My dim eyes watched the retreating figures vanish from the room and I slouched against my ebony throne. It felt like I had been in this castle for an eternity now, but only a few weeks had passed. For all I knew, I had never left the comfort of these walls, yet the shadows that plagued my mind at night were a cruel reminder of what I had done.
Rumors had started to grow that the darkness had finally sucked my soul dry leaving me lifeless on this throne of obsidian. On certain days I would wave an apathetic hand to the common thief commanding the guards to set him free; I couldn't bear the thought of myself taking another life but my own. However, there would be days I would revert back to my old self and command execution as if the plagued journey on my mind had never existed.
It was needless to say that my picket-fence approach was causing concern in the villages below. I never showed my face to them unless they came to me. I didn't stay around for the executions; instead, I gave the right to my men before retreating up to my bedchambers to sit and stare blankly at the ceiling. But today was different; not in a grand way, however. This time I remained planted where I slouched even after the last shadows of the people had departed.
Part of me was expecting the Dark One to make an entrance as he had been doing abruptly every time I turned the corner. He had noticed the strange change in me the very moment I had arrived back to the Dark Palace, but every demand to find out what had happened on my journey was gifted with silence. Even if I had the will to voice what I had done, I would never tell him. It shouldn't have been any concern of his, but the fact that I was hiding something so devious irked him to no end.
Just outside the castle walls, there was a commotion between the Prince and the Queen's guards. The bounded woman behind him was being restrained by his own men despite the fact that she wasn't struggling. She had given up the notion to run days prior. At this point she had become anxious about seeing Regina once again which didn't ease her revolting stomach. Instead of sadness, there was now anger; it was answers that she wanted regardless of the situation she was in. If this was to be her end, then she wanted to die knowing why Regina had done what she had done because none of this made a bit of sense to her.
"I didn't come all this way for nothing. Her capture was promised a reward," James retorted.
The dark guard in front of him crossed his arms and raised his chin upward unbothered by the fact that the blonde was only a foot away from him. That was one of the most aggravating aspects of the Queen's guard. In their heads they were superior and only they could stand on top.
"I already told you. The Queen no longer has a warrant for her arrest."
"And what am I supposed to do with her?"
"That's not my problem."
James looked back towards Snow with a heavy sigh before turning around completely. He saw something swirling in her eyes, disappointment perhaps, but it didn't concern him.
Snow had been running for over a year now only to end right back at where she started. All of this time she had been struggling for her own life and now they were telling her it was hers to keep. Shouldn't that have been a relief? In fact, it was quite the opposite.
She watched him closely as he walked towards and untied her hands
"Looks like you actually were a waste of my time, thief," he muttered under his breath.
Suddenly she felt her weight being pushed forward as she stumbled towards the ground. She flashed a hateful glare upward at the blonde haired man.
"Your time? You men are all the same!"
"She's yours to deal with," James told the guard, "I hope the Queen is content with losing a perfect chance at an alliance."
With the sound of the carriage door closing and horses stomping away, the Prince and his men departed from the Dark Palace without a second glance back. Snow was now left on the ground without any of her supplies or dignity. She was a free woman though, right?
Finding her way to her feet, she came face to face with the guard who stood in front of the palace gates.
"I advise you take your leave before the Queen changes her mind, Snow White."
It was a fair warning, but one she didn't wish to take. She hadn't been dragged out all this way just to turn around and forget this ever happened. Why wasn't her head being severed? They didn't even want her as prisoner?
"Take me to the Queen."
She pushed back her shoulders and raised her chin.
"I'm in no mood for games, bandit."
"Neither am I. I demand to speak with her."
His dark eyes narrowed under the shadow of his helmet as his hand reached for his sword.
"If you don't leave I will take action."
A soft voice in the back of her head grew louder, questioning her sanity. Why would she invite death when she had the option to evade? But it was never like Snow White to take the easy route. No, she had proven that already to herself. If she could embrace the frozen heart of the mountains with just a bow and arrow, then she could take on an armed man empty handed.
"I dare you."
Faking movement to grab some hidden weapon, the guard withdrew his sword, but her movement was quick and slipped behind him, knocking him unconscious with her elbow. Or at least that was the plan.
He stumbled forward with a curse, but when he didn't go down her eyes widened. This definitely wasn't her finest hour especially when she decided to head towards the gates that couldn't be opened from the outside.
There had to be another way inside. She grew up in this castle! But everything had been distorted and changed beyond the point of recognition. Then suddenly the gates began to open miraculously as a group of people were departing from court. The Prince couldn't have timed his arrival any better.
"Stop!" the guard behind her shouted, "Don't open the gates."
But by that point they had fully opened as a hoard of villagers and farmers came through. Without another thought, Snow began to push through the crowd until she was on the other side, but she didn't stop. She continued to run towards the entrance of the palace.
It wasn't a smart idea. Of course it wasn't. She should have known better. She did know better, but she didn't want to listen to that voice. A quick glance backwards was when she realized that an arrow was flying straight towards her. She rolled forward, but shouted in pain as the arrow grazed her shoulder.
What the hell was she thinking?
The slamming of doors hitting the wall echoed throughout the throne room nearly causing my heart to slam out of my chest. I went to stand up and demand what the meaning of this way, but the heavy panting guard spoke before I could.
"Your Majesty, someone has broken into the palace."
This is it, I thought, they have finally come to overthrow me. Yet I couldn't find enough worry within me to care. Then his words hit me. Someone. One.
"What are you all waiting for then?"
"She's too fast and seems to know the place well, somehow."
"Are you telling me that—?"
The man looked out into the hallway where a set of guards were carrying a young brunette forward. I followed his gaze and as they approached her features became clearer.
"My Queen, we've captured the intruder."
The curl of her dark hair, the brightness of her eyes. Those were a complete giveaway as soon as I laid eyes on her. When it finally sunk in, a piercing pain hit me in the chest as a cloudy fog washed over me.
"Snow." Her name slid off my tongue like a sweet poison. It wasn't an acknowledgement of an enemy or a forgotten friend, but more like I was seeing a ghost.
They brought her before my throne and when they shoved her to her knees I almost reprimanded them for doing so. I inwardly grimaced at her bloodstained shoulder.
"But Your Highness," one guard argued.
It was when the room emptied that the shadows in the corner grew. They wanted to wrap around me and coax me into believing that this was just an illusion of my mind. I stood up and tried to meet her eyes, but every time I would falter. Closing my eyes, I took a shaky breath of air and allowed my monarch mask to slide over my face.
"Why are you here?"
If my words were shaky, she didn't acknowledge it.
"You took down the warrants."
The memory of her voice had been a haunting whisper and upon hearing it now I nearly shattered. I forced my eyes to meet hers and when they fell upon them I didn't see the icy hazel I was expecting, but instead a raging fire of anger.
"Does it matter?"
I took a step closer to her and noticed a thin crimson line under her eye. It took great strength not to lean down and wipe the blood away.
"It does to me."
"It shouldn't. You're a free woman now."
Snow looked as if she was going to rise, but then changed her mind. Or perhaps she couldn't. She looked awful. Skinnier and paler than I had remembered. Why had she come back all this way?
"I'm not leaving till I get answers."
I stared down at her trying to hold back the rampant emotions that were swirling within me. This wasn't how any of this was supposed to go. Snow White wasn't meant to willingly walk into my palace. No, she was supposed to be afraid. I was supposed to take her heart and crush it right before her eyes, but then again I wasn't meant to have feelings for a woman that I loathed for so many years.
"Why are you here?" I asked genuinely.
"I told you I want answers. Why didn't you kill me when you had the chance? Why did you make me believe—?"
"Why?" she trembled with rage, "Does it hurt you, Regina, to realize what you did? Have you finally found a way out of the shadows to see all the pain you've caused or has your heart finally blackened to the point of no return?"
My jaw clenched as my eyes began to sting.
"Snow, I'm ordering you to stop."
"Ordering me? What? Am I one of your servants now? Go to Hell, Regina"
Finally getting the strength to move, I watched as she rose from her knees and took a step towards me. We were nearly nose to nose. The scent of earth hit my nostrils like a breath of fresh air and for a moment I was in the mountains again. I was Wilma. And none of this had happened. But then the smell of iron snaked its way through and I laid eyes upon her bloodied shoulder once more.
"Out of all the ways you could have ruined my life you most definitely picked the best. So take it. Take my heart if that's what you want. Crush it. Because I have no use for it anymore, but before you do just tell why you did it and maybe I can die in peace. "
"I'm not taking your life," I said more softly than I liked.
Before I could register what she was doing, she had taken hold of my hand. The electricity that coursed through the second we had contact sent a shiver down my spine. She forced my hand against her chest right above her beating organ.
The nightmares began to spill over and outward all around me, but this time it was real. Those beautiful hazel eyes reflected an ache that I wish my heart could have understood, but out of all the agony I had been through in my life I don't think I could have matched what I saw there.
With little effort my fingers dipped inside of her chest and she gasped loudly, the sound reminiscent of a night I had tried to forget. Something was thumping against my fingers and when I glanced downward I saw her bright heart pulsating rapidly. However, the organ was flawed by three cracks, wounds time couldn't even heal.
I had a good idea of what they were from. One for every death of a loved one she had to encounter. Her mother. Her father. And Wilma.
And even though I was standing right here, disguise fallen, this was proof that I had caused more damage that I could ever undo.
"I know you'll never forgive me for what I've done and I don't expect you to forgive me," I spoke as I stared down at her beating heart with her hand wrapped around my wrist, not tightly but enough to keep contact. This is the moment I had worked up to, but it didn't feeling victorious. This woman had ruined my entire life or at least I had made myself to believe such. In reality it had always been my inability to stand up for what I believed in. My inability to gain control over my emotions and think for myself. I allowed the darkness to consume me and the only fault was mine.
"I had every intention of killing you, Snow. Every intention. But things didn't work out as I planned. I wasn't even meant to run into you as Wilma, but fate had another game to play and we both went along for the journey. I deceived you, my dear. I wish it could have played out another way."
For the first time in weeks I felt like the woman I had become in the past few months. My heart was exposed once again to Snow when in reality it was hers that was. I watched her look down at my hand, waiting for me to make the next move, but instead of doing what had been asked of me I slid her heart back into her chest.
Her hand squeezed my wrist as the organ fit back in place, but then it released and she opened her mouth to speak, yet nothing came out. I waited. Nothing.
She turned and headed towards the hallway with a slight limp in her leg, but I knew I could do nothing. We were both stuck in a fire that neither of us knew how to escape. I wish there was another way to fix this. I wanted to drop down to my knees and beg for her forgiveness, for her to see beyond this image of the Evil Queen; she once said she could forgive me, but I crossed the line the moment I laid hands upon her heart.