As the days pass, I come to realize more and more just how much Emma was a part of my life. Days are empty and bleak while nights are tormented by memories of green eyes, a bright, infectious smile and a warm body pressed up to me. Ironically, as the pain from pushing her away dulls somewhat, the emptiness that Emma has left takes over.
My attempts to seem unaffected works about as well as I could expect. Henry notices, of course, but can't seem to figure out what to do, so he mostly settles with watching me carefully in that way that is so eerily similar to Emma's inquiring gaze. It wouldn't surprise me if he's already working on a new operation.
It's not until I one day absentmindedly think about the possibilities of removing my own heart that I realize that I can't continue like this. No matter what would have happened had I let Emma stay, this is no way to live and I need to find a way to get over her without following in Mother's footsteps. The mere thought of becoming like her or returning to my pre-curse ways sends a shudder through my body. I'm not that person anymore, nor do I ever want to be.
Days of depressing emptiness turn into days of thinking and planning but without success. Letting Henry know is out of the question and talking to Archie about it feels like nothing more than an exercise in futility. No, the only thing I can come up with that would make me happy is the one thing I told myself it was best to push away. It's maddening.
The monotony is finally interrupted one day when Snow shows up at my doorstep, smiling and looking as if her visits are an everyday occurrence.
"Hello, Regina. I brought you this." She holds out a plastic lunchbox. "Henry must have forgotten it."
I huff, rolling my eyes. "You found it necessary to come over here with a lunchbox? You'll have to work better on your excuses." She has that determined look in her eyes though, and I know she won't give up without a fight. "I would tell you to go away but knowing you Charmings, it would probably take another curse to do so." I turn around and head back inside without another word.
She follows me, closing the door behind her. "I came to talk about Emma." Pause. "And about you."
"Oh," is all I can say, flinching when I hear her name. "Then talk." Usually, we're on fairly good terms, even having lunch together, but something about how she speaks and holds herself today strikes a nerve. She's not the meek Mary Margaret or the righteous Queen Snow, but the cunning, calculating woman that she was when on the run from my troops so long ago. The look in her eyes reminds me of Emma before the curse broke, fierce and challenging.
"I'm not blind–" she begins, then stops abruptly and lets out a little self-deprecating laugh. "I guess what I meant to say was, I'm not blind anymore. I know you and Emma–"
"How is that any of your business?" I snap, glaring at her.
"I didn't think it was, at first." She ushers me into the living room, somehow managing to get me to sit down on the sofa beside her. "It is between you and Emma and I'm not here to meddle. But whatever happened between you two is hurting you, it's hurting Emma and frankly, it's hurting others too."
Meeting her gaze evenly, I wait for her to continue.
Finally, she sighs. "Look, I know both of you would probably rather suffer in silence than ask for help at all, but none of this is making anyone happier. I saw Emma before, I know how happy she looked. And I know how she looks now."
I almost ask about Emma, a part of me desperate to convince myself that it isn't that bad, that she isn't heartbroken and that this will all be a distant memory in a few weeks. But I can't, instead snapping my jaws shut with a click.
"Just talk to me, Regina."
A few moments pass before I reluctantly surrender to her pleading expression. "It wouldn't have worked," I mutter. "We wouldn't have... fit."
"Because–" I search for words. "Eventually, she would have left. I would've hurt her, or held her too close, and she would have run."
Snow shakes her head. "You don't know that."
"Everyone leaves me, Snow!" An awkward silence settles, both of us a bit surprised by my outburst. "Daniel, Robin, Henry, they've all left. My whole family is gone."
"So you're going to shut yourself away before anyone else is able to leave? Regina, that won't make you happy."
"And what do you know about what makes me happy?"
"What I know," she says with an edge to her voice, "is that you don't get your happiness by just sitting around and waiting for it. You have to fight for it."
"Like you did?" I snort. "Are you really trying to be my role model?"
"No!" Snow lets out a frustrated huff. "But you can't give up like this. It's not fair to you and it's not fair to Emma."
"So you want me to fight? Fight like I did for Daniel?" My voice is laced with venom. "Curse, kill, fight? Is that what you want?"
"You're not that person anymore, Regina. We both know that." She sighs again, deflating slightly. "Why not just give her a chance, give yourself a chance? How do you know that you wouldn't be good together if you don't even dare to try?"
"I have done that two times," I say slowly, clenching my jaw. "Both times, the people I loved were taken from me. I will not put myself through that a third time."
There is a short pause, and then Snow nods. "Okay. So you'd rather just sit here, waiting and feeling miserable than actually doing anything." She goes silent again, frowning and pursing her lips as if she's thinking intensely about something. "Do you ever think about your times with Daniel anymore?"
"Of course I do." What little patience I have is rapidly running out.
"Do you regret them?"
"What?" Frowning, I look at her incredulously, wondering what the hell she is getting at. "The only thing I regret is that he died. You should know that better than anyone, Snow." Why she is bringing up old wounds now is beyond me.
"But he was taken from you," Snow presses. "Don't you wish you hadn't met him at all, to spare yourself the heartache?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I wouldn't give up my time with Daniel for anything." A moment pass by before it hits me, and I realize what I've just said. Or more precisely, realizing what it means.
"You wouldn't give it up for anything, despite the pain," Snow fills in, a watery smile beginning to form on her lips.
I don't react, my mind racing to make sense of it all. I'm not even aware that she's gotten to her feet until she reaches down and brushes away a tear from my cheek.
"I suppose that's all I really had to say, then." She smiles again, brushing away another tear, before turning and leaving, the front door clicking shut soon thereafter.
It doesn't even take me two days to seek out Emma, even though I'm not sure what I hope to accomplish. The only thing I know is that I won't be able to focus on anything else until I've seen her again; perhaps I need some kind of closure, perhaps I need something else? Snow's words ring in my head, steeling what little resolve I do have and pushing away some of the fears. I don't regret Daniel. It's so simple I that I almost can't believe it.
Stepping into the Sheriff's office takes me back to before the curse broke, when I was just a mayor and Emma was just a sheriff. It's oddly similar yet completely different; I was never this on edge back then, even when Emma pushed me the most.
Emma is sitting by her desk, her legs lazily thrown up on top of it. At first it looks like she's sleeping, but when I come close I see she's simply staring blankly out the window.
"Tax dollars hard at work, I see." The comment comes out without a thought – also a reminder of easier times – and I wince. Not the best way to start a conversation.
She looks up, a myriad of emotions flitting across her face until she settles on a blank, tired expression. "What do you want?"
I hesitate, unsure of what to say. "I... we need to talk."
Emma lets out a mirthless bark of laughter. "Really. You do know that people usually use that phrase before they dump someone?"
"You know what, just... don't," she sighs. "Whatever it is you want, I don't want to hear it. If it's about Henry, send an email or a carrier pigeon or whatever. Just go away." With that, she slumps back in her chair and resumes staring out the window.
Quelling my impulse to lash out, I take a deep breath and gather my thoughts. Moments pass as I try to force out the words, still not wanting to admit them, let alone saying them out loud. "I was wrong."
As soon as I've spoken, Emma freezes. A moment later, she turns and gives me an incredulous look. "What?"
"I may have been wrong," I say, crossing my arms defensively over my chest, readying myself for another clash.
"No," she corrects me, regarding me with narrowed eyes, "no, you said you were wrong. No 'may's."
"Fine," I snap. "I was wrong."
"Okay." She pauses, working her jaw. "About what?"
I sigh, tired of all the conflicts we always find ourselves in. "Us."
"Oh". She pulls down her legs and turns fully towards me, regarding me cautiously. "Last time we talked, you sounded awfully certain of where you wanted 'us' to go." The word "nowhere" remains unspoken.
"I've had a lot of time to think," I mutter, looking anywhere but at her.
"And what did you realize?" I can hear how hard she tries to keep her voice level.
"That being miserable is no way to live," I scoff. "And then, of course, your mother felt the need to contribute as well."
"She did what?" Emma blurts out. "She actually went over to you? I can't believe this, I told her not to–"
"As much as I dislike your mother," I cut her off, "this time, she was... helpful. In fact, she's the reason I'm here." The words taste like acid in my mouth but I force them out anyway, knowing that the truth is probably the only thing that might fix things between us.
Emma blinks, staring at me as if I've grown a new head. "Snow talking to you is the reason you're here. That is insane, you know?"
"I never said I enjoyed it," I huff, Emma's surprised expression nonetheless eliciting a faint smile on my lips.
"Huh," she mumbles and nods slowly, apparently still processing the fact. After a little while, she shakes her head and looks up at me again. "So what exactly about us is it you want to talk about?"
"A... great deal. But I would rather do this in a more private setting." Pausing, I hope I'm not pushing things too far or too quickly. "How about dinner? Tomorrow?"
"I was thinking lasagna," I add, knowing how much Emma likes it. I'm not the only one that's easy to manipulate between us.
Emma's face somehow manages to drop and light up at the same time. "That's not fair," she mutters, unable to stop a smile from tugging on the corner of her lips. "Fine. Tomorrow." Her smile fades a little. "This doesn't mean anything, though. We'll talk. I don't guarantee anything."
"And I don't expect you to either," I agree. "I'll see you at seven."