Disclaimer: Once Upon a Time, Storybrooke and any recognizable characters are property of ABC Studios and the Walt Disney Co. No copyright infringement intended.
A/N: Thank you so much to those who reviewed, favourited and are following this story. I did not expect that many people to show interest so early into the fic, and it was a wonderful surprise! I hope you stay with me and let me know how I'm doing. Any feedback is welcome!
Chapter 1 - The Evil Queen
She looked at the woman, sweat covering her forehead as she slept a restless sleep on the bed – if it could even be called that – inside the cell. It didn't feel right, and that was why the blonde hadn't dared going down there since they arrived. But the screams, she thought. She couldn't just ignore it, even though she wasn't sure what she could do to help, either.
"Regina," she whispered, her cup of coffee still firm on her hand. The last thing she wanted was to startle the other woman. But she would clearly need more than that to pull her out of whatever nightmare she was having.
"Please, mother, don't…" the words came out mumbled, making it difficult for Emma to understand. "HENRY!" This one, though, was unmistakeable.
"Regina, hey," she spoke a bit louder this time, reaching out with her free hand to gently touch the woman's shoulder through the bars.
As soon as she did, another hand flew to hers in fear, and a pair of frightened brown eyes suddenly opened, meeting Emma's and instantly taking a deep breath.
"What are you doing here?" her tone wasn't demanding, it wasn't annoyed either. Her eyes showed nothing but a genuine puzzlement as she shifted her position slightly to face the other woman.
"I was up. You were…" Screaming? Talking in your sleep? "Having a nightmare, I think," she decided on a safer answer.
"Oh, so after a week on this forsaken land you decide that you're worried about me having nightmares? How big of you, Your Highness," the title was spoken with such resentment that Emma cringed. She didn't think she would ever get used to it, no matter whose mouth the words came from. It was also obvious that the shock had ceased and Regina was back to her normal self.
"Regina, please, don't do this…" Emma took a deep breath in an attempt to get herself together.
"Do what, dear?" the smug grin on the former queen's face earned a roll of eyes from the blonde.
"Don't act as if it is my fault you're here, don't look at me as if I wanted any of this to begin with, and don't talk as if I didn't care about helping you," the last part was said in a faint whisper, but it did not go unheard by the prisoner, who had a cold smile in her face.
"Please, I do not want or need your help."
"Oh, really?" Emma replied with a grin of her own, "Is that why you still haven't let go of my hand?"
At the realisation, Regina's hand withdrew so quickly that Emma's hit the side of the steel bed at the sudden lack of contact. In an extremely unusual display of vulnerability, Regina blushed. But, being who she was, she recovered quickly enough so that most people wouldn't have noticed. But then again, Emma Swan was hardly like most people.
"Henry is fine," Emma was the first to speak again, deciding on the subject based on what she had heard from the other woman's nightmare. That obviously got Regina's full attention. "More than just fine, really," she continued, slowly sitting down by the cell, "It seems that he's never been happier in his life. Like he is finally where he belongs."
The hint of sadness was not missed by Regina, who now sat by her bed. And she understood. It filled her with such genuine happiness, to know her son had found his place. But the fact that she couldn't find the same fulfilment in this realm – and she could see that Emma was struggling with it too – made that reality more than a little bittersweet.
"He is safe, too," she added as an afterthought, convinced that the woman in front of her needed to hear that. "There are guards all around the palace and he still has so much exploring left to do that he's not even thinking about going outside."
Regina allowed herself a smile at the thought of the boy running around the castle, amazed by the nearly endless corridors and passageways, not to mention the outside grounds. "I imagine this place will keep him entertained for quite a few weeks."
Silence enveloped them just about the time a soft yawn escaped Emma's mouth. She tried to supress it, without success.
"Go to sleep, dear," Regina spoke, sounding quite tired herself. And, because she couldn't resist it, she threw in one last jab, "I'm sure you have a lot of royal duties to attend to over the next days."
Emma simply rolled her eyes, watching the brunette carefully, a little hesitant to get up and go. "Will you…" she took a deep breath, already guessing what sort of answer she would get. But she asked anyway, as she stood up. "Will you be ok?"
The hollow laugh was nothing that the blonde didn't expect. "I couldn't be better," her voice dripped with sarcasm as she gestured to her 'bedroom', turning her back to her visitor.
"Here," Emma held her cup of coffee through the bars, "I just made it, and it doesn't look like either of us will be able to sleep again anyway." Seeing as the brunette raised an eyebrow at the drink, Emma suppressed the urge to roll her eyes once again. "Don't worry, it isn't poisoned," she said with a hint of annoyance. When the woman still hesitated, she added, "I can take a sip before you if you want me to," slowly and with an amused look, she started retrieving the cup, but Regina's hand stopped her on her track.
"Just give me that," she grabbed the cup and brought it closer to her face, her features softening immediately at the scent. "Where could you possibly have gotten this?"
"Ruby was able to smuggle it from Granny's diner," seeing the confused look on the woman's face, she clarified, "not the coffee. The coffee machine. Along with all the beans she could carry."
Regina said nothing, too focused on enjoying the hot beverage to pay much attention. In the back of her mind, though, she did register that she should be thanking the she wolf for it at some point.
"Now I think you will be fine," Emma smiled and turned her back, "I'll see you, Regina."
"Emma!" the woman spoke her name, which was, by itself, something as rare as it could get, and it caused the younger woman to turn back and look at her quizzically. When a smile that felt like the first real one that had graced her features that day – maybe second, the first showed up when Henry was mentioned – she pointed to the coffee and spoke softly. "Thank you."
They both knew she wasn't just referring to the drink.
It took four days. Four days of walking around the castle, of trying to observe people, see what they were doing, watching Henry as he practiced and ran around with David. Four days until she was back in front of the large door in the kitchen. It was around 5 in the morning, and some people – although she could not fathom why – were already getting up and starting to do whatever it was that fairytale characters did all day. She had woken up an hour ago from an uneven sleep, much like all the previous days, and, once she accepted the fact she wouldn't be getting any more rest, she hesitantly made her way to the kitchen and then the coffee machine, mirroring her actions from a few nights before. This time, though, she made two full cups of coffee before making her way down.
She wasn't sure why she was even going there. It was unlikely that Regina would be even awake at this time – and it wasn't like she would care if she wasn't – but she knew, from Henry, that the brunette was one of those people who woke up before the sun had even risen, and she was tired of walking around and seeing a bunch of people she barely recognized.
Emma approached the cell slowly, careful to not make too much noise in case Regina was, in fact, asleep.
"It astounds me that you ever managed to catch anyone on the run, Ms. Swan. You are not exactly quiet."
"Yeah, well, blame it on these stupid fairy tale land shoes! How do you guys survive in these things?" She replied automatically, before she even looked at the woman, who looked like she hadn't slept much lately herself.
"Those ones are hardly adequate for visiting the prisoners in the dungeons, princess," Regina took a look at the footwear Emma was wearing and was torn between laughing and feeling bad for how unsuited the woman seemed to be to their world. Most of the time she had a hard time believing Emma had actually been born at that very world. At that very castle, really.
"Oh, really? So I guess I should take both my coffees and just come back when I have a more appropriate attire, Your Majesty," she did a little courtesy as she rolled her eyes, but did not make a move to go, instead offering one of the cups to Regina, who took it promptly. "So… Henry was not pushing it when he said you used to wake up so early that some days he wasn't even sure you had slept."
"No," she conceded, her mind seemingly far away, "he really wasn't." And, in a matter of seconds, she had the same unamused expression from before. "And, may I ask, what are you doing here again? Should I feel honoured? I must have done something right to have the privilege of receiving royal visits every week now." The sarcasm was evident on every syllable, and it was not lost on Emma.
It was, however, ignored altogether. "Think of it as reward for not trying to kill anyone in more than ten days," she grinned.
"Hardly," Regina replied immediately, but took a sip of her drink. She observed, slightly unnerved, that Emma still had the smile on her face. It was not what she expected, it wasn't the gloating, ha-ha we won and now you're our prisoner smile she thought she would get if one of them ever went to see her.
They drank their coffees in silence, Emma casually leaning against the wall opposite Regina's cell. They weren't looking at each other, nor were they avoiding each other. It was oddly comfortable to just be there.
"Why didn't you?" the blonde suddenly asked, bringing her head up so that their eyes met.
"I may be powerful, dear, but I am still not able to read people's minds. So if you're expecting a proper answer, you may want to ask a proper question," she looked to the side, as if Emma's mere presence was tiresome to her.
Emma, however, was more than used to it. It was actually good, the bickering, the annoyance. In a weird land which didn't seem all that wonderful to her, familiarity was a luxury she did not get too often. "You didn't even try to escape. You didn't try any spells. You didn't try to take any hearts or… or… trick someone into letting you go, or whatever else an all powerful Disney villain would try."
Regina actually chuckled at the expression chosen by her visitor. "Disney villain, Miss Swan? Really?" When Emma merely gave an unapologetic shrug, she took a deep breath and spoke again, "You must know by now that these cells are specifically designed to ward off all magic. A neutralizing spell. My magic does not work in here."
"Oh, come on. That's bullshit and we both know it. Magic or no magic, if you really wanted to, you would have found a way out of here after two days in this place."
"Are you encouraging me to try and escape? You really have a lot to learn if you are to become a Disney princess," she smirked at Emma's gigantic roll of eyes. "Besides, if I were to even attempt escaping without magic, it would leave at least half a dozen dead guards and some very injured servants," green eyes still seemed confused at her reasoning, so she admitted, "I don't want Henry to ever witness that sort of thing. It's one thing to read about it in a book, but it's his life now, his world. And I don't want him walking around and hearing whispers about how his mother didn't hesitate to kill people so that she could escape."
"But you didn't. I mean, if anything they say is true, you've never hesitated before."
"I didn't have anything to lose before."
The confession was followed by silence, which was, once again, broken by the blonde. "Do you still want to hurt us?" her voice held no suspicion. Instead, it was filled with genuine curiosity and maybe even a little bit of vulnerability.
"Not all the time," it was the best she could do given the circumstances, "Although I certainly do not appreciate being locked in here like some common criminal as your fair and good parents rule the happy kingdom."
"Can you really blame them, Regina?" the brunette knew right away that it was not an accusation. If anything, Emma's voice seemed tired now. "You were hell bent on killing them for god knows how long, you cast a freaking curse to keep them from being together. I think they're entitled to be a little weary of you."
"If you came all the way down here to throw accusations, you may as well go. Everyone knows what I did, and I am trying not to do any of that again. It doesn't mean I won't. It doesn't mean your mother and I will suddenly become the family we never managed to be. Things are as they are, dear. Too much has happened for things to be any different now," she was clearly resigned to it. It didn't necessarily make her happy, but she had learned long ago that fairytale endings did not apply to people like her.
"They just want to be happy," she sighed, "They're just scared you are going to take it away from them again."
"And how about you, Miss Swan? You are here, talking to me. Aren't you scared?"
"Not really," her reply was immediate, and, seeing that the brunette was not surprised at all, she supressed a small smile, "To me, you're just Regina, you know? I don't know the Evil Queen, I still find it hard to believe it was really you doing those things they talk about. And trust me, you can be scary even without the spells and fireballs," she chuckled to herself, missing the slight upturn of the other woman's lips, "and you're not easy, and you're angry, and you have a lot of reasons for that." At that moment, she was faced with bright brown eyes staring right at hers.
Regina suddenly saw something. Something she hadn't seen in so long that it was almost foreign to her. Understanding. "Where are you getting at?"
"I get it," she answered, simply. "This person you are right now… I get this person. She is actually the closest thing to a real person that I can find in this wacky world we're in. It's all so black and white over here, so most of them can't even see how much more complicated things are." She dared to look at the brunette, and it didn't surprise her to see shock in her expression. It made her uneasy that no one else in their world could see something that was always so clear to her, after all, she had lived in the real world long enough to see it for herself. "Being angry doesn't make you evil, Regina. It just makes you human."