What Kept You Going
Summary: There were times, in those early years, times when her stepmother actually seemed happy. Snow White remembers these times, and wonders what the cause of her happiness was.
Her new mother is always sad.
At first, she tells herself it's not really true. Perhaps she pined a bit for the stable boy, but Regina had told her, she'd made it clear that it was just an infatuation, and besides, Daniel had left her, Daniel had run away, and Snow's father is fair and kind and caring and he will never abandon Regina, just like he will never abandon her.
Still, she sees that when Regina smiles, the smile never really reaches her eyes.
Later, when the wedding is postponed, she tells herself Regina is sad because she lost her mother. Snow herself feels terrible, so terrible. She never wanted anyone else to have to go through that, to have to lose their mother like she lost hers. So she tries to bolster Regina, tries to tell her to hold onto hope, that surely father will find Cora, and then they will have the wedding, and finally be a happy family.
But when it becomes clear that Cora will never be found, Snow wants to be strong for her, brave for her, grown-up for her. She wants to help her through her grief.
Regina is so pale, so still. She looks like a statute, like she's carved out of marble. Beautiful and cold.
As Snow watches, her father Henry pats her hand, kisses her cheek, and whispers something in her ear that she can't hear. Regina nods very slightly, as if she can barely find the strength to acknowledge him. She looks so dazed, so numb. Then he stands up and takes his leave. His gaze falls on Snow as he passes her.
"Isn't there something we can do to help her?" Snow whispers. There is a haunted look in his eyes, and years later, she will realize that there was guilt there as well, guilt for never standing up to Cora, never turning Regina from her dark path, never being the father she needed him to be.
"I don't know how to help my daughter," he says, as kind and as powerless as ever. "But try if you will, sweet child. I hope you can."
He leaves, and Snow and Regina are left alone in the room, her soon-to-be-stepmother sitting motionless on the bed. After a moment, Snow approaches her, and takes one of Regina's hands in her own. It's so cold it makes her shiver.
"Are you alright?" She asks. It's a stupid question, but she can't think of anything else to say.
"I'm fine, dear," Regina says automatically. Her voice is tight, and barely above a whisper. She clears her throat. "I mean, I'll be fine."
"You might feel better," Snow says gently, "If you cried." Regina turns to stare at her then.
"I cried," she continues, "when my mother …" She trails off. She will not say "died." They don't know that Cora's dead. Regina could still have her happy ending. She must. Surely she must.
Regina seems to look right through her. "Cry?" She echoes, in a tone the young girl can't fathom. "Sweet Snow, I think I've forgotten how."
Later, when Regina stands at the altar, looking like the most beautiful mother a young girl could ever dream of, and says the words that make her a part of Snow's family forever, she tells herself that her father can heal her pain. Regina said love is magic, that love creates happiness. And Snow loves her new mother, she loves her with all heart, and surely, father loves her too?
How could he not?
Time passes, and her father and her new mother sit on their thrones. They are both statutes now, polite, smiling statutes, and they are so damn civil with each other that sometimes she wants to scream. They never just smile at each other, or laugh together, or hold hands or dance or do anything that couples in love are supposed to do.
Regina's smiles still do not reach eyes.
At least, not when she looks at Snow's father.
But Snow sees the times that they do.
When the apple tree appears outside, her whole face lights up. It's like the sun coming out after a storm. It doesn't last long, but after that, after the wedding, Snow often finds her there, staring at the tree. Sometimes it seems to her Regina's gaze is filled with longing, but other times, she smiles as if she has a special secret. Snow wants to ask what the secret is. But she knows she has no right to do so, because the last secret Regina told her, she didn't keep.
What if Daniel didn't run away?
When the thought occurs to her, she feels a shiver of pure terror go down her spine, and she pushes it quickly aside.
There are other times, though, that she knows her stepmother is genuinely happy. Regina loves to go riding, sometimes with Snow but more often alone, and when she is alone she loves to explore the wilderness of the forest. Snow's father is very protective, and she is not allowed to accompany the Queen on her more in-depth excursions. Nor does her father ask to journey with her, Snow notes with dismay. But he allows Regina her freedom, at least to some degree, and she seems to look forward to what Snow refers to with admiration as her "adventuring."
Often, when she returns from these little jaunts, there is something … some strange quality in her demeanor that the young girl cannot quite put her finger on. She wears a smile, a cat's smile, and she no longer seems like a statute, but a living woman, fluid and graceful. And sometimes, it seems to her that the very air around Regina hums, hums with a strange power, something dark and exciting that Snow cannot understand.
It frightens her, but it also thrills her.
When she dares to ask her about it, Regina will flash her teeth at Snow in a way that makes her almost scared. But then she will laugh, not a forced, polite chuckle, but a warm, dark laugh that entrances the young girl, and she will say something trivial, something about riding or greenery or just enjoying the fresh air.
There is one time, though, several years later, that Snow remembers quite clearly, when Regina returns from one of her excursions, and there is no cat's smile, there is no hum of power.
Instead, there are tears. Angry tears.
Regina walks slowly towards the apple tree. She is breathing heavily, as if she has just run a long way, and she is sobbing. Usually, when she looks at the tree, Regina smiles.
Now, she glares at it with hatred shining in her eyes.
"How could you – I could have had him back! You had no right!" Then Regina raises her arms, as if to strike, and Snow can feel a frightening energy sizzle in the air. She wants to look away, but she can't. Her stepmother stands there, arms raised, trembling.
"No right, no right," Regina whispers, and for a moment, Snow is sure she is somehow going to destroy the tree. But then she lowers her arms, and her shoulders slump, defeated.
"What's wrong?" She blurts it out before she can stop herself. Regina whirls around, and for a moment Snow is very, very scared.
The Queen's face freezes, and then her expression changes. Later, when she is older, Snow will know it was Regina slipping her mask back into place, the one she wore for so many years, pretending she didn't hate her stepdaughter.
"Oh Snow, dear! There is nothing wrong at all."
"But … you were crying. And you were mad at … the tree?"
Regina laughs her polite laugh. "Of course not. How can one be angry with a tree?"
"I heard you crying," Snow insists.
"Oh, that. Well, it's silly really. I just …" The mask falters for a moment. "Lost something," Regina continues tightly. "In the woods."
"Then we must go find it –"
"It's not important."
"But if you were crying over it, surely it must be."
Regina looks away from her then. "No. I only thought that it was. I only thought that it mattered. I only that I mattered, enough to …" She stops suddenly, and for a moment, it is Regina who looks frightened.
"It's nothing, sweet Snow," Regina says, in a carefully controlled tone. "I didn't really lose anything of importance at all."
After that day, Regina never goes out "adventuring" again.
Years later, when sorrow and bitterness is all that remains between them, Snow White will wonder if there was ever even the smallest part of Regina that loved her, as a mother. And sometimes, she will wonder what kept Regina contented during those early years, what made her smile reach her eyes, what made her face light up, and what happened to blot that light out.
She still remembers how Regina had told her that love was magic. That love created happiness.
And Snow remembers Regina's moments of happiness, but now she knows that Daniel was dead by then. So she wonders what it was that gave her stepmother that brief respite from her grief, what it was that made her happy in those first few years of their lives together.
Snow White wonders what it was that kept Regina going.
*Author's Note: If you read my other stories, you know why Regina was happy after her "excursions" in the woods, and how she got the apple tree. And if you've read my "Revenge is Sweet" story … well, the last bit is Regina coming back to the palace after she found out the truth about Daniel's "failed" resurrection and confronted a certain someone about his part in it.