Mulan had decided to turn back to camp early.
Emma had hardly registered the decision, but she was glad when they rode into camp, when she could leave the stallion to someone else to take care of and just find some solitude to think.
She found it near one of the camp’s lookouts, the one furthest west. She sat down against a tree not far from it with a perfect view of the path that Regina and Robin’s search party had taken that morning. She would watch them return, she would see that Regina was all right and that was all she wanted just now. Because she couldn’t face Regina yet.
From the moment she had confessed her feelings to Mulan, thoughts and emotions had attacked her constantly. At times, she had felt like laughing and shouting and dancing because she was in love and it had been so long since she’d felt this way. And then, she had thought of how Regina would react to this news, and her shoulders had slumped, her eyes filled with tears because it was impossible that Regina could feel the same way.
There was nothing, no indication that Regina liked her that way – that she’d ever felt anything remotely romantic for another woman. There had only been Daniel. Her one young love, the man who’d been taken from her. And then she had made Graham her willing-less sex slave.
Emma didn’t want to think about what she might feel for Robin, what she might feel for him now that they’d spent the whole day together.
Thinking about Regina’s sexuality was senseless when she’d been raised in a society, in a realm where there was simply no alternative to heterosexuality. At least, that’s how all the storytellers of Emma’s childhood had presented it. But even if Regina liked women, there was little chance of her liking Emma because Emma was annoying and obnoxious and, on top of that, she was Snow White’s daughter.
But had Regina more reason to not fall in love with Emma than Emma had to not fall in love with Regina? Regina had tried to kill her, to curse her, to keep Henry from her and yet she had fallen. Somehow. Regina had been there while that had happened, she must have felt a connection, too. She had confessed to thinking of Emma as a friend, and didn’t things usually progress from there?
There was no guarantee for it but it could happen. Right?
Emma leaned her head back against the tree. She felt herself arguing the same points she had already thought of on their way back to camp and there was nothing new to report. There was only to wait and wonder what Henry would think of this.
Henry. Their son. Their reason to bond at all. What would he think of Emma falling for Regina? He would probably think it funny, and Emma could certainly see the irony in it. But he would also feel with her, he would try to make her feel good about herself, and he would do everything in his power to ensure that both his mothers were happy. If they were it together, he would be, too. Emma was sure of it. If not... Emma didn’t know what would happen if Regina decided to marry Robin, or even just be with him. She didn’t know how she would deal with it.
It was still so strange to know that she loved. That she loved Regina. She tried for any doubts that would belie her feelings. She even tried to remember the woman she had once hated, but she couldn’t anymore. In her mind, she could just see Regina sitting across from her, her mood relaxed, her lips curled up in a smile at something Henry had said. Then Emma would tease him and Regina would either frown in jest or laugh, her eyes shining in that deep dark caramel color. So warm, so enticing.
Emma sighed. How could she not fall for a woman like that?
The sounds of riders drew Emma’s attention to the path beneath her and she saw Regina and Robin race beside each other, Regina with a short head start on the man, looking back at him, laughing. Emma smiled as the sound reached her ears, then her face fell because she realized who she was laughing with. She’d obviously had a good day, she was relaxed, she had let loose. That rarely ever happened with Regina and it showed Emma just how well Regina and Robin must get along.
Another sigh. She had long ago consented to life as difficult and sometimes just not fair. But she hadn’t yet gotten used to its random cruelty.
Regina sprang out of her saddle, her mare having barely stopped. She was still laughing and some of the soldiers standing around sure must have wondered at a laughing Evil Queen. And then there was Robin Hood, also laughing, jumping out of his saddle and breathing heavily, sweat glistening in his beard.
“You’re one hell of a rider, Regina Mills. How you took that fallen tree back there was surely a thing of beauty,” he complimented her.
She smiled, her cheeks reddened from the exertion of their race. “Thank you, kind sir. I thought it a matter of pride to beat you on my home turf,” she told him and could see one of the guards behind Robin frown in anger. “Well, not really my home anymore, I guess. Still, it was a pleasure to have beat you,” she emended, not that it made a difference with the soldier. He still looked darkly at her. Regina chose to ignore him and concentrate once again on Robin who laughed.
“And such a modest winner, too.”
Regina smiled at him as their companions rode into camp at a more modest pace than their leaders. Little John frowned at Robin.
“Come on, John, don’t be mad. We’re both all right, no harm has come to us,” Robin teased him as he dismounted.
“I’m sure, Princess Emma will be glad to hear it,” he said, frowning, but then winking at his friend to tell him he wasn’t really mad. A moment later, he stood to attention to something behind Robin, and he and Regina turned. Azeem was coming toward them.
“Robin,” he said in a way of greeting, sounding almost grave.
Regina could see Robin’s expression changing from relaxed to business in a moment as he faced Azeem.
“One of our search parties has come across a hidden camp on King James’ land. There was a fight and half a dozen men have been apprehended. Two soldiers have been injured. They should recover given time, but I arranged for them to be brought back to the castle. And I would suggest we send the prisoners with them in the morning.”
“Are they talking?” Robin asked.
Azeem shook his head. “Nothing so far, but they’d only been brought back half an hour ago and I thought you would want to be present at their questioning.”
“Good,” Robin acknowledged. “Are Mulan and Emma back yet? They should probably be present, too.”
“They’re back. Mulan is with the prisoners but I haven’t seen Emma.” Azeem looked at Regina as did Robin.
“I will go find her,” she said but then remembered something else Azeem had said:
“The injured soldiers? Is there anything I can do?”
Azeem sighed and shook his head. “There probably would be, but they’re James’ men and they barely let me touch their wounds. They seem to think, I’m in kahootz with dark magic because, well, because I’m dark. With you...,” he let the sentence hang in the air between them.
Regina nodded, she knew better than trying to help someone who didn’t want her help. “I’ll go find Emma,” she repeated and went off in search of her. She once again asked her way through camp until she found a young soldier, one of Eric’s who were by far the least prejudiced against her, who told her that he’d seen her at one of the lookouts. According to the young man, she’d been there for most of his watch until he was relieved.
Regina frowned, she hadn’t signed up for a hiking tour. She knew that it was important, though. She also wanted to talk to Emma, she wanted to apologize for this morning.
Twenty minutes later, Regina found the lookout. She had been lucky that it had gotten dark as she set out and the men had made a fire or she might have gotten lost. The soldiers bade her stop and identify herself when she came up to them, but even though they didn’t look at her friendly, they let her pass and pointed to where Emma sat against a tree.
Emma looked up as she approached. “Regina.” She seemed surprised.
“You’re being awfully hard to track down, Sheriff. What’s with the vanishing act?” Regina asked, smiling. She could see the outline of Emma’s face in the watch’s firelight. It seemed to harden as Emma turned away from her, staring into twilight.
“I just needed time to think,” Emma said in a small voice that hardly sounded like her. She cleared her throat, then shook her head.
“I take it, your search wasn’t successful,” Regina asked and sat down next to Emma who merely shook her head.
“Some of your father’s men had more luck. They found a camp and apprehended some men. Robin is about to question them.”
“Why did nobody tell me?” Emma asked.
“Well, it only happened an hour ago and it seems that nobody knew where you were.”
Regina was surprised that Emma didn’t jump up that moment to go back to camp. Something seemed to bother her, but Regina couldn’t be sure what it was. She suspected that it had something to do with this morning and her own decision to exclude Emma from her party.
“How was your day?” Emma asked unexpectedly. She looked back at Regina, her face thoughtful, almost sad.
“It was all right. Not exactly exciting, but... good. I wanted to apologize to you,” Regina said. She found her own point to focus on in the dark as she said this; she still wasn’t good at this sort of thing. “I shouldn’t have told you not to come to that part of the realm. I thought you would remember who I was. I also thought I might remember who I was and...”
“Go off the deep end?” Emma asked.
Regina took a deep breath. “I feel... sometimes I feel like I want it all back. It’s like an addiction. Power, magic. I thought I would feel it there, I thought I would turn into someone you hated. I didn’t want you to see me like that. But it was a mistake. The land had nothing to do with who I was, nor the people who’d lived there. It was me--”
“You had help,” Emma reminded her.
Regina would have liked to reach out and take one of Emma’s hands, just for making an excuse for her. There were few people who would do that and she was glad that Emma was one of them, but she still couldn’t apply the gesture. It seemed too intimate, holding hands in the dark.
“Sure, but... well, my mother is dead, Rumple is dead, or supposedly so. There’s no one left who has that kind of influence over me. The only one who can make me into that person again is myself.”
“And you won’t because of Henry,” Emma said with conviction.
Regina looked at her again. She smiled and laid one of her hands on Emma’s arm where it rested on her knees. It was a compromise to what she wanted to do. “And you,” she said.
Regina nodded. “You are a part of my family, Emma. I know it’s strange and quite ironic but that’s how it is. And that’s why you should have been there today. You know me, you know I’m not that person anymore.”
There was a lump forming in Regina’s throat as she looked at Emma. Emma’s green eyes seemed somehow too close, too affected by what she had said. For a moment, Regina believed there were tears forming in Emma’s eyes, but then she looked away.
“Well, I guess Robin was glad to have you for himself, though.”
“Possibly,” Regina admitted.
“Hasn’t he professed his love for you yet?”
“Not really,” Regina gave back.
“You don’t want to talk about it?”
“There’s nothing to talk about as of yet. He likes me but I’m not sure how I feel. I’m not sure he could cope with Storybrooke or even with me. He doesn’t know me. He sees me but he doesn’t know me,” Regina answered and found that she could be more honest with Emma than she’d been to herself where Robin was concerned.
Emma kept quiet. She looked into the darkness that had settled around them. She seemed so thoughtful to Regina, so closed off. And frowning a lot.
“Are you still... is it because of Daniel that you don’t know how you feel for Robin?” She asked tentatively a moment later.
Regina looked at her profile in the flickering light of the nearby fire. She knew her face well and could detect a strain in the set of Emma’s jaw. It puzzled her but she didn’t comment on it. Instead she thought about the question. Could Emma be onto something there?
Regina thought back to the time when she’d almost met Robin for the first time and she was sure now that Daniel had everything to do with her not wanting to meet a new love. But now?
“I don’t think so, Emma. Daniel was a long time ago. Even when I tried to bring him back I knew it was a mistake. Daniel could never have loved the woman I’ve become. And I probably couldn’t have loved him anymore.”
“But he was your love,” Emma said.
“Yes, but he was my love when I was 17 years old. The woman I became wasn’t capable of that kind of love. I couldn’t love Henry properly then, I was just plain bad at it.”
“And now?” Emma asked.
Regina thought Emma was holding her breath as she waited for the answer. When she turned, she found Emma’s eyes fixed on her and stared into them for a long moment, before she answered, “I don’t know. I haven’t tried to love anyone but Henry for a long time.”