The first thing Emma does when she hears the familiar click-clack of heels sounding from the hallway is hide the letter like her life depends on it. She shoves it into a nearby drawer and proceeds to drain the rest of her coffee, like she actually needs some sort of alibi.
Instead the mug misses her mouth by a landslide. And she's left with a giant stain on her very white tank top, and she doesn't really have time to change or hide the fact that she just proved Regina's point that she can be a total idiot.
Because Regina is already standing at the doorway.
"I see you're managing your time wisely," the woman in question observes with a wry smile. If Emma wasn't already flustered by the gaping coffee stain on her chest, then that smile would surely do it.
"It's not like I knew you were coming," Emma grumbles in response, before leaning to grab the box of tissues on her desk. "Besides, there're only so many times I can rescue a cat from a tree."
"Don't be ridiculous. With your skill set I'm sure there are dogs that need catching, too."
"Funny," Emma deadpans, though her heart isn't entirely in it.
If anything it seems to quiver in its place as Regina draws closer, revealing her formal attire - a close-fitted dress that has Emma's gaze lingering where it shouldn't be - and in her hand, a folder.
"Let me guess. My mom sent you."
"Yes and no," Regina states. "Don't believe for one second that I would ever take orders from Snow. I'm here for a personal matter."
"And that folder has nothing to do with it?" Emma asks, amused.
Regina rolls her eyes. "It's your new budget proposal. I was on my way over anyway."
"I don't suppose you'd like to come over for dinner tomorrow night," Regina proceeds in a casual manner, like it's a common occurrence, which... it really isn't. "I'm making Italian, if that peaks your interest."
Emma's heart lurches straight to her throat. "Dinner?"
"Yes, well... Henry insisted."
Emma swallows, washing away the dash of hope that managed to squeeze through her defenses.
"Oh," is all she says, to which Regina arches a brow.
"Is there a problem?"
"Nope," Emma quickly says. "No problem at all. I'll be there at six?"
"Seven. I'll need time to prepare the desert."
She's even more flustered now that she has nothing else to say. With Regina standing before her and Emma scrubbing away at her shirt, she kind of just wants to sink back into her seat and hide for like... ever.
Finally there's a sigh. "Emma."
Emma reluctantly looks up in time to see Regina wave her hand in a familiar motion, where one second the gigantic stain on her shirt is as visible as Emma's polka dotted bra, and the next it's gone.
"I'll see you at seven."
She leaves before Emma can thank her, and it's mostly a relief that she can sit back again and stare aimlessly at the spot Regina had stood just seconds before. She's almost too afraid to continue what she's been doing, but she takes the letter out anyway and skims through the first few words.
She crumples the letter into a ball instead and tosses it into the trash, heaving out a sigh that stretches far into the station.
Disappointment has never tasted so bitter.
Emma doesn't know when exactly she started to fall for Regina. Only that it was unexpected and confusing and so not what Emma had going for herself.
It sort of just dawned on her one day - like a pile of bricks really - except there were more bricks than usual and there was still the commonly known fact that Regina is madly in love with Robin Hood.
And seriously. It must've been the worst week of Emma's life.
It was soon after the snow queen was vanquished that she broke it off with killian.
It hadn't been a decision made lightly on her part, considering the amount of phone calls she received the next day, or the broken hearted glances Hook would offer across the diner. If anything it was a decision made by her reluctance to flee town like she would've done in any other situation.
But she has her kid here. Her parents. And the woman she loves is practically shacking it up with forest boy against all odds.
It makes sense that she destroy the things she has first before bringing everyone down with her.
"What're you doing?"
Emma barely has time to stuff the stupid piece of paper down her shirt before Henry has the chance to see it. It'd be a little embarrassing having to explain to her son that she's writing away to her heart's content, mostly to alleviate the thoughts she keeps having about his other mother.
"Nothing," she says quickly, falsely, and of course her son sees right through her.
"It doesn't look like nothing," he points out, scrunching his face. "You've been acting weird all day. And you never look up from that letter you keep working on."
"Who says it's a letter?"
"I'm twelve, Emma. Not stupid," he insists in his 'duh' voice, and he sounds so much like Regina at that moment, it makes Emma's chest ache. "Is it for Killian?"
"Not exactly. It's... an experiment," Emma says carefully. "Doctor Hopper suggested it."
"Don't you have homework to do, kid?"
"Finished it already," he counters, before cheekily stating, "Besides, you're supposed to be spending time with me."
"It's a method for stress relief," Emma responds after some consideration, leaning more towards a half truth. "Getting my thoughts out on paper and all that. You wouldn't understand."
"So... Kinda like a video log then?"
"A video log. It's like a diary, but... Digital," Henry explains. "We did it in health class once. You're supposed to express yourself without fear of being judged. And then afterwards you delete it. So it's like you're talking to someone, but not, you know? You should try it."
"Yeah, I don't know about that."
Henry rolls his eyes. "Well it wouldn't hurt to try. What's the worst that could happen?"
"Seriously?" Emma sighs. "You've seen enough movies to know when not to say that, kid. It's like the start to a bad romcom."
Another eye roll, this one so Regina-like that it takes Emma every ounce of her self control not to shove him out of the room.
It's two days later, after waddling through dinner at the mansion, when she sees them at the diner. They're sitting close, conversing over a plate of eggs and toast like they've been doing it for forever. And it makes Emma's teeth clench and her stomach churn.
"Coffee?" Ruby asks, casting a glance towards the booth on the other side, where Emma continues to glare holes into Robin Hood's face. "I snuck a shot of whiskey in. You look like you need it."
"It's not even ten yet, Ruby."
"Like I said. You look like you need it."
Emma drags her gaze from the image of Regina and Robin - they're leaning over the table now, smiling at each other like they're happy - and takes a large gulp from the mug.
It scorches her tongue and she forces herself not to spit it right back out.
Handing her a napkin, Ruby offers her a sympathetic look. "You know they're just friends, right?"
It takes Emma a second to realize what she's talking about, and her first reaction is to go straight for denial. But Ruby is still giving her that knowing look and god. Who cares anymore?
Not her, that's for sure.
"Doesn't look like it to me," Emma grumbles.
"If it makes you feel any better, Marian was with him the other night. They looked pretty cozy."
"If by 'cozy' you mean filing for a divorce, then sure."
"Aren't they still working it out?" Ruby asks, gently tugging the mug out of Emma's grip before she could take another sip. Emma glares but says nothing. "Marriage vows are different in the Enchanted Forest than they are here. Breaking them is almost unheard of."
"Yeah well, tell that to Mr. Honesty over there."
Before Ruby can respond, brown eyes latch onto Emma's from across the dinner, lingering on her face as Regina waves and smiles warmly at her. And damn it, if it isn't the most beautiful thing she's ever seen since, well, the last time Regina smiled at her.
But then Regina looks away, smiling even brighter at something Robin has said and she's reaching over the table for his hand.
The heat on her tongue is nothing compared to the searing pain pulsing through her chest as she gulps down another mouthful of coffee, ignoring Ruby's protests.
"Thanks for the coffee," Emma says, standing. "I'll see you later, Rubes."
"Wait, Em -"
The rest of Ruby's words are muffled by the door slamming shut behind her.
She manages to make it all the way back to the station without breaking down completely. Though it's the sight of Snow's flower pot, sitting so innocently on David's desk that pushes her emotions into grief, and soon thereafter rage.
Grabbing the pot, she throws it against the wall and watches as the fractured pieces shatter and fall apart. Her mug comes straight after, followed by David's favorite picture frame. Just because she can.
Her body is shaking, trembling to the point where she can hardly move much further. By the time she's at her desk, there isn't a single thought that stops her from reaching for the computer and propping it open to face her.
The face staring grimly back at her is nearly unrecognizable, and she releases a haggard breath.
You're supposed to express yourself without fear of being judged
So it's like you're talking to someone
You should try it
"This is so stupid," Emma mutters, but she remains still as she continues to stare into the screen. "I'm so stupid."
Standing up, she paces the room once more, urging herself to back away from anything that looks remotely breakable. Finally she stumbles in front of the camera again, her hands gripping the edge of the desk with frightening force. The ends of her knuckles begin to turn white.
"I know you can't hear me right now. And you know what? You probably never will. But I need you to listen to me when I say this," Emma begins, drawing out the intensity in her words as her previous silence continues to fuel them.
"Listen to me when I say you are worth it. No matter what anyone else says, no matter what you did in the past, you're worth it, alright? You're smart and you're brave and... Infuriating half the time. But you deserve so much more than anyone can give you. More than Snow or Robin or... Or even me.
"I know you think no one in this town believes in you, but I'm telling you right now that you're wrong. Henry does. And so do I. I've always believed in you, even when I didn't tend to show it. And... I guess you're probably wondering by now what my point is.
"I promised you that I'd help you find your happy ending, but the truth is... I'm not the Savior you think I am. I can't just stand by and pretend things are fine because they're not. You deserve better, Regina."
Emma swallows thickly, her throat parch from the movement. "And the fact is," she breathes in a whisper.
"The fact is I'm a coward."
The file collapses then, and once again she's faced with a blank screen. For a moment Emma considers deleting the video altogether; destroy the evidence like she's done with all her letters.
But she can't bring herself to do it this time. The feeling is different. The heavy weight that has settled over her shoulders for the past month is now gone.
And what is left is a strange sense of relief.
"I think the first time it really hit me, well, besides the first time you called me Emma, because I don't think I can ever bring myself to forget that. But it was that moment in front of the town line right before the curse was going to hit. You were getting ready to send us off to a new life and... You had this look on your face. It's a look I've only ever seen you give Henry before and here you were, giving it to me. And all I can remember, all I can think about, Regina, was how... breathtaking you looked. Like... No matter what, we were okay. Everything was going to be okay."
"I never actually liked Hook, you know. Not like that, anyway. Fairy tale characters seem to think dating someone is this big epic romance, but where I'm from, you find people who can make it less... lonely. Most of the time you live your whole life never meeting your true love. You can pass them one day while walking down a crowded sidewalk and you'll never know.
"But Hook? I guess you could say he was just there. He made things easier and he could be sweet and gentle and caring and... You know, at the time I thought it was enough. But there's only so long you can go before you realize it'll never be enough. Maybe because he wasn't you."
"I saw you today at the park. Not that I was following you or anything. You were right though. I do have a talent for chasing down dogs. But you were with Robin again, and this time he had Roland with him and the way you were smiling at him, Regina... You looked happy. And god, I wish I could say I was happy for you.
"But I can't. I'd be lying if I said that I was. I don't know if that makes me the villain in this situation, or if this is some kind of sick punishment for bringing Marian back. But every time I see you smile at him like that, I want to run again. And I get this ache in my chest like... Like... I don't even know. Is this what it feels like to have your heart ripped right out of you?"
"Sometimes I wonder if you feel the same way. If you think about me on days when you're with Henry, or helping Snow out with the budget plans or when you're gardening. And then sometimes I wake up."
"You smiled at me yesterday. When you thought I wasn't looking... It's the same smile you give Robin."
As the days turn into weeks, and the frosty winter air morphs into Spring, for the first time in a long while Emma feels like she can breathe again.
She wants to believe it has nothing to do with the video logs, and everything to do with her coping on her own. But she'd be lying and, as embarrassing as it is to admit, they have been helping. There's something about talking to your heart's content that makes pining over someone you can't have just a little bit easier.
"Hey ma, can I use your phone to call David?" Henry asks, appearing by her side as she flips over the last batch of burgers. "Snow's freaking out again."
The air is slightly cool today. It reminds Emma of New York, except you don't see a whole lot of barbecues in the big city like you do in Maine. It had been Snow's idea to have one in their back yard, having found a new house for her and David and baby Neal to live in while Emma stays back at the apartment.
She hadn't expected her mom to invite half the town.
"I thought he went to the store to grab some buns."
"Yeah, you try telling her that."
Emma rolls her eyes, but tosses her phone at him before he can complain much further. The burgers are almost ready anyway and if she plans on feeding a total of seven dwarves, David has to be back soon with those buns.
Flipping the lid over the grill, she turns to watch the party, stifling a laugh when she sees Grumpy imitating a clown for the littler kids. Henry hadn't been exaggerating when he said Snow was freaking out. Emma can practically see her mother's vein bulge out of her temple as she tries to stop Grumpy from slapping one of the children with a balloon animal.
"Well, there's something you don't see every day," a voice interjects from the side. "Mind if I ask what has you grinning like an idiot?"
Emma feels her pulse race when she sees Regina, all regal looking and dressed in casual wear - and then promptly shoots the feeling down because damn it, she's been doing so good lately.
"What? I'm not allowed to be happy for once?" Emma jesters lightly.
"One can only wonder when all I've seen you do is pout lately," Regina answers flippantly, but there's an edge to her tone that Emma can't pinpoint. "Get back with the pirate already?"
"I don't need a man in my life to be happy, Regina."
Regina turns to look at her then, like really looks at her, and Emma seriously can't tell whether the brunette's read more into the comment than she intended.
It's not like it was a dig towards her and Robin. Or anything.
"Good," Regina says finally, and looks ahead. "I'm glad."
And... Jesus. What is that supposed to mean?
"What about you?" Emma asks after a short pause, straining to hold the conversation.
"What about me?"
"You. And you know... Robin Hood."
At the mention of his name, brown eyes latch onto something in the distance, and Emma finds herself following Regina's gaze. She sees Robin within a group of his merry men, though he seems to be speaking to Marian with an affectionate smile.
"What do you think?" Regina counters, and there's this sad look on her face that makes Emma's stomach drop down to her feet.
It doesn't even occur to her that he and Regina might not have been together all along. But the longing in her expression says more than enough.
"I have to hand it to your mother, though. This might just be the worst party she's hosted thus far."
Emma snorts, albeit somberly. "Give her a break. She's having a hard time as it is."
"She is, isn't she?" Regina says, shooting her a wicked smile.
This time Emma laughs. "You're evil, you know that?"
"So I've been told."
She says this with a soft smile on her lips, and suddenly she's looking at Emma again, though staring is more like it. And there's absolutely nothing Emma can do when she feels her heart rate pick up with the intangible need to cup Regina's face in her hands and kiss her.
"I - I should go," Emma stutters. "Henry needs me."
She leaves the burgers to burn in the grill for all she cares, and practically runs into Henry on her way into her parents' house. She's almost relieved to see him, if he wasn't peering up at her with the wariest expression no twelve year old should ever, ever make.
"Hey Emma... What are all these videos about my mom doing on your phone?"
"I was probably around Henry's age when I first started watching the sun set every day. I had this foster mother in Philadelphia who lived on the top floor, right next to the fire escape. And every afternoon I would climb up to the roof and watch as the sun disappeared in the city's horizon. You would've loved it, I think. It's like seeing the world for the first time. Beautiful. And special.
"I think I know now what drew me to you at first. I think about those days when I was sad and I would watch the sun fall. And you know, Regina, all those times I would look at you. I would see the sun there, too."
Emma is practically raging by the time she reaches her apartment, Henry in tow. Not even his sulking expression can ease the anger boiling in her veins.
"What thehell were you thinking?" Emma seethes, earning herself a wince on Henry's part. "Didn't Regina teach you anything about respecting people's privacy?"
Tilting his head down in shame, he sighs. "I'm sorry, ma. I didn't know."
"Oh, that's a load of bull-" Emma trails off, pinching her nose. "Tread carefully, kid. I know when you're lying."
Henry bites his lip. "Ok, so I was trying to take a picture of the new house. It was an accident at first... but I had to know!"
"Had to know what?"
"That you're in love with my mom!"
The silence that erupts through the room is damn near stifling. Emma can barely breathe. It's as though all the air has been sucked out of her lungs and thrust up her windpipe in the form of a stroke.
"What are you talking about?" Emma asks and inhales sharply. The room is spinning around her.
"You don't need to lie, Ma," Henry says gently, urging her to understand with his eyes. "I know."
"And you're just... Okay with that?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" he asks, and he's genuinely puzzled. "You're my moms. I just want you guys to be happy."
The comment is said so innocently and resembles so much like his ten year old self, it makes Emma's heart clench tightly in her chest.
She's at a loss for words until the realization hits her with the force of a trainwreck.
"You shouldn't have been able to watch those videos, Henry," Emma mutters in faint horror.
He wrinkles his nose. "You can trust me, you know. It's not like I'm going to tell Mom. And who knows? Maybe all we need is an operation to make her fall in love with you too -"
"No. I mean - you shouldn't have been able to," Emma interjects with a frown. "I had them saved on my computer, not -"
"It's called the cloud, ma," Henry cuts in. "Anything you put on there will sync to your other devices. I don't have an iPhone and even I know that."
And just like that, Emma's walls crumble around her.
Henry seems to notice immediately. "Emma?"
"Kid," she breathes in shakily. "What are the chances you were able to unsync everything when you gave your mom that ipad?"
When Henry doesn't respond, Emma feels her legs wobble beneath her before she sags onto the couch, dropping her face into her hands. Neither of them really expects the jagged laugh that comes out of her mouth then. And Henry's eyes are as wide as a pair of saucers.
She's so screwed.
"I know what you're thinking. Where the hell is all this coming from anyway, right? It's like... It's almost like you're listening to some stranger and not the woman who used to be the bane of your existence at one point. Trust me. I know. And to be honest I couldn't tell you even if I tried.
"But here's the thing, Regina. If there's anything I learned in my years in the foster system, it's that life moves on. People change and grow and sometimes it can be for the worst. And then sometimes... It can be for the best. It can be good. What we had in the past... What we have now - that can be good . We both changed so much in the last two years that sometimes we forget to do it for ourselves. Not for Robin or Hook or Henry. Or the Evil Queen or the Savior.
"Just us. Emma and Regina."
"What's the worst that can happen, he said," Emma mutters angrily beneath her breath. "It wouldn't hurt to try, he said."
It's nearing midnight by the time she arrives at Regina's, having spent an entire thirty minutes berating Henry for invading her privacy, and another hour planning her own death over the thought of Regina ever finding those videos.
She doesn't exactly know how she's ended up here, hiding behind some shrubs just outside Regina's mansion. But it's cold and the lights are still on from the second story window, and she's about ready to plot her own demise after all.
"Never should've taken advice from a twelve year old."
She has a walk talkie in her hand that crackles for a moment, before a voice breaks through the silence. "Ma, you there? Over."
Emma rolls her eyes, bringing the device to her face. "Yeah, I'm here. I'm hiding behind the bushes near your mom's room. I think she's still awake. The lights are on."
"You're supposed to say over."
"Kid. Don't start."
"Right. Sorry. She usually stays up later during the weekend, though. Do you see her anywhere? Over."
Pulling away from the device, she tries to get a better look at her surroundings. She could cross the other side of the mansion and peer in through the window, but she doesn't trust herself to remain hidden for long. Not to mention Regina has the uncanny ability to sniff her out whenever Emma is nearby.
She sighs. "Nope."
"Okay. What about my room? Do you see the tree branch hanging from the window? Over."
Emma peers up at the large tree hovering just over the side of the house. Raising her brows, she says, "you expect me to climb that?"
"Duh. That was the whole plan. Remind me again why we can't just ask for it back?"
"Because you suck at lying and your mom has like, Emma senses or something. She'll know something's up."
"Whatever. Just climb through the window and get to her room, second door across the hallway. It's got to be in there somewhere."
"You know the plan?"
"Yup. I've got the distraction covered. Just be careful, ma."
A small smile curves over her face. "Yeah. You, too."
She stashes the walkie talkie in her pocket, letting the silence overcome the nervous tick in her veins. She can already feel her limbs shaking as she cautiously makes her way to the designated tree, feels the nerves bubble up in her stomach when she spots the branch, high up above the ground.
Guess it's time to put those cat-saving skills to good use.
"Do you remember when the shattered glass hit the town? You did everything you could to protect everyone from the Evil Queen, and I came to you and... Do you remember what I said to break the ribbons? I said I wanted to break your heart. I wanted you to see me with Hook, see the happiness you could never have. A part of me meant what I said that night, Regina. But not for the reasons you think. I wanted to make you jealous. I wanted you to want me.
"I wanted to hurt you as much as you hurt me every second you're with Robin."
The place is quiet as Emma pries open the window and slips inside. She half expects to find Regina waiting for her at the doorway. Instead she's relieved to hear the woman's voice filter in from somewhere downstairs.
"Henry, you shouldn't even be awake. What on earth were you thinking calling me this late -"
The rest of the words trail off as Emma sneaks over to the other side of the hall. It's fairly easy finding Regina's room when the size of it is far from inconspicuous, but it's that capacity that draws Emma to a sudden stop.
The room is gigantic. And as clean and pristine as it can possibly get, meaning there's no way to tell where Regina would even hide her valuables.
How the hell is she supposed to find the ipad in this?
"I don't know what to tell you, dear. I'm fairly certain you took your bag with you to Emma's. But I can check your room if you'd like?"
As the voice spills through the foyer downstairs, Emma immediately sets to work. She checks the nightstand first as the obvious choice, but comes back empty when all she finds is a pair of reading glasses and a bottle of sleeping pills tucked behind a book.
Next is the closet which, considering how freakishly large it is, leaves Emma groaning and rummaging through more clothing than she had imagined Regina even owns. She's also pretty sure she sees one of her own shirts in there.
She checks under the bed, followed by Regina's underwear drawer, only to ram it back shut with a fierce blush after seeing the amount of lingerie the woman owns.
And Christ, now is not the time to think about that.
She's out of options by then, and more than ready to lunge herself out the window if need be. Maybe Henry was wrong. Maybe she's just been looking in all the wrong places.
There's a room across the hall that Emma knows is Regina's study. She only hesitates for a second before springing into action again, nearly falling on her face in her struggle to reach the desk. She searches through the multiple drawers and files, the bookcase by the window, followed by the drinking cabinet, only to come up short in every direction.
Shit shit shit.
Emma's about ready to give up when she spots a pile of trinkets she'd accidentally knocked to the ground in her haste. She moves to pick them up, stopping short when she catches a closer look. What grabs her attention isn't the weird plastic thing that looks like one of Henry's toy soldiers, or the stack of mini peanut butter cups that would've had Emma snorting in amusement any other time, but the little flash drive hidden beneath this whole mess.
A flash drive with her name written in a neat, cursive scrawl.
She hears the walkie talkie crackle against her hip before Henry's voice breaks the silence.
"Ma, can you hear me? You gotta get out of there. The mission failed. I repeat, mission has failed."
Emma moves to pick up the metal device, ignoring Henry's outcries, and stares at it with something akin to fear flourishing in her stomach.
Suddenly the lights flicker on, causing Emma to break out of her trance and jolt up, her gaze snapping to the doorway where Regina now stands. She's leaning against the door, her expression entirely too calm to be considered angry, which probably means she's pissed to a different, potentially more dangerous, extreme.
"Did you find it? Was it in mom's room?"
Emma quickly cuts Henry off, and Regina's eyes stray to the walkie talkie before she arches a brow.
"Looking for this?" she asks, her voice as smooth as silk. She lifts her hand and there, settled in her grip, is the ipad.
Emma strains to keep her expression neutral. "What're you talking about?"
"Don't play stupid, Emma," Regina bites out. At least she sounds angry. "Did you forget our son is a terrible liar?"
"Okay, look. None of this was even supposed to happen. If I had asked for it back, you would've been suspicious -"
"So instead you choose to break into my home, raid my things, and bring Henry into this ridiculous operation of yours?" Regina says harshly. "You couldn't have simply told me the truth about these videos -"
Emma's breath snags in her throat, and she feels her blood run cold with the dawning realization. Suddenly it all makes sense.
"What?" she whispers.
Regina seems to have noticed her own slip, because her expression falters. And she doesn't look angry anymore, or even calm, but... Sad.
"Emma," she breathes. "Let me explain."
"You knew," Emma accuses softly, with a bitterness in her mouth that leaves her whole body vibrating with tension. "You knew this whole time and you didn't tell me. What, did you watch them, too?"
Regina hesitates for a moment, but in the end bobs her head in a single nod. "Yes."
"Those were private!" Emma hisses and curls her hands into fists. "You were never supposed to see them or - god, what is it with you and Henry? It's bad enough I can't have any secrets in this stupid town. But you? I thought I could trust you!"
"You can -"
"Is this what this is, then?" Emma grits out, holding the flash drive up before tossing it to the ground, right by Regina's feet. "Did you save it all just to spite me? So you can get a good laugh out of it? Poor old Emma Swan, pining over the straight girl!"
Regina winces. "Emma, please. Just let me explain."
But Emma is already too far gone to notice the feeble attempts to grab her attention. Her body is shaking, her fingernails leaving crescent shaped indents over her palms. She can feel the blood rushing in her head, feel the thick swell of magic contaminating her chest. And then she's gone.
Gone in a puff of white smoke.
"I know this all sounds cheesy, and I'll probably cringe five years from now when I'm sitting on my desk watching these. When Henry's off taking his girlfriend to prom and getting ready for college, and you... You'll be here, maybe. Getting your life together. Getting married and having kids. Maybe you'll even get a dog just to complete this perfect picture of a perfect family, with your perfect husband. I'm not even going to lie. Just thinking about it kinda makes me want to vomit.
"But you'll finally have your happy ending. And believe me when I say this, Regina, I would never do anything to take that away. Not again. I was brought here for a reason and I'm going to do my part, no matter how much it kills me. Which is why I plan on leaving as soon as Henry is off to college. I can get an apartment up in New York like old times, maybe get a dog myself and pretend you're there with me, snapping at him when he pees on the sofa or reminding me that I'm an idiot."
It's almost two am when Emma drops Henry off at her parents'. No real explanation, just that she needs to take a break from this town for a week or two and she'll be back as soon as she can get her shit together. Whenever that will be.
Henry obviously doesn't take the news well.
"You're leaving me?" he cries, and of course that breaks out the waterworks for them both as Emma tugs him into a hug and keeps him there.
"I'm not leaving you, kid. Not now, not ever," she promises. "But I need to do this for myself. And I need you to be strong for a little while longer. Please, Henry. Can you do that for me?"
He chokes out a strangled breath that sounds more like a sob, and it completely breaks Emma's heart. But then he nods against her shoulder.
"Don't worry, ma. Everything's going to be okay."
Emma just holds on tighter.
She makes it back to her apartment in time to grab a bag and start packing. She isn't entirely sure where she's going, only that it can't be here. Boston would be a reasonable option, or even New York. She still has the apartment paid up for the next four months. But she can't take the risk of anyone finding her there.
She throws several tank tops into the pile as she calculates the plane costs for Tallahassee, when she feels her shoulders prickle with the sensation of someone watching her.
Emma's body sags in response as she pauses her movements, but doesn't turn around. There's just something about the way the air shifts around her that makes it impossible to ignore Regina's presence.
"What are you doing here?" Emma mumbles and manages to avoid Regina's eye as she continues to pack.
"Henry told me you were leaving."
Emma stops, her first thought obviously being traitor.
But the way Regina says it, lacking the familiar haughty tone and instead consisting of something so foreign - hoarse and soft. It makes Emma turn around and find herself enraptured by Regina's gaze.
"He said something along the lines of... You need to stop her, mom," Regina explains, her eyes never leaving Emma's. "You need to tell her how you feel."
Emma swallows thickly. "You still didn't answer the question," she croaks. "What're you doing here?"
"What do you think? To stop you from leaving, you idiot," Regina says, taking a step forward. "And to give you this."
She holds out the flash drive from earlier, and Emma eyes it with a trepidation that makes her want to throw it against a wall and break it this time.
"Are you kidding me right now, Regina," Emma snaps. "What, it isn't bad enough that you saved it all? You're going to tie me up and torture me while you're at it."
"Will you stop being so over dramatic? Just watch it."
Regina sucks in a sharp breath. "Oh, for the love of -" she stalks forward, getting a hold of Emma's MacBook which, ironically enough, isn't password protected.
It takes Emma another five seconds to realize what's going on. "What the hell are you doing?"
"If you won't listen to me, maybe you'll listen to this," Regina informs her curtly, bringing up a variety of files on the screen. "Or rather, me approximately three days ago."
"You made a video of yourself?"
"Well don't sound so surprised."
Emma can't help it. Any thought of running away as far as she possibly can vanishes as the screen changes, and a clear image of Regina appears in the window. She's sitting at her desk, hands folded across the surface as she stares regally into the camera.
And it's entirely too formal and so unlike Emma's own logs, she almost laughs.
"If you're watching this, Emma, then I suppose this means we've gotten past all the sentiments. If not... We have a long journey ahead of us now, don't we? So I'll make this as brief as I can."
Emma glances at Regina from the corner of her eye, but she doesn't seem to be paying any mind to her. She wrings her hands nervously and turns back to the screen.
"We seem to be at a disagreement with what I'm doing with my life, not to mention the confusion with what you think that life entails. But all I can say is, my life – my happiness - does not equate to this sham of a future you brought up, Miss Swan. My future isn't going to consist of a perfect marriage, or some happy little family like your idiot parents. I don't need Robin Hood in my life to be happy. I don't need a second son to prove my abilities as a mother. I make my own destiny. That will always include Henry. And, if fate permits it... You as well.
"Do you want to know where I see myself in five years, Emma? I see myself right here, counting down the days until our son graduates high school and moves onto the next stage of his life. I see myself bringing a little girl home from an orphanage, with blonde curls that remind me of you. And adopting a ratty old dog because you wouldn't stop insisting. Because you're an idiot. And because I see myself spending the rest of my life with you.
"So you see, Savior. Maybe this story doesn't have to end tragically like most stories do. I didn't used to believe in happy endings. Villains don't get those, after all. But for years now you've stepped into my life and invaded every cell in my body, every thought in my mind. And you gave me hope. As frustrating and torturous as it all was, Emma, you gave me reason to believe that I could be happy.
"Your videos seem to have made me disgustingly sentimental. I want you to know that, in any case... It's impossible not to love you, Emma.
"I think I have from the start."
The screen suddenly fades to black. Silence descends over them, one so deafening Emma wonders whether Regina can hear her heart pounding against her rib cage with the force of a bulldozer. It leaves her feeling lightheaded, like at any moment she'll pass out, only to wake up and realize it had all been a dream.
She clears her throat and looks at Regina, who is staring at her intensely. Emma's chest is ready to implode.
"So does that mean -"
Emma never gets to finish. Palming her face gently in her hands, Regina tugs her forward and kisses her.
"I get that we both have our differences and all. But I'll say this once and a million times over if I have to. All those times I'd piss you off… all the times I'd roll my eyes or scoff at the little things, because it's those little things that matter, that was never me hating you, Regina.
"That was me falling in love with you."