Regina found herself unoccupied while people organized the camp. She had seen Emma walk off with Azeem and Robin was also busy so she set out toward the supply wagons. Friar Tuck was busy recruiting some of the guards to peel potatoes and vegetables. Regina offered her help and he took her up on it. It wasn’t long before he found that she knew her way around herbs and spices and they cooked up a tasty stew for dinner. Regina liked the easy-going monk, he was cheerful and had no use for pretenses or pretexts.
When dinner was ready, Regina grabbed two bowls of the stew and went to find Emma. It didn’t take her very long, every man who had seen her that evening could tell her exactly in which direction she had gone, Regina just followed their dazed expressions like bred crumbs. She noticed that not every soldier answered her willingly, though, some didn’t even pretend to be polite and merely pointed in a direction. Two of them even pretended not to have heard or seen her. Regina couldn’t blame them. She was the Evil Queen, no amount of space or time could erase her guilt toward these people from their memories - or hers. The only thing she could do was being a better person in the here and now. It was hard, but not harder than looking at these people and actually feeling the shame instead of being aloof and condescending and falling into old habits of dismissing what she’d done.
She found Emma as she came back from one of the guarding posts she had helped set up.
“Regina? What’re you doing out here?” she asked but didn’t wait for an answer when she noticed the bowls of food in Regina’s hands. She hurried to take one. Her stomach chose that moment to grumble from neglect.
Regina laughed. “Somebody’s hungry.”
“I haven’t eaten since breakfast,” Emma contemplated surprised.
“Well, considering how late we ate breakfast, it was more like brunch.”
Emma looked around and pointed at a fallen tree where they sat down to eat together. There was some light coming from the nearest fire but it was dimmed by the people sitting around it. They could have gone the few yards to join this group but Regina found that she preferred it this way.
“Considering that we’re on vacation, it was still early,” Emma countered and searched for something in her bag.
Regina had already found her own spoon and dug into her dinner with the same ferocious appetite she usually saw in Emma and their son. It had been a long day and she too had last eaten at the king’s breakfast table.
“Mmmmhmm,” Emma made dreamily after the first bite.
Regina had to laugh again. She knew only one other person who enjoyed food as much as Emma did - Belle French. Another one of the many people who had left Storybrooke after it became possible. She sometimes visited, though, brought back stories of her adventures of which she finally had many. Everybody knew that she was still trying to cope with the loss of Rumple, if you could call realm-jumping, never knowing where you would come out and not caring, coping.
Emma nudged Regina in the side. “Hey, what’re you thinking? You look sad?”
“Oh, I was... actually I was thinking of Belle,” Regina answered honestly.
“Belle? Our Belle?”
Regina laughed. “She’s the only Belle I know. Unless you know another? You care to tell me about her?”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Be serious.”
“With all the people we met yesterday who have left Storybrooke, I guess I started thinking about everybody. And just now, Belle popped into my head.”
“I hope she’s gonna be back soon. Ruby always gets so anxious when Belle has been gone for too long,” Emma noted.
Regina nodded. She watched Emma eat her stew but didn’t continue with her own. She wondered how she did it, this living among people instead of just alongside them. To care enough to notice anxiety in others. She herself couldn’t have said that anything about Ruby Lucas’ behavior was amiss these days. But then again they usually only saw each other at the diner when Ruby served her breakfast; they weren’t friends. She didn’t have any friends - except for Emma, she reminded herself. “I hope so, too.”
Emma looked at her surprised. She didn’t comment, however. “This was good. Tasted like something you would whip up in your kitchen,” she said instead.
“Well, the equipment was a little outdated so whipping up included a fire, a gigantic cauldron and tons of potatoes but, yeah, I helped.”
Emma chuckled and leaned back on one hand, closing her eyes and let the wind play with her hair.
“You seem more relaxed now,” Regina said while slowly finishing her meal.
Emma looked at her but didn’t answer. She didn’t seem to want to talk about her earlier mood or the reason it was on edge today. “I wonder what Henry’s doing now,” she said after awhile.
“He’s probably enjoying his meal of potatoes, meat and more meat. No mother to remind him of his vegetables,” Regina said.
Emma laughed. “Snow will make sure he eats some.”
“She’s his grandmother, Emma, not his mother. That’s different. She’s probably going to make sure he takes seconds of whatever they’re having for dessert.”
“Dessert,” Emma mused and smacked her lips. It wasn’t difficult to imagine where Emma’s mind was going at that moment.
“I’m sorry,” Regina said. “But maybe if you ask Tuck nicely, he’ll give you an apple.” Regina smiled easily as Emma turned a pouting face toward her.
Emma’s expression turned thoughtful in another second, however. She looked up at the sky for a long moment before she asked, without looking at Regina:
“What do you think of our host?”
“Host? Can you really be the host of a search and apprehending party?” Regina didn’t answer the question.
“What do you think of Robin then?” Emma rephrased the question.
“He seems nice, well-mannered, and heroic.”
“High praise. He’s also not too terribly looking,” Emma commented.
“I should have known, after all, he’s wearing a beard,” Regina gave back still not quite serious.
But Emma was. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That you have a thing for men with beards maybe?”
“I so do...” but the ‘not’ wouldn’t come. “Whatever. I wouldn’t stand half a chance with him, he’s all eyes on you.” There was an edge in Emma’s voice, but Regina chose to ignore it.
“It’s hard not to,” Emma said.
Regina looked at her searchingly and noticed that her restlessness had returned. Emma leaned forward on her thighs, looking at her unflinchingly. Regina sighed and looked up at the stars, different stars from those she would see at home. Home... was that what Storybrooke had become? Possibly. Wherever home was for her, the Enchanted Forest hadn’t been it for a long time, probably since Daniel had been killed. She made herself think about it this way, instead of just thinking that he had died. Maybe it was time to face some truths, truths that had hurt her, frightened her before. Maybe now was a good time, maybe meeting Robin had been her sign to work through some personal issues. And maybe Emma could even be of some help?
“I’ve never told you how I knew Tinkerbell, have I?”
Emma frowned, shaking her head. She seemed confused as to what Tinkerbell had to do with Robin Hood.
“She saved my life once and we kind of became friends, I guess you could say. Friends with a fairy, imagine that.” Regina smiled.
Emma did not. “I understand she’s very different from ‘mother superior’?” Emma made quotation marks around the adopted title of the Blue Fairy.
“Very different, yes. She was kind of a rebel fairy and that’s why she lost her wings. She stole fairy dust to help me find love.”
Emma merely raised an eyebrow at this.
“I was married to Leopold, Snow’s father, your grandfather... our family tree is not something I would willingly share with the world, you know?” Regina joked.
Emma smiled. “I know what you mean.”
“Well, I was unhappy in that marriage. I’ve lost my lover, Daniel, and I was sure that I would never love again. Tink tried to cheer me up by promising a new love. She stole fairy dust to reveal him, someone who would love me for who I was at that point. I wasn’t bad then, I was someone scared and hurt. I was trying my hand at magic, yes, but it wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. The fairy dust showed me a new love, a man whom I only ever saw from behind.” Here, Regina hesitated. She looked at Emma, hardly seeing her now that the fire at which the nearest soldiers sat slowly burned down. She could, however, make out her eyes as two tiny mirrors which reflected the flames. They seemed to look right into her, feeling with her. Maybe this was really Emma Swan’s superpower, her compassion, Regina mused.
Regina looked back up at the stars. “It was Robin Hood,” she finally said.
“How did you know if you only saw him from behind?”
“I saw his tattoo.” She looked at Emma.
There was a moment, Regina could have sworn Emma looked frightened, or angry, maybe even both.
But then Emma lowered her head. “Is he...” A pause. “Is he your one true love?” she asked quietly.
“No,” Regina answered quickly and quite vehemently. “I don’t believe in that concept like your parents do,” she added as explanation.
“Because if I did then it would be Henry. But I have loved before Henry... Daniel. And maybe one day...”
“You’ll fall in love with Robin Hood?” Emma asked.
Regina shook her head. “I don’t know. It was a long time ago when I was supposed to love Robin, before he married Roland’s mother, before I became the Evil Queen. Those 28 years, the time in the Enchanted Forest stood still, I lived them, Emma. It seems a lifetime ago now and I’m certainly not the woman I’ve been then. And, of course, I would be a fool to fall for someone I can’t have. I will be leaving soon and Robin won’t be able to come with me.”
“He could,” Emma reasoned.
They both knew, however, how improbable it was. Not only did Robin seem perfectly at home in the woods, in this realm, Storybrooke was a completely different world. The story characters who lived there now were only able to live in Maine because they had memories of having lived there their whole life. Regina knew how difficult it was to resettle from the Enchanted Forest to Storybrooke, knowing. Would Robin do it for someone he loved? She didn’t know.
“He won’t,” Regina said with finality. But it wasn’t as final as she wanted Emma to think. She had thought about this question most of the past night, she had woken wondering what all was possible and what wasn’t. And finally she had decided to do something she had never been good at: wait, watch, let things happen as they might.
“What if my parents allowed you to come back here? You know how they are when it comes to true love,” Emma asked.
“I won’t leave Storybrooke,” Regina answered, again with finality that wasn’t quite final but a work in progress. Because Regina had thought about this possibility, too.
“Not even for love?”
“Henry is the most important person in my life, Emma, and he’s in Storybrooke. Or are you thinking of a change of address to Enchanted Forest, mom and dad’s castle, canopy bed on the third floor?” Regina asked, annoyed.
“I’m not thinking of leaving Storybrooke, Regina.”
“Then why are we even talking about this?” Regina snapped.
They stared at each other in anger for a moment.
“I don’t even know why I told you this,” Regina said dismissively and wanted to leave.
Emma held onto Regina’s sleeve. “Because you wanted to talk about it. I’m sorry, I went off. I’m not sure I trust Robin Hood, Regina. That’s actually why I volunteered to come along, I want to make sure things are being handled in a way my parents would approve of,” she explained.
“That’s usually not the way things are being handled out here, Emma. The only law you’ll find is the law these people make. It’s a little more rustic than what you’re used to.” Regina sat back down, taking a deep breath to let go of her anger.
“I’ve dealt with a tyrannic mayor. How much worse can it get?” Emma joked.
“Maybe you’re about to find out how bad it can get and then you’ll cherish that tyrannic mayor a little more,” Regina gave back.
“Good one, Madam Mayor, but I doubt that will happen.”
They were silent for awhile, each thinking her own thoughts.
“I’m really sorry I went off earlier. I just... I want you to be happy, Regina. I think you deserve that,” Emma finally said.
Regina looked at her for a long moment. “I am happy, Emma. In Storybrooke with Henry.”
Emma acknowledged this with a nod.
Regina could sense that there was more to this. She knew that Emma was happy, too, that she liked her life in Storybrooke. But Emma had grown up an orphan and had seen people leave, maybe too often.
“We should turn in, it’s getting late and we have another day in the saddle ahead of us,” Regina roused Emma from her thoughts.
Emma groaned as she got up from her seat on the tree. “Even with all the riding with Henry, I certainly feel all the muscles I didn’t know I had,” she complained.
“I have something for that.” Regina rummaged in her bag and pulled out a small container that had formerly contained some night cream. “Here, rub this into your... sore muscles. It should relax them?”
Emma took the jar from Regina and opened it. She smelled the clear cream inside. “Smells like herbs.”
“I’m a witch, Emma, I’m good with herbs and those kinds of things.”
“There are no parts of mutilated animals in here, are there?”
“If you don’t want it,” Regina stood and made an attempt to take the jar away from Emma.
Emma turned quickly away, holding the cream out of Regina’s reach.
They smiled at each other.
“I will get it back to you when I’m done,” Emma finally promised.
“Don’t bother, I packed two of them.”
Emma grinned widely. “You packed one for me especially, didn’t you?” she teased.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Sheriff. I never think of others, especially not you,” Regina teased back.
“Yeah, you do.”
Regina rolled her eyes and walked away in a dramatic huff. She heard Emma follow her back to camp and their respective bivouacs.