She's tempted by the tavern and fairy dust-laced alcohol but reluctant to stay in town with the weight of all that's happened today. It's impossible for her to walk up to Snow's friend and not speak about what she knows now, about what she's done today, not without the guilt of it written all over her face.
And she can't go back yet, not to the Huntsman's stony statue and Regina's smug face, to a queen she doesn't trust and around whom she can't trust herself.
And that's the worst part. She scuffs her boot in the dirt as she wanders through the woods, never straying out of sight of the path home. She doesn't know if she wants to kiss Regina or kill her anymore, and she has ample memory of the former to fuel her on, even when she's angry and guilty and hates herself for it. The memories of the past day are hitting her all at once, and when it comes to Regina-
Regina cold and furious, Regina's hands outstretched toward the Huntsman, Regina panting under her grip, Regina's lips on her neck ohgodohgodohgod-
She's shaking. What from, she's afraid to say. It isn't the first time she's made a terrible decision regarding her love life- Neal comes to mind, though now that she's met Henry the regrets are fading swiftly into different regrets altogether- but never has it been this bad, has she been drawn to someone so evil even the storybooks have tacked it onto her name. And Emma is dreading facing her again.
In the end, it's hunger that spurs her onward, closer to the castle and further from the resistance that fills her with another kind of dread. It's after dusk and there's an ominous howling in the distance, and Emma quickens her step, stumbling through the woods back to a path only barely lit by the glow of the moon overhead. Her stomach is growling, memories of the breakfast she'd discarded in favor of escaping now fond and tempting, and she's running out of the adrenaline that had kept her going until now.
The castle is a welcome sight when she finally makes it to the door, where the guard looks her up and down with wary skepticism and she notices for the first time what half a day traipsing through underground tunnels and overgrown woods has done to her. She's filthy from the knees down, her boots clogged with mud and her trousers stained with grass and dust. Even her face is feeling a little grimy as she scowls at the guard, out of patience. "You know Regina wants me in here."
The guard grimaces and steps aside, careful not to brush against Emma as she walks past him. The anachronisms of fairy tale land only go so far and she's craving a shower she's never going to get here, but scrubbing herself down with a towel will have to be enough for now. After she eats, of course, and her stomach growls at the reminder.
She refuses to turn her head to eye the corridor where she and the Huntsman had faced Regina earlier, but her eyes still flicker there for a moment long enough to ascertain that the stone figure is gone. It's too much to hope that Regina has reversed the magic and the Huntsman is back and safe, but Emma hadn't seen any changes in the main hall, either, and for a moment she indulges herself, imagines Regina's magic as temporary and the Huntsman waiting by her door, ready to tell her again how much she sucks at running away.
But the door to her room is closed and the hall is empty, and when she opens it and enters, it's the last person she wants to see who's standing by the window, surveying her kingdom from above. "Regina." It's more tired than angry, Emma too exhausted to fight like she had earlier, and Regina's eyes gleam with barely contained malice.
"Miss Swan, where in a thousand hells have you been?" Her voice is sharp and demanding, and when she takes a step closer Emma takes one back.
Regina is right in front of her in a moment, invading her personal space all over again and Emma's stomach twists, not uncomfortably. "Emma," she says silkily, the name running across her tongue like liquid velvet. "Tell me where you went." Her hand is gliding along Emma's waist, fingers dipping into the band of her pants with no regard for the dirt that's beginning to feel like a second skin, and Emma can barely remember where she had been, let alone conjure a lie.
"Drink!" she finally blurts out, shoving the queen back as she does. Regina's eyes glitter dangerously at her rejection, but Emma is able to think straight again. "I went to get a drink," she snaps, angry all over again with the woman who's seducing her so readily.
"All day?" Regina retorts, but she doesn't try to touch Emma again.
Emma narrows her eyes. "I wasn't exactly in a hurry to get back."
Regina raises her neck, high and regal and Emma wants to kiss a trail up it right now- no!- she flushes and Regina persists, ignoring her sudden fluster. "I will not have you running off to consort with the villagers whenever you have a tantrum. There is-"
"Tantrum?" Emma echoes, and she's the one stepping forward this time, hunger forgotten for the fury that Regina is rapidly drawing forth. "You turned the Huntsman to stone!"
"He is mine to do with as I please!" Regina snaps back. She doesn't retreat from Emma's approach, and Emma jabs a finger at her, sparking at contact.
"Turn him back!" She's up against Regina, eyes dark and flashing, her heart pounding in time to the needy lust that her rage summons forth.
"I tried!" Regina hisses back. "I tried a hundred times!" And Emma is so stunned at that admission that she freezes in place, so close that she can feel Regina's breath cool against her lips. The queen sags nearly imperceptibly, just a faint submission. "It's linked to the curse," she murmurs against Emma's lips- and they are close enough that Emma can feel the whisper of breath, the movement of the other woman's lips brushing her own. "It can't be undone."
This is still her doing, even if she's regretted one aspect of this curse, and Emma shakes with the knowledge of what's been lost. "Then break the curse," she hisses, and when Regina chooses to close the gap between them rather than respond, she's lost.
Their lips clash together and come apart and clash together again, making war rather than love and submitting to the joining that anger and hatred can summon forth; and it's Emma, not Regina, who shoves them down onto the bed in a switching of their positions from days before. Emma, who attacks the neck she'd been eyeing moments before as Regina sighs out her approval underneath her, and Emma who's digging her fingers down to yank up the tight dress that Regina is-
-wearing absolutely nothing underneath. "Miss Swan," Regina growls when she stops, and Emma stares down at lust-addled eyes, wondering how much of this encounter has been planned.
All of it. Of course. Regina hadn't come up here to yell at her.
"Miss Swan!" Regina is grinding her hips against Emma's, desperation in every pore, struggling for a release Emma hasn't granted yet. And for the first time since she's gotten to this fucking fairytale land, Emma feels like she has the upper hand here.
"Damn you," Regina hisses, and wow but that power is as intoxicating as Emma's fury and she buries herself in Regina's neck again, biting with more force than she needs to but Regina seems to embrace it, undulating against her and grabbing her waist again, rocking them together with unrestrained need. Emma shoves her fingers into her without preamble and Regina jolts against her, her head crashing against the wall, her fingers tightening enough to bruise on Emma's thighs, her knees seizing up on either side of Emma.
When she comes, it isn't with a scream but with a sharp exhalation, and Emma lifts her head to see Regina's eyes shut, her lips parted and shaky panting the only indication of what she's feeling. She can only take an instant to marvel at a woman so closed off that she can't even express herself at a moment of total abandon before Regina is yanking her up and out of her. She thinks this might be the moment when she remembers herself but then the queen is throwing her against the wall, tearing her dirty tunic down the center with the distaste of a curled lip and licking a path through the sweat on her chest toward her navel and lower still.
And then Emma is naked with another dramatic rip- and Regina does like destroying the clothing she's given Emma, doesn't she- and Regina's dress has slid up her torso enough for Emma to pull it over her head and off just in time for a wash of pleasure that starts with Regina's tongue, toying with an ultrasensitive clit, and shoots upward into her every nerve until she can't remember anger or humiliation or hatred, just ReginaRegina and the pure pleasure she's giving her now.
Her hands are tangled in Regina's hair, winding through the elaborately styled updo and tearing her hair free from it without any conscious thought as the other woman continues licking Emma's most sensitized places, winding her tongue within her with practiced skill. She's helpless in all the ways she'd felt empowered before, writhing under Regina's ministrations and craving more, more, more, until there's finally no space for anything else and she's sobbing out her release into Regina's mouth, tasting herself on Regina's lips and shuddering against her and clutching and twisting hardened tips and bringing the other woman right back to the brink and over as she comes, over and over and over again.
She's still shaking when it stops and Regina's grip loosens, and then the queen is staring down at her, eyes still hooded with lust, her hair spread out around her like a dark halo surrounding the devil itself. "Dammit," Emma murmurs, her brain catching up much too late, the room still as heated from Regina's presence as it had been before, and that's enough for Regina to roll off of her and land on her feet on the ground like a fucking cat, still as graceful as she'd been before they'd touched.
She tugs her dress back on and ties her hair back into a simple ponytail as Emma stares at the smooth curves of her back, and when she leaves the room she looks nearly as presentable as always. She doesn't turn around to look at Emma, naked spread-eagle across the bed.
There's no guard stationed at the door for the rest of the night, and Emma feels dirty beyond the sweat and come and grime that she's already covered in, as though she'd bought her freedom with the queen's release.
Sleep is more elusive than ever tonight.
Still, though, she isn't going to pass up the chance to find Henry, now that she's been given a clear line to him. She wakes up late in the afternoon and quickly eats the food that's been left for her and scrubs herself off until she feels presentable.
She doesn't contemplate what she'd done- again- last night. It's easier to focus on Henry now than to sink into the puddle of self-loathing and lust that she's been lying in all night, than considering how much of herself she's compromised yesterday. She's never been one for introspection or regrets, not when there are so many to consider when she begins, and now isn't a good time to fall prey to them.
And when she finds Henry in the library and his face lights up like she's everything in the world that matters, she can't remember any of it anymore.
He's hugging her tightly, arms wrapped around her waist and head pressed to her stomach, and she drops to her knees in his embrace so that she can hold him back with equal vigor. "I missed you," he whispers into her ear, and she leans her forehead against his shoulder, wondering how she'd gone so long without this little boy in her life.
"I'm here now, Henry," she murmurs.
They stand together for a long time, until Henry gets antsy and pulls away, his eyes bright. "So is my mother letting you stay with me again?" he asks.
She can only shrug in response. "I can't predict your mother's whims." His face falls, and she hurries on. "But let's enjoy the time we have for now."
He nods, his face lighting up again. "I want to show you what I found!" he says, pulling her to the laptop. "Look!"
She peers over and almost laughs, because he's been drawing elaborate designs on MsPaint, of all programs, showing it to her as though it's the most novel thing about his computer. "It's wonderful," she agrees.
"Isn't it?" He beams. "I made that all by myself. Painting! On the computer!" He's tried to scribble something next to one awkward stick figure- it's one with blonde curls and something long and silver protruding from its stick-hand, and Emma squints at the words, trying to make them out.
"That's nothing," Henry says quickly, following her gaze. He slams the laptop closed a hair too quickly and jumps up, heading to one of the couches at the other end of the room.
Emma follows, bemused. "So where's Snow today?"
Henry shrugs. "She said I could have some free time today. I think something happened to the Huntsman and she was upset." He stares down at the ground, and Emma feels a pang for the boy whose mother has forced him to grow up too fast. "Do you think she'll change him back?"
Emma drops down to sit next to him, the memory of it still painful. "I don't think she can, Henry. Not without the curse being broken."
"Oh." Henry leans into her, molding himself against the crook of her arm. "He was nice. The Huntsman…he was always nice to me."
"Hopefully that savior of Snow's will come soon and help him out, huh?"
Henry squirms in his seat. "Maybe. Maybe it'll just make things worse." He chews his lip, his eyes troubled. "Evil always wins, doesn't it? Even if Good is really strong."
"No!" And she's feeling guilty and upset at this little boy losing even more of his innocence, watching people he's known his whole life vanish from the evil queen's fury.
She moves to kneel in front of him, to force him to look into her eyes. "Evil fights dirty, but good will win in the end, Henry. And your savior will come someday and even Regina won't be able to stop her." She believes in the very questionable resistance more than she believes in the savior, but Henry needs to believe in something, something good and right and pure beyond this dark castle, and the savior is the lifeline she clings to now. He's a little boy in a fairytale land, and he needs a fairytale of his own now, too. "She'll break the curse and the Huntsman and Snow's prince will be back, and we'll make sure that Regina can't hurt anyone ever again."
Henry smiles a half smile at her, though his eyes are still troubled. "There are so many people she's hurting. She hurt the Huntsman and Snow and you, and also all those people in the town. I want the savior to free them all. I want them to be safe and happy with Snow and Prince Charming and the savior ruling over them." He sighs, wistful. "I don't want her to hurt anyone anymore."
And Emma has to inhale to keep tears from emerging unbidden, straining at her face until she's afraid she might reveal too much to this precious little boy who loves all his mother hates, who wants only to protect the people who loathe him on principle. She thinks of Grumpy, cursing Henry's name; of one of the peasants, suggesting methods to hurt Regina through Henry; of even the blonde royal who'd seemed so reasonable until she'd agreed that they'd use the son however they were able.
He would be a compassionate king, she thinks suddenly, realizing that Henry's path is leading him unswervingly in that direction. If they'd only let him.
"Hey, kid." Henry's staring at her, puzzled, and she knows that she's revealed too much. She forces a smile onto her face and racks her brain for a distraction. "Come on. I'm going to teach you some stuff on the computer."
It's easy enough to find some online shooting games for him to play and Henry settles right into them with glee, pounding at the keyboard and urging her on. "Come on, Emma, there are three zombies on your right!" He fires past her and she has to pull her avatar back to avoid his enthusiastic shot. "I'm going to protect you!"
"Yeah, you are," she says, grinning, and aims for the dangerous-looking spider that's lowering itself above Henry's character. "I've got you covered."
It's so surprisingly normal. They're sitting in a library straight out of Beauty and the Beast, in an actual castle in Maine, at the grace of an evil queen- but there are video games and zombies and a boy who never thinks to ration his gun's output before he runs out of steam and Emma can, for a moment, imagine that her reunion with her son had played out in another way entirely, in the world that she's known her whole life and can deal with so much more easily. A world without magic, without people turning to stone and other people plotting, so much plotting, to overthrow a terrible dictator who rules through fear and the power of her curse.
She can't regret her decision to give Henry up- and she couldn't possibly have known where he'd wind up- but she longs for the simplicity of that old world regardless, with the company of this little boy she's beginning to love. How easy could it have been, had she not been a prisoner when they'd met, has his mother been someone else entirely? She licks chapped lips, wondering if she'd have hated Regina in another scenario, if she'd still been the same woman but without the magic that gives her cruelty purchase.
She doesn't want to think about that. The evil queen is complicated enough without playing with what-ifs, wondering what else she could have been. She's toyed with that idea before and wound up locked up for a week. So she buries herself back in the blissful emptiness of slapping a keyboard and teasing her son, and she thinks she could keep doing this for a long time.
When she next looks up, Regina is standing in the doorway of the library, staring at them both. There's an undecipherable emotion on her face, and Emma can't tell if she's angry or just taken aback.
Emma nudges Henry and he blinks at her. "What? I was about to open that box!" He gestures at the screen just as he catches sight of his mother, waiting patiently to be acknowledged. "Mother." He twitches, his finger pressing the X button down until his virtual gun is empty.
"Henry." Regina is still staring at both of them, at how Henry flinches when she says his name and Emma can't seem to look away. "It's past dinnertime. I suggest you make your way downstairs now, before I decide that Miss Swan is too harmful a distraction for you."
Henry is out the door faster than Emma has ever seen him, running past his mother and down the hall without so much as a goodbye to either of them, and Emma is left to glare at his mother, annoyed. "He's terrified enough of you without you threatening to take away someone else he cares about, Regina. Can't you go easy on him for a few days?"
"Someone else-" Regina shakes her head. "Don't tell me you told him about the Huntsman."
"I didn't have to." Their eyes meet and clash, and Emma is suddenly trapped in Regina's gaze again, helpless and frustrated and- yes, still wanting- and they scorch each other with loathing and need and dangerous desire; and Emma is about to stand, to do something if Regina won't, when the queen takes a step back.
She closes the double doors as she steps out, and the last thing Emma sees is Regina's face, cold but for the cracks where emotion seeps through.