"Hey kid," Emma gave her best welcoming smile as her son plopped down beside her on the overly large blanket she'd spread out while she waited. She'd been careful to find a spot where the earth wasn't rocky or full of roots, and, much to her relief, she'd somehow managed to grab a place right against a tree, which she was currently leaning against as she sat on the ground. "How was school?"
"It was okay." Henry shrugged off his backpack and began pulling out his homework. "My teacher says we have to read the first chapter in Where the Red Fern Grows by tomorrow." He frowned while he dug through his pack, looking for the book.
The blonde watched him with an amused expression. "That's a good book." She shrugged. "It's a little sad, though. Did you know the guy who wrote it couldn't read or write until he was a grown man? His whole life he went around not understanding half the world, and then he decided that he wanted to understand, so," she glanced to Regina, locking eyes with her, "his wife taught him how, and, after he learned, he wrote the book. Pretty cool, huh?" Her gaze dropped down to the blanket and roamed over the basket and bag sitting to one side. "I bet his wife had a lot of patience to help him understand something that complicated." She looked back to her son. "Because it is, you know? Reading and writing is hard to do."
"Yeah," he grumbled as he rolled onto his stomach with the book in his hand, "Reading isn't my favorite subject." He flipped to the first page of the book. "I like science better."
"They're both good subjects," Regina added in her thoughts as she carefully began to take a seat on the blanket close enough to be involved in the conversation but far enough away from Emma to keep the prying eyes that were watching them from getting too scandalized at what they were watching. "I'm very thankful that you're gifted in both subjects, even if you favor one over the other." She gave him a gentle smile. "After you finish your chapter, we'll have dinner."
He grunted in response. His little brow furrowed, and his eyes narrowed as he began to concentrate on the words on the page before him.
The women left him alone, turning to each other to speak quietly while their son did his homework. "You're too far away," Emma said, a smirk playing at the edges of her mouth. "Come here."
"I'm less than a foot away from you," Regina countered, rolling her eyes. "How is that too far?"
"Well…," the younger woman's voice was playful as she answered. Leaning forward, she grabbed the brunette around the waist and tugged her around, ignoring the other woman's muted protests, until Regina was leaning against Emma. "This is how close you should be," Emma whispered against the older woman's ear while she wrapped her arms around Regina's waist and enjoyed the feel of the brunette's back leaning against her front. "Tell me this isn't better."
"I'll tell you that three people just did a spit take with their respective drinks." Despite herself, Regina chuckled. "Of course I can't be certain, but I'm sure it has to do with this little display of affection you're insisting on."
"I don't care." Emma nuzzled her nose against Regina's hair, pushing it back to place a gentle kiss on the older woman's neck. "And I know you like it when you get to mess with their heads, so don't tell me you care. You know I hate it when you lie to me."
Regina gave a little contented hum. "It is nice to shock them without actually, well, shocking them." She sighed, relaxing more into the arms holding her. "How long before someone comes up to say something?"
"I'd say less than a minute. I can see Archie heading this way, and Pongo is…"
Emma didn't get to finish her sentence before the dog in question had made it to their blanket and bounded into Regina's lap, landing heavily there and awkwardly sitting as best he could. Tilting his head to the side, he raised his ears and stared them at with an expectant face.
The older woman actually laughed, and the sound seemed to run through the crowd watching but pretending not to. Some were shocked that she hadn't reacted angrily. Others were curious, and still others were happy to see her actually seeming to enjoy something at all.
"Well hello," Regina said, the laugh still echoing her voice. "How are you, Pongo?" She reached forward with both hands and began to scratch him behind the ears. He grunted and laid down across her and Emma's lap to allow more scratching and rubbing. Regina grinned. "Demanding, aren't we?"
"Hi, Pongo." Henry looked up, reached forward to give a couple of scratches and went back to his book.
Archie finally made it to the group, panting a little from the chase. "Regina, I'm so sorry. He got off of his lease."
"It's fine, Doctor Hopper. He's not hurting anything." She looked down to the animal sprawled over her and Emma's legs and moved to rubbing his tummy. "Are you, Pongo?" The dog's only reply was to look up to Archie and then flop his head back down. "Exactly." She looked back to the dog's owner. "Would you care to join us? We have plenty of room."
"I," taken aback by the uncharacteristic offer, Archie took a few seconds to consider before coming to some quiet conclusion in his mind. "I'd love to, but I promised Grace that I would sit with her and her family tonight. Perhaps another time?"
Regina nodded her understanding. "Of course."
"Pongo can stay if he wants." Emma sighed. "He looks comfortable."
The doctor hesitated. "I don't want him to be a bother…"
"It's fine." The sheriff's voice was calm and solid. "We're fine, Archie. I promise."
He seemed to consider them. "If you're sure…"
"I'm sure you sent Pongo over here as an excuse to check on us." The blonde's hand finally pulled away from the grasp on Regina's waist to give the dog a scratch. "You could have just come over and said hi. Neither one of us bites, despite the rumors flying around town right now." She gave him a small but reassuring smile. "I promise we're good."
"I just wanted to let you know I was here in case you needed me." His face reddened a bit. "I'm sorry if I interrupted anything."
"You?" Emma shook her head. "No." With her free hand, she pointed to Pongo. "Him?" She nodded in the affirmative. "Yes. I could be there right now."
"Ms. Swan!" Regina's voice cracked like a whip, and half the people around jumped, including the doctor and their son.
The blonde, however, only chuckled. "He's welcome to hang out here as long as he wants, but you have to take him home with you because this is as far as he gets." She winked.
"Ewwww," Henry dropped his head, covering his face with his book. "Ma, do you have to say stuff like that?"
Regina's head turned quickly to the boy. "Henry!"
"What? I'm 11, and it's not like I live under a rock." He glanced around his book and winced at the look his brunette mother was giving him. "I'm just saying that… well, it's not a mental picture I want, okay? Who wants to picture their parents doing… that?" He gave a shudder and pulled his eyes back to his book.
"Oh God," Regina groaned, putting a hand to her face to cover her eyes, "our boy is growing up too fast."
Archie chuckled, pleased at the familial behavior he was watching unfold before him. Nodding to himself, he said in a chipper tone, "I'll pick Pongo up after the movie if he hasn't made his way back to me before then, if that's okay?"
Emma nodded. "That's fine, Archie." She gave a little wave as he walked away. "That was fun."
The older woman groaned. "You really are turning evil, Ms. Swan."
"Yeah, but only a little bit," the sheriff replied with laugh. "And it's 'Emma'. Come on, I know you can say it. I heard you say it less than two hours ago."
Grinning despite herself, Regina replied back in a lightly annoyed tone, "You're incorrigible, Emma."
Many people around them were openly watching them, giving up on any pretext that they weren't. In typical regal fashion, Regina acted as if no one was looking at all while Emma obviously ignored them.
Henry read his book.
"I wonder where Emma and Henry are?" Mary Margaret stood at the edge of the clearing in the park and ran her gaze over the mass of assembled people strewn about. Several were eating, some were playing games, and a few were reading or people watching. She sighed. "Better question; where are we going to sit?"
David's eyes glanced about, looking for a decent spot to claim as their own. He shrugged. "How about we climb a tree?"
"Maybe…" Her voice trailed off while she thought about their options. "It might give you a better view of everyone anyway."
He grunted. "We're not climbing a tree so you can spy of Emma and Regina."
"Fine," she countered in a semi offended tone. "Not that it's hard to see where they are. Everyone here keeps looking over at that tree near the screen. I bet that's where they are. We should at least go over and say hello."
"And then go find a spot somewhere else," David finally put his foot down. "I tired of this fight, Mary Margaret. We both know what's going on with Emma. We both know it's not all Regina's fault, and," his gaze held hers with an intensity she recognized in him from moments when he'd finally become resolute on an issue, "we both know we don't get to pick who we love, nor can true love be kept apart."
Their eyes locked for a long, drawn out moment while they silently battled wills. After a time, Mary Margaret let her gaze drop to the ground between them. "What if she hurts her?"
"What if she doesn't?" David reached forward and placed a reassuring hand on his wife's shoulder. "Someone has to lay down arms first. Why can't that be us?"
The tiny woman flinched. "It's always us, David. We're always the ones that offer the olive branch, and she's always the one to set it on fire and hurl it back at us."
His eyes reflected the turmoil of thoughts and emotions that ran through him. As his mouth pulled down on one side, he said in a sure yet tired tone, "She offered it first this time." He was quiet, subdued. "She helped find a way to bring you back from the Enchanted Forest, she's the one who absorbed the curse at the well that would have otherwise killed you both, she's the one who stepped up and actually began to help Emma with… with this 'issue' while we were all still trying to place blame on her. In a lot of small ways, she's been offering the olive branch." He shrugged. "She's really terrible at it, and I don't think she holds it very steady or for very long at a time, but I honestly do think it's there."
Mary Margaret's shoulders slumped. "What about what Gold said at the shop? What about Emma's heart? If there's a way we can stop it…"
"We'll find it without his help, or," David grimaced despite himself, "we learn to trust Regina to help guide Emma through learning how to do deal with things."
"Because she did so great with herself," she grumbled in reply.
"Well, if we were honest with each other, we would admit that it's not like Regina had a safety net of people who loved her, cared about her, and were there when she actually needed and wanted the help." He glanced around, running a tired hand over his face. "Emma has all of that plus someone who knows exactly what she's going through to help her when she needs it."
The petite woman frowned deeply. "It's like an AA sponsor who is also a recovering alcoholic trying to help someone else trying to recover while they're both sitting at a bar." Her eyes again scanned the crowd, which was still throwing surprised and wary glances toward the tree where she had little doubt her daughter was located. "Magic is everywhere in this town, and they can't stop using it. They're linked with it."
"But they have us, and we'll be there for them, right?" His voice held a hint of desperation.
She lowered her head, body going still, her thoughts much deeper than she liked. "I don't want to make another deal with Gold."
"Then don't," he said in a soft voice. "Let's just try to put our family back together."
Swallowing down the lump in her throat, she raised her head, and wiped at her eyes. "We lost the war, didn't we?"
"No," he wrapped an arm about her shoulders and started walking them toward Emma. "The war isn't about good and evil, is it?" He gave her shoulders a squeeze. "It's about what's right in spite of good and evil."
She sighed heavily. "This world is so much more complicated than ours."
"We'll make it." He maneuvered them around people, giving hello smiles and nods to people when he made eye contact with them. "We always do."
"So I told the female detective, 'I got it. You already marked your territory; I can see the corners just fine from here. Fine. Whatever. All I'm trying to do is make a living.' And she tells me, 'Yeah? All I'm trying to do is solve a murder,' which was stupid because she was standing there with this cute little honey haired brunette who was wearing a dress that probably cost what I make in a year, and they were both drinking coffee. That's it! When I got there, they were drinking coffee and have eye se… erm… eyeing each other in a hot and heavy way. I mean, it's not like they were interviewing anyone or anything." Emma rolled her eyes and shifted against the tree. She put her hands on Regina's hips and shifted the smaller woman to resettle the brunette against her. "But, as soon as I started asking the owner questions, this detective steps in and starts telling me where I can go. I was only trying to talk to a few people to figure out where my guy was; I was just doing my job."
"The life of a bounty hunter," Regina shook her head. "Why were you and the detective supposedly speaking to the same people?"
The blonde groaned at the memory. "I didn't know it at the time, but my guy had become a suspect in the murder of a young girl. I was out looking for him because he jumped bond, but she was after him because his fingerprints were on the murder weapon."
"Did you catch him, Ma?" Henry's attention was rapt on his younger mother's story. "Did you get the bad guy?"
"We caught the bad guy. The detective agreed to let me help them find the guy after I showed her up on a few things and she had to admit that I was good at my job. We caught a break when we ran across some hair and fiber samples that helped us figure out where he was hiding." She smiled. "Bad guys lost. Good guys won."
Regina gave a little growl in the back of her throat at that last statement. "And who was the other woman? How did she fit into the picture?"
"Well, come to find out, that cute little brunette in the thousand dollar designer dress was the ME working the case with the homicide department." Emma leaned a little to one side to kiss Regina on the cheek. "Don't worry. You're way more stylish and prettier than she is. No competition."
"Of course there isn't," the older woman said with a smirk. "I very much doubt she can compete with a queen."
"If you two kiss again, I'm going to throw up." Henry's voice was high pitched and whiny. "Seeing your parents kiss is so gross."
"What about your grandparents?" David's voice was jovial as it broke into the family's moment. "Is that gross, too?" With a laugh, he pulled Mary Margaret into his arms and planted a kiss on her despite Henry's protests.
Henry's head turned quickly at his grandfather's voice, and he was just in time to see his grandparents kiss. "Ewww," he moaned.
The adults shared a knowing laugh.
David nodded at the seated woman, while Mary Margaret remained silently by his side, blushing slightly despite herself. "Emma, Regina." He gave Pongo a strange look. From his place still sprawled across the women's legs, he didn't even bother to look at the man looking down at him. "Pongo?"
"He decided to come by for a visit," Regina explained with a shrug.
"Looks like he decided to make himself at home," David replied with a shake of his head. "Anyway, since I'm the acting the law enforcement person around while someone," he winked at his daughter, "decides to take vacation time, I'm making the rounds before the movie starts. Is everything okay here?"
"We're great." Emma gave him a look that said she knew what he was really doing. "Archie swung by earlier, but, rather than that, it's been a pretty lazy afternoon."
"In fact," Regina wiggled to get Pongo to move off of her. He reluctantly did so, only to relocate to an unoccupied corner of the blanket they were seated on. "We were just about to eat now that Henry is done with his homework."
"What are you having for dinner tonight?" Mary Margaret's voice was soft and unsure.
Regina stopped short in her movements to gather the bag and basket. She glanced up to make brief eye contact with the standing woman before restarting her movements. "Chicken salad sandwiches." She slowly licked her lips as she made deliberate motions to set things out. "Would you like to join us?"
It was the second time that evening the older woman had offered to allow someone else to join them, and Emma finally realized why. She could finally feel the little trickle of fear coming down the connection between her and Regina. The other woman was scared something might happen if a third party wasn't with them; she was scared someone would come over and try to pick a fight, and she was scared she wouldn't be able to keep something very bad from happening.
Regina was trying to protect them under the guise of being friendly.
"I promised David I'd leave you alone tonight," Mary Margaret answered bluntly, much to everyone's surprise. Before her husband could protest, she added, "But when have I ever listened to him?" Her face lit up as she gave an honest smile.
"Apparently never," Regina answered with a touch of humor in her voice. She watched as the pixie haired brunette took a seat on the blanket. "Though you see how much of a shock this fact is to me."
"I see you have you sliced apples for dessert," Mary Margaret's voice was smooth and pleasant. "This is my shocked face." She raised an eyebrow and grinned as she reached into the basket, grabbed an apple slice and took a bit. "Honey crisp?"
The older brunette gave a hum to indicate she was correct. Somewhere, they all heard someone give a scandalized gasp. "Sandwich?" She held it out to David.
"I think I'm going to pass." His eyes roamed over the women sitting down. "Henry, you want to come with me while I go walk around the rest of the group?"
"Yes!" The little boy hopped up. "I mean," he glanced at his older mother, "if that's okay?"
"Of course. You can eat when you get back." Regina smiled at her son before turning back to the other woman on the blanket. "Well, the night has become even more interesting. Belle and Gold just showed up." She turned her head and motioned behind them.
"Maybe they'll take the heat off of us?" Emma took an offered sandwich. "I'm tired of being everyone's entertainment tonight."
"How have you been, Emma?" Her mother's voice was uncharacteristically quiet, more like the pre-curse Mary Margaret the sheriff once knew than the bold and daring Snow White she knew as her mother.
Emma shook her head, her mouth forming into a grim line. "Baby steps."
Mary Margaret nodded. "I know the feeling." She looked to Regina. "Thank you for the sandwich."
"Thank you for the peace offering," the older woman replied. She shifted so she could watch Gold and Belle make their way through the crowd, find a spot, and begin to set out two chairs. "Do you think anyone would hold it against me if their chairs were suddenly unusable?"
"No." It was Mary Margaret who answered, and it was bit too quick. Her daughter gave her a look that said she realized there was something going on there, but it was missed by her mother, who was watching Gold with a look that could kill. "I'd say go for it."
"Well, if you insist…" Regina's voice trailed off. She narrowed her eyes, concentrated, and made a small, almost unnoticed motion of her hand.
In the distance, both chairs fell apart as they were opened, and Gold's cry of annoyance could be heard all the way across the clearing.
Mary Margaret gave an approving smile.
"Nothing good can come of that," Whale said. Arms crossed, eyes narrowed, he watched Emma, Mary Margaret, and Regina peacefully eating dinner under the sprawling branches of one of the park's many trees. "They shouldn't be having dinner with her. They should be locking her up and planning her execution."
"Leave them be," Leroy said between sips of beer. From where they sat across the green from the women, he could see the three of them talking and occasionally even chuckling. "They're not hurting anything right now."
"This coming from the man who, until today, wanted to string Regina up by her thumbs?" Whale eyed the dwarf. "What's gotten into you?"
Leroy shrugged. "Nothing." He took another sip of beer. "Just tired of fighting all the time, that's all."
"So we're all just going to roll over and pretend as though she didn't destroy all of our lives, rip us from our homes, and drop us here?" The doctor snorted, his disgust clearly evident.
"No," the smaller man slowly shook his head from side to side, eyes still on the woman. "We're just going to move on. Don't you think it's about time?"
"I think it's disgusting that the woman who is supposed to be our Savoir is sleeping with the woman who cursed us all." Slowly standing up, Whale uncrossed his arms and gave himself a little shake. "If Snow White and the Prince won't do something about this, then someone should."
"Hey!" Leroy's voice sounded loudly, cutting through the air. "I said leave them alone."
"Or what?" Whale gave the other man a disdainful look. "So the Queen has you in her back pocket now, too? What did she offer you? An unlimited supply of alcohol?"
Leroy gave Whale a hard look. "Funny."
"I'm going over there to do something about this." The taller man's body was rigid with irritation and pent up anger. "This disgusting display between the sheriff and that woman has gone on long enough."
Without another word, Whale briskly walked away, headless of the shouts from the dwarf for him to stop before things got ugly.
"It is true," Regina said between sips of water. "When she was a child, she had a gift for befriending small, furry animals in the strangest of places. Not long after I moved into the castle, we were required to attend a ball in another kingdom. While there, the children were sent into a tower in the West Wing, and your mother managed to not only find three mice but befriend them by the end of the night."
"Oh god," Emma groaned, throwing an amused yet weary look at her mother. "Tell me they weren't blind."
"Only one," Mary Margaret said somewhat defensively. "Which is why I offered to help them!" The other two women laughed. The pixie haired brunette huffed. "I was only trying to do the right thing." She crossed her arms over her chest.
"And, apparently, the right thing included sneaking down to the kitchens to steal cheese for the mice," Regina deadpanned, raising an eyebrow.
Emma's eyes widened a bit. "You fed the rodents?"
"They were hungry," Mary Margaret argued. "They asked me to help them. What was I supposed to do?"
The blonde shuddered. "I hate mice. I'd have taken them out. What? Don't look at me like that! They're rodents. They carry around diseases and stuff."
"They were my friends!" Her mother's voice went up a notch.
"Which you made instead of making friends with the other children there." Regina shook her head in amusement. "You always were an unusual one. That was when I learned she could speak with animals. Up until that point, I had begun to think she was talking to herself or to an imaginary friend when she was out in the gardens during the day."
"Wait a minute," Emma finished her water and tossed the bottle back into the basket. "How did you know she stole the cheese from the kitchens?"
"An assistant to the cook came to me while my husband was occupied speaking with someone else and quietly told me what was happening." The older brunette took in a deep breath as she recalled the situation, allowing hindsight to show the humor of the then-politically shaky situation. "I quietly excused myself from my king's company and went to the kitchens to find Snow arguing with the main cook about the cheese." Mary Margaret winced. "As soon as I arrived," Regina continued on, a devilish smirk playing on her face, "she stopped arguing with the cook and looked close to making a run for the nearest exit."
"I thought about it," Mary Margaret quickly admitted. "But then I thought Regina might be willing to help me."
"She was, of course, wrong. Mice are disgusting creatures." Regina gave her own shudder. "Instead, I quietly pulled her away and gently explained why she was in the wrong."
"And then she grounded me for a week." The pixie brunette scrunched her face up. "No garden time for a week."
"It must have been very hard for you," Emma said with mocking sympathy.
"It was!" Her mother glowered at her. "I couldn't see any of my friends for a week."
"By friends, she means furry things most of us run over with our cars," Regina added, evil smirk now fully on her face.
Before Mary Margaret could say anything, Emma's laughter cut through any potential tension, which, in turn, made the other two women chuckle.
It was Whale's angry voice that broke the amusement in the air.
"I'm glad we're all having such a good time," he said, voice low and threatening. "You know what would make everyone have an even better time?"
Emma slowly stood from her spot and crossed her arms, jaw setting. "We're all being civil today. Let's keep it that way, okay?"
"No, not okay." He shook his head. Pointing down to the former mayor, he asked in an acrid tone, "Why is she not in jail or, better yet, dead?"
The air around them stilled, all eyes watching the scene unfold. "Why would she be?" The blonde's voice was even, though her muscles twitched with the effort it took for her to remain calm.
"Really, Sheriff? Do you need a list? She's a monster. She's a murderer, a liar, a thief, and a traitor. The atrocities she's committed are too numerous to count. How can you stand there and ask me that question?" He spat the last question at her, eyes daring her to continue the fight.
"Seriously?" Emma's voice was tense, though still eerily calm. "This from a man who reanimated his brother after getting him accidentally killed. Need I remind you that you reanimated him using a heart you stole from the Evil Queen which you were supposed to use to attempt to reanimated her murdered first love?" She pursed her lips. "No one here is without blame, Whale."
The doctor tilted his chin up, eyes narrowing. "I never killed someone."
"No, but you did eventually reanimated that first love of hers didn't you?" The sheriff took a step forward, body vibrating with pent up rage.
"Emma, that's enough." Regina's voice held a note of her own anger. The last thing she wanted was even more of her personal life laid bare to the masses. "We don't need to do this."
"No, I think we do." The younger woman stepped even closer to Whale. "People need to know, Regina. They need to know all the crap you've been through. Everyone knows everyone else's story, but no one knows yours, and, you know what?" Her hands shot out, grabbing the front of the doctor's shirt in her grasp and taking him off guard. "What you did was messed up. You want to talk about torment?" She pulled him closer to her, eyes boring into him.
Struggling to break out of her surprisingly strong hold, all he did was grunt in response.
Emma snarled back at him. "You reanimated Daniel, turned him into a monster, just like your brother, set him loose on this town, and forced Regina to have to take him out lest he take her, Henry, and everyone else out." She gave him a hard shake. "You forced her to essentially kill him again. That's pretty fucked up, making her take out the one person that had shown her selfless love, bothered to care about her and not use her as a pawn… The person whose death actually made her go nut fucking crazy and eventually cast The Curse." Her voice was loud now, and she didn't care who heard her. "Did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, you might make things worse?"
"You don't understand," he said, voice angry. He had stopped struggling, though his hands remained wrapped around her wrists. "There was far more going on than…"
"I don't care." Her eyes burned with her anger, and her magic swirled through her. "I don't care what she did or what the complicated reasons were for your retribution. I don't care how hurt you think you were or what wrongs you think have been done to you." A wind that originated from the blonde began to whip about the two. "I'm done caring about the past. We all need to move on, and, if you don't leave me and my family alone," her voice dropped to that chilling timber so many were familiar with coming from The Evil Queen, "you will start regretting it."
From the very far side of the park, Charming saw the disturbance and made a mad dash for it, Henry close at his heels. He called out to his daughter, but his voice was drowned out by the wind as it blew back from where the sheriff stood.
He could only watch and run, hoping that someone could stop it before the situation fell into complete chaos.
"Emma, no." Regina forced herself up and pushed her way against the wind to stand next to the younger woman. "You must stop this."
"It'd be easier to put him out of our misery," the blonde growled, eyes glowing with the magic wanting so much to be used. "We'd never have to deal with him again."
"But at what cost?" The older woman ignored the confused look in the doctor's face. Instead, she reached forward and placed a hand on Emma cheek, turning the other woman's face so their eyes met. "The price, Emma. Are you sure you really want to pay that?"
"I'm sure I'm tired of this," the blonde answered, leaning into the brunette's touch. "Why won't they leave us alone? Even for a day?"
"Because I've done some very despicable things, and people have every right to be angry." Regina held the sheriff's gaze, using the connection between them to urge the young woman to find her center of calm. "You cannot protect me from my past."
"But I want to." Emma's muscles began to relax and the wind slowly died down.
"I know." The older woman gave a sad smile. "But that's simply not possible. These people are going to be angry. They have that right. I am at fault for all of us being here. That is a fact you cannot change. I know your intentions are good. I know you want to keep me from getting hurt because you… because you care about me, but think about how you are trying to go about protecting me. Think, Emma. Look at what you're doing."
The blonde's eyes shifted from Regina's back to Whale, and her gaze slid to her hands, which were still balled up in his shirt. Slowly, she released him, swallowing hard as her mind caught up with her emotions and actions. "I was…" She blinked, face grim. Her eyes met his, and she whispered, "You're lucky I didn't kill you tonight." Her voice sounded hollow.
As David came to a stop a few feet away, the three at the center of the attention stared at one another. He reached out, keeping his grandson from getting too close to the still unstable scene. Catching his breath, he looked to his wife, whose eyes were wide with fear and surprise.
Emma slowly licked her lips, physically turning her body around in a circle to make eye contact with the crowd watching them. In a louder voice, one that could be heard across the mass of eyes staring at her, she stated plainly, "Here's the deal." They blinked at her, waiting. "You have to stop this crap. That last fight? The one with Ursula? Those rumors are true. I killed her myself to save Regina and get Henry out of there. It darkened my heart, which was already a little splotchy. I have never been a saint. I've done some bad stuff in my life. I'm not like her." She pointed down to her mother. "Nothing about me is as pure as snow. It never has been. You want to try to make me out to be a saint because I'm your Savior, but it's not like that. Not everyone who saves people is a saint, okay? And this thing you have going on where you want to put Regina's head on a stick? You're going to have to stop it. She's my true love." Many in the crowd gasped or murmured. "Yeah, I know. It was a shock to us, too, but there it is. So, if you take out Regina, you're taking out the mother of my son and my true love. You know I'm not going to let that happen."
She crossed her arms, face deadly serious. "I have magic. I have a connection to Regina. I'm wrestling with a darkened heart. There you go. Now you know, and you can stop staring at us, poking at us, and wondering about the rumors. The rumors are dead. There's the truth straight from the horse's mouth."
Turning back to Whale, she pulled a hand free to poke him in the chest. "Leave."
He looked between the Sheriff and former mayor, eyes uncertain of what to do. It was David's voice that helped him along. "Come on, Whale. You've done enough damage for tonight."
The deputy stepped up to the circle after gently pushing Henry to Mary Margaret. "In fact, I think we can all be done with this now." He looked around at the crowd. "Can't we?"
In the silence, Leroy raised his voice to answer. "Yeah, I'd rather watch the movie and ask Belle about the Beast!"
From somewhere else in the crowd, someone yelled out. "Hey, Gold, did you really eat like a wild animal, or did Disney get that wrong?"
Still another voice rose up to add, "Belle, you ever read any good smut books when he had you trapped in the castle?"
From their place on the ground, Belle gave a nod to David and placed a hand on Gold to keep him silent. She called out, "Only at night!"
The answer seemed to finally break the tension, and, while the crowd chuckled, David took Whale by the arm and led him away.
"I want to go home," Emma muttered as she fell into Regina's offered embrace.
"I think we should stay," Regina answered in a soft voice. "We need to stay."
"I thought I was ready," the younger woman lamented, laying her head on Regina's strong shoulder. "I thought I could do this."
"You can, dear. One step at a time." Pulling away, Regina pulled them back down on the blanket so their positions were reversed from earlier. She leaned against the tree and guided Emma to lean against her. After settling, Regina said in an assured voice, "Everything's fine now."
"Ma, we don't have to stay here," Henry said. His eyes found Regina's, and he silently asked her to reassure him again that none of this was his fault. "I don't want anyone to get angrier."
"Hey," Emma's voice was weak, her body slumped against Regina's. She reached a hand out. "You know what would help?" At her son's puzzled look, she answered, "Family cuddle time. Come here and act like you like it when I hug you." She gave him a weak smile.
Slowly, cautiously, he made his way over, glancing at Mary Margaret as he did so. She gave him an encouraging nod and made her way over to lean against the tree next to Regina.
As Henry settled in her lap, Emma wrapped her arms around him and set her chin atop his head. "This isn't your fault, kid." She kissed the crown of his hair. "Okay?"
He tensed in her hold. "How did…"
"Your mom and I are connected, remember?" She leaned a little to the side so they could make eye contact. "We know everything the other one knows, and you know what that means, right?" He slowly shook his head no. "It means that, when you start trying to sneak stuff by us, there's no way it'll work." With a smirk, she kissed his cheek.
He rolled his eyes. "Like I could get anything by either one of you anyway," he grumbled, but he relaxed, allowing his younger mother to hold him while she was held.
"I'm sorry," Mary Margaret whispered to Regina while she reached forward to gently run her hands through her daughter's hair.
"I know," Regina quietly replied, careful to not interrupt the mother/son moment Emma and Henry were having. "I can accept that now."
"Do you think things could have been different even after…?" The younger brunette shrugged, her words trailing off before finishing with 'Daniel died'.
"Perhaps, but we were both young." Turning her head, Regina looked at Mary Margaret with an expression of regret. The tiredness she'd developed over the years swept over her features, and her eyes held sorrow for lost chances. "We were both children, and we were both broken." Her smile was sad. "In many ways, we are still children and still broken."
"I'll try to be better, Regina. For Emma, I'll try." The pixie brunette leaned her head against the tree trunk, letting it land with a thud. "She really does need you."
"I need her, too." The older woman let the smile fade from her face. "Are we finally calling a truce?"
Mary Margaret nodded. "I think it's time, don't you? Our children need us more than we need to continue this feud."
They were both quiet for a long moment, each considering the other. Finally, Regina gave a single nod. "Agreed."
With that one word spoken, they both sighed deeply and turned to the screen where the movie was beginning to play.
Sorry it's been so long since I updated. I had to wait to see what they did to
Regina. Now that I know, I'll be able to finish this out. But, because I made you wait so long, this chapter is twice the size of my usual.
As always, your reviews are welcomed, and thank you for continuing to read this story.