As magical as their dance was it had to end at some point. And so Emma walked Regina back to her table, bowed her head again and thanked her for the dance. Reluctantly, she let go of the shy girl's hand as she made her way to her own table. Her father was beaming at her as she sat down. "I'm so proud of you!", he said, patting her hand. Her mother was less enthusiastic. "Be careful", she said worriedly, "you better not mess with Cora Mills, believe me".
"What happened between the two of you?", Emma asked her mother directly, tired of the truth constantly being hushed up, but also intrigued. Her whole life she has been picking up some talks about the animosities between their families, but they always died away as soon as her presence was noticed.
"I don't think this is either the time or the place to have this discussion", Snow White answered, her expression hardening.
"It never is!", the blonde girl fiercely replied. She put a hand over her mouth, shocked by her own outburst. Her mother was staring right back at her, her mouth agape. Though Emma was a free spirit and was usually doing things her way anyway (like those patrol walks that her mother knew nothing about), she was never disrespectful towards her parents. She didn't know where this sharpness in her voice came from. Maybe she really was just tired that the matter was never spoken about openly. Or that she was still treated like a child. Or that this dreadful dress was not only hideous looking but was also restricting her movements. And maybe, just maybe, she also wanted to know more about the other girl's life. About this pure being with so much pain in her eyes. The eyes that she was starting to drown in.
Emma's thoughts were interrupted by some noise at the door. It was thrown open by a young woman dressed in green, which was also the color of her skin. She sure knew how to make an entrance. All eyes were on her and she was absolutely pleased about it. "Hello darlings!", she drawled. Emma didn't know that woman. She scanned the room with her eyes to see if anyone of the present party did. Everybody looked intrigued as to who this new arrival was. Everybody except Cora Mills. Her usually oh so composed features were showing signs of surprise and panic. 'Interesting', Emma thought. 'Who is this mighty witch scared of?'
Meanwhile the green lady made her way to the hosts' table. "Happy Birthday, little sis!", she said wickedly to Regina. The young girl looked over to her mother. Who was staring at the new guest.
"Zelena…", she half gasped, half whispered.
"Oh, so you DO know who I am!", came a pained and snarky reply.
"Of course I do! I have been watching you your whole life."
"Then how come you were never present in it?! How come you just abandoned me? And why did you keep HER and not me?"
Her last words Zelena accompanied with her finger pointing at Regina.
"I think we should move this discussion to somewhere else", Cora said, standing up. Right after a cloud of purple smoke engulfed the two women and they disappeared.
And with that the tension and the silence in the room were broken too. Hushed talks were now heard from all directions. The music started playing again. But the stares were focused on Regina now. And she couldn't take it any longer. So, she ran out.
Emma was intrigued by these events like everybody else in the room. Until Zelena started pointing at Regina and everything changed. She was concerned now. She didn't notice that she stood up from her seat. Or that her right hand automatically moved towards her waist looking for the sword that was usually there. She was watching this scene intently, never averting her eyes, until her hand met the frills of her dress and she looked down utterly confused. There was no sword there. And the reason why there was no sword was because she was wearing this dress. When she looked up and over to Regina again, the purple smoke was starting to clear up. She saw the girl running out and she was following her without sparing even a single thought about it. She ended up in the palace garden it seemed. And it looked like she had lost Regina. But only for a moment. Because now she heard gravel crunching and when she walked towards that sound she found her again. Regina was pacing forwards and backwards in front of a tree, wringing her hands while doing so.
"Hey, are you okay?", Emma asked worriedly, approaching her.
"I'm not sure…", Regina replied. She sighed then, sitting down on the low stone wall surrounding the tree. "This woman called me her sis. Does it mean I have a sister I never knew about? And I never saw my mother so afraid in my whole life. She's never afraid of anything." She looked up at Emma now. "I'm sorry for bothering you. And why are you here?", she looked shy and confused now.
Emma smiled sheepishly, feeling blush creeping up her cheeks. "I was worried about you."
Regina was blushing as well now. They both looked down. After a while Regina started speaking again, in a soft, low voice. "My daddy gave me this tree when I was six years old." She was gently brushing her fingertips against the bark. "He showed me how to take care of it. It became my refuge when everything else in my life was falling apart."
Emma was watching her during this speech. And when Regina looked up at her there was this pain in her eyes again. Emma felt this pain in her heart, like a cold hand was grabbing at it. Impulsively she put her left hand over her heart. To make sure it was still there. To make sure it was still beating in her chest. And, oh boy, did it beat! Her right hand surged towards Regina. She put it on her shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. Surprised at first, Regina put her own hand atop af Emma's and clasped it softly. "Thank you", she whispered, almost inaudibly. Emma didn't know what hit her, but suddenly she wasn't able to stand anymore. Her knees went weak and she almost fell yet barely managed to sit down on the low wall opposite Regina, never pulling her hand away from her. She could hear her heartbeat drumming in her ears. She grasped at the wall trying to steady herself, to ground herself.
Regina removed Emma's hand from her shoulder. But she didn't let go of it. Instead she put it down on her lap and curiously looked down at it. She then started gently tracing her fingers over Emma's palm as if trying to understand this extraordinary creature. When she stopped, she looked up at Emma. "I've never met anyone like you before", she said softly. Her eyes were lacking the pain now. They were tender and hopeful and warm. Emma took Regina's other hand in her own and simply replied: "I've never met anyone like you either". They smiled at each other and it was a silent promise they made in that moment that they won't let go of one another ever again.