“Do you have a minute for me?” Snow asked, working hard at masking her emotions.
Emma nodded and they looked around to see where there would be a good place to talk. There was a door to their left, leading to an antechamber. Snow pointed it out to Emma and they entered the small room, Snow closing the door behind them.
There was a table and two settees, Emma sat down on one and Snow on the other. Then Emma got up again and started pacing the room.
“I know you hate her,” she said after a while.
“Let’s not start this conversation with assumptions of who I hate, please,” Snow asked of her. She looked up at Emma in silent request.
Emma sat down at the edge of the settee she had just vacated, hands stemmed into the soft cushions beside her. “I’m in love with Regina and she’s in love with me,” Emma said looking directly into Snow’s eyes.
Snow felt the words like a knife cutting into her. The confirmation settled heavily onto her chest as something akin to sorrow. “Did she tell you this?”
Emma nodded. “Yes, we... she... God, Snow, don’t make this... this should be a good thing, I’m so happy. Can’t you just be happy for me, for my family? I shouldn’t feel guilty about this. Don’t make me feel guilty about this,” she begged. She stood and came over to Snow, kneeling before her and taking her hands into her own. “Please, mom,” she said.
Snow’s eyes filled with tears and she extricated one of her hands from Emma’s to lay it on her cheek.
“I want you to be happy, Emma, I do. But Regina...” Snow heaved a sigh, a desperate plea for Emma to maybe reconsider, to maybe take it all back. Then she realized how ridiculous such a plea was. How could you take back love? How could you unlove? You couldn’t. Love didn’t give you that choice.
Snow lowered her gaze to the hands that were holding one of hers. Strong hands, capable hands. The hands of a grown woman who could only ever depend on herself.
Snow didn’t want to make this more difficult for Emma, she didn’t want to say anything that would sever the fragile familial bond that existed between them.
“Regina deserves happiness too, Snow. She deserves to be loved,” Emma said.
Snow looked up again. “I’m not so sure about that,” she said.
Emma shook her head, hurt by Snow’s words.
“And even if... why does it have to be your love?”
“I don’t know, it just feels right,” Emma said. “We’ve spent so much time together, in Storybrooke. I mean, we did it for Henry first, of course, but then we would just meet sometimes, or we had something to talk over, sheriff stuff. And we would just talk about the job, and then about life, and then about the town, about the people. She would make plans for Storybrooke, she’s so ambitious and enthusiastic. She would pull me in and then we would talk about Henry and his future, about our lives, our pasts. She regrets so many things, Snow. She talks about that time, she talks about her feelings.”
Emma’s eyes swam in tears now. “I wish you could hear her talk about how much she regrets hurting everyone.”
“Everyone? Did she ever say that she regretted poisoning me?”
To Snow’s surprise Emma nodded. “It was just the other week that we talked about it. We sat down together after dinner. Henry still had some homework to do so he was upstairs. We had some wine and we talked about you. I’m not saying that she doesn’t have... hard feelings, she does. I was arguing your side and we were kind of fighting, but not in an angry way. We just kept on and on. It was around three in the morning when we looked at each other and said that we wouldn’t agree on everything, but she did say that she regretted some things. Maybe some day you two will be able to talk about these things, too.”
“I’m not sure that’ll be possible,” Snow said.
“But maybe it will be. Maybe we could start being a family?” Emma’s eyes were once again pleading.
Snow had a hard time denying her anything, but she couldn’t really imagine a future where she and Regina would sit down and talk about their hurt feelings. “I’m not going to stand in your way, Emma. If you really love her and she loves you. I can’t stand in love’s way, nobody can or should even try. I just wish I was convinced that she won’t hurt you.”
“We all get hurt in love sometimes, mom. I have been, Regina has been. You only ever loved one man and he loved you back. It’s not always that... easy.”
“Your father and I had it anything but easy, Emma,” Snow argued.
“But you knew that you loved each other. You always did everything for each other, you always found each other and you knew. You just knew.”
“Regina took that knowledge from us when she cursed everyone.”
“And yet here you are. More in love than ever before, in your kingdom, with your heir. You are lucky, Snow. It hasn’t been that way for me or Regina. We’ve been hurt and now, we’re trying to heal each other. With love. And we already know that things won’t be easy, that things won’t be smooth. We know that people won’t like it, that they will say things, possibly do things. I will have to say all the things I just told you over and over again to convince people that Regina is worthy of my love and I’m already sick of it. Please, don’t make it harder for me yet. Trust me. If you don’t trust her, trust me.”
Tears fell onto their combined hands and Snow wondered for a second whose tears they were before she realized that they were both crying. For a moment all the things that Emma had said melted together to an undecipherable mass of just words, meaningless, something Snow couldn’t possibly understand. But then those last words jumped out on her, that last plea. And she knew if she could do nothing else, not understand, not consent or be happy, she could in the very least trust Emma. Because Emma had learned how to protect her heart, to survive life as an orphan. She had instincts and abilities beyond whatever life threw at her and she was still here, still able to feel and be happy and love.
“I trust you,” Snow said with conviction.
Emma smiled through her tears. “Thank you, mom,” she said. Emma kissed Snow before she pulled her into a tight hug.
Snow cried and she smiled and she held onto Emma tightly.
After a while, Emma pulled back and looked at Snow with a small smile. “We should probably get back.”
“Yes. I should see that Killian gets to bed. It’s way past his time.”
“I think he was already nodding off on dad’s throne,” Emma said and rose from the floor she’d been kneeling on.
Snow rose also, but still held one of Emma’s hands in hers. She pulled at it. “Honey? Promise me something?”
“If things with Regina shouldn’t work out, don’t be too proud to come here and... mourn. Don’t be too proud to talk to your dad or me,” Snow asked of Emma.
“Only if you promise that if things between Regina and I do work out you won’t be too proud to visit, or too proud to invite us. I want to see more of you, I want Henry to be able to come here if he wants to. I think he might want to.”
“You’re always welcome here. This is your home, as far as we are concerned,” Snow assured Emma.
“My home is Storybrooke but if we should ever want to live here, Henry, Regina and I... do you think that would be possible?”
“I don’t know, Emma. There would have to be some kind of... I can’t promise you that just now. We would have to agree to something like that, your father, the other kings and queens. And Regina wouldn’t be--”
“A queen?” Emma asked and smiled ironically. “She wouldn’t want to be – though she’ll always be a queen to me.”
“You understand, though, don’t you?”
“I guess. But the other things, visiting and all...”
“And you coming here if...”
“Things will work out, I just know it,” Emma said, but nodded.
“I promise,” Snow said smiling.
“I promise,” Emma answered in kind and they hugged once again. “But things will work out,” she couldn’t help but say.
Snow laughed at Emma’s stubbornness - something she had inherited from her father, no doubt - and caressed her cheek.
They left the antechamber together.
Regina was circling the room, contemplating her talk with the two kings and queens. She was puzzled by their civility, by their willingness to see the good in her, to believe that she had changed. It was certainly different from how she’d been treated by mostly everyone else. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, she felt doubtful if she could live up to that kind of blind trust in her goodness, she felt a little like a fraud. They had said that they knew who she’d been, but could they really comprehend what that even meant?
Regina let her eyes drift over the assembly, her eyes seeking assurance in a look from green eyes, but Emma wasn’t standing where she had been talking to Henry before. And Regina couldn’t see her anywhere else in the room.
“Regina?” a voice to her left said and her head turned. Smiling blue eyes looked back at her and she felt herself relax into the admiration she found in them. “I’m so glad to see you’re all right,” Robin said.
“Well, I’m glad to see you back and alive, if not all right,” Regina returned with a nod toward Robin’s injury.
“It’s a minor scrape compared with what you had to endure,” he argued.
Regina nodded thoughtfully, not because she agreed but because she felt it was useless to argue with him. He wasn’t going to confess to his own vulnerability, men rarely did.
“I’m healed except for a bruise on my back which is still a little tender but not bothering me much,” she told him.
“That’s good news,” he said and offered her his healthy arm. “Should we walk?”
She smiled, inclining her head in the affirmative. Regina took Robin’s arm and they started a stroll around the room.
“What happened in the woods?” Regina asked after they had talked about the ball for a short while.
“You really want to know?” he asked.
She looked at him in silent challenge. “I’ve been there, Robin. I’m not some hot-house flower that needs to be spared gory details.”
“Of course not, I... well, I’m not sure how much Emma told you after your recovery, but we were able to detect a way down into the valley from the ledge we found you on. But we couldn’t advance until reinforcements arrived. We sabotaged some of their defensive posts, traps they had set up. Emma was certainly right about those, she has good instincts when it comes to people on the run or in hiding.”
“That she most certainly does,” Regina agreed.
“After the reinforcements arrived, we launched an attack by the archers we had. They were to keep everyone busy while the rest of us advanced from both sides, from the hill and from your kingdom. That’s how we got into the valley but that was only the first stage. The fighting only intensified after that. The men were certainly a match for us and only after the reinforcements from Eric and Phillip arrived, were we able to defeat them. Those who surrendered are still in that valley. We haven’t decided on what to do with them yet,” Robin finished his tale.
Regina sighed. “How many deaths on our side?” she asked quietly.
“21 during the battle. That number does not include the dozen men on the hill and the soldier who had been brought back here after we found the first camp. I was told he died this morning of an infection.”
“34 dead,” Regina counted and shook her head. “Another 34.”
“They were brave men,” Robin said. “I’m sure their kings will honor them accordingly.”
“None of your men died?”
Robin shook his head. “We were once again lucky not to have lost a friend.”
“I was wondering if there was anything I could do to ease the guilt, I guess you could say. They were my men, most of them were. Do you have an idea how one might help the families of the fallen soldiers and the villages that have been raided?” Regina asked in low tones, her eyes seemingly searching something on the floor of the ballroom.
Robin halted their progress around the room and looked at Regina. She didn’t look up so he pushed his finger under her chin and lifted it until she would meet his eyes.
“You’re not responsible for the deaths of these soldiers, Regina. You’re not responsible for what those men did. They had long been on their own, they had learned to make their own decisions and they were bad ones.”
“I showed them the way to bad decisions a long time ago,” Regina argued.
“You gave them jobs, you didn’t raise them and you didn’t force them to work for you instead of any other regent of this land. They had choices before they met you and they had them after you left.”
They looked at each other, and like before Regina didn’t argue with Robin because she could see that his gallantry would never allow her to take the blame for anything that happened in the woods or what led up to it.
“I still want to help,” she said instead.
Robin smiled. “Of course, you do. What I think these people need more than anything else is food. That’s one thing there’s never enough of. Food provides energy and with energy things can get done,” he stated.
“Food,” she said and then she smiled. “Food and vitamins to ward of diseases,” she then added.
“What are vitamins?” he asked suspiciously.
“They’re... well, it’s hard to explain but they’re good for the body, keeps it healthy. And I think I know just the fruit to provide some of them. Do you think we could plant orchards? With apple trees? Do you think that people would like that?”
Robin smiled at the idea. “Apples? Yes, apples are good. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like apples. They taste good, are relatively easy to harvest. Every child can climb a ladder... and there are a lot of things you can do with them.”
Regina nodded. “I will provide the seedlings and whatever is needed to take care of them. It will take time, though,” she mused.
“Well, it’s something that will help them in the long run. The kingdoms will provide for the more pressing needs, anyways, so it’s a good thing, a lasting thing. I think people will appreciate it,” Robin enthused.
“Thank you, Robin.”
They resumed their way until they stood in front of one of the glass doors that let outside.
“Would you like to catch some air outside?” Robin asked.
Regina shook her head. “I already did that tonight.”
He looked at her questioningly.
“It’s a lovely night for... lovers,” she said.
Robin frowned. He seemed to catch her meaning but was probably wondering who might have accompanied her. Then his face cleared some, though his eyes still spoke of his puzzlement. “Emma?”
“I’m surprised,” he said.
“I was too,” she assured him. “When she... kissed me and healed me.”
“Emma? Emma healed you? But I thought...”
“She didn’t plan on it but Henry told her to try. To see what would happen and it revealed more than either of us had anticipated,” Regina tried to explain the situation and found that it sounded strange and constructed. But that wasn’t how it had felt at all. “Emma and I shared true love’s kiss, something I didn’t even believe existed for people like me. But she loves me and I love her.”
“And it is what you want, too?”
Regina smiled at the question. “Isn’t love what everyone wants?” she asked Robin.
He seemed surprised by the openness of her smile, the sheer happiness behind it.
She wondered if his surprise stemmed from the fact that she was admitting to loving... wanting a woman like that or if he had thought her incapable of feeling so deeply.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but I had that kind of love and I lost that kind of love. It nearly destroyed me. I guess, I’m looking for a companion, now, someone to share life with, not get overwhelmed--”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Regina said.
“I couldn’t survive loving another woman that way,” Robin argued.
“Is that how you thought of sharing your life with me? Someone to raise your son and warm your bed at night?” she asked bluntly.
Robin blushed. He didn’t answer for a long while, his eyes darting across the room.
“You did think of sharing it with me, you said so yourself,” Regina reminded him.
He nodded. “I’m not sure what I wanted now and I guess it doesn’t matter anymore since you don’t want any of it with me,” he finally answered.
“Did I lead you on?” Regina then asked because she wasn’t sure of the things she’d shown him, the signals she had sent out.
“No, you didn’t. I don’t think you did. I just saw someone strong and beautiful who might have been a suitable companion and I led myself on.”
“I saw some of that too, but what I really wanted was a friend. Can we be friends, Robin?”
He looked at her and his eyes lit up before his lips could follow. But then he smiled. “We already are, Regina,” he assured her and put his uninjured arm around her.
She hugged him and kissed him on a bearded cheek. “I’m glad,” she told him.
“Let’s drink to our friendship,” he suggested and hailed a waiter. They both took a cup of wine and toasted to what was so common for him and still so extraordinary for her: friendship.