Regina’s hand rested once again in the crook of Emma’s arm as they re-entered the ball room. Heads turned towards them but mostly everyone was preoccupied with the heroics that had happened in the woods these last few days and few people paid any mind to the women and their peculiar friendship.
They had just started looking for Henry when Mulan intercepted their way and bowed before them.
Emma smiled at her. “Mulan, it’s good to see you back. I heard the fighting is over?”
“It’s good to be back, Emma. Our enemies fought valiantly but together with our allies we defeated them. It was a good fight,” Mulan said as she shook Emma’s arm. Then she rested her dark eyes on Regina. “King Phillip has expressed an interest to meet you. He wants to thank you for your bravery.”
Regina looked surprised then suspicious. “My bravery?” she repeated and looked over at Emma. “I wasn’t very brave, Emma did most of the fighting.”
“Phillip already knows Emma and now he wants to meet you,” Mulan said and gave Emma a small apologetic smile.
“But--” Regina wanted to argue.
Emma laid her hand on hers. “It’s okay, Regina. You should meet Phillip and Aurora, they’re lovely people,” Emma encouraged and smiled.
Regina smiled nervously, but she inclined her head toward Mulan who turned to lead Regina to her king.
Emma nodded at her.
“I’ll go tell Henry. Go mingle,” Emma said.
Regina followed Mulan who led her over to a foursome that included Eric and Ariel.
Mulan made formal introductions and Regina curtsied to the kings and queens, most of them looking curiously at her.
“Thank you, Mulan,” Phillip said.
Mulan bowed and took her place to the side from which to overlook the room and make sure her king and queen were safe.
“It’s good to meet you, Lady Regina,” Phillip said, using a formal title that didn’t quite belong to her. Regina saw it as a compromise and didn’t comment on it. “Mulan told us about your help in defeating the band of offenders in the woods.”
“All I did was cook for the men and advice them on the layout of the land,” Regina said uncharacteristically modest.
“I think we all know that that isn’t quite true. You were a target of these men and yet you fought valiantly against them.”
“I was a target because I was their queen. They wanted me back to either reign, or destroy me which they almost did,” Regina gave back without any false pretenses. She looked at each of the royals in turn but none of them looked back at her shocked or distrustful like she had expected.
“We know who your were, Lady Regina,” Aurora said with a sidelong glance at her friend Ariel. “But Mulan and Robin told us that you’ve changed and I guess you wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t true.”
Regina didn’t know what to say to that. She felt strangely touched by Aurora’s words, her sweet smile. She answered it with her own shy one.
“Please tell us what happened in the woods. You and Emma were on your own for a while, if I understood correctly. And nobody seems sure what happened to you at that time,” Eric prompted her.
She told them about Emma saving her life on that hill and them hiding from their enemies. She didn’t tell them about Emma’s wound and how she took it from her, she didn’t tell them about any of the conflicting feelings she’d had for the blonde, how her nearness had affected her in their hiding place under the tree. Those were things she would only share with one person ever. She told them about their flight, about the confrontation, about her surprise. And she apologized because she still felt responsible for the damage her former guards had done.
“But they acted without your knowledge,” Ariel argued.
“And yet in my name, as part of their former duties,” Regina gave back.
“That is not your fault. The rumors about your change have reached all the kingdoms in this realm years ago. Those guards would have known about it. Whatever they did, they did it despite the fact that you may have changed, maybe even to challenge that rumor or to challenge you to come back. You can’t take on their guilt, they were grown man and knew what they were doing,” Phillip said, his brown eyes quite adamant that this should be the way they saw it.
Regina didn’t agree but she saw that it was useless to argue her point. She could always start an argument about the person she’d been, the things she’d done and told others to do. Nobody would fight her on that front, except for Henry maybe, and Emma, but she didn’t want to fight with these people. They had gone out of their way to be civil to her, and she wouldn’t repay them for being headstrong.
“I can’t quite see it that way, your majesty,” she said and raised a hand before he could argue his point further. “But I’m grateful that the terror my former men instilled in your people is now over. We should think about the soldiers who lost their lives and their families. I would like to give something back,” she heard herself say.
They smiled at her, all four of them.
And it was so strange to Regina that she turned automatically to look for Emma. She found the green eyes looking back at her proudly from across the room where she stood with Henry. Emma smiled and she found herself smiling back.
‘So this is love,’ she thought before she turned to her present company to talk about what could be done for the families of the fallen soldiers.
Emma followed Regina’s way through the room with her eyes. She smiled because there wasn’t any reason not to. She trusted Mulan and was sure that whatever she had said to Phillip would have been praise for Regina, and that Phillip would act like a gallant king and acknowledge that because he, too, trusted Mulan.
When Emma looked around the room, she noticed other people watching Regina. She wasn’t a ghost anymore, people turned, people stared. Not all of them looked friendly but at least they saw her and didn’t step away. It was a change and Emma was glad for it. She wasn’t sure what had brought it on, maybe it was her own acknowledgment of Regina as part of her family, maybe Phillip hadn’t been the only one who had heard of Regina fighting her own men in the woods, maybe it was the fact that she was here, that she was smiling, that they saw her as she really was for the first time. Or all of the above. It made Emma happy and she turned to look for Henry with a giant smile on her face.
She finally caught sight of him in a quiet corner of the room where he stood with a young lady, talking animatedly, his ears glowing a bright red.
Emma smiled mischievously as she walked over.
“Hey, sonny,” she greeted him and put an arm over his shoulders.
Henry looked up at her as if being caught, then he frowned. “Ma, hey. I--”
“And who is this young lady?” Emma asked. She pushed her hand out. “I’m Emma, I’m one of Henry’s mothers,” she told the young girl who blushed lightly, but took Emma’s hand to shake it timidly.
“This is Doria. She’s a cousin of King Eric,” Henry told Emma.
“Then you are a princess,” Emma stated.
“Yeah, just like you,” Henry said testily.
“Not quite like me, I guess,” Emma gave back with a grin. “Are you living at the castle?” she asked Doria.
“I’m living with my parents in my cousin’s kingdom but not at the castle,” she said.
Emma now saw clearly why her son was enchanted with her: besides being a beautiful girl, she also had a lovely voice.
“Would you excuse us for a moment, Doria. I have to talk to Henry about something important. I’ll send him right back when we’re done, I promise.”
Doria blushed a deeper shade of red, but nodded her head. She looked up shyly at Henry.
He cleared his throat. “Excuse me.” He bowed.
Emma smirked. As she and Henry walked away from the girl, she could see that he wasn’t at all happy with the interruption. She felt bad about the way she had teased the young people.
“Henry.” She touched his arm lightly.
He pulled it away as they came to stand next to one of the doors that led outside.
“I’m sorry, kid, I... she’s really quite lovely,” she said in apology.
Henry looked at her through his long bangs. “She is,” he said. “And now she will probably not talk to me again because you humiliated me in front of her.”
“I’m really sorry, but I think that she’ll be happy to talk to you again. From what I saw she is pretty smitten with you.”
“You think so?” Henry asked and looked back to where Doria was now surrounded by her friends again. They whispered among each other and giggled and then Doria looked up and over to him, she blushed.
“Oh, yes, definitely,” Emma assured him.
Henry seemed to grow several inches before her eyes, smiling happily.
‘Oh, boy,’ she thought. ‘Please don’t tell me he’s in love.’
“What did you wanna talk about?” Henry then turned to her with an appeased expression.
“Your mom and I, we love each other,” she told him and grinned rakishly.
“Duh,” he made and rolled his eyes at her.
“You don’t understand, she told me, she was in love with me,” Emma said and grinned even wider. It just made her so happy to say it, to know it.
“But you knew that already,” Henry argued, not quite seeing what the fuss was about.
“Yes, but she said it, son,” Emma grabbed him by the jacket and looked at him intently.
Henry grinned. “You guys are so nuts,” he said.
Emma let go of him and looked at him disappointed. Was he even listening to what she was saying? Didn’t he understand how amazing this was?
“So, what does that mean, exactly? Are we staying here?”
“Why would we be staying here, Henry?”
“Well, if you love each other then Snow will lift the ban from mom, right? And we could live here,” he reasoned.
“We never planned to live here, Henry, you know that. Storybrooke is our home,” Emma told him. Then her look went back to the girl her son had just talked to. “Do you wanna live here?” she asked bewildered.
“I never really thought about it, but why not? It’s beautiful here, I’m some sort of prince or something and--”
“You are not the heir to the throne, you know that, Henry.”
“I know, you are,” Henry gave back.
“No, Killian is. I’m not going to be queen here, this is not my home, and it’s not my kingdom,” she tried to explain.
“But it could be.”
They looked at each other.
“I know it can be tempting to think about it, Henry. But we don’t belong here. We come from a different world.”
“That doesn’t mean we couldn’t live here. I bet Snow and David would be happy if we stayed.”
Emma was confused about the turn this conversation had taken, but Henry seemed serious about it.
“This is... not what I wanted to talk to you about,” she said. “I mean, we can talk about it. But I would rather do that when we’re back at home, okay?”
Henry shrugged noncommittally, but there was a definite pout in the way he did it.
Emma turned to look for Regina, to see how she was faring. Regina was talking to the four royals on the other side of the room and she seemed a little bewildered, too. And then she turned, seemingly finding Emma’s eyes immediately through the whole room. She smiled and Emma smiled back.
‘This is love,’ she thought, laying her hand on her stomach to tame the wild fluttering of the butterflies there.
She turned back to Henry.
He was looking over at the assembly of princesses, smiling brightly at Doria. And she was smiling back.
‘Uh-oh,’ Emma’s inner voice warned and she took a deep breath. ‘There’s something in the air tonight.’
“Henry,” she said and touched his arm.
He looked back at her reluctantly.
“We’re gonna talk about this, I promise. Okay?”
“With your mom, we will talk about it all together, as a family,” she emphasized.
“Are we? A family, I mean?”
Emma nodded. “We’ve been a family for a while now, haven’t we? And well, I think we’ll need some time to figure it all out but I think... I hope that’s where we’re headed.”
Henry smiled. “Good.” He hugged Emma.
She hugged him back, tightly. When they parted, Emma looked at Henry with tears in her eyes. She took his face between her hands and looked at him intently. “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown,” Emma said and meant in the last half hour, in that short amount of time she had seen him as something other than just her son, as someone who would someday love a woman - or man - and want to have a family. She didn’t think that it would be with Doria, she didn’t think that it would happen this soon. But one day, not so far away, he would be a man. Panic and love hit her hard at that moment and she would have liked to lock him away from that part of his life. She didn’t feel like she had had enough time with him yet. It was selfish, she knew...
“Ma?” Henry asked into her thoughts because she made him feel self-conscious.
She could feel his cheeks heating as he blushed furiously. “I’m sorry.” She let go of him. “I just love you so much, kid.”
“I love you, too, though I really think you should stop calling me ‘kid,’” he said, not for the first time.
“I’ll try to remember that,” she promised.
Henry smiled, shaking his head a little. “Thank you. May I go back now?”
But then he hugged her again, quite impulsively.
“I’m happy for you and mom,” he whispered to her before he pulled away from her. He walked over to where the young women stood and shortly after, he and Doria were once again alone, talking to each other, seeing only each other.
Emma sighed and closed her eyes. ‘Love,’ she thought and then opened her eyes to look right into Snow’s.