"The question isn't how to infiltrate," one of the peasants is arguing over a map. "It's who you plan on sending in this time. No more children."
The older royal scowls at him across the table. "We will do what needs to be done. Your girl's failure is of no consequence."
"No consequence!" The peasant slams his hands on the table. "The queen had her thrown in the dungeons for months! If we hadn't-"
"Enough." It's Rumpelstiltskin who speaks, and everyone falls silent at once, glancing nervously up. "No children will be sent in-" There's a collective sigh of relief. "If we have a better-equipped adult who is willing to go." Uneasy silence reigns, and the blonde royal- whom Emma has since discovered is a princess named Abigail- lets out a single frustrated sigh.
This is the third meeting Emma has come to since the original one last week, and only a scattering of the people who'd been present at the first are here tonight. Most of the royals don't come to the meetings, it seems, unwilling to engage with treason and Rumpelstiltskin unless they're specifically beckoned, and most of the peasants aren't even told about many of the meetings. And today's topic is sensitive enough that only the inner circle of the resistance has been invited.
She hangs back in the shadows, more uncomfortable than ever now that the reality of her position here is hitting her at last. She doesn't want to…she doesn't know what she wants to do.
"Swan!" Grumpy is calling her over, and she steps out of the shadows, twisting her fingers together and apart and together again. "You been to the palace kitchens?"
She nods, reluctant, and remembers those first few days with the Huntsman, eating meals far from the queen or her room. "It isn't just younger kids there. There are definitely some twenty-something women, and probably a few men, too. Some older servants too, but they'd notice someone new in their ranks." The girls had fawned over the Huntsman and given her dirty looks for accompanying him, and she'd focused on food and ignored them all.
"Why don't we just send her?" The older royal jabs a thumb at Emma, and Emma stares back, her eyes cold and her stomach roiling. "If she is indeed loyal to the cause, we don't need to sacrifice another peasant to the castle." His mouth twists into a smirk, and there's no doubt in Emma's mind that he couldn't care less about placing a peasant in harm's way. "Would we?"
His eyes are challenging but Emma doesn't flinch. It had been easier that first day to talk about killing Regina, when she'd been spurred forward with righteous fury and grief. But it's been over a week, and a week where she's been left unchained, where she's seen Regina stare at Henry as though he's everything in the world to her, where she's had a nighttime visitor too many times to write it off as a fluke.
More nights than not, Regina is waiting for her when she returns to her room from time with Snow or the resistance or outside the castle for a drink. They don't address this, don't have anything beyond scathing insults and seething hatred and contemptuous desire, but it's enough to make Emma feel a bit nauseous at the idea of delivering the final blow in the takedown of the evil queen. Or the poison, as it is.
"I'm afraid that won't work at all," Rumpelstiltskin trills. Belle isn't here today, Emma notices. She hadn't been invited to the last meeting, where they'd discussed the possibility of poisoning the queen for the first time, either. "Miss Swan is our final trump card, not to be wasted on a desperate assassination attempt, are you, dearie?" He smiles at her toothily and she folds her arms against her stomach and looks away, unable to keep his gaze without displaying her uncertainty.
Her eyes hit Grumpy's instead, and she quickly looks down. "Look, she has a good doctor." One of the dwarves snickers, and it takes a quelling look from Abigail before he quiets, serious again. "I don't know how effective any of your poison will be against the Internet."
"In-ter-net?" Jefferson repeats from somewhere behind her. "Is that a cure Frankenstein has developed?"
"Something like that, yeah." She wonders what it might be that they'll send, imagines Regina's body contorted or damaged or very, very pale. She wonders why she cares, when Regina deserves nothing less.
For Henry. For Henry, who loves his mother when he isn't busy being afraid of her. She thinks of an afternoon several days ago, when Snow had taken over teaching Henry archery and Regina had come down to watch them. She'd sneered at Snow and at Emma but then she'd crouched down next to Henry and helped him position his hands, and when he'd hit the target he'd jumped and hugged her in delight and she'd folded into his arms.
Sometimes she's a mother, and one who does have that girl- the girl who'd save a life and fall in love with a boy beneath her station and lose everything at once- buried somewhere inside her. She's been angry and vengeful for so long that it defines the Regina that Emma knows, but it's the mother (and the lover, oh, what Regina can do with her hands and her hips and that talented tongue, and she is demanding but just as eager to turn Emma into a babbling mess beneath her) whose face she thinks of in the end.
Still, she gives them as much information as she can about entering the castle in proper servant garb and how best to make it up from the dungeons to the kitchens without being seen. She might not like it- might not be comfortable with what will come from it- but she can't stop it, either. Not when Henry's mother is also a tyrant who's imprisoned a kingdom. When so many suffer as long as she lives, and whatever goodness Emma sees is just as likely a mirage.
She can't leave the dwarf mines fast enough tonight, and when Rumpelstiltskin deems their plans sufficient, she's already halfway up the earthy stairs toward the moonlit town before Grumpy catches up to her. "Easy, Swan, slow it down!" He's panting, his short legs moving as rapidly as they can to follow her, and she stops, staring down at him. He smiles. It looks alien on his sunken face, wrinkled with years of glumness. "I just want to buy you a drink."
"Buy me a drink?" Emma repeats dubiously. "Last time we were at a table together, Red's grandmother shot a hole through the ceiling."
He shakes his head, fists bunching up for a moment and loosening. "I just…I want to know about Snow," he mutters, and Emma can't refuse that. Snow has friends here, people who love her regardless of how they feel about the savior, and she had once been queen, even if it had been stolen away so quickly. It had never been Snow White but Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Emma can give Grumpy this much.
They sit down at a table at the tavern and Red brings them drinks, glancing curiously at both of them. Grumpy stares down at his cup, his voice gruff as he asks, "Is she being treated well? Has the queen been making her suffer?"
"Yeah." Emma downs her drink, probably faster than she should. "Regina isn't fond of her, but she has it pretty easy. She's Henry's tutor, and Regina knows better than to hurt the people he cares about."
Grumpy snorts, clapping his glass on the table until Red returns with a pitcher. "And the spoiled little prince? Has he been tormenting her in his mother's place?"
Emma's hackles are raised at that, and her second glass is gone as quickly as the first. Grumpy pours her the next one on automatic. "Henry's a good kid. A really good kid." The taste of ale is growing on her- and yes, the sneer on the dwarf's lips when he talks about Henry is helping with that- and she takes another drink. It spreads warmth through her body, enough that Grumpy's words are starting to sound distant as magic quickens intoxication.
"He's the queen's child," Grumpy corrects. "There's nothing good about him."
"You don't even know him!" Emma swallows, the fuzzy aftertaste of fairy dust caught in her throat. "He's good and he's gentle and he's the only reason Regina hasn't killed Snow or me, I'm pretty sure. And while you're all sitting around cursing his name, he's just as desperate for you all to be saved as you are." The words are coming out wrong, garbled by the fairy dust that's slowing down her system, but she thinks that she's gotten her point across anyway.
Grumpy is shrugging, his face still sour and dubious. "You're his mother, too. You're going to see what you want to see. And Snow-"
"Snow loves him!"
"Snow loves the daughter she lost!" Grumpy snaps at her, and he's eyeing her oddly for a moment, almost expectant, so she stretches out her glass for him to pour her more. "And displacing those feelings onto her evil stepmother's son is a sick perversion." He tips more ale into his glass, sloshing it on the table. "She does what she must to survive, but it's time we save her from herself." He shakes his head, and Emma blinks, seeing several Grumpys materialize with the movement. "We've allied with Rumpelstiltskin before, and I'd do it again. For her."
The fairy dust is muddling everything now, and when Red refills their pitcher, it's with quiet disapproval. Emma wants to argue, but she's swaying in her seat and the room is moving around her, and the most reasonable retort seems at that moment to be, "Your nose is so much bigger in the movie." She snickers and pokes it, and Grumpy has no response to that, so she stands, her point proven. "Henry is going to save you all," she announces, and faces turn around the tavern. None of them seem very friendly. "And I'm going to…"
"Emma!" Red's hurrying over to her, a hand stretched out to slide under her elbows and pull her from the crowd. She flashes a smile at the rest of the occupants and then she's tugging Emma with her, murmuring something to her grandmother and leading Emma out into the night air.
"I'm not that sober," Emma complains. "I mean undrunk."
"No, you are not," Red agrees, helping Emma down the path from the tavern. "I'm going to take you home, alright? Not going to leave you to those men." She sighs. "You can stay with us, if the queen won't set the tavern on fire over it."
"She'll be waiting," Emma agrees. "She's always waiting for me." She smiles for a moment, the fairy dust strong enough to add a dreamy quality to her memories of Regina below her, head thrown back and eyes hooded over with desire and fury and loathing. It's nice, really, and it feels like…
"It's okay, Emma!" Red cuts off her thoughts, a vague hysteria to her tone. "I get the idea!"
Maybe she'd been thinking aloud, she doesn't know. Red is still leading her, but now she's turning to dart glances at her every few moments, looking confused or impressed or maybe slightly terrified. It's hard to make out her features when they keep blurring on her face. For a moment, Red sighs and tips her face upward pleadingly, and to Emma's shaky gaze, the glow of the moon reflects orange off her eyes. "I drank too much," she decides.
"You had an entire pitcher of enchanted alcohol," Red agrees, shaking her head. "Come on."
She doesn't really remember much of what happens before she's standing near the castle and Red is urging her to step forward, across the grounds where she can't enter. "Go to Snow," she calls after Emma. "She'll help you the rest of the way!"
But it's Regina who's waiting for her in the main hall of the castle, one eyebrow arched as she takes in a still-very-inebriated Emma. "Pull yourself together," she orders, waving a hand, and they abruptly change location.
Whoa. Emma sways, nearly falling over into Regina. There's a cloud of purple smoke fading around them to reveal the queen's bedchamber, which she's only barely glimpsed before. It's decorated in blacks and purples and reds, an ornate mirror glittering above a chest of drawers just to the right of a bed that Emma decides is rather hilariously queen-sized. Most of the room is bare, though, a large empty area between them and the door, and the only other bit of furniture in the room is a day bed just below long windows to their left.
Regina lets out an irritated exhalation and Emma is suddenly lying on her back on the bed. "How much did you drink?"
"Lots," Emma admits. The blanket below her smells like Regina, musky and sharp and intoxicating as fairy dust, and she burns with her presence.
The woman in question is hovering above her, her nose wrinkled and her lip curled. "You smell repulsive," she says, and then her lips are on Emma's and when she pulls away, Emma can taste her and nothing else, the nasty aftertaste of alcohol gone and replaced. "Really, Miss Swan, you need to build a resistance or stop drinking every night." There's nothing but disdain in Regina's voice now. "What is this, the third night in the past week?"
Emma laughs. "Build a resistance!" No. Bad topic. She blinks up at Regina again, squinting at her eyes, soft and inviting and plump over the edge of her dress…no, those are not her eyes. "I feel kind of…" The fairy dust is twisting her stomach, and she rolls onto her side and gags, curling up into a ball beneath Regina.
There's something very motherly in the way that Regina produces a wet handkerchief from thin air and presses it to her forehead, a hand brushing Emma's hair from her face with what's almost gentleness before she says, her voice still sharp, "I'm going to magic away that fairy dust before you do something even more foolish and Henry never forgives me."
"Oh. Okay. For Henry," she agrees. Regina's lips are on hers again in the next moment, her hands pinning Emma's down onto the bed, and Emma can feel magic tugging through her, the gentle tingling of intoxication speeding up and reaching a crescendo of energy within her, purple dust joining with dark magic and pulling something deep inside her, tightening her core until she's mostly sober and gasping, thrusting her hips upward to crash into the other woman's. Her legs clamp around Regina's waist instinctively and the queen's grip on her hands tightens, fingers curving to lace between hers.
And then she can see Regina's eyes as they fly open in shock and she's arching upward, and something white and powerful comes rushing from within Emma to crash into Regina's magic. She doesn't know what it is, doesn't know what it's doing, but Regina's lips are parted and she's shaking and her eyes are rolling up in her head as the white energy surrounds her.
The queen isn't thrown backward this time but Emma recognizes it as the energy that had shot through her when she'd tried to take Emma's heart, and now it's overwhelming, washing over both of them, running into the dark magic and the fairy dust and they're all sliding into each other at once, graying as they join into one. Emma's heart is pounding and she can feel Regina's pulse against her, rapping out a staccato beat into her skin as she writhes against her. It's impossible to breathe, like she's just been abruptly stopped after running for miles, and every movement feels sluggish and immediate at the same time, and when she finally raises her face to meet Regina's lips, the magic surges through the contact, so strong and thick that she doesn't dare rip her lips away.
It's like being high, it's like being terrified, it's like being in love, and the rush of the magic sparks with everything they do, each time Regina's nails scrape against Emma's back- and she's naked, they're both naked, how did they lose their clothes- each time Emma's lips brush against Regina's heated skin- it's boiling like a furnace and it freezes her when she keeps them there too long- each time they move as one- and it's sinuous and seductive and every bare inch of her skin is suddenly an erogenous zone, lit alive and scorching from the woman abovebelowabove her.
She comes a hundred times as the magic tugs at her most sensitive spots and sets them aflame as though Regina is touching them on her own, and Regina is quivering as they move together, trembling with uncontained sensations. She can feel all of Regina at once, her whole body laid bare before Emma's magic, and when she imagines it enveloping her, deep in places where nerve endings are sensitized, even Regina lets out a choked sob.
Her body is a canvas upon which Emma can paint epics, an instrument with a thousand strings that Emma needs only to touch to create passionate, intricate melodies. The magic is everywhere, and for a minute Emma's sure that they're floating and somehow Regina's hands have broken free from her grasp and one is clenched in her hair and the other clenched inside her, and Emma's teeth sink into an inviting breast and Regina jerks.
They both come once- once, the big time, the one where the magic reaches its peak and they're both caught as it hits breaking point and spills over them, sending a thousand little pleasures through each of their bodies– Emma's vision goes black but she doesn't pass out- can't pass out, not when her entire body is churning with power and pleasure and pain and the magic surges through her again and again- she rides it, lets it wash over her and is caught in the undertow as a willing captive to the swell.
The magic fades and Regina sags, boneless, into Emma's arms. Emma searches for a caustic remark but there's nothing to say, no energy left to speak, just the sensation of sweat slicked against skin against skin and Regina's legs still tangled in hers. "Wh-" Her throat is dry and it takes a few tries before she can speak. "What the hell?"
Regina's head droops again, and she's almost harmless like this, just another woman who Emma can pretend for a moment isn't twisted and murderous and evil. "That wasn't-" She pauses, looks up, and for this moment she's an open book, all malice gone and replaced with a quiet sorrow that Emma doesn't understand. "That wasn't all me." Then the mask is back in place, imperious and dark and disdainful, and Regina is out of her arms in the next moment, standing over her. Her dress is half off the bed and completely shredded beyond repair, and Emma contentedly watches her glide over to the table beside the mirror to don a silk robe before Regina's words sink in.
"Me?" Emma's arms are working enough for her to sit up, pulling out the blanket she'd been lying on to wrap it around herself. "You think that I have magic? I don't even come from your world!"
"This world has some magic. It's shoddy and unpredictable, but it's still there." Regina is staring into the mirror, and for an instant it almost looks as though the mirror is staring back. "You would be the exception to the rule, wouldn't you, Miss Swan." It's almost affectionately derisive, and Emma rolls her eyes, unimpressed.
"Show me what to do with it?" It's a demand as much as it's a request, the magic powering her still humming strong and tempting and freeing, and Regina laughs a rich and scornful peal of hilarity.
"Oh, Emma." She waves a hand and Emma is fully clothed, wearing a tunic and pants like the ones that Regina claims to loathe on her. She drawls out the next words with the dark command of an evil queen. "Get out."
Emma shakes her head, unwilling to comply just yet. Not when there's a world within her that she's never conceived of before, when only Regina can explain it to her. "I'm not going-"
"Out!" the queen snaps, and Emma's thrown forward by a whirlwind of magic, the door flying open and Emma propelled through the doorway to land with a crash in the hall outside. The door slams shut before Emma can stand and she pulls herself up wearily, stretching sore muscles as she turns to walk away.
Snow stares back at her, a hand to her open mouth, her eyes wide and watery and horrified.