Regina was one of two of the greatest practitioners of magic her land had ever seen in a century. Despite rocky beginnings with Rumpelstiltskin, her need for vengeance overrode her morality, and with each pitiful fireball and every hesitant step to remove a heart, Regina learned everything there was and is to know about magic. She knew that the Phoenix, like the fairy, survived on the belief of hope and good energies of others which was why its tears had powerful healing properties that could cure any wound; a combination of unicorn hair, shavings of emerald, and the presence of a new moon could create a powerful jealousy potion that could drive even the purest of souls mad with envy. She also knew, like many doe-eyed children with an inability to fall asleep, that love – True Love – was the most powerful magic of all. A magic so rare and powerful it could transcend realms and break curses where in every dimension of time, the ones lucky enough to have a True Love would always be destined to find them.
That bit of knowledge was what made her keep her distance from Emma Swan.
Regina's magic alone was musky, dark, and dangerous, but she knew the second Emma touched her arm to help her open Jefferson's portal in that court room with a wraith threatening her life, something had changed. Ever since then her magic had left a distinct taste of cinnamon and honey, and by the time she and Emma had combined their magic to deactivate the fail-safe that threatened to destroy her town, Regina knew why.
True Love is the most powerful magic of all, of course.
The thought left a bittersweet taste in her mouth as she traversed through Neverland's forest in search of water or sustenance – anything really to get away from the Charmings, that pirate, and Emma. Emma couldn't possibly be her True Love. Regina's hopes at happiness died with Daniel. If Emma was her True Love then everything she had vowed vengeance for would have been for nought. Though it was an ironic twist to her and Snow White's tale: the Evil Queen and the Saviour falling in love. Snow would absolutely loathe that. Not that they were in love, of course. True Love needed attraction, and there was no way in hell Regina was attracted to Emma.
It wasn't like Emma would be interested anyway. She had that lovesick pirate trailing her around like a puppy dog, the last thing she needed was to discover that she and Regina would be the greatest love story ever told. Plus, Regina already had her chance before and who in their right mind would want for it to be ripped away all over again. No, it would be better for everyone for Emma to remain in the dark. Regina's love life, or lack thereof, should be the last thing on her mind as they fought to save Henry.
But Emma was making it extremely difficult by being nice to her.
As soon as Regina got her son, she was taking him out of Storybrooke and away from any threatening villains, wayward relatives, and the Charmings. Perhaps she'd let Emma in on their location, just for her son's sake, but that was it.
A twig snapped just behind Regina, and she turned, a fireball already in her hands. "Show yourself," she demanded.
Emma stepped through the clearing, hands up defensively. "Hey. It's just me."
Regina pursed her lips but diminished the ball. "Hey."
"You shouldn't be out here by yourself."
"Believe me, I'm the scariest thing out here," Regina said dryly.
"Pan's kinda giving you a run for your money," Emma smirked, and if their son's life wasn't dangling on a string, Regina would have thought that Emma was being playful.
"Is there something you need?" Regina motioned to the few pieces of kindle in Emma's grasp. "You'll find the wilderness is not wanting for stray branches."
"I just wanted to check in on you. I know it's hard."
Regina turned away, snatching a branch off the ground with more force than necessary. "You have no idea, Ms. Swan."
They collected firewood in silence, the only sound was the soft crunch of twigs and leafs under their heels as their pile grew. It was more kindle than what they needed, but for some odd reason, Regina felt a comfort in having Emma in vicinity. She scowled at herself for such a thought and promptly stopped to stretch her leg out on a log, feeling the blisters that were sure to be on the balls of her feet.
"You okay?" Emma questioned, suddenly beside the brunette.
"Fine," Regina muttered, letting her hair fall over her face as some sort of shield. God, why did the precious Saviour even care?
Suddenly a warm palm was holding her arm, and the same tingling sensation mixed with cinnamon and honey flooded her senses. What the hell? There was no magic involved, how was she still producing this effect on Regina?
"You don't have to do that," Emma said softly.
"Do what?" Regina snapped.
The blonde removed her hand, and suddenly the tingling was gone, and if Regina was honest with herself, was also missed.
"That," she pointed out cryptically. "Shutting yourself off. We're a team now, and whatever happened between us in the past, it's all over now."
Regina held Emma's gaze for she was never one to back down from any opponent, though she wasn't quite sure what made Emma the adversary in that moment. She crossed her arms over her chest smugly and smirked. "Why, you sound like you almost care."
Emma gave a tight-lipped smile and moved to pick up their firewood. With the bundle in her arms, she gave a half-hearted shrug and a smile that almost looked genuine. "I do."
Regina was starting to believe that. She never let herself think of Emma as anything more than just her son's other mother, but as they scoured the jungle and played along with Pan's games, Emma was showing just how many ways she cared for Regina.
When the Lost Boys unexpectedly ambushed their camp, they were quick to watch out for each other's backs, Emma going so far as to tackle Regina to the ground when a poison-tipped arrow was aimed right between her shoulder blades. The save was less than graceful, but there was a grateful understanding between them as Regina nodded once and summoned a ring of fire to prevent any more Lost Boys from entering.
It happened again that night when Regina discovered her knee had been badly scraped. She was successful enough to walk away from the camp in order to tend to her wound in peace, but Emma had followed and apparently had noticed Regina's fall during the battle with a boy who was quite adept with the sword he'd pilfered from the pirate. Regina had once commanded armies and killed without batting an eye, but she would never admit that facing the Lost Boys were draining. Each and every one of them was Henry, some misunderstood child following orders from a sociopath who claimed to care for them.
"I know," Emma had said, sitting by Regina on the log as Emma passed over her canteen for Regina to wash her scrape. Regina had raised a questioning eyebrow but Emma continued. "They're just like us. They don't know any better, and if they do, they're well out of options. But Henry won't be one of them."
Regina's eyes softened at that, pausing as water trickled down her exposed calf. Be it True Love or destiny or just a raw, natural connection, but Regina knew that Emma understood her, and the blonde was making it very hard to push her away.
Regina was not having feelings for Emma Swan. Not now at least. She winced at herself for such a qualifier. Not ever. She couldn't. It would ruin Daniel's memory. But god, did she want to strangle that pirate with her bare hands. Magic was her preferable way of strangle; less physical effort and the chance to see the life leave her victim to be replaced with fear, but with Hook she was willing to make an exception. She kept telling herself it had nothing to do with the fact that he constantly doted on Emma, but every time he passed his flask of rum her way or volunteered to clear the path ahead of them with the blonde, her blood boiled.
That feeling most likely attributed to the fact why she readily agreed to teach the blonde magic. She knew it was a bad idea, what with their combined magic and all, god forbid the blonde feel it too, but what choice did she have? Emma was threatening to find Gold and have him be her mentor, and Hook kept leering at her like she was a piece of meat. She was really doing the Saviour a favour.
But Emma was scrunching up her face in concentration and as frustrated as Regina was that Emma obviously hadn't mastered lighting a simple flame immediately, she couldn't help but think how ridiculously adorable the blonde looked. More ridiculous than adorable. Not adorable at all, really. Regina had no idea why that word even came to mind since Emma was nothing if not infuriating.
But then Emma lit the camp fire, and the proud beam on her face had that word tossed around Regina's brain all over again.
"Look!" Emma exclaimed, clutching Regina's arm. "I did it."
Regina glanced down at their contact, and the flame rose higher, burning from its usual orange to a pale, white hot lilac. Emma's eyes flashed, clearly noticing the intensity of the flame before quickly removing her arm with a furrow of her brow. "Do you smell that?"
"Smoke?" Regina provided obviously, clearing her throat and putting distance between them.
"No," Emma sniffed the air, "like apple pie."
"Living off of figs and stream water are clearly toying with your senses, Ms. Swan."
"Come on, it smells like you–"
Regina stiffened. "No," she answered hastily. "I don't smell a thing."
"Oh," the blonde shrugged, snapping her fingers and creating a thin flame there. "It smells good."
They had had their magic lessons every free moment they could spare, and as they spent more and more time together, Regina's defences were waning. She sought the blonde's presence just as fiercely as she searched for Henry, and if Regina's eyes weren't mistaken, Emma was seeking her out too. With Emma's magic becoming more focused, their intertwining power became more intense that if Emma didn't feel it by now, Regina would be worried that the younger woman had suffered a brain injury.
There was no doubt the type of power they had behind the two of them, and all that served to remind Regina was that Emma could not find out what that meant. Though she'd never admit it out loud, Regina cared for Emma, and the last thing she needed was to have her fate decided for her as it had for Regina time and time again.
By the end of the week where they were still no closer to finding Henry, now the sudden possibility of Baelfire being alive sent her emotions on a whirlwind. Instead of doing what she does best and lashing out on the first possible victim, Regina left the group in search of Rumple who no doubt was having more luck than the Charmings. For the briefest of seconds, she wanted to ask Emma to come along with her, but there was something in her eyes when Snow had mentioned Neal. Fear? Love? Yearning? Whatever it was, it complicated whatever she and Emma supposedly had.
Not that they had anything to begin with, but Emma loved him, and Regina wasn't about to get in the way of Emma's happiness. Not intentionally at least.
So she left Emma, and the rest of their makeshift crew, and in the mere hours she had spent with her mentor proved far more sufficient that the overextended camping trip the Charmings believed they were on.
But sometimes she forgot the other best practitioner of magic her land had ever seen in a century was Rumpelstiltskin himself, so when he questioned her motives for joining him, he was highly amused.
"I was wondering when you'd show up," he said in that sing-song way that reminded her of his days when she was simply his apprentice and not his equal.
"What is that supposed to mean?" She asked darkly, hands on her hips.
He laughed and flicked his wrist, pointing his finger skyward. "Well, I think you know that, dearie." Regina remained quiet as Rumple placed a new coat of some sort of paint over his eye. "I have never, in all my three centuries of living, seen a magic as powerful as yours and the Saviour's."
"Emma is the product of True Love," she reasoned the same way she did every time she and the blonde ended their magic lessons.
"Right you are," he turned to her suddenly. "But True Love in True Love, with someone as powerful as you, now that is certainly interesting."
Her nostrils flared as she breathed in heavily. She could talk circles around Gold but with Rumpelstiltskin, magic and deals were his game and a rebuttal would just be futile.
She followed him to the edge of the shoreline, quietly deep in her thoughts as they altered between scheming to save Henry and angered at the fact that Emma continued to pop into her mind. As she waited for that fork-crazy mermaid to return from Storybrooke, Regina allowed her mind to stay on Emma, at least until the fish returned.
Perhaps it wouldn't be absolutely terrible admitting her feelings for Emma. Not now, of course. They had to find Henry. But the more she thought about it, after their magic lessons, and their quiet conversations by the fire, it definitely seemed as if Emma reciprocated those feelings as well.
Daniel had told her to love again. Her mother had always told her love was weakness. Regina wasn't sure who she should believe, but magic didn't lie, and the residual effects of making magic with Emma had one thing for certain: Regina Mills was falling for Emma Swan.
Regina was near giddy when she and Rumple found the group again, Pandora's Box in her grasp and ready to prove to Emma that she was indeed helping, not that she needed validation or anything, but then she saw him and everything changed.
Neal was very much alive and well. Hook had apparently kissed Emma – when the hell had that happened and why the hell hadn't she killed him yet? David was dying and Snow wanted another child. Of course, these imbeciles would combust without her. Thank god, she hadn't entered that Echo Cave, but like all things in her life, her timing was off.
She couldn't say anything to Emma now. Neal was back in Emma's life, and no doubt Henry's. She could see it now. Perfect, genetically-linked family. Emma and Neal would have another child completing their perfect nuclear family with a white picket fence and a dog named Rover. Emma deserved better than Neal, admittedly she deserved better than Regina, but Regina couldn't help but be just a tad bit selfish.
So she held her tongue and kept to herself all over again. The lessons stopped, Regina deeming the blonde acceptable even though Emma looked disappointed, and she lost herself in memories of Henry from happier, more oblivious times.
But like clockwork, Emma sought her out as soon as dusk settled.
"Hey," the blonde greeted quietly, sitting by Regina against the trunk of a tree.
Regina nodded her head in acknowledgment but said nothing else.
"What's wrong?" The blonde asked, nudging Regina's shoulder.
Regina tensed and shifted away, clutching her arms around her middle. The care Emma showed for her sometimes grew to be too much. She couldn't understand why the Saviour of all people could feel anything other than loathing.
"I'm fine, Ms. Swan," Regina replied sharply.
The wounded look on the blonde's face was enough to make Regina internally wince. "Hey, it's Ms. Swan now?"
"Emma," she amended petulantly.
Sighing once, Emma nudged Regina again. "So you really think this box thing is gonna work."
"I'm certain of it."
"Good," the younger woman muttered. "I just want us to go home."
"It may very well just be us, Henry, and your lovesick puppy dogs at this rate," Regina said disdainfully, tilting her head toward Hook and Neal who kept glancing up at Emma to see if she was looking at their spear-making skills.
The blonde groaned and ducked her head into her hands. "Don't remind me."
Regina raised a curious eyebrow. "I thought you were positively smitten with the good captain."
"Consider it a moment of poor judgment. You weren't–" Emma stopped herself and mumbled unintelligibly.
Despite appearing unfazed, Regina's pulse jumped. "I wasn't what, dear?"
Emma looked up at her under hooded lashes. "You weren't here."
Regina's pulse quickened again. "And why would I need to be here?"
The blonde brought her knees up to her chest and rested her arms against them, letting her head fall back against the trunk behind her in a restrained groan. There was conflict swirling around in her head before she finally spoke up to the stars above them. "You weren't here for me to...be judged by," she finished lamely, clearing her throat forcefully.
Regina stared at Emma incredulously, remaining silent to allow the woman before her the time to properly finish her thought and be rid of that insipid excuse. But Emma remained still under Regina's glare, fiddling with a tiny branch between her fingers.
"Well," Regina said turning back to face upwards toward the sky again. "Your taste in men is atrocious."
The blonde laughed out loud, happily enough to draw attention from the remaining party of their camp as they threw the two women suspicious looks. She nodded in agreement. "Good thing my taste in women is much better."
"What?" Regina's eyes widened at the same time Neal called from the fire.
"Emma! I got it. Pan's shadow!"
In a flash the blonde was up and heading toward the man, leaving Regina momentarily dumbfounded before she too joined the group around the flames.
They did it. After weeks of trekking through the wilderness, Regina and Emma finally had their son back. It was no easy task possessing Pan's shadow – Regina had stiffened under Emma's arms when the blonde excitedly grasped her around the shoulders from behind in her excitement of producing a flame under pressure, creating an eclipse – that was an entirely different story Regina couldn't think about right now, or watching their son die – never again would Regina bury a loved one, she promised herself, but they had done it.
They were on the Jolly Roger, Regina having just tucked in her little prince only to realize Emma had been at the bottom of the ladder watching fondly over the two. They lingered until Henry was fast asleep, biding their time because next to nothing was going to separate their son from them again.
Instead of joining the festivities on deck, they remained in the cabin, watching over Henry. Emma sat on the last few rings of the ladder while Regina leaned against the map table.
"We almost lost him, didn't we?" It was Regina who broke the silence this time, initiating the conversation with the one woman she had sought to avoid.
"Yeah," Emma nodded, eyes trained on the boy in bed. "Yeah, we did."
"I thought I knew the worst pain imaginable when I lost Daniel, but nothing compares to feeling Henry's lifeless body under my hand." The moisture reclaimed Regina's eyes all over again as if Henry wasn't alive and well right there in the bed.
"Hey." Emma stood and grasped at Regina's arms, catching brown eyes insistently. "Our kid's a fighter, and we got him back."
Regina nodded, using a pinky to wipe at the water under her eye before pushing past Emma to sit at the edge of Henry's bed.
"Snow told me about him. About Daniel," the blonde filled in. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."
Regina scowled. "That's not her information to share."
"I know, and maybe one day you can tell it to me."
"Because like it or not, Regina, I do care about you." Regina's eyes snapped up at the intensity of Emma's statement as the blonde took up Regina's former spot and stared insistently. "I felt something," Emma continued, and though previous conversations between them left the blonde flabbergasted, now Emma seemed certain and sure. "Every time we touch, or you come near me, or just, I think of you, and I feel something."
Regina gulped and stood abruptly. "Now is certainly not the time for this, Ms. Swan."
She made her way to the ladder and had one foot up before Emma caught her arm, and as if proving her point, apples, cinnamon, spice, and honey filled the air as a fringe of electricity coursed through them like a shock, but instead of wanting to pull away, it coursed through them seeking out the other.
Regina paused and turned slowly because to deny that was to blatantly lie in the presence of her, albeit sleeping, son, and she had vowed to do better by him. So she clutched her arms protectively around her middle, eyebrow arched in curiosity, as her pulse quickened under Emma's sincere gaze.
"Is that why you've been avoiding me?" The blonde questioned, stepping closer toward Regina. "Because you feel it too?"
"I had more pressing issues on my mind," Regina retorted. "Like our son."
"Who is fine now, so your mind should have cleared up some space," Emma responded just as quickly. "Gold told me that day in his shop when you and your mom attacked – he said that when I use magic, I should think about who I'm protecting."
"I'm well aware of the mechanics of light magic–"
"Then why does your face keep popping up?" The statement silenced the brunette. "Mary Margaret and David are there too, but it's mostly yours and Henry's. Why is that?"
Regina averted her eyes downward and spoke softly. "You tell me, Emma."
Emma shook her head, giving a resigned sigh. "I don't know if you're gonna like the answer."
There were no words coming out of Regina's mouth as she waited while Emma fought to compose herself long enough to explain.
"When I say I care about you," the blonde began. "I mean, like I do, I care, but I care a lot. A lot a lot."
She waved her hands already dismissing Regina's snide remark. "I know, not the most eloquently put, but I thought that me feeling things for you were because we could do magic, but I realized it went long before that. This whole magic thing, whatever it is, it kind of just opened my eyes, I guess."
"You have feelings for me?" Regina's tone was that of disbelief, and perhaps her mask was done a little too well for she knew Emma could hear a hint of mock in her voice. Despite outward appearances, Regina couldn't tamp down on the butterflies racing in her stomach, nor could their combined magic scent leave her air. It seemed that with Emma's admission, the magic within them seemed to react stronger and stronger, connecting more fiercely because the barriers either women put up were gone and their magic was finally getting free reign to intertwine.
But all Emma had was Regina's physical cue, and even though it seemed as if the brunette was turned off by the idea, Emma barrelled through with her thought. "Yeah. It took me a long time to realize that. I had a lot of time to think on this trip, and I know this isn't the most ideal of times to be doing this, and with everything that already happened, I just – I don't know. The ball's in your court."
With that, the blonde moved past Regina and began to climb up the ladder. It took the blonde getting halfway to the deck for Regina to yank Emma down by the ankle, nearly collapsing the poor girl into a pile of limbs on the floor, before she stepped into her space, steadying her with a hand on her waist.
Regina's hand on what little exposed skin Emma had between her pants and tank top tingled with excitement, fascination, and the ever-present magic binding them together. "I've been thinking too." Regina's hot breath washed over Emma's lips as she leaned in.
"Yeah?" The blonde asked huskily.
Regina didn't answer. She let herself have this moment where the stars aligned, their son was safe, and Emma Swan was returning her feelings. Daniel had told her to love again. Her mother had told her that love was weakness. Perhaps they were both right for in that vulnerable moment, Regina closed her eyes and dove head first into the chance she had held herself back from for months.
Their lips touched.