A/N: Another chapter, fresh out of the oven. Didn't get a lot of chance to reread it, so I might go back and check spelling and grammar later on.
I didn't divide this story, but consider last chapter, the beginning of PART II of this tale. It'll have some chapters still, so not so close to the end as I had thought (sometimes even I'm surprised with the twists and turns).
Thank you for your patience, your follows and your reviews. Already working on next chapter!
Chapter 18: The new steps of a new start
They kept watching her.
She couldn't help but feel a little like a horse, being displayed and observed for flaws. It was unsettling. More so, even, because she could see, in their eyes, the implied expectation, she wasn't exactly equipped to reach. She was Regina, she felt that fact into the very depths of her soul. But she wasn't their Regina, and each sentence, each piece of conversation, each look made her feel inadequate. Disturbingly, that feeling was more familiar, than the warmth spreading through her chest at Henry's constant hugs and Robin's sideway looks.
They were also talking about her, much more frequently than they were talking to her.
"... so, what? This whole anchor thing that allowed her to live saved only a little bit of her soul? I don't buy that", the blonde woman spoke, arms crossed and stance hard. A lady is always proper and demure, a little voice whispered in the back of her mind, making her shiver unpleasantly.
It was always the same voice, too, haughty and cruel. Regina didn't know who that woman was, whose voice she kept hearing. And, in all honesty, she wasn't sure she felt like finding out.
"I had specifically warned you of the possibility that Regina wouldn't be the same as she had been before, Miss Swan. This discussion is useless", the shorter man with the walking stick answered, a slight smirk in the corner of his lips.
"We should all remain calm here and try to understand this situation as best we can." This new voice, of a woman with short dark hair, evoked a warmth in her, that was similar to the one Henry and Robin brought her and yet very different. Repressed in a way. Rejected. Her name had been Snow White, they had said, but people kept referring to her as Mary Margaret and that seemed rather confusing.
"One thing I cannot understand, my lord, is why the enchanted spirit that I met in the Enchanted Forest could remember it all perfectly. How were these memories lost?" Robin's voice and different accent called her attention back to him, and her eyes made the familiar route to the left, to take in his silhouette. She blushed once more.
"That I cannot explain." The shorter man spoke, nose slightly upturned in distaste. He didn't seem to particularly like the company. "Now… this conversation has exhausted itself. Belle and I will be going home now."
Before thought or reason could explain or dictate her movements, Regina offered the departing man - a Mr. Gold - a small smile and curtsy. They felt natural, these gestures and manners, much more so, than the clothing they all wore. "Thank you for coming, Mr Gold."
Mr. Gold nodded in return, a strange gleam in his eyes and promptly left.
Henry, who already stood near her side, leaned into her and grabbed at her hand. It was comfort given and comfort offered and she smiled more widely at the thought that this was her son. A family she could more tightly claim than parents she didn't remember (and who were gone anyway) and a mismatched crowd of people she seemed unable to place titles to. Who was Emma, or Snow, or David to her?
"Mom, I'm hungry. Are you hungry?"
"I… I supposed I am", she answered, not quite feeling the hunger her son spoke of after having broken her fast before making her way to this place where Snow and David resided. She could eat, though, and any excuse to spend time with Henry was appreciated. "Will we eat back home?".
It had been said and implied and made clear in a way that she knew how to cook, and quite well, too. This knowledge, however, was lost to her at the moment and the thought of having to prepare a meal for anyone seemed daunting at best. Henry seemed quite adept at reading her face expression and she was relieved for it, when he suggested a place called Granny's.
"I would love to."
Henry sat in front of his mother and observed her as he ate his lunch. It was just the two of them, Emma having gone off with Hook to 'research' or whatever that meant. It felt normal and strange at the same time.
His mom looked really, really different.
Her hair was, in fact, longer, and she wore it now loose, the sides upturned in a simple do. She wore black trousers and a white shirt that looked on her nothing like it had the last time he had seen her wear such an outfit. Her posture was the same and her table manners as well. But her eyes, always downturned and deferential seemed so out of place that it made him feel more like her brother in age than her son.
Could Emma have been right? Was his mom now a younger version of the woman she had been before, with none of the memories of the past? Or was Mr. Gold more correct, when he had stated that Regina was not specifically older or younger, but a vestige of his mother's soul which had reflected the place in her which had loved him enough to die for him. That would explain why she knew him, without knowing him, after all. She hadn't shown that reaction to anyone but him.
"Henry?" her timid voice sound.
"I'm… Robin of Locksley called me Your Majesty… How- I mean. How did I became queen?" She asked.
"Well… you married a king. He's gone now, so you don't have a husband, or anything like that. But you're still queen." It was an over simplification, but how was he supposed to explain that particular twisted story? Now way.
"Alright. And Emma… I heard you call her mom."
Well… that was another way too complicated story.
"I… You see. Emma had me, but she couldn't take care of me. So you took me in as your son, and we have been together ever since. So, you're kinda of like, both my moms". Another simplified version, but it would have to do.
His mom nodded and seemed thoughtful, though she didn't say another word about it. The rest of their conversation consisted of curiosities about the people coming and going around them, technologies here and there she didn't know about and memories of their time together in the past.
Complications aside, Henry was just really glad that his mom was back.
Regina stood by the open window of her room, soft white curtains dancing with the breeze. It was not exactly warm and the window should have been closed at this time of night, but the voices and nightmare had kept her awake again, making rest and sleep impossible to conceive. So she stood by the window, cold air around her, arms holding on tight. The breeze in her hair, rushing by her ears and creating the sensation of almost flight, brought her comfort and she couldn't quite explain why.
Love… true love, is magic.
Firefly hill, you and… me?
A well behaved lady doesn't need punishing, Regina.
Papa… will you read me a story?
So many voices of memories she couldn't place or people she had once known and now couldn't recall. No faces, no names… nothing. And the restlessness. She could feel it in her bones, the desire for freedom, for feeling, for starting anew somewhere else, with people she had never met. Regina couldn't, though. She knew she couldn't leave it all behind. Not her son, or her strange family.
She could, however, leave this suffocating house, that was too quiet now that Henry had fallen asleep and Robin, with his friends and son had left to seek another place of shelter. Dressed once more in the clothing she had worn that day, Regina sneaked down the hall, past the kitchen and through the back door. No sound, no vestige of her escape left behind. Here, oddly enough, was something else that felt remarkably familiar.
Walking without purpose, she allowed herself to breathe out, the open outdoors feeling much less constricting than the closed in spaces of her house. Her legs carried her over the hard grey ground, onto the cold earth of the forest. She bypassed fallen trees and low branches and when she finally realizes her steps had more purpose than she had originally realized, she had already stumbled upon a stone well sitting alone in a clearing.
The tingling feeling in her fingers returned, though the light they had shimmered with the night before, as she had laid next to Robin, remained absent. This strange occurrence, this magic made her feel a bit uneasy, now that she was alone. The simple word itself brought up her spine a shiver of dread. Was it a bad thing, this magic?
The list of things she might not like to find out was growing exponentially.