The music swells again, and Regina feels her hips shift beneath the voluminous skirts: still black because she still mourns. A new kingdom, but with fresh losses, and so she dances. Or, at least, has others dance for her: puppets for her amusement.
No one approaches her to dance, anyway.
She is the Queen without a crown, presiding over exiles and villains with no one to hate but each other. Good has closed its ranks, safe under the umbrella of Snow and Charming's tolerance, their nauseating, inexhaustible love.
Some days Regina channels her magic at the barriers that separate the lands, but her heart isn't in it. Perhaps if Henry had expressed some desire to still see her, but in the absence of even that much compassion, Regina has closed herself off to all of them.
The crowd parts as the song ends, a murmur rippling around the room that catches Regina's attention for barely a second. Always some scandal, some petty squabble to disrupt the evening. She's been sick of these people for so long she forgets that it was ever any other way.
As she turns towards the balcony, there's a tap on her shoulder. Despite being the only reveler unmasked, Regina makes no attempt to conceal her displeasure.
"Leave me," she says, and it sounds as unkind as she means it to be.
"I already did that, once," says a familiar voice, and it turns the air in Regina's lungs into shards of glass.
"You," she says, not daring to turn around. She knows she'll see a flimsy disguise, a shock of blonde hair that someone will find familiar before too long. "Outside," Regina commands, nodding towards the balcony.
As soon as they step out into the cool air of a spring evening, Regina flicks a wrist and slams the glass doors behind them. Her next movement is to lift the other woman with a blast of angry magic, suspending her in mid-air over the steep drop into a ravine.
But Emma, infuriating, impossible Emma, simply folds her arms over her chest and stifles a very fake yawn.
"Nice to see you, too," she mutters, and Regina draws her back in, slowly. Free of the magical bond, Emma pushes the mask up onto the top of her head. "We need to talk," she says, and there's an insistence Regina remembers from days at the mine and apple turnovers.
"You could have sent a card," Regina drawls, leaning back against the stone balustrade. "It's been six months."
"There's a problem," Emma persists, and she's striding across the enclosed space, instantly too close for comfort.
"Henry?" Regina feels the panic rise in her throat like bile. Every hurt, every slight is forgotten at the thought that he might need her, that she might be allowed to care for him in some way.
"No," Emma admits. "The Blue Fairy knows you've been toying with the barrier. She claims you're going to attack. My parents-"
"Are raising forces against me," Regina sighs, completing the thought. "How predictable."
"I told them you wouldn't do that, that maybe you were just testing your own protection, but..."
"No one will believe that," Regina snaps. "You might as well have said I was using the power to heal the sick."
"I had to warn you," Emma says, shoulders squared in determination. "And if it comes to it, I'll stay here so they can't attack. They won't risk me."
"Go home, princess," Regina says, weary of saviors and quests alike. "You made your decision."
"Dammit, Regina!" Emma barks. "Stop this. Stop it. I made a mistake, okay?"
"You got scared?" Regina sneers. "Or are you just bored of mummy and daddy and feel like getting laid, hmm?"
"You know," Emma says, reaching for Regina's face, but being slapped away. "You know it was more than that. But I had to think of Henry. I had to put him first." She reaches for Regina again, laying a smooth palm on her cheek, and Regina doesn't resist this time.
The tear that falls is an angry one, but it doesn't make the reality of it splashing against Emma's hand any more dignified. Regina tells her body to move away, to dive off the side of the castle if she has to, and yet it stays. She's always been far easier with the physical side of all this than with the thoughts, and the uncontrollable emotions. A part of her still craves Emma's touch, the unexpected loss of it months ago as the kingdoms divided a bereavement that Regina has yet to recover from.
"You left me," Regina blurts.
"I needed time," Emma fires right back. "If you could have been patient, I would have found a way to have both."
"I'm not patient," Regina concedes. "And I can't learn to be. How did you get through, anyway? That little Blue bitch can't have helped."
"Nova," Emma explains. "She helped create the barrier, and some of the fairies are starting to resist Blue's iron fist approach to everything..."
"I wonder if any of them have admitted yet, that I wasn't such a bad ruler?" Regina asks, but it's a question for the night air, not for answering.
"You'd be surprised," Emma says, and in the moonlight rather than torch glow, Regina sees the dark circles, the extra pallor to Emma's skin.
"You're ill," Regina says, almost choking on the sudden compassion.
"Stressed," Emma admits. "It hasn't been easy. Last night I pretty much threatened my parents with a revolution."
"That would have been effective, given that you couldn't even stay awake for Les Mis," Regina scolds, and the familiarity of the teasing squeezes her heart. "Emma, go home. Maybe this is just my time."
"You're giving up?" Emma demands, fire in her eyes with the accusation. "After all this? After hanging on tooth and nail to everything?"
"I have nothing," Regina spits, suddenly raging at having to explain herself again. To Snow White, to her progeny, to every well-meaning idiot who can't keep their nose out of her business, until she drops down dead from a lack of air. "Give my love to Henry, if he wants it."
"Regina," Emma is pleading now, and her grip on Regina's arms is pinching, enough to bruise. "I'm not going anywhere, not this time."
"There are a hundred people in that ballroom, any one of whom would kill you in a heartbeat," Regina tries, in a last-ditch effort.
"Lucky I have this, then," Emma says with an almost imperceptible shrug, pulling her feathered black mask back into place. "It's enough to get me through the castle, anyway."
"Where will you go?" Regina asks, holding her breath in something like anticipation.
"Where do you think?" Emma whispers, pulling Regina so close that it can only have one result. Their lips meet on the crest of barely suppressed moans, and Regina feels her eyes flutter closed despite her determination not to react.
"My bedchamber," Regina sighs. "I should throw you out for even suggesting it."
"I was keeping Henry safe," Emma reminds her. "I thought you'd give me time to make it right. Please, stop punishing me. At least, stop with this really not fun way of punishing me."
Regina rolls her eyes, because even with an army allegedly marching on them, Emma still finds time for an inappropriate comment. Regina doesn't smile, and certainly doesn't admit how much she's missed that.
"I suppose you did come all this way," she says, when the pause has stretched out long enough to be unbearable. "It's at the top of the grand staircase," Regina points out. "Please, be discreet."
"Always," Emma says, grabbing one more quick kiss for good measure. She opens the doors herself, slipping into the assembled throng, disappearing in a matter of seconds.
Regina listens to the strains of cello music that reach her now the door is ajar, and she hums along with the familiar tune. In a moment she'll call for her steward, have him manage the departure of unwanted guests, as she smiles briefly and takes her leave.
She touches her lips where Emma just kissed her, wonders again if this is some kind of trick. In the end, Regina decides it might be worth it. One more night with Emma, even if death and destruction is to come in the morning; this fragile peace was always designed to shatter.
As she moves across the room, Regina notices her feet are keeping time with the music, her black skirts swaying as though she intended it.
It seems she's dancing, after all.