Henry had left Emma earlier to see if Regina was awake yet. Emma had made him promise that he wouldn’t talk to Regina about love, or anything that could make her uncomfortable. He had promised - reluctantly. She still doubted that he would leave Operation: Cinnamon completely to her but she knew that he would never do anything to hurt his mom and that was good enough for her.
As she was about to climb the stairs to get back to her room, she ran into her father.
“Emma, there you are,” he greeted her and smiled.
“David, hey. It’s good to see you,” she told him as he stepped toward her and they hugged.
“I was looking for you, actually. I wanted to know what happened. Robin’s message to me was rather vague, he just asked for reinforcements. And Mulan was gone so quickly last night, I didn’t have a chance to talk to her either.”
“Mulan’s already gone?” Emma asked. She had paid little attention to anyone but Regina and had missed Mulan leaving.
“Yes, she only ate a sandwich and was gone again. That woman is truly devoted to protecting people. Or to Robin, maybe?” He grinned and nudged Emma in the side.
“She’s devoted, but definitely not to Robin,” Emma answered with a frown.
“Yeah, I... it all happened so fast, everything really. Let’s sit down and talk.” Emma looked around and once again the door to the library stood ajar. Of course, it did. Emma had never before realized how in the Enchanted Forest everything you needed had a penchant to simply turn up. And Henry was right, it was odd - and just a little creepy. “Library? There should be a fire in the fireplace,” she said sarcastically.
“And if there isn’t...”
“It will just appear out of thin air. Yeah, I know. How can you live in a place like this?” she asked.
David smiled. “You get used to it. It’s actually really nice.
“I don’t know,” Emma said as they entered the library. “There’re things I like to do for myself and not have some birds fly into the window and fold my laundry, or something. Although, that would actually be kinda cool.”
David laughed. “That’s not what birds do here, either, princess.”
Emma rolled her eyes at her father as they sat down where Emma and Henry had sat earlier - in front of a warming fire.
“So, what’s happening in the woods?” he then asked and looked at Emma expectantly.
“Well, we rode for most of the first day and then set up a base camp. We went out in small groups from there to search for the smaller camps. We found one with those six prisoners we sent here. Have you talked to them?”
“It was more like talking at them, really. They haven’t said a word of who they are or what they want. They’re pretty disciplined.”
“Well, we know who they are now and what they want... erm. Let me just go on, I’ll be getting there, okay?” Emma wasn’t ready yet to tell her father what it had all been about. She needed to make sure he understood that Regina had nothing to do with it.
“All right. It seemed weird to me that there were only six men in that camp when Azeem had said that there were usually about thirty men who raided the villages, so I thought maybe they would have their own basis, just like we did. We looked at the maps and came up with a valley just where all four kingdoms meet. Regina remembered it and was sure it was only accessible from her former kingdom. So we set out but I had a bad feeling about it. I thought maybe they were expecting us, had planned some kind of attack, maybe. Regina and I took some men and we rode up that hill on your land that overlooks that valley, but that was when we ran into a trap, actually. It was so stupid, I should have known better. The men were killed, and I’m sorry, dad. I’m sure they were good soldiers. Have they been brought here yet?”
“Yes, they arrived about two hours ago,” David answered. “I had hoped... I thought that maybe you didn’t know about them, that they had died after you left.”
“No, it’s my fault they’re dead. I’m so sorry.” Emma lowered her gaze.
David laid a hand on her arm, squeezing it. “These men gave their life to protect you, Emma. I know it sounds like just another flowery phrase but they’ve done their duty. Their families will get a pension. I know it’s not enough to repay them for your life, but that’s what they were trained to do.”
“Do you think there’s something I can do? Honor them in some way?” Emma asked sadly.
“Yes, I’m sure your mom will think of something you can do before you leave.”
Emma nodded. “Well, Regina and I escaped from the attack but we fell down a slope. I fell on my back and Regina, she magicked my back so that it became her pain,” Emma explained as best she could.
“Doc told us about that bruise she has. That was yours?”
Emma nodded. “She didn’t need to do that but she did. Not on purpose, though I think... maybe...”
“She did it out of love?” David asked.
Emma nodded after a long moment. She wasn’t looking at him, instead she stared into the flames of the fire. “Mom talked to you about that?” she asked but already knew that her parents talked about everything. She hadn’t really been surprised by his words.
“Snow has talked to Henry and they both thought it was possible. I didn’t want to form an opinion before you were ready to tell us. But it’s true? You’re in love with each other?”
Emma sighed. “It’s a little more complicated than that, dad. I mean, sure, I woke her with true love’s kiss but--”
“True love’s kiss? Your mom said it was Henry who saved Regina,” David interrupted.
“That’s what I told her and I’m sorry for lying but... but this is hard. You hate her and I... I love her!” Emma jumped up from her seat and put her hands on the mantle. The fire was very warm and she stared into it as the minutes ticked by. Emma thought that her father would just let her stand there, too shocked by her admission, too disgusted with her, angry.
But after a few minutes of watching Emma, David got up and put a hand on her back.
She turned instantly and buried into his arms.
They didn’t say anything, for a long while they just stood in their embrace, David holding Emma like a child, his child.
“I’m sorry, I...,” Emma began as she pulled away from him.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s such a rare occasion that I can actually be your dad, and not just David.”
“I know it’s not easy for you and Snow. I plopped into your life all grown-up.”
“That’s not your fault. We made that decision for all of us. But it’s still nice to sometimes feel like a father to you, not just a close friend.”
Emma smiled at David, she liked this part of their relationship, too, even though sometimes it felt awkward to her.
“Wanna sit again?” He asked.
She nodded and they sat down.
“I don’t think we hate Regina, Emma. You know all about our history with her, but there’s a part of us that understands, wants to understand what she’s been through. And she’s changed and that took a lot of...”
“Courage,” Emma helped her father out.
“Yes, I guess ‘courage’ is the right word. She’s shown everyone that it is possible to change.”
“And yet nobody does for her. Nobody tells her that what she did was good and right. Everybody treats her like a ghost – the ghost of the evil queen.”
David wanted to argue on behalf of everybody who’d been cursed, but Emma lifted her hand. “Henry told me today that I’m doing that, too. I won’t let her forget, either. But it has to change, David. I have to change that.”
“I’m not sure it will ever change for some people, honey. She’s done what she’s done.”
“I know, but she’s not that person anymore. She... we hid from those guys who shot at us up on the hill but they found us and Regina recognized one of the men. He was one of her guards, most of them were. Her palace guards.”
David made a surprised face. “Oh, my God,” he said. “We never thought about... I guess I just thought they had gone home or been killed, maybe.”
“They weren’t. They lived in the woods, they recruited some other people who were dissatisfied or starving. I don’t know exactly where these people who live in the woods come from, but they built a village in that valley and it’s pretty well protected. I’m not sure if they were just waiting for Regina to come back or if they heard about it somehow and wanted to see what would happen. That guy she recognized, he asked her to rejoin them, to regain her former power.”
David just looked at Emma expectantly. He didn’t want to judge but he seemed far from just assuming that Regina would do the right thing.
“She told them to go to hell and then they attacked us. We were lucky, I guess, that Robin and Mulan came with soldiers or we would probably not have made it. There were a dozen against the two of us and one of them cut Regina with a poisoned blade. She fell into a coma, I guess you could call it. She would have died...”
“If you hadn’t kissed her.”
“I hadn’t planned on it. It was Henry, he told me to do it,” Emma defended herself.
“And you had no idea that... that you were in love with her before you kissed her?”
“How long have you known?”
“I don’t know. I mean, have I noticed that I was always a little happier when I knew I would be spending the evening with Henry and Regina? Yeah, I did, but I thought it was about Henry. But then... Robin, he started showing an interest in Regina from the second they met and I got so mad, so irrationally suspicious of him. I told you I didn’t trust him, but I guess I was just jealous,” Emma confessed. “Well, I talked to Mulan about it and she pretty much had to tell me that I was in love with Regina.”
David smiled. “Always with the stubbornness. You get that from your mom,” he quickly added.
Emma rolled her eyes at him. She grinned, however. “Yeah, right, because you’re not stubborn at all.”
“That’s right. Between your mother and I, I’m the compliant one.” He grinned at Emma.
She smiled back. “Whatever, dad. But... erm, it seems Robin has found a way from that ledge we fell onto to the valley and he wanted to attack as soon as possible. He probably waited for the reinforcements you sent, but... well, that’s pretty much all I know. I had to get Regina back here because I needed Henry to save her life.”
“How many men, do you think, were in that valley?”
“About sixty, maybe? I’m not sure but around that number. It’ll still be a hard fight. Do you think Phillip and Eric would send some more soldiers to help?”
“Only one way to find out: I will send some letters and ask them to,” David said.
“That’s probably a good idea,” she agreed.
“Is there anything else I can do? For you, I mean. You said, things were complicated between you and Regina. Do you need something... can I do anything?” he stammered.
Emma smiled. “Thank you, dad, but I... there’s actually something I need.”
He raised an eyebrow at her.
Emma smirked as an idea formed in her head of how to win her love’s heart.
True love’s kiss – Regina had never dwelt on the subject much. It seemed to be a concept made for princesses, not daughters of princes with older brothers. Kissing Daniel had been magical enough for her, her first kiss. It had been all she had hoped it would be, all she had ever wanted it to be. But it couldn’t last. And it could never be surpassed – at least, she had been sure of this until… Emma had kissed her. And with that one kiss her future had been sealed, her past had been deemed unimportant, mundane. And it seemed unfair that her great love, her first love – she corrected her thoughts – should be devaluated by… something that only Snow White and Prince Charming could be naive enough to believe was good and true and everlasting.
The Enchanted Forest was full of these outdated concepts, these beliefs that some things were right and others were wrong, for everybody. But she had never asked for true love’s kiss, she had never asked for Emma to love her in that all-consuming, all-encompassing, forever-and-ever way. Maybe it was the only way the Charmings could love, but Regina wasn’t ready to give herself away like this, to forget everything she had been. It was too much to ask, it was too much to give up. She couldn’t…
“Mom, it’s your turn,” Henry interrupted her thoughts, seeing that her eyes once again swam in tears as they had done quite a few times already all day. “Are you in pain?”
She only shook her head. “I was just thinking about...”
Henry looked at her expectantly.
“Love,” she said after a long pause.
Henry lowered his gaze to the chess board that stood between them on a table. “What about love?” he then asked in a mere whisper.
“It’s convoluted with all kinds of prepositions and expectations, especially here in the Enchanted Forest. And people here think they’re entitled to it, much like Americans think they’re entitled to wearing a gun,” she decided on an analogy.
Henry looked at her in disbelieve. “That’s not really a good comparison, mom.”
“And why not? Love can be dangerous,” she said. “Love can change everything if you let it.”
“Are you talking about your own love for somebody?” He asked not nearly as subtly as he hoped to.
“You know what I’m talking about, Henry. Don’t play dumb,” she challenged him.
“I’m not playing dumb. It’s just Emma asked me not to talk to you about all of this.”
“Why would she do that?” Regina asked.
“Because she thinks it only concerns you two. But it doesn’t, it concerns me, too.”
“And how does it concern you, Henry? Are you not happy the way it is right now?” Regina asked him.
“I am happy but I would be happier if... if you were happy, too. Both of you,” Henry gave back.
Regina seemed to think about this for a moment. “But there’s no guarantee that we will be, Henry. Think about how different we are, how often we disagree.”
“But you shared true love’s kiss,” he came to a point Regina would rather not name. “That is a guarantee.”
“Maybe here in the Enchanted Forest, but not in Storybrooke.”
“It worked for Snow and David in Storybrooke, mom. Why not for you?” Henry wanted to know.
“Your grandparents are special that way. They believe that they deserve this kind of love.”
“You deserve it too, mom.”
Regina smiled at her son, but they seemed both aware that it didn’t touch her eyes. “I have already more love in my life than I could ever deserve because I have you, Henry.”
“But Emma lo--”
“Henry,” she interrupted him and they both fell silent. Regina looked over the chess board and made some nonsensical move. She really had no mind for chess today. “I’m happy the way it is and I’m sure Emma feels the same way. Love... A love like that, it complicates things,” she said.
“Because you’re both women?” Henry asked with something that sounded like a scoff.
“Because we’re not good at it.”