She Promised Me Love

3

Dinner was a big affair. Emma and Henry visiting brought many of their friends who had formerly lived in Storybrooke to the grand dining room of the king and queen’s castle. And everybody was talking over each other. Regina’s presence wasn’t commented on, she merely received furtive glances, especially from the dwarfs. Regina ignored everybody but Henry and Emma.

Emma noticed that Mulan watched the mayor of Storybrooke quite openly. She couldn’t read any hostility in her eyes, she seemed curious. But it wasn’t Mulan’s interest that worried Emma – it was Robin Hood’s. His eyes strayed from David – with whom he was having a conversation – to Regina quite frequently. His gaze wasn’t curious, though, nor furtive or hostile, he admired her beauty. That was all. But it made Emma uncomfortable.

“Is everything all right, ma?” Henry asked into her thoughts.

“Hm?”

“I thought you would be glad to see everyone.”

“I am. It’s a little bit much, don’t you think? The food, all these people...”

“It’s a little like it was back at Granny’s.” Henry smiled.

Emma smiled, too, though to her this seemed as far away from Granny’s as it could get: everybody was wearing their Sunday-best, even Mulan had shed her armor and was wearing a dark blue shirt with black leather pants. The setting of one giant round table, the way everybody could look at everybody else this way - it wasn’t like Granny’s at all.

“What do you think of Robin Hood, ma?”

“Oh, he’s... a little different from how I imagined him from his stories,” she whispered close to his ear.

He grinned back at her. “I think he’s even better. He showed me how to shoot with bow and arrow, he’s really good. Better than Snow, even.” He seemed impressed.

Emma nodded. ‘A force to be reckoned with,’ she remembered her earlier thoughts about him, though she seemed even more wary of his impact than before.

And as she frowned across the table at the man, he seemed to feel her gaze. He turned, searching for the source of the unfriendly gaze and found her. His eyes widened in surprise, but then he simply smiled. She smiled back. He turned to David... James, as he was called here, and said something to him. Her father looked at her and smiled. It seemed Robin had paid her a compliment. Emma smiled at her father and he lifted his cup to her. It was all perfectly normal and civilized but Emma couldn’t shake the restlessness she felt.

After dinner, most of the guests lingered for awhile to share a few words with Emma – some actually addressed her as ‘Princess Emma,’ but she made it quite clear that she was still more sheriff Swan than she was any kind of princess. Only Regina retired early. She hugged her son then sought Emma’s gaze. She smiled, nodded and then turned. She walked like a ghost through the mingling guests. Nobody really acknowledged her presence, but they shied away from her, as if she was emanating evil – or cold.

‘She’s like the land she left behind,’ Emma thought and it made her shiver. She looked over to Henry but he didn’t seem to have noticed. He was talking to Happy and Doc, and next to him they seemed more like dwarfs than ever.

Emma turned back at Snow and Grumpy who were talking about the thugs Robin Hood had set out to hunt or arrest or whatever. This seemed to be the most imminent topic of conversation. Her eyes strayed from her mother who was standing next to her and started looking for their guest. Robin stood with her father a little ways off, David looked quite concerned.

Emma walked over.

“... if they hide in the dark kingdom? I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble, actually,” David was saying.

“I understand that, but do you want to wait until they surrounded themselves with even more scum? It’s not like there’s a shortage of those, there are still quite a number of kingdoms where the poor are treated badly. My own, I’m ashamed to say, since Richard is still not back and John is simply incompetent. They could build an army, James,” Robin warned.

“An army without weapons?”

“They already have weapons. Wherever they get them, they’ll be able to get more, believe me. Those people are dedicated.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about people you have allegedly never met,” Emma interrupted whatever point her father was going to argue.

Robin turned toward her, his expression serious.

“Are you accusing me of something, Princess Emma? I thought you didn’t believe everything you read.”

“I’m no princess, I’m just Emma,” she corrected him, though she could see her father stiffen slightly. She may not assume any princess-y attitudes or responsibility but fact was, she was a princess and her parents would have liked for her to accept the fact, at least. “And I don’t believe everything I read. I understand that you’re quite the hero. Take from the rich, give to the poor and all that. Still, you and your merry men live in the forest, you are still fugitives in your own count... kingdom. Who is to know whether or not you’re in kahootz with those other outlaws. Or maybe you just want them gone because they impede on your territory.”

“Emma,” her father scolded.

Robin merely smiled at her. “You make an interesting point, Emma. The woods are deep and wide around here, there are several bands of brothers – as I like to call them, although many also include women and children. Not all of them are outlaws, many are simply too poor to live in a town. This is how I first heard about this group of men – they seemed to be all men. They live in peace with their neighbors but every now and then they set out to raid a village or small town. They’re ruthless; they beat the men, they rape the women, they steal everything they could possibly need. But since they are alternating between three different kingdoms their deeds have been too wide-spread to become alarming to the kings of these kingdoms. But the woods, they’re abuzz with what these people are doing. I have sent some of my men to other camps and they all bring back stories about these men. They’re no bedtime stories, Emma.”

Emma had listened intently to what Robin had to say. He seemed genuinely concerned. He was indeed a hero and this irked Emma. For some reason, she felt that she would have liked to dislike him, and she also felt how ridiculous that was.

She nodded. “I didn’t mean to offend you, Mr. Hood.”

“No offense taken. People are usually not quite as reserved when they accuse me of wrongdoings. I’ve been called a thief, a murderer, a traitor. Thug sounds almost like a complement, compared.” He smiled.

She tried to answer it in kind, but felt that she couldn’t. “Are you going to send some men with him?” Emma turned to her father.

“I don’t think there is much of a choice. I trust Robin’s judgment and Phillip’s, of course. Eric will probably do the same. Will twenty men be sufficient, Robin?”

“I think with the ones that Phillip sends and a possible equal number from Eric, it should be. With Mulan and my men, we’ll be close to a hundred,” he answered confidently.

Then he turned toward Emma once again. “Mulan tells me that she already asked you to join us. She says you’re good at finding people. If this is true then I would like for you to come with us. If you can be spared, that is?” He looked at David questioningly.

“Well, she’s mostly here for Killian’s birthday, but... well, we wanted to have her around a little...”

“Can I talk to you for a minute, Da...d?” She already took him by the elbow and smiled at Robin in apology. He turned away so as not to eavesdrop on what Emma wanted to talk about to her father.

“I think it would be good if I joined them, David,” she now used her usual address for him.

“Emma, these are capable men. There’s no need for you--”

“I know that. I just... I know you and Snow want me to get more involved, but I don’t feel like a princess. I’m a sheriff in a small town in Maine. And I’ve met most of our old friends tonight. I could be of use,” she argued.

“Snow was so looking forward to seeing you, Emma.”

“And I’ll be back in a few days and we’ll be able to spend time together, I promise.”

“Are you really just wanting to help or is it because you don’t trust Robin?” David asked in a quieter voice.

“I don’t know what it is about him. I just have a bad feeling about this. Do you trust me?”

David looked back at her quizzically. “You’re my daughter, Emma. Of course, I trust you.”

“Then trust me on this and... explain it to Snow?” she pleaded.

David rolled his eyes. “You’re a sheriff, the Savior and the mother of a teenager but you’re too chicken to face your mother? Really?”

Emma smiled sheepishly. “She’s not just any mother.”

“Yeah, you’re right there. She’s the mother who’ll have my hide if anything happens to you. You know that, right?”

“I’ll be careful. And, you know, if my sword-swinging skills should desert me, there’s always magic – as a last resort,” she promised.

Using magic was still a sensitive topic with her parents. They didn’t like her to use it, because of Gold’s saying that all magic came at a price. And Emma was reluctant to use it as well, but she saw its usefulness too. There was also the tingle of it, the power. This was something her parents would never understand. And, of course, there was the fact that magic was something she didn’t share with them, but with their worst frenemy, Regina.

David nodded solemnly. “A very last resort.”

Emma nodded.

“All right, I’m going to talk to Snow later. Why don’t you tell Robin? I think I’ll have to mingle a little.” He smiled at Emma then nodded at Robin who had turned toward them to see how their conversation was going.

When David had left her company, Robin joined Emma.

“I’ll accompany you,” she said.

“I hoped you would.”

“Though I would have to be back here in time for the ball.”

“The search should be the most time-consuming part and I’m grateful for all the help we can get. I don’t expect many problems with the apprehension. From what I hear, there should only be around thirty men, fifty tops.”

“I’m glad to help,” she said and once again tried to smile at the tall man. It still wouldn’t come, though. She felt stupid.

“Earlier at the table,” she found herself saying. “I looked at you and... well, it must have seemed unfriendly. It wasn’t meant that way, I was in thought.”

He seemed surprised that she’d even mention it, and in truth, so was she.

“I don’t take offense easily. Usually, I’m the one doing the offending.” He smiled good-naturedly.

Emma realized that one of the things that irked her about him were his good looks. He was really very handsome, even with the beard he was wearing. Why that would annoy her, she didn’t quite know, but that didn’t make the observation untrue.

“That’s something we got in common,” Emma said. “Well, it’s been a long day. I think I’m gonna retire.”

“Mulan and I are going to leave early to meet with King Eric. We’ll be back here by noon to instruct the troops, join with my men and organize the supplies. If you were ready then.”

“I will be,” Emma assured him. She nodded at Robin and then took her leave without another word.

She shared a few words with Snow before she left, only now noticing that Henry had also already left the festivities.

As Emma climbed the wide castle stairs, a lone candle in her hand, her thoughts turned unexpectedly to Regina. She once again saw her leave, her chin high, her shoulders set. Yet a lone figure, an outsider. The image seemed to haunt Emma, maybe because she didn’t really see Regina that way. Sure, even in Storybrooke a lot of people maintained their distance from the mayor, but it wasn’t like it was here.

People didn’t fear her in Storybrooke, they respected her. They respected her for doing what was good for the town, for what she did to make their everyday life easier. They also respected her boundaries, the way she sometimes acted aloof. And they respected her as Henry’s mother.

And so did Emma.

Only, Emma knew Regina a little better than everybody else seemed to want to. They talked about Henry a lot, but they didn’t just talk about Henry. They talked about their own days, they talked about their respective jobs which sometimes overlapped. They talked about music and films, about food which they both were very fond of – Emma more from the side of an eater than a cook.

Emma smiled. Regina liked to tease her about the fact that she couldn’t cook. And somehow Emma always thought that Regina enjoyed cooking for her because she enjoyed food so much. That was probably why Regina’s comment this morning – about them not being close enough to share secrets – had stung. Because it wasn’t true. They always tried to keep their cool, to make their meetings about Henry but usually, after half an hour, they felt comfortable with each other. And they started talking about all kinds of things.

This was what friends did, wasn’t it? Emma certainly was no expert. Even with most of the people in Storybrooke she kept it friendly but distanced. But not with Regina. They were both loners, loners who shared a son. And they both felt left out and uncomfortable in Snow White and King James’ castle.

Emma had reached the landing where her room was. It was down the left hall and it led her by Henry’s room. But even before that, it led her by Regina’s room and as she reached the door, seeing light falling into the hall from underneath her door, she thought of knocking. She thought of talking to Regina for a few minutes, wishing her a good night, perhaps. But what would Regina think of that?

Emma shook her head. Regina would probably not care for her sentimental notions, her childish need to connect with her. She had no use for sentimentalities... not many besides what she felt for Henry, everything surrounding him.

Emma looked over to the door that separated her own from Regina’s. Henry’s room. She smiled, and she sighed. Yes, Henry. Maybe he was really the only thing they shared and maybe that was a good thing too.

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