You do not have to walk on your knees - Once Upon A Time ; Emma/Regina ; 3000 words ; Part 2 of 3. [Part 1 here.]
Regina and redemption, take two. It goes better this time. (Featuring Charming family bicker fests, Emma failing at gallantry but winning at snark, complicated deception, pretty leaves, and Regina contemplating kissing. Strictly figurative kissing, that is.)
2. meanwhile the sun
“Emma,” Snow White says, “what have we told you about bringing evil queens home?”
“Don’t worry,” Emma smirks. “It’s just this once.”
Charming isn’t quite so poised. “How do you know we can trust—”
“Because we can,” Emma interrupts firmly. “And that’s the last time we’re having this conversation.”
Regina can’t resist flashing a smile his way.
“I’m never going to like you,” Charming informs Regina with a sneer that looks fairly laughable on his heroic face.
“Heartbreaking,” Regina drawls.
“Stop it,” Henry orders. “We’re all on the same side now. We can’t waste all our time arguing. We have to figure out how to defeat Cora and Hook.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve got any tips for us?” Charming demands, glaring at Regina.
“My mother seems increasingly infatuated with the idea of world domination,” Regina replies. “So that ought to go well. Hook doesn’t talk about much besides vengeance and your lovely daughter.”
“Regina,” Snow says, her eyes wide and sweet and noble as ever. Regina feels her old hatred kindling. “I know you and I will never be able to mend our past. But now there are things more important than the past at stake.”
Henry looks to her, hopeful.
“I agree,” Regina forces herself to say. Henry smiles, just slightly, and immediately the words feel worth the loss of pride.
“Good,” Snow says briskly. “Now, what do you suggest we do?”
“I doubt my mother will tolerate my absence for long,” Regina says. “And there’s no way I’ll be able to conceal that I’ve been spending time with you. She’s always had a knack for discovering my secrets. So I thought I might tell her that you came to me and I managed to trick you into believing that I’d had a change of heart. And now I’ll have access to all your plans.”
“So, the truth,” Charming scowls.
Snow elbows him in the side.
“So you’d be like a double agent?” Henry says. “That’s awesome.”
“You think she’ll fall for it?” Charming says skeptically.
“I think she has very little faith in goodness,” Regina answers. “Or love. And she knows very well that my hatred of you all runs deep. She won’t doubt my loyalty to her.”
“Question,” Emma says. “Are you planning to bring up how much you hate us in every conversation, or ... ?”
“Depends,” Regina answers sweetly. “How often do you plan on reminding me?”
“Don’t worry,” Henry tells his grandparents. “I think they mostly argue because they like it.”
“Do not!” Emma protests.
“That’s ridiculous,” Regina snaps at the same time.
Snow, Charming, and Henry stare at them.
“I fail to see how this relates to planning to save Storybrooke,” Regina says tersely.
“Yeah, you guys,” Emma says, disgruntled. “Come on.”
When Regina returns home, it’s with Emma escorting her through the barrier like a gentleman helping a lady from her carriage.
“Right,” Emma says, and holds out her hand. “I guess ... let’s ... right?”
She wiggles her fingers.
Regina sighs the sigh of the deeply long-suffering, and condescends to place her hand in Emma’s. She ignores the faint, lovely current of whatever-it-is that ignites when their fingers touch. An unfortunate side effect of the magic, that’s all.
“Peasant,” Regina murmurs under her breath, to bring some equilibrium to the situation.
“Hey. Princess, thank you very much.”
“A princess isn’t born,” Regina declares, and immediately feels too much like her mother for comfort. “She’s made.”
“Yeah, well,” Emma huffs, “sorry for not being princessy enough for you, Queen Snobs-a-lot. I’ll make sure to curtsey next time.”
Regina decides to not even touch upon her new nickname. “I shudder to imagine how that might look.”
Emma rolls her eyes, then more or less yanks Regina through the barrier. And just like that, here she is – back in her prison. Emma lets go of her hand at once. It’s oddly disorienting.
To distract herself from her inconvenient breathlessness (damn magic), Regina remarks, “It’s good to know you’re an exemplary manhandler no matter the situation. Rescuing someone from a fire, guiding them through a magical barrier—”
Emma shrugs. “Back in the day, it came with the job description. Besides, you didn’t die in a fire or dissolve into magical dust, did you?”
“No,” Regina admits grumpily.
“See?” Emma grins.
“Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you’re not exactly enchanting either.”
They stare at one another crossly for a moment. Regina tries not to pay much mind to the way standing in front of the barrier seems to make Emma’s hair glow even more golden.
“Well,” Regina says at last. “Goodnight.”
“Yep,” Emma agrees, and shoves her hands into her pockets. It’s so unmistakably awkward that it stirs some strange twinge of feeling in Regina – something she’s only used to feeling toward Henry. It’s not unlike fondness. “See you around, Regina.”
“Yes,” Regina murmurs as Emma steps back through the barrier. “You will.”
Regina goes inside and tells her mother everything.
“They can’t really be foolish enough to trust you,” Cora says, narrowing her eyes.
“Believe me, Mother,” Regina says, “you underestimate their foolishness.”
A few days later they go out into the forest together, because Emma wants to learn more about her magic, and she seems to have decided Regina’s the one to teach her.
“It’s either you or Gold,” Emma explained, “and I’m getting really, really sick of Gold.”
“But not of me?” Regina challenged. That earned her a long, exasperated stare.
“Shut up,” Emma said at last. “Let’s go.”
And so here they are.
They stand in silence for a long moment, staring at the forest around them.
“So,” Emma says, energetic. “Where do we start?”
Regina considers. Then: “Knock down that tree.”
“So we can see if you can knock down the tree.”
“But then the tree’s knocked down. That seems like a waste of a perfectly good tree to me.”
“Then for the second part of our little experiment, we’ll see if you can mend the tree,” Regina says impatiently.
“Is fixing things as easy as destroying them?” Emma asks. It’s a genuine question, not a dig.
“No,” Regina says after a moment.
Emma stares at her, then seems to decide staring isn’t the best idea. She moves her eyes quickly to the tree in question.
“Fine,” Regina says briskly. “Make the leaves dance, then, if you’re such a virtuous princess. It must be hereditary. Perhaps next you can have a chat with a bird.”
“Yeah, I am never doing that,” Emma says with a short laugh. “And ... how, exactly, am I supposed to make anything happen? Don’t I need, you know, spells? Magic books? A cauldron or something? A broomstick?” Her eyes light up devilishly. “Hey. Did you ever ride a broomstick?”
Regina ignores her. “For more advanced magic, yes, those things are necessary.” Emma opens her mouth to say something obnoxious. Before she can get it out, Regina interrupts, “Broomstick not included.” Emma’s face falls. Regina smiles. “But this is simple. All you have to do is visualize what you want to have happen, and let your power guide you.”
“Um,” Emma says. “Okay. Right. That sounds simple enough.”
“It is,” Regina replies, a tad smugly.
“Okay. Um. Okay.” Emma stares down at the leaves blanketing the forest floor. Regina watches Emma.
“Do I, like, talk to them?” Emma asks after a moment. “Maybe in a rhyme?”
“No,” Regina says flatly.
“Okay then,” Emma mutters. “Um ...”
“Don’t be so tense.”
“Sorry. It’s kind of a lot of pressure!”
“It’s leaves, Miss Swan. Don’t over-stress the gravity of the situation. You’re going to pop a blood vessel.”
“I am not.”
“You look like deranged. Loosen up.”
“Says the most uptight person I’ve ever met in my whole life—”
“Believe me, I’m not.”
Regina places an impatient hand on her shoulder. “If you’re always this tense, then you’ll never be able to—”
All at once, the leaves swirl up from the forest floor in a flurry of gold, brushing against one another like eager whispers, and then hang suspended in the air above their heads.
“Whoa,” Emma says.
For once, Regina has to agree with her.
“How do you feel?” Regina asks after an hour’s practice. At first, Regina had to touch Emma’s arm each time in order to get the magic flowing – tentatively, of course, with the air of someone picking up a tarantula (actually, Regina likes tarantulas much better) – but after awhile, Emma came into her own. Watching her levitate leaves with such a silly look of fear and wonder on her face ought to have made Regina furious. Here the precious savior was, stealing magic from her just like she’d stolen everything else. But somehow, the feeling doesn’t accompany the expectation of it. She’s just so relieved to be out in the open air, instead of trapped in that house; that must be what keeps her temper even.
“I feel good,” Emma says. Regina can practically feel the energy coming off of her. “Just – you know, like the first sip of coffee in the morning, or a runner’s high, or a really great o—”
Regina lifts an eyebrow.
“—range Julius,” Emma finishes awkwardly.
“Nice save,” Regina deadpans.
Emma mock curtsies (she’s not half bad at it), then sinks down onto a log.
“You don’t feel it taking you?” Regina asks, trying to sound offhanded. She remains standing.
“What do you mean?”
“Like you’re being hollowed out,” Regina says. She keeps her eyes carefully trained on the forest floor. “And replaced with something else.”
“No,” Emma says. “I feel like me. But – more, you know?”
Predictably, Regina feels a sharp stab of envy. This time, though, Emma’s bloody violent death doesn’t seem like the only solution. So at least she’s improving.
“I’ve never felt that way,” Regina confesses. “When I first used magic, I vowed never to do it again. I didn’t like the way it seemed to steal me from myself. But dear Rumplestiltskin wouldn’t take no for an answer. He said I showed such promise.”
“Why does that not surprise me?” Emma scowls.
“People don’t change much,” Regina answers.
“Sure they do,” Emma says. Regina finds it stupidly touching, and tries not to let that show on her face. Emma isn’t nearly as good at masking her emotions. Regina can read plainly that the woman is fighting with herself. At last, Emma ventures, “What did you want to do with your life? Before – magic, and all that?”
Regina can’t remember the last time someone asked her a personal question. People are usually so busy being disgusted by and/or terrified of her that they don’t show much interest in the nuances of her soul.
She decides to answer honestly. Might as well keep Miss Swan on her toes. First, she takes a seat on the log beside her, eliciting an ‘okay, what the hell?’ look from Emma. It’s strangely satisfying.
“Marry a stable boy and live on a farm,” Regina tells her. “Ride horses every day, and not give a damn if there was mud on my skirts.”
Emma snorts. “You on a farm?”
“Is that hard to picture?”
“Incredibly.” Emma goes quiet for a moment, then says, almost shyly, “You know, when I was a kid, I always wanted to live on a farm too.”
“Yeah. With a red barn, and cows, and lots of green grass, and fresh vegetables every day. But ducks instead of chickens. Chickens freak me out. But I like ducks.”
“Duck eggs are delicious,” Regina says, without really knowing why. This is a very foolish conversation. “And I always preferred the meat to chicken.”
Emma shudders. “You fairytale people are weird. You’re probably a big fan of chimera too, huh?”
“Hardly, Miss Swan. I do have tastebuds.”
“Well, there’s one thing we agree on.”
“It appears so.”
Emma meets her eyes. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Feeling absurdly brave, Regina responds, “Let’s see if we can keep it up, then, shall we?”
“Sure,” Emma says. Regina tries not to let any relief show on her face. It’s bad enough that she feels it at all. “I’d like that.”
“Me too,” Regina admits.
They stare at one another in silence for a moment. A long moment. Around them, the air twitches and breathes with small forest sounds. It’s strange to be in the forest here, with her. It’s disorientingly like being back home. She and Daniel used to steal away to the forest together, on the rare sweet occasions when they could find the chance. They’d kiss and talk for hours.
She wonders if Emma ought to be so close.
“Hey,” Emma says abruptly. “What do you usually put in Henry’s lunch?”
Regina’s so thankful for the change in subject – if staring uselessly at one another can be considered a subject – that she thinks she could kiss her.
Figuratively, of course.
Very, very figuratively. And only in the loosest sense.
And even then, there would be absolutely no tongue.
Primly, she recites, “A turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread – crusts cut off, naturally – with spinach, arugula, tomato, and black olives. Carrot sticks and pita chips on the side, and apple juice.”
Emma groans. “You cut the crusts off? Seriously? Oh, come on.”
“It’s not rocket science, Miss Swan.”
“Also: am I allowed to be not okay with you giving our kid apple juice? Or, like, anything involving apples? Ever?”
“Because naturally I go out of my way to poison my son’s juice boxes every day.”
“And what’s arugula?”
Well, now, that’s just too much. “You’re joking.”
“Do I look like I’m joking?” Emma demands.
The worst part is, she doesn’t.
“Oh, lord,” Regina murmurs. Then, louder: “Why? What did you give him for lunch?”
Emma suddenly looks remarkably like a deer in the headlights.
“We’ve been talking a lot,” she says with a light, nervous laugh. “We should probably get back to magic practice, huh? So much to learn! So much evil to defeat! It would be irresponsible to indulge in conversation, really—”
“Less talking, more magic! Come on, Queen Regina. Let’s do this.”
“If it involved Cheetos, so help me God, I’ll turn you into a toad.”
“You can actually do that?”
“I can do anything,” Regina says. It’s true. More or less.
“Yeah,” Emma grumbles, “including cut the crusts off.”
“How hard, exactly, do you think cutting crust off is?”
“That’s not the point! The point is that it’s ridiculous! It’s not like he’s royalty.”
Regina stares pointedly at her.
“Oh,” Emma says, realizing. “Damn it.”
“Damn it,” Regina agrees smugly.
“Well,” Emma says, “I’m not cutting any crusts off anything. Ever.”
“Forgive me if I don’t faint in shock,” Regina says.
“You, lady, are such a pain in the ass,” Emma accuses, but Regina thinks she can hear a laugh hiding under her words somewhere.
“Whereas you’re such charming company,” Regina says. “Really.”
“Finally,” Cora says when Regina steps in the front door that night.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mother. Did you miss me?”
Of course her mother picks up on the sarcasm. She’s inconveniently perceptive.
“You seem different,” Cora says after a long scrutinizing look. “Happy.”
“I’m a good actress,” Regina replies with a saccharine smile, and excuses herself for bed.
She doesn’t escape that easily.
“Regina,” her mother says, trailing after her down the hall. “I know you spent a decade treating that boy as your own. I know you must still feel for him. But he’s lost to you. He hates you. She’s poisoned his heart against you, and you have to let him go.” Regina stills. Her mother seems to like that. She comes up alongside her, her voice low and almost gentle. When she was younger, Regina could never quite resist believing the words spoken in that tone. “He’s not your true family. He’s always been hers. There is no magic stronger than blood.”
Most would say love. It doesn’t surprise her that her mother thinks otherwise.
“I know,” Regina says calmly, and wills herself not to curl her fingers into fists. Wills herself not to reduce the whole house to ashes with her fury.
Cora presses a hand to Regina’s face. Such motherly affection. “Do you?”
“Don’t worry,” Regina says, and puts a hand on top of Cora’s. “You taught me well. I know what the most important thing in the world is.”
“Power,” Cora surmises.
“My real family,” Regina answers, and presses a cold kiss to her mother’s cheek. Cora looks satisfied at that.
She sleeps in Henry’s room. Her mother has taken the master bedroom, it goes without saying. Regina doesn’t mind. She’d rather be surrounded by Henry’s things anyway. When she closes her eyes, there’s only darkness for a minute, and a feeling so big and awful that surely it could devour her from the inside out. Here she is, a grown woman, a mother herself, a destroyer of whole worlds, and still she’s trapped like an animal at her mother’s hands. What would Daniel think, to see her this way? He always yearned for her freedom almost as much as Regina did.
Then love again.
She allows her mind to drift from memories to fantasy. A farm with a big red barn, and endless green grass, and a stable full of horses. Lots of ducks and no chickens. She imagines walking outside in the early morning air with the sun on her face. Henry’s hand in hers, excited for the day to begin. Emma on his other side, maybe – no, not maybe, certainly – with her hair in a tangled mess of a ponytail and her eyes bright and amused. Maybe she’ll catch Regina’s eye when Henry’s distracted, and they’ll share one of those looks that parents certainly must share when they’re not going at it alone. Something unspoken and understood, simple and sweet and full of love.
To be continued!