The Swan and the Witch

Story Summary: Once upon a time, there was a castle with a curse upon it that belonged to a fearsome beast-sorceress. A young woman ends up trapped at the castle with its inhabitants. What will she discover about this strange place, it's odd residents, and it's even more mysterious mistress? Can she break the curse? Beauty and the Beast re-tell, Swan Queen

Disclaimer: I own nothing

A/N: I meant to get this out sooner but for some reason this chapter really really didn't want to be written. I don't know what it was but its taken me days of constantly trying to get it down to be finished. Then once it was written there was the editing and I'm not sure if that totally worked out either, but at least its done. Hope it was worth it ;)

-/-

Chapter Twelve

While the ball was obviously not as formal as some of the ones Emma had read about in books—how could it be with Regina as the only noble and all of the other guests were cursed servants—it was clear that some modicums of decorum were observed. Regina made her way around, greeting all of the top servants by name: the steward, the Commander in charge of the guards, most of whom were suits of armor, the stable master, the head gardener, and so on. Some of the outside servants couldn't speak, but Regina was just as polite to them and seemed to understand some of their emotive hand gestures that were practically a language of their own. She supposed with decades stuck in such a position would lead one to learn how to make due.

Emma and Henry were with her in the beginning, introduced politely and calmly by the inscrutable queen who seemed determined to act as if nothing unusual was happening, though her reasons for behaving so were Regina's own. (Emma suspected amusement at the others expense was at least part of it.) The first were not very good at hiding their surprise at hearing Henry introduced as the queen's nephew, but Emma suspected that the news was fast spreading as each new person was they spoke toless and less surprised though all were equally interested.

Eventually Henry began to grow bored of all the introductions and polite adult talk, as little boys are want to do. Regina gave him permission to go around with Emma while she continued her greetings, implying that there were a few more who seemed to actually want to speak with her than usual. Emma was secretly rather relieved, everything was getting a bit much for her and she was just as eager to explore the dressed up ballroom as Henry. The pair accepted her offer quickly, running off giggling and leaving the brunette shaking her head at their immaturity. However, that is not to say she wasn't smiling as she did so.

-x-x-x-

"Miss Swan."

Emma turned with a slight jump, not having heard Regina come up behind her so quietly. The slight smirk on the brunette's face was enough to make her suspect she may have done so on purpose. "Hi. All done with your rounds?"

Regina nodded, "Yes. It took me longer than it typically does and so I find myself more than famished enough to begin the feast."

"Great. Henry!" she called, careful to project her voice, but not yell. The boy had been drawn, once more, back to the instruments and she wanted to cut above the slight clamor that surrounded them. The little brunet looked over at them, his eyes lighting up when he saw his aunt back with Emma. "Food!"

The boy grinned, said a quick goodbye, and began to make his way over to them.

"You did that very well," Regina complimented. "One would think you had presided over battlefields with that voice."

Emma blushed and shrugged, "Cities, and especially their marketplaces, can get loud."

Regina merely nodded at the explanation, knowing from previous experience Emma was terrible at accepting compliments, and didn't push. "What do you think of the ballroom, now that you've thoroughly examined it?" Regina asked with a light tease to her voice.

Emma grinned, "Everything looks wonderful. I can see why we had to eat in the library last night. Actually, I'm surprised this only took two days to pull together."

"Practice," was all Regina managed to say before Henry joined them, excitedly asking about the feast. "Come," Regina said with a smile, leading them to the table on the dais.

Unlike the other times Emma had taken dinner with the queen, all the places at the table were set. Regina moved to her typical seat in the middle of the table, facing the rest of the hall, which was fully lit up for the ball instead of the empty darkness it usually was. Long tables had been set out and all were moving to take places. Regina gestured Henry into the seat opposite her and Emma to the seat to her right. Ruby, per Emma's request, was opposite Emma and next to Henry. To Regina's left was one of the people Emma had been introduced to, the stable master if she remembered correctly.

Soon everyone was seated and Regina stood to make a short speech, her clear voice echoing through the room. "Welcome. Another year has passed and still we have endured. Truly this ball shows how, no matter what has befallen us, we are still people, regardless of the curse's effects on our appearances. Each year I find myself surprised that you have managed to outdo last year and this year is no different. Delicious smells beckon us now, so let the fest begin!"

Even as she regained her seat, wheeled trays were rushing from the kitchen doors filled with the first course of the meal.

-x-x-x-

At first, there wasn't much conversation as everyone began to eat. Regina seemed to really want to savor her food, mentioning briefly that her cursed form was strictly a carnivore and Emma believed her because she'd never seen anyone eat fruits and vegetables with such pleasure. She was also surprised at how quickly Regina managed to eat all of her food while still maintaining such perfect manners, it was enough to make her slow down so she didn't look like a complete lowbred fool.

Soon Henry, and Emma, were asking about previous balls. Regina had mentioned off hand that there was a new theme each year and that the staff tried to change certain things so that it never got boring. That had led to the absolute flood of questions from both the child and the child at heart.

The topic was innocent enough, and casual enough, that a few other high ranking servants at their table began to offer what they remembered as well, despite the fact that normally they would have been too intimidated by the queen to do so. Ruby even managed to find the courage to correct something Regina had said, which Regina accepted graciously. Emma was grinning, not just from the fun, but the pleasure of seeing Regina interact with someone besides her, or Henry. The brunette was still rather formal, but she was smiling, her eyes constantly darting between Emma and Henry, as if reassuring herself they were enjoying themselves.

The only spot of trouble came when they were at a bit of a lull, mainly just the three of them talking, when Henry spoke up. "Lady Mal was here for one of the balls, right?" Henry asked, face scrunched as he tried to remember.

The marionette stiffened next to the queen and Ruby shot Regina a panicked look, but the queen ignored them. She had twitched in surprise, but merely continued to smile at the little boy. "Yes, she was."

"What did her dress look like?"

"It was purple, but it didn't have as wide a skirt as mine and she was fonder of ruffles than I am."

Henry nodded wisely, as if that was what he'd thought all along, before looking down the table. "Oh! Aunt Gina, can I go get some of the potatoes down there?"

"We have potatoes right here, dear."

"I know, but theirs looks better," Henry explained patiently.

"If you think so, then you may go. Just be careful not bump anyone else."

"Thanks!" Henry said as he dashed off.

"I am so sorry. He was told not to mention her," Ruby began to babble apologies.

Regina had her calm, queenly mask up now that Henry had left and she merely held her hand up and Ruby closed her mouth. "It's alright, Miss Lucas. He is only a child and clearly caught up in the excitement. I am not angry."

Ruby seemed to sag with relief in her seat, "As you say, your majesty. I'll just go make sure he doesn't get into any trouble." She hurried off before Regina could change her mind.

The stable master still managed to convey disapproval, but Regina laid a hand on his arm, "I said all is well, Gerard." He seemed to meet her eyes and gave a low nod, turning back to his food.

Emma had kept silent throughout the exchange, but only one look at the blonde to her left told her the younger woman was bursting to ask questions. Regina sighed and took a drink from her goblet. "Lady Maleficent was one of my previous guests. I prefer not to talk about them, as everyone well knows, but I would not get angry at Henry when it was simply a childish mistake."

"Oh," Emma knew the staff refused to talk about previous 'guests', she'd only managed to figure out that there'd been two, a man and a woman, and she couldn't get any more out of anyone beyond that. "Well, I don't want to pry…"

Regina gave her a look of such disbelief Emma laughed. "Okay, so I kinda live to pry, but not if it makes you upset."

"I know, dear." Regina sighed once more and reached for an apple fritter. "Maleficent came here, oh, seven or eight years ago by castle standards, but at least fifty years ago by your standards. She was a powerful sorceress and had heard rumors of my castle and our plight. She came to see what truth there was to those rumors."

Emma listened eagerly, noticing that, while they tried to be subtle, none of the people around them were talking loudly or eating much—obviously eavesdropping.

Regina either didn't notice or didn't care and went on, "She managed to find the castle, since it's far easier to come than it is to leave—as you know," she added with a sly smile. Emma shivered remembering the crazy wolves and glared lightly. Yes, she did happen to remember, but thank you for the reminder, her eyes seemed to say. Regina grinned, showing all her teeth like she'd heard her disgruntled thoughts before taking another sip and her eyes grew slightly unfocused as she thought back. "I suppose I intrigued her. Certainly my magic did, as well as my collection of spellbooks, and the unique curse this place is under. I enjoyed talking to someone new, someone who shared my magical gifts, and she gave me the first hope I had that we could lift the curse—one way or another."

Emma ignored the almost jealous feeling in the pit of her stomach at the thought of just how the pair of witches had thought they could break the curse. "But obviously it didn't work," she couldn't help but say.

Regina seemed startled out of her memories. "Yes," her eyes focused back on Emma, her purple eyes drawing the blonde in. "Obviously. Our magic wasn't enough and it began to have…adverse side-effects on the castle." Emma saw someone from the corner of her eyes shiver as if they remembered some of those side-effects personally. "Eventually, we had learned all we could from each other. While it is impossible to make it out of the castle alive by normal means, I have never had problems sending anything besides myself, and the others cursed, away and her magic was the same. She had been very clear, from the beginning, that she had chosen to come here and would leave whenever it suited her."

Emma tried to read Regina's expression and between the lines of the story. "So she just picked up and left one day?"

Regina made a careless gesture with her hand. "She had other ambitions. Remarkably obsessed with shape-changing and unicorns. Strange woman really."

Emma nearly made a comment that Regina really didn't have the grounds to call anyone else's life strange, but the purposely dismissive and almost brittle quality to her tone made the blonde keep her mouth shut. "She sounds like an interesting person. Though I'm not sure you could be boring with a name like 'Maleficent'."

That brought a small smile to Regina's face. "A fair point."

Emma grinned back at her, feeling far too proud of herself for earning such a small smile. Henry came back a few seconds later, causing the women to halt their impromptu staring contest.

-x-x-x-

The instruments had been playing relatively quietly in the background while they ate; now they began to play with new vigor, drawing everyone's attention. Regina's smile widened and she met Gerard's nonexistent eyes. She nodded to him and he stood while she turned to Emma. "It is tradition for the Queen to have the first dance before inviting others to join in. If you'll excuse me."

"Of course," Emma said with a smile, relieved she didn't have to dance alone with Regina in front of all these people. She did wish she was more confident in her own dance abilities and could do this with her, but mostly she felt relief. Perhaps she could muster the courage to ask for a dance later in the night, when less of a spotlight would be on Regina. So she ignored the small twinge, which was definitely of jealously, as she watched the pair take to the floor.

Gerard's suit was black with blue undertones, matching his wife's dress. Said wife seemed to be friendly with Regina, though not as much as her husband, for all she talked enough for the both of them; she also did not seem to begrudge the queen the first dance with her husband, smiling cheerfully after the pair.

The orchestra struck up a dramatic tune and Regina looked breathtaking as she spun around the floor. She clearly loved dancing, her face lit up with pleasure, her hair whirling ever so slightly around her, Emma fought the urge to sigh after her. The first song bled into the next one and other couple began to join them on the dance floor. After the third dance, Gerard's wife went to dance with him while the head seamstress took his place dancing with Regina.

-x-x-x-

Emma had been coaxed into one dance with Henry, mainly for fun, before retreating back to her seat to alternatively chat with some of the people still seated and watch Regina longingly—although mostly the later. Ruby rolled her eyes when she came back to the table to find her.

"Come on, Swan. I didn't give you all those lessons for you not to use them," Ruby cajoled. Emma blushed a little. It was true. She'd rather insistently dragged Ruby off at least once each day since the idea of the ball had sunk in, remembering Ruby's mention of dancing with the queen before. Emma knew some dances, but none of them were the type typically danced at balls.

The lessons had been rather painful in the beginning, mainly for Ruby's feet, but Emma had improved and was now a perfectly adequate dancer. Ruby nudged her, "You'll be fine. Just go ask."

It was only after even Henry had danced with the queen, giggling the whole time while she positively beamed, that Emma gathered the courage to ask her herself. "Alright. Alright." She took a deep breath and stood while Ruby tried to contain her glee. "Alright." The narrowed eyed glare Emma shot her let her know she was not succeeding.

The current waltz came to an end and the friends made their way to aunt and nephew. Henry was balanced rather carefully on Regina's feet, still swaying lightly while Regina looked down at him, oblivious to anything else. Ruby tapped the queen on the shoulder, "Mind if I borrow your partner, your majesty?"

Regina spotted Emma, just behind her and so she smiled, "Not at all, Miss Lucas." She helped the boy down and stifled a laugh at the exaggerated bow he gave Ruby before she drew him away in a dramatic waltz that literally lifted him off his feet to his supreme delight.

The two women watched them leave with fond smiles on their faces until Regina turned around and lifted an eyebrow challengingly to her blonde companion.

Emma's nerves returned to her before she caught the teasing glint in Regina's eye. Tonight it was easy to forget that this lovely queen was the same cursed woman she'd been getting to know for months. The look in her eyes was the same though. Emma smiled and offered an only slightly less overdramatic bow than the one the little boy had offered Ruby. When she straightened her eyes held a similar glint in them, "May I have this dance, my queen?"

Regina had to work hard to keep hidden the sudden wave of warmth that pulsed through her at hearing Emma refer to her in such a way. She knew a few others had done so in the past, but she certainly can't remember any who said it in such away and caused such a visceral reaction in her whole body. She tamped down on her magic, which threatened to literally make her glow, and smiled widely instead, "I would be delighted."

The pair made their way to the center of the dance floor as other couples moved out of their way. Before Emma knew it their hands were clasped, Regina's other hand on Emma's hip while Emma's arm was around Regina waist. Emma's breath caught at being so close to Regina, the fancy fabric of Regina's skirt the only thing really stopping them from being pressed up against each other. "I'm not very good at this," Emma found herself warning her partner.

"Nonsense," Regina said with a rather smug smile. "You simply need a good partner."

That helped Emma regain herself. "Oh?" she replied as they whirled around, the other guests easily forgotten. "Any idea where I might find one?"

"Hush, you." Regina swatted her hip lightly, but the admonishment was ruined by her wide smile. Emma simply grinned back.

Once Emma began to feel more comfortable with the dance and less like she was about to crush Regina's poor toes, she decided to take a chance and ask something their earlier conversation had brought to her mind. "Henry implied that Maleficent was around for a ball but your other 'guest' wasn't."

Regina blinked in surprise at the topic, but was in too good a mood tonight to let the past put a damper on it. Besides, she knew Emma had been curious about previous guests and, while she hadn't cared much in the beginning, she found she wanted to dissuade the blonde of her assumptions, most likely being that she had murdered them or some other such thing. "Yes. Graham arrived relatively soon after a ball and did not stay for long. He came a decade or so before Maleficent, just after I achieved my control over my cursed form. I warn you, it is not exactly a happy tale."

Emma merely continued to watch her eagerly as they swirled around the dance floor, neither woman noticing how the other guests watched them, almost eagerly. Regina continued without prompting as it was obvious that Emma wanted to hear more. "He was a forester and heard tales of the demonic wolves. He was very close to wolves, I believe some had looked after him in his youth, and wanted to prove to the locals that there were no "man-hungry" wolves. It took him a week of camping out to stumble upon the castle. I confirmed their existence and so he then tried to meet them himself, despite my warnings."

Now she could see some worry on Emma's face, but she was glad it was not of Regina herself, just because of a good story. "He tried to leave the castle, as you did, but purposely seeking out the wolves. He found them. He could tell immediately that they were not normal wolves, but he refused to believe they would hurt him. He attempted to talk to them, to communicate, but after a while they did attack."

Emma was beginning to be sorry she asked because she did not like the way the pain and regret looked on Regina's face. "I tried to save him, but he refused to let me hurt the wolves at all. I was able to drag him back to the castle the first couple of times, and he would manage to get them to wait a minute or so longer before attacking each time." Regina shook her head sadly, "I knew the time would come though when they would overwhelm me or realized he wouldn't let me hurt them. When that time came, instead of hurting them or letting them hurt him, I managed to transform him into a wolf himself."

Emma blinked at her in surprise, "You can do that?"

Regina nodded with resignation, "With enough preparation, yes. It wasn't easy but it seemed the only thing to do at the time. Perhaps I should have simply saved him, wiped his memories of his time at my castle and sent him away."

Emma frowned, "I guess, but he was a grown man, he knew what he was doing. He had to know how dangerous it was. It was his choice."

Regina gave a small smile, "I like to think so." She shook her head as if to rid herself of such sorrowful thoughts. "Enough of that, how about you tell me where you learned to dance?" she asked with a wicked grin.

Emma blushed slightly and made a face at the brunette, "I thought I was doing pretty good!"

Regina simply raised her eyebrows until Emma began to tell of her dance lessons the past few weeks and the couple continued to waltz, barely noticing as one song blurred into two, which blurred into five, completely caught up in one another.

-x-x-x-

As the notes of the next song began to fill the air, Emma felt her nerves growing. The music was beginning to speed up and she had never really moved beyond the slower and basic dances. Regina seemed to sense her growing nervousness and gripped her tighter, "What do you say, Miss Swan? Are you up for this one? You've had it easy so far."

Emma flushed, "I don't know this dance well is all; I think I tried to practice once? It was one of the ones that didn't go very well." That was an understatement, this dance, now that she recognized the tune, despite its drawn out beginning, was the one that had resulted in a bruise that refused to go away for a week. "Perhaps I should wait for the next waltz."

Regina noticed that Emma was quite anxious, despite the fact that she'd been doing very well for herself until now. It was strangely endearing to see the usually brash young woman so unsure of herself. Still, that would not do. "What if I provide a little assistance?"

Emma met her eyes questioningly. "What do you mean?"

"Would you be adverse to a simple spell? I can enchant your shoes so that they know the steps and you just have to stay upright, if you think you can manage that much?" Regina offered.

Emma gave her a mock glare at the slight to her balance and nibbled her lower lip lightly as she considered it. She was enjoying dancing with Regina a lot, but she didn't want to make a fool of herself—or step on the queen's toes. But… She took in Regina's expression. "…You really like this dance, don't you?"

Regina flushed, "I… It is one of my favorites, yes. You don't have to dance with me any longer if you truly don't want to, you know that Emma, don't you?"

"I know," Emma replied confidently before giving Regina a brisk nod. "Yes. Some magical help and I'd be happy to keep dancing."

Regina sent her such a wide smile that Emma knew whatever might happen was worth it. She then felt a small amount of tingling in her feet and then they corrected their position ever so slightly.

"There we go," Regina said with a satisfied smile. "And just in time too."

Sure enough, the music had just reached the point at which the dance switched from a fast waltz to a much more complicated and even faster step.

Emma was surprised that, between her newly enchanted shoes and Regina's confident hold, she was having no trouble keeping up. She let out a laugh of delight that Regina echoed, her eyes shining. In fact, since she had no need to try to concentrate on where her feet were supposed to go, she was able to focus fully on the woman in her arms: the light perfume that filled her nose with the scent of apples, the delicate fabric of the dress and the warmth of the body under it, the way Regina's hand felt in her own.

Emma had never gotten more than a few steps into the dance and so was surprised by how long it was. By the end, she was out of breath and resolved to learn it on her own so next time she could do it without Regina's magical help. Maybe Regina could teach her.

"Perhaps now would be a good time for some fresh air?" Regina suggested. Her own cheeks had some good color to them, but the end of the dance had left Emma's face fairly red.

Emma nodded gratefully and the pair moved to one of the balconies that jutted out from the expanded room.

A gentle breeze brought the cool night air to brush their heated cheeks causing both women to smile gratefully. They found themselves against the railing enveloped in a comfortable silence, enjoying the break from the warm and crowded ballroom.

After a few moments of companionable silence, Emma spoke up, "Hard to see some of the stars."

"The light from the ballroom," Regina replied. "Most nights are fairly clear, aside from the season of storms. I was glad to learn the castle kept its view even after the curse."

"You like to stargaze?"

"Oh, yes. The castle has a better view than my childhood home did and the balcony view from my chambers when I first arrived was quite beautiful. My current rooms are close to the forest and so these days I go to the roof. That's where the best view is."

Emma went to make a note to see for herself—maybe she would even run into Regina up there—when another thought brought her up short. Instantly, her mood fell as she remembered she couldn't go out at night. She tried to quell her sudden anxiety. Instead she blurted out, "Will I be able to get into my rooms tonight?"

Regina frowned, "What do you mean?"

"I don't normally come back so late and my door will probably be locked by now," Emma explained, pushing down her trepidation.

Regina still looked puzzled. "Your door would never lock you out."

"Oh! Yeah, I guess that makes sense," Emma gave a nervous laugh. "Forget it."

"No. Something is bothering you."

"It's nothing," Emma refused to meet her eyes.

"No, it's not. Anything that upsets you is very important. What is it?"

"Regina…"

Regina reached forward, grasping Emma's chin with firm, but gentle fingers. She waited until Emma's green eyes met hers, "Tell me."

"My door," Emma admitted reluctantly. "It locks itself at night. Locks me in."

Regina let go, allowing Emma to retreat a little and regroup herself, ignoring the way Emma's warm skin had felt against her fingers. She had heard what Emma was not saying too, that the door being locked scared her. She remembered the blonde's comments in the past about how much she hated feeling trapped. She had made her a prisoner, Regina felt the guilt that went with that as she always did, but it was this that made her truly feel like one. Regina almost let out a bitter laugh at the irony because it was an accident.

"I—I wish you had mentioned this to me sooner," Regina said, looking out over the forest, so deceptively close. She could feel Emma's bewildered gaze on her. "In the beginning, when I was more beast that woman, the nights were especially hard. I had very little control." Emma gave a nod to show she was listening, although she didn't know why Regina was telling her things she already knew.

"During a more lucid period I decided to enact a spell to help protect the others. Complex spells were hard to work when I was like that so it seemed to be a good idea at the time. The spell magically locked all the rooms with people in them from around eleven to five so that I couldn't get in." A look of dawning comprehension grew on Emma's face. "It is no longer needed, but I never lifted the spell because it had become habit for everyone and all knew the rules."

"Oh," was all Emma could say.

Regina lifted a hand and made some sort of gesture that flared purple. "There. Now the door will only be locked when you physically lock it."

"Thanks," Emma said. It was that easy? She'd been panicking on and off about that door for months and all it took…. Slowly a laugh began to build up until she couldn't contain it anymore.

Regina looked startled and concerned as Emma suddenly burst into laughter beside her. She smiled tentatively, but mostly looked concerned and puzzled until Emma got herself under control. "I'm sorry, I just… It had really upset me and it was just a mistake."

Regina gave her a cautious smile, as if she wasn't sure if Emma was making light of it until Regina slipped up and Emma revealed how angry she actually was. To try and mitigate the damage she'd unknowingly caused she quickly offered, "I should make it up to you. I will show take you up to the roof sometime and show you the stars. We can have midnight dessert and I can point out the constellations."

Emma was about to say that Regina didn't need to do anything for her, but… she really wanted to look at the stars with the brunette. So she just smiled, "Alright." Regina smiled before turning back to look out over the forest. Emma mirrored her and they went back to enjoying each other's presence before Emma couldn't help but ask, "What kind of dessert?"

Regina laughed and turned to meet Emma's eyes once more. She was surprised to find the younger woman was much closer than she'd realized, the couple having unconsciously gravitated closer together. The sudden proximity sent her heart racing and her magic tingling, or perhaps that was just the result of Emma's presence. Either way Regina began to feel a bit lightheaded. What had Emma asked?

Emma was positive that Regina's eyes were deeper and more purple than ever before. Maybe it was because the strange eyes, in a way, suited the beast-sorceress-queen, but on just Regina they managed to look truly breathtaking. She felt as though she could stare into them for hours, following the swirls and eddies the purple magic created, but it was really the breadth of emotion her eyes managed to convey that drew Emma in so completely.

"I…" Regina began, before finding the thread of the conversation once more. She smiled indulgently, "Whatever you wish."

Emma grinned back at Regina, barely aware of what they were talking about. She found her gaze darting from mesmerizing eyes to full red lips, so close to her own.

Regina felt her breath even out, caught in Emma's shinning eyes, as she wondered how she'd ever gotten so lucky to get to know the woman standing next to her. Her hand, still clutching the balcony railing itched to find its place on Emma's waist once more, where it had been while they danced. Her other hand, previous hanging limp at her side, reached up to a stray strand of blonde hair that had come loose from Emma's braid and tucked it behind her ear.

Emma's breath faltered as Regina leaned that little bit closer as her hand gently push her hair aside. She suddenly needed to be even closer. If she just gathered the courage and pressed her lips to Regina's, only an inch or so away from her own…

"Aunt Gina! Emma!"

The sound of Henry's voice, so close to the corner of the balcony they'd inadvertently hidden themselves away in, had the women springing apart automatically and looking around in dazed confusion. A little boy's head popped into view, pushing aside on of the curtains that hung by the entrance back to the ballroom. "There you are," the boy whined plaintively before yawning widely.

A split second later, a harassed looking Ruby came into view. She was panting and blushed when she saw how close Regina and Emma were still standing and the looks of surprise and confusion still adorned their faces—all clearly pointing to the fact that the little boy had interrupted a private moment. "I'm so sorry," Ruby said, mortified.

Henry merely yawned once more before running over to them, burying his face against Regina's waist. She leaned down and scooped him up. He snuggled into her, "Ruby said it was time for bed, but I wanted to say good night to you first. You too Emma," he added, blinking sleepily at the blonde.

"That was very thoughtful of you, Henry," Regina said, any hint he'd disturbed the couple completely hidden behind one of her impenetrable masks. Henry nodded against her, worn out from all the excitement.

Emma leaned forward to ruffle his hair lightly, "Long night, kid?"

"So much fun," he mumbled into Regina's neck causing both women to chuckle softly. They made the unspoken decision to begin walking back to the room.

Ruby waited for them by the curtain, clearly charmed by the sight, although looking rather tired herself.

"I'm sorry," she said again, but softer. "He was off and going between people out of reach before I could catch him."

"It's alright, Miss Lucas," Regina reassured her. "In fact, I think I'll take him to bed myself." She nudged the little boy a bit, "Say goodnight to Emma, dear."

"'Night, Emma," Henry said, raising his head just enough to meet her eyes.

The blonde smiled fondly, "Good night, Henry."

"I'll be back in a few minutes," Regina promised, before disappearing in a whoosh of purple smoke.

Emma continued to stare at the spot she'd been with a small smile.

"So…" Ruby spoke up, wondering if Emma had forgot she was even there. Emma jolted back to herself, turning to look at the wolf girl. "I hope Henry didn't interrupt anything," her tone was half teasing, half apologetic.

Emma rolled her eyes, but couldn't suppress her blush as she remembered what she'd been thinking about doing before Henry came. Ruby's grin widened, but Emma just shook her head and sighed. What had she been thinking? Trying to… Silly really. Henry had saved her from Regina having to slap her, most likely. "Nothing," Emma sighed, half to herself, half to Ruby, causing the other girl's smile to fade. "Nothing at all."

-x-x-x-

Regina did come back, although later than she had expected—something about Henry having woken up enough to ask for a bedtime story. It was later than either of the women had realized though, time having passed them by quickly, and the ball began to wind down soon rather than later.

They danced and talked and ate some more of the many delicious desserts, kept perpetually warm by Regina's magic, but didn't find themselves alone together for the rest of the night.

Finally, Regina went to escort Emma back to her rooms. "What if I want a bedtime story?" Emma joked as they made their way down her hallway.

Regina chuckled, "You're a big girl Emma Swan, read it to yourself."

Emma grinned back before pulling on a false pout, "What if I asked really nicely?"

Regina just laughed harder at the ridiculous face. "You look like a puppy, Miss Swan."

That made Emma laugh too, "Can't blame a girl for trying. And little kid books are so much more fun than adult books. All simple characters and 'happily ever afters'."

Regina nodded, "I know, but that's the problem with growing up." She sobered slightly, "You learn not every story ends happily."

The quiet comment made Emma's heart ache and she found she didn't want to end such a perfect night on such a sad note. She gently nudged her shoulder as they came to a stop outside her door.

"Some still do. Your story's not over yet," Emma said as she turned the knob of the door that led to her rooms. "There's still time for a happily ever after." She winked before slipping inside, missing the gentle smile that had spread over Regina's face and the way the glimmer of hope in her eyes, the one Emma had nurtured slowly over her stay here, had grown.

-x-x-x-

It was only a week or so later that Regina realized she should have known it couldn't last. That time was never on her side. That she didn't get 'happily ever after's. She looked up, concerned by the look on Emma's face as she rushed into the room.

"Something's wrong with Mary Margaret."

-/-

A/N: I had hoped to get this out much closer to the beginning of May and then start on the next chapter, but that obviously didn't happen. And despite my semester basically being the worst thing ever, and my worst grades ever, it is done. However, I have a really important internship, even more important in light of the fiasco of the past semester, that is all of June and July so I can't promise anything about when the next chapter will come-only that it will eventually.

Thank you all for being so patient and reading and following this story even though its been over a year since I started it (holy crap has it really been that long?). Extra special thanks to those who take the time to review. :)

P.S. Hope the ending isn't too mean (Although, come on, you had to know something would go wrong) ;)