Author's Note: Sorry about the delay! You guys have been awesome and I appreciate every single review and especially the wishes of luck, it definitely helped! For those who asked, my OUAT paper received a perfect score which went a long way towards getting an A in my Advanced Composition class. Final Exams are over and I am done with University until August.
We all survived the Season Finale! Well, all but one. There was a liquid+laptop incident and I was terrified that I'd lost everything for a minute. The computer survived though my keyboard is a loss. I've got it fixed for the short-term, with a long term solution in the works. All the work I've done on this fic, "Reset" (yes, it will continue) and "Never Never" (coming soon) was almost exclusively stored on my laptop. This chapter, some really spectacular Belle moments and several SwanQueen scenes were almost destroyed. Thank Lana that didn't happen!
Now, without further ado, I give you the Part 3 (the last part!) of the Party Scene. Read, enjoy, and review if the spirit moves you. I love reviews, they feed my hungry muses...this is known.
Agree To Disagree
"And Katherine and Jim, or you'd remember them better as Princess Abbigail and Sir Frederick, live over at 44 Third Street. Katherine is taking law courses online and she's determined to become Storybrooke's first elected District Attorney."
Aurora blinked, "I'm sorry, but I only understood about half of what you just said."
Ruby, Belle and Snow looked between each other and then, much to Aurora's embarrassment, started to laugh. Belle regained her composure first. "Trust me it gets easier. I don't have cursed memories either. Some days can be a little confusing, but you catch on quickly. Everyone here is so kind and helpful."
"Well" Snow's eyes cut to the booth that Regina had recently vacated, "most people are."
"So." Ruby's slightly over-the-top cheerful voice cut through Snow's momentary gloom, "What are you planning to do now, Mulan?"
Belle, hand still resting comfortably in the crook of Ruby's elbow turned and the Warrior shifted from foot to foot, obviously uncomfortable with the sudden scrutiny. Her hands were locked behind her, folded stiffly at the small of her back. "I have sworn an oath to Prince Phillip to protect Princess Aurora."
"Well" Leah spoke for the first time, "that certainly is not necessary anymore. Her father and I can provide Aurora" She slipped her arm around her daughter's waist, "everything she could possibly need or want." When the two women stood so close it was impossible to deny their shared blood. From the shape of their faces, to their coloring and even their body-shape, Aurora was almost a perfect replica of Leah.
Snow felt a little jealous that mother and daughter shared so much when she could see so little of herself in Emma.
Ruby felt a pang of guilt, she too had looked like her mother. Even Esmeralda had said as much. Only Anita was not around to hug her. She had died, impaled on a pike, cursing her daughter with her last breathes.
Belle smiled but keenly missed her own mother, who had died of a fever when she had been three years old.
Mulan said nothing, she did not trust herself to speak. She had been neatly and bloodlessly dismissed. Shame filled her entire being. This was the second time she had been dismissed from service, and this time cut just as deeply as the last had. If her family had not disowned her years before she would have felt the crushing guilt of knowing that she had brought further shame to her ancestors.
"But Mother." Aurora hugged Leah back and smiled, "Mulan and I still have to rescue Phillip's soul."
Mulan smiled and her spirit rose again like a reawakened phoenix. She still had a quest, a duty to fulfill. She was not in service to this royal family, she was sworn to Prince Phillip and his rescue. Aurora had not forgotten that, or her.
"Perhaps I can help."
Belle moved away from Ruby and touched Mulan's tee-shirt clad shoulder, "I helped rescue Phillip the first time, after all."
The entire group of women refocused their attention on Belle.
"You helped rescue a Prince?" Ruby looked her up and down, obviously shocked.
Mulan smiled for the first time since she had arrived at the party. "She is a clever warrior. If not for her, Phillip would still be lost."
"I wouldn't call myself a warrior, I almost cut my own arm off with that sword. I do much better with books."
Mulan, usually humorless, threw her head and laughed.
Aurora almost dropped her glass of Coke, the drink Henry had recommended her when she expressed her distaste for beer, at the sound. She had never heard the other woman laugh. It was a husky, rough and melodious sound, not the giggles of a teenager or the proper and understated titter of a Lady, a real soldier's spontaneous and whole-hearted laugh.
Belle, gracious despite the teasing, rolled her eyes, "Admit it, my books helped."
Mulan's face returned to its usual stoic blankness, "They did and they may again."
"Well magical quests are great, but they pay crap." Ruby leaned back against the counter and crossed her long legs at the ankle. "And there aren't allot of openings for sword swinging heroes in Storybrooke."
Leah nodded, "Yes and I'm sure Granny won't take good intentions for rent."
Snow and Aurora both opened their mouths to protest, but Mulan quietly beat them to the verbal punch.
"The Lucas Family has been very generous to me, and I will not continue to abuse their hospitality. I will retire to the forest to camp until I can secure lodgings."
Both Belle and Aurora's outraged voices rose above the Diner's many conversations.
"Mother, there must be-"
Aurora's protests were cut off by Belle's calm voice.
"You are not going to camp in the middle of forest in Maine, Mulan. You're staying with me. I have an apartment above the library."
"The Hell!" Ruby pushed off of the counter, "Belle you don't even get paid for all that crap you do in the library, you can't just open up your home to some free-loader!"
"You don't get paid?"
Snow, Aurora and Leah's reactions were faster and louder but it was Belle's single word that caught Ruby's attention.
Belle's blue eyes narrowed, "I beg your pardon, Ruby Lucas, but I happen to like my work at the library. It may not be the most important job in Storybrooke but it makes me happy." She crossed her arms and glared at the taller brunette, "And I do get paid, thank you very much."
"I wouldn't call getting an allowance from the Dark One a paycheck, Miss French."
Leah curled her lip in disgust, "You're practically a kept woman."
Snow sounded positively scandalized.
"If I do get an allowance, Mrs. Weathersby, so do you." Belle met the former queen with an equal amount of disdain in her voice. "Head Librarian is a municipal position. Regina Mills signs my checks and sets my budget the same way she does yours." Belle took a long drink of her iced tea, "And after twenty-eight years of being closed for repairs the library has a very healthy budget to work with."
"Repairs. Now that's an interesting way to say theres a dragon in the basement."
Ruby's words, flippant and casual, made both Aurora and Leah pale. Aurora put her half-full glass of cola on the counter before it slipped from her shaking hand, "A dragon? You mean that Maleficent is here?"
Despite the earlier bickering, Mulan was at Aurora's side in a heartbeat, hand already on her sword.
"Emma killed the dragon."
Snow's words were quick and quiet, "Before the curse broke. Maleficent can't hurt anyone anymore."
"Well that's one witch down" Leah's voice dropped an octave and her face tightened into a scowl, "and one to go."
"Things look like they're getting heated over there."
David sipped his beer and shifted uncomfortably. Snow's face was turning red, which was rare.
"They're women, James, they're probably arguing about shoes."
Steve Weathersby, former King, was seated comfortably on a stool, his elbow negligently propped on the counter only inches away from Emma's plate of tacos.
"Though it is good to see Aurora and Leah making friends."
David nodded and wondered if he should correct the other man. He was not, nor had he ever wanted to be James. He had shed that name with the curse and didn't really want it back.
"Friends? They don't look like they're going to braid each other's hair."
He wondered if he should step over there. He was a man, though, and if he had learned anything from attending balls at Snow's side, it was that too many women made for a sticky situation for him. Women were complicated, tricky creatures. They had too many wiles and games, too many ways to trap you into saying or doing something you would only get in trouble for later. Still, he was the law and if things escalated…
"Oh relax, Sheriff."
David drained his beer, "Emma's the Sheriff. I was just filling in while she was gone. It was the least I could do. Now that she's back the job is hers again, we elected her after all."
Stephen regarded him regally, "That was before, when were cursed. She's a princess, royalty, James. You don't mean to let her continue to do that peasant's job do you?"
David wished he were anywhere else, at all. "Emma's a grown woman and makes her own decisions."
Stephen chuckled into his drink, "That's a trait of the White Women. Eva and Snow had Leopold wrapped around their little fingers. It looks like your Emma takes after her mother and grandmother in that respect." He clapped David on the shoulder, "Oh don't get upset, James, I spoil my girls too. Kings without sons have to be a little soft-hearted." He held up his stein and two fingers, and looked around for Granny for a refill. "I'm only glad Leopold's heart hardened before he wedded and bedded Regina. God only knows what would have happened if he'd let that witch have the freedom that Eva did. We would have all been rotting heartless corpses before you would have been old enough to shave."
David looked around, almost desperate for an excuse to step away from Stephen. He saw his last possible chance, Emma, slip out the door. Damn.
"Yeah well, we beat her once and if she wants to cause trouble we can do it again."
Stephen folded his arms over his chest and raised a raven brow, "You beat her? We were cursed for twenty-eight years, that hardly feels like a victory. The next time Regina gets frisky maybe someone else should lead the charge."
What was that supposed to mean? He hadn't been raised around politics and Kings, but he knew a challenge when he heard one.
"Oh I think Snow, Emma and I can handle Regina."
Stephen only grunted in reply.
"And this electricity is a magic energy that makes all these lights stay on and keeps the food fresh and plays the music?"
This realm was a truly unique and powerful place.
"It's definitely better than tallow candles, hunting vermin and listening to talentless twerps pluck at mandolins."
Archie chuckled at Granny's joke.
"There are allot of things in this realm that make life easier, it's something we've all become used to over the years. I hadn't considered how odd it would seem without cursed memories. You should really talk to Belle, she's adjusted very well to life in Storybrooke."
Archie pushed his glasses back up onto his nose. "Though she was a princess. I suppose it's very different for a Romani."
Esmeralda gave the redheaded man a smile. He was one of the few people that she had met, in any realm, that paid her people enough respect to refer to them by their proper name. "I have traveled many realms, and they are all strange, though I must admit this town that My Nightingale made is certainly the strangest."
Widow, called Granny here, Lucas choked on her beer. "Regina, Regina Mills, is your Little Nightingale?"
They had spoken of their beloved girls, Granny of Red and she of her Nightingale, years ago while she had camped in the woods near the cottage sewing the magical red cloak she had sold to the other woman.
A small smile crossed her face, "Since she was a babe-in-arms."
"So" Archie smiled, "you really did help raise her and now you've come back into her life. It must take a lot of strength and love to stay by hers side after everything that has happened."
This man, Esmeralda decided, knew how to use words. He was not unkind, but he probed with careful questions and clever insights.
"Even the gravest mistakes and the most damaged souls can be brought back into balance with enough good works and love."
Archie plucked his glasses off his face and cleaned them on his sweater, "You're talking about The Old Ways. I haven't even thought of them since I was a child."
Little Henry climbed up onto a nearby stool and sipped his root beer with a scowl on his face. "She can't ever make up for everything she's done. No matter what she does. She'll always be evil."
Esmeralda looked around and was relieved to see that Regina was not in the room to hear Little Henry say such a thing.
"There is no such thing as a good or evil person, Little Henry, only good and evil actions."
Henry rolled his eyes, "She's the Evil Queen."
Anger started to rise in Esmeralda and she bit the inside of her cheek to remind her to keep it under control. He was just a boy, a very young boy who had only barely started on his life's journey.
"She's your mother."
"No she's not."
Archie put his hand on the boy's shoulder, "You don't mean that, Henry."
"Yes I do."
Anger boiled up in Esmeralda's chest. This was the son her Little One had spoken of so softly? This was why her eyes had showed such sadness. If there was one thing Regina had ever wanted, since the time she was old enough to cradle a doll, it was to be a mother. Little Henry was confused, Esmeralda reminded herself. He had found himself in a very unusual situation and his mother had done many horrible things.
"There is much you do not understand, Little Henry."
She smiled softly at the boy. He reminded her of Regina. She had gone through a stage very like this. She had been bright, quick and far too clever for her own good. She had thought herself to be smarter than everyone. The world was so small to children. Esmeralda reached out to smooth Henry's hair and the boy jerked away.
"My name is Henry, there's nothing little about me."
She lowered her hand and refused to show her disappointment at his reaction to her. "Henry is the name I called your grandfather, therefore you cannot be Henry. You are Little Henry."
"My grandfather's name is David. That other Henry is just Regina's dead father. He doesn't mean anything to me."
A surge of pain cut through her. Oh Henry, she felt tears burn in her eyes, he doesn't mean it. Her sadness and anger curled around her heart and for a moment the bitterness overwhelmed her.
"Do not speak ill of your ancestors, Little Boy." Her voice was cold and it cracked like a whip. Though she did not realize it, the entire Diner recognized the tone as Regina's mayoral voice.
"Hey!" David Nolan, Prince Charming, stepped over. "That's my grandson you're talking to, Gypsy."
Her scared lips turned down in a frown, "Yes. His manners must be a reflection of poor breeding because I know his mother taught him better because I taught her respect."
"Hey you can't talk to him like that, he's a prince!"
David settled his hand on Henry's shoulder and smiled, "Gypsies aren't civilized enough to know any better, Henry. They don't respect leaders because they don't have their own."
His ignorance and his off-the-cuff way of sharing it with an impressionable little boy made her blood boil.
"I see no prince here. Only a jumped up shepherd boy given a dead man's name and a life that was not his own."
The only sound in the room was Snow's gasp.
"I knew you had to be evil."
Henry stood up and wrapped his arms around David's waist. "You're no better than she is."
He is but a boy, Esmeralda reminded herself. She had dealt with sorcerers, kings, wizards, and men who thought they were Gods. She could deal with an ungrateful, spoiled boy who spoke of things he couldn't possibly understand.
"One who has taken so few steps on his own journey should not speak on the paths of others."
Snow had, during the argument, walked across the room to join her husband and grandson.
"And a barefoot barbarian shouldn't speak to her betters like that."
Esmeralda did not lower her eyes or move an inch. She stared down the couple and the boy. She knew that she should not have lost her temper, but these people would have driven The Beloved Light herself to fall, or gleefully leap, from grace.
"No one person can stand above another. We are all one family descended from the same source." She plucked the white dish, Regina had called it ceramic but it looked like no ceramic she'd seen before, from the counter. "I will see my own way out." She turned towards the door, "It was good to see you again, Eugenia, and to meet you, Archie."
Then she walked, head held high and shoulders stiff, out of the door.
She entered the dark courtyard, fury burning in her heart, and saw something she did not expect to see. It was, in fact, one of the very last things she had expected to see.
Her Nightingale was in the arms of Emma Swan.
"She couldn't take your heart?"
Ah, Esmeralda finally understood. Cora had tried to take Emma Swan's heart.
"Nope still here, still beating and doing whatever else a heart is supposed to do."
And she had failed, a first for the Queen of Hearts.
"No one is going to hurt Henry. I'm the Savior and you're the Evil Queen, who the hell has a chance against us?"
They called Emma Swan The Savior? Esmeralda's eyebrow rose at that. Could it really be so simple? After all her years of searching, could this really be her answer?
Then her Little One pulled away, her voice dripped with fear as she spoke of Cora, the woman who was supposed to be her mother. The heartless beast that had happily helped turn her Little Nightingale to her dark path.
She's the Queen of Hearts, even Gold fears her power. Does that tell you anything?"
Had these people really worn her Little One down so far? This was the woman who had brought an entire realm to its knees and she no longer had confidence in herself. Though she vehemently hated what Regina had done, she could not deny that it had taken power. More power than the Dark One himself had been able to gather.
"That this Gold is a fool."
She was beginning to think that many people of Storybrooke were fools.
Both women, Emma Swan and Her Little Nightingale, turned to face her.
They bickered about the blonde's name for a moment before Regina capitulated and called the White Princess by her given name, Emma.
It had been Miss Swan that morning and under the dark night sky it was Emma. Interesting.
"Tell Emma how powerful Mother is."
Cora was powerful, that was known, but it was time that Her Nightingale recognized her own potential.
"-but you are more powerful than she ever imagined."
That was known. She had always felt the power of magic in Regina. She had felt the surge of dark energy in her the very first time she had touched the girl.
Then Regina, voice as wobbly as it had ever been as a child, asked why she hadn't shared the news about Cora's arrival in Storybrooke. Why hadn't she told Regina that her mother had returned to her life? She wasn't sure herself. Perhaps it was because she had wanted just a few days with the girl she loved with all her heart without the shadow of Cora Mills darkening their time. Perhaps she hadn't said because she was naive enough to think that she could protect her like she had when Regina had been a child. Perhaps it was because she had found Her Little Nightingale on death's door and had desperately wanted her to be well before she told her that the cruel woman that had haunted her childhood nightmares was back.
"I was going to tell you when you had fully recovered."
She wasn't recovered yet. It took more than a day to recover from being at the brink of death. Besides, her Little Nightingale had not been taking proper care of herself. She was too thin, she barely ate enough to keep her namesake alive. There was too much alcohol in her home and not enough food. There was too much sadness and shadow in her life and not enough smiles and light.
"It is unimportant." It wasn't, but she refused to talk about it when they were still close to the Diner full of fools and idiots. "Are you ready to leave?" They were leaving no matter if she was ready or not. This place and these people were not good for Regina and she was not going to let her Little One linger in the toxic environment they'd found themselves in.
She paused when she reached Regina's side, and looked back at Emma Swan. She could not help but think of the past and of her quest. She could not help but remember a very old story, a child's tale of a cursed princess and a sad queen.
""Thank you for inviting us, Emma Swan. It was an enlightening evening."
To say the least. She wrapped her arm around her Little One's shoulders, unsure if she was comforting herself or Regina with the movement, and lead the woman she loved more than anything other person in any world, towards her home.
When Regina had been a child simple words of comfort had always been enough to calm her. Esmeralda didn't have enough words to make up for the ugly hate, anger and negativity that Regina dealt with every day so she simply kissed the woman's temple as they walked. That would have to be enough for now.
She felt eyes on her as they walked but chose to ignore Cora's glare and the cold wind that it rode on.
AN2: I'm sorry, but someone had to say it. Henry spent the majority of 2 seasons being a disrespectful brat.