Mother isn't here now / Wrong things, right things / Who knows what she'd say? / Who can say what's true? / Who can say what's true? / Do things, fight things / Feel you've lost your way? But- / You decide, but / You are not alone
--Into the Woods
Sometimes the elephant in the room is the Wicked Witch of the West living like a ghost upstairs.
Emma could wonder this: what the fuck is my life, but that thought has never been particularly productive. Also Zelena doesn’t make any noise, so she can pretend Zelena’s the name of Regina’s new cat and not her new sister. Her new sister who tried to kill everyone. Her new sister that Emma shares a little too much backstory with.
It works until it doesn’t.
Emma’s eating chocolate chip ice cream straight from the carton when Regina returns from bringing Zelena dinner. She pauses at the doorframe and narrows her eyes at the spectacle, but Emma hands her a spoon before she can say something.
A few minutes later and she’s totally sharing ice cream with Regina like it’s something they just do all the time, like they’re married (no). When in reality Emma’s been avoiding her own place like the plague while there’s a crying baby she doesn’t know how to be around, and Regina refuses to admit that Emma’s pretty much the only person in this town she’d let eat ice cream out of the carton with no questions asked.
There’s no Henry to be a buffer, so Emma just taps her fingers on the marble countertop until Regina hisses Emma and swats her fingers away. Emma smiles. Prickly, fussy Regina is someone she knows how to talk to. Even though prickly, fussy Regina isn’t exactly Regina at all.
Sometimes Regina looks at her with these big big eyes and a gentle smile, small but full, and Emma is struck by–not the vulnerability, that’s the wrong word–but the sheer bigness of everything Regina feels all the time. Emma doesn’t know how to talk to that Regina yet, but she’d like to.
“Maybe if I starve her out, she’ll leave that room.” Regina says eventually, stares at her spoon like it has all the answers. Emma almost make a quip about Regina staring at her own reflection, but doesn’t because yeah, they’re not quite there. She ends up staring at Regina’s lips as she purses them in contemplation.
She turns back to her own spoon when Regina’s eyes flicker up to meet hers, and snorts with a wry smile.
“Yeah, something tells me she’ll be stubborn as hell until the day she dies. Which might be sooner than later if you try to cut off her food supply.” Emma nudges Regina’s shoulder with her own, almost affectionately and looks at her. “Must run in the family.”
Regina’s response is to purse her lips again and roll her eyes and tug the carton towards her. Emma frowns. “You could just pick up food at Granny’s for her instead of cooking? I mean it’s easily my favorite place to be in Storybrooke, but one can only have so many pancakes and cheeseburgers before searching for other sources.” With a well-timed strike, she ambushes Regina’s hoarded ice cream carton and steals a huge spoon full. Regina tuts, but there’s mirth in the creases by her eyes. “You’re a child.”
“Well, you’re an ice cream thief, Madam Mayor.” Emma points the spoon at her before stealing another bite.
“I can’t steal what’s already mine.” She says, punctuating it by consuming a huge spoon fill, and makes a dramatic ah sound when she swallows. There’s a tiny dab of chocolate on the corner of her mouth, and Emma lifts her hand, like what, she’s going to wipe it away? Jesus, she might have to ask Regina for some of that cider. She wipes her hand on her jeans instead, and Regina flicks a tongue out to wipe away the dab herself. Emma finds herself staring. She catches the stare, almost bringing Emma to a slight panic before grabbing the now empty carton and moving off the stool to dump it in the trash.
“Anyway, I’m used to buying for and making two portions.” Emma inhales and chews the inside of her mouth. That’s the other elephant in the room. Henry’s been wanting to go live at his mom’s for a while now, but no one, least of all Regina, believes a house with a still furious Zelena is a safe environment for him. Cue Henry believing they’re treating him like a little kid. Cue Henry wearing his grump face every time either of them tries to explain. She loves the kid with every fiber of her being, but she just wishes he’d understand.
“And I enjoy cooking.” Regina turns around and leans against the counter, crosses her arms. She snorts. “However, I don’t much enjoy the passive aggressive little notes my dear sis leaves when I pick up the trays. The meat wasn’t all the way cooked through. The pasta was cold. There’s too much flour in the brownies.”
Emma twists her lips. “No offense Regina, but your sister is kind of an asshole.”
Regina laughs dryly. “I’m very aware, dear.” She runs a hand through her hair and stares at some spot on the wall, her brows knitting together. She suddenly looks very, very sad for just split second before she sneers and shakes her head.
“Even when I do absolutely nothing to someone, they manage to find some reason to despise me.” She turns around and opens a cabinet, takes out two wine glasses. Emma watches her shoulders tense as she thinks and thinks. She goes to another cabinet and has to stand on her toes to reach a wine bottle on the very top shelf. She always forgets how short Regina is.
“Have you tried...talking to her? You know, about….your mom, and….” Emma asks and trails off, not quite sure how to phrase how your life wasn’t the absolute dream Zelena seems to think it was without sounding like she’s saying hey your life sucked ass.
Regina looks at her like she’s an idiot. “I didn’t move her into my home to simply ignore her and treat her like some prisoner, Ms. Swan.”
Great, they’re back to that. “I didn’t mean that.” She says quickly.
Regina sighs and pours herself a glass of wine, before moving the bottle over to Emma so she can do the same. “I know you didn’t.”
Emma takes a small sip. It’s strong and rich. It burns pleasantly and she clears her throat. “Is this because of what Mary Margaret said? You know, how nice it was of you to take Zelena in, give her a second chance like we did to you–”
Her eyes narrowing and her lip curling up and her hand tenses around the wine glass are all Emma needs to surmise that yeah, that’s what that was about. She holds her hands up. “Believe me, my hands met my face when she said that.”
Regina seems to relax a little bit, releases her grip on the wine glass. “Your mother loves a good redeemed villain saga. By her moral standards, of course.”
Emma fidgets. She knows Mary Margaret means well, but also knows that Regina makes a really, really solid point. Even though Regina and Snow are far away from trying to kill each other, there’s always something. So she’s slightly in the middle, like always these days.
She takes a much larger sip of wine. “So Zelena’s just being extremely stubborn on all fronts.”
“I surmised that she likes books from the large collection in her home, and so I brought them here, recommended some of my favorite titles, even tried introducing her to Henry’s Marvel comics. I figured common ground would be a good place to start….something. Though I know for a fact she’s reading up them there, she refused to even speak to me.”
She swirls the wine around in the glass, seems to be staring at nothing in particular before she raises her gaze to meet Emma’s. “I wanted to give her a place that was safe. A place to be still. And since the town was out for her blood, I thought that place could be here. I thought she might….I don’t want her to think of my home as a prison. I’d even give her the pendant back, if I wasn’t worried about Henry’s safety.” She frowns. “If she does then…..”
She puts her elbow on the counter, leans her head against her hand and looks at Emma.
“Am I being selfish?” She sounds resigned, like she knows the answer already.
Emma reaches out to touch her wrist with her fingers, gently squeezes it. “Protecting your sister that you’re sure hates you from a potential blood thirsty mob, while simultaneously protecting people she might hurt? And giving her space? It’s not as if you’re forcing her to stay in that damn room. She’s choosing to. Look you’ve done selfish shit in the past, but this?” When she started stroking Regina’s wrist, she has no idea. “I’m not the ultimate decider of these things, but in my book, this seems more the opposite.”
Regina stares at her wrist before gently removing it and raising her head, leaving Emma’s fingers splayed on the counter. She goes to pour herself another glass of wine. Emma feels words building up in her throat, words she’s a bit scared to say, but also feels she needs to say.
“I understand her a lot, you know.” She says in one breath before she loses her nerve. “Zelena, I mean. I get why she won’t talk to you.”
Regina raises a brow, and shifts slightly. Her hand tenses around the glasses again, almost imperceptibly, but Emma can tell because of that particular vein in her forehead that also pops out when she tenses.
“Alright, I’m listening, Ms. Swan.”
Emma swallows, drums her fingertips on the marble again. This time Regina just eyes them and doesn’t swat them away. She sighs. “I know what it’s like to not be chosen, I mean in the particular way she wasn’t chosen. By your parents, birth or otherwise.” She watches Regina out of the corner of her eye, and watches her knit her brows together as she realizes what Emma is referring to. They’ve had conversations about Regina’s part in Emma’s orphanhood, and they will probably need to continue to do so, but today is just not a day for one.
“I didn’t know at the time, of course, about the whole fairytale princess part, all I knew was that two sets of parents thought I wasn’t worth it.” She takes another larger sip of wine, let’s it settle the knot twisting in her stomach. This time it’s Regina who gently touches her wrist, moves her fingers down to meet Emma’s, just lets them rest there. “But what I’m trying to get at, is that it might be less to do with you, Regina the person, and more to do with what you represent for her.”
Regina’s hand slides away and her voice is unusually soft. “Cora giving her up.”
“Yeah.” Emma says hoarsely. Though there is one thing she just doesn’t get about Zelena, but this much, this much she does understand.
“Maybe…. what if I tried to talk to her? I mean besides being a thorn in her wicked plans, she doesn’t really have any resentment towards me.”
Regina snorts again and moves to cork up the wine bottle, but Emma stills her to pour herself another half-glass. “Oh, she’ll find a reason. It could even be the hideous color of your ridiculous leather jackets.” She turns around to put the bottle away, and Emma rolls her eyes. She hides a lopsided smile by downing the rest of her wine.
Regina turns back towards her and gives a tired sigh. “And you don’t need to ask my permission, Emma.”
“I wasn’t asking for your permission. I was asking if you thought it would be a good idea.”
Regina leans against the counter again, crosses her arms. After a moment of contemplation she raises both of her brows and purses her lips. “Perhaps.” She sighs again. “Perhaps not. It took a week before she even let me through the door. But she hates me, so that was probably a factor.”
“Hey.” Emma points at her with her glass. “You beat Anna. It took like, ten years and an ice storm before Elsa opened the door.”
Regina scowls. “Then try now or leave, Ms. Swan.”
“I would, but it’s like, eleven-thirty. And I’m a little tipsy for an intense heart-to-heart with a fellow orphan, or something like that.” Emma puts down the glass and gets up off the stool.
“I’ll try in the next few days if you can tolerate more of my presence.”
Regina rolls her eyes. She stills Emma with a hand on her upper arm. “If you’d rather not go back this late, you may sleep on the parlor couch.”
Emma blinks and something warm builds in her stomach. She opens her mouth and closes it a few times, words like how did you know getting stuck in her throat. “Thanks.” She says, rubbing the back of her neck and offering a small smile.
Regina nods and begins to walk out of the kitchen, so she guesses this little talk is over.
Emma stares at her for a second before opening her mouth again. “I really, really don’t think she hates you. And for the record, I hope it works out. I hope you have a sister.”
Regina has that half-smile, those gentle eyes as she looks back at Emma.
“I hope so too.”
With her hand hovering over the door, ready to knock, she wonders for probably the thousandth time this week if this is really a good idea. She made a pros and cons list the night after her conversation with Regina: pro: Zelena might be less angry and prone to killing, con: Zelena might get more angry and more prone to killing. Pro: someone else understands abandonment, solidarity can be nice, con: Zelena might get more angry and more prone to killing. Pro: Regina and Zelena might become closer. They become sisters.
Con? She could potentially alienate Zelena further from Regina if she fucks this up.
She stares down the hallway, wondering if she can somehow slip out the window or something undetected. But then she’d have to walk across the roof to get to the awning and then slide down the–Yeah, no.
She takes a deep I am Emma Swan and I do not run anymore breath, and knocks the door.
For a few seconds, there’s just silence. Then: “I’m reading, Regina, go away.”
(It doesn’t have to be a snowman!)
She shakes her head and grabs her arm with her hand to stifle any fidgeting. She shifts on her feet anyway. “Uh, it’s not Regina. It’s Emma. Emma Swan?”
Silence again. Emma holds her breath. Counts one, two, three, at ten she’s going to say….well, something, and make her way back downstairs.
Seven, eight, nine–
“Oh, have you finally come to take me to the guillotine, Savior?”
Okay. Awesome. They’re off to a good start. “Actually I wanted to talk.”
There’s a muffled laugh. “That’s rich. The Savior coming to talk to the Wicked Witch of the West. Just admit it. Regina’s letting the wolves have me. You’ve come to take me back to the cell.”
Emma’s eyes widen. “No! No, that’s….I’m not. I promise. I really just want to talk.”
She hesitantly opens her mouth. “Regina’s been worried–”
Zelena scoffs. “Now I know you’re lying.”
Shit. Okay, don’t mention Regina. At least, not yet. Emma sighs in frustration, and leans her forehead against the door. “Look, I’m not. I was just...I know what it’s like to feel like you have no one you can talk to, like you have no one on your side. I’ve been where you are right now.”
She attempts to expel Dr. Hopper from her mind. “So here I am. Offering you a person willing to listen to whatever crap you feel like you need to say, even though Regina is also totally willing to be that person and you’ve shut her out.”
After a few excruciating seconds, she hears the light pad of feet and the door being unlocked and opened. Zelena looks like she hasn’t slept in days. Her hair is messily pulled back, and her eyes are rimmed red. She stands tall, but crosses her arms. It looks like she’s holding herself. Emma thinks she remembers Regina doing the same exact thing before.
“So you’re here for my dear little sister, then.”
Emma barely manages to not sigh. “No. Yes. I’m here because you’re acting like Regina is your prison warden, when she’s actually the reason you’re alive. Rumpel? Yeah, he was all set to kill you. The town was kind of all set to kill you. Regina’s given you a second chance, and isn’t shoving her own morality down her throat in the meantime. She’s even on board with giving you the pendant back, once she knows you won’t kill her kid. Also I’ve been in prison. You don’t get home-cooked meals and a nice mattress.” Zelena’s eyes have gone downcast and her arms havef uncrossed, but a snarl is still formed on her lips.
Emma narrows her eyes. “Look you don’t owe Regina shit, but she doesn’t owe you shit either. But she’s saved your ass anyway. It actually might do you good to meet her halfway, and realize that of the many people who’ve screwed you over? She’s not one of them.” Zelena looks up at her, eyes wide, mouth parted. She visibly swallows before clenching her fists and schooling her expression. She re-crosses her arms and lifts her head.
“Get out, Savior.”
Emma’s sure she’s said the exact wrong thing at the wrong time, and god Regina is going to be pissed if she’s back to square one with Zelena and it’s all Emma’s fault, but she takes another leap of faith anyway.
“Just….call me Emma. Or Sheriff Swan, anything but that. Do you have a piece of paper?”
Zelena blinks. “What?”
“A piece of paper. You know, for writing.” Zelena rolls her eyes, and Emma almost smiles at the familiarity of it. She goes back into her room, and shuts it, but not before Emma sees the near mountain of books piled up on her bed. She comes back out seconds later with a ripped out sheet of notebook paper.
“What on earth could you need–”
Emma puts the paper against the doorframe, and quickly scribbles out ten numbers.
“Look I doubt you believe it, but I do get why you’re isolating yourself and won’t talk to anyone, much less me and Regina. I don’t get you, Zelena, but I get that. So…” She holds on the piece of notebook paper. “Here’s my number.”
Zelena just stares at it.
“Not having people sucks. But having people and not realizing before you don’t anymore? That kind of sucks more.” Zelena stares at her.
“At least keep it as an emergency number for the Sheriff’s office.”
Zelena rolls her eyes again, but quickly takes the number and slams the door.
Emma takes a deep breath, and goes back downstairs.
She wonders if Regina has another bottle of that wine.