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By Her Side

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"You know, you never called me a Charming." Emma says, not really looking at her.

After finding out what Henry had discovered about the author, Emma, somehow, ended up in the car with Henry and Regina. And without her really noticing, they were all in the mansion’s porch and Regina was inviting her to come in and have dinner with them. As soon as dinner was finished, Henry went to bed and they decided to go to Regina’s study and continue the shots they didn’t have the chance to start in the first place. 

It felt like ages ago the last time they had drinks together. And it really had been. “It was when we first met” Regina thinks. ”I hated Emma back then. No… hate might not be the right word.”

They are not seating in front of each other like that last time. They are side by side now, not really looking at one another. More importantly, there’s no fake politeness, no fake smiles in their faces this time. 

While lost in her musings, Regina realizes that Emma has said something, and it is now time for her to say something back. Somehow, during the night, they ended up talking about the Charmings. “God, why were we talking about the idiots, again?”  She can’t come up with a proper answer. Maybe she has had her quota of shots for the night. 

But Emma is right. As much as Regina likes to think that Emma is right there with Snow and David. “Just another idiot.” She never really was. Because as much of a hero as she knows Emma is, for Regina, Emma Swan is also, and here is when she struggles to admit even for herself, an equal. So she tries to express this thought the best way she can. 

"Well… I suppose you proved yourself of not being in the same level of idiocy as your parents." It is what she ends up saying with a hint of amusement in her voice.

"Wow… Was that a compliment?" Emma responds, making a toast gesture towards her. "You know, Regina, you should definitely drink more often."

And she can see the little smirk on Emma’s face through the corner of her eye. She ends up with a smirk of her own. But then, she properly looks at Emma. She is still looking ahead. Her smirk turned into a smile. And she looks like she wants to be there, in the study talking to Regina. More than that, she looks like she doesn’t want to be anywhere else. Regina’s smirk disappears. Because… she just doesn’t understand.

Regina Mills doesn’t understand why Emma Swan is still there. After so many fights, after so many words exchanged, after so much history. After everything. Emma Swan is still there… by her side. “After a childhood ruined." She finally thinks. "She is still here.” 

So Regina does the same thing she always does when guilt and self-hate starts to grow. She thinks of her son. “Henry. I have Henry, that’s all that matters now.” 

Regina says to herself that, what Emma feels, is only gratitude. She gave Emma something. A happy ending. She must feel as if she has to give it back. She tries not to think of secrets and declarations spilled out in a crypt, of pure smiles and glances shared between them.

She especially tries not to think of hats working and triggers destroyed. She really tries. What she thinks of instead, it’s something she said to someone, who is now gone. 

"The only people who believe in me, are Henry and you." 

After another promise made by Emma, this time about giving Regina a happy ending, she tries to think it wasn’t selfish to say that to Robin. Because Emma believes in her and she knows it in her heart. But how long will it last? How long will it be until Emma is looking at her again the way everyone else looks at her? With distrust. With hate. Will Regina be able to take that again? Now that they are… What exactly? No, life it’s too complicated as it is, and she is so much more used to distrust anyway, it is so much easier to lash out at Emma than to deal with these feelings. 

In this way, Robin was easy. Robin had no questions. She did not have to prove herself to him and he had no doubts. She did not have to be afraid of him turning against her. And that is why she said that, wasn’t it? She knows it is not rational for anyone to believe in her. After everything she has done. “I killed his wife, I killed Marian.” But she accepted. And, maybe, it was really the pixie dust talking, maybe it was an illusion, but she says to herself, that at the moment, she could live with easy. She even tries to prove to herself she truly wants easy. 

Then, Emma finally realizes Regina is staring, and looks at her too.

"What?" She asks with that confused puppy expression in her face. 

Confused puppy? What am I even thinking?” Regina certainly had her quota of shots. 

"Why are you doing this?" Regina asks her with a confused look of her own. And, the truth is, she is afraid. She is afraid of asking and she is even more afraid of the answer. But when Emma Swan is looking at her, it’s as if she can see all of Regina Mills. It feels like Regina is bare, she can’t hide anything, so… she waits.

"Erm… I thought it was because we agreed to have shots?" And of course Emma is going for the easy path. They are having shots, and Regina said she did not want to hear a hope speech. Regina wanted to have shots and easy conversations, but there she is, asking questions that demand complicated answers.

"Yes, I know that. I meant why did you offer to help find the author? Why are you helping me?"  There, she said it. Now, she just has to wait for Emma’s answer. Except, there is nothing just about that. 

And they both know her questions are not about Emma being nice and they having shots. No. This… this is about one sided conversations held through a door. It’s about promises of happiness. Emma was obviously not expecting an ultimatum. She opens her mouth to answer but doesn’t make any sound. She speaks after a few seconds of thinking though.

"I said I wanted you to be my friend, Regina. This… this is what friends do. They care about each other."

She knows she is probably looking at Emma more confused than before. Because… Emma Swan actually caring about her… It’s not possible.

"But how can you? Emma… I… I’ve…" And now Regina is stuttering. That is just great.

She looks down and has to take a deep breath before finishing it. “I’ve ruined your life.” She says it calmly. As if the words didn’t carry an entire burden, as if this guilt doesn’t eat her alive. “I’ve ruined so many lives before yours.” She finishes in her head. “No, think about Henry.” 

And this is not something they talk about. This is forbidden territory. Like so many other things they don’t talk about. Regina thinks of a hunter’s heart being crushed by her hand. She thinks of death and blood, all on her hands. “Think about Henry. Think of his smile. He’s worth it, he’s worth it.” She thinks of how she’s saying it so calmly. Because these were almost the same words that were said so differently in another night. "You’ve ruined my life". Again, she wants to believe it wasn’t selfish. 

Because Emma Swan ended the happiness Regina thought she had. But most of all, she ended the easiness. She crashed the easiness like she always does even without noticing. Because nothing was easy with her and Robin after that night. “No” she thinks “There was no you and Robin. Forget it, like it never existed.” And she tries to get cheating and shame, so much shame, and Marian smiling at her, oblivious to the whole story, out of her head. "They are gone now, gone".

"Because I decided to forgive you." She is taken out of her thoughts by Emma’s voice. And she remembers she was actually waiting for an answer all this time.

"Because I’m tired, Regina" And Emma has that look on her face. That look she has when she is saying something that Regina knows no one else has heard before. "Of all that. All the burden, the anger. I’m tired, and I decided to forgive you… a long time ago. Why can’t you accept that?"

But Regina has had one too many shots and she knows she would never be demanding answers, otherwise. She tells herself she would actually not want to hear, if she wasn’t drunk. So, of course, no, she doesn’t accept Emma’s answer.

"I did not actually apologize, did I?" She takes a little pause, but she doesn’t break their staring contest. "And a long time ago? When? Since when, Emma?"

Emma takes a small breath and looks down like she is annoyed. It seems as if, for the first time, she doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t want to be talking to her or even having that conversation at all. But she looks at Regina again, and she continues.

"Since I saw you were trying? Since I’ve known you changed, Regina." She makes a pause. And she has a sincere look in her face. "I don’t need apologies. You may not regret what you did, because of our son, but you sure as hell feel guilt. I can see that. I could see it that day you decided to give me everything I could have ever asked for."

And there it is. “So it is gratitude.” Regina thinks. She looks down and smiles bitterly. But Emma doesn’t look like she has finished. 

"Because that life you gave me and Henry? It was a happy life, a calm life…" She stops, like she is thinking how to actually say what she wants to say. "And… because I want that life again." Regina immediately looks up startled by what she has heard. “No, not that story of going back to New York again…Please, no, not that again.”

She’s ready to start fighting and screaming, and everything she didn’t get the chance to do, when she first discovered Emma wanted to take their son away from her, but then, Emma starts talking again.

I want that life again, but here, Regina. With Henry and with my parents…” She takes another breath before finally saying it. “And… with you.” Emma is looking so apprehensive at her. Regina can’t decide what to think. 

Because Emma is there again. Saying she needs Regina. “No, not just that, saying she wants me in her life.” And they are staring at each other without saying anything, like so many times before. And so, it finally hits her. Right now, Regina feels bare, she is bare, but… Emma is bare too. Emma has nothing to hide. "This is what friends do. They care about each other." And that’s why Emma Swan is still there. That’s why she’s always there. “Can I accept Emma truly cares about me? Can I, truly?” Regina decides that for now, she really can. For now… it’s enough for her to actually believe in Emma. For now, it’s enough for her to feel safe. So, she releases a breath she didn’t even realize she was holding, and responds with the only possible thing that comes to her mind. 

"I…I really…" and she’s stuttering again. What is it with Emma Swan that makes Regina Mills stutter? "I really want that too, Emma."

And Emma gives her a smile. “No… not a smile. That smile.” That smile she likes to think she only has seen Emma giving to her. That pure genuinely happy smile. And they are looking at each other for far too long. But then, like fighting, like understanding and challenging each other, like complicated, and impossible magic. This is them. And Regina starts to feel something with Emma Swan that it is too close to happiness to feel safe. But she feels safe anyway.