Words couldn't describe the elation Regina felt as she walked the several blocks to Granny's diner. A genuine, happy smile was spread from ear to ear across her face, an expression so uncharacteristic of her usual behavior that passers bye in the street actually doubled their pace fearfully as she approached. Seeing the evil queen with a grin on her face could never be a good thing. It usually led to someone being horribly twisted by magic, or, in the case of Storybrooke and it's residents, being cursed into a magicless alternate dimension dominated by unhappiness.
Regina took little note of them however. She was used to being feared like that, and at the moment it was the farthest thing from her mind.
A sort of happiness that she hadn't felt in ages permeated her form. Henry had called her. Her son had actually called her and invited her to lunch. Yes, it was a school day and he was technically skipping to meet her there, but she would let it slide. Henry was incredibly intelligent for his age. He could afford missing a class or two. And Regina would pull him out of school permanently if it meant that he wanted to see her.
That was what made the whole so situation so miraculously wonderful.
Henry had been the one to initiate it. He hadn't been forced or coerced either by persuasion or by magic, he couldn't have been. Why on earth would his grandfather forced him to see a woman he himself reviled and despised? Regina had sworn to herself that she wouldn't bewitch him into loving her. It would make her no different than her mother. Under no circumstances would she sink that low. And Rumpelstiltskin, the only one in town possessing a worthwhile amount of useable magic, had no reason to enchant the boy.
Henry wanted to see her. She hadn't expected him to contact her any time soon. Not after Emma Swan and Snow White had been sucked through a portal to gods know where.
Despite the niggling insecurities that niggled at the back of her mind, Regina let her heart swell hopefully. Perhaps he really did still love her. Maybe the memories of those early years they'd spent together in his youth, filled with happy laughter and his childish squeals hadn't left him completely. Regina allowed herself to hope.
Because Henry's love was the only thing keeping her alive. The only thing filling the gaping void that the deaths of Daniel and her father had left.
When she pushed her way into the diner the place was positively buzzing with activity. Nearly three dozen people filled the building, munching on fries at the counters, talking with friends over sandwiches and milkshakes or lounging lazily in the booths along the walls. Just a normal lunch hour at Granny's.
However Regina's presence wasn't overlooked long, and within thirty seconds of her arrival the place grew eerily quiet. All heads snapped in her direction. A few people dropped their glasses. Eyes bulged with fear. Granny ducked down out of sight behind the counter before reappearing with her crossbow, a bolt secured ready in place.
Quick to act, Ruby set aside her serving tray and approached the former mayor with a determined step.
"Can I help you?" she asked, eyebrows arched and expression dark. Regina returned the look instinctively. The urge to hex the bothersome were-wolf into oblivion sent twinges down her fingers.
"It's alright Ruby!" a voice called from the back of the room. "She's with me!"
Regina felt the dangerous angles of her face soften at the familiar sound. She looked up to see Henry seated in the back corner.
"Don't worry everybody" he addressed the rest of the diner's occupants. "I got it under control. Come on, mom" he gestured to Regina with a little wave. His face was nearly blank. Unreadable, especially at this distance.
Fighting back smug satisfaction, Regina stepped her way through the crowd of diners, catching bits and pieces of their disgruntled murmurs and grunts. They didn't want her here. In fact, most if not all them wanted her dead for one reason or another. She'd ruined their lives, for some of them even before the curse. Her work as an evil monarch had been brutally efficient. Brutal being the keyword.
Their revulsion of her aside they would let her be for the time being. But only because Storybrooke's young prince requested she be spared.
"Henry" Regina greeted her son with a warm smile. Looking up from the clutter that scattered the table in front of him, he returned it, though it was clearly strained. Cluttering around his white plate of food were large masses of paper. Some were folded neatly or stacked two inches thick. Some had intricate drawings, but all were covered margin to margin with carefully written script.
"I already ordered for you" he motioned to a plate of food set at the place across from him. "Got your favorite. Ruben with fries, no pickle. Sit down."
"Thank you, sweetheart" she said, still smiling as she took a seat. "That was very sweet of you. What is all this, school work?" she indicated the papers.
"No, notes." He didn't explain himself any further. He just gathered up the papers into a single stack and slipped them into his backpack on the seat next to him. An uncomfortable silence fell over them. Henry fiddled uneasilyt with his jacket, wringing his hands back and forth over the fabric with his eyes on the floor.
"I was surprised when you called me" Regina began, trying to make conversation. "Happy, but surprised. How have you been? Is David treating you alright?"
"Yeah, me and Gramps are fine" Henry replied, not looking up. "He's started teaching me how use a sword. It's fun. A lot harder than I expected though. He says tomorrow he''ll start teaching me to ride a horse…" he trailed off, continuing with his unsure fiddling.
"That's great sweetheart!" Regina said with genuine enthusiasm. "Maybe…maybe I could help you learn…Horses were a passion of mine when I was younger."
At this Henry looked up. He was smiling a little, but it didn't reach his eyes, and it faded almost at once. There was an underlying aura of sadness in them that didn't befit someone so young. A twinge of pain shot through the former queen's heart.
"Can..can I ask you something, mom?" he said barely above a whisper.
"Of course" she said back, voice growing quiet as his. "Ask me anything."
"Why did you do it?" the manner in which he asked it was so earnest, so heartbreakingly open that Regina almost broken down right then and there. Of course she knew what he meant, but being the masochist that she was, she asked anyway. Apparently her heart would be getting no mercy today.
"Why did I do what?"
"All of it" Henry said simply. Ever so slightly, his limbs started shaking. "The curse, everything. Everyone in town tells stories about all the terrible things you've done, all the people that you've hurt. Why?" Reaching down beneath the seat he pulled up the 'Once Upon a Time' storybook, flipped to a page somewhere in the middle, and set it down on the table. "I've read your story you know. About how your mom killed your true love, how you blame Snow White for what happened, and that's why you used the curse… You've hurt so many people, ruined so many lives. It's just….why? I've heard people say you wanted revenge, or that you wanted power and control of everyone. I want to hear it from you. Everyone deserves to have a chance to speak their own case. So why, mom? I want to know"
At long last he looked up at her. Gone were the innocent orbs that usually filled his round boyish face. In their stead was determined, princely gaze filled not with anger, but melancholy.
Regina blinked through her shock. For a split second there, it had been like she was standing face to face with Emma Swan. Her son had always bore a striking resemblance to his birth mother, not that she was bitter about it or anything. He had the same eyes, the same basic facial construction, and the same backbreaking stubbornness.
The former queen's gaze fell to the floor. She'd never expected this sort of confrontation from Henry. Never wanted it, at least.
A week or so before the curses breaking he'd snapped at her in the schoolyard, telling her that 'good will win' with hatred in his words. Now was different however. There was no hatred, just sadness and a bit of curiosity.
The motherly part of her wanted to snap at him for saying such things. She was the parent here and he was the child. What right did he have to suddenly demand explanation for her actions like a scolding parent? But if she refused to answer, how would she ever earn the forgiveness she so desperately desired?
"I was angry…" she murmured just loud enough for him to hear. "With Snow, with my mother, with everything…My whole world shattered the day Daniel died. I had so many dreams. Of love, of marriage, of life and children with him. Daniel was my whole world. " She smiled briefly. "He's where your middle name comes from. Though I suppose you'd already guessed that. You always were a smart one. Figuring things out. When he was gone…I hated everything and everyone. I wanted everyone to share in my pain, my suffering…If I couldn't have happiness, then no one could." Anger showed clearly in her words, seeping through every syllable. She still felt that way even now. The last twenty-eight years had been literally dedicated to wringing the people of the realm of all the suffering possible, reveling in their collective misfortunes.
Ever perceptive, Henry picked up on this.
"Do you really think that's right?" he asked. "You've suffered a lot mom, I understand that and I'm sorry. But does that really make everything you've done okay? Ripping everyone away from their homes, taking away their identities and their happiness…making me grow up in a world where no one but me ever got any older, making me think I was crazy" a dagger sheathed itself in the queen's heart. "That's okay to you, just because your mom killed your boyfriend? "Again he trailed off, eyes falling. He was disappointed.
Regina didn't respond for a very long time.
"Please, Henry" she said at last. Reaching across the table she took his tiny hand in hers, pleading. "I love you with all my heart. And-"
"I know you do" he cut her off. "You really do love me. I can tell." His shoulders sagged visibly. The shaking of his limbs grew only worse. "But I can't help but think, does that really mean anything to you?" Another dagger found a place in Regina's heart. Henry continued. "You loved your father too. More than anything else in the world. You even named me after him….your love didn't stop you from killing him to get what you want, did it?"
"Henry, please" she tried to start again. Now it was her who was shaking. The beginnings of tears started pooling in the corners of her eyes. Did he really think she'd ever kill him, even in the name of vengeance? "I want to redeem myself-"
"You said that before" he cut her off again. "But that's the thing mom; I don't think you really do. You want me to trust you again, to love you. But you don't really want to do good. You aren't sorry for what you did. If I suddenly wanted to go around torturing people you'd jump up to help me in a heartbeat. That isn't redemption, mom. You have to feel realize that what you do did was wrong. Really, really, wrong. You have to actually want it, and not just for me. For you. In the book you say a lot that 'evil isn't born, it's made'. That's not true though. Evil isn't born or made, it's chosen. Good's the same way. You have to choose it, and not because of what I'll think of you, but because it's the right thing to do." He paused, eyes piercing analytically into her soul, hopefully, desperately searching for a flicker of warmth or remorse.
"Originally I asked you here to ask for help getting Emma and Mary Margaret back. I thought maybe you'd have something in your vault that might get Jefferson's hat to work. But then I realized that'd be selfish of me. You need help and you're here. ….For a long time now I've been mean to you. I've been a bully. I hurt you, bringing Emma here, didn't I? You felt like I was trying to replace you, rejecting you for her. I'm so, so sorry for treating you like I did. You weren't perfect, but that doesn't excuse what I did. Can you forgive me?"
"Of course I can sweetheart" Regina really was crying now. Big, fat tears rolled down her cheeks, streaking her usually immaculate make-up. "You have nothing to be sorry for."
"Yes I do" Henry said firmly. "I love you, mom evil queen or not. Your bad decisions don't make mine okay."
Pure, unrelenting elation filled Regina at his words. He loved her. He loved her. That alone could let her die a happy woman, knowing that simple fact. But, she realized as the happiness slowly began to fade and dull. That love alone wasn't enough. She wanted his forgiveness. His trust. And she would have to work for that.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked.
"Try" he replied. "Try to be good. Not for me, for you. There's still good in you. I can tell. You weren't always this way. You were nice, kind. Please mom, try?"
Regina swallowed a sharp knot forming at the base of her throat. She understood what he meant. His words were clear as crystal. But at her core, she wasn't sure if she could do what he asked. She had no real desire to reconcile with her stepdaughter or the mewling townsfolk. She didn't want to become a paragon of kindness and love and forgiveness. What she wanted was her son back.
"I'll try, I promise" and she would try, with all that she had she would try. How far that would go however, only time would tell.
"Thank you." His watch, a Mickey mouse vintage to go with one of the many clocks he'd collected, beeped. "Oh crud" he said as he checked the time. "David's on lunch break now. I gotta get out of here before he realizes I skipped." Hurridly he began shoving his papers and the book into his bag.
Slinging it over his shoulder he slipped out of the booth and started towards the door. He stopped at his mother's side, and, leaning in, he pressed a kiss to her cheek.
"I'm starting horse lessons on Tuesday. If you still want in, be there at three. Okay?"
Regina wept inwardly for joy. Her heart leapt. Perhaps redemption wouldn't be so hard as she'd thought. If Henry's love was the reward, what could stop her?
"I'd like that."