When Emma storms off, Hook is ready to follow her. He sets his beer down. “I'll talk to her--”
“No, I'll talk to her,” Regina insists. “Henry is my son. It's my responsibility.”
When she turns to follow, Henry stops her, and hands over his storybook. “This might help, Mom.”
“Thank you, sweetheart,” Regina tells him, cradling his cheek tenderly for a moment. “I'll help her understand.”
Henry gets out of his chair and trails after her to the door. “Don't scare her off, okay?” Henry pleads. “Running's what she's used to. It's what makes her feel safe.”
Regina glances back, surprised once more by how much the year away has changed her baby boy into a young man. “Okay. I promise. Just talking, no magic.” She smiles. “See you soon.”
She tucks the book under her arm and heads out in Emma's direction. She's nowhere to be seen though—in the minute it took to get out the door, she's vanished. Instead of flying blind, Regina sharpens her sense of smell with a little magic (it can't hurt, and Henry won't know). Emma's shampoo is easy to find on the wind, and the nervous sweat accompanies it, along with the shea butter she's been using to soften her skin. Regina knows the scent very well, and with the magic helping her along, it almost makes her feel light headed once she starts to chase it.
It doesn't take long to find her in the park, sitting cross-legged on a bench. A phone is ringing, and it goes unanswered.
“Ms. Swan,” Regina begins as she approaches the bench, and Emma flinches.
“God, can't a girl get a minute alone in this town?” Emma replies angrily.
Instead of biting back, Regina takes a breath, and thinks of Henry's warning. Don't scare her off. “Emma,” she begins again, softening her tone. “I just wanted to talk, not argue. I promise.”
“There's nothing to argue about. This place is nuts. I should think you of all people would want our kid to be safe, and Storybrooke is pretty much the opposite of safe, every day of the year.”
Regina eases down next to Emma, worried that any unexpected motion will spook her. “We both know you're exaggerating,” Regina says. “New York isn't exactly a beacon of safety and happiness either.”
“It was for me, for that one year. It was home, for a whole year,” Emma replies, and to Regina's surprise, there are tears in her eyes. “Nobody wanted anything from me, or Henry. We were just two normal people, living average lives.” Emma sniffs, and turns away for a moment. “Not that you'd understand what that was like,” she adds. “You're anything but average, Regina.”
Regina lifts an eyebrow and retorts, “I'll take that as a compliment.”
Emma chuckles. “It was meant as one. But you never wanted a quiet life, did you? You probably never cared about belonging when you were a kid. I bet you bossed all your friends around the estate. Running your own little queendom even back then.”
Regina can't help but stare. “Sometimes, Ms. Swan, your perception of someone's character is right on target.” She pauses, considering her words carefully. “And other times, you're a complete and total idiot.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“It means that--”
Regina is about to explain exactly what she wishes Emma could understand, when her eye is drawn elsewhere. "What the hell is that?"
Emma turns around, and they both stare at the fire shooting into the sky. "New York is looking better and better," she mutters.
Regina ignores her. "We have to find out what's happening. Come with me?" she asks. She'd rather not ask—she wants to just grab Emma and go, but that would probably just worsen the distance between them.
"Okay, but I won't be much help, I don't have magic anymore--"
"Because of Hook," Regina says. "Don't remind me. What on earth you were doing kissing him--"
"It wasn't a kiss! Zelena tried to drown him. I gave him CPR."
That stops Regina in her tracks, but Emma is already halfway down the path. "You what?"
"He wasn't breathing. I had to give him mouth to mouth. It wasn't a kiss, it was just..." She seems to search for the right words. "Saving his life. Because I couldn't let him die, you know? Zelena cursed him, she cursed both of us. He shouldn't have to die because of me."
The thought rings hollowly in Regina's chest. She knows exactly whereof Emma speaks. "I see," she says, her heart filled with understanding. The jealous anger that Regina has been harboring loosens and drains away. "Come here."
"We've got to get to my car--oh," Emma says, already noticing the unmistakable glow of magic in Regina's eyes. "You're faster, huh?"
"Yes." It's more difficult to take them both, but Regina has a feeling that Emma's magic hasn't really gone far. "Take my hand."
Emma does, and when they reappear in a swirl of violet smoke, lighter than it used to be, Regina realizes her mistake. She's transported them far too close to what is now obviously a portal. "Don't go any closer, Emma--"
"What is it?"
"It must be Zelena's curse, it’s been activated somehow, but I don't see--" Regina pauses. There's only one thing that may have triggered it. Could her sister be dead? And if so, by whose hand? "We should get to the jail, now. There's something very wrong here. We need to check on Henry, and your parents--"
But Emma has let go of Regina's hand, because she is an idiot, and then she's being yanked toward the golden portal. Regina leaps forward to grab her arm, trying desperately to transport them back to the station, but it's too late. The magic of the portal overwhelms everything else, and then Emma is gone, flying into the stream of light.
Regina has only a moment to decide. Stay, and take care of her boy? Or leave, and try and save this woman who has caused just so many problems in her life?
She rolls her eyes, tucks her shoulder bag under her arm, and leaps.
Emma lands hard, face first in the dirt. The wind gets knocked right out of her lungs, and it takes a minute to get the air back into her body. She's coughing and wheezing when there's a thud right next to her. Regina must have a lot more experience in portal jumping, because she's uninjured, still standing after the graceful landing she made. Figures, Emma thinks, and goes back to trying to catch a full breath.
She's turning around in circles when Emma gets to her feet. "Where are we?" she manages to ask, shaking dirt out of her hair.
"Oh hell," Regina replies, approaching a tree. There's a piece of paper stuck to it. Emma's eyes widen. "I think the more pertinent question, is when are we?"
"That looks familiar," Emma says, lurching forward. "I saw it in Henry's book."
"It looks familiar to me too. I had hundreds of them posted all over the land, when I was searching for your mother." She looks accusingly at Emma. "What on earth were you thinking about when you went into the portal?"
"Me? What does it have to do with me?"
Regina exhales, irritated. "I expect you chose this time, whether you meant to or not. If a time portal works as any other portal, it’s a thought that sends you where you land. So, out with it. What were you thinking about?"
Emma's a little embarrassed. "My parents, I guess. You mentioned them, before I got sucked in. And we’d been talking about how they met, when we were at the diner." She was also wondering if they could have imagined that the daughter they'd abandoned would one day want to abandon them in return. She doesn't elaborate, though. Regina doesn't need to know all her secrets.
"Hmm," Regina says, staring down at the picture she'd torn from the tree. "So why would we--”
The sound of thundering hooves sends them both into the brush. "Shit," Emma hisses. "What's that?"
"Could be any number of--" She goes silent, and Emma frowns in her direction. Regina's face has drained of all its color, and her mouth hangs open. "Dammit."
Regina puts a finger to her mouth. "Shh."
Emma's about to ask another question when a carriage comes into view, behind a small army of men on jet black horses. She also notices how close they are to a tiny village just off the road, where people line up and cower. She recognizes Marco, and Pinocchio--August--along with Granny, and a few other faces she can’t put a name to. The carriage door swings open and--
She gasps, audibly. Regina grips her arm, nails digging into the skin of her wrist, staring at a different version of the former Mayor. The woman who emerges from the carriage is angry, and proud, and sneering, and if Emma's honest with herself, she is stunning. Her ensemble is a far cry from the staid pant suits and pencil skirts (however sexy they might be). This woman is wearing a fitted dress coat and--holy fuck--skin tight leather pants.
Regina--circa very Evil Queen--lectures her attentive audience on the perils of harboring the fugitive Snow White, and shows that she means business by revealing a lovely captive who had tried to protect her. Emma can't help but stare at the Regina next to her, comparing the two. The Evil Queen wields her power more naturally than anyone Emma has ever seen, including her own parents, who have done their best to lead in Storybrooke, albeit unofficially. Regina may have been removed from her mayoral position, but behind the scenes, she still runs the town as efficiently as she ever did.
Meanwhile, Regina’s eyes are so sad and lost, it's all Emma can do not to reach out and comfort her. When she swallows, Emma notices that her eyes are wet.
There's a slam, and Emma is startled back into reality. The Evil Queen disappears back into her carriage, and her guards ride off ahead of her with their captive in tow. The people scatter, and Emma finds herself falling back into the grass on her butt. "I -- I don't know what to say."
Regina looks at the dirt, shaking her head. "Don't say anything." Her eyes shut tightly, as if to try and unsee what she's seen. "That's me," she whispers, almost to herself.”That’s who I am.”
"That's not you, Regina," Emma reminds her. "That's the Evil Queen. She's gone now. She's been gone for a while, remember? You're not the same person. You know that."
Her dark eyes come back to life, wild and frantic. "But I can do something about it. I can fix this--I can change everything--"
With that, Regina breaks into a run, and by the time Emma catches up to her, grabbing at her wrist, she's panting. "No!" Emma shouts, before lowering her voice. "You can't. We can't change anything. We can't even try." If this time travel thing works at all like it does in the movies, she and Regina have to get back to the future without affecting any events, large or small. "There would be consequences, Regina. You know that. If we screw something up, I might never be born, which means Henry--"
Regina inhales sharply. "Of course,” she replies, her voice shaking with emotion. "I just wanted to--for a second. Consequences be damned." She swallows and stands straighter. "But you're right. As much as I am loath to admit it, you're right.” Looking around, Regina shrinks back away from the road and into the forest, where Emma follows. “I suppose now we should focus on figuring out how the hell to get back to our own time. We may need help, although I am hesitant to ask for it from the only person who may be able to assist us."
"Oh, no way are we talking to freaking Gold. That is a disaster waiting to happen. There has to be another option. Anything. The fairies, maybe?"
Regina shakes her head. "They would never help me, not even knowing who I am now. Too much blood under the bridge."
Emma shivers at that turn of phrase. "Don't you know any other magical people? Sorcerers or something?"
"None who would assist me. Not even those who could be considered my allies. There's too much risk, and they weren’t a particularly… friendly sort."
"Maybe we can just try and skate by on our own for a while. If we get some new clothes, we won't stand out too much."
Regina turns to her, considering the idea. "I'd have to perform a glamour on the both of us. If anyone saw me, I'd most certainly be captured and taken to my own castle as a prisoner. If I know me, I’d put my own head on a pike as a warning to traitors. But you have to be hidden because no one here can see your face, otherwise they might recognize you later, when you arrive in Storybrooke."
"After thirty years?" Emma asks. "Seriously?"
"Yes, seriously." Regina smirks. "The citizens of the Enchanted Forest have very, very long memories."
Emma feels the hint of a smile on her face, and Regina's matches it. This feels better. This feels like they're in it together, and that they have a chance. "Okay. So, I guess we need some clothes, too. Can you, you know, magic some up?"
Regina eyes her. “What do you think?” She holds out a hand and twirls her fingers, and when Emma looks down, her Storybrooke clothes are gone, replaced by…
“Regina!” Emma yelps, covering up her very exposed, not to mention lifted, chest. “Give me a real shirt!”
“That is a real shirt,” Regina drawls. “Although I’d call it more of a peasant blouse, personally. It suits you. You need to fit in.”
“Is this a corset? And a skirt? No way. Can’t I wear something else? Like, anything else?” Regina’s staring at the sky, ignoring her. “I just saw the other you, and you were wearing pants. Make me some pants.”
Regina sighs in what seems like disappointment. “Well, I suppose we can adapt it.” She waves her hand again, and Emma’s relief is instant. The corset is gone, replaced by a lace-up shirt and leather vest . The skirt is gone too, in favor of soft, tan riding trousers. They fit as well as her favorite pair of jeans, and the boots she wears remind her of the ones that wore out not long after she arrived in Storybrooke. They lace all the way up, past her knees.
“Wow,” Emma says, running her hands down her body in pleasure. “Ever thought about taking up fashion design back home?” When she looks up, Regina is admiring her creation, eyes trailing down Emma’s legs slowly.
“Very nice, if I do say so myself.” She takes a last look at Emma before peering down at her own clothing. “Now, me.” She makes a fist and closes her eyes, and through a plume of lavender smoke, Emma sees a woman dressed all in black. But the leather doesn't seem to fit her properly; it's a little too big for what she was expecting.
“What is that?” Emma blurts, confused.
“I’ve put a glamour on, as I did for you. We see each other as we are, but everyone else will see a man and a woman of reasonable wealth, traveling through the forest. But I’ll need to conserve my magic--I expect I’ll be using it a great deal over the coming days.”
Emma was surprised. “You mean you might run out? I didn’t know you could do that.”
“During your training, didn’t you find yourself drained on some evenings? Physically tired?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I just thought I was, you know, tired.”
“You may have been, but magic is not an endless resource. And without your magic to assist me--” Regina frowns at that, no doubt thinking of Hook-- “I will be on my own.”
“Oh,” Emma says, contrite. “Well, you still have more than anyone else around here except Rumple, so I’m sure it will be okay. Probably.” She glances around the forest and considers their next option. “What do you think we should do?”
“Well, let’s at least head into town and find a place to settle. We can’t stay in the woods. Or at least I can’t. I’ve had enough camping in the past year to last a lifetime.”
“Okay.” They start to walk, moving away from the village where the queen displayed her wrath. They travel in silence for a few moments. “I uh, liked your hat back there.” She grins and catches Regina’s eye.
“Seriously,” Emma insists. “Very stylish. And your hair was as long as mine, or longer.”
“It was the style of the day.” Her lips curl in a smirk. “I remember my first day in Storybrooke. I had short hair for the first time. It was a little taste of freedom. My mother always made me keep mine long, no matter how much I complained.” She looks at Emma’s long mane, trailing down her back. “Yours suits you, though. It’s very… pretty.”
Emma smiles. “Thanks.” She’s a little flustered by this weird conversation. “Sorry I dragged you into this. I really didn’t mean to get stuck in the past.”
“I know. But you would have run--” Regina pauses, listening. Emma does too. “Someone’s coming.” She dashes into the brush, and Emma follows behind. A white carriage comes into view. “Not mine.”
Emma notices the fallen log not far away, and when her father gets out of the carriage, she knows exactly what’s coming. It thrills her to realize that she is about to witness the very first time her parents ever met--what are the chances that she could experience something so magical? She searches above and spies a cloak. Her mother is there, waiting to leap atop the--
She hears a snap, and realizes her mistake when her mother falls from the tree to the ground in a heap, her chances of robbing the princess Abigail and her fiance foiled. By her own daughter. “Oh shit,” Emma whispers.
“That’s your father,” Regina hisses.
“And my mom was supposed to steal his jewels from the carriage. This is the moment they first met.”
“What?” Regina says. “Oh, this is just perfect. So much for not affecting the timeline.”
“It’s not my fault--”
“It most certainly was--”
“It was an accident!”
“Like I haven’t heard that before,” Regina whispers. She glares at Emma, eyebrow raised. “Well you haven’t vanished into thin air. I suppose that’s something.”
“What do you mean?”
“I saw it in a mov--I don’t know, it’s just something Henry told me once. If your parents don’t meet, maybe you’ll start to disappear,” she mutters. “Do you feel ill? Hold up your hand and let’s see how it looks.”
Emma can’t help it--she wants to laugh, really hard. “You saw ‘Back to the Future.’ That’s what you’re talking about.” She waves a hand in front of both their faces. She’s still in one piece, so maybe there’s still hope.
“Whatever,” Regina says. They both watch Snow White disappear into the woods, with no jewels to her name. David and Abigail ride away toward a new destiny, and Emma wonders what the hell she did to deserve this.
Hours pass, and Regina’s stomach growls in the tavern where they have followed Snow White to. Emma’s mother is trying to get passage on a ship to escape from the Enchanted Forest, away from the Evil Queen. Away from the man who would be Emma’s father.
Emma, for her part, seems relatively calm about the fact that her parents have veered sharply away from their destined meeting. Regina is not panicked, but she will be once she starts to think more about the cascading effect of their interference, which will result in her son never being born. Who knew that the snapping of a twig could cause so much chaos?
“So you and Robin seem pretty tight these days,” Emma says, speaking low so no one around their table will disturb them.
Regina nods, but frowns at the same time. “Yes, why?”
“No reason. I just… didn’t think he was your type.”
“I don’t have a type,” Regina replies. “I--we’re meant to be together. I care about him very much, and he makes me happy.” Every word out of her mouth was true. So why did it sound so false to her own ears, and apparently to Emma’s?
“Don’t sound so excited about it,” she drawls. “Jeez. You make it sound like somebody’s forcing you to be with him.” She stares at Regina. “Nobody is, are they? Forcing you, I mean.”
Regina scoffs. “Of course not. We came together naturally, as we worked to defeat Zelena.” But that feels like a lie. She’d been attracted to him first because he was handsome, and available, and reasonably intelligent, and he didn’t look at her as though she were his enemy. They had a bit of chemistry, and then once she’d seen his tattoo, it was so thrilling she simply overlooked the fact that he wasn’t what she was looking for in a lover, or a mate. It didn’t matter anymore that on occasion she didn’t feel like being around him, or that he seemed somewhat uninteresting. His son made him a thousand times more attractive, because Roland was so adorable. Regina couldn’t help herself; she found herself loving children far more than she loved most adults these days. Her own son had been so distant and unavailable, and Roland was so beautiful and sweet that it was easy to care for him and his father as though they were a matched set.
And really, they did have chemistry. She’d enjoyed his kisses and caresses, even though they hadn’t progressed as far as Regina would have liked. She thinks that he still feels loyalty to his departed wife, and Regina knows what that’s like. She has put no pressure on him to extend their affair into the bedroom, just to satisfy an itch that she wants to scratch with the man who is her soulmate.
“Hey, you in there?” Emma asks, waving a hand in front of her face. Regina is startled; she hadn’t realized she’d drifted off into her own thoughts.
“Quiet. We’re supposed to be gathering intelligence,” Regina reminds her.
“You haven’t been paying attention either, don’t give me that,” Emma says, accepting another ale from a busty waitress who doesn’t pay a hint of attention to Regina’s manly form. She thinks she’s done a fine job appearing masculine and handsome, but Emma, even with a different face, attracts eyes from many around the tavern.
But not Snow’s. Snow is in her own world, worrying. Wondering.
“We have to get her that ring,” Emma says. “I’m going to see if anyone knows where David might have gone with Abigail.”
Regina watches her go, and after a breath, uses magic to allow herself to hear what’s going on with Snow yet again. Not unexpectedly, she has made no progress with anyone in the tavern about finding safe passage away from the Forest, but when Regina notices a familiar face across the room, she has an idea. It’s not much of one, but it could work.
She waits, and watches.
And when Captain Hook stumbles into the loo for a piss, Regina makes her move.
When Emma literally bumps into Killian at the bar, she can barely keep the shock from her face. “Uh--”
“It’s me,” he says, straightening his leather vest with his hand and hook.
Emma frowns. He’s not supposed to know her yet--
“Me, Regina,” Hook whispers to her, and Emma rears back, confused. She thought the glamour wasn’t supposed to affect her perception, and if Regina is really Regina, then how can she--
“You weren’t part of the glamour I cast to look like him, so you won’t see me as me,” Regina explains, as though reading her mind. “Hook’s, well, tied up at the moment. So I’ve borrowed his face to help your hapless mother on a quest, for a ring.” Hook’s satisfied, smug expression is so like Regina’s at that moment she knows for sure that it’s her. “Your mother has been instructed to hunt down David and Abigail’s engagement ring, and bring it to me in exchange for a berth on my ship, out of Regina’s reach.” He laughs. “As if an ocean could have kept me from killing Snow White.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Well you never killed her, did you? All your attempts were pretty much a bust. So I think an ocean wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all,” Emma teases.
Regina-as-Hook raises an eyebrow, and Emma likes this. She likes it a lot. She likes Regina more and more when they work as a team.
“Anyway, I’ve got some good info: David and Abigail are at the Midas castle, and there’s a ball tomorrow night. We need Snow to be there. And we should go too, just in case she needs a little help.”
“Perfect,” Regina breathes. “We should feed that tidbit to your mother. She’s looking rather disheartened at the moment.” She sniffs. “Although I hate to kill her bad mood.”
Emma turns to look over her shoulder, where sure enough, Snow is frowning into a pint glass.
“Can you turn yourself back into um, that other guy? That way it won’t look weird if we’re sitting near her talking about it.”
“Mm. I just need a moment.”
Before he--she, rather--turns to go, Emma asks, “You didn’t hurt him, did you? Hook I mean,” she adds in a whisper.
There’s that smirk again. “Only a little. In the morning he’ll just assume his bedmate enjoyed their tryst tremendously. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about, my dear,” she says, before disappearing into the crowd.
Emma wants to feel annoyed about the way Regina just talked down to her, but all she can think about is does Regina think I’m pretty?
It’s easy after that. They park right behind Snow and talk about the ball, and Regina nods when she sees Snow’s head jerk up and tilt as though she is listening. Moments later Snow dashes out into the night, and they nod at one another. Job well done.
“So what do we do now?” Emma asks. “Maybe we should follow her. I don’t know how long it takes to get to the castle, and we should really be there to make sure everything goes right,” Emma says.
“It will take your mother a half-day’s journey to get to the Gold Palace. It will take us five seconds. I, for one, would like a bed for the night and some dinner. I’m starved.” Regina reaches behind her and snags a long, dark hair left behind in the seat. “And I am a far better sorceress now than I ever was in the old days; if we don’t spot her right away at the castle, I’ll use a locator spell.” She wraps the hair around her finger and deposits it in one of the pockets of her poorly-fitted vest, bobbing her head in the direction of the bar. “Use your feminine wiles to get that waitress’ attention, won’t you? I’d like some mead and bread and whatever on the menu that’s not spoiled. Lack of refrigeration in these times really was a problem.”
“My feminine what?” Emma exclaims. “What are you talking about?”
Regina looks across the room, and Emma follows her line of sight. And what’s really weird is that the waitress is actually giving her the eye.
“Oh, don’t look so shocked. We have lesbians in the Enchanted Forest, dear. And none of them is hung up about sex as the women in the modern world, I can assure you.”
Emma blinks. “Oh.” She blushes. When she hears Regina’s low laugh, she grows even redder. And when the waitress approaches and offers to bring Emma whatever she likes, Regina blinks slowly at her and Emma can barely reply. Instead she allows Regina to order some kind of pie and bread and more mead, which Emma really doesn’t need, but she’ll take it anyway.
The food is surprisingly delicious, served hot straight out of a wood-burning oven that gives the shepherd’s pie a smoky, rich flavor. Regina digs in eagerly as well, licking her fingers as she leans over her plate. The mead is much stronger than the beer she used to drink at Granny’s; after another she is lightheaded. Regina seems like she’s affected as well; her eyes grow dreamy and the lines of her brow gentle.
Two more drinks land on the table, courtesy of Emma’s new girlfriend, and Regina toasts her with a grin. Thankfully Regina has magicked up enough money to pay for their dinner plus a room in the tavern, and Emma is pretty sure she’ll pass out if she makes it to the bottom of her stein. When she’s halfway through it, she can’t stop herself from asking Regina one more time about Robin.
“What did you mean before, about you and Robin and meant to be?”
The ease in Regina’s face fades, but she leans her chin on one hand. “Why do you care so much?”
“Because you looked weird when you were talking about him. Like you were trying to convince yourself that you were telling the truth.” Emma shrugs. “I still have my superpower, remember. I can tell when you’re lying.”
Regina’s eyes close and open slowly. “He’s my soulmate. He’s my happy ending.”
“Uh, okay.” Emma sips her beer. “That’s nice, I guess.” Emma doesn’t think it’s nice though. Regina looks like she’s been punched in the gut. “So you really love him?” Regina looks down at her empty plate, and Emma wonders what could be wrong. So she says it. “What the fuck is going on, Regina? I thought you two were happy together.”
“We are,” Regina insists. “It’s complicated.”
“Love shouldn’t be complicated.” The pain on Regina’s face says it all, and Emma gets a very bad feeling. “Is he… hurting you?”
“Of course not,” Regina is quick to respond, and that’s not a lie. Emma’s relief is palpable. “We’re destined. Tinkerbell told me so, many years ago.”
“Tinkerbell?” Emma asks.
The whole story comes out then. How she and Tink met, how she saw the man with the tattoo, and ran, and met him again and didn’t run. Plus everything in between, including the forgotten year in which she and Robin were barely civil to one another.
“So you’re soulmates, and you’re dating, but you don’t really love him,” Emma finally says, because Regina has been the opposite of convincing. “Why are you trying to make yourself believe that you’re supposed to be with him, when he’s not what you want?”
“What do you know of what I want?” Regina snaps, and her speech is slow. The beer is really hitting her, and it’s hitting Emma too.
“I’ve known you for a while, Regina. It’s not that hard to tell what you want. Happiness, family, love. Those are pretty simple.” She frowns, licking her lips. “But I guess you’ve like, never been able to choose what you want in your own life, huh. Must be a pretty hard habit to break.” Maybe more beer isn’t a good idea, but Emma has made a lot of bad decisions lately, so she takes a gulp.
“Excuse me?” Regina snaps, smacking her stein on the table. Emma watches the liquid slop up the side of the mug, flying up and landing on a neighbor. He doesn’t notice, fortunately.
“I mean your mom was in charge of you as a kid. Then it was Snow’s dad, Leo-whatever--” her memory is pretty holey right now-- “then you got conned into casting the curse for Rumpelstiltskin, then you were bossy for about 28 years but it wasn’t like you were really in charge of anything because Storybrooke was pretty dull. You told me that yourself.” Emma sniffs, trying not to be disturbed at how Regina’s angry expression has morphed into one of utter despair. “Then this soulmate thing happens. You just told me you and Robin didn’t like each other in the Enchanted Forest, and not in an ‘It Happened One Night’ kind of way. Now you’re supposed to be all lovey dovey, because he’s got a tattoo. So you go along with it, because those are the rules.” She shakes her head at Regina, who really ought to be smarter about this stuff. “Who says fairydust is always right? Don’t fairies have ulterior motives about everything, anyway? Blue sure as shit seems to. They’re just like Rumple, just like Cora. They want what they want. Maybe the dust was just trying to make you settle, because your real destiny would screw up their plans.” That’s it, Emma thinks. That’s gotta be it. “It’s easier to get you out of the way if you’re playing happy families with some boring forest guy. Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that you might be cut out for something greater?”
Long seconds pass. So many that Emma asks herself if the beer is like pot, and that maybe time is slowing down. But eventually Regina, very quietly, answers, “No.”
Emma blinks. “Huh?”
Regina stands and grabs her bag. “I’m going to the room. Don’t get yourself killed.” She bumps into one of the benches on her way out, ignoring the dirty looks from some of the men at a nearby table. None of them chase after her though, probably because she looks like a pretty sturdy dude.
Emma wonders what the hell just happened.
Regina keeps her eyes closed when Emma stumbles in. She’s only been by herself for half an hour at most, just long enough to calm down and try to block out every idiotic thing Emma said.
Because her words were stupid, and impossible. Fairy dust never lies. That’s what she’s believed her whole life. It has to be true. It has to be.
Even though what her heart tells her, what it whispers on nights like this one is you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, don’t you want to let yourself love another? But if she doesn’t believe in fairy dust, if she doesn’t trust magic, what can she trust?
Some magic is bad for Regina. It twists her and makes her do bad, bad things.
Some magic, on the other hand, is good. It saves her, and it saves Emma.
So is it really possible that this whole dust business might not be the end all be all she’s always thought it was? Can she really make her own happy ending? Choose for herself?
Emma is trying to be quiet, Regina can tell, but she’s about as silent as a moose, knocking into a dresser while pulling off her clothes. Regina didn’t leave her any nightwear, which she now realizes was a mistake, since there is only one big bed for them to share. It hadn’t occurred to her to magically split the mattress when she’d first noticed the one bed, but by now it’s too late. They can’t get a second room, since the tavern is full up.
If Regina can just feign sleep a little longer, Emma will undoubtedly pass out. The mead they’d had was extremely potent, and while Regina may have overplayed her level of inebriation, Emma probably hadn’t. She’s breathing heavily, and Regina hears her slurping something from a cup; she prays it’s water, otherwise tomorrow will be a very long day.
Minutes later Emma crawls into the bed and curls up next to her. Cold feet touch the side of her leg, and Regina is careful not to flinch. Emma nudges closer, and one hand comes to rest on her shoulder. “Sorry, Regina,” Emma whispers, “sorry.”
Something about her tone--perhaps that it doesn’t suggest that Emma plans to push further on what she’d talked about--eases Regina’s mind. It allows Regina to sigh in relief, relaxing into the mattress, and almost enjoying the pressure of the hand gripping her.
There’s a snore not ten seconds later, and Emma is out cold. She’s not loud, and she makes the same kind of snuffling sounds that Henry does when he sleeps. Regina experiences a terrible moment of longing for her son, and she hopes he’s being well taken care of back home. It also makes her turn to get a glimpse of her bedmate, who looks surprisingly young in repose. Not that Emma looks particularly old, but she has lines that were absent when they’d first met; time has added a sophistication and elegance to the sloping planes of her cheekbones. Her face is softer now, round and sweet as she sleeps.
“Regina,” Emma says, and this time Regina jumps at her name, but Emma isn’t awake.
Regina wishes in that moment she could see into Emma’s dreams.
She doesn’t realize she has drifted into sleep until she wakes, spooned around Emma’s warm body. It’s dark in the room, but the noise from the tavern below has quieted, so it must be the middle of the night. She begins to ease away until she realizes that Emma is holding her hand close, and she mumbles in irritation at the disturbance. “Go back to sleep, Regina. You can make fun of me being the little spoon later.”
Her words are surprisingly coherent for a middle of the night quip. Regina finds herself replying, “In the morning, remind me you said that.”
“‘Kay,” Emma says, wriggling her backside against Regina’s belly. The heat of bare skin sends a shock of heat through her, and for a moment, Regina flushes so hot that she wants to pull away. She controls her breath, though, and settles down again, adjusting her arm beneath Emma’s pillow.
It’s not even awkward. It feels right, and good.
What the hell is wrong with her?
When Emma wakes, she is holding a pillow that smells of Regina. She has no regrets, though, of being held in the night, and offered comfort when she had none. It had been nice to be close to someone, especially since that someone made no move to take advantage of either her semi-unclothed state or her level of inebriation.
Hook would not have been quite so honorable, Emma is certain.
But perhaps Regina isn’t attracted to her at all. Maybe she just wanted a warm body to hold too.
She laughs to herself. Nah. At the very least, Regina enjoyed holding her a little too much, because Emma recalls the way her breath had been hot and fast against her neck sometime in the middle of the night. She understands the sensation of a hand on her bare skin, even when it never made a move to go farther than that.
She notices her clothes from yesterday are folded neatly at the foot of the bed, and when Emma takes a whiff she realizes they’ve been laundered. However it was accomplished, by magic or soap and water, Emma is grateful as she carries them to the shared bathroom in the hallway. The room is empty, and she washes in the sink quickly; it’s not as effective as a shower but it does the trick. Back in their room, she makes the bed and settles on the coverlet to wait, and is pleased when less than five minutes pass before Regina returns with breakfast. It’s coffee, strong and dark if Emma’s nose is on target. There’s also crusty bread and fruit, which Regina drops into the middle of the bed without a word. She hands over a mug, which Emma takes eagerly. She moans a little after the first sip; this forest might have terrible plumbing and no refrigeration but the coffee is spectacular.
“There’s fresh milk here too,” Regina offers. “Fresh as in I just watched it come out of the cow.” She lifts an eyebrow as if in challenge, which Emma accepts.
She pours in the slightly not-regular-milk-looking milk and stirs with a bit of grainy sugar, and drinks. “Holy shit, that’s fantastic.”
“There’s something to be said for non-pasteurized dairy now and then,” Regina sighs, sipping from her own mug. “I suppose we should be on our way soon. We can at least travel some of the way without using magic. I don’t want to wear myself out.”
“Should we get closer then roam around? I don’t want to miss the ball, so if you think there’s any risk, we can--”
“Fine,” Regina says shortly. “There’s a village outside the castle walls. I’m sure you will find plenty to entertain yourself with there.”
Emma frowns. “And how will you be entertaining yourself? You’ll be with me, right?”
Turning her back on Emma and primping in the tiny looking glass, Regina replies, “I suppose if you need the company I will.”
Around a too-large bite of bread and an oily nut spread that is unlike any peanut butter Emma has ever had, she mumbles, “It’s not like you can go around doing Queenly things here. You’re already doing that at your castle or wherever. Which reminds me,” she begins, after swallowing with some effort, “Where is your castle?”
“Some distance from here,” Regina says. “Nearly forty miles, I’d say. It’s flanked by the most spectacular mountain range at the south. It really was a magnificent palace.”
Emma hears the sound of loneliness in her tone, and wonders if Regina had found any pleasure, any real happiness, while living behind its walls. Judging from the expression on her face, Emma doubts it.
They finish their breakfasts in silence, as Regina gazes out the window into the haze of early morning.
Once they get on the road, Emma can think about only one thing: how much she hates humidity. It’s cool here but her skin feels damp all the time, and she started sweating as soon as they set foot outdoors. They pass few other travelers, but before long Regina urges her into a dense patch of woods and takes her by the arm. “All right, don’t think anything at all, do you understand? Don’t think about home or Henry or castles or anything.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Well now I’m thinking about all those things. What are you up to?”
Through gritted teeth, Regina answers, “I was going to transport us to the forest near the Midas castle, so we can be close by. So I suggest you don’t accidentally counteract the spell with your own desires. Do you understand, Miss Swan?”
Emma can’t help but grin at the name. “I don't have magic. You still think I might screw it up?”
“No,” Regina says, still exasperated. “But I don't want to take any chances. Think about the coffee you drank this morning. That should keep your focus for the ten seconds that this spell will take. Are you ready?”
“Mm hmm,” Emma says, and she really is thinking about the cup of coffee, and she’s thinking so hard about it that when Regina casts her spell and they move the dozens of miles closer to Midas’ castle, she’s holding a remarkably modern looking paper cup in her hand. “Um, wow. Did you do that?”
Regina stares at the cup, and for a moment, Emma thinks she’s going to smile. But she doesn’t, and the moment is lost.
Emma drinks the coffee. It’s pretty good.
Considering how very few articles of clothing Emma Swan owns, she apparently really loves shopping. Regina trails after her in the marketplace for nearly two hours, as Emma holds up trinkets and snacks and leather trousers as though she has never seen such things before. She insists on buying a few items with the money Regina has stashed in her still-too-large vest. Mostly Emma’s puppy dog eyes don’t work on her, but Regina feels weak since they’ve been on their own together. She even agrees (although she insists on looking irritated by the request) to purchase the little fried dough balls that are reasonably close to the modern donuts Emma loves.
Emma does not notice when Regina sneaks two, wolfing them down when her back is turned.
A minute later, Emma keeps her eyes on the handmade purses in front of her when she tells Regina, “You’ve got powdered sugar on your chin.”
Regina wipes it away quickly, but Emma just smirks. “Gotcha.”
“Brat,” Regina snaps, but she doesn’t really mean it, and Emma just laughs.
Emma tires herself out around midday, and they settle in the town square, while Regina thinks about ways to get some time to herself. The problem is not that she needs it, but that she doesn’t need it; she is actually enjoying Emma’s company. She is silly, and forgetful, and incompetent. She is thoughtful, and attentive, and interested in everything Regina does or thinks. She wanders about but never goes more than a few feet away, always looking over her shoulder to check that they’re still within arm’s reach of each other.
Was it always this way between them, and did Regina just not notice before now?
And why doesn’t she miss Robin? If he were here by her side, this day would be so different. But it wouldn’t be better. That is troubling.
“Hey,” Emma says, catching Regina off guard at her close proximity. “You okay?”
Regina nods wordlessly, looking away.
“I know it’s hard to be away from him,” Emma says. “I’m sure he’s fine.”
“Of course he’s fine, he’s a grown man,” Regina replies, irritated that Emma could so easily identify where her thoughts had been.
There’s a pause, and Emma tilts her head with a narrowed gaze. “I meant Henry.”
“Oh,” Regina replies, feeling stupid, like a bad mother for not thinking of her child every moment of her absence. “Of course. I expect your parents are taking very good care of him.”
“Yeah,” Emma says in reply, but her suspicion remains.
Regina wishes she could put some space between them, but that’s not going to happen. Not for a while, anyhow.
Their silence is long, so much so that Regina finds herself uncomfortable with it. Emma has grown contemplative, her attention focused now on the ground rather than the booths and swarms of people around them. It’s only when Regina is about to snap that Emma finally turns to her and speaks.
“You know, I was serious when I said that I only kissed Hook because he was drowning.”
Regina just stares at her. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me,” Emma says, keeping her eyes on the pouch she purchased and has filled with her wares. She removes an apple and uses a small knife to cut it into quarters, then eighths. She hands a slice to Regina. “I have no idea why Zelena was so sure that I’d be interested in kissing him, but it took her attack to make me go anywhere near his mouth. Anyway, I just want you to know that if I had to pick sides, I’d choose yours. Okay?” She munches on an apple slice, and waits for Regina to respond.
“What do you mean, pick sides?”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. Hook’s done a lot of crappy things. I know you two worked together because of Henry when we were in Neverland, but he also let you be tortured by Greg Mendel. He let you get taken to jail for killing Archie when he wasn’t even dead. He worked with your mother and would have probably been very happy if you’d been executed for your fake crime.” She swallows the last of the apple. “How am I doing?”
“I see,” Regina says, recalling how Hook made her believe that her own mother was dead, so many years ago. And probably did countless other things to make her life miserable. It's better that she doesn't know more.
“I mean, I did kiss the guy once after he saved my dad from dying, so I’m giving myself a pass on that. He cares about me, but he’s mostly a misogynist jerk with a weakness for doing the right thing as long as it saves his own ass. That’s not enough to make me fall for him.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Regina asks, genuinely curious.
“I don’t know, really,” Emma says, continuing to pick at her snack. “I wanted to tell you, that’s all. I like it when we’re working together, especially since if we screw this mission up, I’m toast. If we get it right, I’m going to owe you bigtime.” She grins at Regina. “And that’s gotta be pretty appealing, doesn’t it? Me owing you my life, and Henry’s at the same time?”
“I suppose it does, Miss Swan,” Regina tells her. That is partially true. But it’s starting to feel to Regina like she just wants to help Emma for the sake of doing it, because Emma has become important to her.
Because of this, Regina spends the rest of the afternoon scowling in Emma’s direction, and hoping that she doesn’t seem too obvious.
When the sun sets, Regina works her magic, preserving their glamours to appear as a man and a woman, but far better dressed than before. She clothes herself in her favorite masculine finery, dark and well oiled to a smooth sheen, dotted with a jewel here and there. The white shirt she wears beneath her vest is not cut as low as she wears back home, but it’s comfortable and allows her as much freedom of movement as possible. For Emma, she sticks with something that she’s always liked her in: blue. Darker than royal, the material hugs her frame and flares below her hips, falling in a curtain that sways with her movement. Its sweetheart bodice is not nearly as scandalous as Regina’s own dresses once were, with a tasteful neckline and short straps that show the savior’s arms in all their powerful glory. Her blonde hair is piled on her head with a few coiled braids peeking out here and there, and Regina nods as she takes in her creation.
In a word, Emma is magnificent.
When Emma has finished gaping at herself, she takes in Regina’s ensemble in silence. She meets Regina’s eyes only briefly. “You look okay too.”
“Thank you,” Regina replies, unsettled by the thickness of the air between them. The tension is back, and she just wants to get to the party, shove Snow White in the general direction of Charming, and go home. “Let’s set ground rules. Say as little as possible to anyone inside the party. And that goes for both of us. Anything we do could affect the future. And for god’s sake, don’t drink tonight. We both need to be as coherent as possible.”
Emma scoffs. “I’m not that dumb. Do they even serve water at these things?”
Regina ignores her. “The goal is to make sure Snow White finds the ring and escapes unscathed. As long as she has the ring, I can only hope that the timeline will reset itself. All right?”
“Got it. No talking, no drinking, no attracting attention to ourselves.” Emma holds out her elbow for Regina to take. “Ready to go, Prince Han?”
“That’s your fake name,” Emma explains. “You’re Han, I’m Leia. Get it?”
Regina does get it. She gets it very clearly, and feels the flush of embarrassment creeping up her neck. Why is Emma naming them after a very romantic couple who ends up together? “No, I don’t.”
Emma’s face contorts in confusion, and before she can ask Regina anything more, Regina waves her hand and poofs them to the Midas Castle.
Once inside, Midas approaches, and though she is nervous, Emma calls on her 18-year-old self with a fuck-it-all attitude and no fear persona. “I am Princess Leia,” she explains, and before Regina can interrupt, she adds, “and this is Prince Han, of Corellia.” Midas nods as if he knows exactly where that is, and leaves them alone. Emma looks at Regina sideways, still curious that she denied knowing where the names come from.
She’s totally seen Star Wars. All of them. Multiple times. Emma knows this because Henry had told her once, long ago, that he and his mom used to have annual viewing parties of all three movies at their house, just the two of them. That was before Henry had started to hate her, and before the Book.
Regina snags two glasses of champagne off a nearby tray, and before Emma can say a word, she downs one, then the other. “What happened to not drinking tonight?”
Regina doesn’t even look over. “I just meant you.”
Emma rolls her eyes. “Whatever.” She looks out over the group of people milling about, and spots Kathryn, looking bored and irritable. “There’s Kathryn. That’s good right?”
“Mm, it's Abigail here,” Regina mutters. “Your father must be nearby. Let’s move closer.”
They do, and when the crowd parts, Emma sees a large floor, populated with couples dancing to the string music being played nearby. It looks both silly and sweet, as the men lift their partners briefly before setting them down and spinning them around. “Oh, geez.”
“What, are you afraid of a little dancing, Miss Swan?”
“Hey, can it with the Miss Swan stuff. It’s Leia. At least pretend like you don’t want to screw this up for me.”
Regina looks at her sharply. “I most certainly do not want to screw this up for you, Miss… Leia.” She swallows, and their eyes meet. “I apologize. I assure you, I am taking this very seriously.”
Emma bobs her head, and she can see how very sincere Regina is. She reaches out for a hand, and Regina takes it cautiously. “Maybe we should dance. You know, try to blend in. Can you lead?”
“I--I--” Regina stutters, looking at the dance floor with uncertainty. “I suppose.”
Without another word, Regina takes Emma in her arms with grace and confidence, and begins their first dance together. She holds Emma firmly, hand hot across her back. Emma can feel the press of each one of her fingers, and for some reason, that makes her ears get hot. Their palms are slightly clammy as they press together--is one of them sweating? Maybe it’s both of them. Regina is light on her feet, but somehow she directs Emma with as little as the press of her fingers or the tilt of a shoulder. Emma’s never danced like this, not with anyone, and certainly she’s never been led across a dance floor by someone as skilled as this.
The soft candlelight spills across Regina’s skin, illuminating it and at the same time, casting it with soft shadows. Being this close, she marvels at the perfect line of her cheekbone, and the intricate shell of her ear. Even the tiny crinkles at the corners of her eyes, hidden so perfectly by makeup, draw Emma’s gaze. She smells good, like leather and flowers and just a hint of musk.
Emma leans closer, because she has to. It feels nice to be held like this. Beyond that, it feels safe, like Regina really would do anything to take care of her. She watches Regina’s eyes close, and for a moment, it’s like they’re together. Emma doesn’t bother to pretend anymore, to herself or anyone else. It’s good, and right, and she wants to put her head on Regina’s shoulder and forget about the world. Instead, she holds the hand in hers just a little more tightly, and waits each second for soft breaths against her ear.
When the song ends, they step back and stare at one another. A line has been crossed, Emma thinks. She smiles a bit, and says, “I would have thought you would be more of a follower.”
Regina’s mouth curves, and she catches just a taste of the Evil Queen in it. Emma’s toes would curl in their shoes if there was room. “I find that hard to believe,” Regina drawls, her eyebrow raised in challenge.
Emma is trying to come up with an appropriate quip when she is distracted by a familiar face: Charming, striding across the room as if on a mission. Kathryn seems glad to see him go, and he vanishes behind a heavy door. Maybe he’s on his way to--
There’s a crash of metal as the doors to the ballroom fly open.
It’s fucking Regina. The Evil version 1.0, and before Emma can get any further in her analysis, nearly 100% of her attention is drawn by her dress, black and sparkly and tight and scary looking. “Shit,” she murmurs. “You didn’t tell me you were going to be at this party!” Emma hisses. “I mean other you!”
“I forgot,” Regina whispers back frantically. At Emma’s look of disbelief, she adds, “It was more than thirty years ago! Believe me, nothing memorable happened at this one, I’m certain. Snow White certainly wasn’t supposed to make an appearance. If you hadn’t screwed up the timeline, she’d be off sleeping in a log somewhere, trying to evade capture. So don’t blame me for this.”
Emma considers this, and of course Regina is right. Snow wasn’t supposed to be on her way here at all. “Okay, so I guess we just… ignore you. Her. You know what I mean.”
Regina nods. “Agreed.”
The music starts up again, and the rest of the crowd goes back to their own conversations, if a little more softly than before. Emma’s posture is stick straight as she and Regina move across the floor, and there is far less enjoyment this round. Neither of them does anything other than watch the Queen surreptitiously.
“She can’t tell we’re glamoured, can she?” Emma asks.
“If she tried hard enough. But she won’t bother. She cares about only one thing, and that’s finding Snow. Who would have no reason to show up here.” She snorts. “Except now she does.”
Emma blanches when she remembers something Regina said yesterday. “If the Evil Queen found out who we are, who you are, she’d kill you.” Regina’s mouth firms into a flat line. “She’d kill you a lot.”
“I realize that Miss--” She swallows, and takes a breath. “Leia. She would also kill you, even having no idea who you are. Believe me, I was not interested in taking prisoners and keeping them around unless they served a purpose.” Shaking her head, Regina’s eyes go distant. “I wasted so much of my life, and so many others. I regret it.”
Emma wants only to reassure her, to make her understand that she is not the only one with regrets, but there’s a murmur amongst the guests. A guard rushes toward Midas, and Emma hears him mutter words, “The bandit Snow White, here? Get her!”
They look at each other and cross the room, headed for the balcony. Just as Emma throws open the exterior door, she spots her mother, hoisting herself up and over the turrets to escape down an anchored rope. Emma rushes over and watches Snow descend the wall and run to her horse. Above them, they hear Charming shout, “You can’t hide from me! Wherever you are, I will find you!”
Emma looks over at Regina, who meets her gaze at the exact same moment. “She must have stolen the ring.” Grinning, she adds, “We did it!”
“It appears we did,” Regina replies, and there is a satisfied smile on her face that disappears almost as soon as it arrived. But Emma knows that she’s happy, and that’s enough.
She can’t even think about how happy they are, because Regina lunges past her so quickly that Emma doesn’t know what’s happening. There’s the whoosh of an arrow leaving its bow, and Emma realizes that a guard has fired upon her mother. Emma’s eyes chase the weapon and watch it hit a tree. Regina has just saved Snow White’s life.
“You bastard,” the guard shouts. “That was the bandit Snow White! The queen will have your head for this!”
“No, she won’t,” Regina says, grabbing Emma’s arm and undoubtedly preparing to poof their way out of the castle.
“Oh, I think she will,” the Evil Queen says from the doorway, a serpent’s smile curling her lips. “I think she will have both your heads. She might even hang them both upon her gates as a reminder to the people that traitors to the crown will be punished.” She steps closer to the two of them, eying Regina, then Emma, with suspicion. Regina’s hand tightens around her forearm, ready to fight their way out if the glamour breaks.
“Take them away,” the Queen says, turning her back and sauntering into the party once more.
Guards swarm around them, hauling them in the opposite direction. She waits for Regina to get close enough, reaching her hand out so they can have a few minutes of a head start at least to get the hell out of here. Their fingers are only inches away when one of the guards bashes Regina on the head, and the light goes out in her eyes. She’s unconscious. Which means they’re on their way to the Queen’s dungeon.
She barely registers the dark corridors of the Midas castle, and then the pounding of hooves after they’re both tossed into a cage completely exposed to the elements. She feels like an animal in the zoo, and she watches the trees stream by in the darkness. Regina’s head rests in her lap, blood oozing from a wound at the back of her skull.
If she’s lucky, they’ll let them stay together, assuming Regina doesn’t die from her injury. If they’re unlucky, they’ll both be executed tomorrow.
Emma wonders if she dies in this timeline, will she be born to Snow and Charming as the Savior? She thinks so. Regina will cast the curse as planned, and Emma will end up living the same life, only to end up here, dying in a time and place not her own.
What a fucking disaster.
When Regina wakes, her head is splitting, and her mouth feels like it’s full of sand. When she takes a breath, she can tell she’s got a cracked, if not broken, rib.
“They kicked you while you were down,” a voice whispers. It’s a woman with dark eyes and long, chestnut hair cascading over her shoulders. “Can you breathe?”
Instead of answering, she replies, “Where is Emma?”
The woman blinks. “I don’t know. Is that the woman who was brought in at the same time?”
Regina tries to nod, but it hurts. She sits up gingerly and leans against the bars. Carefully she slips a hand inside her jacket and tests her magic. To her unending relief, it works, and the pain lessens as she expends what little energy she has. She is conservative and stops before the pain fades completely, but at least it’s better and she can draw a full breath. She will have to leave her head injury alone for now. It occurs to her that if Emma were here, she would be able to draw strength from her. Not magical strength, but comfort just in her presence.
Of all the people in the world she could have at her side right at this moment, she wishes for only one. The longing for Emma is almost unbearable, and it’s only then that Regina knows that she needs to end things with the man who is supposed to be her soulmate. She can’t love him, not the way she does Emma.
“Damn,” Regina mutters. “I am in terrible trouble.”
The woman across from her smiles wistfully. “We both are. Tomorrow, we die.”
Regina just laughs. “We’ll see.” She’s already feeling better, between the improvement in her ribs and the knowledge that she has must find Emma and somehow get them home. “What’s your name?” Regina asks.
“I dare not tell you. I don’t want to put my family more at risk than they already are. The Queen will send her guards against my husband and child if it’s discovered who I am.”
Finally Regina realizes that this is the woman they saw yesterday on the road, captured for having aided Snow. “You helped the bandit Snow White, I take it?”
“I knew of her location, but by the time the Queen drew the truth from me with magic, Snow had already vanished. The guards said I was one of her more stubborn victims. Usually people confess straight away.” The woman looks proud at her achievement, and Regina is flooded with shame, hot and thick as tar. “Being separated from my family has been more than I can bear. But I have made my peace with God and will die knowing I did what is right and true. I only wish that my boy would know how much his mother loved him. I fear he will not remember me as he grows older.”
Swallowing against a dry throat, Regina reaches out. Their hands clasp tightly. “I have a son. I want to see him again. And there is someone… I care deeply for. Someone I want to love.”
“I am sorry we are in this plight together. If we were being held near Locksley, I have no doubt that we would be freed by morning with the help of my friends. But with the magical bounds around the prison, no one can escape. There is no hope.”
In the back of her mind, Regina recalls the magic she cast around her prison, keeping out those who would break in in order to break someone out. She won't have trouble with that. But mostly she’s focused on a single word the woman has spoken. “Locksley?”
“Yes. I have many… compatriots there who would kill or die to rescue me. If only they knew I was still alive.”
A few seconds tick by as Regina stares, open mouthed, at the woman across from her. She’s almost afraid to let the words come, but she forces them out. “Are you--are you Marian?”
The woman jerks her hand back from between the bars. “What?” Her eyelids shut in anguish. “You’re a spy, sent by the Queen’s guard to coerce me into revealing my identity. And I fell for it. How foolish, how idiotic I am! Damn it all to hell!” Marian hisses, turning her back and rushing to the other side of the cell.
Regina stands and presses close to the bars. “No, it’s not that, I swear. But I know--I know Robin. And your boy, Roland. I know them very well.” When Marian turns toward her in astonishment, Regina tries to explain further. “Do you really believe the Queen’s spy would know the names of every thief in the kingdom, much less one from as far away as Locksley? No, I swear to you on my son’s life that I
truly know Robin. And I know how much he loved--” Regina pauses, stunned. “Loves you.”
It sinks in then. She’d killed the wife of the man she was destined for.
It’s too horrible. And it shouldn’t happen. Regina makes a decision then, calm and sure of herself.
It won’t happen. Not again.
“Do you really know him?” Marian pleads.
The sting is less now, because she will right a single wrong from her past. There will be consequences. Many, she is certain. Probably uniformly bad. “I do,” Regina says. “And damn the consequences.”
“Pardon?” Marian says.
When Regina turns to the locks, preparing to release them, there are footsteps. She moves into the darkness, only to have her heart leap nearly out of her chest at the sight of Emma. She’s still dressed in her evening finery, only a little worse for the wear. “Hey! Thank goodness you’re conscious, I was worried we’d be stuck in here for longer. Let’s go.”
Regina opens the lock with a wave of her hand and steps out, hearing Marian’s gasp. “How did you get out?” she asks.
Emma points to the pins in her hair. “I’ve still got it. Picked the lock in five minutes flat. Come on,” she says, heading down the corridor, only to be stopped by Regina.
“Wait. We need to--” she turns back to Marian, who doesn’t speak. She is clearly confused. “We need to take her with us.”
Emma gapes. “Regi--er, Han, no. We talked about this. We’re not supposed to do anything to affect the, uh, you know.”
“We already have, no matter what we might think. And I know for a fact that this woman will be killed unless we intervene.”
“But you said it yourself, it could have consequences that we could never imagine--”
“We need to bring her forward with us. That way the only consequences will be in the future, our future, not the past. And this time, I’m willing to take the risk.” Regina reaches out and takes Emma’s hand. It’s warm and firm in hers, like it’s meant to be there. “Will you take the risk with me?”
Emma pauses, looking long and deep into Regina’s eyes. This time, Regina doesn’t move away when Emma’s breath mingles with hers, and when their lips brush against each other, their sighs of relief match. “Yeah,” she whispers. “I will. For you.”
Regina doesn’t even turn back to release the lock; she simply waves her free hand in the cell’s direction and listens to the clank of metal as it opens. Marian races toward them. “I--thank you. Thank you so much.”
“You’re free on one condition. I want you to come with us. We’re looking for a magical portal, and we may need an extra set of hands. Are you willing?” Regina asks.
“Of course. I owe you a debt I can never repay. I am at your service.”
“Then take my hand,” Regina says. “And trust me.”
“I do,” Marian says.
Emma slides an arm around Regina’s waist. “Want to make sure we don’t get separated.”
“Mm,” Regina hums, and tries not to look too happy. Only then does she feel the thrum of energy coming from next to her; Emma has magic again. As usual, it is powerful, and Regina feeds off of it to make herself strong and well. She uses more to dismantle the magical binding that would have kept them here had Regina not known exactly the spell cast on their prison. Moments later they are gone, back in the forest only steps from where they first arrived. If Emma hadn’t been with her, she never would have been able to transport them all so easily. Emma hasn’t noticed the change in herself, so Regina decides not to draw attention to it. “We’re here.”
Now that they are in the forest, Emma has no idea what to do. How do they open a portal when, in theory, no one has ever been able to cast a time travel spell before? They used Zelena's magic to get here, and now, they have nothing. Emma doesn't even have magic.
She has never felt so helpless.
But Regina's arm slips from around her waist, and their hands come together again. Their eyes meet, and it's so right that Emma can hardly stand it. How could she have not seen it before, that they are such a perfect match? She wants to kiss those soft, pliant lips again, to disappear into Regina's softness, but the woman Regina transported with them is here, and she's probably staring at them while they stare at each other.
The lady clears her throat, and Regina is startled into stepping backwards. “I'm sorry for intruding, but I am... confused. Who are you, and if you had magic, why did you allow yourselves to be captured by the Evil Queen?”
Emma opens her mouth to explain at least part of the story, until she thinks better of it. “It's kind of a long story.” She glances at Regina. “I'm more interested in how you've become part of our little team.”
Now Regina's eyes have gone from affectionate to guilty. “Well, you see, this... is Marian.”
“Okay...” Emma says, nodding at the woman. “Am I supposed to know who... that...oh you have got to be kidding me.” The reality of just who Regina has rescued bursts across her brain in a flash. “Like Maid Marian, hitched to Robin Hood, who we just happen to have left back home?”
“You know my husband too?” the woman asks. “Is he well? Is Roland? And how did you come to meet them? They stay so hidden in the forest that I am surprised you could've come in contact with them, unless they rescued you from harm's way.” She smiles knowingly. “Robin is a noble man, as are all those who serve at his side.”
“What the fuck, Regina? We can't take her with us! You know that!”
“You said you would! For me!” Regina snaps.
“Well that was before I knew—goddamn, this is bad. This is very bad! We can't change this—we can't.”
“We already have,” Regina says, and Emma realizes it's true. “She was meant to die tomorrow morning. She won't now. What's done is done. And nothing you say could ever convince me to return her to the dungeon.”
The weight of the choice they've both made sits heavily on Emma's shoulders, and she turns to Marian, who is frowning at Regina. “Why did you call him Regina?” Marian asks.
Emma's eyes widen, and all thoughts of conflict with Regina vanish. “Uhhh,” she vamps, wishing she'd thought before she'd spoken. “It's a nickname?” she tries.
“That is an unusual nickname for a man,” Marian adds, narrowing her gaze. “Who are you?”
Emma looks over at Regina, who takes a deep breath and waves a hand above her head. In a moment there is a faint flash of light, and they are back in their street clothes from Storybrooke.
Marian gasps so hard she chokes on her own breath, stumbling back into a tree. She begins to run, but Regina reaches out with her magic and captures her, dragging her back as she screams in terror. “I will not be captured again, I just wanted to see my son--”
Emma hauls off and cracks her across the jaw, because a knockout punch is probably safer than anything Regina would have tried.
“Miss Swan, there are less violent ways to incapacitate an uncooperative prisoner,” Regina drawls.
“Like you ever aim for the less violent option,” Emma says, and she can't help but grin. “Hell, Regina, what were you thinking?”
Dark eyes soften, and Regina says, “I was thinking that I didn't want Marian to die by my hand, and if I could fix that, I would. Robin deserves to have love, and Roland deserves to have a mother who loves him.” She comes closer, and Emma's heart stutters in her chest. “I killed many people, Emma Swan. Let me save one. That's all I ask.”
“It could change everything,” Emma reasons, but her resolve is already weakening.
“Yes, it could,” Regina whispers. “For me.”
So Emma gathers her close once again and nods. “Okay. Robin may never forgive you,” Emma tells her. “I want you to know that.”
“It wouldn't be the first time.”
Now their plight is slightly worse than it was before; they need a way home, and have to haul a hundred twenty pounds of dead weight along with them. “What do we do?” Emma asks finally.
Regina slumps on the log they hid behind when they first arrived. “I'm out of ideas.”
Emma's looking at the log though, remembering. “Hey, where'd you stash Henry's book?”
“Oh,” Regina says mindlessly, leaning over to peer inside the hollow wood. “Here. I made it invisible, but-- yes, here it is.” She hands over the bag, and Emma takes it.
It falls open to a page that shows the new version of her parents' story—one in which Snow steals the ring from Charming's room in the Midas castle, rather than the carriage. But the rest of the story continues on as originally constructed. David captures Snow, there’s a fight on the troll bridge, fairydust is used, etcetera. That is a relief to Emma, mainly because it means she’ll be born. And so will Henry. “It always surprised me how little of your story is in this book,” Emma sighs. “You’re just a means to an end.”
“Yes,” Regina says, settling next to her. She traces over the form of the queen with no face, her fingers trembling. Emma takes her hand.
“Zelena’s not in here,” Emma says, flipping through the pages and coming up empty. “There’s nothing about Oz or flying monkeys or scarecrows or anything.” She has a sudden thought. “If Zelena was the wicked witch of the west, are you the wicked witch of the east?”
“You mean the one that spends the whole story dead?” Regina quips. “I should hope not.”
“I used to be really scared of that movie, you know. Not of the witch though. I was scared of that red hourglass. Because when it runs out of sand, you die.” She looks around, waiting for an ax to fall on her own head. “Maybe we should try getting home like Dorothy did. Click your heels together and all that.”
Regina lifts an eyebrow. “That’s not such a terrible idea.”
Emma snorts. “Even if I thought it would work, it’s not like I have any magic. I wouldn’t even be able to help.”
With a frown, Regina nudges closer. “You do have magic, Emma.”
“No,” she reminds Regina. “I lost it when Hook--”
Regina leans forward and kisses her again, and Emma is entranced by the taste of her mouth, the shape of her lips. She hums gently. “Don’t you feel that?” Regina asks in a low voice.
“I feel something,” Emma says, her eyes still closed. “It’s a good something.”
“Not that, idiot,” Regina snaps, but there is affection in her voice. “Look.”
When Emma opens her eyes, their hands are pressed together, and there’s a white glow around their fingers. “Holy shit. Is that you?”
“It’s us. You and me, together. You’ve always had magic in you, Emma Swan. No one could ever take it away.”
Emma stares in wonder, and with her eyes open, she kisses Regina once more, searching for more of that good something she’s wanted her whole life. It’s more than just magic; it’s a sense of completion, that the thing she’s doing is the exact thing she’s meant to. When the glow intensifies, she clicks her heels together three times and murmurs, “There’s no place like home.”
A portal opens. Their portal. The one that will take them home.
Regina can’t help it--she laughs as the gold light leaps into the sky. “Well done, Miss Swan.”
“Are you gonna call me that when we’re in bed together?” Emma asks, unable to look away from the vision before them.
“If you’re lucky,” Regina murmurs, and tightens her grip on Emma’s hand.
“You think this is really going to take us home?”
Turning to Emma, Regina swallows back her pride, and her fear. “I do. But wherever we end up, I--I think we’ll survive as long as we’re together.”
“Together.” She nods. “Yeah.”
They haul Marian between then, and with their arms clinging to one another, they jump. The ground flies up at Regina harder this time; the dead weight of another human drags her down and she bangs one knee into the dirt. The good thing is that it is dirt, and nothing more foreign than that. They are in their own world, near Zelena’s home, and the phone near the portal is still ringing.
“Oh fucking fuck,” Emma curses, rolling away while holding her elbow. “Ow, ow, ow.”
Regina spits sand and soil and wipes her mouth with the sleeve of her jacket. “Let me see.” She crawls over, favoring her injured leg, and notes that Emma’s arm is bent the wrong way. “Fucking fuck indeed. Here,” she says, and cradles the elbow with her palm. “Shh,” she says, and closes her eyes. Emma groans in relief as the bone knits back together. She has not often taken the opportunity to perform healing magic in recent years, but Emma’s power has given her own battery quite a powerful recharge. “Better?”
“Yeah,” Emma says, and tests out her limb. “I owe you. Wow, that is awesome.”
Regina gives her knee a little poof of magic then and feels the swelling go down instantly. Only then does she inspect their guest. Marian seems none the worse for wear; she is still unconscious, and they might as well wake her.
“I'll grab her if she freaks out,” Emma says.
Regina reaches down and touches the back of Marian's head, hoping she will wake calmly. The gentle trickle of magic helps, and she opens her eyes slowly. When she recognizes her captors, she sits up and looks around. The portal has closed, and it's dark, but she clearly senses something has changed. “Where am I? And who are you if not Regina?”
Regina glances at Emma, whose brow is furrowed. “Hey, it's like this,” Emma says. “We've um, jumped forward in time. It's pretty complicated to fill in the blanks, but this is Regina, just not the bad version. She's way older--” Regina frowns at Emma-- “uh, and wiser, and she doesn't kill people anymore. Unless you know, they deserve it. Or they're threatening her family.”
Marian looks skeptical. She crosses her arms in front of her.
“And through I guess what you could call a series of unfortunate events, lots of people from the Enchanted Forest got brought to a new realm, and two of those people are Robin and Roland. The merry men, too. But the thing is, you, till now, everyone thought you were dead. Because you were, till we went back in time to do some other stuff, and Regina decided that she had to save you.” Emma looks to Regina for some assistance. “Any ideas?” she asks.
“That is the most ridiculous story I have ever heard,” Marian states, standing and brushing herself off. “I am not staying with either of you. I'm going to find a way home--” She stops once she sees Zelena's farmhouse, the tractor out front, the windmill spinning away, the fields of nothing but farmland. “What is this place?” she breathes.
“I think she's not in Kansas anymore,” Regina quips.
“Oh, you did not go there,” Emma cracks. “Besides, I'm the Dorothy in this story. I clicked my heels together and got us home.”
“So what does that make me, if not the witch?” Regina asks, ignoring Marian, who is turning slowly in a circle in awe.
Emma grins slyly. “I think it's obvious. You're Toto.” She laughs when Regina's mouth drops open. “You are so Toto.”
“You're going to pay for that, Emma Swan,” Regina says, putting on her angriest glare. Emma is having none of it. She comes close and brushes their cheeks together, and it's still so new and strange between them that Regina can't help but catch her breath.
“Personally, I think it's better to be the dog rather than the dead wicked witch, don't you think?” she murmurs in Regina's ear. “He's Dorothy's best friend. She'd do anything for him.”
“Don't take the metaphor too far, Miss Swan,” she whispers back, warm and happy with Emma's body so near hers. “I suggest you--”
“Excuse me for interrupting your little encounter, but I want to go home,” Marian snaps. Her eyes are wild, and if they're not careful, she might make a break for it, or worse, attack the both of them even knowing they have magic.
Regina straightens up and steps away from Emma. “Very well. I will take you to your husband and child.” Her heart gives a little squeeze of discomfort knowing that the last time she was with Robin, he held her in her arms and kissed her tenderly. She supposes if one has to make a break with someone, the best way to do it is to return his formerly dead wife to his loving embrace. “Take my hand.”
“I will not,” Marian says, lips firming.
“Oh hell,” Emma says, grabbing her. “You're in charge, majesty. Poof us back to town.”
Regina does, and with Emma fueling her, it's easy.
They arrive on Main Street, right in front of Granny's. Emma looks in the diner, and it seems like no time at all has passed. There's a ton of people inside, and she's pretty sure she sees her parents in the mix. What could have happened since they've been away?
“Before we go in,” Regina says, stopping Emma from making a move, “I should tell you something.”
Her voice is low, and there's a sadness that Emma didn't expect. “What's up?”
“One of the only reasons Zelena's portal would have opened—not yours, but the one that took us back in time—would be if Zelena,” she swallows, “died. I think she may be dead.” Emma blinks in surprise. Regina's face is filled with sorrow, but she's trying to hide it.
“She was pretty evil, but she was still your sister, right? And you hardly got a chance to know her.”
Regina nods. “I didn't want you to be surprised. I'm sure someone will accuse me of killing her, but I didn't. I couldn't have, anyway. I was with you when the portal opened.”
“Right,” Emma agrees. They should have their stories straight. This town has a tendency to jump the gun on who did what when somebody gets murdered. “Are you okay?”
“I wasn't thinking much about it while we were gone. But now...” Regina blinks back tears. “Yes, I'm fine. I will be, at any rate. I just want to see Henry. And,” she nods toward Marian, who is staring at the cars lining the street. “Get her back to Robin.”
“Hey,” Emma calls, catching Marian's attention. “Come on.”
Emma follows Regina up the walk while anxiety rolls around in her belly. She has a brief burst of terror that much more than one life has been changed since their little jaunt back in time, but what else could have happened? It's only one person, and she was supposed to be dead anyway. Everything's going to be fine, Emma tells herself. She reaches forward and holds Regina's hand for a second, just for reassurance. Her fingers cling back for just a moment, and then by mutual silent agreement, they separate.
Inside the diner, faces turn toward their little trio, and Snow and David rush forward to hug Emma, but there's an explosion of sound from behind them.
She turns to see Robin, who shouts Marian's name. His wife smiles and races into his arms. His face is awestruck, and before he can even speak a word, there are tears rolling down his cheeks. His eyes close when he crushes her to him, as tiny Roland looks up at them in confusion.
“What happened?” Snow asks. “Who is that?”
Emma turns to seek out Regina, who has an arm around Henry. They're watching Robin and Marian too. “Regina, um, brought Marian back.”
“Back from where?” David asks.
Regina's eyes meet hers, and Emma says, “It's kind of a long story.”
Regina is nursing her second glass of wine when she decides it's time for some air. All this conversation has exhausted her—the day feels like the longest in history.
She thinks of the dark look Robin gave her when he realized she had been the reason for his wife's death years before.
She thinks about Rumpel, chastising her for changing the timeline without thought of the consequences.
She thinks of her sister, alone in the jail cell, committing suicide.
That last thought is the one that troubles her the most. Because if she knows anything about her family, they never give up. Never. It feels wrong. She wants to look into it further.
But not tonight. Tonight she will sleep in her own bed, and be happy to be in this world, a place she made, and has somehow grown to love.
“Hey, Toto,” a voice whispers behind her, and Regina rolls her eyes. Cool fingers slip between hers and comfort her with a simple touch.
“You're going to come to regret that little joke,” Regina assures her.
“Not possible. It's already a thing. Henry thinks it's cute.” Emma presses her shoulder to Regina's. It's quiet for a minute, and Regina is distracted by the gentle sound of her breathing. “You gonna be okay?”
Regina nods. She sips the last of her wine, draining the glass. “Of course. I always am.”
“Yeah,” Emma says. “It's a lot to take in. Robin will get over it. Probably.” She shrugs. “I guess it doesn't matter whether he does or not. What's done is done. I'm just glad that nothing else bad came out of our trip.”
That we know of, Regina thinks. “Me too. Everyone's probably missing you inside.”
“They'll live.” Emma takes a deep breath. “Do you mind if I come home with you guys tonight?”
That wipes all melancholy thoughts from Regina's mind; she imagines lying in her bed with Emma, and all the good things that will come along with it. A few kisses, but not much more; she isn't up for anything else. But she craves closeness, and caring, and the softness that Emma offers. For some reason Regina remembers the first look Emma gave her the moment they met, after bringing Henry home on that terrifying night. Seeing her face now, it's as though all the sharp edges and shouting and fury between them since then has dissolved into nothing. Her wistful, apologetic smile is the same now as it was at the very beginning, and Regina wonders if she'd just seen Emma for what she was then—a savior for her, as well as everyone else—if things would have been easier. But Emma is right. What's done is done.
When Regina doesn't answer, Emma pulls her closer. Their lips meet, so sweetly that Regina can hardly bear it, and she doesn't care who sees them. This is what she wants.
When they part, Regina replies, “I don't mind at all.”