"What I want from you is empty your head."
Green eyes watched in a daze as white clouds of whipped cream danced around the cup of hot cocoa gracefully. The pale puffs created an abstract picture against the dark liquid, but the woman's vacant gaze looked right through the delicious art as she chewed on her bottom lip distractedly. Sighing silently, the woman dipped a slender finger inside the cup, mindlessly twirling the digit within the sweet beverage. Her mind was heavy with lead thoughts that weighed uncomfortably on her cerebrum; the defenseless woman couldn't seem to detach herself from the warring fugue. But, as her finger scooped up an unaffected chunk of cream and lifted it to her mouth, a small voice rescued her from her brain's incessant wanderings.
"Emma…?" Henry questioned curiously, his dark brows furrowing inquisitively, "you alright?"
"Huh?" the blonde murmured in confusion as she licked the sweet cream off her finger, her pale eyes slowly beginning to focus back to reality.
"I asked if you were okay," the boy began, rolling his eyes in jest, "you've been acting weird ever since mom stopped spying on us…"
Emma shifted nervously on the stool she was sitting on at the mention of Henry's adopted mother. It was true, ever since the dark woman had left their presence in the kitchen the blonde's mind began to race at an incredible speed. The mayor always seemed to make her nervous, and no matter how smoothly she threw back an insult, or how confidently she walked away, on the inside Emma was shaking. This strange feeling always occurred whenever she was around the older woman, and yet, tonight when Regina had finally granted her alone time with her son, she couldn't help but to feel hesitant and cautious; as if the mayor had ulterior motives when she decided to leave them alone with their cocoa. Motionlessly shaking away the crowded thoughts in her mind, Emma looked over at Henry and gave him a gentle, yet tight, smile.
"Nah, kid, I'm fine."
"Good." Henry nodded, smiling widely before taking a large gulp of his drink, "but, anyway…"
"Hey, Henry, where is your mom anyway?"
Before the words had even completely left the confines of her mouth Emma regretted it. This was her time with her son, with Henry, this time meant more to her than the world. And yet, for some unknown reason she couldn't seem to get the thoughts of Regina out of her mind. There was something suspicious going on, and the blonde would not be able to be comfortable and alert until she found out what that thing was. Bracing herself, she sheepishly looked back over to the boy, his brows furrowed once more.
"My mom?" he questioned unevenly, narrowing his eyes a bit, "what does she have to do with anything?"
"Don't you find it weird," Emma began, shifting the weight of her body so that she was leaning against the hard surface of the island, closer to Henry, "that your mom randomly decided not to stay in the room tonight?" Pursing her lips, the blonde instinctively squared her shoulders as she continued. "Something is not right here."
"I don't know, Emma…" Henry said nervously, fingering the handle on his cup, "it might be about the curse…we don't wanna mess with it."
"You might be right…"
Although she knew she was playing far too much into Henry's notion of fairytale characters inhabiting Storybrooke, she knew it made him happy, so she continued to cater to his imagination, even if it was "crazy" at times. But, Emma knew that she had to do something or else her visit with her son would be nothing short of him discussing "operation cobra" and her continuing to stare aimlessly into her hot chocolate. No, the blonde was going to investigate, whether Henry agreed with it or not.
"Look, Henry, I really don't feel good about this," Emma began, sliding off her stool and pulling on her leather jacket, "I think I'm gonna go look for your mom."
"But, Emma…" the boy pleaded, grabbing onto her coat as she walked past him, stopping her in her tracks, "we have things to talk about…" after looking around quickly to make sure the coast was clear he continued in a hushed tone, "…operation cobra…"
"I'll be back in five minutes, kid, I promise," the blonde swore, squeezing Henry's thin shoulders for emphasis, "and then we can talk about operation cobra, alright?"
Henry said nothing, but nodded in agreement, and the blonde flashed him a small smile while she crossed the kitchen. When she reached the door that led into the back hallway of the house Emma stopped her movements. Maybe this was a bad idea; maybe she should listen to her son and spend the rest of her allotted time with him instead of venturing off in search of the missing mayor. Perhaps his reasoning for her staying—the curse—was obviously untrue, but the boy could be right about it not being a good idea to look into the mayor's private affairs. Chewing on the inside of her cheek with indecision, the blonde finally decided that if the dark woman were up to something then it was best that Emma found out, and so she quickly looked over at Henry and left the kitchen.
Once in the back hallway of the house, the blonde wasn't entirely sure what she should be looking for, but what she did know was that Regina had left the kitchen in this direction, so she must be close by. After several moments of peeking behind closed doors, and listening intently Emma's ministrations stopped. As she stood beside the door that led to the backyard the blonde could hear soft, muffled noises. Raising a light eyebrow in question, Emma quietly opened the door and stepped outside into the cool night air. What she saw made her heart stop and her breath catch in her throat.
The mayor stood outside in the darkness beneath her apple tree, one hand pressed tightly against the rough bark and the other covering her mouth to muffle her sobs; she was crying. The blonde was taken aback, and for a moment she thought that she should run back inside to Henry to continue their time together. Not only did she feel stupid for wanting to investigate something that didn't have a motive, but she felt terrible for thinking that this woman, this human woman was so evil that every single thing she did was to hurt others, when in actuality she was severely hurting.
Emma bit her lip roughly as she combed her fingers through her hair unsure of what to do, but at the same time frozen in place; the sight of a woman with so much power and authority seeming so small and vulnerable made the blonde's stomach twist in sickening knots. As the nausea tugged within her abdomen, Emma slowly began to back up, trying to quietly enter the house before Regina noted her presence. But, before she made it inside, her boot caught against the door frame and made a loud, resounding 'thump'. Cursing under her breath, the blonde tried to clamber inside without the mayor noticing, but she was stopped by a sharp, surprised gasp. Green eyes widened in fear as she realized she was on the verge of getting caught, but still, her legs refused to budge and she looked toward the mayor akin to a deer in headlights.
"Henry?" Regina asked in a cracked voice, her face continuing to face the tree as she tried frantically to erase the evidence of her tears.
"Err…" the blonde shook her head, what was going on with her tonight? Although it was true that she always felt inevitably inferior to the mayor, she could usually form a coherent sentence, but it seemed like everything was turning on its head this evening. "No, it's, Emma."
The second her words flittered into the night air, the brunette quickly spun around, her black eyes glaring at Emma with a fiery darkness. The blonde felt her body begin to tense under the scrutiny of the older woman's gaze, but she set her jaw and pressed her hands against her hips; if she couldn't be fearless on the inside she would like to at least seem unfazed on the outside.
"Ms. Swan," the brunette hissed, walking purposefully closer to the younger woman, "shouldn't you be inside with my son?"
"Maybe I needed to talk to you, Madame Mayor?" Emma asked coolly as she folded her arms across her chest, her eyes watching Regina quickly approach and invade her personal space.
"Or maybe you were spying on me?" The brunette seethed, leaning in towards the blonde until her bosom nearly brushed against the younger woman's arms. "In fact, you're rather well known for that type of uncouth behavior."
Hostility was a common trait that Regina exhibited daily, and yet the sheriff had seen that tenderness hidden beneath the invisible armor of coldness. When Emma had came outside she had seen that weakness; that dark sadness tightly wrapped around the dark woman. And in that moment something snapped within her, her entire outlook on the brunette had changed. This woman—Regina—wasn't evil; she was merely a broken down person who tried to ease the pain by inflicting pain among others. Although this wasn't an admirable trait, it was one that Emma could understand; pity began to tangle in her heart strings for the mayor.
"I heard you, Regina…"
It was nearly a whisper, if the brunette hadn't been paying such close attention to every movement the sheriff made, she could have easily brushed it off as an agitated sigh, or a heavy breath. But, Regina had heard what she said, and although her mind did not entirely fathom Emma's confession, she felt herself step away self-consciously, worrying fingers lifting to her cheek to check for moistness. Thoughts pressed against the back of the mayor's eyes and she begged herself not to release the tension in the form of tears. She did not need to deal with this woman seeing her crumble; she didn't want anyone to see her break—that was her greatest fear of all. And as she felt a silent, shaking breath escape her burning lungs, the brunette turned away from the woman pointedly and walked briskly toward her tree, letting her fingers caress the cold, smooth skin of a perfectly crimson apple.
"You heard what, Ms. Swan?"
"You…" Emma started, cautiously walking toward the formidable woman until she stood a mere foot away, "I heard you…crying."
"That's absurd!" Regina scoffed, spinning around to meet the soft gaze of green eyes. The gentleness that the blonde emanated stirred something within her, but she violently pushed it away as she crossed her arms over her chest, unconsciously closing herself to the curious sheriff. "I was merely tending to my tree and I…"
"Do you always need to be so hard?" Emma questioned in frustration, damning herself internally; she could easily just let it be, and yet something inside her wanted to talk to this woman; wanted to know why she was so broken. "You're human, just like the rest of us, and although you'd be hard pressed to show it you do have feelings, Madame Mayor. Maybe you should try showing them every once in a while?"
For the second time that evening, Regina was caught off guard and she literally stumbled backward until her spine gently pressed against the rough bark of the apple tree. Black eyes widened in a look akin to awe, and she felt her lips part gently as her heart fluttered softly within her chest. The brunette knew that she should not have let the emotions get the better of her while she watched her son fawn over the distasteful blonde; knew that she shouldn't have let her thoughts wander back to a time when everything became tarnished and sullen. But, for the first time in a long time she couldn't contain her emotions, and she let the evil, angry mask fall away until she was a mere pile of nerves and tears. Regina thought that her secret vulnerability would be safe as long as she remained in the one place she felt home: the apple tree, and yet she had been found by the one person in the world that she wished hadn't seen her this way. Mulling over what to do, she couldn't think of anything to say; shell-shocked and frightened that she would completely break-down in front of the sheriff, she dug her fingernails into the bare flesh of her arms roughly, and forced herself to speak.
"I'm a rootless tree…" the brunette whispered, letting her black eyes flutter shut when the tears began to burn behind her eyes, "…a part of the scenery but not connected to anything; no roots, no ties…"
As the intimate words tumbled from her lips, Regina wished that she could gather them from the air and force them back down her throat before Emma heard them. But, at the same time, she also felt a lightness gather in her chest from releasing such ominous thoughts for the first time in a very, very long time. Her mind swam in the quiet stillness of her brain and she nearly let herself smile as she felt her soul hum in contentment. When she finally opened her eyes she was staring directly into glassy emeralds; the blonde was standing directly in front of her separated by only a few inches. The brunette felt the warmth of Emma's body against her own and she shivered. Perhaps it was because it was an emotionally jarring evening, or that she was merely chilled but in the back of her mind the brunette knew that it was simply because she wasn't use to such closeness. Not physical closeness, but mental, emotional closeness—she had not experienced that in decades, and it left her feeling raw and frightened.
Tears prickled behind her eyes as Emma watched the storm of emotions wreck havoc within the mayor's lithe frame. After listening to a short, concise sentence the blonde felt as though the older woman was reading her very soul. Above anything else Emma knew what it felt like to be pressed into an existence, into a life that was merely a holding device. It wasn't anything permanent; just a short stop until you moved onto the next one. Being thrown from foster home to foster home created children like that; one's that never fully understood what it felt like to be a part of something, to be eternally connected to another person or place. It was one of the worst feelings in the world, and Emma knew that notion well. It clawed violently inside her everyday like a demonic monster trying to destroy her from the inside, and now she finally understood why Regina was the way she was, why she was always so angry and hateful. In that moment the blonde understood the mayor entirely.
She chewed on her lip frantically as her eyes continued to water, for once in her life she had met someone who truly understood her inner turmoil, someone who knew exactly what was going on inside her head and it was the one woman that she could not stand. Emma almost laughed at the irony of it all: her greatest enemy being someone that could easily resonate with every pain that pulsed within her heart. And as those thoughts fluttered within her mind, the blonde never noticed as her arm slowly lifted, her fingers gently wrapping around Regina's hand. When she felt the contact of skin against her palm she looked down in shock as she saw her fingers intertwined with the brunette's, and more to her surprise she realized that the mayor was making no attempt to detach her hand from the soft grasp.
Regina gasped when she felt cold fingers wrap around her's, and although a large part of her brain's voice was screaming at her to pull away; that the woman who was consoling her should not be trusted…deep down there was a small whisper from her heart that told her to hold on, and she did. For several moments they merely stayed there, beneath the apple tree in silence with their hands interwoven, holding onto each other as desperately as they could. A blanket of softness and reassurance guarded them as they let their vulnerabilities show, and both of them could not seem to step away from the warmth that it created within them. But, just as quickly as the tender, breathtaking moment had begun, it was lost upon them as a soft voice caressed their ears from across the yard.
Henry slowly emerged from the house and out into the backyard, his eyes narrowing at the sight of the two women standing in the darkness. Once she heard her son's voice, the brunette roughly pulled her hand away from Emma's and quickly walked over towards the curious boy. The blonde was shell-shocked and she blearily turned around and watched as Regina strode away from her, as if everything that had happened was a mere illusion that painted itself within the sheriff's mind. Shaking her head, she numbly walked over to Henry and the mayor, her eyes distant and dazed once again, except this time it was due to an ultimately different reason.
"Henry, go inside and get ready for bed, it's getting late."
"But nothing, Henry," Regina scolded gently, "go upstairs and brush your teeth, and then you can see Ms. Swan to the door."
Frowning sullenly, the small boy nodded and scuffed his shoes across the grass as he reentered the large house. The two women looked after him in silence as he raced through the house turning every light on as he went. Emma smiled at his precociousness and shoved her hands into her pockets idly. When the house settled from Henry's running around, the blonde let her gaze wander over to the woman standing beside her, and for the first time she realized just how beautiful she was. Her brows furrowed as the thought echoed in her mind; they had shared one emotional moment together and now she was becoming soft, this was not a good thing. When Emma finally pulled herself back into reality she noticed that the mayor was looking at her softly, as if she too were in a daze. But before the blonde could emblazon the lovely expression on the dark woman's face into her memory, it was removed and replaced with one of annoyance and frustration.
"Ms. Swan, are you going to stare at me all night or are you going to say goodnight to Henry?"
"I…" the sheriff shook her head slightly, put off by the harshness in the woman's tone when only moments ago she had seen the beautiful, natural side of her, "uh…are you going to be alright?"
"My emotions are none of your concern, Ms. Swan," Regina said pointedly, motioning for the blonde to follow her into the house. They quickly walked through the back hallway, into the kitchen and out towards the main entrance in an awkward silence. When they finally reached the door, the brunette turned to Emma, a grave look creasing her features. "It's nearly eight o'clock, you best say goodbye to Henry and leave…"
"Ms. Swan…" the brunette held a dangerously warning tone to her voice, and she glared at the sheriff with reddened, glossy eyes, "…this is not up for discussion."
Henry bounded down the stairs donning a pair of flannel pajamas and a wide smile. The wounded look on Emma's face was quickly replaced with a warm smile as she reached out and ruffled the young boy's hair playfully. The boy spoke quickly and aimlessly about their next get together and the blonde tried to pay full attention, but couldn't help but to sneak glances at Regina from time to time. After several moments of discussion, the brunette told Henry to go upstairs to bed, and that he could speak to the sheriff later. The boy huffed, said his goodbyes and stomped up the stairs.
"Now," the mayor sighed, opening the door and basically pushing the blonde from the premises with her gaze, "have a good evening, Ms. Swan."
Nodding in defeat, Emma walked out the door and nearly jumped as she heard it slam shut behind her. Turning around, she looked at the door with a pained expression on her face; how could she be so stupid as to believe that one moment of weakness would make Regina and her suddenly become less hostile toward one another? Shaking her head she realized that what she thought happened must have been a lot less meaningful to the brunette than to her, and she sighed as she walked down the path towards her car. Nothing would ever change between the two women, and the blonde merely had to learn to accept that.
When she reached the beat up, yellow buggy she looked up into the soft glow of lit rooms and her eyes instantly met Regina's. The mayor was standing, staring out her bedroom window. The two women held each other's gaze for what felt like an eternity, and as the dark haired woman turned away and closed the curtains Emma felt her right hand tingle; the same hand that moments ago held Regina's. Looking down at the shaking palm, she realized that no matter how much the stubborn woman denied it, she and the blonde had created a deep connection that night, and the sheriff was going to do everything in her power to help the dark woman to see that, and to feel that.
With the curtains closed, and the reassuring sound of Emma's car sputtering to life, Regina let herself collapse onto her bed. Salty tears licked at her eyes in earnest, and she clenched them shut as she balled her hands into tightly wound fists. But, slowly, she let her eyes flutter open, tears gently spilling from the dark depths, as she gazed at her left hand defiantly. It was a traitor; it had melded into the bittersweet touch that the blonde had offered in a manic, overzealous manner. If she weren't so vain, Regina may have cut the betraying hand off, and yet as her thoughts wandered she felt the hand press tenderly against her fluttering heart. Sparkling white teeth bit at crimson lips as she felt her body battle against itself; her mind shrieking at her to not give into temptation of feelings as her heart sobbed for the beauteous love and understanding that it felt she so deserved. Nothing was making sense to the brunette; nothing aside from that fact that when Emma has attempted to reach out to her, tried to comfort her, she had felt her soul quiver and burst from its constraining chains—coming back to life. But no matter how delicious it felt to have these thoughts and emotions flooding throughout her again, Regina knew above all that she could not succumb, that she would not fall to her knees in weakness. For if she did, the brunette knew that her happiness—her curse—could quickly be obliviated.
A/N: This is INTENDED to be a short (couple of chapters) story, something to work my way into the epic Swan Queen tale that I have been working on strenuously. This story isn't much, and I'm sure that my writing certainly needs heaps of work, but bear with me, I'm trying, haha. Regardless, if you liked this chapter, and want to read more, leave me a review. If not, I'll leave this story in the dust and solely work on my other pieces. Also, this story was loosely inspired by the song 'Rootless Tree' by Damien Rice, you should check it out! :)