She Promised Me Love

8

When Emma trudged forward in the long line to get her bowl of oatmeal the next morning, Regina stood talking with Robin and Azeem in front of the armory tent. Emma’s frown returned full force and her already testy mood turned sour.

She hadn’t gotten much sleep that night. Between soldiers’ snores, the hard earth and her thoughts about what Regina had told her, sleep had made a rather late appearance, or maybe ‘early’ was the better word. Waking up to stomping footsteps all around her, had not helped quench a developing headache. The only thing she could be grateful about was that her muscles didn’t ache like she had thought they would. Whatever Regina had put into that creme she’d given her was working well, her body felt warm and prepared for another day in the saddle – even if her mind berated her for having come here in the first place.

Having received her breakfast bowl from a too cheerful friar, she walked over to the armory tent.

“... then I’ll be happy to accompany you.” Robin just said, smiling easily at Regina who looked fierce in her riding leathers.

“Morning,” Emma mumbled around a mouthful of oatmeal that tasted better than she had anticipated. There was cinnamon, one of her favorite flavors, and apples, Regina’s favorite. “Good,” she said and pointed at her bowl with her spoon.

“I thought you would appreciate the cinnamon. I helped Tuck preparing the food earlier,” Regina said, smiling.

“You’re certainly making good on that promise to Henry to look out for me.”

Regina laughed. “As long as your stomach’s happy.”

They smiled at each other as Emma continued to eat.

“You must have known each other for a long time. You seem like sisters,” Robin commented.

They turned to look at him as one.

Emma started frowning again.

“That would make Snow MY mother. No, we’re not like sisters at all,” Regina told Robin.

“Do you think she’s a bad mother?”

“Not worse than mine but then, she’d only been at it for about six years,” Regina said and her voice plainly said that she didn’t want to discuss this topic any further.

Robin looked puzzled but didn’t pursue the topic.

Emma shrugged her shoulders. “How long have you been living in these parts, Robin?” she asked him after an awkward pause. She knew that Neal had met Robin and Mulan on his way to Neverland, her ex had told her about it.

“I first came here about five years ago. Things were different then, all the surrounding kingdoms were leaderless, anarchy reigned. Until your father, Phillip, and Eric came back. You know about this, of course.”

Emma nodded.

Robin looked at Regina for confirmation.

She took a deep breath. “You heard about an Evil Queen who cursed them?”

Emma looked at her surprised. She hadn’t thought that Regina would take this path, that she would admit to anything. She still wondered if she would or if this was merely some sort of dare between herself and Regina.

“Yes, I have. But she was exiled or killed... I’m not sure which,” Robin answered Regina’s question.

“Exiled. But here I am,” she concluded.

He looked even more puzzled for a moment. Then it dawned on him what she was saying. “You’re the Evil Queen?”

“She isn’t anymore,” Emma said before Regina could answer.

Regina looked at her for a short moment as did Robin, then they turned toward each other again.

“I think you have a right to know who you’re riding with. I’m the Evil Queen. I may have changed, I hope I have, but that’s how people see me here. The soldiers do, the people at the castle, certainly Snow and James. That’s why I asked you about my former kingdom, I want to see it again,” she told him honestly.

Emma watched Regina breathlessly, her breakfast long forgotten. She felt a deep burning in her chest, it stung and it spread. It seemed to fill her whole chest and Emma wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but there was pride in it, humility, joy - her eyes watered with it and she had to look away, close her eyes against the threatening tears.

“And you shall,” she heard Robin say to Regina. “If you’re ready now, we can head out. My men are ready to go.”

“Thank you, Mr... Robin. I’ll just saddle my horse,” Regina said and was about to turn when Emma said.

“I’ll come with, I just need to--”

“Emma,” Robin interrupted her.

She turned to him.

“I’ve already organized everybody into groups and I wanted you to go with Mulan. You know each other and she trusts you. She’s going to search in a part where she told me you’ve been before,” he informed Emma.

“I can’t. I go where Regina goes,” Emma said, staring into Robin’s eyes unflinchingly. The man looked back earnestly until it seemed that it turned into a staring match.

Regina sighed audibly and they looked back at her.

“Emma?” Regina pulled her a few steps away from Robin.

They stood close. Emma was looking into Regina’s eyes through lowered lashes. She found that she had trouble breathing. It wasn’t the first time, either, but it was the first time she noticed that Regina’s mere proximity made her breathless. She blinked several times, but Regina was still looking at her and she felt herself unable to shake lose from that look.

“I know you promised Henry, Emma, but I don’t want you to come. I don’t want you to see where I lived, where I reigned,” Regina said honestly.

“It’s not like it was before, Regina, people have--”

“I know what they did. Your father has told me when we first saw each other after they came back,” Regina interrupted Emma.

“It won’t be like it was. Why do you wanna go back?”

“I need to see what my actions have caused. I have to face this, and I have to face this alone,” Regina pleaded.

They looked at each other for a short while, then Emma turned away. She looked over at Robin who watched them but couldn’t hear them, they were talking too low.

“You won’t be alone, he’ll be there.”

“He doesn’t know what I did. He didn’t suffer--”

“I haven’t suffered!” Emma protested.

Regina reached out her hand and laid it on her cheek. It may have been their first touch, it may have been that it burned Emma’s skin.

“Because of me your parents put you in a wardrobe and sent you to another world. If it wasn’t for me you would have had your parents’ love growing up,” Regina argued.

“We wouldn’t have Henry,” Emma argued back.

Regina closed her eyes. “Please.”

The emotion behind this single word touched Emma’s heart. She nodded. She took a step back and Regina’s hand left her cheek and although it had burnt her before she now missed the touch. “If I’m satisfied with who’ll be with you,” Emma said louder now so that Robin could hear her. “I want somebody to guard her. Somebody other than you.” She pointed at Robin.

His eyes spoke of his surprise, though he didn’t seem insulted. He laughed. “All right, she shall have the best,” he said and beckoned Emma to follow him.

Emma followed Robin through what seemed like the whole camp. And while she walked behind him, her mind berated herself constantly for letting Henry down, for having promised, for being a bad mother. But Regina had asked her to, she had practically begged her not to come. But what was so bad? Emma would see burnt earth, a land ruined. It wasn’t Regina’s fault, she hadn’t done this... her mind rambled until she almost walked into Robin who had stopped.

“Emma,” he called out to her, pulling her beside him with an arm around her shoulders. “I want you to meet Little John,” he said with a proud smile.

Emma looked up at a tree of a man. From where she stood, he seemed to stand about 7 feet tall, tightly muscled, with blond hair that hung down to his shoulders and a full beard. He looked like someone had pulled him out of a movie about Marvel-hero Thor and put him before her. She blushed, she didn’t know why and yet she couldn’t help it. This man exuded magnetism.

“He makes one afraid to ask what Big John looks like,” she said.

Robin laughed and so did Little John. “Little John, meet Emma. She’s Snow White and King James’ daughter.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Emma,” the tall man said and took her hand in his. His handshake was deceivingly gentle but she could feel his strength behind it. He was deliberately holding it all back. “You certainly got your mom’s looks,” he added charmingly.

Emma blushed some more.

“People sometimes think we’re twins,” she said dumbly and rolled her eyes at herself.

“You’ll be riding with us today, John. Emma feels like her friend, Miss Regina, needs an escort and she finds my skills lacking,” Robin told his friend good-naturedly.

John laughed. “She’s looking right through you, Robin.” He slapped Robin on the shoulder.

“Do you think Little John will be up to the job, Emma?” Robin asked.

Emma nodded. “He’ll do, but if something should happen to her...”

“Nothing will happen to her, Emma. John is the best, he’ll protect her with his life.”

Little John nodded, smiling confidently.

“All right. I’ll go find Mulan,” Emma simply said and turned. She knew that Robin hadn’t meant it maliciously, he was naturally good-natured and with friends like Little John he could afford to be a little cocky. Still, Emma’s chest had started to burn again... with feelings. She felt humiliated, inadequate, stupid. And she couldn’t really blame Robin for it. She had challenged him, he had come up to it and then some. She still wanted to hate him more than she did, she wanted him to be fake when she knew he couldn’t be. He was the hero of his own tale, nobody had yet written a book about the Savior.

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