Emma is well aware that this isn’t the best place or time for philosophical inner musings, but even so she can’t stop herself from wondering if it is possible for a person to be haunted by a ghost of somebody else’s past. Because that is exactly how she is feeling right now, standing in front of Regina as people bow to the brunet, obviously mistaking her for the Queen who belongs to this world. She already faced the Evil Queen of the Enchanted Forrest and the Evil Queen of re-cursed Storybrook – and really, how much fun would it be to go maybe a full month without a new curse being cast on the poor town - and shouldn’t that have filled some kind of a quota? After all, she is probably the one person who always made a clear distinction between who Regina is now, and who she used to be a lifetime ago, so she truly does not need a regular reminder of who the woman used to be. With a sigh she takes a glance at Regina, and can see the other woman is visibly shaken. And suddenly she is feeling like a complete ass, because if she thinks this is difficult for her, she can only imagine how it affects Regina, the woman who has worked so hard to overcome her past, and is now going to come face to face with it once again. Realizing that now they’ve been in the same position for what is considered more than appropriate by any standard, Emma puts a gentle hand on Regina’s arm and gestures her head towards the family. It takes the brunet a few moments, but she finally manages to get out a croaked “Rise.”
They do, and Emma gives them a quick smile as she pulls Regina a few steps away. “We need a few moments, be right back with you.” She doesn’t care how strange their behavior might seem, this needs one on one conferring.
Before she manages to say anything, Regina is talking, anger and distress evident in her every word. “I don’t care what you are going to say, this is not Enchanted Forrest, I can guarantee that. I did not make a mistake, I’d know if we were back home.” She is staring Emma down as if daring her to disagree with what she said, and Emma is suddenly sad again, because she thought they were over this, over their first reactions being anger and perceived accusations.
Pushing her disappointment down, Emma responds. “Regina, it’s okay. I trust you, and that’s not what I was going to say. I just need us to figure out where else it could be, and how do we deal with it now? We can’t just…ignore the fact that people will recognize you wherever we go.”
Regina gives her a measuring look before nodding. It takes her a few moments before she speaks again. “It could be we were transported to a whole different dimension, not just realm.”
Emma gives her a questioning look, not really sure what the difference between the two would be, and Regina hurries to explain. “I think for your equivalent you’d need to think of it in the way of quantum mechanics, dimensions would equal parallel universes.”
Emma is not sure what confuses her more, the idea itself, or the fact Regina is talking about physics theories. “How do you even know about quantum mechanics?”
“It was a long and rather lonely 28 years, Emma. Now, do you really think that is the issue you should be concentrating on?”
Properly chastised, Emma focuses on the explanation, and pulling from her limited - and mostly TV provided - knowledge on the subject, she begins to form a picture. “So what, we are in a parallel realm? With all of the people we know, only…what, different?”
“That would be my guess, yes. That would also explain why I can feel my magic, but can’t really access it.”
Emma mulls this for a few moments. If what Regina is saying is true, then everything they know, or think they know, could be false. Which could be a bad thing, but also a good one, when you think about it. “So you are telling me you could be a benevolent ruler here?”
Regina looks at her in surprise, the thought obviously never having crossed her mind. Then she shakes her head as if physically rejecting the idea. “Hardly. I don’t think that much of a difference is realistic to expect.”
“Why not? Look at them, Regina. Do they look frightened to you?”
They both turn towards the family, and Emma is sure that even Regina can’t deny that what they are seeing is not the usual response to the Evil Queen. The parents are standing together looking at them expectantly, but neither has their eyes cast down and no fear is coming off of them, just a lot of excitement and curiosity. Girls are even less reserved and are giggling while stealing glances at the two of them, not even bothering to try and hide it properly.
“Hardly a reaction you’d expect to receive if you were evil, don’t you think?”
“Maybe they don’t know her all that well. Maybe they were lucky enough and have never met her, so they don’t know how to behave properly. They are peasants, after all, it’d be unrealistic to expect they’d know what’s good for them.”
Truly perplexed at why Regina is so vehemently denying the possibility, Emma is about to start arguing the point, but then it hits her. Regina is scared. It’s one thing to be confronted with your own past, the one you know. But what if this realm’s Regina managed to get everything Regina has always wanted, without giving in to her dark side? She suddenly understands perfectly why the brunet feels like she needs it not to be true. And there are so many things that Emma wants to tell her, reassure her, explain why she can’t compare her experiences with somebody else’s, but now is not the time. They will have that conversation, but right now they need to decide on their next move.
“Look, we can talk about this for hours and we will not be any closer to knowing the truth. Why don’t we keep up the charade, and get a ride to the nearest settlement? We’ll be able to get more information there, for sure, and maybe even start to form some kind of a plan of how to get back home.”
Regina looks of into distance for a moment and then just nods her head. Straightening her shoulders she moves towards the family in full Queen mode. “We need a ride to the nearest town; I am assuming you can accommodate us?”
Both wife and husband are visibly confused, but then the man recovers quickly. “Of course, Your Majesty! It will be our privilege. That is, if you are sure my humble cart will be adequate; I know you are used to different and more comfortable modes of transportation...”
Emma is wondering if he is thinking about the royal carriage or transporting themselves with magic, and is thinking about how to explain this, when Regina answers without a beat. “I am looking to get to know some of my subjects.”
The woman beams at this, her face glowing with excitement. “Of course, of course. We were on our way for the festivities anyhow, we’ll give you a ride right to your castle if you wish.”
“There’ll be no need, thank you, town gates will do.”
The woman nods knowingly. “Don’t want to be stuck in the crowd, I understand. Most of the kingdom will be there, after all.”
They both climb in the back of the cart, despite the wife being insistent on Regina taking her place up front. Emma knows the brunet didn’t refuse to be polite – she has changed, that’s for sure, but not that much - but so they could talk as they ride.
A few minutes pass in silence and then one of the girls, the older one who looks to be around fourteen, starts talking. “Is that the new fashion at the courts, Your Highness?”
It takes Emma a few moments to realize that she is addressing her, and after getting over the first shock that she is recognized as a Princess, she assumes, she quickly tries to come up with a reasonable explanation for hers and Regina’s attires. “Umm, yes, this was brought to our realm by some guests from a faraway land. It looked…comfortable, so we are trying it out.” She is stammering, and she can feel Regina’s look on her, almost can feel the word idiot even if the brunet never actually voiced it. But the explanation was good enough to satisfy the girl’s curiosity, as she is now whispering something to her sister, never losing the smile.
Regina addresses the wife. “You said you were on the way to the festivities?”
“Yes, I know we are a little early, but we didn’t want to risk missing the big day. We would have never dreamed that we’d be riding with the Queen and the Princess themselves!”
Big day? How exactly do they find out what the big day is when they are obviously supposed to know already?
The question is answered without need for intervention when the younger girl, the one who looks to be around 10, scoots over to Regina and shyly offers her a daisy she’s been holding since the trip had started. “I’m going to be just like you when I grow up. I’ll decide on and marry my true love as well, no matter what everybody else says.”
Regina takes the flower and gives the girl a big smile and a soft “Thank you”, and Emma can’t stop herself before saying “It seems we made it just in time for your wedding, Your Majesty.”
Regina makes sure the girl’s attention is on something else before she shoots an aggravated look Emma’s way, and she is suddenly sorry for making light of situation. If the day in question is really Regina’s wedding day, then they will probably get to see her with Daniel or even Robin, and she can only imagine how much pain that will cause the woman sitting next to her, who lost every man she ever loved before ever getting to experience true happiness with them .
“I’m sorry.” She whispers sincerely, and Regina nods her head, obviously too tired to hold a grudge. “Hey, at least we seem to be friends here. They don’t seem to be surprised that we were walking the woods together. That’ll make things easier, don’t you think?”
Regina nods her head and then turns to answer something the man asked, and Emma tries to find some silver lining in all of this, and figures that in the end, at any rate they’ll see who it is that made her happy, at least in this reality. Maybe their wish will come true in a round-about way, and they’ll know there’s another option somewhere in the world.
After a few more minutes, Regina bumps her arm with her shoulder, gesturing at their surroundings. There is an excited note in her voice as she whispers. “This actually looks familiar.”
“Yes...this…this is my grandfather’s kingdom. My father’s father. I am sure, I know this place well.” Then she is looking back at Emma, as if looking for answers. “I don’t understand. How can I be a queen here, my father had four brothers ahead of him in line to the throne?”
“Your father did, but you told me yourself that while they might be similar, things are not the same here.”
Regina’s brow furrows as if contemplating all the possibilities, and once again Emma really wishes there was something she could do to relieve the worry obvious in her features. She realizes that no option is going to be easy for the brunet, and suddenly she feels a heavy weight on her chest, because this is her doing. This is her stupid idea, and her inability to hold her liquor, and her over eagerness to get the brunet to be her friend even if the other woman might not be there yet…might not ever be there, after this. And she hates that, because Emma has friends now, she has a family, and she is happy with them, she truly is, but still…every one of them sees her as something they need her to be, a mother, a daughter, a savior, this perfect image they built in their heads which she has to live up to, and Regina…Regina sees her. She understands her, knows that she is not perfect, knows the ways in which her past has molded her, and it’s around her that Emma can truly be herself, with no fear of disappointing or living down these ideas of her. And that’s why Emma needs her in her life, craves for Regina to be her friend, and now that overzealous desire might have ruined it all.
She is still deep in her thoughts when Regina makes a decision. “In our realm not too many people could help us out with what we need. I can’t know for sure that fairies or Rumple even have their magic here, but considering I can feel mine, we can assume that the Queen does. So the only thing we can do is try to locate her, and see if she’d be willing to help. And for the sake of that, I hope you are right in thinking she is not the Evil Queen.” She leans into Emma, as if trying to give additional weight to her words. “If there is one thing I can say with certainty, it’s that the Evil Queen would not help us. And you really don’t want to know what would most likely happen to us instead.”
Decision made, they ride the rest of the way in idle chit chat, mostly answering questions from the girls about court life. That being Regina’s field of expertise Emma lets her do most of the talking, and actually enjoys as she watches the older woman finally relax a little bit, her features softening as she is describing one of the first balls she snuck in when she was a kid – expertly avoiding giving any of the details which might not fit into the current realm. It’s a fun story and they are all laughing at the end, and Emma can’t help but feel warmth envelop her at being privy to this unguarded moment in which Regina actually looks happy for an instant. Time passes quickly, and as they approach the outskirts of the town, Regina asks the man to stop the cart. They thank them for the ride, and the whole family is beaming as they say their goodbyes, the young girl breaking all propriety and throwing her arms around Regina, pulling her into a long hug. The parents start to apologize but Regina just shakes her head with a smile, giving the girl a quick peck on the cheek before ending the hug. As they are about to leave, the woman turns to them once again adding “You’ll both be so happy, I am sure of it!”, and they are nodding back at her but it’s not really clear to Emma what she means by both. Not really dwelling on it, though, they wait for the cart to get out of sight before they start to move again.
Emma looks at Regina, and while the woman’s shoulders are not as tense as they were, she still looks exhausted. They never had a chance to really recover from the overdose of alcohol, and the whole stressful situation didn’t help all that much. At least Emma is in sensible shoes, while Regna’s heels look anything but comfortable to walk in on the dirt road. An idea forms in her mind, and she decides to bring it up, hoping the pride won’t cause Regina to turn it down outright.
“Look, why don’t we find a nice secluded spot for you sit and rest for a while, while I find us something to wear to bland in better?”
Regina looks at her surprised at the offer, but obviously not too quick to refuse. “Do you think it’s smart we separate?”
“I’ll be as quick as possible, and I am really good in finding my way around places. We are nearly in the city, and I am sure that even if we could hide who we are, these clothes would get us much unwanted attention.” She takes a detour from the road and spies a spot which has a tree stump perfect for sitting, and is secluded enough to be considered safe. “This looks okay. Just stay here and we’ll be okay. I am a Charming after all, even if I get lost, I’ll fi-“
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!”
Emma gives her an affronted huff and turns around to leave, hiding the smile forming on her lips. She is so easy.
She is gone for less than an hour, and is determined to ignore the warmth that spreads in her chest at the relief on Regina’s face when she sees her. It’s there only for a moment, though, and she can see the walls go up in an instant, a quick “took you long enough” taking them back to the more familiar territory. And Emma refuses to be disappointed, because her mood does not depend on Regina, she is not a masochist, and she’ll be damned if she’ll let it affect her. She forces a smile and tosses Regina few clothing items she found, keeping a pair of pants and a shirt for herself. She turns around and takes a few steps to give the other woman some privacy, simultaneously shedding her own clothes to put on the more appropriate attire. She is just buttoning her new pants satisfied that while not a perfect fit, they’ll stay on and will not have her trip due to being too long, when Regina shows up right behind her.
“Really, Emma? Really?! This is the only thing you could find for me?”
Emma turns around and immediately realizes the cause of the other woman’s indignation. The dress she got her is at best one size too small, and considering that it was rather revealing as it is in the cleavage department, this makes it look rather obscene. However, she’ll be damned if she’d let Regina know she finds the dress to be too much. It’s not as if she had a store to get to, and she didn’t even get a thank you for her trouble. “Oh, come on, Regina, I have seen your dresses from your time as the queen, you are not afraid of a little cleavage.”
The look Regina gives her makes even the famed savior take a step back. “Those were regal and not vulgar! And this is far from a little cleavage. This looks like it came from a brothel!”
Emma casts her eyes down guiltily, and as Regina gasps realizing what that means, the blonde prepares mentally for the next salvo.
“Brothel!? You got me a prostitute’s dress?”
Regina is furious and okay, Emma is willing to admit that that was not the best solution she could have come up with but it was quick and easy - and she is scarred for life as it is by some of the things she saw as she was searching for the easy way to snatch some discarded clothes - and she’s just hoping that she looks sincere and remorseful enough when she apologizes. “Look, I am sorry. You wanted me to hurry, and I did. I saw an opportunity and I grabbed it. And look. There’s a shawl there. Just drape it over your…assets and we’ll be good.”
There’s a long pause before Regina sighs in resignation. “They are called breasts, Emma, we are not five.”
And Emma is scoffing at that, but in all honesty, she is really hoping Regna takes her advice sooner rather than later, because she keeps glancing at her breasts, and she’d rather not get caught. It’s not that she wants to look, not like she finds them attractive, they are just so…there. Heaving a sigh of relief when the older woman finally finishes dressing, Emma motions for her to lead.
They make their way towards the castle using back alleys and keeping their heads down in order to avoid anybody else recognizing them, and it’s not long before they are approaching their target.
They stop while they are still hidden from the guards’ view, Emma shifting nervously from one foot to the other. “So the plan is to just walk in?”
“Unless you have a better one…”
Emma really wishes she did have one, but the truth is that no, she does not. “How do you know the guards won’t stop us?”
“I can’t know for sure, but I can assume that even if the things are different here, a few will remain unchanged no matter what. The guards do not question their royalty; we just need to act like we belong there. They might find our attires strange, but they’ll rather just attach it to eccentricity of the rich and powerful than say something and risk getting thrown into prison or even get hanged for disobedience.”
Emma swallows at that but just nods her head and motions for Regina to lead the way. No matter her experiences in life she is a foreigner here, and relying on Regina’s instincts seems like the best – and only – course of action. And it soon proves to be a good decision, because except for a few curious looks all they get are a few “Your Majesty” and they walk inside the walls of the castle without any issues. Emma takes a few peaks at Regina as they are walking, and she can’t help but be impressed by the other woman. Despite her attire there is a regal air around her, a look of bored arrogance on her face and she is honestly not surprised at all that nobody suspects anything. The woman is a queen, after all. It’s also a bit surprising to find that she actually likes seeing Regina in this mode. It’s a reminder of when she was just the Sheriff and Regina was Madam Major she constantly clashed with and she suddenly starts as she realizes that for a moment she was missing some of those initial volatile interactions, and that is disconcerting enough that she forces her mind back to the task at hand, determined to ignore …whatever that was.
As they enter a big yard, Regina starts to lead them towards the building, only they don’t make it far before there is somebody running towards them, and she can feel arms grabbing her and pulling her back.
“Get away from her!” She is about to fight whomever it is, but then the voice registers, and she realizes it’s Regina…no, not Regina, the Queen who has now pushed her behind and is approaching Regina with determination. There is blue smoke coming out of the Queen’s raised hand and it’s snaking its way around Regina, lifting her up and angrily tightening around her, leaving the other woman gasping for breath. Even in this position she can see Regina give the Queen a defiant look, never taking her eyes of the woman, as if she is taunting her to continue, and Emma feels her own chest tightening at the sight. She jumps at the Queen from behind, trying to knock her down and distract her from the brunet before it’s too late. For a moment she succeeds, and Regina is dropped unceremoniously to the floor, and not a moment too late judging by the way she is hungrily getting air into her lungs. The Queen gets up effortlessly and turns to her and Emma is preparing for the worst, frantically looking for a place to duck from a fireball and considering if it is even possible to outrun a magic smoke attack - damn it, she wishes she paid more attention to the theory parts of their magic training – but none of it comes. For some reason the Queen does not attack her back, she just looks at her in a way which makes Emma utterly uncomfortable and makes her actually wish the attack would come, because she could react to that, and break this really, really strange and uncomfortable moment.
The Queen extends a hand towards her, and as she pulls away, there’s sadness in royal woman’s eyes. “I don’t know what Rumpelstiltskin did this time, who that woman is, but it is not me. I am right here. Please don’t fall for…”
They hear a crash of something hitting the stone floor and all three woman turn to the entrance to see a shocked looking – what Emma is assuming, since it’s really unnerving looking into her own face - Princess Emma standing there, looking at the scene with utter confusion.
Emma sees the Princess take in the sight once more before making a decision and moving quickly towards the Queen, taking her hand and addressing her gently “Love?”
And suddenly it feels like the world is closing in on her, and no, she must have heard wrong, this is not possible, but it makes sense suddenly, the looks the Queen gave her, the protectiveness, the you’ll both be so happy, and still she hopes she is wrong as she registers her own voice join Regina’s as they simultaneously repeat in sheer horror: “Love?!”