Chapter 16: Your thoughtless words are breaking my heart.
The day must have faded into night long ago, the shadows of Neverland not allowing anyone to see the difference. The rhythm of her step felt dull and oddly comforting as she counted along with it, allowing others to lead where she had for so many years. As Queen, as Mayor.
It was a funny thing, power. She had never wanted it as a child, never yearned for it like she had for love. The love of her mother, the support of her father. Her thoughts faltered as she thought of Daniel, the pain she had felt over losing him, the pain she had felt when Whale had brought him back, and despite all her happiness she knew he would never be able to love what she had become. Whale had said he had created a monster, but Regina knew the real monster had not been the resuscitated stable boy. The monster had always been her. And was made by quite the different creator.
Maybe her only real chance would have been then, when she was still young, innocent, practically untainted. Maybe she could have been happy, tending to horses, living by the day. She had never cared for gold. Or dresses. Or those terrible balls and courts that dragged on forever.
She had positively hated plucking taxes, allowing or forbidding hunting, sentencing, ruling. All these decisions she had been unsure about without ever being allowed to show her doubts. Because she had soon found out her mother had been right about one thing. If an enemy smelled weakness, they would attack. No, it had never been her desire to rule and her grasp of power had in the end been not for longing but for necessity. Pushing her mother out of her life, escaping that prison… Only to be captured in a new one instantly.
And then, at a certain point in her life she had looked into the mirror and had seen that power was all she had. All she could seize. A funny thing, how people tended to hold on to what they had. Maybe it was the fear of knowing that, letting go, there would be nothing left. So she had held onto her power. And held onto her Magic. And held onto her anger. Because those had been all that she thought were left to her. And only now she saw. None of them had done her any good.
And glancing at the blonde who didn’t want to meet her gaze she knew, deep down inside she was still the little girl that wanted nothing more than to be loved.
Regina was distracted. Emma noticed the way she didn’t pay attention to where she put her feet, and tried to do it for her. A few times, she saw Mary Margaret frown at her when her hand flew up, trying to assist the former Queen, before quickly pulling back again remembering their recent ‘interaction’. She wasn’t sure if she felt more angry or guilty, but the later one was winning out every time she caught sight of those dark eyes glancing over. She tried to smile at Snow, knowing it wasn’t very convincing when the woman raised her eyebrows.
But at least her mother’s inquiring looks were better than Neal’s pout and Hook’s smugness. The latter had held vines and offered hand (or Hook) to help her over a rock a little too many times before she had snapped at him, making his expression mirror Neal’s. For fuck sake… Men!
A soft hand around her wrist, reminding her about Regina’s touch not too long ago, halted her. But Snow’s touch had nothing on the former Mayor’s, and Emma had the nagging thought that wasn’t only because the woman didn’t have magic. Hook was leading them to the place on the map, so it wasn’t so terrible to fall slightly behind as long as they kept track of the last person in the group. Regina… And, oddly annoying, Tinker Bell who, at times, held out a hand which the brunette absentmindedly used for balance.
‘What’s going on with you?’
Tearing her eyes away from the image of Tink’s ‘chivalry’, Emma tried to focus on her mother’s question.
‘What in the name of the gods is going on with you two?’
She cringed, automatically. She had never had a mother, so she had never had such a watchful eye on her before as well. Ah hell, she might as well admit it.
‘I kissed Hook…’
‘What does that have to do with… Wait? What? Hook?’
Snow’s eyes had momentarily been drawn to Regina’s retreating figure, but were immediately on her again.
‘Ehh, well, yeah. It didn’t mean anything or…’
‘But what about…?’
‘Neal? That ship has sailed so long ago…’
Hazel eyes flickered again in the direction of the group, and for a moment Emma felt like she should have let Snow finish her sentence. But just when she was about to ask something, her mother simply blinked and shook her head.
‘So why did you kiss him? If it didn’t mean anything?’
She shrugged, suddenly very uncomfortable under the other woman’s stare.
‘I just… Wanted to connect.’
She felt the pull and looked up, her eyes immediately finding the dark ones of the person looking back. Regina broke the contact as soon as it was there, though, focusing instead of the Fairy, who was saying something that obviously made her smile.
Something inside Emma growled.
‘Let’s go, we shouldn’t lose them.’
Not paying attention in the slightest to vines, poison ivy or rocks, Emma strode in the direction of the group, telling herself the aggression in her step had nothing, what so ever, to do with the playful way Tinker Bell tried to cheer up Regina.
‘And then, the “Fairy Dust”, which was actually powder of the Poppy, just flew everywhere! The Dwarfs slept for 3 days!’
She heard Charming’s laughter and Hook’s huff, as if he had already heard Tink’s story before but still found it amusing and Regina looked up, realizing she had missed most of it. With Snow and Emma falling behind it was like someone was pulling the strings of her heart and she found herself glancing back every once in a while, the odd sensation only relieving slightly when she caught sight of the blonde woman’s form.
‘Oh come on, Regina… It is funny!’
The hand on her upper arm tugged on the corners of her lips, but she felt the smile fade before it had a chance to become full. As Tink followed her eyes during the quick glance she stole, the mossy green darkened slightly. With sadness or anger, Regina wasn’t quite sure.
‘I don’t think she meant it, you know. It was totally uncalled for…’
‘Oh, was it now, dear? If I remember correctly, not too long ago you said something similar. Was that uncalled for as well?’
She didn’t wait for an answer as she inhaled deeply, planning to continue, her anger allowing her to feel a spark of life again. But the Fairy surprised her by providing one anyway.
‘ And she… What?’
The mossy eyes before her looked back with guilt written all over them, and a small smile that made Regina’s heart jump in a remembrance of old times, appeared around the Fairies mouth.
‘I said those things to lure you out, Regina… You have never been one to open up easily… And considering our history, I didn’t think asking you friendly, was going to help. I hadn’t counted on your love for your son.’
Tink put up her hand as an indication to stop her, clearly still knowing her well enough to see she was about to interrupt.
‘So yes, it was uncalled for. And, even though it hurt me at the time, and it took me many years to get there, I understand why you sent me away that day… Why you didn’t go in.’
Her eyes grew wide with the sadness she saw in Tinker Bell’s eyes, indicating that, maybe, indeed she did. The shock of that realization, as well as the terrified words stuck in her throat, must have been visible on her face when she glanced at the two women returning to the group, because Tink gently placed palm against her cheek and drew back her attention.
‘Fairies hear wishes, Regina. Sometimes it’s a jumble and you don’t get to figure things out until much later, but we do hear them. And I am so sorry I heard yours too late. I don’t know what I could have done to help. But I should have, would have tried…’
The Fairy’s voice kind of died down and broke at the last sentences, and Tinker Bell dropped her hand as well as her eyes.
The word was filled with… With everything. It jumbled into her abdomen, dazzling her as she looked aside at the woman who was making her feel this way. Who was the reason for the amazing, horrifying, agonizing, liberating and constricting feeling that exploded in her chest every time she caught those turquoise eyes. The woman who stood there, her eyes swirling with as much emotion as that one short word.
Anger, forgiveness, guilt, pain, apology, worry, tenderness.
Her own voice sounded low, and slightly mocking which made a corner of Emma’s mouth pull up. A sight that had never been more welcome.
The quick glance Emma casted in Tinker Bell’s direction made Regina freeze in surprise and blink. There was something dark and intense in there that reminded her of what she herself wanted to do to a certain Pirate. Tink had seen it too, Regina noticed in the form of a playful wink and a suggestive eyebrow movement at the alternative meanings the words could have, and she simply huffed, horrified to feel a blush reach for her cheeks.
The red rushing to Regina’s face would have been amazing, if the brunette had not been looking at that damn Firefly at the time! Emma saw how the dark brown eyes lit up, and the curve of those full lips, pressed together, changed slightly. She noticed every little change which wasn’t such a strange thing. She had always been good at reading people, at finding the give-aways in their poker-faces. What was absurd however, was the strange twirling feeling that each changed feature drew out. Her stomach felt weird, as if she was hungry or about to throw up, and as she glanced back and saw the Fairy smile gently at the former Mayor, the sharp pain that shot through her body made her want to sob. All the emotions she had ever felt seemed to fight with each other for a first place in her heart when Regina’s eyes found hers again and the woman nodded.
Happiness, fear, shyness, guilt, gratitude, pain.
It all followed each other in a neverending rollercoaster ride.
Their eyes seemed to be locked and for the shortest (most amazing) moment, Emma thought Regina was reaching out to take her hand, when Tinker Bell stepped in and took it instead.
‘Yes, we should get going, now, shouldn’t we, if we ever want to reach the caves.’
Emma blinked when she heard the Fairy’s voice hesitate at the last word, tremble, as if just the idea of a dark hole inside a rock was the scariest ever. It drew Regina’s attention too, she noticed, as the woman’s head snapped towards her new found, much too cuddly, best friend.
Then, before the blonde could do as much as breathe, Tinker Bell suddenly flew into Regina’s arms. It would have been funny to see the brunette tense up, the arms at first, aimlessly, lingering in the air, hands slightly trembling, the back upright as if a rod had been pushed through her spine. It would have been a hilarious sight, had it not been for the way those hovering arms suddenly clung on, the hands finding the curve of the Fairy’s back, the back bending when leaning into the hug.
Yes, Emma thought, as she turned around, kicking at the nearest available stone in sight and feeling her foot slip as she didn’t even come close to connecting with the rock. It would have been laughable if it hadn’t been so damn heartbreaking.
It had startled her, at first, the unexpected fierceness of the embrace almost making her forget the question that was on the tip of her tongue. She had felt herself freeze before she remembered… Before she allowed herself to recall the warmth the Fairy had brought, once, to her life, when she had swirled in and taken reign completely, even if it just had been for the shortest of moments. It had been so long, then, that she had been touched in genuine affection. Not since Daniel. Her father, no matter how much he had loved her, never had been the type for physical display of affection, she had tried everything in her power to hold off Snow, and her husband… A cold chill made her hold onto the Fairy a little tighter, the warmth of her kindness soothing slightly the permanent ache in her chest.
She found herself smiling, thinking how stiffly she had responded the first times Tinker Bell had hugged her, back then, until, one night, after an especially horrid dream, she had woken up to find the Fairy waiting. Holding her, comforting her. It had always been hard for her to show weakness, but at that moment it had felt like her misery simply seeped out of her and was shared, even though no words of comfort or explanation were ever offered.
‘Regina, please, believe me when I say I really did… really do care about you. Please remember that. Whatever you hear about me…’
The words, breathed almost frantically, in her ear, made Regina’s eyes grow wide, earlier ones about their destination suddenly resounding through her mind as she pulled herself out of the embrace. She was pulled back, however and absentmindedly registered soft lips being pressed to her cheek.
‘Where are we going, exactly?’
She felt the panic rise in her throat, like bile, insuppressible as she let her fingertips wander to her face, caressing the small patch of skin that had just been graced with such affection. Why had she not paid better attention to the map? Why had she allowed others to take over leadership on this island she knew better than any of them? Why had she allowed herself to lose control? The urge to know, to demand to know now, ached as a habit, pulling her back into the fierce pain of the situation she was in. The fake blanket of reassurance she had allowed herself to, frightened, cover under, was discarded and she tried to pull her shoulders back, telling herself she was strong enough to hear the answer she knew was coming.
‘The echo caves.’
Regina smiled at the irony of being in a place where you had to believe things in order to make them true, smirked at the thought of her lack of capacity to even convince herself when she proved her last thought wrong and slipped into the dark safety of unconsciousness.