And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive
And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
Iris ~ Goo Goo Dolls
In the end neither of them is the one to be carried off by Death.
Never mind how many times Regina has almost died herself trying to save Marian's life as it was repeatedly claimed by Fate. Never mind how many times Marian has begged for them to let her go, that if dying was her destiny there was nothing they could do to stop it, and they would only make things worse. And when Regina had stubbornly tried to take her place, to exchange her soul for Marian's in order to appease the Three Sisters, to snatch the woman from the gnarly fingers of these Spinsters of human's destiny, it had been Robin's cue to act.
He didn't mean for this to happen. He hadn't been looking for it. But when the dark foul blast of energy hurled by yet again another evil being (one of Storybrooke's daily threats) shot towards both women, Robin didn't think twice about it, and threw himself in front of the two great, thwarted loves of his life. The lethal power hit him square in the chest, right on his heart, a heart that had been already torn and battered by the conflict eatingat him since his formerly dead wife's return, and if he felt sorrow in the tears and cries of Marian and Regina, he also felt a strange relief that tasted like shame. He smiled at them, apologetic, and tried to speak, but his lungs were filled with blood, and when his eyes closed, heavy and weary, they took away with them the beautiful vision of matched brown eyes and full, loving lips chanting his name over and over again.
After Robin died, Marian was no longer hunted down by Fate. The exchange appeared to have satisfied whatever entity that reigns upon the cosmic balance of Life and Death. Not that she cared much about it. If not for Roland, left behind into this strange, unknown and loud world, she would gladly have followed Robin to the grave, giving bloodthirsty Death more than its due. But she went on living.
She had to.
She finds ways of dealing with it. She finds ways of surviving. Of holding on.
She finds anger.
She blames him. She blames him with all she has. She would kill him if he wasn't already dead. She resents him for abandoning her, for abandoning Roland, for leaving her in this foreign land, in this time that isn't her own in a life that doesn't belong to her anymore. She grudges him for being a hero, for being a good man, for his sacrifice, for his love. Every day spent without him, she grudges him.
She hates him so hard that every night when Roland is finally asleep she muffles her cries and whispers fervent words of prayer into her lonely pillow.
Regina blames herself.
Robin's death stunned her. Left her completely bare and destitute against the pain. It feels like one time too many. Daniel, her father, her mother, her sister... there's only so many people she can bury in her life. She doesn't want to keep on digging graves.
She blames herself. If only she had been stronger. Smarter. If she had successfully taken Marian's place. Or if she had killed Marian herself. She doesn't know what she should have done anymore. She doesn't know what she would have preferred. She thinks about change, and light magic, and Henry. She thinks about how both solutions are not solutions at all, only dead-ends her hysterical mind wallows in.
It is Henry who pulls her through. Of course. Her son has enough faith in his heart to make stones believe again. And she wasn't far from being one herself until he worked his magic on her. He didn't have much to do. He was just there. Arms ready when he felt she was about to break down, holding her hand through her nightmares and days of self-loathing, making tea and apple pancakes when she forgot how to smile, joking and being silly when she needed to remember how to laugh, and whispering again and again while they cuddled on the couch, “it's gonna be okay, mom, it's gonna be okay”, and believing it, believing it with all his little soul—one that is so much bigger than all of them—offering an unfaltering evidence in a world that seemed bereft of any.
And above all else, Henry gave her someone to care for. Whenever her little prince felt like he wasn't enough to save her, whenever he was discouraged of ever seeing her happy again, she was the one to hold him whole and safe against her heart. Like mothers do.
Roland is the one who suffers most of them all.
He is even angrier than Marian. He flees from her, he flees from everyone, he runs off from school and screams at his mother. Little John himself cannot pacify him anymore. And when Marian eventually admits to herself that she is out of her depth and doesn't know what to do and that her boy is still a stranger to her and she just doesn't know how to be a mother—she calls Regina for help.
The confrontation is tiresome.
It turns out it was Regina that Roland was the most angry with.
She speaks to him quietly and he doesn't answer, his little, scowling face hidden in his arms, his feet crunching the dead leaves. The more she speaks, the more he shakes, until he cannot bear it anymore and he lashes out at her, his tiny fists pounding against her chest and he sobs brokenly, a mess of tears and snot and he yells at her, why couldn't she have saved his papa, why, when she has saved them all already, when she is so strong and so powerful and the hero he had looked up to for all this time, why, just why, and she holds him, sobbing as well, stroking his hair and cleaning his face until he calms down and settles against her breast, exhausted, full of mourning, and guilt.
Marian watches from afar, nails digging in the palm of her tight fists, biting her lips, holding back her own tears.
When they finally put Roland to bed, the child is a pitiful sight to behold yet he looks more peaceful.
But Regina's eyes are a world of anguished remorse.
She tries to leave without a world, but Marian holds her back with a gentle hand on her arm.
“This was not your fault. There was nothing any of us could do. It was his choice. And you have done so much to save me. You've done everything you could.”
“It wasn't enough.”
Marian smiles a sad smile, and strangely her own grief is lighter to bear when she sees how much of it is shared, and, unexpectedly, she realizes she doesn't want this woman to hurt as much as she does. She holds no more bitterness, no more distrust for her would-have-been executioner.
She says the only thing she can, the only thing that makes sense at this instant.
“You know, I no longer see you as the Evil Queen.”
Regina tenses, then drops her head, and her mouth is set as an iron gag, words reluctantly seeping through.
She vanishes before Marian can add another word.
It happens by accident.
It's been eight months since Robin's death. Eight months and the wound isn't healed yet – will it ever? – eight months and Marian feels like she is losing her head. Between the good souls pitying her and pestering her with their care and the constant reminder of her pain and the others practical ones advising her to move on she doesn't know what she hates most and she has come to detest everyone's company.
Then she remembers there is at least one person who can understand her and who is suffering as she is, and that is how she finds herself knocking at Regina's door one cold evening in November.
The Queen asks no questions. But the deep frown on her face doesn't relax until they are both seated on the couch with several glasses of apple cider floating warmly in their stomachs. Marian notices it with a sense of languid satisfaction. Regina is so much more beautiful when her face is smooth and her smile loose and her hair down. That's what she tells her, emboldened by alcohol and warmth and shared burden. Regina looks away, blushes (do queens blush? Marian had no idea, it's even lovelier—and cute, though she would never dare say that word aloud to Regina) and tells her to stop being foolish, but she smiles.
They talk. They talk as they have never talked before. Marian tells her about her feeling of estrangement, of being cast aside, no longer part of this world. She asks if it ever gets better. Regina doesn't lie. It never goes away. But it becomes easier. Or so she's been told. Because she herself has never been good at letting love go. Marian learns that Robin is not the first love Regina has lost. And that this wasted chance feels twice as worst (Regina says nothing of the tattoo and poisonous second chances whispered in her ear by a well-meaning fairy and he's your soulmate). Marian confides that Robin would have chosen her, if Regina had let him (she says nothing of their failed attempts at reconnecting and making love and the sound of her name that sometimes escaped him in his dreams).
Regina says it doesn't matter anymore.
And it doesn't.
“Sometimes, I am under the impression that you are the only one who really see me.”
Marian is holding Regina's hand and the woman doesn't seem to be aware of it.
“What do you mean, dear?”
“Me. Not Robin's widow. Not Roland's mother. Not the stranger who's been brought back from the dead. Not the woman nobody knows how to behave around. Just me. Marian.”
She laughs and squeezes Regina's hand lightly, but there are tears in her eyes. Frustrated, lonesome tears.
“Is not that strange?”
Regina squeezes back. She, who used to be terrible at reading people, she, bearers of many masks, is now used to see behind the ones of others. She has worked for it, for an empathy that never came easily to her. After all, it would have been not a little hypocritical to ask to be seen in another light if she hadn't herself opened her eyes to others at some point.
Marian smiles at her, but Regina still averts her eyes.
“Yes. Yes it is. As strange, I suppose, as you seeing someone else in me besides the woman who murdered you.”
“Who almost murdered me.”
“You're worse than Snow.”
“I see so much more in you than you know, Regina.”
That's when it happens. Marian's eyes shine with a new light that looks like beautiful, terrible darkness and Regina does what she has avoided to do for some time now and meets her gaze and it's nothing and it's huge and it's enough and the kiss they share tastes like grief and solace all at once, ashes and milk. The touch is brief and forbidden and exciting and then Marian breathes in Regina's neck and brushes her lips against her pulse, her tongue shyly sliding out to meet fruit-scented flesh.
“Marian... what are you doing?”
Marian's fingers ghost around the sides of her breasts, and Regina feels her stomach clench. She sighs as a very warm mouth moves against her skin when Marian speaks.
“Do you think I should stop?”
Marian stills for a few seconds. Until Regina's hand slides under her chin and raises her head to meet hers, pressing their foreheads together, allowing them to breathe each other's air.
There is no please, not yet. It will take a few more encounters before Marian succeeds in making the Queen begs. But she doesn't need pleading to grant this request.
When they kiss again it no longer feels like trespassing, but like settling.
It was unexpected.
It was unplanned.
And it is the most beautiful thing that has happened in Regina's life after Henry.
There is no pressure, no expectations, no titles to uphold. It's only them, and their two wonderful boys, and it's enough, it's more than enough, it's good.
That's what Regina tells herself, that's what Regina holds on to in her moments of self-doubt and fear, when she is at the lowest of her confidence and self-worth.
Marian's arms and hushed words of reassurance help, too.
Good – That is what is stuck in her head as she asks Tinkerbell if it is possible the pixie dust didn't show her her soulmate, but the man who was supposed to lead her to that special person. She watches as the fairy frowns, shrugs, then gasps as realization dawns on her and the shock Regina sees on her friend's face frightens her for a minute until a huge, overjoyed grin replaces it, and Tinkerbell gazes at her with wonder and puts a hand on her shoulder, assuring : “anything's possible. Especially with you, Regina.”
Good – that is what protects her from other people's stares when the truth finally comes out.
“Seriously? You and Marian? That's... Wow. That's a whole level of... weird.”
“Miss Swan, you are currently fornicating with a 300 hundred years-old pirate who almost became the step-father of your first love. Don't tell me what's weird.”
Emma gapes at her and her expression is so dumbfounded and shocked that Regina can't help but feel the corners of her lips tingle with amusement and then Emma catches her eyes and they're both laughing, and soon literally howling with laughter, because weird is the norm in their lives and who are they to tell what is normal and what isn't.
“Can you imagine, though, if I ever get married and change my name, you're gonna have to get used to call me something else than Miss Swan when you're mad at me. Think you're gonna be able to do that, Madame Mayor?”
“You'll find me very adaptable, Mrs Jones.”
Emma scowls and curses and in an impressive snarl that mirrors Regina's best ones she warns her to never, ever, call her that again, that Hell would freeze over before she marries Kilian Jones, unless there is a lot of booze involved and perhaps some kind of concussion.
Regina keeps joking (even though she supposedly never does) and teasing Emma and the blonde fires back at her and their relationship is more easy than it had ever been and Emma never again speaks of her and Marian being together as “weird” and when some townspeople start whispering against them she is the first to back them up and make the party poopers (not her words, Emma's) shut their traps.
Of course, there are other obstacles, personal demons to overcome.
Robin's shadow is never far from their thoughts, at first.
What if their affair is only a twisted way of conjuring him back, of keeping his memory alive between their greedy flesh?
What if this is a huge mistake?
They fight a lot. They are both strong, bull-headed women who take no one's advice and follow nothing but their own rules. But their life experiences make them as different as night and day.
Marian criticizes Regina's overbearing nature, her cynicism and reckless decisions (like the time the Queen had burned all of her lover's clothes because she had found a men's shirt in the linen basket, not realizing it was a new one Henry had just bought for himself).
Regina snarks her way around and cannot help her meanness when she feels threatened or insecure and often complains of the other woman being 'too vanilla' for her taste (and sometimes she does it just so Marian will show her, long and hard, how very wrong she is about that).
Several times, the door slams and their cursed pride prevents them from running after the other right away, and it feels like the end, and this is too much and out of control and scary.
Maybe they don't fit. Maybe their worlds cannot collide.
But then there are moments. Stolen but ever-lasting moments.
Moments when Regina is overcome by one too many vicious argument at the office, by a distressing week of recurring nightmares or by another bad day filled with ugly memories and she allows herself to break down into Marian's arms, she lets the other woman hold her and unfold her, she lets her reverently drink her tears dry and vigourously fuck her heartaches away.
Moments when she learns how to let go and let live, when she learns again the meaning of the words 'comfort' and 'caring' and 'being there for each other' and 'loving'.
Moments when Marian is spread open before her eyes on the bed or the desk, bold and unabashed, her sex glistening in the dim light and Regina loses herself in her taste and her scent and the mewling sounds her lover makes when her tongue hits that spot... Marian, Maid Marian, ingenuous Marian, had been wonderfully responsive to Regina's teaching (the Queen has had her share of women in her bed in the Enchanted Forest, as she has always thought female lovers to be more thorough and dedicated) and her body had soon become addicted to the feel of her hands and mouth and tongue and she had learned with great enthusiasm what wicked delights could be derived from being just a little bit evil.
Moments when they talk about their childhoods in the Southern Kingdom and the tales of the great sea and its legendary creatures and the songs and the dances and the dresses, how it was a beautiful realm before everything fell apart in conspiracies and fratricide and madness and they'd had to exile themselves to a land of winter and snow and forced marriages and when they reach that point they remain silent, because some wounds are always too fresh to be spoken about, even in the dead of the night.
Moments – few at first, then always – when they are sleeping in each other's embrace, limbs entangled, same-colored hair blending together, and Regina, who is the lightest sleeper, lets for hours her fingers run on Marian's sunset skin, darker, richer than her own, and she marvels at the sensation erupting on her fingertips, at her softness and her velvet, and she worries about her constant intoxication with her lover's body, but when Marian wakes up (and she always does and never says a word against Regina's wakefulness), the no-more maiden devours her hungrily and as her mouth and her fingers roam the Queen's flushed flesh Regina thinks with a smirk she isn't the only one being eager and needy.
In the end they have so much more in common than one dead lover.
They visit him every year for the anniversary of his death.
His grave his a quiet, slightly wild, soothing place, faithful of the man resting there.
They had refused to bury him in the cemetery (Robin would never have cared for those well-aligned, polite tombstones) and had settled for a beautiful and remote spot in Storybrooke's woods, right under a willow tree, its leaves gently brushing the surface of a laughing brook.
The four of them, the two women and their sons who have grown up so much these past years, they usually spend the afternoon there. They come at noon, Regina daintily spreads a blanket on the grass (or magically conjures a tent if it's raining) and Marian teases about her majesty's precious ass and she ducks to avoid the fruit (mostly apples) Regina throws at her. Henry and Roland take out their fishing rods (Archie has acquainted them with this quiet hobby which never remains very quiet when the two boys are involved) and insist, as they do each time, that they will eat fish for lunch. Regina has her own food ready, cooked beforehand, because she knows better, but from time to time they do eat fish.
While their boys are playing men providing meal for their family (and then they fool around in the water and go back to the young idiots they truly are), Regina and Marian speak to Robin.
They tell him about Storybrooke and the Merry Men and how John has become broader and bigger if possible and Alan now sings every friday nights at the Rabbit Hole and baby Neal already trots happily around and drives his parents mad because he is quick and unpredictable and loves to hide and Mulan has become Emma's deputy and mostly everyone is fine and living and quite happy.
They tell him about the boys.
About how Marian has taught Henry to use a bow and how his arrows has repeatedly pierced through the windows of Regina's mansion while he was exercising in the backyard because he has a lousy aim, but he is getting better now, he as actually managed to stop blinking long enough to hit the mark last time.
About how Regina is helping Roland to learn his fractions and how Henry has finally introduced him to the wonderful world of superheros and comic books (under the intent watchfulness of Regina who takes care of censoring whatever unsuitable material for Roland's age the comics contain – but she is much more indulgent than she was with Henry, he notices, half-annoyed and half-amused).
Roland is better now. He still have fits of temper and episodes of moroseness, but he has stopped blaming them and pushing them away. They hadn't let him. They knew (at least Regina did) what damage an untreated grief could do to a young mind. It hadn't been easy. A lesser woman than Marian might have despaired of ever having her son seeing her truly as his mother and might have given up, might have believed that some wounds could not be healed and some holes could never be filled. But there was no weakness in Marian, she despised failure and held defeatism for a sin. She valiantly fought to win over her Roland's heart, and win she did. Regina, for her part, had been used to have a son pulling away from her, and she was all the wiser for the previous mistakes she avoided doing this time, and slowly things improved and she did not have to be cautious anymore. But it was Henry who had been the decisive influence to bring Roland out towards the light. Henry, the coolest kid on the block if you asked Roland, which he had never been, even in New York where he was more the slightly-akward, strangely-funny geek boy, so Roland's admiration is a nice change for him. They go along really well, the two of them. Their mothers could not be prouder of their perfect boys.
They talk about themselves as well.
Regina had started taking pottery classes. According to Archie (whom she had been seing again occasionally after several crisis of self-hatred that had left Marian severly distraught), the required focus and the tactile aspect combined with the artistry of it would help Regina externalize her negativity. They had thus acquired horrendous statuettes and unbalanced jars, but Marian doesn't mind. She secretly loves how her lover has become even more skilled with her fingers (this, she wisely keeps to herself).
Marian is working with Belle at the library. The two women had quickly bonded almost as soon as Marian had first come to Storybrooke, Belle being the most selfless and most compassionate soul who has ever existed had made sure the disorientated woman had someone to lean on other than her confused former friends and even more conflicted husband, and when they had learned that they shared a passion for epic love stories and daring tales of adventures, it had only been a matter of time before Belle offered Marian the job. The only downside is that Rumple and Regina are thus forced to spent a dangerous amount of time together for the sake of their loved ones, and their problematic relationship often causes violent outbursts in the library that ends in flames and lost volumes. The fun part is to watch them doing identical puppy eyes as they mumble mortified apologies to stone-faced lovers who are trying very hard not to laugh at the great and terrible Evil Queen and the fearsome Dark One acting like scolded six-years-old.
They talk, and then the day is over and they have to return home where their life is waiting, so with a last, tender look towards the sturdy willow and the two lilies they always leave on the grave that does not look like a grave, they go back home, or rather, they go forward, hand in hand, thankful for the other's warmth.
Then one day Regina asks the question they had not dared asking yet.
“What would he think?”
“Who? About what?”
“Robin. About us. Do you think he would...”
Regina seems frightened and uneasy and Marian looks deep in thought. Her voice is almost dreamy, but confident when she answers.
“We're happy. That is all he has ever wanted for both of us.”
Marian knows that she has found just the right words. Regina is smiling and getting sad eyes all at once, but this is the good kind of sadness, the kind that can be comforted, kissed away, not the kind that leads to madness and self-destruction. Regina halts and makes her stop too and then she tilts her head slightly to kiss her, because yes, they are happy, and she laughs against her mouth as Henry and Roland make gagging noises behind them and tell them to get a room. They pull away and resume their walk, arms locked. The kiss has left Marian giddy, and there is a twinkle in her eyes as she softly says:
“Who knows. Perhaps it would have made him laugh. He has never been a strong believer of fate. And he is the most impudent man I've ever encountered. Perhaps he would have find us thwarting destiny and fairy predictions an amusing matter.”
Regina chuckles, then looks up at the sky. She remembers scenes from long ago, a vivacious fairy and an omniscient pixie dust and a refusal and lost chances. She remembers Zelena and I make my own destiny and change and choices. She knows deep in her heart that every fact of her life is not written down on the pages of a book. No matter how good a story it could have been.
She smiles, without sadness.
“Yes. Who knows.”
The next year they have their answer.
As they near the soft mount where Robin lies under the willow tree, they notice what looks like a fluttering coat of snow.
Lilies. Wild lilies, peacefully growing on the grave.
The traditional twos they have brought with them as usual fall from their hands. Then Marian laughs, and laughs, twirls around like a child and picks one of the brightest and turns to Regina who is standing transfixed, her hand on her mouth, her eyes overflowing with mildness. Marian brushes away from Regina's ear the dark hair reaching past the shoulders now and bury the flower in the thick mane. Regina rolls her eyes but says nothing. Marian is the hopeless romantic of them both.
Regina keeps the lily in her hair for the whole day.
She might also have a fondness for romance.
Because this is exactly what they are. The two of them.