Oddly enough, this wasn’t the first time that Emma had stared down the barrel of a gun. It wasn’t even the second. Her life had been kind of like that - a little bit on the bad side of dangerous more often than not. It was, however, the first time she considered the possibility that she was going to die.
She’d talked, reasoned and begged with the gunman (only just yesterday a completely reasonable individual) and come to the conclusion that today, for whatever reason, he was totally fucking nuts. Maybe it was a curse, or a potion gone wrong, or any of a dozen other possibilities that only made sense in this town - it didn’t matter. For whatever reason, on this day he had woken up determined to kill the Savior and that’s what he was going to do. There weren’t words for Emma to draw from that could change his mind.
The moment she understood her fate - really accepted that it was the end instead of just pondering the possibility - time lost it’s grip and a beautiful, horrible clarity washed over her.
She closed her eyes.
Her thoughts went first to Henry and her heart swelled, crazy gunman all but forgotten. Henry was a bright and good young man who had truly gotten his best chance, despite a rocky patch, with a mother who loved him deeply and a whole town dedicated to his well being. The two of them had managed to forge a horde of good memories together since he’d found her in Boston and he could carry them with him always. Emma knew he would make it. He would be sad at first, naturally, but he would grieve while surrounded by love and then continue to thrive as he moved through life.
Confident that Henry’s future was as bright and secure as any future could be, Emma's mind slid to her parents and she felt the slight weight of regret settle against her diaphragm. She wished they’d had more time together to get past the newness and weirdness of their relationship and really get to know each other as people. But still, they'd spent their time together well, and she could feel their love for her even now and that quickly eased the uncomfortable press of regret. She'd been abandoned and nothing could change that, but not because she was unloved; Emma understood that now. Their last years together had proven that and she was so grateful to hold that knowledge in her heart during her final moments. Her parents would no doubt mourn her loss bitterly but they would help each other through it, just as devoted Soul Mates should do, and survive.
When her mind drifted next to Regina the small pit of sadness swelled into a huge gaping chasm of yearning and regret that almost swallowed her whole, shocking and completely not so at the same time. It was powerful and raw - an all consuming pain that left every inch of her soul scorched, and she felt herself begin to shatter.
Her heart cried out to Regina.
The weight of time wasted and opportunities squandered pressed down on her brutally and she suddenly wished with her entire being that she could go back and handle things differently. She shouldn’t have left Regina to sort through her feelings alone and unpressured, she should have been helping her to not only feel them but embrace them. When the emotion between them scared her, she shouldn’t have stepped back and given the brunette space, she should have pulled her closer, held her, and showed her she didn’t have to be afraid. Their love wasn't frightening, it ws beautiful - something to be cherished, not feared.
Breaking, her heart cried out to Regina.
Emma thought of the months of hand holding that could have been filled with loving kisses instead, and the kind words of friendship that could have been soul healing declarations of love. The empty nights that could have been spent together in passion, arms and hearts filled with nothing but each other.
She thought these things and her heart was full of a love she would never have the chance to share and it cried out to Regina.
Even as she splintered, the smell of magic filled her senses and the sound of a gunshot reverberated through the air. Emma snapped back to reality with a jarring suddenness, eyes flying open and arms raised in a futile attempt to protect herself. But even as she tensed for the inevitable pain the scene before her began to filter through her senses and she gasped, feeling herself begin to knit back together. Her brain was still struggling to understand but her heart knew.
Regina was standing between her and a crazed gunman and Emma’s heart cried out.
One flick of a regal wrist and the gun was yards away in the bushes. Another flick and the gunman was cuffed. A third and he was gone in a cloud of purple and suddenly it was just over.
She was alive and it was over.
Regina turned immediately and grabbed her shoulders while raking her eyes up and down Emma’s body urgently, panic and desperation warring across her features. But Emma knew there were no injuries to be found - she felt no pain, only relief. There were no bullet holes or regrets or soul rending chasms of despair. There was only the golden promise of a second chance.
She began to shake.
Regina pushed back with the hands still gripping now quaking shoulders and Emma felt the press of a bench behind her she knew wasn't there seconds ago. It was inconsequential though and she fell onto it, grateful when Regina sat next to her leaving no space between them.
Emma wrapped her arms around her rescuer tightly and buried her head against the convenient collarbone. Exuding comfort, Regina returned the embrace and began to whisper to her in a soothing voice.
"You're perfectly safe Emma, completely unharmed. I won't let anything happen to you."
Regina repeated the soothing words in a calming tone, both working their magic slowly until Emma felt the shaking subside. Her breathing settled soon after and gradually she was able to loosen her vice like grip around Regina's torso.
Regina made no attempt to let go.
"You saved me," Emma mumbled into the convenient collarbone and felt an answering nod.
"I did. You're safe."
"But, how did you know?" Emma was starting to move past the shock of having almost but not quite died and was starting to feel a bit more like herself. A shaky version of herself, for sure (there was definitely a huge breakdown in her future) but for now an eerie calm had settled over her. "How did you know to come here, to this spot right now, to save my life."
Emma felt her protector swallow as the embrace surrounding her tightened almost convulsively.
"With enough emotion, magic can do just about anything."
Emma wasn't in the mood for some cryptic half answer and her brow furrowed. She was tense and still flooded with adrenaline and she pulled back to call bullshit on the standard 'magic is emotion' answer but stopped when her hand slid past something sticky under a very expensive blazer. She knew what it was the moment she touched it but still felt the world dim when she saw the stain of blood on her hand and spreading over Regina's silky white blouse, hidden under the Mayor's layers.
"Jesus Christ Regina, you've been shot! Shit. Shit. Shit!"
Emma started grabbing at the blazer in a panic, trying to get a better look while Regina reached for the frantic hands.
"Emma-" Regina tried to still the blonde but she had her hands slapped away harshly as Emma shoved the blazer back and partially off her shoulders.
"Shit. Shit. Shit."
"Sheriff Swan!" Emma was sufficiently startled by the use of her official title in the official Mayor Mills tone that she froze, panting in her anxiety. It was the response Regina was hoping for and she was finally able to grab Emma's hands and still them.
Regina continued in a gentler voice. "Emma, I’m fine. I promise you."
Emma was still, but not calm - her breaths strangled and inefficient and her hand still smeared in blood. She held it out in front of her where it visibly trembled. "Bullshit!"
"It's a scratch dear, just a scratch." Regina's voice remained calm and soothing, despite the increase in Emma’s pitch and volume. "I’m protected from all manner of projectiles. Bullets are a far cry from arrows but I’m fine."
Emma was just about at the limit of what she could handle from this day and she felt a tear trail down her cheek. "Please, I have to see. Just let me see."
Regina sighed and finished removing her blazer then untucked and began unbuttoning her blouse. Emma grabbed at it frantically and pulled it aside, unwilling to wait for the older woman to finish. And then she could see it, a bullet lodged in Regina's abdomen like her skin was some sort of bleeding bullet proof vest.
Emma sobbed her relief into the cool morning air, her tears flowing freely. She reached towards the bullet, then stopped halfway, overcome with uncertainty.
"Good ahead dear, remove it. It's beginning to sting."
Emma did, gasping when a thick rivulet of blood began to track downwards. Emma's red and watery eyes darted back up to Regina, desperately seeking reassurance.
Regina lifted a hand to cup Emma's cheek, thumb wiping away tears.
"I’m fine Emma and so are you. We are both fine."
She heard the words, but her blurred eyes were back on the wound and she couldn’t stop staring at the trail of blood, evidence of the second second-chance she’d received that day. They’d both almost died.
“Heal it. Please,” she whispered in a desperate broken voice.
Regina shook her head and began to button her shirt back up, partially hiding the distracting sight from view. “Healing oneself requires much more focus than I have right now. I’ll take care of it later. Right now we should get you back to the station.”
Regina paused and eyed her critically. “You’ve had quite a scare. You need to regroup in safety.”
Emma didn’t hesitate for a second, flinging herself around Regina again and holding on tightly, only releasing a breath when strong arms encircled her once more. Emma nuzzled back into her spot against Regina’s collarbone. “There’s no place safer than right here.”
Emma felt the response as a breath against her scalp. “Then here is where you’ll stay.”
Emma soaked up the embrace like a sponge, her overtaxed mind going completely blank for long minutes, aware of nothing other than the strong arms keeping her safe and the gentle hands stroking comforting patterns up and down her back.
But the day hadn’t only been filled with danger, it had been filled with revelations as well, and as Emma calmed she began to feel the weight of the increasing number of second chances she’d been granted. They weren't a gift, she understood in a flash of clarity, they were a responsibility and suddenly the need to honor them became overwhelming.
“Regina?” The query was muffled partially against the ruined blazer and Emma fiddled with the fabric as Regina tilted her head towards her charge.
“I almost died today.”
Emma felt her confident companion tense slightly, clearly affected by the thought, but when she answered her tone was even and calm. “I do not deal in almosts.”
“But, I thought I was going to- I… There was a moment… ” Emma petered to a halt, suddenly petrified and somehow unsure despite the clarity her recent ordeal had gifted her. She closed her eyes and forced herself to feel the feelings again - to let them flow through her as they had just minutes before.
The despair. The regret. The longing.
She felt it all again and her heart cried out, and around her Regina stilled. The comforting hands on her back halted their repetitive motion and the gentle puffs of breath against her scalp slowed to a crawl. Even the heartbeat Emma could feel beneath her cheek eased to a rhythm barely there at all. And just like that, the fear she felt was gone. Her heart had cried out and Regina’s had heard and all that was left was to just say the words.
“I love you.”
With barely any breath left in her lungs Regina could only whisper. “No Emma. You can’t. We’ve been over this… it's not safe for you.”
“Life isn’t safe. I barely avoided getting gunned down in the goddamned park this morning. Me loving you didn't cause that. In fact," Emma's eyes flashed with conviction and even though Regina couldn't see them tucked away protectively under her chin, she could hear the change in Emma voice, daring her to deny it. "I'm pretty sure it's what saved me.
“Emma, it isn’t that simple,” Regina cautioned in a tone laced with sorrow, but never really denying Emma's claim. “You know that. I have lived my life badly and everyone I value eventually comes to harm, either through my own actions or the actions of those I have wronged.”
Emma felt the dampness of tears spreading against her hair and knew Regina was losing her battle for control. “I can't put you in danger," she finished vehemently. "You must protect yourself from me. No matter the cost.”
"Dammit Regina, " Emma exploded, catapulting herself back and out of Regina embrace and causing the older woman to flinch away as well. "I will not die without having loved you! That is not a price I'm willing to pay!"
Regina froze, and stared, and Emma stared right back, anger and love in her eyes at once. Unwilling to give an inch; unwilling to live one more second not sharing her love with this woman.
“Please let me love you.”
She was horrified to feel hot tears streaming down her own cheeks as the woman she loved continued to stare. She was well past any ability to stop them and then it simply didn't matter because Regina was somehow holding her again, tighter this time than she could remember ever being held in her life. The embrace was desperate and fierce and utterly real and Emma soaked it in, feeling parts of her heal that she'd been sure were beyond repair.
"God Emma, losing you will kill me." Always a confusion of conflicting emotions, Regina’s declaration came out equal measures hope and despair and it tugged painfully at Emma’s soul. Even this beautiful moment caused the former Queen pain.
"You're not going to lose me," Emma soothed, all confidence now, believing with her entire soul that she spoke the truth but knowing Regina couldn’t do the same.
"Oh my love. Of course I am."
Emma had no idea how to reply to that. She couldn't convince Regina otherwise. She couldn't force the wounded woman to ignore what experience proclaimed to be a forgone conclusion. Not yet anyway. But still, Regina was cradling her in her arms and whispering of their love and Emma knew she had taken their second chances and used them well. So she just held on, and let herself be held, and kept quiet as her tears dried and Regina continued to whisper promises in her hair.
“I promise you Emma Swan, I will protect you with my last dying breath. And until that day comes, I will love you with every ounce of my being.”
Emma nuzzled closer, feeling the beginnings of true happiness stirring within her as replied simply, "And I promise to be with you always."