Bittersweet Destiny

10 years later...

Regina found Robin in their small stable. He had just finished tying their two horses to their family cart. Her presence went unnoticed by Robin and the two animals, who were too occupied, the horses eating hay and Robin loading the cart with their luggage and food basket. They had an eventful trip ahead of them.

"Good morning, Mr. Locksley," she greeted him, snaking her arms around his waist and resting her chin on his shoulder.

"Good morning, Mrs. Locksley," with a fluid movement, Robin twirled in her arms so that they were facing each other and placed a gentle kiss on her lips, "Ready for the trip?"

She nodded, "It's been long overdue, Robin," Regina said, her eyes finding Robin's jacket entertaining, "I made this promise a long time ago,"

"I know," he lifted her chin, "But I don't want you to do this out of obligation, but because you really want to,"

"I want to," Regina stated with a determined tone.

Robin didn't say anything else, he nodded in agreement and placed his lips against Regina's forehead, leaving them there for a moment. He closed his eyes and breathed in, enjoying the peace and quietness that they had grown used to ever since they moved back to the White Kingdom, following Leopold's death.

"Mom!" and the moment of peace was over, "Mom!" a little boy ran towards them "Henwy is bothewing me!"

Reluctantly Regina let go of Robin and started walking towards their small cottage house, picked the younger of their sons on her arms on her way, "Henry, what have I told you about picking on your little brother?" she asked her oldest son, who was running down the stairs.

"I'm not little!" Roland protested, "I'm almost fouw!"

"Why do I have to wear this stupid dress?" Henry asked his mother in a whining tone, not bothering on defending his actions against Roland "It itches and I can't breath," he added, pulling the shirt's collar.

Regina placed Roland in the floor, who after having accused his brother ran towards his father. "Stop fidgeting, Henry," she said and fixed the collar, "You have to wear this dress because it's Princess Emma's birthday, and we are going to the castle," she answered his original question. "Come along now, your father and Roland are waiting," Regina added, waiting for Henry to exit the house.

"Why does it matter?" the older boy continued complaining, as he dragged his feet towards the cart "Princess Emma didn't wear a stupid dress for my birthday,"

"Henry," Robin said in a warning tone, and the boy started walking properly, "We will go to the castle because the Queen is an important person to your mother,"

"She's important to everyone, she's our queen!" Henry rolled his eyes and climbed into the cart.

"She was more than that for me," Regina said, placing Roland in the cart and sitting between her two sons, otherwise they would start fighting in no time, "I think it's time to tell you how I met your father," the mother explained.

Henry had wanted to know how his parents met for a long time, but every time he asked either of his parents they'd say it was a story for another night. Robin and Regina had agreed on telling the truth to their children, leaving few gruesome details out - after all, they didn't have to know the whole story. Telling the story during the trip seemed like a good option, at least it would keep both children occupied. Besides, if things with Snow White went as planned, then there was no reason of hiding the truth anymore.

"Why did I have to wait nine years and Roland gets to listen to it when he's just four?"

"Do you want me to wait until Roland is nine to listen to the story?"

"No!" the boy was quick to reply, "Please, tell us the story,"

"Very well," Regina got a little bit more comfortable between her two sons, and Roland rested his head against her thighs, "Once upon a time..." she started.

The children were quiet for the rest of the trip, carefully listening to all the details that their mother told them about how the met and fell in love. Every once in a while, Robin would interrupt Regina to comment on the story in order to make it a little bit more magical to the children. Regina would look at him and pretend to be annoyed, but deep inside they both knew she found adorable how the man who never believed in magic now enjoyed it so freely.

"So, you were the Queen," Henry commented when Regina was done. "You were the fairest of them all!" he added, remembering how Snow White's step mother was addressed every now and then for special occasions (like her death's anniversary).

"Oh, Henry. That's just a thing the noble countrymen say to all their queens,"

"No, it's not," Henry shook his head and cross his arms, "You are the fairest of them all,"

Robin chuckled at his son's statement "In that we agree, my boy,"

Henry smiled at him and looked ahead, "Look! The White City!" he yelled, jumping from his seat and sitting next to Robin, "Faster, Dad, faster!"

And just like that, Henry's full attention had shifted from Regina's story to the city that they were visiting for the first time.

It was Princess Emma's first birthday, and no money was spared on decorating the White City, the Kingdom's capital. Little glass swans hung from the oil lamp posts, and when the sunbeams shone through them they lightened up the streets and walls. Pots filled with white tulips were placed in front of every shop and house, each pot had been decorated in a different way by the city's inhabitants. And kites flew throughout the skies, their bright colours contrasting with the electric blue sky.

The monarchs had also paid for food, drinks and cake for everyone to celebrate with them. Huge tables had been provided by the castle, they had been filled with both edible and non-edible decoration. They had hired magicians and musicians to entertain the people.

The Locksleys left their belongings in the inn where they would spend the night before making their way into the city. With Roland on Robin's arms and Henry grabbing Regina's hand, the happy family ventured through the crowded streets towards the main square. The good people of the kingdom were talking, and eating and dancing. It was, indeed, a huge celebration.

The music was suddenly stopped, but before anyone could ask what was happening, a man yelled above everyone's voices "All hail to your Majesties, Queen Snow White and Prince David, and to her royal highness, Princess Emma!"

Then, the castle's doors opened, and the royal carriage exited through them. Regina had seen the royal carriage only once in her life, when she had greeted the people after her wedding with Leopold. However, the carriage seemed so different with a radiant Snow White in it. Next to the Queen, her husband: the same shepherd that had caught the princess' attention more than ten years ago. David carried the princess in his arms and seemed even happier than his wife, for him the rest of the world didn't seem to exist, it was just he and his little Emma.

Regina couldn't help but to smile at the picture of the happy royal family. It had taken her a while to get it, but Snow White finally had a family that loved her.

The peasants bowed to their Monarchs, as the royal carriage made its way between the people. From the carriage, the King and Queen waved at their people, smiling and accepting little bouquets as presents for Emma.

As the crowd tried to closer to the Queen to present their gifts, Regina accidentally let go of Henry's hand, who had been trying to reach the queen too. The boy, sensing his freedom ran off to present his single rose to the Queen. Without thinking twice about it and the consequences her acts would have, Regina ran after him, reaching the boy just in time to see him giving the rose to Snow and say something to her. At first Regina couldn't imagine how had her son captivated the Queen's attention; but when Snow opened her eyes as saucers, realization hit her.

"Stop!" The Queen yelled to everyone's surprise "Driver, stop the horses!"

Regina froze - she wanted to talk to Snow White and tell her the reasons beyond the staged death, but she didn't want it to be in front of the whole country.

The carriage hadn't stopped completely and Snow White was already opening the door and jumping down. The King got off the carriage as well, with Emma in his arms and a confused expression in his face. A handful of guards motioned the people to take one step backwards to leave some space to the royals to walk around.

Regina saw the Queen talking to her son. And then, she saw her son turning his head towards where she was and pointing at her with a smile on his face. Snow followed the boy's index finger, towards where he was pointing, and then, her face lost all its colour. She took few steps in Regina's direction, not sure if the boy was telling the truth or if he was part of a rude joke.

When the two women were scarce feet apart, Snow let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. Now that they were close, she was sure that the woman in front of her was her former step mother.

"Regina?" she heard Snow's voice, so insecure as when she was a child.

"Your majesty," Regina bowed with grace; as if she had been born to bow, and not to be the Queen.

"Stand up, Regina," the Queen said. It was not an order, it was a request.

Regina did as Snow White said, and before she could say something to her former step-daughter, the Queen wrapped her arms around the other woman and gave her a tight hug. It took her by surprise at first, but when she understood what was happening she reciprocated the exchange of affection. Around them, multitude started to whisper, the older people had for sure recognized Regina's face and told to the younger who was the beautiful woman who was being hugged by the Queen.

"Come with us, please?" Snow asked Regina; again in the same tone she used to ask for favours when Regina was Queen and she a Princess.

"As you wish, Queen Snow,"

"Please, don't call me like that," the Queen protested, "And I want you to come, because you want to, not because the queen is asking. Do you want to come with us?"

"I'd like that, yes," Regina confessed, emphasizing her statement with a nod.

The castle looked the same, yet at the same time completely different. The paintings on the walls were the same, the carpets and curtains had not been changed since the last time Regina saw them; but the air no longer carried hate and fear, instead the environment felt very friendly - Regina even hear some maids humming while they did their chores.

They walked towards the gardens, where a very small brunch had been prepared for Emma's birthday. The course seemed like a private affair, because there were only three plates set on the table. Snow asked a young maid if she could bring four sets of cutlery and plates for their guests; then, the Queen sat on a bench, and motioned Regina to sit next to her.

Silence surrounded the two women, and even if it was not a tense silence, it had started to unnerve Regina. There were so many things she wanted to tell the young Queen, yet, the right words didn't seem to come to her mind. At the end, it was Snow who broke the silence.

"What I don't understand is how you are alive. I saw you dead!" when Regina didn't reply, Snow decided to continue talking, "Were you really that unhappy? Was it so bad to be my stepmother?"

"No! You were not the problem, Snow," Regina answered quickly, "You were just a child who wanted love, who deserved love. But I couldn't give that to you. Not while..." her voice trailed off.

"Not while my father was around," the other woman finished for her. Regina gulped, wondering if speaking ill of the late King was considered treason, "It's alright, Regina. I understood a while ago how your marriage to my father must have been, and I apologize for causing you so much pain,"

"It was not your fault, Snow," the former queen said, and took one of Snow White's hands on hers "None of the things he ever did, to me or to someone else, was your fault,"

"But I asked him to marry you," she replied, sounding so fragile, "I condemned you to that life,"

"Children ask for all sorts of things, Snow," Regina stated, "You'll see when Emma starts speaking, and it is up to the parents to take on their desires. If it would be up to Henry, he would live on a tree and walk in nothing but his underpants," she added, trying to lighten the mood and it worked because Snow chuckled.

As Regina had expected all those years ago, Snow White had been quite forgiving. The Queen had also asked Regina to tell her everything about the escape and her life with Robin; Regina didn't spare any details with her, she owed it to Snow to be honest.

"Would you consider moving into the castle?" Snow asked "I've missed you dearly. And I'm sure David and Emma could use some friends who are not part of the court,"

Regina looked at Henry playing 'Who's hiding there?' with Roland and the blonde baby princess; the younger children laughing every time Henry made a face at them. Behind them, Robin and David held an amicable conversation while they watched over the children - the two men even shared a laugh every now and then. A tiny smile appeared on Regina's face, thinking how happy they all seemed.

But the castle was filled with dark memories, memories that still haunted her in the worst of her nightmares.

"I can't live here," Regina shook her head, "but, I can visit you as much as you want. And of course, our house is open for you and your family at any time,"

The idea was far from what Snow White had had in mind, but she understood the unspoken reasons behind Regina's non-acceptance. She agreed to Regina's proposal, happy to have regained the friendship of the woman who had served as her role model for years.

The sun was already setting down by the time the Locksleys decided it was time to go back to the Inn. The royals walked with them towards the stable, were a carriage was fetched for the family - it had been Snow's idea, who hadn't liked the idea of Henry and Roland walking on the dark.

"Snow?" Regina called her before she climbed onto the cart, all formality had been lost between the two women by that time.

"Yes?"

"I'm proud of the queen you've become,"

The Queen's eyes watered, "I had a promise to keep," she replied quickly, before her voice could shake.

A smile lightened Regina's face, she couldn't believe that Snow had kept her word all those years.

Snow and David waved at them, as the cart drove away from the stables. Henry and Roland waved back enthusiastically, until they couldn't see the King and Queen anymore. They quickly fell asleep, Roland laying on Regina's lap and Henry resting his head against Robin's shoulder, all the thrill had worn them down.

"Don't you miss it?" Robin asked when he noticed Regina looking through the window.

"Don't I miss what, dear?"

"The castle, the clothes... All those treasures," he explained "everything I will never be able to give you,"

"Oh, Robin! But can't you see?" Regina exclaimed with a smile "All the treasures I ever wanted, I got from you: love, and three beautiful children,"

"Three?"

"We've got a little girl on the way," she added, unconsciously placing her hand against her stomach.

"A girl?"

"Tinkerbell may have blurted that she wanted to be our daughter's fairy godmother," Regina giggled.

Laying against the carriage's seat, Robin repeated: "A girl," he smiled at his wife, before leaning forward and speaking to Regina's clothed belly, "Hello, little one! I'm your father," Regina caressed his head as he whispered sweet things to their growing child, "I can't wait to meet you," he added, caressing Regina's stomach.

At the end, Regina realized as she closed her eyes to rest from the all the excitement, she didn't get the happy ending she had dreamt as a child. Instead, she had gotten a million of happy beginnings.


For Kata.
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