She's still half asleep the next day when the door is flung open and Regina stalks into the room, tossing one last comment to the Huntsman over her shoulder. "She will wake when I command it."
"You're the queen," Emma agrees tiredly, sitting up on her cot and stretching. She'd slept better last night, even if she had spent a good hour staring at the ceiling last night, trying to make whatever had exploded from inside her to work again. "What now?"
Regina stalks closer, her eyes narrowed. "You will address me as Your Majesty."
"Right." Emma rubs her face with the balls of her hand, forcing wakefulness. "Um, I'm not really used to the whole royal thing. Sorry." She stops mid-stretch, following the queen's eyes down to her chest. "Please tell me you're not going to try to pull out my heart again."
Regina looks up, surprised. "Certainly not, Miss Swan. The sorcery you wrought had rather…disastrous effects last night." As she speaks, though, her eyes are lowering again, right back to her chest, and Emma is about to say something when she realizes.
This isn't a woman sizing up an opponent. Regina is without a doubt checking her out. Her clothes had been washed yesterday while she'd been gone, and she'd worn only a bra and underwear to bed, comfortable in the familiar feel of commercial mass-production that had probably never seen a farm. And now Regina can't seem to tear her eyes away, even as goose bumps break out across Emma's skin at her revelation.
It's not that she's interested in women- that she's really thought about it either way, honestly- but Regina's gaze is possessive and sharp, setting all her nerves on high alert and stimulating a pulse deep in her belly. And this is something she knows how to use when she remembers herself, and she slides out of her bed and straightens, watching the queen give her a subtle once-over before Emma speaks. "I told you, I don't know what happened."
Regina cocks her head, distracted. "What are you wearing? It's indecent."
"You complaining?" Emma bites the words back before she gets in even more trouble, though it seems a bad idea when something far worse escapes. "Like you're one to talk." Privately, she considers the queen's wardrobe proof that magic does exist and she does have a very benevolent fairy godmother, but it seems hypocrisy that she'd criticize Emma's underwear when her own assets are so proudly displayed.
Regina steps closer, and now that she's on the topic Emma can't stop staring at the ample cleavage thrust just under her face. "You will learn to fear me," she hisses, a single finger running down from Emma's neck along the curve of her left breast. Regina's hand settles over grey lace, just about where her heart is thudding, and Emma aches with sudden, furious need. "Tell me how you did it. Who anchored your heart. Was it Rumpelstiltskin? The Blue Fairy?"
"N-" The word dies in her throat as Regina's hand tightens around her breast. She takes a deep breath, tries again. "No."
Regina splays her other palm against Emma's collarbone, her face darkening. "Was it… my mother?"
"No! I didn't even know magic existed until I got here!" Emma protests. Regina's hands are warm against skin that feels like it's burning, and when she slides her hand back into Emma to seize her heart again, Emma forgets how breathing works. There's a tug that she feels just as acutely in her core as she does her heart, and then Regina is throwing her backward, turning on her heel and making her way to the door.
"Then you will go see my physician. Perhaps he will have better luck," she says. She turns, her face smug and cold. "Put some clothing on. As…entertaining as it is to see you dressed as a common slave, I won't have you seducing my servants."
"Who's seducing anyone?" Emma calls after her. If anything… She sinks to her bed, something deep within her throbbing with need, and it's only the sound of the Huntsman's voice outside that prompts her to dress herself.
Once they're walking down dimly lit halls to wherever the doctor holds court, Emma ventures a question. "Do you know why Regina can't-" She makes a motion at her heart. "Not that I'm complaining," she adds hastily, remembering the Huntsman's fate.
He shrugs. "I've never seen her have any trouble before. She usually just pulls-" He yanks at his chest. "-And squeezes to dust."
"Yikes." She's dodged a bullet, even if she has no idea how. And when she thinks about how absurd this is, how she's actually relieved that the evil queen wasn't able to grab her heart and pull it out of her body so she could control or kill her, she has to pause and dissolve into helpless laughter because damn, how is this her life now?
The Huntsman waits patiently for the hysteria to fade and Emma to stop gasping out giggles. "I'm sorry," she finally manages. "It's just- this is all very new to me."
"Give it a few more days," the Huntsman says wryly, and he leads the way through a curved doorway to the doctor's…
Lab, she wants to say, because this isn't sterile and white like the hospitals at home, nor is it the primitive setup she'd expected to find in a castle. No, there are those psychedelic magical boxes of electricity all over the place and metallic instruments that have no place in fairyland are lying beside metal beds, and when the Huntsman calls out, "Frankenstein!" she thinks it must be a joke before it occurs to her that it's one the Huntsman would never know.
She crosses worlds and finds new men to do her bidding. Stories are fairytales in their own twisted ways, after all, and somehow Regina has managed to get her way in other worlds, too. She shudders, remembering old horror movies and people taken apart and patched together into horrible amalgamations, and when the doctor appears in the room, his hands gloved and a neat little knife in one hand, Emma panics.
Rarely has she entertained the thought of fleeing from the queen back into the forest and she doesn't think of it now, either. It's all instinctive, racing from the room, pulling away from the Huntsman as he reaches for her and running away from them at top speed as he calls, "Emma!" after her. She isn't thinking of escaping the castle, just answering to her last survival instincts as they warn her away, away from the doctor who calls himself Dr. Frankenstein and wants to inspect her heart. It's old training from years of learning to defend herself the hard way that has her shove the guard at the entrance when he brandishes a spear, kicking him backward with enough force that he slams into the door he'd tried to block from her.
She's running across the grounds, past a little pond and a clearing where a distant figure is riding a horse, into the woods that she'd come from without regard for whatever paths might be there. The underbrush is hitting her with every fifth step, pulling at her clothes, and it takes a particularly nasty branch that grips her tunic in place before she's finally forced to stop.
Oh, crap is her first thought, Regina's displeasure at her escape her second. If she'd thought Emma was hiding something before, she'd be sure of it now, and when she goes back-
If she goes back, Emma amends, eyeing the woods around her speculatively. She won't do much good to Henry as a stone statue or as Regina's slave, and with the luxury of distance, she's beginning to think that this hasn't been her best decision. She barely knows the kid and she's already endured more indignities on his behalf than she'd have ever done to be around a kid she does know. She'd given birth to him, but that bond is a chain here, promising a life as an evil queen's punching bag (and wow, that idea should not send a thrill through her, really) and nothing else.
She might not have much to live for, but it's always been in her plans to live, period, and that seems unlikely here.
Gritting her teeth, she yanks herself free of the branch and squints around the woods, making her way toward the biggest gap between trees that faces away from the castle.
It had only taken a half hour to get into the town with Henry, but now it's been four hours of nothing but trees and Emma is ready to admit that she might be lost. She sits on a felled branch in a little clearing, her legs aching and hunger gnawing at her.
She'd last eaten yesterday in the early evening, trailing after the Huntsman as he'd led her into the back door of the kitchens and made himself at home at the table while a serving girl flirted shamelessly with him and made snide comments about Emma shoveling her food in with about as much grace as the Huntsman had been, too. This morning they'd gone straight to the doctor without breakfast and Emma's feeling it now after hiking through these woods- and how big is this little town in the middle of nowhere, anyway? Or is she going in circles?
"Well, it's far bigger than it seems," a voice says from just above her left ear, and she jumps, spinning around to hit whoever's behind her. She punches air, and there's a high-pitched, manic giggle from somewhere behind her.
She turns again. A man stands in the center of the clearing, his skin aged and wrinkled and his hair matted into a stringy halo around his face. He's grinning, an arm of his gaudy outfit extended in greeting. "Emma Swan," he chirps.
She's beyond being impressed at people knowing her name here, and instead smiles without humor, folding her arms in front of her. "Let me guess. You must be…Rumpelstiltskin."
"The queen has mentioned me!" He cackles again, wild and amused.
Emma raises an eyebrow. "Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but I don't think she's a fan."
Rumpelstiltskin clasps a hand to his heart. "I'm wounded, truly." He shakes his head, mournful. "And after all I've done for her."
"What have you done for her?" Emma asks, curious.
Rumpelstiltskin smiles enigmatically, turning away. "If you are searching for a way out of these woods, I can show you." She opens her mouth, but he's already extending his hands, flicking them outward. "Follow me, dearie!" he trills, and then he's vanishing again, reappearing a few feet away beyond the clearing.
"The queen won't like this!" she feels honor-bound to call after him. She's already regretful at the thought of the Huntsman and how terrible his punishment must be for letting her go, and she has no desire to force Regina's wrath onto anyone else.
Rumpelstiltskin is suddenly behind her again, whispering into her ear. "I have done many deeds the queen wouldn't like, dearie. And we're all tired of catering to Her Majesty's whims in this cursed forest." His fingers climb up her arm as swiftly as Regina's had climbed down her front earlier that day, but the chill she feels now has nothing to do with latent attraction. "You may be just what we're looking for."
"We," she echoes. "We who?"
But Rumpelstiltskin is gone again, waiting for her at a spot ten feet ahead, and when he taps his lips in warning she doesn't dare ask for more details.
It's another few minutes of following him through the woods before she finally ventures a response. "Look, I don't think I'd be very helpful to anyone, and I've kind of got to focus on keeping myself alive first." She swallows guiltily. "I need to," she says, not sure who she's convincing. "Besides, I'm not coming back."
Rumpelstiltskin's forehead creases under the wrinkles. "But dear little Henry, all alone in the grasp of an evil queen!" He gasps, and she can't tell if it's mocking or just exaggerated. "Dreaming of a white knight to come save him," he whispers in her ear.
She flinches. "He has people here who can help him just as much as I can." She thinks of Snow, who has free reign of the castle and hugs Henry like she cares. "I'm no good to him killed by his mother."
"She won't kill you," Rumpelstiltskin calls from somewhere to her right. She follows his voice to another area where the trees have been cleared away, this one long and winding with a dusty road leading forward and the sound of horses galloping behind them. The path she'd come in on.
"She can't," he says, leaning forward, and then he reappears behind her on the path, his hands flung out in warning as a carriage comes to view, the Huntsman seated in the driver's seat and holding the reins.
"This is unfortunate," her guide says, sounding unbothered.
Her eyes narrow, suspicious. "I'll say." She folds her arms again, wondering if she has time to run back into the woods. But the Huntsman is already jumping down, jogging toward her with only a glare to spare for Rumpelstiltskin, and she doubts she can take him by surprise again. The imp hums to himself, winking at Emma as he steps to the side.
"Are you mad?" the Huntsman demands, bending down to bind her legs together. "That was the worst escape attempt I've ever seen," he mutters under his breath. She kicks him once before she's frozen in place, Regina extending a lazy finger as she dismounts from the carriage.
"I wasn't going to stand around and get cut open by a mad scientist!" she says hotly, straining against the magic holding her still.
It lets her go in the next minute, and she nearly falls over before the Huntsman steadies her.
Regina strides over to them and seizes Emma by the chin, fingers pressing painfully against her teeth. "Did you think you could flee from me?" she demands, her words hot and furious against Emma's face. "You are mine. Not his pawn to play with!"
When Rumpelstiltskin speaks, it's with cloying obeisance that makes Regina's lips press together until they turn white. "I was only lending a hand to a damsel in distress, Your Majesty." He bows, all sweeping grandeur and mocking eyes. "I had no idea that she was a runaway of yours."
Regina draws herself together, letting go of Emma to stalk over to Rumpelstiltskin. "I will find out what you're up to, Rumpel. And when I tire of you, I will destroy you." It's all bluster and even Emma can tell, knowing what little she does of Regina's mistrust and wariness when it comes to Rumpelstiltskin.
He rocks back and forth for a moment, clasping his hands together. "Always so delightful, Your Majesty." He vanishes, reappearing at the edge of the woods. "Oh, and Your Majesty?" He bows again, his eyes on Emma's again. "I would ever despair if any harm came to the fair Emma Swan. I've grown so …fond of her in our time together."
Regina's lip curls in disgust. "I'll let you know when anything you say matters to me." She yanks Emma to her by the arm, and Emma is pulled forward, her legs tangling in the Huntsman's bonds around them and slipping out from under her.
Before she can fall, Rumpelstiltskin is there, catching her in his arms as though mid-waltz. He presses a cautioning finger to her lips in reminder and her skin crawls, and then Regina is there again and Rumpelstiltskin is gone, far beyond the woods that surround them.
"That bastard," Regina mutters, her fury dissipated and replaced with something dark and almost fearful. And he might have saved her in the woods and hinted at rebellion, but Regina's dread is enough to put Emma on edge when it comes to Rumpelstiltskin.
Regina grips her harder than is probably necessary, but she's also careful of her bonds on the way to the carriage and patient when Emma stumbles. She doesn't say anything until they're halfway to where the horses are waiting, and Emma's focusing on the rope around her ankles when she hears her irritated voice. "I told you to wait inside the carriage."
"I waited until Rumpelstiltskin was gone!" Henry protests, and Emma's head snaps up to see the boy running across the road, grinning. "Emma!" he says, throwing his arms around her waist, and Emma musses his hair and stares down at his glowing face, wondering how she could have planned to leave this boy to his mother.
When she looks up, Regina's eyes are very soft as she regards her son's smile and there's no evil queen for a moment, just a woman who loves her son. "I was so scared," Henry says, looking up at them both. "Did he hurt you?"
"No," Emma's quick to assure him. "He really was just…helping me find the path back to the castle," she lies. "I got kind of freaked out by Dr. Frankenstein and got lost."
Regina looks at her oddly. "What was his price?"
"For leading you through the woods."
"Oh." Emma shrugs. "He just offered."
Regina's hand tightens on her arm, and even Henry lets go of her, looking troubled through his smile. "Did he?"
"Rumpelstiltskin always asks for something in return," Henry says. "Are you sure he didn't trick you into saying something? Or giving him something?"
"Pretty sure." Emma considers. "Aside from the fact that no one's ever taught him about personal space, he seemed pretty okay."
Henry opens his mouth to respond, but Regina cuts him off. "Henry, back into the carriage. Miss Swan and I will be there in a minute."
"But Mother!" There's a full-scale whine coming but Regina holds up a warning finger before Henry can say anything else. He stops, sighing the heavy sigh of a child exasperated with his mother, but he does run to the carriage and sit on the step, waiting for them.
"So you are Rumpelstiltskin's lackey," Regina says, staring at her. "I can't say I'm surprised, though he's done a terrible job with you. You can't even escape my castle successfully without getting lost."
Why is it so often in conversations with Regina that she feels the need to choose between correcting a falsehood or retorting against a slight? "I'm either the most unconvincing spy he's ever had, or I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," Emma points out. "Come on, which one is more believable?"
Regina shakes her head. "Or he has a plan for you and you just don't know it yet." She pauses, eyeing Emma appraisingly. "It would explain the heart. I should throw you in the dungeons where you belong."
But she doesn't, and that's the part of the day that has Emma struggling most. She endures a carriage ride with the queen's hand splayed possessively over her thigh and Henry bubbling with a thousand things to tell her in the past two days ("I rode that horse yesterday! See? That one over by the stable! And Snow taught me about royal dinners because I get to go to my first one soon now that I'm ten and I saw a picture page about tigers on the Internet and Mother says that I can learn archery if I don't talk about seeing you anymore-" and then he stops and looks at his mother, shamefaced, but Regina is staring out the window, lost in her own thoughts) and when they get back, Henry hugs her and then his mother, who stares at him as though he's a ghost, and he babbles about getting her something to eat and runs off with a smiling Snow.
For those few minutes, Emma can almost lose herself in this castle that's full of smiles and love and a cheerful little boy, can see herself enjoying her stay here and can imagine an upbringing for Henry that hadn't been all people turned to stone and doctors fond of body parts. Then she's being escorted to her room by the Huntsman and Regina is breaking out of her Henry-induced stupor to inform her that whatever food Henry picks out will be brought to her room instead, where she can spend the rest of the evening. And she's left in her dismal room an hour later, picking through the feast that a serving girl brings her and laughing a little at the overabundance of candy in Henry's selection when the door opens and Regina returns.
"You will come to breakfast tomorrow," she informs her. "Henry and I dine an hour after dawn, and we expect to see you there."
"Well, that's an upgrade," Emma says, bemused at this turn of events.
Regina pauses. "Yes, well…it would please Henry." She leans forward. "Do not think that this is me, cowed by the wishes of a ten-year-old."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Emma says agreeably.
Regina smiles, lips thin and eyes unpleasant. "He doesn't know you, Miss Swan. You're just an idea to him now. And the more he sees of you, the less he will respect a nobody lawbreaker from a land without magic with nothing to show for her years without him but a troubled past and a prison sentence." She inclines her head. "Who am I to disabuse him of his fanciful notions when you can do it so efficiently on your own?"
Emma's eyes narrow, the burn stinging and the challenge accepted. "So I'm not some ideal mom that he was looking for. I can't exactly give you points for that one, either. And what will you do to me if he decides that I'm pretty cool? Kill me to teach him-?" She stops, realizing that it may not be the best plan to give an evil queen ideas in that regard.
Regina waves a hand dismissively. "Body temperature has nothing to do with this. Though I will have some more…appropriate clothing sent to you." She frowns at Emma's tunic and pants. "You gave birth to a prince and I will have you dress like it."
"I could always just show up in my underwear," Emma mumbles, watching the queen turn away.
Regina stops in place, a cold smile spreading across her face. "It would be a step up from that," she acknowledges. "Sleep well, Miss Swan." She glides from the room, her dress moving against her body with every step, and Emma can't stop staring at the sway of her hips under glossy material as the door closes behind her.
A servant delivers her clothing half an hour later, and she waits until he's gone before she looks through it and finds the corset.