Queen Regina's wedding day was now long since behind her, her memories of the event stolen and tainted by the years she had ruled beside King Leopold and posed as a mother for his now eighteen year old daughter, Snow White.
In those short six years, Regina had come to love Snow like she might one of her own. Leopold, she had soon discovered, was incapable of giving her a child. Or, Regina mused, perhaps there was fault on her part.
Her husband's needs in the bedroom dwindled with the knowledge, his demanding for her physical affection coming less and less frequently, though Regina could not find it in herself to be remorseful. If anything, quite the opposite. While Leopold was a good man and a fine ruler and father, his heart still belonged to his late wife. Regina had known this even before she married the man; she was always ever only a replacement figure for his young daughter.
The gods had been particularly favourable of Snow, Regina saw. With each year, her beauty was only enhanced. It was with a strange sense of pride that the Queen, still only of twenty and four years herself and in possession of much beauty, looked upon the young woman as The Fairest in all the Land. Snow would blush at her words, especially when her father joined in and, each day, referred to her with such title, but Regina would see a look in her eyes that had never been shared between her and her own mother. Cora had been a great many of things, but a nurturer she was not.
Regina knew, first hand, just how brutal a negative relationship between mother and daughter could be, and had vowed never to resort to her mother's methods of upbringing with Snow. Where her marriage was lacking in love, her relationship with the eighteen year old was not, and, with the age between them seeming to close with each year, their friendship only grew.
It was only when Regina realised just how fond she was of Snow White, however, that their relationship teetered over major complications.
"Hector, you should not be so bold," Snow teased.
She was beaming up at the young man walking beside her through the palace gardens, her eyes occasionally straying to the lush greenery around her. A coy giggle fell from her lips when Hector, with his soft hazel eyes and sandy hair, turned to her with amused, raised eyebrows. She lowered her tone, thinking of her step-mother walking just a few paces behind them with a cluster of palace guards, mere paces behind her, and told him, "Bold and honest… Just what a young man should be."
Hector's smile was small but filled with pride, and it was in his own lowered tone that he responded, "Perhaps not around a Princess – in her Kingdom, no less."
Snow smirked and refrained from rolling her eyes. "You only ever speak highly of me and my father's Kingdom," she countered, "and are you not an honest man?"
"Oh, I assure you, I have lied only once since entering your father's Kingdom," Hector began, smile turning sheepish, "and that was only when inquired over my trip to the palace."
Snow frowned as she recalled the conversation, and asked, puzzled, "Did you not travel well?"
The young prince averted his eyes bashfully and answered quietly, "I felt as though I had been travelling for many nights in only a few short hours."
He was quiet for a moment, and then turned to face Snow, her smile small but affectionate. "I was… quite nervous about meeting you."
"Am I that terrifying on paper?" Snow asked with feigned concern, but her eyes glistened in amusement.
Hector's laugh was short and breathy, and he once again met her gaze as he answered, "Heavens, no… in fact… I was determined to make a good impression."
Snow raised her eyebrows with a smirk as she probed, already knowing the answer, "And why where you so…determined?"
In truth, she had enjoyed Hector's company while he had been staying as a guest at the palace, but her affection went no further. Making light conversation with him was all she could do to ease the disappointment.
She had finally reached her womanhood and her father had deemed it necessary to look for a future husband, but he had told her quite seriously to settle for nothing less than true love. When she had asked him how she would know if she had met her true love or not, the King had relayed the story - as he often liked to - of how he had met her mother.
He had known from the first moment he had set eyes upon her, and when Snow's expression fell into one of concern, he had reassured her that sometimes it can take a little longer. But, either way, she would know when she met him.
A part of Snow wished desperately for her heart to increase its beats at the sight of Hector as he smiled bashfully across at her, but she knew she would never be satisfied as his wife. Not when she believed herself to already have found the one her soul wished to remain bound to forever.
Hector took in a breath and replied, "If I were to ask for Your Highness' hand in marriage, I should want the answer to be a positive one."
Snow smiled softly and stopped walking, as did he. Quietly, she told him, "If you were to ask… I should want my answer to be a positive one, too."
And she would, for the person her heart had attached itself to was entirely unavailable. The idea of it was ludicrous, she knew, and Snow hated the entire idea of True Love if it meant that she should never be happy in marriage without that one person she truly wanted.
But even Hector saw the sadness of her gaze, heard the tremor of her voice, and knew that he was not meant for her. As gentlemanly as always, he merely offered her a forced smile and excused himself.
At Hector's sudden departure, Regina frowned and stepped into place beside her step-daughter, waving a hand behind her to dismiss the guards back to their post as they neared the inner section of the palace gardens.
"Prince Hector seemed… upset," Regina began carefully, watching as Snow continued to face forward, her fingers brushing against a nearby bush as they passed it.
"Yes," she sighed, "I think he already knew what my answer would be to his marriage proposal."
Regina found herself satisfied with the answer and struggled to mask her smile. Upon turning, Snow caught the twitching of her lips and, curious, told her, "He was amiable."
"Oh, yes," Regina agreed, for she did not have a bad word to say against Hector. She just did not want him marrying her step-daughter.
"And… he would have made a fine husband."
Snow was unsure as to why she was defending the young prince, but found she was not the only one as Regina's eyebrows raised delicately at her words.
With a soft sniff, Regina turned from Snow's gaze and stated beneath a mask of distraction, "He would have made a fine husband, yes, but… he was not worthy of your heart."
Snow's smile was both amused and suspicious, her heart racing into an erratic thrum as she wondered aloud, "Then who is worthy of my heart?" The question was rhetorical, the young brunette knew, but that did not mean she already had the answer.
Turning to her, now, Regina's smile was soft and reassuring as she placed a gentle hand on Snow's upper arm.
"Worry not, dear, you will know when you find your true love," she told her, and as Snow captured her gaze, ice blue sinking into molten black, Regina suddenly felt as though an electric current had passed through her hand, causing her to instantly drop it from the Princess' arm. The tell-tale widening of Snow's eyes informed her that the younger brunette, too, had felt the peculiar sensation.
"It grows dark," Regina was quick to state, swallowing past the uncomfortable dryness of her throat. "We should return to the palace."
With a small frown, Snow watched her retreat and, after holding Regina's silhouetted back in a confused and curious gaze, followed her through the gardens.
# # # #
Snow White had seen very little of her step-mother since the incident in the gardens. Hector had long since left the palace, his farewell sweet but, she saw, quite pained, and her father, with him, had also left his Kingdom on business matters.
Snow was not surprised to hear that Regina would not be accompanying him on the trip, but the fact that her step-mother had yet to speak to her - and it had already been two days since her father had left - worried the young princess.
It was this worry that led Snow to slipping into her father's bedchamber, where she knew Regina would be hiding, late one night after dinner. The Queen, sitting at her vanity and preparing for bed, startled at the closing door, and her wide, dark eyes shot to hold Snow's sheepish form in the reflected glass of her mirror.
"Snow?" Regina asked, voice uncertain, as she watched the other woman pause at the door.
Snow sighed as she took in her Queen, brunette hair almost completely free from its tidy up-do, her evening wear - a deep navy, backless dress - hugging each and every curve even as she sat.
"What's wrong, dear?"
Snow blinked and her eyes snapped back to Regina's. Her legs felt unsteady as she entered further into the room, watching as Regina stood from her seat and stood waiting for her by the vanity table.
"You weren't at dinner," Snow stated, leaving the unasked question to hang like a stale smell in the air between them.
Regina nodded and said, "I had… pressing matters to attend to."
Snow thought she could taste bitterness as she swallowed the lie with the pretence of acceptance. "It must have been quite pressing, to occupy you for two whole days."
Regina felt the words like a slap and had to force down her annoyance at Snow's gall, but it was easier than it should have been to repress an ugly retort, and that fact alone only fuelled her anger.
"Yes," she agreed, voice tense, "I've been far too busy for our afternoon walks. I am Queen of your father's Kingdom, still."
Snow might have stomped her foot in irritation, but she held back. She was a lady now, a full grown woman, and that was not how Princesses acted. Even when enraged by their beautiful step-mothers.
"It is a wonder you should find time at all to stroll the gardens so leisurely with me," she retorted, "what with your schedule being so… busy."
Regina's brow furrowed and her eyes narrowed into a deep glare as she asked, "Why did you come here?"
Snow appeared to be momentarily thrown off by the question, the irritation on her face replaced by an impassive, guarded expression, and so Regina told her, "You should be asleep… in your own chambers."
Snow swallowed through the thickness of her throat and frowned. She took a step closer, and then another, until she was almost standing directly before Regina, and then her confidence faltered.
"I doubt I could sleep, now… the thoughts running through my mind…"
Regina's brow relaxed as she asked, quite concerned, "What troubles you, Snow?"
A hand rose almost on its own volition, palm pressing into Snow's pale cheek, and Regina was most surprised - and delighted - when her step-daughter let out a quiet sigh and closed her eyes, leaning into her warm touch.
"This troubles me," Snow practically whined, instantly mourning the loss of Regina's hand as she hurried to drop it from her cheek. Her eyes opened to reveal a grief-stricken blue, but the bright orbs found only stubbornness over the features of her Queen's face in return.
"I don't believe I know what you're referring to," Regina tried to mask, but she felt the pain settling heavily in her eyes and instantly dropped them to the floor, her gaze lurching around the bedchamber she shared with Leopold in the hopes of settling on something that would sufficiently distract her from the young woman standing before her.
"I think you do," Snow stated quietly, slowly, and she continued when Regina's eyes once again flew up to her own, "I see the way you look at me."
Her voice was nothing more than a whisper now, the silence around them preserving the Queen's shocked face.
"How my father would look at my mother…"
Regina's response was delayed, practised, but performed to perfection. "I love your father deeply-"
"No you don't." It was an easy interruption. Snow watched as the dark eyes before her coated with a glistening layer of unshed tears.
"I can't love you like that," Regina whispered softly, distantly feeling Snow take her hand as a hot burn travelled up her arm, stamping its searing brand over her heart.
Shifting ever closer, eyes wide and fearful, Snow confessed on a near silent breath, "I want you to. I want you to love me back."
Stunned into silence, the mere idea of Snow feeling anything towards her other than the fondness of a step-daughter proving ludicrous, Regina allowed her mouth to gape. Snow was quick to take advantage of her shock and stepped even closer, bringing them face to face and making it possible to lean in to close the distance. The kiss was chaste, soft, and filled each woman in turn with the most wondrous of feelings.
As Snow's insistent, pleading lips moved over her own, Regina lifted her free hand back up to the princess' cheek, closing her fingers around her blush. When they pulled back, eyes wide and gleaming, she reluctantly reminded Snow with a whisper and a pained smile, "We cannot have this, Snow… I am married to your father. If he were to find out…"
She allowed her words to hang, the threat an ever prominent presence around them, and softly shook her head. She doubted Leopold would be quite so merciful in his punishing of her, for of course he would see it as his lusty Queen seducing his young daughter.
Blinking away the threat, Snow couldn't help but plead, "My heart could belong to no other."
She felt the ground fall from beneath her when Regina captured her lips in her own once again, the gentle kiss sending her soaring high above the palace, freeing them both, if only temporarily, from the confines of their titles. Here, they were free to love, and Snow White was only sorry that the world they created through their mated souls was not a tangible place where their bodies could hide.
# # # #
"You're quiet," Leopold commented before lifting a fork to his lips, his musings lost to his chewing.
Regina sipped delicately at her wine and raised an innocent eyebrow, but before she could respond, she felt the soft tapping of a foot against her own. If the dainty foot wasn't enough to distract her, she then felt the naked toes slowly inching up the inside of her shin and fought against shooting Snow - the most likely perpetrator - a warning glare.
The foot's wondering presence had her leg shooting out of place from the intimate touch, knee jabbing the table, and Regina attempted to mask her gasp with a spluttering cough into her napkin.
"Are you unwell?" Leopold asked with a soft frown, swallowing down his mouthful of food with a large sip of wine.
Regina carefully replaced her glass and wet her bottom lip, meeting her husband's gaze. She told, "I confess I don't have much of an appetite for dinner." She swallowed thickly and chanced a quick glance at Snow, expression neutral, before excusing herself with, "I must take a rest to rid me of my headache."
"I can call for a healer," Leopold offered, watching his wife carefully stand from the table he and Snow were sitting at.
"That won't be necessary," Regina smiled, "I will sleep it off."
The King nodded his head once as he watched her go, continuing to finish his meal. He missed the amused smirk playing at his daughter's lips as Snow raised a glass to her mouth, struggling to hold back the laughter that wanted to burst from her throat. Regina was always so easy to fluster, and it excited Snow to no end knowing what effect she had on her.
Once dinner was finished, Snow spent little time in her father's company before the King was called to duty elsewhere in the palace, leaving the young woman to climb the tower to a familiar bedchamber alone.
"I wish you would not do that in front of him," Regina pouted as Snow's arms encircled her waist, her own hands brushing loose, dark hair out of her step-daughter's face.
Snow smirked in acknowledgement, Regina's embrace implying that she wasn't too upset over dinner. Despite how high the risks were, Snow knew she enjoyed a little danger…
Quick to close what little distance remained between them, Snow brought their bodies flush together, breast to breast, as she caught the other woman's lips in a searing kiss. Regina was the first to pull back, always cautious, but Snow's lips only moved to her neck, lathering her jugular in open mouthed kisses.
"You shouldn't be here," Regina attempted to say with determination, but her voice sounded weak even to her own ears. "We'll get caught…"
"No we won't," Snow gladly supplied to the crook of a warm neck.
Her words earned her a long sigh as Regina deflated against her, her arms wrapping loosely around Snow's neck, fingers tugging gently through long hair, urging Snow's lips back to her own for a real kiss. A moan was quick to dance its way around Regina's tongue as Snow leaned further into her, their mouths parting only when the gasping for air became essential.
"I wish we did not need to hide," Snow mused, eyelids heavy. "I want to be by your side forever."
Regina felt her lips trembling into a smile at her words. "I know, my love," she sighed, though the gesture soon turned grief-stricken.
Snow was about ready to curse the world for their situation, but the quirking of Regina's brow held her tongue at bay. "What is it?" She asked curiously, tightening her arms around her waist.
"I… might have found a solution," Regina offered slowly, cautiously, and to Snow's surprised and joyful expression, continued, "but the consequences would be dire."
"Go on," Snow frowned.
"Our love is not meant to be in this world," Regina began carefully, "but in another, it would be protected."
She saw recognition flash across the blue gaze holding her, and elaborated, "In this land, your father and my mother would go to great lengths to separate us for the sake of their Kingdoms, but in another…"
"How?" Snow asked eagerly, sure she could feel Regina's heart thrumming a pace just as fast as her own against her chest.
"I have spoken to the Blue Fairy," Regina stated. "She has agreed to grant us our wish."
Incredulity shone through Regina's smile, easily matched by the young woman in her arms, until she registered just what the uprooting from their world would mean.
"I would never see my father again…"
"No," Regina confirmed, smile faltering as she tightened her hold on Snow possessively. "We would see no one from this world again."
Snow's mouth opened to speak, wavered, closed, and then reopened. A stammered, "But…we'll be together," was forced out.
Regina nodded happily, letting out a gasp-come-sob of joy as the idea of being free to love Snow White finally settled over her.
"Then… I am yours," Snow beamed, tears suddenly filling her eyes as she nodded her head with vigour.
Regina allowed a soft chuckle to tumble from her lips as she swayed their bodies together, but her expression grew earnest as she said, "Come to me with your answer after a night of sleep. To hold lingering regrets would ruin whatever haven we could create for ourselves."
Snow happily shook her head, smile bright smile, and instantly overruled Regina's words with her own. "I could never regret any decision that bound me to you eternally."
# # # #
"Ms. Blanchard?" Mayor Regina Mills called as she entered the school classroom, her heels battering a rhythm along the wooden floor with each step.
"Madame Mayor," Mary Margaret grinned in greeting.
Regina matched her smile and, seeing as it was almost four p.m. and the school was almost empty of students, neared Mary Margaret and easily wrapped her arms around her petite waist, bringing their lips together in a long kiss.
"Mm, you taste like cinnamon," Regina smirked, pulling away from the kiss. "How's your day been?"
Mary Margaret shrugged easily, stating, "Well, we had a little accident with a tray of glue sticks and the water tank, but nothing I couldn't handle."
Regina nodded, eyebrows raised in amusement. "Well, you know what they say," she drawled, "live life dangerously."
Mary Margaret snorted a laugh and slapped Regina's backside in mock scolding as she warned her, "Anymore of that lip, Ms. Mills, and I'll be forced to use my paddle…"
Regina's laugh was both excited and husky, halted only when she pressed her lips back to Mary Margaret's. Their intimate embrace was interrupted only seconds later by the high-pitched whine of, "Mom!"
Turning at once, the two women faced their daughter without so much as a guilty expression.
"Do you have you bag and coat, Evie?" Regina asked with a smile, loosening her grip on Mary Margaret and dropping an arm from around her waist so as to be able to turn towards the dark haired six year old.
"Yup," Evie supplied with a smile, holding her raincoat and schoolbag up as though presenting a prize. "Can we go now?"
"Yes," Mary Margaret grinned, shooting Regina an amused look at their daughter's impatience.
"Don't give me that look, she gets it from you," Regina smirked, untangling their bodies as she moved to grab her jacket and bag.
Evie frowned at her parents - they had a habit of talking about her as though she wasn't in the room - and shrugged on her raincoat. "I'm ready," she announced, swinging her backpack over her shoulder and waiting for her mothers to catch up.
"She does not get that from me," Mary Margaret laughed, piercing her arm through her bag's handles and taking one of Regina's hands in her own as they left the classroom. Evie gladly led the way out of the school building, towards the parked Mercedes by the gate.
"Oh, because little Miss Snow White is perfectly pure in every way," Regina drawled, eyebrows raised in amusement, but the only response was an award winning smile.
"Well," Mary Margaret smirked, quirking an eyebrow, "I wouldn't say every way. Not after you were done with me, anyway."
An intimate laugh greeted her ears, and Regina's reply came after a quick kiss was pressed against her cheeks, tone low and soft. "I'll never be done with you."
"The door's locked," Evie suddenly cried, having tried the handle for one of the back door's in the Mercedes.
Regina pulled her car keys from her pocket and wiggled them around a little, eyebrows raised, before she clicked the little button which unlocked the car doors. Evie threw her a quick smile of appreciation and happily clambered in the back, pulling the door to a shut behind her.
The two women parted only when travelling to their respective sides of the car and, as seatbelts were pulled on and the engine was started, Mary Margaret questioned, "How has your day been, Eves?"
The car journey home was filled with the six year old's account of her day, and the pressing matter of what was going to be made for dinner. As anticlimactic as the journey might have been, both Mary Margaret and Regina found that it was the simple pleasures in life that really meant the most.
And, listening to their daughter chatter on about how she had painted the same picture with a brush, a potato and a sippy-straw in her art class absolutely outweighed whatever finery the life of a Queen, or a Princess, had to offer.