Chapter 6: What's too painful to remember We simply choose to forget
Emma just finished tying the last knot to contain the captured lost boy when she felt it. She had no idea how she felt it, but she knew there was no other explanation. She didn’t even look up from her task when she acknowledged the other woman’s presence.
She heard, now, footsteps stopping, startled.
But before Regina could finish her question, Emma had, swiftly, gotten up and turned to her. She saw it, immediately, the change, the hopeless, deep sadness in the woman’s eyes. She remembered it, recognized it and instantly knew.
‘ Pan came to talk to you…’
Chocolate brown eyes blinked in surprise, but only for the shortest moment, and then resigned.
The word sounded almost as lifeless as the one Regina had used to make the map appear. Emma’s heart felt heavy at the memory, at the idea of what Regina, strong, beautiful Regina, must have gone through to wish, so much, to escape her marriage.
Before she could ask more, however, the former Queen pointed at the boy.
It almost sounded like an apology… This island was changing them, all of them. Even Snow, although ever the optimist, seemed to have lost some of her bright and shiny attitude. Or maybe she was just missing David.
‘Nothing we couldn’t handle…’
Again that bright flicker of something in Regina’s eyes Emma couldn’t place and the blonde felt herself narrowing her own eyes as she took in her son’s other mother.
But before she could finish her sentence, Snow and Tinker Bell entered the clearing. Adding some wood to the fire, Snow seemed to have trouble to even as much as acknowledge Regina’s return. The Fairy, however, stopped in her tracks the moment she laid eyes on the former queen. Emma watched on as their gazes locked and many, so many, unspoken words were exchanged. It dazzled her, the conflicting feelings she saw feature their faces, passing quickly as a kaleidoscope of emotions. There was battle and accusation and pain and regret in each of the women, and Emma felt her heart pounding so heavily that she was sure it’s rhythm must be audible to all. But then, after what seemed like forever, Regina simply nodded, as if all was said and done, and turned to sit at the edge of the clearing, as far away from the place Snow had set up as possible.
Emma took her time, getting ready for the night, she followed her mother’s conversation with Tinker Bell (still couldn’t quite think that name without smirking) about when the men would be back and responded when that was requested of her. She was on automatic pilot though, she knew. Her true attention lay elsewhere.
Regina had lain down on one of the blankets she had conjured, her back towards the others, and seemed to be asleep. The tension in the woman’s shoulders, however, told Emma otherwise.
It seemed to take forever for the other two women to fall asleep. Emma’s eagerness to take the nightshift had nothing to do with desire to keep an eye out for the men or guard the boy, as she had told them. The lost boy they had captured while he had stumbled into their camp, was sleeping like a baby, as if he had no care in the world. When she was sure the even breathing of her mother and the Fairy wouldn’t halt, Emma got up from her place by the fire and made her way to the place she was inexplicable drawn to… The person she was inexplicably drawn to…
‘Nothing we couldn’t handle…’
It rang through her mind like an endless mockery, the words Emma had said when she had inquired about the boy. It rang through her heart in endless agony, the feeling of being so useless…
As she always had been.
A useless daughter, failing to live up to Cora’s expectations. A useless apprentice, a useless wife, a useless evil, evil queen….
And now… A useless mother…
She felt thrown back into her childhood. The words Pan had spoken to her only moments before, and that once, when she had been a young girl, had thrilled her to the core. She was the key, she was important, she was needed.
But in the end, all she had been was used, and hell, did she know it.
She squeezed her eyes shut at the pain in her chest the memories brought and found herself searching for a happier one. So many years she had cried herself to sleep, craving Daniel’s arms around her for comfort. The last years, the images had changed, the sentiment had not. She longed for comfort, she, the harsh, cold, Evil Queen ached for a comfort she would never, could never receive. So she dreamed. She pretended that she was held, that she could lay her ear against the chest, hear the heart, of the person she yearned for most. She could feel the hands in her hair, on her face. Lips, wiping away tears with tenderness.
The ragged whisper cut through the night air and she immediately, as if caught, sat up, her heart hammering against her chest.
‘Emma? What is it, are you ok?’
She realized her mistake almost instantly, the name that her heart had been screaming passing her lips without hesitation. Emerald eyes glittered before her, taking her in with some sort of awe she couldn’t quite grasp, before the most beautiful smile spread over the blonde’s features.
‘If I would have known all it took for you to say my name is whisper yours in the middle of the night, I would have sneaked into your bedroom long ago…’
‘There it is…’
The smile broadened and lit up Emma’s face in a way that left Regina breathless, but then, the eyes turned serious as the blonde extended her hand.
‘ Walk with me?’
‘As you so accurately stated, it is the middle of the night, E… Miss Swan…’
The simple shrug was accompanied by a wink that did strange things to Regina’s stomach. And, obviously, to her motor function, because before she could even wrap her mind around what was happening, she had laid her hand in Emma’s and allowed the other woman to pull her up.
Regina could have sworn Emma had held her hand a little longer than necessary before, after a squeeze, letting go. They didn’t walk far and the slumped form of the woman next to her (Regina momentarily through she would soon stuff her hands in her pockets and start to kick pebbles like a rebelling teenager) was oddly endearing. She closed her eyes and breathed in the midnight air as if it could fill her with more than just oxygen. She shivered, shortly, when they halted, cut off by a small river that sung its song of meandering streams finding their way home to the ocean and she just found herself staring at the water.
Again that name… The way she said it. The simplicity of it. Not ‘Evil Queen’ or ‘Your Majesty’ or even ‘Madame Mayor’. Just Regina. Just who she had always wanted to be. Who she once had been. Who the blonde, without even realizing it, made her feel like once again. It made her shiver, but this time it had nothing to do with the chill in the air.
She glanced at the woman, who shot her a small smile and repeated her name, as if she knew Regina needed it.
It made it so impossible to NOT love Emma Swan.
‘What did he tell you?’
Emma saw the vulnerability flash in Regina’s eyes before the regal exterior was pulled up again. Sometimes she felt very much like simply grabbing the brunette by the shoulders and giving her a good shake.
The word came out more harsh than she had intended, but she felt the fire rage in her chest and couldn’t stop herself.
‘Don’t tell me that it’s none of my business, Regina! He is my son too!’
Regina took a step back at her approach, but seemed to steady herself in the movement because when she looked up, Emma could see her dark eyes burning.
‘ Yes, Miss Swan, I bet that is why you yourself were so forthcoming about your talk with Pan…’
They were close, in each other’s face as they had been so many times before. And yet, there was something different now. Emma felt it, crackle in the air, flutter in her chest. She looked into knowing eyes, fierce eyes and felt herself deflate.
‘ Shit… This is not… I didn’t mean…’
Turning, Emma quickly retreated, struggling to find the words, the way for Regina to open up. She hadn’t come here to fight, but somehow that’s what they almost always ended up doing…
The memories of an embrace in a secluded area of the woods seemed to make the air to thick to inhale, and for a moment Emma thought she might faint.
‘He is forgetting me…’
The sadly whispered words made the blonde turn so fast she felt something snap in her neck and she, automatically, took a step towards Regina again.
The former Queen was looking up, her dark eyes glimmering with what seemed like more than the reflection of the stars. Before she could ask the question Regina continued.
‘ Henry… He is forgetting me…’
‘He never could forget you, Regina. You’re his…’
‘His what, Emma? What am I exactly? The bird in whose nest the cuckoo laid his egg? The glorified nanny you left your kid with for 10 years before you decided to take him from me? I know I failed, I know I can’t…’
Leopold’s contemptuous remarks about her inability to give him children resonated through her, as if they had just been screamed at her. Regina felt her magic rise with her temper, with her nausea, and shortly closed her eyes to try and regain control. The tear that ran down her cheek burned, almost as much as the unshed ones lodged in her throat.
‘But I love him… I love him so much. And I just never am enough… How can I ever be enough? How can I ever compete with you, Emma Swan? How?’
She felt the hands on her shoulders, rough and gentle at the same time and whimpers at the touch. Everything was going wrong, everything was spinning out of her control and she had no idea how to get it back.
‘You’re his Mom, Regina. He is not just going to forget about you!’
But he already did…
A voice in Regina’s head cried out the words, as she relived all the times he had called her evil, doubted her love for him… All the times he had run into Emma’s arms and had not even bothered to glance back at her.
‘How do you know that? You don’t know this island! You don’t know what it does to you…’
Emma’s eyes bore into hers as the blonde snapped.
‘Oh, and you do?’
She felt herself cringe under the woman’s warm hands, the spasm of her muscles clearly palpable for the other woman and she saw the turquoise eyes light up in recognition.
‘Shit, you do!’
‘ Language, Miss Swan!’
‘ What, you’re afraid I’m gonna corrupt the fucking trees? For fuck’s sake, Regina…’
But the eyes, those emerald, beautiful, beautiful eyes did not fill themselves with the harshness of the words. Neither did the warm, comforting weight of the hands leave her shoulders. She wanted to shrug them off, wanted to turn, to walk away as she always did. But those eyes, those mesmerizing eyes searched her in question, and she found herself unable to move.
Regina read the full question in Emma’s face. There was no curiosity or eagerness to know, there was something else, something that warmed and terrified her at the same time.
‘I wished it.’
‘You wished to be taken by Peter Pan?’
‘ I wished to… Leave…’
The question, so genuine and, somehow, so unexpected, made Regina tense up. She had thought she would be reprimanded for not saying something earlier, she had anticipated being interrogated on ways to leave. But not this. This inquiry, that touched her to the core. That extended to everything in her life. She felt the walls erect themselves around her heart, scolding herself for allowing them to crumble in the first place, and spat out the words that were the answer.
‘ Have you met my mother?’
She pulled back at the moment she saw Emma cringe, the pain in the other woman’s eyes too much for her to bear. Because the ache in Emma’s eyes was not for herself, not for being rebuked or rejected. No, the distress on the blonde’s face was for Regina. And pity was not something she would ever accept.
‘ Yeah, ok, point taken…’
There was a silence, in which Regina surprised herself by not storming off. Part of her wanted to run, as far away as possible, from this connection, however awkward, that they had. But it felt like there were strings, pulling at her heart, keeping her in place.
She felt the soft hand again, tentative this time, pulling her shoulder. Forcing her, in a tantalizingly gentle manner, to face the blonde once more.
‘Henry will not forget about you, Regina.’
She opened her mouth to voice the protest that must have already been visible in her eyes, because before she could say anything, Emma’s other hand reached up and gently cupped her cheek, leaving her utterly speechless.
Emma all but whispered the words, the breath that accompanied them caressing Regina’s face. And, maybe, her heart.
‘I won’t let him. I will never let him.’