Regina sees color for the first time when she’s in her mid-twenties, at some dingy bar that Marian has dragged her to. “I’m not going to see my ex alone,” she’d informed Regina. “And I know he’s going to bring his roommate for moral support. Congrats, you’re mine.”
Regina glares at her and concedes, as she always does when Marian makes demands of her. And so they’re meeting up with the ex for a friendly night to catch up now that Marian’s back in town, and Marian says, “There he is.”
Regina turns and catches sight of them– a man not much older than her and a girl beside him with her eyes fixed on Regina– and her world explodes into color.
She can’t name the colors yet– she’ll have to google a chart, which is something she’d never thought she’d do after Daniel and throwing out the chart in her childhood bedroom– but she knows that this is what she’s seeing, bright and vibrant and everywhere. There’s a jacket so stunningly colored on the roommate’s shoulders that Regina gapes in awe, unwilling to tear her eyes away.
And when she finally does, it’s to gaze at Marian’s ex in wonder. “Robin,” Marian says, but he’s gazing right back at Regina, a smile on his face. Marian sighs. “This is Regina.”
And it isn’t polite to talk about soulmates or acknowledge that they exist, even to your soulmate, so Regina offers Robin a secret smile and says not a thing. Robin says, “Ah, you know Emma.”
Regina blinks over at the roommate again, struggling to find her face and not the color on her jacket. (Or the curves beneath them, for that matter– she has a soulmate now. No more gaping at women in bars.) Emma is staring at her in disbelief, and Regina glares at her, affronted by her rudeness.
She turns her eyes back to Robin. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she says. “Less so your friend.”
Emma mumbles “Bitch,” and backs away from them, her eyes still wide and disbelieving as she fades into a corner. Regina can’t say she’s sorry that she’s gone.
Robin asks Regina out at the end of the night and Marian rolls her eyes but gives them her blessing. And it’s perfect. As soulmates should be. Robin is easygoing and nice enough, a good guy Henry doesn't hate, and Regina’s…
Regina’s world has been in black-and-white for so long that now all she can see is color. She’d thought once that she’d never know her soulmate, that he’d be someone Mother had already destroyed– or that she would, someday. Soulmates are for the privileged few who can still afford to believe in a greater romance.
Scientists say that there’s no truth to the phenomenon, that it’s only a myth and as false as magic. They talk about pheromone levels directly linked to photoreceptors, that it’s only infatuation and nothing more that wakes color vision. Regina had chosen to believe that right up until the day she’d spotted Robin with Emma across a crowded bar.
And really, the only less-than-perfect thing about Robin is Emma, who seems to be underfoot all the time. Foster siblings, Robin explains once. There’s a story there that they haven’t told, because he seems perpetually guilty when he mentions her and she’s more sulky than affectionate.
Though she is in fact like an irritating younger sister, stomping around their shared apartment whenever Regina’s there and prodding all of her buttons. Their first date had ended with the two of them ducking into the apartment for a movie and Emma had been sitting on the opposite couch. She’d spent the night glaring balefully at Regina and Regina had been so distracted by her that she’d missed out on the movie and anything more Robin had planned.
And with Regina and Henry living at Daddy’s place, she doesn’t have much of a choice but to spend time in that agonizing apartment with that impossible roommate.
“You’re nothing more than an overgrown child,” Regina snaps at her one day. Robin focuses on the TV screen, already accustomed to their sniping.
“And you’re a closed-minded rich bitch who’s stinking up my apartment with that awful perfume,” Emma snarls. She’s sprawled across the other couch, reading a textbook titled Complete GED Preparation, and she hasn’t even bothered putting on pants. Regina’s eyes linger on smooth, muscular legs for a moment.
When she looks up, it’s to Emma’s knowing smirk. She flushes and lashes out. “At least I didn’t spend my high school years passed out in some alley doing god knows what. Or who.” She smirks back, victorious, when Emma sags a tiny bit.
Robin says, “Regina.”
Emma holds up a hand, cutting off his reproof. “Nah, you probably spent it sucking up to Mommy, hoping she’d finally be proud of you.” Her eyes glitter with incisive cruelty at Regina’s flinch. “Did it work?”
Regina storms out, Robin trailing after her.
Regina’s never met someone so good at pushing her buttons before, and she’s never met anyone she’s quite so good at pushing back. She loathes Emma Swan, makes every effort to let her know it, and Emma pulls no punches in return.
“She is not coming out with us,” Regina says, time and again, but the one thing Robin seems to be firm on is that Emma won’t be excluded, even for Regina. And so Emma’s a constant presence in her life now, in Robin’s apartment and out. She spends most of their group nights out vanishing from bars with women and making questionable choices that end with her stumbling back into the apartment hours later, stinking of alcohol and sex.
Or so Regina imagines, anyway, from Robin’s exasperated stories. A rare time she does spend the night, she emerges from the bedroom at three AM and finds Emma in the kitchen, staring at her laptop screen fixedly.
“What are you doing, livestreaming lesbian porn?”
Emma rolls her eyes, pausing as she slides them up and down Regina’s body instead. Regina shivers, tugging down the tee she’d grabbed from Robin’s dresser. It’s smaller than she’d thought it would be when she’d pulled it on, and it just barely covers all necessary bits. “You know that’s my shirt, not Robin’s, right?” Emma says, lip curled with mocking amusement.
Regina huffs at her, turning to open the cabinet with the cups and squirming when she realizes that reaching up means the shirt will ride higher over her ass. When she peeks behind her, Emma’s eyes are glued to her computer screen again, and she bites back what can’t possibly be disappointment. “Pass me mine, too,” Emma says, and there’s an odd note to her voice when she specifies, “The blue one.”
Regina is already pouring them both cups of water when it registers. “You’ve met your soulmate?” she blurts out, twisting around and forgoing propriety for curiosity. “You? She couldn’t get away fast enough, could she?” She grins, gleeful at the idea of it. Of course even Emma Swan’s own soulmate would hate her.
Emma’s jaw works beneath her skin, and Regina hesitates, almost guilty at the way vulnerability rises up through Emma, softening her rigid posture and unwinding her face into something far more exposed. They’re supposed to fight, turning every blow that lands into another blow. And tonight Regina had hit so deeply that Emma won't play their game. “Something like that,” she murmurs, and she takes her cup and doesn’t look up again.
Regina watches her from the doorway, too uncomfortable to sit down opposite Emma at the table. They stand there for a long time, Regina watching Emma as Emma stares at her computer, and when Regina ventures, “What–?” Emma picks up her laptop and leaves the room.
In the morning, Regina makes snide comments about Emma’s pancakes and Emma dumps a gallon of salt on the ones on her plate in response. (Eat the fucking pancakes, you asshole.) And that romantic still hidden deep within Regina still thinks it’s both sad and baffling that Emma could have met her soulmate and lost her.
“Is she dead?” she demands as they both leave the apartment– Emma to work, Regina to pick up Henry for school.
Emma doesn’t ask who the she is. “No,” she grumbles.
“Is she a he? Can lesbians have male soulmates? That’s rather tragic–“
“Regina, would you please just shut up about my soulmate?” Emma snaps. “It doesn’t matter. She doesn't want me. Let it go.” She stomps off in the general direction of the subway, leaving an even more baffled Regina behind.
Because a soulmate has to want you. That’s the beauty of a soulmate. They’re the one person in the universe whom you can count on to unconditionally love you. And as obnoxious and crass as Emma Swan is, she’s also beautiful and sharp-tongued and isn’t the worst person in the universe. She certainly isn’t unlovable.
Regina shudders at her own assessment. Far too charitable. But the point stands.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she persists later that evening. They’re at a club together, Robin and Marian having already disappeared for drinks. “When I met Robin and saw color, I knew right away that he was it for me. Your soulmate couldn’t have rejected you.”
Emma sighs, weary and bitter. “I don’t fucking believe in soulmates, Regina. I believe in photoreceptors activated by pheromones. Not everyone wants their life to revolve around their boyfriend.”
“My life doesn’t revolve around my boyfriend!” Regina says, indignant, because Emma sees her three nights a week and has decided her sum from them alone. She’s a single mother facing down her father's business empire and Emma Swan is still studying for her GED and has the nerve to accuse her of not having a life outside some occasional dating?
Emma laughs unkindly. “You have the safest, most boring life ever. Even Robin does that whole chaining-himself-to-trees things. Of course you’d settle into the easiest relationship you can manage.”
“Fuck off, Emma Swan.” Regina snaps– and Emma doesn’t know, of course, not about secret love affairs and an adoption that shouldn’t have gone through at all and the maybe-accident that had left Regina a single mother at twenty-two, moving back into her father’s house with a baby and a broken heart. Emma Swan doesn’t know what it means to be surrounded by people and still struggling all the time anyway for something easy.
“I have a better idea.” Emma’s eyes are dancing with challenge and a heavier emotion lurking behind it. “Do something different for a change.” She stands, holding out a hand.
Regina stares at her. “You want me to…dance with you?”
“Show me you’re capable of ever having fun. Fun that doesn’t involve bickering with me,” Emma adds in hastily, and Regina is at least incapable of resisting a challenge from Emma Swan, even one like this, moving against her with her hips swiveling as Emma’s hands splay out across them. She hears the gulp and twists, leaning into Emma as the music slows, and it’s not the worst thing in the world, really. Even if Emma is the worst.
Emma’s hands slide around her waist now, the two of them swaying in place, and this feels…natural. Regina had danced when she’d been a teen, Daddy's family’s dances until Mother had insisted that she take ballet instead for culture, dear, and she hadn’t realized how much she’d missed them until this club with its colorful lights and gyrating bodies around her and Emma Swan’s body pressed to hers.
“You can be fun,” Emma murmurs into her ear, sounding amused. “I thought your default setting was uptight bitch.”
“Oh, it is,” Regina says, a little breathless both from the dancing and Emma’s proximity. Emma laughs, a rumble against Regina’s back. “Now you owe me answers.”
“I do not.”
“Did you like her? Did you even get to talk to her?”
Emma shrugs, a little movement that sets them all off-kilter. “She didn’t want it to be me,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how I feel about her.”
Regina’s heart betrays her again with another twinge. “Emma–“ she starts, her voice too soft, her hands tightening their grip on the other girl.
Emma stiffens. “Don’t you dare pity me,” she snaps, pulling away. “I don’t care about any of that shit. Go dance with your soulmate.” She spits it out like a curse.
“Fine!” Regina calls after her. “I will!” Instead, she excuses herself, claiming an early night, and goes home to her father and son.
Henry is sick the rest of that week with a bad stomach bug, and he's cranky and exhausted and impossible. Regina skips work to look after him, wrapping herself around him as he whimpers into her shirt. She cancels dates with Robin and is pleasantly surprised when he comes over to her place instead with a large stuffed bear and Emma trailing behind him.
“I don’t do kids,” she says, leaning against the door uncomfortably. Robin is talking to Daddy downstairs and Regina is sitting on her big queen-sized bed, Henry curled up on her lap as he regards this new stranger.
“Then why are you here?”
Emma shrugs, her eyes fixed on Henry. The two of them have identical suspicious expressions on their faces as they take each other in, the five-year-old and the other five-year-old. “I was bored.”
“Perish the thought.”
But Emma sits down clumsily, fumbling through the books stacked up next to the bed, and she opens The Cat and the Hat and starts reading.
Henry loves her.
She puts on voices, squeaks with fear like the fish in the book, and gets animated as she rattles off line after line after line. Henry listens with rapt attention and Emma is awed in turn at the way he tugs on her sleeve and demands more. “You don’t do kids,” Regina repeats.
“I don’t.” But she grins, self-conscious, when Henry makes her climb onto the bed and crawls between her and his mother, listening to the next book until his eyes close. It’s the first time he’s napped all day, and Emma flushes in the face of Regina’s gratitude. “He’s cute, okay?”
"Oh, I know." But Regina grins, the stress finally easing from her throat with Henry asleep and content. "You could do worse. Henry thinks Robin is boring, too."
Emma mock-gasps. "No!"
"He's your brother. Be nice." Henry had mentioned it to Regina in a whisper loud enough for the whole room to hear. Thankfully, Robin is easygoing enough– boring, a voice that sounds like Emma whispers in her mind– that he’d just laughed. "And haven't you said that I'm boring, too?"
Emma leans back against the headboard, stroking a hand along Henry's back. "Regina, if you ever bored me for an instant, I'd call for a coroner."
"Because you'd be dead." She licks her lips. "Of course, I'd probably be the one to kill you."
"Please," Regina scoffs. "I'd kill you first."
"You would not. Look at you." Emma pokes a finger into Regina's arm. "You big softie."
Regina lowers her voice and fixes Emma with a glare that has terrified even her most intimidating business opponents. "I will yank out your bloody entrails and shove them down your throat."
Emma is unfazed. "See? Not boring at all."
"I despise you.” But she’s smiling despite herself, and Emma grins and Regina has to restrain herself from demanding again what it is that could possibly have put Emma’s soulmate off her. Not that there’s anything desirable about Emma Swan.
But she supposes that someone who’d looked at Emma and seen color might have found a tolerable soulmate in her.
Robin’s brothers are in town, and he nearly begs Regina to join them all for dinner. “It’s…a bad combination, Emma and the boys,” is all he says.
She’s nonplussed at the idea that Robin has brothers at all. “I thought you were a foster child?”
“Oh, no. Emma was the…foster.” That shadowed guilt returns to his face again, and Regina leans forward, interested. “There’s still some bad blood.”
Bad blood means that the three boys filter into the apartment with four six-packs and Robin laughs genially with them while Emma slips into her room and locks the door. Regina finds them coarse and loud and irritating, and sometime halfway through the second six-pack, she finds herself banging at Emma’s door, hissing threats through it to let her in.
Emma yanks the door open so quickly and silently that Regina nearly falls into the room. “Watch it!” she snaps.
And one of the older brothers– Keith, maybe– turns, his grin turning wolfish. “Emma Swan,” he says, taking a step forward. “I never thought I’d see the day.”
Emma stands her ground. “Fuck off, Keith.”
“What are you doing with that trash dyke?” Keith is turning to Regina now, taking a step forward. He’d stunk of alcohol before Robin had let him in, and Regina can see Robin behind him as he staggers forward, his face pained. “If you want to get with one of Robin’s siblings, I’m happy to volun–“
Emma slams the door on Keith’s face. “If I punch him in the face, their dad will cut Robin off. He barely puts up with me being around as it is,” she says, sounding apologetic. “Robin likes his environmental terrorism bit too much to get a real job, and I can’t pay for this apartment on my own.”
She sinks onto the bed, lying flat on her back as Regina sits down gingerly beside her. “Aren’t they your brothers too?”
“For a few months. Social Services thought it was a safe place for their troublemakers because the boys were all out of the house already except for Robin, and there was another foster girl there. Then Keith and the others came home for spring break and he made a move on me one time too many and I broke his nose.” Emma shrugs. “I was sixteen and desperate. I ran instead of being sent back into the system or back to that house.”
“Robin is…well. You know Robin.” Emma laughs shortly. “He wants to do the right thing, but it takes him weeks of agonizing over it first. He didn’t stick up for me and then after I went to juvie, he started visiting me again. His dad nearly kicked him out over that.”
“His father sounds like my mother,” Regina says ruefully, ignoring the twinge of frustration at Robin that runs through her. She runs her fingers through Emma’s hair absentmindedly. “Wait, juvie?”
Emma rolls her eyes, tilting her face back to catch Regina’s gaze. “Are you surprised? I’m the useless high school dropout, remember? I stole cars and watches and tried out heterosexuality and neither one worked out very well for me.”
“Imagine that.” Regina says, voice dry. Emma snickers and Regina tugs at her hair in reproach.
“I’m sorry that Robin made you come here to babysit me,” Emma says sourly. “This scene isn’t really your whole business-empire-heir-single-mom thing. I wouldn’t have agreed if I’d known.”
Regina twists golden locks of hair together. “Is that why I’m here?”
“I don’t know what he thought he’d accomplish with…” Emma sighs. “You don’t even like me.”
The room is dark, lit only by the street outside, and Regina can see that the walls are bare and the bookshelf nearly empty. Emma’s been living here for two years now and she has almost nothing to show for it. (Regina had been the same, those agonizing early months without Daniel and with a tiny baby Henry. She’d only remembered how to make a home after moving back in with Daddy after Mother had left.)
In an odd way, Regina suspects that both she and Emma are the closest the other has to a consistent friend. “I don’t hate you,” she concedes, and adds quickly, “All the time.”
“Regina Mills, I am appalled. What’s next–“ She reaches behind her to the hair that Regina’s twining together. “–Braiding my hair?”
Regina slaps her hand away. “Get over yourself.”
“A french braid!” Emma says, delighted. “You can’t do one of those when I’m lying down. It’s going to stick out all wonky when I sit up.” She doesn’t sit up, though, and Regina doesn’t stop braiding it. “You were wasted on a son. This is quality braiding.”
Regina pulls her hair. Emma continues, undeterred, “Are you going to make Henry grow out his–“
“I’m just saying, kid would look pretty cute with long hair.”
Regina snatches a ponytail holder from Emma’s night table and slides off the bed. “I’m leaving.”
Emma struggles to follow and fails. “Did you tie my headboard into my braid?”
Robin calls her later that night and leaves an apologetic message on her phone, ending off with a brief, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Emma that pleasant after a visit from my brothers. Thank you, Regina.”
Regina plays that last bit over and over until she has it memorized and tells herself it’s about Robin’s voice, rough and unsure of himself, and not the thought of Emma cheery with her hair still half-tangled into a braid.
They aren’t friends. They still aren’t friends, and Emma’s still a pain in the ass, and she’s more and more obnoxious daily when Regina’s with Robin in their apartment. And maybe it’s because of that that Regina doesn’t invite Robin to Henry’s fifth birthday dinner. Mother is actually in the States for that weekend and Regina finds Emma Swan irritating enough without having her trailing after Robin to meet Cora Mills.
Robin instead goes on some caravan to D.C. to march for…the turtles, or the right to processed mayonnaise, or some equally vital cause, she’s sure, and Cora Mills makes herself at home in Regina’s. Technically, her parents are still married, but it’s mostly for business reasons and Mother is rarely in the house. Regina wouldn’t have moved in with Daddy if she had been, and she spends most time that Mother is around making herself scarce.
Henry gets his presents and ice cream in the afternoon, but Mother insists that his birthday party be a late-night affair that he need not attend. “We’re celebrating five years of you managing that boy.” She’s generally fond of Henry but equally disdainful of Regina raising Henry, and Regina grits her teeth and agrees in the hopes that Mother will leave sooner if she cooperates.
They’re halfway through a dinner cross-examination of Regina’s business acumen when Regina gets a phone call from Robin. “I’m chained to the fence outside the White House!” he says, sounding frantic. “And I just remembered the date. I need you to go check on Emma.”
“I’m in the middle of something right now,” she says, irritated.
“I can’t leave her alone tonight. She never said a word before I left– Every year–“ He’s beginning to fade out, and Regina can hear sirens in the distance. “You need to go to her.”
He’s rarely so insistent, and Regina makes polite excuses and slips out the door, Mother’s eyes dark as she watches her go. She’ll deal with it in the morning.
She makes it to Robin’s apartment just in time. Emma is half passed out on the couch, her fists bloody and broken bottles around her. Regina drags her into the shower and turns it on, letting the cold water take care of rousing her. “Idiot,” she berates her. “I’m missing my son’s fifth birthday party because you couldn’t wait one day to go on a bender?”
Regina expects sputtering or even some violence– this is Emma, after all– but she doesn’t expect the laughter that escapes from Emma’s throat, choked and almost angry. “Of course,” she says, spitting out water. “Of course you had Henry five years ago. We could have been hospital buddies.”
Emma is pulling away from her, staggering into her room, and Regina follows on her heel. “Of course you had a son the day I did.” She laughs again, water still spilling down her face, and she’s a mess of water and tears and scraggly hair. “Wild fucking coincidence. Like we’re fucking meant to be.”
Regina’s so startled that she doesn’t stop to wonder at Emma’s vitriolic condescension. “Emma–“
Emma surges forward and kisses her, saltwater lips and hands tight on Regina’s waist. It’s sloppy and she still stinks of alcohol and Regina sees color bursting behind her eyes like fireworks, and she kisses Emma and kisses Emma and can’t think of anything more than Emma, Emma, until they’re falling onto Emma’s bed, Regina’s hands tangled in Emma’s hair and Emma hovering above her, kissing her like she’s been dying of thirst and Regina’s her oasis.
Emma is kissing her collarbone, kissing every free inch of skin that Regina’s dress exposes, and Regina falls back onto the bed, one of her hands kneading Emma’s breast over her clothes, and Emma lets out a tiny cry and Regina remembers–
She snatches her hand away, horrified. “Get off me.”
Emma’s eyes are a little glazed over, but she still scrambles back, swaying on her feet as she stands. “Regina,” she breathes. “Regina, I–“
“I have a soulmate!” Regina hisses. “I have your brother! What the hell do you think you were doing?”
Emma shakes her head. “He isn’t my fucking brother.”
“That’s all you have to say for yourself?” Regina demands, disbelieving. Her skin feels hot and her body is aching, desperate for more of– of whatever Emma had been drunkenly initiating. “Your own soulmate didn’t want you so you decide to poach someone else’s–“
Emma cuts her off, wrapping her arms around herself and looking terribly small. “Regina, please,” she begs, and Regina doesn’t know what she wants except that it still has Regina desperate for something she can’t name.
“Just stay the hell away from me,” Regina orders and storms out of the room.
She doesn’t leave the apartment, not when Emma’s so unstable and Robin is counting on her. She lies down on the uncomfortable couch and tosses and turns until Emma emerges silently from her room and lays a blanket over her.
She shivers when Emma’s fingers graze her breasts as she tucks in the blanket. Emma doesn’t look at her face, and Regina waits until Emma’s already in her room before she ventures, “What happened to him?”
Emma hesitates a moment before she shuts the door. “I put him up for adoption,” she says. “I was in prison. I had no rich daddy to swoop in and offer me a wing of his house.” The words are biting and pained and when Regina sits up to watch her, Emma’s eyes are raw. “I don’t know what happened to him.”
And for a moment, Emma’s downcast expression is achingly familiar, and Regina wonders– But no, this is coincidence enough. It can’t be.
She steals Emma’s toothbrush before she leaves the apartment in the morning, and sets out to find answers with a new wave of terror spinning through her.
She’d once thought of her time with Robin as a refuge from home, from the responsibilities that her work demand of her and even as a way to feel like a normal twenty-something. She’d never thought it would be the hell that it is now.
Robin is there beside her, and all she can see is Emma across the room, glaring at them with that same hurt on her face. “Can I help you?” Regina finally snaps.
Emma retreats, her face stiffening into something unreadable. And again and again, Regina searches it for the same stiffness that Henry gets when he’s feeling particularly stubborn, when he’s hurt and angry and so vulnerable that she wants to gather him into her arms and assure him that she loves–
Stop. Emma is not Henry. Emma should and will have nothing to do with Henry, no matter what useless test results claim. Regina is done with Emma Swan, who kisses like fireworks and whose hurt radiates outward until it scorches Regina as thoroughly as her lips had.
“I’m going out,” Emma grits out, and she doesn’t come back until the next evening, shadows under her eyes and bruises on her knees. Robin seems nonplussed by the whole thing. She hasn’t been like this since she first left juvie, he says. I don’t know what’s gotten into her, he says. Regina shrugs and scowls and pretends that his lips don’t scratch like sandpaper now when he touches her.
Robin is the same as always, and Regina doesn’t know why suddenly all she can see is Emma’s mocking face around him. He’s her soulmate, she loves him, there are no distractions in lonely girls who kiss Regina like she’s the whole universe and they could lose themselves in her.
Regina could lose herself in Emma Swan, and she curses her own damn luck that she’d ever met her.
And yet, she’s still dropping by the apartment a few days later with Henry in tow, a quick stop on the way to the park to “see if Robin’s around.” He isn’t, but Emma opens the door and stares down at Henry, startled, and then lifts her head to face Regina. “Oh,” she says. “You.”
“I’m flattered,” Regina says coolly, but she’s already watching how Henry’s chin is lifted and just the same shape as Emma’s, and how they both have a nervous kind of wariness around each other. Now that she knows, she has no idea how she hadn’t suspected it before.
And she’s in control, she reminds herself. Emma doesn’t know any of this. Emma can’t know any of this, can’t have any hold on Regina that she doesn’t already, and Regina’s suffered enough sleepless nights over test results and kisses to endure it any longer. “We were looking for Robin,” she says blandly.
“Of course you were.”
Regina clasps her hands together behind her back. “Stop looking at me like that.” It’s a combination kicked-puppy-angry-puppy, Emma rejected and dejected and lost. Her heart strains to beat a steady rhythm and fails.
Emma laughs, coarse and sharp. “I’ve been looking at you like this since the day we met,” she says, and stares at the floor.
Regina closes fingers around Emma’s wrist and Emma’s eyes zero in on it. “Come to the park with us?” Regina’s voice goes high near the end of the sentence and it emerges a question instead of a disdainful order. Emma’s brow furrows.
“There’s a big twisty slide!” Henry offers helpfully, and Regina exhales as Emma softens. “Wanna come on it with me?”
Emma does go on the slide with Henry, weaving through the jungle gym with the same limitless energy and taking on the swing beside Henry as Regina pushes him on it. “I don’t know what you’re doing,” Emma says, eyes shining as Henry laughs breathlessly. “But bringing the kid into it isn’t fair.”
Regina refuses to play that game. “You have no idea why I’m doing this.”
“You’re so fond of telling me that you’re unavailable,” Emma bites out. “And I’m seeing someone, so…”
Regina’s head jerks up and her lungs are squeezing again, struggling for air that doesn’t seem to come. “You’re seeing someone?”
Emma shrugs and Regina pushes Henry too hard, setting his swing off-kilter as he whines. “Who is she?” And when she remembers to focus on Emma again, to stop avoiding her eyes and actually look at her, she sees cuts along her wrists and dark bruises on her neck, too large and indistinct to be love bites. “What are you doing, Emma?”
“Living my life,” Emma mutters, glaring up at her. “We don’t all get to…handpick the soulmate we want and then happily settle into our fairytale stories.”
“That isn’t what I–“
“Right.” Emma laughs, bitter and long and choked. “Right, that isn’t what you did at all. You just…”
Regina slips around the swing to stand between Emma’s legs and lean to her, their lips barely grazing as Emma tilts her face down to avoid her kiss. Regina is starved at once, craving more and more from someone she shouldn’t, and she stumbles back and stumbles over an apology.
“I know,” Emma says in a flat voice. “I’m irresistible.”
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Regina says, and Emma glances from her to Henry and says nothing at all.
Regina finds excuses to be at Robin’s apartment later and later these days, forgoing time with him to sit up late and wait on the couch until Emma comes back. She stinks of various illegal substances every time, and she spares Regina a glare before she vanishes into the shower.
Regina waits outside the bathroom and Emma emerges in nothing but a towel, new bruises etched across her skin each night. Regina spots burn marks on the inside of her thigh and mutters idiot but stalks after her into her room, snatching the first aid kit along the way.
Emma is silent when Regina rubs in salves and hands her Tylenol. “What are you getting out of this?” Regina demands tiredly. “Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“Why are you?” Emma counters. “Aren’t you some big-shot business executive? Don’t you have better things to do with your time than babysit me?”
“Yes,” Regina snaps, because of course she does. She’s been slower than usual at work lately, exhausted and doing subpar work because of it, and she swears every morning that she isn’t coming back here and still finds herself here at the end of the day. “I’m not here for your self-destructive bullshit, so get over yourself and accept that you’re better than this or–“
It takes a moment before Regina sees the hot tears sliding down Emma’s face, helpless and angry and silent, and she sucks in a breath and eases Emma down onto the bed. Emma is still quiet, stiff and unyielding even as the tears still spill, and Regina lies down beside her and only then notices that her cheeks are wet, too.
“Please,” Emma whispers, and Regina doesn’t know what she’s pleading for. “Please, please, please…”
Regina splays a tentative hand onto Emma’s stomach, sliding up her tank top so they’re skin on skin, and Emma sighs and pulls her close. Regina ducks her head into Emma’s shoulder and Emma’s whispering her name now, over and over as she cradles Regina to her. And Regina is safe and warm and she can feel the frustration and restlessness of the past few weeks begin to ebb away at last.
What do you need, she says.
I don’t need anyone, Emma says.
You’re an idiot.
Okay, she murmurs, and she dreams in color in Emma’s arms.
“She used to do this all the time when she got out of juvie,” Robin says, peering down from the patio to where Emma is lying on the ground in the yard, Henry standing over her with a toy sword and proclaiming victory. “Get into scrapes, start up trouble– and not for a lofty cause,” he says, grinning boyishly like Regina hadn’t had to bail him out of jail for that stunt with the circus elephants last week. “I suppose she just needs to get out some aggression.”
“I’m sure,” Regina says. She has other ideas of what it is that has set Emma off, what the absolute certainty of not mattering can do to a person. Regina still isn’t quite sure what it means to be loved at all, even with Mother across the globe and Robin her…
Soulmate, she thinks firmly, and ignores the uncertainty that bubbles up now when she imagines this as the rest of their lives.
“Is this a pity thing?” Emma demands later. They’re still in Regina’s yard, but Robin has run out for some demonstration at City Hall and Henry is running in circles on the grass with their family Great Dane. “Why did you even force Robin to drag me here. I don’t need–“
“You’re a coward,” Regina says, eyes fixed on Henry. She still feels the flinch beside her. “You think this is so simple? You think that you can shut down and run because you feel like shit? We don’t give up.”
“I have had a hell of a lot thrown at me in my life,” she snaps. “My mother tried to marry me off to a sixty-year-old CEO when I was nineteen. I still don’t know if Daniel’s death was really an accident or not. And I didn’t self-destruct to get away from the whole damned disaster or the years of abuse before them.”
Emma’s eyes are wide when Regina finds them, and Regina flushes and shifts the conversation from her. No, she hadn’t self-destructed, but she’d destroyed a whole lot of others in the process and Emma doesn’t need to know that.
She clears her throat. “You’re worth more than this, Emma,” she mutters, still dark-cheeked with embarrassment at the admission. “I know you didn’t…I know your soulmate–“
“Don’t talk about that,” Emma begs her, and it’s in the same searching tone as please, please, please and Regina falls silent. “Tell me…something else. Not soulmates and stupid decisions. Something real.”
“Henry’s your birth son,” Regina says, and she hadn’t planned on ever telling Emma that but it bursts out in a rush of real, real, all too real. Emma doesn’t move. “Daniel and I were going to adopt him together, and they took our application when we were much too young– I think because Daddy–“ It all flows out in a jumble of words. “And then you said– and I knew– I stole your toothbrush,” she admits.
“You stole my toothbrush,” Emma says numbly.
“I sent it in for testing. You’re Henry’s birth mother. And I won’t let you–“
Emma stands up. “I have to go,” she says, and she flees the yard and the house and their lives as Regina and Henry stare after her.
She doesn’t come back. Not to their house, not to the apartment, and by Night Two of searching for Emma, Regina is skipping work and leaving Henry with Daddy and combing the city up and down with Robin. “I don’t know what set her off,” he says when they leave another bar, Emma’s photo garnering no recognition.
Regina shifts guiltily and says nothing. They’ve managed to track Emma’s phone through linked accounts to somewhere in a four-block radius, but it’s dark and crowded in this area downtown and near impossible to find her. “What about that girlfriend of hers?”
“She never even gave me a name.” Robin stares glumly at his phone, a photo of Emma glaring out at him displayed on it. She looks young and defiant, and if Regina hadn’t known better, she might have thought the picture had been from years ago and not weeks. “It’s no use. We may as well get a drink and sit for a bit.” He gestures to a bar close by.
Regina stares at him in horror. “Emma’s–“
“Emma’s somewhere here. If I know her well enough, I know she’ll find us soon,” Robin promises, leading her into the bar. Regina stands, frozen in place in disbelief, and Robin shrugs self-consciously. “Regina. It’s just a drink. We can ask them if they’ve seen her inside. You haven’t sat still in two days.”
And she doesn’t know how anyone can be so placid at a time like this, can be so stolid about Emma Swan missing and in possible danger. She wants to barge into club after club and demand answers, to face off against security guards and whoever runs the underground in these parts and rescue Emma because she is fucking everything.
And Robin is…a distraction.
She’s rooted to the ground in that moment, floundering in place as she allows herself to contemplate– for the very first time– that reality. The reality where soulmates are optional, where Emma’s soulmate might have rejected her but Regina can reject hers, where all she can think about is Emma and it doesn’t matter that she’d seen color when she’d met Robin.
And then, as though summoned by her doubt, the world around her flickers to greyscale. “What?” she says aloud.
“What?” Robin looks puzzled. The world returns to color. “What’s wrong?”
Color fades away again. Regina shakes her head to jolt it back and fails. “Do you see color?” she demands.
He squints at her. “I’ve seen color every day since the moment I met Marian. You must know that.”
The world bursts into color and then fades again, and Regina is left staring in horror at Robin. “You…Marian?” She’d known that Marian had had a dalliance with her soulmate that hadn’t worked out, but she’d never thought… “I’m your soulmate.”
Robin frowns sympathetically at her. “Regina, I had no idea that you felt that way.”
“Felt? Felt?” Regina repeats, her voice rising. “I saw color the moment I–“ She’d been standing with Marian, peering around for her ex and his roommate, and her eyes had landed on them both at once. Emma had been staring right back at her and Regina had glanced away to Robin as her world had careened into color–
“Emma,” she gasps, breaking into a run. “Call an ambulance!” she shouts behind her. She only knows of one way to lose color–the moment your soulmate dies. And the color is flickering back to her eyes and fading again, for longer and longer each time, and she runs desperately and doesn’t know where she’s going until she sees the figure crumpled over in an alley. “Emma!”
The red of Emma’s jacket is now the same dark grey as the blood oozing from her chest, and she shakes desperately and furiously as she bends over her. “Emma, no. No, you idiot, come back here. I swear, if you die after this, I’ll kill you.”
Emma twitches and the grey brightens to dull pastels. Regina grits her teeth. “You fucking asshole. You knew all along, didn’t you?” Emma had insisted her soulmate hadn’t been interested, hadn’t felt the same way, had rejected her offhand. Emma had known all along that Robin hadn’t been Regina’s soulmate and she’d kept quiet. “Why?” she demands.
Emma’s eyes flutter open and then shut halfway again. “You didn’t want it to be me,” she murmurs, and the world fades away to grey again.
Regina sits in the hospital waiting room, Robin beside her. He reaches for her once and she flinches away, glaring at him even though she knows that it isn’t his fault. He hadn’t known she’d thought he was…
They’d wasted so much time, Emma and Regina, Emma a prisoner of her own insecurities and Regina so lost in fate that she’d never bothered to second-guess it. And now Regina sees the world in black-and-white again and swallows bitter tears at what she’d lost.
Not a soulmate. Emma. Emma who means more to her regardless of whether or not Regina had known that she’d seen color when she’d met her. You didn’t want it to be me. “Bullshit,” Regina says aloud. Bullshit, she’d wanted it to be Emma even when she hadn’t know that it was.
She closes her eyes and waits, heels tapping against the linoleum as Robin paces in front of her, and when she opens her eyes again, there’s still only grey walls and doors and faces.
She closes her eyes again and exhaustion finally drains the last bit of energy from her.
Emma is in a coma. “Trauma-induced,” Robin says, parroting the words from the nurses to Regina. “She just needs some time to heal.”
But the world is still in black-and-white. Henry comes and sits with her, kicking his feet against his chair and whispering questions to Regina. “If I kiss her, will she wake up?”
“Life isn’t a fairytale, Henry.” But she lets him press a smacking kiss to Emma’s cheek and kisses her forehead under his watchful eye. Daddy stands a little behind her, a hand on her shoulder, and when Robin takes Henry downstairs for lunch, he sits down next to her and she finally lets herself cry.
“I’m in love with her,” she admits. Daddy slides an arm around her and she crumples into his arms. “I hate her,” she sniffles. “I absolutely loathe her. She’s my idiotic, self-absorbed soulmate and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
Daddy laughs, low and rumbling around her. “Soulmates can’t force love, mija. Look at you and Robin. You wanted to love him, didn’t you?”
“I did.” She thinks of Emma, teasing, If you ever bored me for an instant, I’d call a coroner. She thinks of Emma staring at her in perpetual resentment from the other couch in the apartment and she thinks of It doesn’t matter how I feel about her and she leans back and watches the grey-white skin of Emma’s face under hospital tubes and longs for color.
On the second afternoon, Regina wakes up and sees blue-green eyes framed by golden hair. And she breathes about time and Emma says you’re so demanding and it’s all uncertainty and insults between them that lack any venom.
And Regina says, you’re so useless. Were you going to die instead of talking to me? And yes, Emma would. Emma never believed she could be loved, and Regina had been just hovering with far too much love to share, brimming within her until it spills over.
You didn’t want to talk to me, Emma murmurs, and she still doesn’t understand, even as she ducks her head and stares down at the green hospital gown and Regina’s purple shirt and traces the colors of them all with her eyes.
Regina lurches forward– I wanted to do this– and kisses her until there’s a prism of color whirling behind her eyelids, spinning out of control.