(Snow and Regina's relationship is my absolute favorite of the entire show, and The Evil Queen really said a lot for that relationship, and how, under the anger and desire for revenge, there was love. So I wondered what could have happened if the bodies weren't found.
Updates of this story could be constant or it might be long periods between them.
This is an AU to that scenario, but the events of this story does lead to the curse and everything else that happens in the show. So that should say it: this story is not going to have a fairytale ending.)
By the time they reached the camp, night had fallen, and the forest was pitch black. Regina stepped carefully over gnarled tree roots, but Snow White navigated the woods like a pro, as if she had x-ray vision.
Her leg started to throb, but she repressed the groans of pain. The last thing she wanted was for Snow to turn around and play the saintly little nurse on her again. And for once it wasn't because it made her want to vomit in disgust; it was because she wouldn't know how to react to it.
In a span of only a matter of moments, Regina had gone from wanting Snow's head mounted to her wall, to simply wanting Snow, wanting a family, and wanting love. She had no idea how it had come to be, but she didn't question it.
Hearing what her step daughter thought of her, hearing that she still held out hope for her...it was just what she needed to hear. It meant more to her than the idea of killing the girl.
Regina felt her heart leap to her throat and nearly tear through her windpipe when a soft hand gripped hers in the dark. Snow must have felt the jolt, because she laughed.
"Easy, hunny. I just don't want you to trip on these roots. They're everywhere." She flashed the woman a playful smile. "It took me the first few days to locate where all of them were. Of course, that wasn't until after I received a few scraped knees."
The hand in her own was the same size as hers, but for a moment it felt tiny again, fitting into Regina's the way it did when Snow was a little girl, and used that hand to constantly drag her everywhere.
"I hope you're hungry, Wilma, because it looks like we'll be having a wonderful feast tonight."
The peasant queen gazed over the dead chickens, impressed, and slightly amused. "You're not worried the queen will be angry you killed so much of her livestock?"
A bitter smile crossed the younger girl's face, as well as a touch of sadness. "Well, she blames me for everything else. Why not give her another reason?"
The mirthful smile on Regina's face fell quickly, and she cleared her throat as she helped throw kindling and logs into the make-shift fire pit Snow had fashioned. The previous walk had caught up to her and she finally cried out in pain as a jolt of agony shot up her leg. Snow White pushed her gently into a sit.
"You shouldn't strain yourself, Wilma. You're still injured." They were eye to eye now, those gentle, concerned eyes Regina always wanted to stab a knife through mere inches away from her own.
"Well, I know, but...I thought it was the least I could do. You saved me..." There was a much deeper meaning to those words, and of course it was lost on Snow. The black haired woman smiled gently and rubbed her shoulder before returning to the fire.
"Anyone else would have done the same thing."
No, they wouldn't, and Regina can attest to that. If she had seen Snow in that position, about to be be-headed, well...she'd probably be the one doing the execution. Not everyone was good, not everyone could be the role model Regina finally believed the young princess was.
"Not everyone... Not everyone can be as good as you." She swallowed, and felt tears prickle. "Not everyone has the will and strength. Darkness is so easy to turn to. I always thought it saved you pain...but it only brings more."
Snow White was silent, and her eyes had hardened in a mixture of suspicion and confusion, but the tears beginning to spill over in Regina's eyes brought the nurturing back to her. "Hey, hunny...it's okay. Everyone can be good. They just have to try."
She knelt down and took Regina's hands into her own. "To be good...you need a reason, more than anything. You need someone or something that you strive to be a good example for." A hand reached out, and delicately brushed against the queen's eyelids.
"What was your reason?" Regina murmured earnestly.
Sadness washed over the girl's features, and she glanced down at Regina's hands, giving them a light swing. "I loved someone once, and she turned to darkness. And I knew I was partially to blame for it, and I knew she blamed me. I wanted my heart to be pure for her sake, because I wanted to show her that a person can have a pure heart. I thought if I kept goodness in my heart, I could show her that she could too."
All these years of fantasizing of the perfect demise for the little princess, and she couldn't bring herself to do it. More, she couldn't bear to even think about it. This had been her mission for countless years.
So why am I just giving it up?
The answer was so pure in its simplicity. Because she's all I have left. She had no one. There was no one to love her, no one to give her a chance. Somehow the child she raised and hated, the child whose father she murdered was the only one that hadn't given up hope in her.
"But it just was not to be. I could never change the hate she felt for me. I believe she still has goodness in her, but it will never be for me."
The answer came out before Regina could stop it. "You don't know she hates you. I know the tale of the Huntsman makes it seem that way, but she...sounds like a complex woman, from what you told me. She's struggling with who she wants to be, and she doesn't remember anything but darkness. What if there is love in her heart?"
Emotions were getting the best of Snow, and now tears had begun to fill her eyes as well. "If she still has love in her heart then it is not for me. I know she will never love me, but I hope...I hope she finds happiness—happiness that doesn't come from hurting anyone else."
The lump in Regina's throat made it almost impossible to breathe by this point, and the woman felt her body shudder with the sobs that wanted to escape. Desperate to stop anything from progressing, Regina fetched a bucket. "I'll get some water to suffocate the flames."
She limped away from her step daughter, her vision blinded by tears. Everything was a watery blur of colors, and the woman ended up tripping on a root in the darkness. Rubbing her eyes, she found the trip to her face had landed her near the spring, in a patch of flowers.
Regina reached out, and took one of the flowers into her hand, gazing at it. A hibiscus flower, one of Snow's favorites. She remembered the days when the girl was young, and she dragged her out into her garden before the sun even rose, wanting the woman to tend to it with her. It was one of the happier memories Regina could remember. The ones that weren't riddled with hate and anger.
Slowly, the woman made her way back to the campsite, cupping the blossom and keeping it hidden.
Snow smiled up at her and Regina could tell she had been crying. "Did you get the water? You could have waited, you know. I wouldn't have minded fetching it. Your leg is never going to heal if you don't stay off it." She glanced up when the other woman held her hand out to her.
"I found this, and I...I thought you'd like it."
Snow White took the delicate little blossom and gently twirled it between her fingers. A warm smile broke out on her face. "A hibiscus flower...thank you, Wilma. These are one of my favorite flowers."
The queen swallowed. "I know."
Tucking the flower into her curls, Snow smiled. "Really? I didn't think anyone really knew that. I mean, I haven't told..." She trailed off, the proverbial puzzle starting to slowly fall into place as she stared at the tears on the other woman's face.
Regina kept her chin up, the rims of her eyes red and wet. Snow continued to gaze at her. And then there was recognition, and absolute, unadulterated shock.
For the first time in years, Regina, the young, kindhearted woman that had saved her life, and not the Evil Queen, smiled at her. "Yes. Yes, it is me."
Instinctively, Snow White took a step back, which evoked a pleading expression from the other woman. She stared at Regina in genuine confusion, but kept her hand on her bow just in case the woman decided to go wicked witch on her. "What...what are you doing here?"
What could she say? Well, I don't know dear, I'm here because I originally wanted to plant a knife through your chest, like I was sure I always did, and now...I don't know why I'm here. "It...it doesn't matter."
The girl's mouth hardened and she took another step back, tightening her grip on her weapon. "I think it does matter. Since my father's death, whenever you wanted to come find me, it was never for a good reason."
"Then you know why I must have come here." She watched as her step daughter reluctantly withdrew her bow, but she still kept it down by her side. "And what if I told you my reasons for it had changed?"
"...Everything you asked me, everything you said about us..." Snow White kept her voice hard and firm, even as her eyes lit with hope. For too long this had been her dream, her heart's deepest desire, and too many times had it been shattered. She wasn't ready to give up hope, but she wasn't about to set herself up for heartbreak again. "You meant it..."
This was the woman that had wanted her dead for longer than she could remember, and she knew her weakness. She knew she still loved her, and she knew she'd use that to her advantage to take her down. Snow was very perceptive—something she had picked up from her father, and she knew genuineness from lies.
This broken, longing woman in front of her, her step mother, was not lying. Slowly, Snow dropped her bow and gazed at her step mother. "You want us to be a family again? You believe I'll forgive you for everything you've done?"
"You told me you would..."
Tears brimmed and Snow gave a shaky nod. "You're right, I did. I never believed it would happen though. All I ever wanted was for you to see that I understood, that I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there to help you keep that light and love. I wanted you to let me in."
"Well it isn't too late for it, if you truly believe there is good in me."
Serenity, warmth, and love overpowered Snow White's voice. "I do..."
They gazed at each other with something other than anger for the first time in eons. They looked at each other, no longer seeing the Evil Queen and the villain responsible for ruining a life, but seeing a mother and a daughter.
"Where do we go from here?" Snow White asked her, and Regina smiled.
"To bed, for now. It's too late to do any traveling, but tomorrow we'll go back to the castle. Before that, I'll need to make a stop somewhere." To get my own damned body back. "I'll get the water this time, instead of a flower."
Regina picked up the bucket by the handle and moved through the forest, her heart feeling lighter and cleansed. For the first time in years, she could see the sunshine instead of darkness.
"Careful of the gnarled tree roots around here, Dearie. You're bound to slip in those rags of yours!"
The ghastly chortle in the darkness made the blood freeze rigid in Regina's veins. Her eyes darkened as she spun around, seething. "Rumplestiltskin...show yourself!"
He laughed in that sickening, giddy way as he hopped off a lower tree branch, and landed in front of her. "Well now I must admit, that little confession almost brought a tear to my eye!" He gave a mock sniff and ran a scaly finger over his lower eyelid.
"I don't feel like dealing with you, just give me back my body. I've slept in peasant clothes long enough."
"Oh, of course, of course. Shall I give you a sparkly dress and little angel wings as well, Dearie?" He laughed, and Regina's features tightened. "Do you really think you stand a chance at playing the kind and benevolent Queen? Ludicrous! Why, you saw what the townspeople think of you..."
"I have Snow's faith and for now that's enough. I'll work on my image with the people later."
"Oh yes," the imp sneered. "Go on, parade through the villages with the little princess. Throw flower petals out on the ground as you walk by in your carriage, and kiss babies. By the end of the day, everyone will be falling at your feet."
"What is it to you what kind of Queen I'll become? I refuse to be one of your little pawns for your sick game. You'll have to find a more willing victim." She stepped closer, eyes darkening and becoming threatening. "And you will leave us alone. You're not to come near the two of us, and if you do, I will kill you."
The mocking glint in Rumplestiltskin's eyes were gone, and instead he became more menacing as he let out a bark of laughter. "You can fool Snow, you can fool yourself, but you can't fool me. I know who you are, who you come from, and who you'll be. And when she leaves you, and you're back into little pieces with no one to pick them up, I'll be waiting...to say..." His voice grew high pitched and venomously playful again as he poked her in the chest with every word. "I. Told. You. So!"
And with purple smoke engulfing the both of them, he vanished, and Regina was left in her royal attire, staring out into the dark.