This is set directly after 2x11. But having that said, the only real spoiler is that Archie is back. Doesn't really give much away, does it? But 'SPOILERS' just in case anyone has a worry.
To say she was surprised by their indifference would be a straight-up lie. She didn't expect their consideration, she didn't ask for it. The fact that it was all she'd ever wanted was never articulated, but she felt the weight of it on her heart as she sat at the head of her dining table.
The drapes were pulled closed, plunging her dining room into near darkness as she stared at the wall. Night was falling anyway; the sun had already dipped behind her hedges so the fact that the drapes were shut made no difference to her mood. Somehow it did make her feel safer, though.
She hadn't expected an apology. It was probably far too much to ask of them, to apologize to the woman that had ruined all of their lives. They didn't understand the pain she suffered. Even those that knew the truth were incapable of truly understanding.
And even though Archie had defended her ad-nauseam, she'd still half expected Emma to preach that she'd somehow twisted Archie's memories – manipulated him into believing she was innocent. A small smile touched her lips when Archie didn't back down from her defence, but she wasn't surprised when – instead of an apology – all he received from the community as a whole, was silence and a dozen pairs of eyes avoiding her.
So they were wrong and they couldn't admit it. She couldn't say definitively that she didn't know the feeling.
None of that meant that it didn't hurt that she'd scanned the crowd for Henry only to find that he wasn't there. Even declared innocent, Emma still believed her a threat to the one person she'd never hurt. She twisted her fingers together, feeling her nail dig into the tip of her thumb as she processed what exactly it was that she felt. It was like she wanted approval from these people; she wanted their apology because she wanted to feel like she deserved it. She wanted to feel like they believed she was worthy of it.
She'd been trying to change, for Henry. And she'd been doing so well, then a dog had a foggy memory and all of a sudden, she was the Evil Queen again. She didn't want to be that woman, she never had. Emma's invitation to their party had been a shock, but naively, she'd thought that maybe they were starting to see what she'd been trying to show them.
She said she didn't need their approval, but she knew she was lying to herself. If she were honest, she would admit that she'd brought all of these people to the new land with her because, in a strange sort of way, they were all she'd ever known.
The idea of starting from scratch terrified her. The idea of learning anew was something she didn't want to face. But these people had hurt her time and again and spat in her face that she would never be good enough to be one of them.
They would never trust her. No matter how hard she tried.
Regina was shocked out of her thoughts when her doorbell rang. She flinched, turning in her seat and looking at the closed door. There was silence for a long moment and she wondered if her intruder had decided it wasn't worth the risk to poke the bear with petty insults, and they had moved on their way. But then, instead of the doorbell, broad knuckles wrapped on the hard wood and she narrowed her eyes.
Slowly, she stepped up from the table. She wiped a tear from her cheek, stopping in the middle of her foyer to look at the wet mark in the palm of her hand.
When had she allowed herself to shed a tear over them?
The knuckles rapped again, louder this time and Regina looked up again. Maybe they had finally come to finish her off. Maybe this time she would welcome it with open arms. Maybe this time, she'd see Daniel again.
She took the steps down to her door hesitantly, reaching her hand out for the shiny knob with trepidation. She'd always known that death was her ultimate happy ending, but she still feared it. She feared that she would be wrong and all that would greet her on the other side, was eternal blackness devoid of everything she'd ever wanted.
She turned the knob slowly, pulling the handle back toward her as the door slowly creaked open. She opened it just enough to poke her head through, gripping the handle tightly as she peered out; feeling the chill of the night air against her skin.
"Hi," Her intruder spoke almost sheepishly and Regina found it curious that he of all people was the wielder of her final fate. Maybe it was poetic justice, for a dwarf to be her end with not a single one of her true enemies there to see it. She glanced beyond him, wondering if this was some trick and at the last moment, their self-righteous faces would appear out of nowhere to taunt her in her final breaths. "I'm alone." He stated, as if realizing what she was looking for.
"What do you want?" She tried to channel the Evil Queen, that tone of voice she'd put aside for special occasions, but her voice cracked just a little.
"I," He hesitated. Shuffling from foot to foot, he seemed on edge, nervous. She wasn't about to tell him that she wasn't going to kill him. That would suck the fun out of watching him squirm. "I was just wondering, seeing as you're innocent and all," Regina blinked, barely able to comprehend that the words had left his lips in such a nonchalant manner. "I mean I would have come sooner, but there was that whole murder thing and..." He blinked and hurried on when she narrowed her eyes. "I just thought maybe you might have some of that lasagna lying around?"
"You've come begging for scraps from my table?"
"Leftovers are fine." He shrugged, entirely missing the venomous jibe. "It's just really good lasagna." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and Regina found herself studying him closely for a moment. He wasn't wielding a weapon. His expression was almost earnest, aside from the perpetual grumpy frown. He seemed irritated with the cold, but he didn't complain.
"You," She blinked, straightening herself against the doorframe. "You liked it?" She tilted her head curiously, wondering how earnest the sentiment was.
"We all did!" He graced her with a brief, uncharacteristic grin before clearing his throat and looking down at his shoes. "I mean, yeah, sure. Why not?"
"But you hate me."
Grumpy looked up into her eyes for a moment and Regina felt herself chewing on her bottom lip. This wasn't the way she'd expected it to happen. She'd hoped for Henry to come running to her with hugs and apologies. She'd expected Emma's reluctant grumble of contrition – to which she'd have found great pleasure in denying for as long as she could – but for Henry's sake, she'd accept.
She expected Snow to nod her head as though it was her own triumph, that she'd somehow reformed her wayward Step-mother. And Regina would have let her believe it, if it meant she could spend a few hours a day with Henry, alone.
She didn't expect a flannel-clad dwarf in muddied work-boots, bludging for pasta.
"I don't have any made up," She paused, noting the look of defeat on his face. His shoulders slumped and his body half turned away.
"That's alright, it was worth a try, I guess." He turned away then, starting to walk down the path.
Regina flinched. She didn't like these people. They'd never caused her anything but pain and misery. But the coin was double-sided and maybe this was her chance to reach her hand out and let someone in. Even if it was a grumpy dwarf who didn't want anything from her but her cooking.
Maybe that was the best place to start.
She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, contemplating how degrading it would be to accept that she wanted the company; that she wanted someone to speak to that wasn't her own shadow.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped out the door. "Leroy, wait." She stopped herself, shocked that she'd let the words escape her before he turned around with a hopeful look in his eyes. "I don't have any made up," She reiterated and Grumpy frowned, confused. "But I have all the ingredients, if you're happy to wait."
He seemed to think it over for a moment, before letting a faint smile grow on his face. "Sure."
Three hours later and Regina's dining table was littered with half-empty pasta dishes, a steaming apple pie, three demolished salads and the entire room was full of excited murmurs. She'd talked to Grumpy as she'd rolled out the lasanga sheets – home-made, to which he was very impressed – before he'd declared that she wasn't half bad to talk to. He talked about Nova and the dwarves and to Regina's credit; she found her interest waning only rarely.
When the lasanga was ready to go in the oven he'd sheepishly asked if he could call the rest of the dwarves – they hadn't stopped talking about her lasanga since the party, amongst the grief of Archie's death – he thought they'd appreciate the treat. Reluctantly, scanning her kitchen with her eyes, Regina had agreed. It wasn't like she was doing anything else with her time.
She suddenly found herself sitting at her dining-room table with a glass of wine, watching the loud and overbearing group of dwarves, devour her cooking. She almost believed for a moment, they they'd forgotten where they were. Maybe David was right – perhaps her cooking was an extension of her magic after all.
"Mom!" She started when she heard Henry's voice. Placing her glass down she spun around in her chair, just in time for Henry to come flying into her arms. Emma, Mary-Margaret and David followed him through the door, each of them wearing a similar look of apprehension on their faces. Pongo dashed passed them and for a moment, Regina met Archie's eye, feeling a warmth settle in her as he smiled at her.
"Henry," She grinned, wrapping her arms around him, clinging to him, letting his warmth seep into her. "What are you doing here?"
"Leroy called," Emma chimed in and Regina caught the eye of the conniving dwarf in question, over her son's shoulder. "He said you were putting on a feast."
"I was coerced." She mock grumbled.
"Oh, Mom!" Henry shrieked. "Is that potato-bake?"
"With Italian sausage," She whispered in his ear, hugging his side. "Just the way you like it."
"This is awesome!" Henry declared, running off toward the kitchen, dropping his jacket on the floor as he went. A few seconds later he reappeared with more plates and Regina laughed as she bent to pick up his coat.
She watched him hand the plates to Mary-Margaret, David and Archie, dragging the Cricket by the wrist and insisting he try the yams, they were his favourite after all.
"I'm sorry, really, Regina." The voice at her side startled her and Regina jumped, pulling Henry's coat up and hugging it to her chest. They studied each other for a long moment, Regina fighting to keep the snide remark from bubbling up inside of her. She could tell Emma how she really felt, but the problem was that she didn't entirely know what that was. All she wanted was Henry and she wanted him to want her. Everything else was just what it was.
"I suppose," She turned her eyes back to Henry, taking up a seat between Happy and David, shovelling his favourite foods into his mouth so fast both women were certain he'd get the hiccups later. But it was clear, even though he hadn't been able to admit it; there were things about Regina he'd sorely missed. "Given the circumstances, I understand why you thought what you did."
"But that's just it, I didn't." Emma turned to her, suddenly passionate and not the least confused. "I saw your face when we told you Archie was dead. You had no idea and I believed you, I did. But then the dreamcatcher and Pongo and the evidence was so contradictory, but seeing it with my own eyes, Regina."
"I get it." She nodded slowly. "We couldn't both be telling the truth." She shrugged.
"I'm sorry," Emma tried to smile, but it was shaky and awkward. "I really am."
"Apology accepted." Regina half-smiled in return, hugging Henry's jacket tighter to her chest as she watched her crowded dining room buzz with life. Henry smiled at her over a forkful of lasanga and she chuckled gently when David offered him a scoop of salad, only for Henry to snatch his plate away as if the greens were laced with poison.
It wasn't perfect. Regina knew that it wasn't likely to become a regular occurrence and it was very likely that Mary-Margaret was doing her best to pretend they weren't eating dinner in Regina's house. But she could live with that; because Henry was beaming and the dwarves looked smug and for the first time in weeks, she felt that maybe everything she was sacrificing for Henry, was worth it.