets up and shakes itself before attacking him again. The genie lets go of Snow, who stumbles into James' arms before passing out.

James picks her up, bridal-style, and struggles to avoid any stray arrows from the Queen's archers. Two dwarves—Doc and Grumpy—run up to them, their faces coated in grime.

"There's only me and Grumpy now," wheezes Doc. "Dopey was killed by Hook. Peter's fighting the man now."

James takes a deep breath. Snow will be devastated. The white wolf returns to them, its entire front stained crimson. Sidney the genie does not move. "We lost a lot of good people today," he said. "Snow's hurt. We need to go. Eyolf—are you coming?"

The wolf howls and returns to the fray. James nods and turns, heading for the mountains.

Emma moves her rook forward, one row in front of the king. Regina grits her teeth and moves a pawn forward—one square away from the other end. Emma isn't concerned. She moves her rook to the other side of the board, the king's row, and says in a hushed whisper, "Checkmate." (James kills a soldier standing in their way.)

Regina starts laughing. "Congratulations, Miss Swan," she hisses. Her hands slowly start turning black and gray. Cracks appear in her skin. "You've won. I hope you're happy."

Emma shakes her head. "You could have been happy too," she tells her. "Your need for revenge destroyed you."

Regina smiles. Her skin hardens with every smoky gray tendril creeping up her skin and she smiles. "Tell Henry I'm sorry."

"Henry is gone," Emma almost snarls. "And it's your fault!"

Regina's fingers disintegrate. The Queen looks down at the chessboard and smiles. "He was my happy ending, Miss Swan. Not yours."

Emma watches silently as the Queen crumbles into ash. A small gust of wind knocks the black king over and breathes it's time in Emma's ear.

Emma stands up and shoves her hands in her pockets, turning around and leaving the room. She enters the winding staircase leading to the barley field and, unable to help herself, compulsively breaks into a run. Back in the chess room, the hearth roars for a second and then vanishes, leaving a perfectly whole log in its wake.

Ghosts of people she failed line her descent down the stairwell. They are smiling and congratulating her, and the sight of some of them—Jiminy, Red, Thomas, Eric, little Hansel and Gretel and their father—make her want to cry. August winks at her as she passes him by, making her grin a little and shake her head.

Graham and Henry are waiting at the end of the staircase. She comes to a stop and stares at them. "You did it, Mom," says Henry, beaming. The book is secure in his arms. Emma's grin disappears and she runs a hand through her hair. Guilt gnaws at her insides.

"Of course I did, kid. Good always wins," she manages.

Henry steps forward and hugs her around the waist. She locks gazes with Graham, who is smiling, and that's when the tears begin to fall. (I'msorryI'msorryI'msorry, her mind whispers, like a broken record)

When Henry steps back, Graham holds out a hand and beams. She takes his hand and steps onto the ground. The staircase and the castle in the sky vanish behind her. "Your kingdom is waiting, princess."

"I'm so sorry," she says, petting Henry's translucent hair with her other hand. Her hand goes through his form, but neither she nor Henry notice. "Will you . . . stay with me?"

Both spirits nod, and she continues on her way to her own happily ever after.

The sky below begins to cry. Blood and bodies are washed away, along with broken barley stalks and weapons. Rain peppers the drought-sickened ground and lightning flashes. The survivors of the white army start heading for the mountains.

It's over, the wind whispers. It's finally over.

When the barley is fresh and whole, when the bodies have been emptied into the sea, when the scarlet drains out of the clouds and the soil's thirst is quenched, the tears subside.

And, for the first time in thirty years, the sky finds itself laughing.