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“Get the hell away from here,” Zelena hisses, eyes flashing.

 

Emma doesn’t know when Regina and Zelena had become best sisters ever or whatever the hell is going on with them, but she’s already tired of it. “We're here to pay our respects,” she says stiffly, gesturing at the crowd of Merry Men seated around the table. Regina sits aloof from them, staring into nothingness as Henry sits snug beside her. Her arm never leaves his shoulders and her eyes never flick toward the entrance to Granny’s. “I have to– Regina–“ She makes an attempt to walk around Zelena and is instantly blocked.

 

Zelena’s eyes are burning now, righteous fury in her low voice. “You have to…what? Rub it in my sister’s face that your true love is back while hers and mine are gone?” she demands. “It’s all your fault.” 

 

Which is…not fair at all. “Your boyfriend was the one who stabbed him! If you want to play the blame game, I think it falls squarely on your–!” 

 

Zelena slaps her, the noise ringing through the diner. Emma draws a fist back, finally ready to fight, to war with Regina’s sister and break into the diner and talk to the one person she’s desperate to see–

 

A hook catches her elbow, yanking it back painfully. “Let it go,” Killian says, and Emma deflates. “She’ll go,” he says to Zelena. Emma leaves her arm limp in Killian’s hook, too reluctant to fight him, too. 

 

“I killed Hades,” Zelena says fiercely. “I killed my true love for Regina. What the hell have you done for her while she was fighting for you?” 

 

There’s a list somewhere– a balance, really, for Emma to fall back on and comfort herself in her moments of self-loathing. You sacrificed, you saved, you did everything you could for them, and they came with you to the Underworld out of debt to you. No one would give freely to her otherwise, she knows that. Only Killian loves her.

 

But every debt has been exhausted and more, and Emma has no response to Zelena. 

 

Killian’s hook tugs more insistently at her elbow and she leaves, casting one glance back into the diner. Henry is watching her now– everyone’s watching her since Zelena had slapped her– all except Regina, whose lips are pursed and who’s still staring into space when Zelena returns to her table.

 

Emma’s cheek stings and her elbow aches and all she wants is Regina.

 


 

And no one wants her to be around Regina. “It’s just…you’re both so volatile sometimes,” Mary Margaret says delicately. “And I don’t think it’s a good idea for Regina to see you right now, considering Robin’s…” She lets her voice trail off.

 

“Hades killed Robin,” Emma points out. Killian has shrugged off the whole thing. You never asked her to stay in the Underworld with you. You didn't force Hades to kill him. He’s leaning against the wall of the loft, looking bored with this whole conversation. “Why would she hold that against me?” 

 

“Cora killed Daniel. That never stopped her from blaming me,” Mary Margaret points out, a careful glance at Killian. “And, well…I think Regina probably resents your happiness at the cost of her own. Remember how long she tried to keep David and me apart?” 

 

“Regina’s different now,” Emma protests. “I just want to talk to her.” But Mary Margaret shakes her head and makes an excuse to leave.

 

Everyone is closing in around Regina now, protective and wary and so firmly on Regina’s side that Emma wants to scream. She’s on Regina’s side. She’s been on Regina’s side for so long that this abrupt tension is tearing into her like a flesh wound left untended. And from what Henry’s admitted to her, Regina doesn’t talk to them, either, so how do they know

 

Killian is impatient and cranky with her new fixation. “This is last year all over again,” he grumbles. “She isn’t worth it.” 

 

“She’s my best friend,” Emma says, distressed at how plaintive her voice has gotten.

 

Killian rolls his eyes. “You’ll find a new one. Maybe one less inclined to murder,” he says dismissively, and a bitter voice deep inside Emma screams out they all went down to the Underworld for you, don’t you care– 

 

No. She can’t fight Killian, not when he’s all she has anymore, when her family and Regina have paid all debts to her and suffered for it and are done. She quiets that ungrateful voice and is silent instead, and she doesn’t cry until Killian is snoring beside her that night and she can safely return to thoughts of Regina.

 

She ventures out into the dark and makes it to the mayoral mansion before Henry opens the door and says, “I’m sorry, Mom,” somber and unyielding, and Emma doesn’t have the heart to fight him, either. 

 


 

She tries teleporting onto Regina’s balcony one evening and is reminded abruptly that Zelena is a witch, too. (Zelena has magic and a child she’s raising with Regina and Emma burns with jealousy, with loneliness, with emotions she isn’t supposed to have anymore.) “Get out!” Zelena snarls. “Get away from her, get out of her life, haven’t you done enough?”

 

“I want to talk to her!” 

 

“She doesn’t want to talk to you!” Zelena says furiously, gesturing through the doors to Regina’s bedroom. 

 

Through the curtains, Emma can see Regina seated on her bed in a white dressing gown, cradling the baby in her arms. She looks…frail, almost, small and young but for the darkness in her eyes. She isn’t watching them but she must know, she must–

 

Emma takes a gamble and shouts, “Regina! Regina!” and Zelena doesn’t shout this time, just stares at her with something like pity. “Regina, can we please just–“ 

 

Regina mouths Zelena, eyes still fixed ahead of her, and Zelena is in the bedroom an instant later, lifting up the baby into her arms and murmuring something with a sidelong glance at Emma. Regina shrugs, slim shoulders in white, and she’s a vision even with her face drawn and eyes shadowed. Emma is overwhelmed. Emma wants to sob again and doesn’t know why it’s at this, at Regina vulnerable before her and Emma separated from her by only a clear door and gauzy curtains. 

 

Zelena leaves the room but the balcony door still remains closed. Emma waits, too cautious to dare stride into Regina’s room without an invitation. 

 

Regina doesn’t invite her in. Emma sinks to the ground beside the balcony door, knees up and head resting against them, and she wraps her arms around herself and waits. 

 

Regina curls up in her bed and turns away from her, messy hair dark against her pillow and her frame tiny under the covers. Emma watches her and blinks away more and more tears until Regina is only a blurry blackness across the room. 

 

Where the hell were you last night? Killian demands in the morning, when she wakes up with a crick in her neck and stumbles back home. She can already imagine his displeasure at her returning to Regina– his disappointment again in her not measuring up to who he expects her to be, his regret at ever forgiving her and taking her back– and she says, At the station. Got a late call and fell asleep at the desk, and then she kisses him and hopes he’ll ask nothing more.

 


 

Killian is in a foul mood most of the time, lately, and her moods rise and fall with his. She knows she’d let him down too many times– she’d tried saving him again and again since the dagger and failed each time, she’d never been what he’d wanted as the Dark One, he’d wanted so desperately to move on in the Underworld when she’d begged him to stay– and in the end, she hadn’t even saved him once. 

 

But he stays with her anyway, and that’s why she loves him so ardently. His whole world has revolved around her for so long– he’d changed for her, he’d loved her, he’d given up everything for her time and again, and she hasn't lived up to the woman he’d fallen in love with in years.

 

The town all looks at her with pity now; with disappointment, with uncertainty and with distrust and with derision; except for Regina, who doesn’t look at her at all.

 


 

Henry likes to blame magic for everything. Killian likes to blame Regina. Mary Margaret gets a mournful look on her face and talks about true love and letting go, and sometimes it feels like she isn’t talking about Regina at all. Zelena is quick to blame Emma, and the moments of silence before everyone jumps in to deny it make it clear that she isn’t alone in that.

 

“I told her to leave the Underworld with Robin and Henry,” Emma protests one day. She snaps mostly at Zelena because Zelena snaps back, both of them guilty and neither one willing to admit it. “I didn’t want her to be there. I didn’t want any of them to be there.”

 

“And she still stayed. For you,” Zelena spits out. “And she paid the price.”

 

“Then let me make it better for her,” Emma pleads. “Let her…I don’t know, do whatever she wants to punish me.” Everyone wants to punish her these days. She’s a villain or she’s weak or she’s been singled out for a happy ending she doesn’t deserve, depending on who’s asked. Everyone gets angrier when she dares admit that she isn’t happy at all. 

 

Sometimes she forces herself to think I never should have taken the dagger for Regina and then she laughs wildly, hysterically, and she’d rather relive the nightmare that’s been every day since then than to have let Regina be taken. 

 

Zelena looks at her now with mingled pity and disgust, and she says, “My little sister isn’t here to assuage your guilt.” It’s an accusation Regina had once hurled her way, and Emma blinks up at Zelena with sudden suspicion.

 

“Has she talked to you about me?” 

 

“No,” Zelena says immediately. Emma can’t tell if it’s the truth or a lie. 

 

“I’m not…this isn’t about my guilt,” Emma mutters, and Zelena scoffs. It isn’t. Emma has more than enough guilt to go around and Regina’s cold shoulder has nothing to do with it. “I just…I miss her, okay? I don’t care what she does to me.” 

 

She’s teary-eyed again– she cries more easily now, with every protective wall she’d ever had torn down and plundered in depth in this past year– and Zelena hesitates, assessing her with cool eyes. “What the hell happened to you?” she says, more frank than anyone else has been with Emma, and–

 

She knows Zelena’s story by now. She knows about being rejected and alone and about never being enough and she knows what happens when someone comes to her and offers her his love. She knows how potent it can be, how suddenly nothing else seems to matter but holding on to him, and she knows how one day they can look in the mirror and see a stranger staring back at them.

 

“I fell in love,” she says, and Zelena stares at her again– hollow eyes meet hollow eyes but Zelena’s spark now and Emma’s don’t. And still Zelena understands what no one else would and what Emma’s afraid to ever say aloud.

 

Zelena snorts. “Fuck that,” she says, and flounces back into the mansion.

 


 

Killian is annoyed with her again and she pleads with him, holds his hand and tries to calm him as he makes accusations that she probably deserves. Selfish, he bites out. You’ve done nothing but hurt me and hold me back since the dagger. It’s the first fight they’ve had since he’d escaped the Underworld and she hates how it makes her feel, how she clings and begs and sobs and Killian is frustrated with it all.

 

She finds an old photo on her phone from before the dagger– from those blessedly quiet six weeks of Operation Mongoose before Cruella and Ursula had roared into town– and she stares at it. It’s her with Henry, and he’s pulling a face while she musses his hair and they’re squeezed into that little camera rectangle together. Her eyes are shining and she’s vibrant and alive and full of love and joy as she gazes at whoever had taken the photo.

 

Regina, she remembers suddenly. They’d popped in on Regina during a research evening at the author’s house and Regina had snapped the photo and said,There. Now I don’t have to be in it, with so much smugness that Henry had tackled her and Emma had snapped a second photo of all three of them, breathless and laughing.

 

Somehow, Regina must have managed to delete it, because it isn’t on her phone anymore. Instead there’s only the one photo of the two of them without their counterpart, and Emma torments herself and stares at it for hours until the storm has passed and Killian is finally ready to accept her apology.

 


 

Sometimes it’s easier with Killian and she can remember a time when it hadn’t been all resentment and wrongness. She can remember laughing and feeling comfortable, relieved at the one thing in her life that she hadn’t had to fight for. And then she’d fought for it with all she’d had until it had shattered her, and now she’s…

 

It’s good when it’s easy. She refuses to think about what it is when it isn’t. 

 

She asks Henry none-too-subtle questions about Regina when he’s over and he shifts, uncomfortable. “I don’t know. She’s fine, I guess. She’s just…trying hard to be fine? Mom, when are you going to be fine?” 

 

It’s a probing question that has her taken aback. “I’m sorry?” 

 

Henry shrugs. “Everyone’s so worried about Mom. But…” He blinks at her, their sweet boy who notices more than he ever should. 

 

“I’ll be fine once Regina talks to me,” Emma says firmly. 

 

Henry blinks up at her, his eyes free of guile, and says, “And then what?” 

 


 

And then what?

 


 

She doesn’t know. 

 


 

She finds out, eventually.

 

It’s after another visit with Zelena that has them both bristling. Zelena has Regina, had shared a few hugs with her and killed a man for her and is suddenly Regina’s closest confidant. Emma’s spent years growing with Regina, fighting tooth and nail for a relationship with her, and she’s shut out.

 

It burns the most when there’s some giant demon reported near the woods and Emma virtually tears across town, slowing down only so Killian can keep up. She’s prepared– glowing, finally, she’ll have her partner back– only to halt abruptly at the scene before her. Regina is already doing magic, purple energy flowing free as Zelena stands beside her with her own stream of green. They’re perfectly in sync, Regina grim and Zelena grinning, and Emma chokes out an embarrassingly loud sob. 

 

Regina is startled enough that she turns, eyes wide, and her gaze locks with Emma’s for the first time in weeks. Emma can’t shake the betrayal from her eyes; can’t move, can’t help, can’t do anything but gape at them with tears shimmering in her eyes, and she doesn’t know what she reads in Regina’s eyes at all.

 

She used to know Regina better than anyone. This time, it’s Zelena who murmurs something in Regina’s ear and Regina pulls simmering dark eyes from Emma’s and vanishes in a violet burst of energy. Zelena stalks forward and it’s Emma who snaps first– Regina’s an idiot if she thinks you’ve changed– and Zelena who holds her ground– Regina trusts me! Which is more than I can say for you! and it’s messy, messy, messy. 

 

You have no idea what Regina and I had, Emma growls, and Killian slides his hook around her hand and tugs her back until she’s wrapping herself around his arm to calm him, still enraged but chastened as he mutters frustrated curses to himself. 

 

Zelena watches her go with furrowed brow.

 

The next day, Emma’s walking home from a night shift when she vanishes in a cloud of purple smoke.

 


 

She slips and falls when she reappears in the vault, disoriented. “What the f–“ 

 

“Stop attacking my sister,” Regina says, her voice dull and sharp at once. “Must you take everything from me?”

 

“Regina,” Emma breathes, and god, had she always cried at the drop of a hat like this? But Regina is there– Regina had summoned her here, had finally let her in for an instant– and she’s overwhelmed with relief, with confirmation at last that this gap isn’t insurmountable. “Regina, I…”

 

“What?” Regina demands. “What is it that you’ve been so set on telling me?” She stalks forward, eyes flashing in the dark, and Emma’s breathless at the sight of the passion within them. “Don’t tell me,” Regina says mockingly. “You’re worried I might return to the Evil Queen, like everyone else around me.” She laughs bitterly. “So solicitous, as though I don’t know what they’re doing. What you’re doing.” She fixes Emma with another glare. 

 

“No,” Emma whispers, aching for her even now. “No, that’s not what…I just wanted to talk.” 

 

Regina laughs, low and unpleasant. “All right. Talk.” 

 

And she fumbles at the finish line, deer-in-headlights stumped at the invitation. “I just…I wanted you to know that you aren’t alone.” Stupid, stupid. Of course she isn’t alone. She seems to have everyone else in the town aside from Emma. “I mean– I want to help. If there’s anything I can do–“ 

 

“You’ve done enough, haven’t you?” Regina says smoothly. Her eyes are pinpoints of rage, gleaming in the dim light of the vault. “You know, for a long time, I actually thought we could move past the history between our families. I thought…for Henry, I thought we could bridge it and build something good.” Emma is frozen in place, breathless with wanting. Regina sneers. “But no. Because you will always get the happiness that I’m robbed of. Because I don’t deserve it, right? I’m the Evil Queen.” She sucks in a breath. “But he did. He was good. And now he’s gone and the man in his place is–“ 

 

“No,” Emma says, seizing the only part of the diatribe that she can reply to. “No, Regina, you’ve suffered enough. You aren’t the Evil Queen anymore. You deserve happiness just as much as anyone else, and I want–“ 

 

“You want it all,” Regina hisses. “You want your happy ending with the pirate and you want me to absolve you of your guilt.” She waves a hand. “Fine. You’re absolved. I’ve gone over it all dozens of times in my head. I've thought through everything that could have been changed, every way he could have lived. None of it is on you. None of it is in your hands.” Her voice is still mocking, still furious, and Emma is helpless to respond as Regina's lips draw back over her teeth. “Now leave me alone.” 

 

And there are no words that can make this better. There’s nothing she can say that can fix what’s gone forever, nothing she can do but stare at Regina’s lips as they move and step closer, lost in helpless desire to do something.

 

And somehow, doing something transforms into the worst decision of her impulsive life, and she lurches forward again and presses her lips against Regina’s. 

 

Regina sighs into her mouth and doesn’t push her away. And maybe that’s why– maybe because it’s the first time in weeks that Regina hasn’t pushed her away– Emma cups Regina’s face in her hands, her thumbs stroking her cheekbones, inexorably drawn to the smooth skin beneath her touch. Regina is kissing her back, leaning against the wall and her hands limp at her side but her lips eager as they move against Emma’s.

 

This is nothing like kissing Killian. It’s the first thought that bubbles through her mind, almost absentminded as she explores the curves of Regina’s face, feels her breasts pressed to hers, tastes lipstick and hears little whimpers and every sense is so intimately overloaded with Regina. She can’t believe she’s doing this. She can’t believe they’ve never done it before. She can’t…

 

“I can’t,” she gasps as kissing Killian. Killian. Killian finally registers in her mind. She tears her lips away from Regina’s, horrified and desperate and terrified. “Oh, my god. What did I– why did I–“ 

 

Regina stares at her, her face a mask. “My soulmate was just murdered,” she says coolly. There’s another tinge to her voice, one Emma can’t read in her panic. “What the hell, Emma?” 

 

“I don’t know! I don’t know what possessed me to– we don’t do that!” Emma finally bursts out, her thoughts a jumble. “I have Killian. I have…I don’t know what I’m doing, fuck, Regina–“ A new terror grips her. “Regina, please, don’t keep me away again. I didn’t mean to do it. Please–“

 

She doesn’t know what the hell is wrong with her but she’d screwed up everything in the most magnificent of ways, and her heart is still pounding from it. Regina stares at her for a long moment, watches her pacing and hand-wringing and tearful apologies, and she says softly (is it threatening? is it gentle?), “You really didn’t, did you?”

 

“Regina–“ Emma begs, and then she’s vanishing again, reappearing where Regina’d taken her in a whirl of purple smoke. 

 


 

The next time she kisses Killian, she freezes, thinking he might somehow sense it– taste Regina’s lipstick or catch her scent or just know somehow. But no, she’s licked her lips enough since then, exhausted every last sign of Regina from her mouth, and all he senses is her discomfort as she tries to excise the memory and fails.

 

He makes a cranky comment and she does everything she can to calm him, the guilt overwhelming. She’d fought too hard for this relationship to lose it because of one mistake.

 

One mistake that keeps her up at night, remembering how soft Regina’s skin had been and how her curves had molded against Emma’s so perfectly. One mistake that has her memorizing every moment of a kiss that she can never, ever long for again.

 

Killian kisses her and she imagines Regina’s lips instead, imagines her senses overloaded with her best friend’s proximity and imagines opening her eyes to that smile she hasn’t seen on Regina’s face in weeks. She kisses Killian back and it’s vigorous again, her heart racing and full of love. 

 

If she tells herself enough that it’s only for him, she might even believe it.

 


 

She tries avoiding Regina but it just…doesn’t work. She doesn’t know how to stay away from Regina anymore. Without that singleminded goal of getting through to Regina, she’s adrift, and she’s back at her door within days. 

 

Zelena says, “No, Emma.” She seems more sympathetic now, and Emma doesn’t know if it’s because Emma looks progressively worse and worse each time she shows up at Regina’s house or because she knows…

 

No. If Regina had told her overprotective sister about the kiss, Emma wouldn’t have made it to the front door. So she hangs her head and says, “She might have changed her mind?” 

 

Zelena shakes her head. “She’s made it very clear that she hasn’t.” Sharp eyes bore into Emma. “Unless you have some reason to believe that she would?” 

 

“No,” Emma says hastily, suddenly worried about violating Regina’s confidence. “Definitely not. I was just…wondering.” 

 

She makes a hasty escape and a beeline for the street, waiting until she’s out of Zelena’s sight before she teleports onto Regina’s balcony. Regina’s bedroom is dark and empty, and Emma sags and turns to leave when a voice says, “You’re impossible.” 

 

“Regina?” She isn’t in the bed or on the chaise lounge, and Emma peers into the room, searching for the source of her voice. “I swear, if there’s some kind of magic to make us invisible and you’ve been keeping it from me–“

 

“I’m down here, you idiot,” Regina says tiredly, and Emma blinks and notices suddenly the figure on the floor, leaning against the door to the balcony. The door is open a crack, just enough for her voice to filter out into the night, and Emma hesitates with a hand on the door handle. “Don’t come in.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Emma whispers, sinking to the ground behind Regina. She rests against the opposite side of the door in the same spot, eyes raised to the heavens. “I’m not going to…jump you or anything, I swear. I just wanted to talk.” 

 

“You keep saying that,” Regina says. “But you never actually say anything.” 

 

This is easier when she doesn’t have to look at Regina’s face, when she doesn’t see pain and betrayal but only the stars twinkling above her. And she can be honest at last, dig into her insecurities and push them aside for more important reasons. “I don’t want to talk,” she admits, biting her lip and squeezing her fingers against her knee. “I want to listen. I want you to talk to me.”

 

There’s a moment of silence, a breath that might be a sigh, and Regina says in a strained voice, “I don’t know what you want me to say.” 

 

Emma waits, teetering at the edge of something dark and enveloping. And in the silence, Regina whispers, “I’m terrified that one day, Zelena’s going to realize what she did for me and resent me instead of loving me.”

 

Oh. Emma opens her mouth, searching for a response, and Regina says, “I can’t even look at that baby sometimes. I think it…it makes me an awful, miserable person to reject her but I can’t. I do think about becoming the Evil Queen again.” She sucks in a breath. “Every single day. I…when I wake up in the morning, I paste on this face, this Regina on the road to redemption, and I can feel something ugly trying to break free. So maybe you’re right to be dogging my steps like you are.” She laughs roughly. “You’ve got to be the savior, right?” 

 

“Regina,” Emma says, her heart pounding hard against her ribs. “I didn’t know.” And she gets it, remembers the dark energy that had threatened to overcome her after the dagger. She remembers so many mistakes borne from selfishness and fear and callousness and she remembers how she’d felt after them. Relief. As though she’d been her most authentic self, unrestrained.

 

And Regina battles herself every day and wins, without anyone determined to save her. Emma’s heart is still beating fast in her chest, her breathing ragged. “You don’t need a savior to save you from yourself,” she says, staring at a bright cluster of stars as they gleam overhead. “I know you. I trust you.”

 

Regina doesn’t respond.

 


 

She comes back again the next night, does the obligatory knock on the door before Zelena turns her away, bouncing her crying baby and very frazzled. “Emma, now isn’t the time,” she snaps out, and a suddenly bold Emma says, “Can I show you something?” 

 

She holds her hands out for the baby and Zelena narrows her eyes. “You once sped up my pregnancy and tried to murder me and take my baby,” she says.

 

“Yeah, but I gave you onion rings. You can trust me,” she wheedles, and Zelena almost smirks before she passes her baby over.

 

Emma positions herself, angling the baby in her arms and swinging them gently from her right side to her left side. “See, this position kind of mimics a cradle. And then–“ The baby stops wailing at last, soothed by the swinging. Satisfied, Emma passes her back to her mother. “There you go. Works every time with my brother.” 

 

Zelena says, brow furrowed, “Regina does that, too. I’ve never been able to get the hang of it.” 

 

Emma blushes. Zelena stares. “I…I mean, Regina gave me these memories of raising Henry. I picked up a lot from them. It’s a long story.”

 

Zelena’s eyebrows shoot up. “I see,” she says, and Emma’s cheeks are hot as Zelena retreats into the house. 

 

Regina is back at the balcony door when she appears there. “It’s…boggling sometimes,” she admits, shifting in place. Emma watches her figure in the dark for a moment before she sits down again. “Having a baby around, raising her with my sister, her name–“ She barks out a hoarse laugh. “I’ve been changing Robyn’s diapers. The sheer absurdity of it…you can’t even imagine.” 

 

“Actually, I can,” Emma says wryly. “My parents named my brother Neal, remember?” Regina laughs again and this time Emma laughs with her, wet and tired and just a little hysterical. “And hey,” she says when they’ve both fallen silent again. “That little girl is going to grow up to be a badass Robyn Hood in her own right, yeah? What better legacy is there?” 

 

“I’ve thought about it,” Regina admits, and there’s a note of affection in her voice that has Emma suddenly resentful of a dead man. She bites back the emotion, irritated with herself. She’s Regina’s friend, no matter how desperately she longs to be leaning against her now without a door in the way, warmth to warmth. That kiss had been a terrible mistake. She has to…

 

“I saw Neal before we went into the Underworld,” Emma blurts out. “I had this vision.”

 

Regina stills. “Is that so?” 

 

And Emma remembers too late that Regina wouldn't have that luxury, that Robin’s life-force had been utterly obliterated. She hesitates, swallowing her words, and Regina sighs and says, “You weren’t the one to stab him. Out with it.” 

 

It’s commanding in that unconscious way that Emma generally resists. Regina might be a queen, but Emma has always reacted accordingly to authority figures. It’s a mark of how uncertain she is around Regina now that she answers without a second thought. “It’s just…I think that after that, I’m finally okay with Neal having that name. It’s a process.” 

 

Emma can see their joined shadows across the balcony, Regina’s half of it straightening. “I’m perfectly fine with Robyn sharing Robin’s name,” Regina says, bristling. “I don’t have…whatever hangups you have about the ex-boyfriend who knocked you up and left you in prison.” 

 

It hadn’t been an accusation– Emma hadn’t meant it to be, anyway– but Regina is defensive and lashing out and Emma doesn’t know what any of it means. “Okay,” she says, her voice small and her heart shrunken and hurt.

 

“Stop that,” Regina says sharply. “You don’t– you don’t get to play the victim here anymore. You don’t get to imply that our situations are at all the same.”

 

Emma’s tired of fighting, of every conversation being so hard. “Okay,” she says dully. She wants to run, to go back home to the safety of Killian’s grouchiness and far from Regina’s hurt. She wants to apologize and avoid talking about Robin and just go. 

 

But she’s rooted to the spot, too desperate for Regina’s proximity to find something easier. And Regina sighs after a long silence and says, “He was my soulmate. He was supposed to be my happy ending.” 

 

“I know.” She knows the desperation of a happy ending– had dragged her family and friends along on the endless pursuit of hers– and paid prices for it that no one seems to grasp.

 

“It was so simple when I didn’t have to fight for it,” Regina murmurs, and her shadow tightens, her arms moving in around herself to constrict it. “But when I did...I used to wonder if this is what love was supposed to be. If it means being wrung out and exhausted and in pain and then left alone to pick up the pieces.”

 

Emma's heart thuds again, so loudly that she’s sure that Regina must be able to hear it. She can feel burning in her lungs, behind her eyes, in her throat, and she blinks back tears and an unnameable panic and whispers, “But…it’s worth it, isn’t it? For the simple times? For love?”

 

“Is it?” Regina says, and Emma is ashamed to have asked and flees. 

 


 

They’re walking together, her arm in Killian’s and the breeze cool against her face when she sees Regina leaving Town Hall. She brightens, breaking free from Killian’s grasp and starting toward her. “Regina!” 

 

Killian’s hook is on her elbow a moment later, restraining her from moving any closer. “Best not to provoke her, love,” he warns. “You don’t want a fireball to the face.” He pats his face and winks at her suggestively. “We can’t have these dashing good looks marred.” 

 

“Yeah,” she says, distracted. Regina is walking toward them now, and Emma’s palms are sweaty and she doesn’t know what she’s going to say. Hi, she can imagine herself muttering lamely. She can picture Regina’s raised eyebrow, the mocking look in her eyes– Regina in the daylight isn’t the Regina of the nighttime and closed doors and whispered admissions, right– and she can–

 

–See Regina walking right past them with only a glower at Killian’s hook on Emma’s elbow. She doesn’t acknowledge Emma otherwise, and Emma says helplessly, “Regina…” 

 

“Let it go,” Killian advises her. “She isn’t worth it.” 

 

Like hell she isn’t. But she keeps quiet, reluctant to initiate another fight with him. 

 

She’s spared by a shout of “Mom!” and Henry coming from another direction with Zelena, making a beeline for her. 

 

“Henry!” She dodges away from Killian and catches him, wrapping him in a hug that he returns. She hasn’t gotten to see nearly as much of Henry lately. He’s been insistent on supporting Regina as much as possible, and she’d readily agreed. So he’s been living almost exclusively at the mansion and she counts on afternoons at Granny’s and station visits, reminding herself again and again that she’s lucky to have Killian back and she has no right to complain– “How have you been?”

 

“Good! I just aced a math test.” He beams down at her. “Zelena and I were going to walk Mom home.” 

 

“She just left,” Emma says apologetically. Henry blinks, looking at her with sudden hope. “She didn’t talk to me,” she clarifies. “Just…glared and walked, you know.” Killian snickers. 

 

Zelena says sharply, “You know, I may have dated a hellgod, but at least he had the decency to support my other relationships–“ Emma stares at her. “–Before he tried to kill everyone,” she amends. 

 

Emma snorts. “Thanks, Zelena. I got this.” She bends over the stroller– it’s a newer model even though Emma knows for a fact that Regina has saved every single piece of Henry’s childhood. They’d all gone out of town together to buy it, then, and she feels unspeakably lonely when she sees it– and she watches Baby Robyn’s fingers curl and uncurl around her blanket as she sleeps. “How’s she been? Still cranky?” 

 

“She’s darling.” Zelena glows a little as she gazes down at her. “Also impossible,” she admits. “But I’ve had a lot of help.”

 

The hostility between them has faded since Regina’s admonitions, and Emma’s sure that Regina hasn’t spoken to Zelena about Emma but she’s also positive that Zelena somehow knows anyway. “It’s good to have help,” Emma says, and she means it. Zelena blinks up at her, surprised, and gives her a tight smile. 

 

Killian says snidely, “When I suggested you find a new best friend, I didn’t mean another villain.” He’s giving Zelena the stink eye, and she sneers back with equal condescension. Emma sighs. Killian scowls. “So that’s how it is here. Everyone Regina favors gets redemption for doing absolutely nothing?” 

 

“And what have you done other than threaten our annihilation?” Zelena says coolly. Emma shifts guiltily. That isn’t his fault. None of what he’d done as the Dark One is his fault, not when she’d been the one to drag him into that mess, and he doesn’t deserve any of the blame for it. “Boff a savior?”

 

Killian sneers. “Oh, I paid for that and more. Your hellgod boy-toy tortured me plenty for what was done to me. Was nice to hear he got what he deserved.”

 

Zelena’s jaw sets, hurt flaring in her eyes. “Rich of you to say after what you did to my sister,” she snaps. 

 

“What?” Emma says. No one answers her. Henry has a hand in hers, looking bewildered as he takes in Zelena and Killian staring each other down. Zelena is prickling with righteous anger and Killian looks murderous, and Emma is still confused. “What?” she repeats. “If this is some kind of kinky dominatrix Enchanted Forest thing, I don’t want to know.” 

 

“No,” Zelena says, eyes still narrowed on Killian. “It happened after our mother died.” She glances over to them. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you, Henry.” Her teeth gleam in a humorless smirk. “Oops.” 

 

“Killian,” Emma says, perturbed. She’d thought she’d known all the details of Regina’s torture at the hands of Greg and Tamara. She’d known Killian had been peripherally involved with Greg and Tamara, but she hadn’t thought he’d done–

 

Henry says, “We should go find Mom,” moving to seize the stroller. Zelena sweeps away, smug and furious as Henry turns to talk to her, and Emma opens her mouth again, gathering all her energy to address this. “Killian, what did you do? What haven’t you told me–?” 

 

“Drop it,” he says, and she reacts to the command just as well as she does Regina’s. 

 

“Fine,” she says rebelliously. “I’ll just ask Regina.” 

 

His glare is dark, the color of his eyes when he’d circled her as the Dark One and snarled out vicious appraisals that had cut her to the bone. She feels a prickle of fear. “Good thing she isn’t talking to you,” he says coldly, and they head back home in silence.

 

She apologizes later by rote, accepts his kiss and curls up next to him on the couch, and she doesn’t think about wrung out and exhausted and in pain and then left alone to pick up the pieces until she’s sneaking out at night to see Regina again.

 


 

Regina still won’t talk to her in daylight, in public, in any kind of permanent or casual way. She’s been out and about more lately, but she sweeps past Emma and gives orders to a bemused David instead and makes eye contact with Emma only once.

 

It’s entirely accidental, probably, a moment after Emma pulls out of a kiss with Killian and turns. She sees Regina leaning against the gate outside Granny’s with a drink and a furrowed brow, and she watches them with resentment and a sort of probing curiosity that has Emma flushing. 

 

Whatever it is between them, though, it’s constrained to the honesty of the night. “I never meant to hurt anyone as the Dark One,” Emma confesses this time. “I was…I guess I was so determined to do everything on my own and I never thought about what it would do to me.” 

 

“You tried to kill me,” Regina points out. “You tried to kill Robin,” she says, and her voice grows a little more dull. 

 

Emma shakes her head vigorously. “I was angry,” she admits. “I was so angry at you for…for everything. But I didn’t call the Fury. I couldn’t stop it.” Regina doesn’t respond. “I knew you’d survive,” Emma murmurs. “You always…” Her voice is rough and grave, and she swallows before she says, “You’re the most incredible woman I’ve ever known,” and means every word of it.

 

Regina’s voice is strained when she responds. “You…you were so angry at me?” And it’s questioning and more than a little vulnerable, and Emma thinks it’s the first time in a long time that Regina’s sounded hurt over her.

 

She gulps in a breath too fast and hiccups, twisting her fingers together. “I don’t know why,” she whispers. “I…I know I chose to save Robin then, even though it made the darkness worse. And you looked after me that whole time in Camelot. I just…” 

 

“Was it the dagger?” Regina asks, and Emma stiffens. Regina says, “Ah.” 

 

“You were trying to help me.” It’s an excuse. It’s what she’d told herself as the Dark One to forget the stomach-clenching terror that had been knowing that she’d had no control over her actions– that Regina had been demanding things of her and pushing her and she’d been helpless to push back. To forget that she’d begged Regina never to do it again and Regina had still–

 

“I told you the Evil Queen is always beneath the surface,” Regina says in a low tone. “And sometimes I see things a little too clearly and forget who they might hurt in the process.” 

 

“Regina, you don’t need to–“ 

 

“I’m sorry.” Regina shifts in the dark, her hand reaching out to the narrow space where the door has been slid open. “You trusted me with that power over you and I hurt you.” A sharp intake of breath, wet and strangled. “I wanted to help. You asked me to save you and I tried, I really did, but–“ 

 

Emma reaches for her hand unconsciously, holds her hand over Regina’s on the open end of the door, and Regina shifts but doesn’t move away for many, many minutes.

 


 

“I don’t think Zelena hates me anymore,” Emma announces when she sits down a few nights later. “She actually looks like she feels bad for me about your constant rejections.”

 

“Hngh,” Regina says in response. “Zelena never hated you. I hated you.” 

 

“Oh,” Emma says, taken aback, though she shouldn’t be. “Really?” 

 

Regina sighs. “No. I hate Hook.” Her hands clench into fists in her shadow on the porch wall. “I despise him for every second that he lives–“ 

 

“And Robin doesn’t,” Emma finishes.

 

Regina pauses. “Well, yes. That, too.” 

 

“Regina–“ She’s afraid to ask the question, to push them into a place that isn’t safe again. “When you say you felt…exhausted by Robin–“ 

 

Regina’s voice is tense. “I’m not going to talk about this with you.” 

 

“I just– I don’t have much experience with love, you know?” Emma blunders on. “And it was different with Neal and I don’t have a point of comparison–“ 

 

Regina breathes in and moves from their spot against the door and Emma tenses, waiting for her to lash out. But instead there’s a movement against Emma’s back and the door to the balcony slides open at last. “Is he hurting you?” Regina says, stepping onto the porch, sliding the door closed again, and sitting down beside her.

 

Emma is stunned into silence, into drinking in Regina’s presence, into acute awareness of Regina’s hand brushing against hers, and she forgets that she’d been asked anything until Regina says, “Hook. What has he done to you?” 

 

“Nothing,” she says hastily. “Nothing. It isn’t like that.”

 

“Emma, you looked like a dead woman walking by the end of our trip to the Underworld,” Regina says, studying her face. Her hand hovers over Emma’s wrist but never quite lands. “Did he ever even thank you for saving him?” 

 

“I didn’t save him,” Emma mumbles. “He saved himself. It’s just…you know. Exhausting sometimes. I think…I kind of tricked everyone into seeing me as the Savior, you know? As some kind of…noble heroine. And then after the sacrifice–“ 

 

“After you sacrificed yourself to save me,” Regina corrects her, her voice wry. “Great trick.” 

 

“I got worse at hiding it then,” Emma charges on, ignoring Regina’s…whatever Regina’s point had been. “And I let everyone down.” She presses her lips together and blinks hard. “It took thirty years before my mom put my needs before hers and it was only because she realized that I wasn’t the hero she’d thought I was.” 

 

“That is not what Snow thinks.” 

 

“And Killian.” She’s blinking back tears now, frustrated tears that have Regina’s thumb suddenly on her face, catching them as they fall. “He’s so angry sometimes and he’s so– he told me he didn’t love me anymore when I was the Dark One. He called me a…a distraction when he was the Dark One. It’s like…sometimes it’s good,” she says quickly, her breath hitching. “Sometimes I don’t think he loves me at all now that he's seen who I really am.” 

 

“Who you really are,” Regina repeats in a growl. She’s angry. God, she’s angry. This was a mistake, a prelude to another relationship she’s about to lose because she’s failed them all, and she can’t deal with the heartbreak of losing Regina. She’d give Killian up again in an instant if it meant keeping–

 

No, says the part of her that silences thoughts of a kiss, of Regina’s smile, of their hands brushing against each other and of what it means that her heart twitches with each memory. Emma takes in a shuddering breath and bends and bends until she thinks she might break. “Selfish,” she whispers, caught in a sob. “Weak. There’s a reason I never had any friends or family before this town.” 

 

“Emma–“ Regina is still staring at her, still with a thumb against Emma’s cheek, still disbelieving. Regina is looking at her like she’s seen something in Emma that she’d never seen before, and Emma shuts her eyes and stupid, stupid, she’s done it now–

 

“Unloveable,” she finishes faintly, and Regina sucks in a breath. “I can’t take back any of it. I can’t– I only hurt people these past months. I hurt you.” She tears herself away from Regina’s calming hand, refusing to let her see her like this. “And Killian thinks less of me every day, and I don’t know how to fix it. It just gets worse and worse when I’m around him and I feel…”

 

“Exhausted,” Regina suggests softly. “Like you’ll never be enough to measure up.” Emma bobs her head, miserable and afraid. “I’ll kill him,” Regina says calmly. “I will reach into that half-decayed body and pull out his heart and crush it. I will kill him.” 

 

Emma can’t tell if she’s being facetious or– “You just went into hell itself to save him,” she points out meekly, regretting telling Regina any of this. 

 

Regina’s fists clench, the calm anger replaced with something dark and furious. “No,” she snaps at Emma, her voice strident and her eyes flashing. Emma shrinks back. “No, I didn’t go to the Underworld for Hook. None of us gave a fuck about Hook. We went for you,” she says, breathing hard, and Emma stares at her, trapped in every emotion in her gleaming brown eyes. “We went because we love you. Let yourself have this one thing that isn’t his, god, Emma–“ 

 

Emma lurches forward, half sitting, half on her knees, and kisses her. Regina catches her with both hands, strokes her hair and runs her fingers over her back and Emma gratefully sinks into her embrace. Regina is crying now, frustrated tears that cascade down her face, and Emma kisses the tears away and grips Regina’s arm and holds on with all her might, gasping into Regina’s mouth like it’s her only source of oxygen. 

 

“Don’t you dare apologize again,” Regina says fiercely when they finally part. “Don’t tell me you don’t mean it, Emma, I swear…”

 

Emma kisses her again, long and gentle and oh, she could do this for days without pause. “I…you once told me I was too good for Hook,” she says, remembering. She’d shrugged it off, caught up in insecurities and remembering just how much Regina dislikes Killian.

 

“I meant it,” Regina murmurs. “You’re leagues above him. You’re every bit that idiot hero that you’re so sure you can’t be and he’s no one, do you understand? He’s done nothing but wear you down until you believed otherwise.” 

 

A tiny part of her listens and treasures it. The rest is reminded very suddenly that she’s being– she’s spent the past few months of her life devoted to Killian. Because she loves him. Because she fights for– She can’t push that aside and concede that any of this is a mistake, god, what would that say about– Trapped between a rock and a hard place, she says helplessly, “That’s not fair. He’s a good man. He’s given up– everything for me, and–“ 

 

Regina’s eyes are taking on that fierce cast again, that warning of don’t tell me you don’t mean it– and Emma plunges into the depths of a sea she never should have dipped her toe into. “You were too good for Robin too, you know?” she says, mulish and defensive. Regina looks murderous. 

 

Emma stands up, squeezing her fists closed. “I know why you stayed with him,” she says. She isn’t supposed to say any of this. She was never supposed to say it, just keep it in that ugly little place where it’s percolated since the first time she’d seen Regina with him. “I know that you…you thought that all about him, too. That you’d never measure up and that he’s the only one who’d love you and you’re wrong, okay? He was never worth it.” 

 

“Miss Swan,” Regina says tightly. She’s stood up during the argument at some point– Emma couldn’t say when or why– and she stands bristling against the glass door, her hands shaking. “Hold your tongue.” 

 

“He was a mediocre man who was shitty to the woman he thought was his wife and you could have done better than that. Regina, you’re amazing,” she breathes, Regina shaking her head slowly and her hands flickering with barely contained magic. “Anyone would have loved you. I would have loved you,” Emma whispers, regrets from a time long gone returned. Regina had been glorious with new love and Emma had been juggling unwanted suitors and she’d been inundated with regret and grief for something that had never even been a possibility. She’d been miserable and desperate to leave town and she’d never dared admit why.

 

“Stop it,” Regina says sharply. “Stop this. I won’t– I can’t– You have no idea–“ 

 

“Let me try,” Emma says, reaching for her again boldly and putting her doubts aside. “Let me give you something you deserve.” And the hope that burns in her chest is impossible, is light like a dream and happiness that doesn’t run them ragged and empty. Even now, there’s still a possibility, still some way for them to–

 

“You have no idea what I deserve.” Regina’s eyes burn with something horrible and angry, with fury as repellent to Emma’s hope as oil to water– and somehow, even trampling on a dead man’s grave hasn’t set Regina off as much as hope does. Emma takes a shaky step forward, unwilling to relent now. “Regina,” she says, reaching for her, and Regina’s magic explodes outward and hurls her through the air.

 

She screams. Regina screams, terrible and terrified and EMMA!, and Emma windmills through the air, up and off the porch and down, down, down with horrifying speed. She tries to remember her magic and fails, panicky and afraid, and she’s still screaming when there’s a burst of green energy and she disappears and reappears in Regina's living room, her head spinning.

 

“Drink?” Zelena says pleasantly, holding out a teacup.

 


 

“She’s not very stable right now,” Zelena had said. “I doubt it was intentional. She still has some trigger points.”   She’d shrugged it off and Emma had nodded, overwhelmed. 

 

“She still just…tried to kill me,” she’d said shakily. “Unintentionally.” 

 

Zelena had laughed. “I think she thought that you’d be able to save yourself from one weak little burst of magic.” She’d made a face. “Still, I’d wager she’s–“ She’d pulled open the curtains around a window and waved at Regina on the lawn, her fists clenched and her eyes narrowed as she’d surveyed the lawn. “She’s in here, sis,” she’d called out, and Regina had sagged with relief and then straightened again, returned to fury. “See?” Zelena had said smugly. “You can go back to snogging up there or whatever it is you do.” She’d wiggled her eyebrows and Emma had swallowed and fled the house.

 

And now they’re not talking, apparently. Regina doesn’t sit by the door anymore and Emma doesn’t badger Zelena to see her anymore. She isn’t angry, just…weary. She’d thought they were making headway. She’d thought that– kisses aside, Regina hadn’t been quite so angry at her anymore.

 

But they haven’t worked through any of it, had they? They’d talked about Emma– so much about her, about her relationships and her time as the Dark One and Regina had listened. Regina had gone to hell for Emma and now Robin is dead and Emma is dizzy with what all of it means.

 

Except that she’d confused Regina caring about her with Regina forgiving her.

 

She doesn’t go back to see Regina again after the first night. She returns to Killian and fails miserably at forgetting about Regina’s kisses. When Regina walks past her on Main Street, she doesn’t try to talk to her, and Regina keeps her head high and stalks away and–

 

–for a moment, Emma feels eyes on her back, but when she turns there’s no one watching and Killian makes an impatient noise. “Sorry,” she says, watching Regina walk toward Granny’s. 

 

Killian grunts and speeds up, rounding the corner ahead of Emma. Emma frowns, hurrying after him. “What’s up now?” she asks, a solicitous hand on his arm.

 

He jerks away from her, his face shadowed with irritation. “Did you…did you even notice when I was dead? Or did poor Regina get a paper cut and you dropped everything to look after her?” 

 

Emma gapes at him. “I went into hell to save you!” she says, flabbergasted. Maybe a little guilty (she is not thinking about Regina on the balcony with a hand in her hair, she is not, she is not), and she goes into damage control mode in an instant. “I spent every minute of that with you– begging you not to give up, begging you to stay with me– I’m not allowed to worry about her now? When she went into the Underworld to save–”

 

We went because we love you. Let yourself have this one thing that isn’t his, god, Emma. 

 

She stops, her hands twisting together. Killian says darkly, “And now that I’m out of danger, you’re back to obsessing over her. As always.”

 

Their house is only a few blocks away and Emma hurries on, desperate to get home before this escalates in the street. She’s nearly jogging by the end, turning around the corner ahead of Killian, and when there’s a shout from him and that damned hook slides around her arm to slow her, she–

 

The part of her that’s trained herself to stop when he grabs her– to fall back, to slow down, to turn around and listen to him before she reacts– it has her slow, her arm limp in his grasp. And something else takes hold of her– a voice inside her head, an image of Regina stepping out onto the porch just to demand to know if Killian isn’t treating her well– and she yanks her arm out hard, the hook tearing through her jacket and shirt and skin with the motion. 

 

Killian gapes. “Emma, I–“

 

She twists around, arm hurting and blood racing through her and she’s so tired. “How much longer is it going to take, Killian?” she demands, ignoring the pain in her arm. “How much longer are you going to punish me for failing you?” 

 

He stares at her for a long moment, something ugly in his eyes, and he says slowly, “You’ve been seeing her, haven’t you? At night. When you come back late from your shift. You’ve been talking to Regina all along.” Emma is silent. Killian's voice is rising to a shout. “You’ve been lying to me?”

 

“I don’t do it anymore,” Emma says tiredly, pushing the door open.

 

Killian narrows his eyes. “Don’t lie again! I saw her yesterday evening, lurking around on our porch and poofing off when she saw me.” Emma blinks at him, startled by this new twist. Regina had been… No. No way. “I don’t know why you can’t just let her go.” 

 

“Is this because she told me I’m too good for you?” Emma says, half-joking. His eyes are stormy at the suggestion and her stomach drops. “I thought you two were getting along.” 

 

“I barely tolerate her,” he snarls. “She’s not your friend, Emma. The way she treats you– uses and abuses you–“ 

 

Abuses?” she repeats, her voice rising, and she ignores the churning in her stomach and reaches deeper within the rubble that Killian had left her walls in and finds a piece still intact. “You’re complaining about Regina after everything you said to me after the dagger?” 

 

Killian rolls his eyes upward. “I was the Dark One! Because you knowingly ignored my dying wish and violated me!” 

 

“You didn’t know any of that when you told me you didn’t love me,” Emma says, struggling to keep her voice even. “You jumped off a building to force me to talk to you. You only said you loved me again because I saved your life.”

 

Killian’s voice is too loud in their quiet house, too jarring, like a half dozen foster parents she’d hid from in closets, knees knocking together and chin tucked between them. “I died to save you all. Doesn’t that mean anything, Swan?”

 

“Of course it does,” she grinds out, scraping at her eyes with the heel of her hand. “But…you can’t say you’re going to die a hero and expect it to wash away all the things you’ve done.” (She’s trying so hard not to think of her, she is, but Let me die as Regina was never Let me die a hero, was it?) “It didn’t wipe our memories, as much as I would have liked to do that again.” 

 

Killian scoffs. “You’re reading too much into it all. I was the Dark One,” he repeats irritably. 

 

“So was I!” she says shrilly, and she’s on the edge of a needle now, desperately keeping her balance before she falls into an abyss. “I still loved you! Gold still loved Neal when he was–“ She heaves a terrible sob and it all pours out at once, useless tears that spill down her cheeks and join at her chin and drop onto the bleeding arm she’s still holding to her. “Why am I never enough for you, Killian?”

 

He softens like she knows he will, puts his single hand on her arm and squeezes and says, “You’re the reason I am the man I am today.” He smiles at her and she’s still crying, still clinging to pieces of herself that she knows are falling from her grasp. “You’re the savior,” he says, and she leaps after those pieces, seizes them and holds them tight.

 

She breathes in, lets the tears fall to their conclusion and then exhales as they stop, new strength rising within her. “This isn’t working,” she says, and he blinks at her as though she’s said the sky is purple. “Us. This…relationship. This isn’t working anymore.” 

 

Killian laughs. It’s condescending, patronizing in a way that hasn’t made her blood boil since he’d been pursuing her after Zelena had first come to town. “We don’t not work anymore, Emma. We’re true loves.”

 

And it’s suddenly easy to snap at him. She hadn’t realized how much of herself she’d been holding back until the words fly to her tongue and they’re sarcastic and feel…powerful, somehow, as though she’s in control in a way she hasn’t been in years. “What, because Hades told us so while he was setting up a trap for us? Have you seen what Hades’s true love did to him?” 

 

Killian stares at her as though seeing her for the first time. “After all we’ve been through?” he demands, and she can feel the shame welling up again. “After you forced me back into this life to be with you? Now you’d leave me behind?”

 

“Do you even like me like this?” she says helplessly. “Do you really think we’ve been good for each other since this all started? You…” She searches her memories, remembers that awful evening at the docks. “You said you liked breaking down my walls. Isn't that what our relationship was? You broke down my walls and didn’t like what you saw underneath them?” 

 

Killian’s lip curls. “I don’t like what I’m seeing right now,” he says, stalking closer. When he captures her lips in a kiss, it’s unexpected enough that she takes a moment to recoil– his hands bruisingly tight on her already sliced-up arm, his body pressed against hers so she’s trapped, his lips demanding and unpleasant for the single instant before she reacts.

 

She knees him in the groin, punches him in his smug face, shoves him back like she had when he’d tried that shit in New York, and says, “Get out.”

 

He wipes his hand across his lips and storms out. She uses magic to lock the door, bandages up her arm, and then walks out to the backyard and laughs with near-hysteria and overpowering relief.

 

The sun is brighter, the air is easier to breathe, and she walks as though she’s just escaped from months and months and months of endless quicksand.

 


 

She doesn’t go to her mother. She doesn’t know how to say I wasted so much of our time on this when they’ve had so little time and Mary Margaret finally feels like a mother. She doesn’t go to Henry, either. He’s so young and innocent and he doesn’t need to hear about why a relationship can be less than fairytale just yet. She thinks for a moment of calling Zelena and then she laughs because less than a year ago, they’d been fighting Zelena and she’d kissed Killian and what the hell is her life?

 

She doesn’t go to any of them. She walks through the streets, wandering in the dark toward the mansion and knocking on the door as firmly as she can manage. Zelena opens up with that same apologetic frown on her face, and Emma prepares to fight–

 

“She’s not here,” Zelena says swiftly. “I think she’s at her vault.” She shrugs, but she pats Emma’s shoulder and winks before she slams the door on her. 

 

Emma closes her eyes and teleports to the vault.

 

Regina says, “Zelena?” as she flips through a book. She’s bent over on a chair, legs crossed and brow furrowed and Emma can’t tear her eyes off of her. 

 

“No,” she says, and Regina looks up, wide-eyed.

 

“Emma.” 

 

Emma swallows, running over the words she’d rehearsed in her head and casting them aside. “I know you’ve been angry,” she says instead. “I know I didn’t do enough to…to fix us.” 

 

“I pushed you off my balcony and you think I’ve been angry at you,” Regina echoes, gaping at her in stricken disbelief. “You really–“

 

“Well, haven’t you?” Emma says helplessly. “I’ve been so…self-absorbed and useless and I know you…you must think I got my happy ending and you didn’t, but I didn’t, okay?” she says pleadingly. “It’s not about Hook or how he treated me or what happened there. That’s over.”

 

They’re in the dark again and it’s easier. It’s like falling back to safety, to secrets and worlds where they don’t have to put their faces to their truths just yet. Emma swallows and ventures, “I’ve been miserable. And I miss you. And I…I don’t care what happens to me as long as you’re happy.” 

 

Regina shakes her head, that same horror still on her face. “Emma, no.” 

 

“I know you blame me for what happened with Robin,” Emma rushes on, desperate to give Regina all the impetus she needs. “I know it’s…in the end, you did all of this for me, and you were the one who paid for it. So come at me, yeah?” She spreads her hands wide, breathless and challenging. “Hurt me like you want to hurt someone. Please.” 

 

The old wariness creeps into Regina’s voice. “I’m not going to become the Evil Queen again,” she says tersely.

 

“I know,” Emma promises. “I really do trust you. But sometimes you…kind of want to punch someone in the face, you know?” Even remembering what she’d done to Killian earlier isn’t enough to stop her tears, returned again for a final encore. “And if that’s what helps…Please, Regina. Punish me. Do whatever you need to me.” 

 

Regina moves forward, out of the candlelight that had kept her corner of the vault flickering with light. Emma can barely see her anymore, just someone moving in the dark toward her, and she ducks her head and winces, waiting for the first blow. 

 

“You fool,” Regina whispers, close enough that Emma can feel her breath warm against her cheek. Regina’s hands slide up her torso, toward her neck, and she does her best not to flinch as they move closer to…whatever Regina’s going to do now. A slap? Is she going to strangle her?

 

Regina’s hands shift and they’re suddenly around her, tight as a vise grip, Regina’s head resting against Emma’s shoulder. Regina strokes her back and holds her close and whispers, “You are so much more than you believe,” and Emma’s mouth falls open and her eyes are wet as she dares wrap tentative arms around Regina. 

 

“This is all I needed from you,” Regina murmurs, then wonderingly, “After all those nights? You thought I hated you?” 

 

Emma holds her tighter, presses her forehead against Regina’s neck and feels a gentle kiss against her temple. “You were angry.” 

 

“I was furious. At myself,” Regina clarifies. “At Hook. At…at every mockery made by fate itself. Not you. Never you.” She kisses Emma’s temple again. “Didn’t I tell you that I love you?”

 

Emma is afraid to answer or do anything more than hang onto Regina, rocking in her embrace for as long as Regina will hold her. 

 

They stand together for a long time.

 


 

Her first days post-breakup pass with pitying glances and a lot of gentle prodding from her mother. She hangs around Town Hall and brings Regina lunches and it’s never all that simple but she doesn’t feel like she’s swimming with an anchor anymore, struggling to stay afloat.  

 

Killian doesn’t talk to her, but she hears that he’s making plans to leave town and is quietly relieved. She doesn’t know how she’d lasted that long with him without noticing how wrong it had felt for her, like living someone else’s life and never quite matching up. She’d been so afraid to lose a last chance for love that she’d lost herself in the process, and every day spent on her own brings her a little closer to those elusive pieces of herself. 

 

She holds Regina close to her on tough days for them both and finds that she stands best when they’re holding each other up.

 

They still don’t talk about certain things during the day. At night, Emma sits next to Regina on the long bench she’s moved to the balcony and they drink wine and drift together. I think I loved an idea, Regina whispers one day, head bowed. I barely even knew him. 

 

Emma retorts, I knew him and I still stayed with him, so– They drink together, eyes closed and knees bumping together.

 

Was all of it worth it? Emma wonders another day, and she doesn’t know if– so many had suffered for what she’d been arrogant enough to call love– but for all these nights, for Regina’s smiles and a gentle kiss on the cheek at the end of the night, for their family gathered together at last…well. She’ll always have regrets, but not about being in this place now.

 

One Saturday morning, Zelena drags Mary Margaret and Belle out for what’s sure to be a delightfully zany spa day for the new moms, and Regina and Emma are recruited to babysit. “Come on,” Emma coaxes Neal, wiggling a pair of plastic keys at him. She’s stretched out on the floor of Regina’s living room, Robyn and Neal both squirming on the floor to catch the toy. “Show Robyn how it’s done.” 

 

Neal whines. Robyn gets that puggish look on her face and a little bolt of green electricity shoots from her hand and hits the keys. “Hot!” Emma yelps, dropping a hunk of melted plastic. It reappears in front of Robyn and she grabs it, rolling over onto her back and chewing peacefully on it. 

 

“Shouldn’t Neal be due for some magic, too?” Emma complains, flopping onto her own back. “What happened to being the child of True Love?” Regina is laughing helplessly at them all from the couch, a hand pressed to her mouth as Neal whines and scrabbles at the plastic trapped in Robyn’s gums. She lifts Neal onto her lap, pursing her lips at him as he gazes up at her adoringly, and Emma can’t help but mimic his gaze.

 

“Stop mocking,” Regina orders her, still glowing with that unmistakeable aura of motherhood she gets around all three babies. 

 

“I’m not mocking!” Emma protests. They’re alone for now. Mary Margaret and Zelena are out, David is at the station, and Henry is pushing Belle’s baby around the backyard. And maybe it’s time that they ventured into the daylight with the things they aren’t supposed to say. “I was just…thinking about how much I love you,” she says honestly, darting an anxious glance up to the couch.

 

Regina has stopped laughing, her eyes on Emma, and Emma loses her courage. “I mean, you’re my best friend,” she says weakly.

 

“Mmhm.” Regina turns back to Neal, a tightness at her lips.

 

Emma winces and tries again. “No. I mean. Aside from that.” She’s babbling. Great. “I became the Dark One because I loved you. I know I haven’t been all that great about showing it since then, but everything I did– everything about the shitstorm that followed it– it happened because I love you. And I’m sorry for a lot of it, but I’m not sorry for that.” She musters up a little more courage. “And not just…you know, the best friends thing, but also–“

 

“Hush,” Regina says, setting Neal back down on the floor, and she slides down beside Emma and kisses her soundly. Emma tugs her close, splays her fingers through soft hair and against soft skin, and Regina laughs breathily and kisses her harder.

 

They keep it chaste around the babies. Kind of. They make it up to the couch and Emma’s exploring Regina’s neck with her lips when a boy's voice from the doorway says, “Um.”

 

Regina pushes Emma back from her with so much force that Emma bangs her head against the sofa arm. “Emma!” Regina clambers after her, stroking her forehead.

 

Henry says, eyeing both of them with something nearing horror and quite a bit of satisfaction, “I’m going to give you twenty seconds to make me believe that nothing went on in this room while I was out.” He makes a beeline for the door, leaving Belle’s baby behind.

 

Regina smoothes out Emma’s hair and her clothing, sitting up straight again. Emma drapes an arm around Regina’s shoulder and dips it down for a moment to squeeze Regina’s ass as Henry walks back in. “You’re lucky I have the heart of the truest believer,” he grumbles, eyeballing Emma’s hand. Emma meekly returns it to Regina’s shoulder.

 

“Henry, your mother and I are seeing each other,” Regina says briskly. “Please go set the table for lunch.” 

 

“Duh,” Henry says as Emma says, hopeful, “We are?” and earns dark looks from both Millses. “I was just checking!” she protests, following them into the kitchen. 

 

She pauses for a moment at the kitchen table, gazing out the window at the brilliant colors of Regina’s garden in the sunshine; and Regina comes up behind her and rests her chin on Emma’s shoulder, her lips upturned into a smile.