A/N: This has not been proofread and, in fact, might not be very good. It's been so long that I've been able to write anything that when the words started coming I just let it happen. I hope you enjoy.
The Woman Behind the Bars
Emma didn't know what to think as she pounded the pavement on her way to Mifflin Street. Her steps were harsh, violent, and comforting as she felt her boots slam against the concrete. The rhythmic movements and sounds were the only thing propelling her forward, for her mind was surely not focused on her journey.
No, her mind was the news she had just been informed of by her mother, Mary Margaret. Snow White. Fairest in all the lands. Or so that was what she had been led to believe. But no matter how repetitive the tales were, they had still been proven wrong. Snow had killed Regina's mother. And she had done it in the cruelest way possible: by manipulation. She used a mother's love against Regina and thus was how daughter killed mother.
Emma spat on the ground to rid her mouth of the taste of bile. Her stomach churned at the mere notion of what her mother had done. She remembered all too vividly returning from the woods with Neal to find Snow huddled up on her bed. Her knees were to her chest, arms wrapped around herself as if she would literally fall apart if she let go. Her fair and beautiful skin was sunken in and a sickly shade of green, bags resting under wide and incoherent eyes.
"I killed her," she had whispered when Emma sat on the side of the bed, across from Charming who was attempting to get her to drink some tea. "I…this is not who I am."
Charming was quick to comfort, and Emma fell nausea swelling in her gut as she looked upon them. She knew Snow wanted to be comforted. Who wouldn't want to be comforted after some cold blooded murder? But she couldn't do it. Because, deep down, Emma knew that she deserved this pain. She deserved those guilt ridden thoughts and self-hatred that was scorching through her body. Even if just for a day, she deserved it.
Snow White paid her no mind as Emma grabbed her jacket and headed out the door, ignoring both Neal and her father's inquiries. She didn't really have a plan when she left the house; she just knew she couldn't be in their presence any more. She loved her parents, and she knew they loved her, but happiness is never a constant even when true love is involved. So Emma began walking, with no real destination in mind. But her feet seemed to know where they were headed so she allowed them to guide her.
And here she was, turning onto Mifflin Street, conscious now of where she was heading, and yet not turning back. For inside the mayoral mansion, there was a soul that needed saving. Emma still wasn't sure what all her title as 'savior' required, but as she turned down the paved path past the once well-manicured shrubs and stared up at one of the most intimidating houses in town, she knew what she had to do. Inside the house was a woman considered evil, a woman known for murder and revenge and manipulation. But also, inside was a woman, a human being, a tortured soul now utterly alone. If this wasn't the definition of someone who needed saving, Emma wasn't sure she wanted the job.
Her hand shook as she reached out for the doorbell, her ears humming at the silence of the town. Her fingertip had just grazed the button when she pulled back, unable to break the serene silence. Maybe Regina found it serene as well. Instead, she grabbed a hold of the latch, and let herself inside.
All of the lights were off, but the house was cleanly illuminated by the large windows that adorned the house. Everything was spotless and Emma swallowed hard as she saw the gleam of the stainless steel kitchen and that the couch pillows had even been fluffed. The woman who lost everything still cared about appearances it seemed. Or maybe…she simply had nothing else to do. Out of habit, Emma slid her boots off and set them by the door on an expectant mat. Her socks padded silently on the hardwood as she made her way past the bannister and down the hallway.
As suspected, the door to the ex-Mayor's office was closed. Emma could see light flitting back and forth from underneath the door frame. She stepped towards it and gently placed her ear against the wood, listening. It was warm to the touch. She could hear nothing but the crackling of a fire. Taking a deep breath, Emma slowly turned the doorknob, giving Regina plenty of time to come and wrench the door from her fingers. But no such response came. Instead, Emma pushed the door completely open and allowed it to softly hit against the wall.
The Evil Queen Regina, still her black boots with black hose and black jacket, was sitting on the floor. Her back was pressed up against the coffee table, legs straight out in front of her in a childlike pose. She stared straight ahead into the fire. Her left hand cradled a drink, but it looked untouched, the ice inside the glass nearly gone. Her right hand was balled into a fist so tight that Emma could see her white knuckles and the subtle shake of effort.
In all her time in Storybrooke, she had never seen the Queen look so…utterly defeated. Emma's stomach lurched again as she took in the figure surrounded by luxurious furniture, sitting on the floor, ruining an expensive drink with melting ice. It was a hard thing to witness and she looked away momentarily, fingers dancing along the door knob.
"Come to finish what your mother started, Miss Swan?"
Regina's voice was so weak it did not break the mood of silence. It still had that rasp, still had the diction and clarity of a woman raised by procedure and etiquette, but it lacked its natural confidence and bite. And those words directed at her broke Emma from her stupor. There wasn't even an underlying tone of malice or baiting. In fact, if Emma had come to kill her, she was certain she could do so, and Regina would not even turn to greet it. For death had already claimed her some time ago. The only thing that had her clinging to life had died in her arms this morning.
Regina's glass clinked as she set it on the coffee table behind her, shoulders rising with a heavy sigh. "Forgive me for not standing, but given that you're in my house uninvited I'd say we're past courtesy."
"I took off my shoes, if it's any consolation," Emma offered, looking down at her striped blue socks.
"I didn't," was Regina's only response, her booted foot twitching as if to further the point.
Emma swayed from side to side for a moment before stepping inside of the office. She made her way over to the chair that was facing Regina's left side and sat down slowly, eyeing the brunette. From this angle she could see the rivers of tears shining in the firelight as they rain down Regina's cheeks. Her eyes were red and slightly swollen, but it looked like she had long since run out of tears. Her hair looked slightly greasy and Emma was reminded with the image of how often the Queen liked to run her hand through it. If that was a nervous or calming reaction, she was surprised Regina had any hair left. She also noticed just how close her feet were to the fireplace.
"You know, the rubber from your shoes is gonna melt into your feet soon," she offered, simply to have something to say.
Regina's eyebrows rose lazily as she looked at her boots but a hum was her only response. Emma felt herself growing more worried as she watched the brunette on the floor. She seemed so lifeless, so pathetic. It was a side to Regina that Emma had never seen. When she first thought of how Regina would react to the news of her mother's death, Emma thought that she would be violently vindictive. She had nothing else to live for so why not burn the entire town to the ground.
If she had decided to, Emma wouldn't have blamed her. She would have tried to stop her, certainly, but blame would have been a non-issue. But to see this powerhouse of magic crumpled on the floor... Emma realized she wasn't prepared to deal with this. The majority of her interactions with the queen had been filled with violence and verbal spats. Emma was good at those. She was good at being on the defensive. But comforting someone...she couldn't remember the last time she'd consoled someone other than herself. And even then shed stopped doing that at a young age when it started getting redundant. Emma watched quietly as Regina's eyes darted towards the window, out into the darkening sky. And in that moment Emma recognized a look that used to befall her own eyes. It was a desire to run away. Run away and start over or run away to end it all. Which scenario Regina was thinking of she couldn't be sure. All she knew was that she couldn't let her to continue to think that way. No good ever came from running away. Emma could attest that several times over.
"Snow told me about what happened," Emma said slowly, gauging Regina's reaction. "I'm...I'm sorry about Cora."
That earned her a light scoff. Slowly Regina's head turned and coal eyes burned into Emma's own green. "Haven't we learned by now that lying gets us nowhere?"
A smile tugged at the corner of Emma's mouth. "I'm not lying. Cora was an evil bitch, but, what Snow did..." She drifted, unsure of what to say. She hated what her mother did, but knew that the rage would pass with time and their wounds would mend. Regina would never be able to hold on to that kind of hope again. "Was she...always like that?"
"Mmm," Regina answered, adjusting her position slightly. "I thought her loving and caring when I was young and stupid. As I grew older I learned to see through that manipulation."
"I can't imagine you ever being stupid," Emma responded honestly, which earned her a skeptical glance.
"Every time I fell for one of her games, every time I allowed myself to smile or feel content in her presence, that was stupidity. And look where it's brought me." Regina swallowed then, and reached behind her for the glass, taking a small drink and wincing slightly at the dilution.
Emma looked around the room for a decanter but gave up after finding none. She didn't want to have to leave this room and risk either of them coming back to reality just yet. "You weren't stupid for wanting to believe in your mother. I did that my entire life."
To Emma's surprise, Regina gave a slight smile. "Miss Swan, you have been known to do very stupid things. I don't think that example is exactly helpful."
"I have moments of brilliance," Emma countered, relaxing into the chair a little more. "Did you love her, even when you knew her for what she was?"
Regina turned and glared at her so sharply that Emma thought for sure she was about to be thrown out of the house. But as soon as it had come, Regina's face softened, as if she was too exhausted to be upset. "When you thought your parents had abandoned you, did you love them?"
Emma gave a knowing nod and Regina returned it once before taking another small drink. "We can't help who we love. I imagine I would have turned out quite differently if we could." The queen looked back to the fire and Emma watched how the fire caught her features.
If fairytales were to be believed, or rather, taken at face value, The Evil Queen hated Snow White because Snow was prettier than her. But it went without question that the most beautiful person in the town, or possibly the state, was Regina. It was in precious moments from their interactions that Emma could see a beauty that came from inside. Most of the time it showed up when Henry was around or mentioned. Regina's eyes would soften and her mouth would fall, along with all of her barriers. Even if it was just for a moment, it was worth it… every single time.
"If you could go back and change it all, would you?" Emma asked, exhaling a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding.
"That's quite a heavy question, Miss Swan," Regina said after a long pause, finishing her drink and setting it silently back on the table. "Would I go back and stop the murders, the revenge, all the broken hearts and be reunited with Daniel to lose the ten years I had with Henry before you showed up?"
"Regina, we don't always have to fight about Henry."
"No. We do," Regina spat quickly, reminding Emma of the Evil Queen she was so familiar with. The darkened gleam had returned to her eye along with that scarred snarl. "As long as I am kept from him, I will fight for him. The curse and pride of being a mother."
Emma ran her hands along her thighs as she tried to keep her composure. This wasn't why she was here. Too often were these moments of insight ruined by pride and defenses.
"Okay, fine, but come on, you're a flight risk with a bad magical temper and the entire town wants your head. I think we can both agree that Henry's safety is our top priority."
Regina made no response to that, but her shoulders did straighten a little, attempting to regain her regal pose. It must be almost natural, Emma thought, to hide behind such a glamorous and confident façade. Regina had only been her true self for a handful of people. Could she still distinguish between herself and the Evil Queen?
"Why are you here, Miss Swan?" Regina asked finally, breaking her silence.
It was a simple enough and easily foreshadowed question, and yet it caught Emma off guard. She felt her cheeks redden a bit and blinked a few times to regain her thought process. She knew why she had come here but to say it out loud, in front of Regina herself, was a little intimidating.
"I-I just wanted to…check on you…make sure you were okay, you know?"
Regina shook her head incredulously and scoffed. "And now you're concerned? You didn't care at all how I felt when you took my son from me, when you accused me of murdering the cricket, when the entire town came for my blood, or when they blatantly ignored my attempts to turn around. You're a hypocritical waste of compassion like your mother and I've no tolerance for it."
"My mother was wrong to do what she did."
Regina shot up then, a maniacal sort of smile on her lips. Her white teeth glistened in the light and made her look as if she was spitting fire. "Yes, and let me guess: she's sitting at home with that stupid doe eyed look wondering wherever such an evil idea could have come from. And what a terrible person she must be. And everyone is gathered around her, consoling her and reminding her that, no, she's not evil. She's best person any stupid sheepherder could love."
A fresh tear escaped the corner of the Queen's eye and she was quick to wipe it away. "And she'll try to make amends, because it's the 'right' thing to do but when things don't go her way—such as when I refuse her apology—the spoiled princess will get upset and do everything in her power to 'stop' me. How am I doing?"
Emma shook her head slowly, watching as Regina's movements slowed, her initial excitement dwindling the last of her energy. "Pretty much hit the nail on the head."
The Queen's shoulders slumped as she exhaled slowly, sitting down on the chair opposite Emma. "I've grown weary of this redundancy," she said as she brought a hand up to rub at tired eyes. "I was hoping when you came along that you'd be the one to break the cycle…for better or worse. But it looks like you're just as stupid as the loins you come from."
Emma opened her mouth to retaliate but paused as she watched the familiar motion of Regina running her hand through her hair. It fell back to its original position immediately, encircling the strong jaw that appeared to be quivering ever so slightly.
"Children shouldn't be blamed for the faults of their parents. Snow and I are alike in that regard." Regina smiled faintly, bringing her eyes back to Emma. "You and I are similar in that regard as well." The last words came out faint and hoarse and Regina shook her head, clenching her eyes shut as she felt the tears fall from them.
It wasn't until Emma heard the sound of a restrained sob that she moved, rising from her seat and making her way over to the Queen. Regina's glare was far less intimidating in this state and she paid no mind to it as she crouched in front of her, placing her hand on Regina's arm. Surprisingly, her hand was permitted to stay and Emma gave a weak smile as she looked up at the Queen.
They were quiet for a few moments as Regina tried to compose herself. Somewhere along the way Emma had taken to holding Regina's hand. It was limp in her palm but it didn't stop the blonde from rubbing consoling circles on it with her thumb. With one last quick sniff, a slightly more composed Regina looked down at Emma, shaking her head in disbelief. When she spoke, her voice was barely a whisper, still choking on the sadness she used to bury so well.
"She said I would have been enough."
Emma looked up at the woman in front of her, the tear stains down her cheeks, eyes red and swollen. She felt the quivering of the palm in her grasp and for a brief moment she saw through the walls. There in front of her was vulnerability and such a deep self-loathing that Emma felt her gut ache in response. Emma was up in an instant, taking the Queen by surprise as she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her. Regina went rigid, but did not pull away and Emma used the time to her advantage, using her nose to brush away hair from Regina's ear and press her lips to it.
"You are enough."
An eternity of silence passed between them before Emma felt a single shaking palm against her back.