October comes too soon. The leaves change, the wind off the water is unbearable and biting already. It blows Emma’s long hair everywhere and at night, after she showers, she spends hours with a brush while she watches old SNL reruns. She buys Henry a warmer hat and gloves and a new coat, he’s still growing and neither she nor Regina are entirely sure how to cope with it. He’s just a few inches shorter than Regina now, but Emma is certain by the end of the school year, he’ll have exceeded both of them in height. Regina won’t hear it.
Regina won’t hear it, but she smiles nonetheless. She smiles a lot more now, sometimes it makes Emma smile too, but sometimes it makes her sick.
It is Friday morning when Regina strolls into the diner, her cheeks are flushed and her hair is completely wind tousled. She’s beautiful. She’s beautiful and Emma is staring. She’s staring until she realizes Regina is staring back and then she nearly chokes on her coffee.
Her impending nuptials to a one Mr. Robin Locksley are entirely too close for comfort, so Emma has been grotesquely cordial. She forces her mouth into a sort of smile when anyone talks about it. More specifically her mother. And Henry.
“Neither you, nor Henry, have sent an RSVP,” Regina is all business this morning and she crosses the space between the counter and Emma’s booth.
“I’m invited?” Emma gapes, can’t seem to close her mouth again.
“Of course you’re invited, don’t be ridiculous. Though, given the circumstances, I will not be entirely hurt if you decline.”
The invitation sits unopened on the kitchen table. Henry is aware of it, too aware, but he doesn’t say anything about it. They both know what it is.
“I need to think about it,” Emma finishes what’s left of her coffee and slides out of her booth. “I’ll see you around.”
“Right,” Regina presses her lips together and nods.
Emma opens the invitation two days later. It’s so fucking elegant she wants to throw up again. It still doesn’t quite feel real, but it feels a little more tangible than it did a month ago. She leaves it on the table for Henry with a Post-It.
Not going, fill out RSVP card for yourself. - E
Regina calls late one night, “He had on his first tux today. Oh, Emma.”
Her breath catches before she can speak and her stomach feels sick sick sick. “Robin?”
“No, not Robin. Henry.”
“He looked so sweet, so grown up,” Regina’s voice is filled with wonder and sadness all at once. Emma wishes she could see her face. “He’s just growing and growing right before our eyes. And,” she pauses. “What happens when he wants to leave?”
Emma’s heart stops, it stops and it starts all over again as if the whole entire thing is new. “Then we let him leave. And when he’s ready, he’ll come back to us. He’ll always come back to you, Regina.” Emma doesn’t mean to sound so breathless. She clears her throat. “I’m sure he looks dashing and handsome in his tux. Does Roland get one too?”
Regina laughs softly and it’s low and sweet. “He does. It’s still being made.”
“You are not splurging on custom tuxedos for two growing boys.”
“I might be,” there’s suggestion and mischief and Regina and Emma feels something yearning and desperate, something immediate.
“What are you doing?” she sits up in bed, tugging up one strap of her tank. “I mean, right now, what are you doing?”
“I’m -- nothing, the boys are in bed, I just finished cleaning the kitchen an hour ago. I just, I had to call you. I had to tell you.”
“Thank you,” Emma smiles for the first time in weeks.
“Did you ever just,” Emma’s voice is so breathy and so heavy and she feels herself sinking, sinking, sinking. “Did you ever just close your eyes and pray that someone out there would want you?”
“What am I doing here?” Regina’s hands are shoved deep into the pockets of her coat. She has a thick cashmere scarf wrapped around her neck and the wind off the water is whipping her hair in every direction. “It’s late.”
Emma sighs and pushes herself off the rail. Her face is numb from the cold and she’s severely underdressed for the weather. Her leather jacket is too thin with just a simple cotton shirt beneath it and her hands are chapped and raw. “I don’t know.”
“How long have you been out here?” Regina stands a few feet away, not moving any closer. She doesn’t look irritated, but she looks tired.
“An hour, give or take thirty minutes,” Emma shrugs, tugs her beanie down over her ears.
“Emma, it’s nearly freezing after sundown.”
“It wasn’t so bad at first,” she shoves her hands into her pockets, takes a step closer. “I was just thinking.”
Regina shifts her weight from one foot to the other, she opens her mouth once, twice, as if she’s going to speak.
“If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.”
“You’re never going to be safe, are you?” she unwraps the scarf from around her neck and takes the few steps forward so that she can wrap it around Emma’s neck. “This is never going to be easy.”
“Is that what you want?” Emma looks down as Regina’s gloved fingers struggle with the zipper of Emma’s leather jacket. “Stop it.”
“You’re going to get pneumonia, Emma.” Regina doesn’t stop until she’s zipped the jacket up to Emma’s chest and tucked the scarf inside. “I know you’re being apathetic because it hurts too much to try to deal with anything, but for the love of God, Emma. It’s October in Maine.”
“And I know you’re deflecting because you’ve decided that caring about my health is going to distract me from this conversation.”
Regina rolls her eyes and buttons the top buttons of her burgundy coat. “I want us to be friends.”
“I don’t know,” Emma shakes her head. “That doesn’t sound all that easy to me.”
“It’s not, but isn’t it easier than being so tortured all the time?” Regina sighs and Emma wants to tell her to stop giving up.
“Am I tortured?”
“You avoid me in public, you call when you’re drunk, you want me to meet you in the middle of the night, you mope around as if you didn’t make your own choices too, and for what? So that you can go home and do it all over again?” Regina’s eyes are even darker than Emma remembers them. “You’re still acting as if this is only affecting you.”
“You’re as daft as ever,” Regina crosses her arms over her chest. “Of course it isn’t. It’s affecting your son, your parents, me. You decided to stay, you decided to choose Henry first. You want me to be honest with you? Be honest with yourself first.”
“Who are you?” Emma demands, eyes narrowing. This is not Regina.
“We all have to grow up, Emma.”
“Stop growing up without me.” The words are out of her mouth before she has a chance to stop them. She sounds petulant and pathetic and she hopes she doesn’t look as small as she feels.
“Growing up together wouldn’t be nearly the same as growing old together,” Regina shakes her head and turns to go.
Emma doesn’t realize what Regina has said until the taillights of the Benz are long gone.
“You ready, kid?”
Henry looks up from the mirror where he is attempting to tie his tie. It’s the day before the wedding. “I can’t get this tied.”
“I don’t know all that much about ties, but your mom can probably help you out,” Emma leans against the doorframe and crosses her arms against her chest. “But I promised her you’d be there by noon and you’ve got about fifteen minutes before she starts calling.”
He nods solemnly, “I’m ready.”
“Great,” Emma heads down the hall in search of her car keys.
Henry fiddles with the radio dial the entire way to Mifflin and Emma nearly smacks his hand away as they drive down Regina’s block. “What are you so antsy about?”
“I don’t know, this all just feels kind of weird,” Henry settles back into his seat with a sigh. “I mean, I know everything’s weird because of a curse and some bull with my memories, but my mom’s getting married?”
“Yeah, pretty weird,” Emma echoes as they pull up to the house. “Have fun, okay? Don’t let your mom stress you out too much, she’s probably freaking out about the caterer or some inconsequential shit that isn’t being done right.”
“She’s been really calm all week,” Henry looks out the window at the house. “Which almost concerns me more, because shouldn’t she be ripping Moe French a new one over the floral arrangements?”
“First, who taught you that phrase? Second, probably.”
Henry rolls his eyes.
“I’ve gotta give something back to your mom, I’ll walk you up,” Emma reaches into the backseat for Regina’s scarf before she follows Henry up the front walk.
Roland answers the door, all smiles in his new cable knit sweater. “Hi Henry! Hi Emma!”
“Hey buddy,” Emma smiles, ruffles his hair for good measure, tries not to panic.
“Is that Henry?” Regina’s rushing down the stairs in a short silk robe. “Sweetheart,” she hugs Henry, kisses the top of his head. “Robin’s on his way back from -- Emma, hi,” Regina’s breathless and beautiful, she’s got earrings in her hand and she’s struggling with one as she reaches the bottom of the staircase.
“Hi,” Emma shifts awkwardly and closes the front door. “I just wanted to return your scarf.”
“Thank you,” Regina almost smiles. “Forgive me, I’m running behind schedule. Henry, can you take Roland into the kitchen? There is broccoli on the stove and pulled pork in the --”
“I’m on it,” Henry heads toward the kitchen. “Can you help me tie my tie before we leave?”
“Of course, querido,” Regina nods and runs a hand through her hair before she turns back to Emma. She takes the offered scarf and places it on the credenza. “Thank you.”
Emma nods, “You nervous?”
“Not nervous,” Regina shakes her head. “Not really. I just never realized how difficult planning a wedding is. I had nothing to do with -- It’s all new this time.”
“Right,” Emma nods again and doesn’t mention kings or dead mothers. “Well, I’ll -- congratulations.”
“Thank you,” this time Regina’s smile is genuine. It’s bright and gorgeous and Emma remembers what’s happening. Remembers she needs to get the fuck out. “I wish you were going to be there.”
Emma doesn’t say me too, can’t say me too. “I’m sure you’ll be beautiful. I’m sure the wine will be awesome.”
Regina laughs, “Open bar.”
“Careful, I might change my mind. I’ll see you after. You can tell me about it if you want,” Emma shoves both hands in the back pockets of her jeans.
“I would like that. If it won’t upset you.” Regina smiles, pushes her hair behind one ear. “Your mother asked to walk me down the aisle.”
“No,” Emma groans. “What did you tell her?”
“I told her to get the hell out of my house.”
Emma laughs and it’s not hollow and empty, because god, of course her mother did. Of course Regina said no.
“Who is walking you down the aisle?” Emma asks, genuinely wonders.
“Henry,” Regina beams.
No. Yes. Of course.
“Regina?” the kitchen door closes and Robin’s voice is somehow loud and soft all at once. Emma panics and something reaches down into her bones and rattles around.
There’s something girlish and sweet about the way Regina smiles when she hears him and it twists Emma’s insides. “I’m here, dear.”
Robin appears a moment later, plastic bag in one hand. “Oh, Emma,” he smiles at her as his arm snakes around Regina’s waist. “How are you?”
“Just fine,” Emma nods. “I’m just on my way out.”
Robin kisses Regina’s temple and passes the bag to her. “We’ll see you after the wedding?”
“Yep, don’t get too crazy, kids. I’m the only one on duty.”
Robin laughs, “We’ll be on our best behavior, Sheriff.” He turns to Regina again, “I’ve got to shower and change, we’ll leave in twenty?” Regina nods in agreement and Robin turns back to Emma with a smile, “Good to see you, Emma.”
Emma thinks he may have pinched Regina’s ass on his way up the stairs but she’s trying not to notice. “I’ll see you.”
It’s nearly 11:30 when she gets a call from Robin of all people. Much The Miller’s Son had a few too many at the rehearsal dinner. Rehearsal dinner. Kid couldn’t even wait until the reception. There might be some minor property damage, but Jean Pierre Lumière (really?) wants him off the premises.
Emma pulls up in the cruiser, and shit, it’s like a mini chateau in the middle of the fucking woods. Regina and Robin are outside with Jean Pierre and Regina’s brow is furrowed in concern. Robin’s sport coat is draped over Regina’s shoulders and she’s holding a champagne flute in one hand and her cell phone in the other. She’s in white silk that just brushes the tops of her knees and grey suede pumps. She’s never seen Regina in white and it makes her hands clench into fists at her sides. It’s the lightest thing Emma’s ever seen her in, and god, she’s glowing a little bit. She’s beautiful. Emma feels something pushing behind her ribs, something that wants to get out and she shakes her head before marching up the steps.
“Much had a few too many,” Robin supplies, beer in hand. “He’s inside with your father.”
“He tried to start a fight with Little John, some ridiculous show of testosterone over Ruby,” Regina rolls her eyes and follows Emma inside.
She can smell Regina’s perfume, champagne on her breath, and Emma wants to punch something. If Much puts up too much of a fight, it might be him.
“Go enjoy the party,” Emma turns to face Regina. Regina’s eyes are glassy and bright, and god, Emma wants to kiss her. “It’s your night, yours and Robin’s.”
“Thank you, Emma,” Regina breathes, reaches out to grasp Emma’s wrist. She’s a little drunk and her hands are cold, her cheeks flushed. “I’m sorry you had to come here.”
“Just doing my job,” Emma shrugs, leans in to press a kiss to Regina’s cheek because she can’t fucking help it. “You look really... you’re beautiful.”
“Thank you, Emma.”
Regina disappears down the hall, back to the party, and Emma’s left looking for Much and her father. She finds them down the opposite way. Much has the sense to look a little embarrassed and something in the slouch of his shoulders says this isn’t the first time. He goes willingly, wants to make amends once he’s sobered up. David rests a heavy hand on her shoulder and nods his apologies.
She passes them on her way to the car with Much. They’re kissing and she doesn’t look away soon enough. Regina still has Robin’s jacket draped over her shoulders and her arms are wrapped around his waist. She’s smiling and maybe even giggling and Much nudges Emma gently.
“Kinda weird, right?”
Emma watches Robin sweep some of Regina’s hair behind her ear, “Something like that.”
She lets Much go the next morning. He spent the night telling shitty stories about Robin’s first wedding and Emma spent the night playing fucking Candy Crush. If only chocolate could regenerate in real life, she’s ready for some.
When she gets home, she kicks off her boots and sinks into the couch. She tries not to think about Regina’s wedding, Regina kissing Robin, the way Regina smiles so fucking much these days. She doesn’t think about of course I loved you, of course I do. Not about family or together, not about the shores of Neverland and a promise to always be true.
The invitation is sitting on the coffee table, on top of a copy of US Weekly that Mary Margaret dropped off with some groceries a few days ago. It’s elegant and completely Regina’s doing and it makes Emma sick. She feels some sort of panic stirring deep in her bones and suddenly it hurts to breathe. It hurts to breathe because Regina shouldn’t be marrying Robin Locksley Hood whatever. He’s gentle and kind and more understanding than Emma realized, but she doesn’t look at him like they share anything other than some weird fairytale life. What future could Regina possibly see with someone that doesn’t see all of her?
She’s up and moving before she even realizes it’s happening. She’s in the bug, headed toward that stupid chateau in the woods, she texts Henry.
Tell your mom I need to talk to her. I’m on my way.
What the fuck.
He meets her outside, pushes her down the hall, to the bridal suite whatever and she’s knocking before she can even think to turn around and leave.
“Emma?” her mother answers the door, all wide eyes and, “What are you doing here?”
“Can I just have a minute?” she shifts from foot to foot, hopes that Mary Margaret won’t ask questions she can’t answer.
“It’s fine, Snow. Let her in.”
She nods, steps aside for Emma. “I’ll just be down the hall with Henry and Roland.”
“Thanks,” Emma takes a few shaky steps inside and closes the door. She looks at her feet, out the window, anywhere but at Regina.
“Emma?” she’s sitting at a vanity and she turns around to face Emma.
“This is so stupid,” Emma looks up at the ceiling and takes a deep breath. “This is so fucking stupid. What am I doing here?”
“I was wondering the same thing, although I think I have a general idea.” Regina stands and Emma can’t not look anymore. So she looks and she wishes she hadn’t, and even more, she wishes she hadn’t come here. She’s beautiful, of course she is. Her hair is pulled away from her face, back in a simple updo. She’s wearing less makeup, but her lashes are long and dark. And her dress, god. Emma hopes her mouth has the decency not to fall open in slack-jawed wonder. It’s not white, not really, but it’s close enough. The sleeves are long, stopping just above her delicate wrists, and it’s not a dress, but it’s not a gown. It’s long, it touches the floor, sweeping cream jersey. It drapes just so across her middle and it’s got a tasteful neckline, as deep as the mayor Regina would dare. She’s wearing pearls, not diamonds around her neck, and when Emma’s eyes sweep back up to her face, she’s almost smiling. “If you’re about to do what I think you’re about to do —”
“I didn’t realize I was coming here until I was here.”
Regina nods once, steps forward.
“No, please, please don’t.” Emma covers her eyes with one hand because she can’t keep looking anymore. She can’t keep seeing this thing that isn’t for her, for them. She can’t look at Regina in a gown that’s almost white, because if she keeps looking she could imagine this without Robin. With her in his place. Because if she keeps looking, she’ll say something she regrets. It’s so close and so far. Just like Regina always is.
“Emma,” Regina’s voice is gentle.
“I know we agreed, I know I said I’d be better, I know I’ve tried to be better. And it’s all fucking shitty because I know you’re happy. You’re really happy.” Emma lets her hand fall back to her side and she realizes Regina is much closer than she was. She’s still two feet away from Emma, but it’s too close now. “And it makes me sick that he’s the one making you happy. Because you said things that I didn’t want to feel but that I couldn’t keep not feeling.”
Regina’s not looking at her anymore, can’t look at her anymore. Because here she is, Emma Swan, about to royally fuck things up.
“I know I made a ton of shitty choices, I know I didn’t make things right when I should have, I know I should have said something that first night back from Neverland, but I couldn’t.” God damn it, she’s going to start crying because this is all wrong. “I know it’s too late. I know it is. But I just sort of,” she pauses, swipes angrily at the tears that have started to fall. “I sort of hoped maybe it wasn’t. I sort of hoped you might think I was sort of endearing again instead of a nightmare that won’t go away.”
“Oh, Emma,” it’s there, in Regina’s voice, Emma knows. It’s far too late, because she sounds miles and universes and planets away.
She’s stepping forward, closing the space between them, both of her hands at the small of Regina’s back, and tears and snot be damned, Emma kisses her. Sweet and gentle because it’s the last one she’s ever going to get. Deep and hard because she needs more than a stolen winter night. Regina allows it, kisses her back for the briefest of moments, because how could she not.
There’s a hand, gentle and insistent against her chest.
“Don’t marry him.”
“Please don’t do this,” Regina whispers and that damned diamond catches the light. “Please. Let me be happy.”
“Let me make you happy.”
Regina’s hand against her cheek is soft and warm, “I’m sorry, Emma. I’m so sorry, you sweet beautiful girl.”
Emma’s hand moves up to Regina’s wrist and she strokes it gently with the pad of her thumb. She closes her eyes and prays to fucking god she can keep it together.
“Yeah. Me too,” her smile is as crooked and sweet as the rest of her, and she presses a kiss to the inside of Regina’s wrist. “It was maybe worth a shot.”
“In another life, maybe,” Regina sighs and steps back, brushes Emma’s cheek with the backs of her fingers once more. “You think we’d work, but really, you’d forget to cap the toothpaste in the morning and I’d nag you too much. It’s for the best, Emma.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Regina turns and plucks her veil from the back of the vanity chair, “You’re important to me. I pretend you’re not because of all of this, but you are, alright? Don’t think that I don’t at least care for you. I don’t want to hurt you, not anymore.” She passes Emma a tissue.
“Never thought I’d see the day,” Emma manages a mirthless laugh.
“I know, you’re trying to make sure you’re not being an asshole. That I’m not gonna run my car into a tree on the way home.” She blows her nose, wipes her eyes.
“Please don’t do anything like that. Please don’t think about doing anything like that.”
“I won’t. I’ve got Henry to think about. And maybe I’ll realize that it would probably hurt you too.” Emma shoves the tissue deep into the pocket of her jacket.
“Oh, don’t do that,” Regina holds out a hand, palm up.
“No, I’ll throw my own tissue out, thanks.” But Emma reaches out, takes Regina’s hand. “Thanks for not being an asshole.”
“You too,” Regina squeezes her hand.
“I’ll see you around,” Emma nods, lets go.
Regina smiles then, pure and bright.
Emma doesn’t run her car off the road, doesn’t throw herself off the pier, but she does turn off all the lights in her apartment. She does pour herself a stiff drink, and she does not respond to Henry’s texts. They’re all pictures of him and Roland in their tuxes, which is maybe the sweetest thing she’s ever seen, but it’s too much.
She doesn’t think about how she’d placed Regina’s veil on top of her head and smoothed the whole thing down just right. She doesn’t think about how she’d pressed her lips to Regina’s forehead afterward.
Sometime after midnight, she does think about Neverland. She thinks about sleepless nights and the Regina that let her in. The Regina that was hers and hers alone. She remembers jungle and fear and together. She thinks of family and fight and ours, not theirs.
So when Henry sends her a selfie with his other mother, she sends back a thumbs up and a smile.
Congrats to ur mom. Lookin’ fly, my man.
“Can I ask you something?”
They’re out on the back porch, she and Regina. The boys are helping Robin bag fallen leaves before the frost comes. Regina’s been married three weeks now and there’s another band of diamonds around her ring finger.
“That depends.” Regina sips her coffee, tightens the cashmere scarf around her neck.
Things have been fine. Emma doesn’t call at midnight, she doesn’t ask questions Regina won’t answer. She doesn’t look at Regina with sad longing eyes that beg for a future, for something she can’t give. So things have been fine. Regina invites her in for coffee every now and then if she’s dropping off Henry. So. Here they sit.
“What is it, Emma?”
“I swear I won’t be such a stupid shit head again, but I just want to know.” She looks out at Robin and he’s laughing, watching Roland jump into piles of freshly raked leaves.
Regina follows her gaze, smiles at the picture ahead. Henry joins in after a moment and the three of them are laughing, leaves blown all over the yard again.
“I used to want simple things,” Regina laughs softly as Roland, though he’s much too small, tries to reach up to dust leaves from Henry’s hair. “I wanted to marry a stable boy and raise children in some cottage surrounded by pastures and blue sky. I wanted love and four little ones, maybe five, and it seemed like such a simple life. But it sounded something like happiness.” Regina’s hands tighten around her cup. “I thought those dreams died with Daniel. I thought about them sometimes, but that life, that girl, that love, that was gone and I didn’t want to — no, I couldn’t replicate it. This is what you’re asking me, isn’t it?”
“Ah, yeah,” Emma nods, hides her face in her own cup of coffee. “Yeah, I think so.”
“When I came to Storybrooke, it was much the same. I was alone, I figured I’d always be. And then Henry, my beautiful gift, that love was all I ever needed.” She smiles, looks out at their teenage hellion, messy hair and sparkling eyes. He gives a grin and a wave and they both smile back. “And then there was Neverland and you,” Regina pauses, but it doesn’t look like any of this pains her, not today. “Things changed briefly. I don’t quite know what I wanted, but it was the three of us and I didn’t know if it felt like happiness, but it felt like something.” Regina shakes her head, “But that was fleeting and perhaps just a bit silly.”
“Silly?” Emma’s brow furrows.
“Silly to want something I was so unsure of.”
Regina does this now. Offers these things up, almost as if the added weight to her left hand has given her a sense of freedom with Emma she didn’t have before.
“And Robin, you’re sure of?”
“Yes,” Regina’s watching him, can’t take her eyes off him really, and her smile is so open, so full. “I have a home full of joy,” she sighs, and it’s reverent and sweet. “I have children, I have friends. And I’m not,” she shakes her head. “I’m not angry.”
“You’re happy,” Emma supplies.
“I’m happy for you,” and she means it. She does. Because Regina’s smiling and so is Henry. So it’s something like happiness.
Sometimes she wishes and sometimes she wants, but god, Regina is so happy.
“I just feel like I’m discovering something new,” Regina sighs through a smile. And she’s so god damn content.
“Good,” Emma nods, and it doesn’t hurt, not necessarily. So she sips her coffee. “Good.”