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what we talk about when

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After she tells Henry about Neal, Emma walks.

David and Mary Margaret will look after him, she thinks; he’s in good hands. Hook stops her at the door and opens his mouth, but she stops him with a glance. She can’t look at him right now, with his constant closeness and wicked humor and relentless, if sometimes welcome, advances—it’s too raw, too close, and she can’t be near him with the feel of Neal’s skin still cold on her palms.

So she walks.

Storybrooke is quiet at night. She passes Archie out for his evening walk with Pongo, and Grumpy, arm-in-arm with Nova as they talk quietly, their heads close together. She looks down at the floor after that, watches the movement of her feet on the sidewalk. She walks, and walks, and lets her feet carry her until she’s standing in front of Regina’s door.

Warm light filters through the closed curtains, just enough to give a tantalizing hint of comfort inside. She thinks she can smell something baking, sweet and tangy. Something with apples? Probably, Emma thinks, and knocks before she can talk herself out of it.

The door opens. Regina opens her mouth, and then falters. “Emma,” she begins.

“Neal’s dead,” Emma says. “He brought Gold back, and he’s dead.”

Whatever Regina had been about to say seems to evaporate. She swallows. Emma tracks the motion over her throat.

Silence hovers between them. Regina breaks it. “Do you want a drink?”

Yes,” Emma breathes, because she does, and Regina steps aside to let her in.

 

 

The apple liquor is spicy and strong, stronger than the last time they’d had it. It burns on the way down, rich and sweet, and Emma has to breathe for a few moments before she can talk. “It’s different,” she manages.

“I let it ferment longer,” Regina says.

They sit at opposite ends of the couch in Regina’s living room. Emma tries to think back to the first time she sat in this room—it was cider then, not liquor—and it seems like an eternity ago.

“Tell me what happened,” says Regina.

Emma takes another sip of cider, and starts to talk.

 

 

“He told me to find Tallahassee,” Emma says.

Confusion flickers in Regina’s eyes. “It’s in Florida.”

“It’s not a place,” Emma says, waving her glass. The liquor inside sloshes dangerously and Regina narrows her eyes. Chastened, Emma steadied her hand. “It’s an idea. We were going to go there together, make a life together. Tallahassee is peace, and home, and…and…” She struggles for the words.

“It’s happily ever after,” Regina murmurs.

“Yeah,” Emma says. “Neal said to go there.”

Regina arches one sculpted eyebrow. “Can you get there by pirate ship?”

Nonchalance drips from her words, but there’s something behind them, something guarded. “No,” Emma says, holding her gaze. “And I wouldn’t want to.”

 

 

“I think he’s the only guy Mary Margaret ever approved of.”

“Mm,” Regina says, her lips around the rim of her glass.

Emma looks at her. “What?”

“Your mother married her True Love,” Regina says, and Emma can almost hear the capital letters. “Her first love was the love of her life. She married him, and she had you, and now one on the way. For her, your first love is your only love. How could there ever be happiness after a love like that?”

Her voice sounds thick. Emma downs her drink, and gets up to find the bottle. She finds it on a sideboard, a crystal decanter, ornate and gorgeous. Regina always seems to be surrounded by luxury, but Emma has seen her sleep easily against a tree trunk, has seen dirt under her fingernails and leaves in her hair. Regina is a creature of chaos wrapped in fine silk and jewels.

Picking up the decanter, she turns back to the couch to see Regina looking down into her glass. Emma takes it from her and refills it, and then sits back down, closer now. “Tell me about Daniel,” she says.

Regina looks surprised. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Emma says. She refills her own glass, and clinks it gently against Regina’s. “I just want to know about the first person who made you happy.”

 

 

“I’m not a crier,” Emma says. “I never cry.”

Regina hands her another tissue. “I won’t tell,” she says, and Emma believes her.

 

 

“It was the first time I ever hated my mother,” Regina says. “I was scared of her, before. But I’d never hated her.”

“And then you hated my mother,” Emma says.

“Mm.”

Emma waits to see if she’ll say more. When she doesn’t, she ventures, “I hated her too, you know.”

“Your mother?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Because she sent me away.”

Regina looks at her, all dark, sad eyes. “She didn’t, though,” she sys. “Not really.”

“No,” Emma agrees. “But I didn’t know that.”

 

 

“You know what I hated most about you, that first year here?”

“Do tell.”

“Those damn pencil skirts.” Emma takes another sip. She feels warm all over, some of the sadness dimming away to be replaced with the warmth of sitting side-by-side with another person. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to have a nemesis who looks like you? It’s distracting.”

Regina laughs, low and warm. “I know, dear,” she says, and for once, the endearment comes out the way it was designed to, fond and sweet. “I counted on it.”

Emma can’t think of what to say to that, so she hits Regina with a throw pillow. Regina looks so shocked and confused that Emma breaks down into laughter. Before she knows it, she’s crying again. Regina’s hand finds hers, and she holds on tight.

 

 

“How did you two meet?”

“I stole his car.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“Only sort of,” Emma says. “He stole it first.”

 

 

“I’m afraid they’re going to name the baby Leopold,” Regina says. “I’ve forgiven so much. I don’t think I could forgive that.”

“I won’t let them,” Emma says, and means every word.

 

 

Emma says it, because it has to be said. “We could have sex.”

Regina seems to genuinely think about it. “We could,” she says after a long moment.

“Do you want to?”

“Not really.” There’s a pause. “Do you?”

“Maybe someday,” Emma says, because she’s drunk, and it makes her honest. “But not now.” Another silence. It’s comfortable, safe. “I’m good like this, now.”

“Yes,” Regina says. “So am I.”

And they are, Emma thinks, they really, really are.

 

 

The decanter of apple liquor is half-empty. Regina’s shoes are off, her feet curled under her on the couch, and she has coiled herself into one cushion of the couch, while Emma sprawls out across from her, legs stretched across the other two cushions. Her boots are abandoned under the coffee table.

They are laughing, and it feels good.

“And he said,” Emma says, catching her breath, straightening to do her best to imitate Hook’s manner, “‘Don’t get me wrong, but I’m glad it didn’t work out.’ What the hell, right? No ‘sorry your almost-fiancé was just using you,’ no ‘hey, maybe you should get tested for monkey-related magic residue, just right in for the move.” She shakes her head. “At least Walsh had manners. And the wings might have been useful, y’know? Save a ton on air fare.”

Regina is wheezing with laughter, her cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling and Emma has never seen her look so bright.

 

 

“She was a menace, your mother,” Regina says.

Emma rolls her head along the back of the couch to look at her. “Even if you put aside the part where she got your fiancé killed?”

“Even then,” Regina says. “I don’t suppose she told you about the time she fixed a chess game against her strategy tutors?”

No,” Emma breathes.

“Yes,” Regina confirms. Her usual smirk plays around her lips. “That ‘fairest of them all’ moniker didn’t come until much later.”

“Oh my god,” Emma says. “Please tell me you have more of those.”

“Stories about your mother?” Regina’s smile is wicked. “My dear, I have plenty.”

 

 

“Do you know the worst part,” Emma says.

They have shifted again, Emma’s head lying on the couch cushions and her feet dangling over the arm furthest from Regina. The top of her head just barely brushes Regina’s thigh. Regina’s eyes are closed, her head tilted against the back of the couch, dark hair loose around her shoulders.

She makes it a statement, not a question, but Regina answers anyway—mostly, Emma expects, so that Emma will know she’s still listening. “No.”

“Henry will never know him now,” she says. “If we never get his memories back, he’ll never know him, not even that little bit of time we had. He can learn to love you again, but he’ll never know Neal.”

Regina is quiet for a long moment. “Do you know,” she says finally. “I was so afraid, when you came back with him. Having his biological mother was one thing, but seeing Henry with both of you, both his parents, I thought—I knew there was no room for me in that family.”

“Hey,” Emma says, sitting up. Regina glances at her, eyes bright. “If it wasn’t for you, this family wouldn’t exist.”

One large, perfect tear rolls down Regina’s cheek, and it’s Emma’s turn to reach for the tissues.

 

 

“I meant it,” Regina says, “when I said I didn’t regret any of it.”

Emma’s head is in Regina’s lap now. Regina’s fingers card lightly through her hair, and the bottle sits mostly empty on the coffee table. “In Neverland,” Emma murmurs.

Regina hums in confirmation. “But regret isn’t the same as remorse. When you regret something, you wish it didn’t happen. I feel sadness, and pain. I understand the anger of the people I hurt. But I don’t regret it. Everything I did brought me here. It brought me to Henry.”

“It brought Henry to the world,” Emma says. She reaches for Regina’s hand. “I don’t regret it either.”

 

 

Emma wakes in the morning with her head on a throw pillow and a blanket tucked over her shoulders. Her head aches with the need for caffeine but she doesn’t feel thick or stuffy or hung-over.

Regina is nowhere to be seen, but the smell of coffee wafts warm through the air. Emma detangles herself from the blanket and manages to get to her feet, following the scent of caffeine.

The kitchen is bright and sunny, and Regina is standing by the coffee maker, still in last night’s clothes, her hair tousled and out of place.

“Hey,” Emma says. Regina turns. Her gaze flickers over Emma’s appearance. For a moment Emma tenses, unsure if the last night’s companionship is negated by daylight, but then she smiles.

“Good morning.”

The coffee maker beeps. “Oh, thank god,” Emma says before she can stop herself, and Regina hums agreement, pulling down two mugs from a cabinet and filling them.

Their fingertips brush as she hands one to Emma and the contact is warm and comforting, lingering just a moment longer than necessary. “I was thinking,” Emma says. “I slept really well last night.”

Regina hesitates, the rim of her coffee mug close to her lips. “On my couch?” she says, her voice careful.

Emma throws caution to the wind. “With you,” she says. Surprise flickers across Regina’s features. Emma puts down her coffee. “Will you let me buy you breakfast?”

Regina’s lips part ever so slightly, but after a long moment, she nods. “Yes,” she says. “I’d like that.”

Emma holds out her hand.

Their coffee ends up cold.