Title: Fragments Of A Life Less Lived
Fandom: Once Upon A Time
Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.
Summary: This started as a character study of Regina and just turned into something…else. Long and angsty. You have been warned. ;)
Author's Note: You can find me on twitter: heartsways or on tumblr
Henry had left one of his shoes on the stairs again. With a barely restrained sigh of irritation, Regina picked it up between thumb and forefinger, letting it dangle from her grip as though it was a foreign object. She liked her house kept the way she liked it: orderly and controlled. Just like she preferred everything else in her life. There had been enough chaos already; enough disorder that imprinted itself on her mind and left an unsettling feeling in her chest. It wasn't enough that Henry's birth mother had arrived in Storybrooke and refused to leave. No; it was really more to do with the fact that Regina, despite her deep-seated suspicions and fears, couldn't quite bring herself to banish the woman forever.
She started up the curved staircase, taking each step with a weary gait. It wasn't that she didn't possess the power to make Emma Swan go away forever. If she'd wanted to, she could have quite literally erased the woman from the face of the earth. Power came in many forms and Regina had a grip on most, if not all, of them.
In the greater scheme of things, Henry's birth mother turning up ten years after the event probably wouldn't have caused such great amounts of alarm to the Mayor. In fact, given some consideration, Regina might have been quite equivocal about it, all told.
But Emma Swan hadn't 'just turned up', had she? She had been sought out, brought here by the son that Regina had raised, loved, nurtured. The fact that she had decided to not only stay but to integrate herself into the town – into Regina's town – seemed like a betrayal of huge proportions.
Regina glanced down at the shoe in her grasp and her lips tightened into a firm line of discontent. It seemed that she was destined to spend her time cleaning up the detritus of Henry's life; however it chose to manifest itself.
But she would continue doing it; it was best for Henry. Best for their family. And she'd worked so hard to have one – sacrificed her sense of wellbeing and her heart – that she wasn't about to allow Emma Swan to take it from her. So she would clean up Henry's mess, tidy up the house and their lives, make things the way that they were.
Turning onto the landing at the top of the stairs, Regina stopped suddenly, heart lurching in her chest. Through the window she had caught sight of her orchard; another thing that she'd nurtured and cared for more than she'd ever admit. Another thing that Emma Swan had tainted and fractured. Her eyes lingered over the branches that had been sawn through, the limbs cut short, ugly and pale underneath the comforting darkness of the outer layers.
It wasn't enough that Emma had violated her property. She'd also violated the tenuous relationship Regina had with her son. Loving someone beyond the telling of it and receiving nothing in return had pierced Regina's heart with the sharpness of a poisoned thorn. Seeing Henry love Emma so easily and with such fervor had only served to spread the poison throughout Regina's whole body, it seemed.
And yet, she had allowed Emma to remain in Storybrooke. Allowed the woman to roam freely, take up residence, make friends and allies.
For a woman who knew every move days before she made it and was certain and sure of the consequences of her actions, Regina Mills simply couldn't explain her reticence to get rid of Emma permanently. It confused her almost as much as the love she felt for her son – a boy who saw her as the villain of the piece. Because how could one give so much love when it was clear it would never be reciprocated? And how could she stand by and watch as the object of that love gave his affections to someone else?
Blinking, Regina realized she'd been standing by the window for several minutes. Tearing her gaze away from the crooked, damaged tree in her orchard, she drew in a breath, straightening her back and assuming the confident, authoritarian posture that came as second nature to her. It wouldn't do to let Henry know how she felt. Fear was a weakness that could be exploited to terrible ends.
And Regina Mills was going to get her happy ending, no matter what.
Throwing open the door to Henry's bedroom with a rather more dramatic flair than she'd intended, she saw her son curled up on his bed with a book open on his knees.
No. Not a book. The book. The one he hid from her and pored over when he thought she wasn't looking.
Two large, startled eyes met her own as she stood in the doorway and Regina couldn't stop the pang of regret that clenched at her heart. She never wanted to give Henry cause for grief and yet it seemed that lately, that was all she did. Nobody had told her that being a mother was an intricate game.
Which was odd, really, because when it came to intricate games requiring the greatest, deftest of skills and mental acuity, Regina Mills was a master.
But she didn't know the rules of this game, nor did she have the upper hand. Those facts alone were enough to dispel the pang of fear in her chest and etch a frown across her delicately smooth brow.
"What have I told you," she began in a rather more stentorian tone than she'd intended, "about leaving your shoes around the house?"
Henry blinked, his face impassive. Just once, Regina thought wearily, she wanted to see something on his features. Anything. But the child was resolutely emotionless when it came to her and even if he did show anything, it was a barely disguised fear and loathing.
It hurt her more than she cared to admit to anyone. Especially to herself.
"I'm sorry," he said, although it was clear to her that he wasn't.
She dropped his shoe just inside the doorway, breaking the invisible barrier that prevented her from entering. When her son had that book on his lap, she knew better than to approach him. It was a secret as yet unshared; the stories that he clung to and believed in, if that charlatan of a therapist was to be trusted.
And in those stories, Regina had been cast as the Evil Queen: the fount of all that was unholy and bereft of anything like the love she wanted to lavish upon him.
That hurt her, too. Perhaps more than anything else. Because if her own son believed that she was inherently evil, then nothing in this world could change that. Or any other world, she thought grimly, casting a baleful glance towards the book on Henry's lap.
He scooted further up onto his bed, shifting backwards against the pillows behind him and clutched at the book with both hands, his knuckles turning white.
Regina's mouth formed a firm line. Things had rubbed along nicely until Emma Swan had come to town – and stayed. Or, at least, that was the lie she told herself, wanting to believe it as fervently as Henry wanted to believe in fairytales.
"Don't do it again," she admonished, nodding curtly at his apology. She half-turned out of the doorway before spinning around on her heel. "And can't you find something else to read?" she barked. "I'm sick of seeing that book."
Henry cocked his head curiously, staring at her with eyes that seemed older than his years.
"I like this book," he explained simply.
"I don't," she replied sharply. She saw it then, the imperceptible flash of fear in his eyes. Her own son, afraid of her. And she, standing in his doorway, hands on hips, assuming the pose of the Evil Queen he believed her to be.
It was too much. Too much to bear and too much to see reflected in the eyes of a child. Because if he thought she was evil and the source of all the pain in his small life, then who was she to refute those beliefs? Everything she'd ever done for him paled into comparison when he had that book on his lap; when he opened it and allowed the words and stories inside to seep into his brain. She became irrelevant; her love for him, unwanted.
The lump that formed in her throat stretched across the abyss inside and Regina swallowed painfully, looking away from her son.
"Bedtime soon," she told him, ignoring his open-mouthed protest and holding up one finger to ward off his rebuke. "Ten minutes, Henry."
For a moment it seemed as though he was going to argue his case, but even as he sat bolt upright on his bed, he thought better of it and his shoulders sagged.
"Okay," he sighed.
Regina nodded, satisfied that she'd asserted her authority over him. It happened so rarely these days that she took her small victories wherever she could. However petty they might be.
She turned in the doorway and stopped, casting a stern look over her shoulder. "And no sneaking out," she ordered.
This time, she didn't wait to see the expression on his face.
She was barely at the foot of the stairs when there was a rapid knocking on her front door. Lips pursing into a moue of annoyance, Regina moved towards it, ready to unleash recriminations on whoever was disturbing her evening. She liked routine; she liked putting Henry to bed and having time to herself. Her Mayoral duties were demanding enough to eke into personal time so much that when she did have a free evening, she rather liked to spend it alone.
Or with Graham. But lately he'd been less attentive than usual. Another thing Emma Swan had ruined with her particular brand of poison, Regina thought.
Fingers closing around the door handle, Regina yanked it open quite unceremoniously, mouth already open with barely restrained rebuke. But before she had the opportunity to speak, the figure on the doorstep lurched forwards almost breathlessly.
"Can I come in?" Emma asked, although her foot was already over the threshold even as she asked permission.
Frowning, Regina found that she stepped backwards, allowing Emma entrance to the house. Even as she did, she couldn't help wondering why. Couldn't help the faint thrill of anticipation as the blonde pushed past her and the ire that rose in her throat, swelling it slightly.
"Miss Swan," Regina closed the front door with a click, swallowing and regaining some of the composure with which she approached all battles – always had done, too. "I'm not sure why you're here, but if this is official business I'm certain it can wait until tomorrow. Make an appointment with my secretary and we can – "
"No," Emma turned on the spot in the huge hallway and threw up her hands, letting them slap back onto her thighs as she gave a huge sigh. "No, Regina, I – this isn't official business. I wanted to talk about Henry."
The mention of the boy's name flickered in Regina's eyes: confusion, fear, the innate protection that surged in her chest. Folding her arms over her chest, she turned to face Emma, fixing the other woman with a steady, dark gaze.
"Henry is not your concern."
Emma gave a tight smile, but her eyes were hard, bright.
"He's my son," she said slowly, her voice catching over the word, over the responsibility it represented, over the lost years that she knew she would never get back.
Regina let out a faint hum of appraisal, tilting her head to one side. Then she took two hasty steps forward, moving much closer to Emma than was necessary. But intimidation was invasion; Regina had always known that. She moved with precision, heels tapping on the wooden floor, predatory confidence shining in her eyes as she stepped into Emma's personal space.
If the other woman was afraid, she chose not to show it. And wasn't that the frisson that existed between them? For the first time in years – 28 years, to be exact – Regina Mills had met someone who wasn't scared of her. Emma's shoulders squared a little and she held the Mayor's gaze with a defiance that Regina had only ever seen in the eyes of her son.
"Henry," Regina began in an even, low tone, "hasn't been your son for ten years, Miss Swan. You gave him away. You abandoned him just like you abandon everyone. Henry isn't alone any more. But you, Emma…"
The Mayor lifted her eyes, rolling them dismissively and smirking at Emma. "You are alone. And you always will be. Because you simply don't have the strength of character to commit. Isn't that right?"
The eyebrow that quirked at Emma was mocking and the blonde bristled. She'd decided on the way here that she wasn't going to let Regina get under her skin. She'd focused on the burgeoning relationship with Henry, with what it might mean. Regina was a necessary evil if she were to pursue that relationship. But until now; until this moment, Emma hadn't realized or even understood that, despite her best efforts, Regina was not merely under her skin.
She was all over it, like a sheen of desperation and wicked intent.
It made Emma shift on the floor, shuffling her feet together. It made her throat tighten and her hands reach for each other, fingers pressing and twisting together.
Because if she were forced to admit it, Regina had crawled underneath everything and sat like a stone in her chest, hard and unrelenting. So as she gazed back at the Mayor, Emma found herself momentarily speechless. Truth had always been a moveable object in her life, malleable and flexible, utilized for whatever purpose she so desired.
But Regina's truth was like that stone in her chest, a weighted granite with sharp edges.
The Mayor smiled triumphantly, flashing her teeth and unfolding her arms, turning for the door.
"Well, dear," Regina said in a silken tone, "now that's over with, I'll expect you at the council meeting tomorrow afternoon."
"No – wait – " Reaching out, Emma's hand closed over Regina's upper arm, staying the woman's progress and twisting her round a little. As the Mayor's eyes widened in alarm and offense, Emma regained a little of her bravado and felt courage stir in her stomach.
She didn't let go even when Regina's eyes travelled slowly from Emma's face to the hand on her arm, looking at it with a faint grimace of disgust.
"Miss Swan." The Mayor's voice was lower now, tinged with a grated threat. "Let go of my arm."
But Emma didn't. If anything, her fingers closed even tighter.
"Emma? Emma, is that you?"
A voice from the top of the stairs made Emma look upwards, seeing Henry leaning over the railing with a bright, gleeful smile pasted across his features.
"Go to bed, Henry," Regina said, eyes never leaving Emma's face.
"Are you here to see me?" Henry ignored his mother, moving down a couple of steps with a delighted, daring tread.
Glancing at Regina, Emma felt her stomach pitch and fall at the look of abject disappointment that pulled at the other woman's face, tightening it and tugging at the corners of her mouth.
"No, Henry," she replied in a steady tone. "I'm here to see your mom."
"But you're my – "
"Henry! Bed!" Now Regina's tone brooked no disobedience, rising to a strained pitch and halting any further progress the boy might have made down the stairs.
Looking up at him, Emma nodded imperceptibly, her eyes meeting his for a second of understanding. His gaze alighted on the Mayor, narrowing as an expression of suspicion and resentment passed over his face. Then, reluctantly, he turned and trudged back towards his bedroom.
"Miss Swan. Your hand. Remove it please." Regina's voice was taut, utterances staccato and brittle. As Emma's grip loosened, she snatched her arm back and wrapped it around herself, turning away so that her face was hidden, so that the pain in her eyes couldn't be seen by anyone, never mind Emma Swan of all people.
No; Emma was the very last person Regina wanted to see her vulnerability. To see the love she had for Henry and the casual, hurtful way in which he refused it.
"I suggest you leave," she said sharply, jerking her head towards the door.
Emma was quiet for a moment, contemplation drawing lines over her brow as she saw how Regina's shoulders hunched slightly. The stone in her chest didn't seem as heavy as before; its sharp edges softening a little, just as she did.
"Regina," she began, taking a step towards the other woman. "I'm not trying to take Henry away from you."
The Mayor lifted her head a little, a mirthless laugh escaping her lips. "Aren't you?" she asked. She hated the way her voice wavered; how easy it was for this woman to draw it out of her and crumble the bricks of the wall she'd built so carefully.
"No," Emma said firmly. Her arm stretched out and her fingers were almost on Regina's shoulder before she drew back, shocked by her own need to touch the other woman, no longer tempered and constrained. Her mouth fell open, grateful that Regina couldn't see, thankful that the cracks weren't showing to the one person who could split them open into gaping fissures.
Pulling her arm back against herself, Emma straightened. "I just want to know him," she said softly. "That's all."
Regina laughed again, lifting a couple of fingers to swipe at her eyes. Nodding, she attempted to compose herself. It simply wouldn't do to let Emma see her cry. Even if the tears prickling at the backs of her eyes were as unforgiving as she was.
By the time she turned to face Emma, she was able to look the other woman in the eye with some semblance of self. Of the persona she had created for herself in blackness and dark magic. Sometimes she wondered where all the light had gone, and then she looked at Henry, at his childish delight and the wisdom that he bore so freely on his shoulders.
And she saw it all shining in his face. She saw it in Emma's face, too. So brightly that it was damn near enough to break open her heart and shatter its hardened surface into a thousand fragmented pieces.
"Regina," Emma urged, shaking her head. "I just want to know him."
The Mayor inclined her head, just once, before lifting it and meeting Emma's gaze with a deep sadness that fled over her face.
"You already do," she said.