“Um. Nice dress,” Emma says, her eyes flickering downwards before she tears them away and blinks up at Regina’s face instead. “Is this some kind of…Archie exercise? I know you’ve been kind of down since the whole crushing-the-heart-of-your-evil-alter-ego but…Henry hasn’t seen you like this, has he?” Her eyes flicker downwards again.
Regina looks amused. “You talk too much,” she says, brushing past her into the house. “Perhaps that’s part of the appeal.”
“Appeal?” Emma repeats, trailing after her. Regina’s in a mood, apparently. “Hey, do you…want a drink or something?”
Regina turns again, very suddenly, and Emma nearly crashes into her. “What is it about you?” she says, frowning, and Regina’s fingers are suddenly pressing painfully into her cheeks. She pulls Emma forward by her grasp on her face, inspecting her as though she’s eyeballing a fruit at the grocery store. Emma is very bemused. And a little confused. And embarrassingly aroused.
Regina cocks her head, an abrupt gleam of dangerous interest in her eyes, and she jerks forward and kisses–
–oh, my god–
–kisses Emma ferociously on the mouth. Emma nearly staggers back in shock and then kisses her back just as fiercely, hands sliding down the sleek satin of her dress to tug her closer as she gasps into Regina’s mouth. And she’s been low-key fantasizing about this for years but it had never been quite like this in her mind. There’s no gentleness to Regina’s kiss, none of the push-pull that has marked their relationship. There’s only push-push-push and Regina in full dominance-mode, pressing her against a wall as she tears open Emma’s shirt and dives in.
And Emma’s fully prepared to give as good as she’s getting. She presses forward, splaying her hands across Regina’s chest and eliciting a surprised little noise from her; and she grins into Regina’s neck and props her up onto the kitchen table, sliding her ridiculous dress off one shoulder and biting it gently.
“I can see how you grew on her,” Regina purrs, tearing open another button on Emma’s shirt.
This is weird, but Emma isn’t going to second-guess what might wind up being a three-bags-of-Cheetos-dream on the sofa if she thinks too hard about it. Instead, she gasps out, “You’re buying me a new shirt,” and hopes to death that this dream never ends–
–Particularly not with her (whoops) boyfriend clearing his throat in the doorway to the kitchen. “Not now!” Regina snarls, hurtling some magical energy at Killian that throws him all the way back into the living room. Emma makes a half-concerned noise and Regina kisses her tightly, drives every single thought out of her mind in an instant, and Emma presses herself against Regina and palms her ass appreciatively.
“Oh, I do like you,” Regina says throatily as they thread their legs together. She’s back off the counter now, and there’s something missing in their kisses that has Emma dizzy to contemplate, but she doesn’t second-guess it. Not Regina with her arms wrapped possessively around Emma, not Regina nipping at her neck and the top of her breasts, not Regina, finally in her arms.
Not until there’s a dangerous voice from behind them that has Emma springing away from Regina in horrified recognition. “Let her go,” a second Regina– her Regina– says from the doorway, eyes narrowed and hands out threateningly as she takes in the woman with Emma.
The Evil Queen laughs, an arm snaking back out around Emma’s waist. Emma shudders with renewed desire. Regina’s eyes are heated, slipping down to Emma’s open shirt for a furious moment. “No,” the Queen says, her free hand tangling in Emma’s hair. Emma sighs and leans in despite herself. Regina’s brow furrows. “I’m keeping what’s ours.”
Regina blinks at them, and fuck, this is embarrassing, the way the Evil Queen has Emma like putty in her hands. She should really just…move away–
“She isn’t yours,” Killian snarls, back up and hovering a safe distance behind Regina. “She’s mine.”
All three women turn disbelieving stares on him. He shrinks back. Emma says, “Killian, I think you’d better go.”
“Yes,” the Queen sneers, her hand moving down to splay over Emma’s…oh. Emma’s cheeks are flaming red right now, though she can’t say if it’s out of humiliation or desire at this point. “Go.”
“Get out of here,” Regina orders him in a mutter. He slinks out the door, glaring back at them all. “Emma,” she says, her voice carefully even. “We can stop her together.”
The Queen smirks. “She doesn’t want me to stop.” She licks the shell of Emma’s ear, and Regina watches with eyes that hurt, somehow, and suddenly the Evil Queen seducing her isn’t all that seductive anymore. “Shame you wasted all this time…what? Being her friend?” She laughs. “You could have tasted her instead.”
“Emma,” Regina says, ignoring the Queen with focused determination. Her voice is gentle where the Queen’s is harsh and rich, and Emma struggles to watch her instead of focusing on the Queen’s hands as they probe against her clothed center. Regina’s eyes are stormy but always easy enough to read, and Emma nods slowly, preparing for a dual attack.
The Queen sniffs. “Please. I’m still you, Regina. Every plot…every scheme and desire…all laid bare before me.” She strokes Emma’s hair and Emma turns, catching her gaze and freezing.
Under the extravagant hair and harsh makeup, it’s still Regina’s eyes gazing back at hers. There’s something hard and malicious in them, but the Queen smiles and Emma shivers at the dark melancholy beneath the surface. “She wasted every chance we had with you,” the Queen breathes. “And you would still choose her?”
“She’s Regina,” Emma says helplessly, glancing back across the room. The Queen is fixated on her, but she’s just as aware of Regina crossing the kitchen, bearing closer to them with every measured step. “I…I’m always going to choose Regina.”
The Queen curls her lip, unimpressed. “Do you think I’m not Regina, Miss Swan?” she demands, the cadence so familiar that Emma melts a little. “Do you think I don’t know every last inch of her?”
She turns so suddenly that Emma recoils at the loss of her embrace as she shifts to meet Regina’s approach with a finger trailing across Regina’s heart. “Every fear,” she coos. “Every resentment. Every single hope crushed into dust.” She clenches her fist but Regina doesn’t flinch, just stares at her with dark eyes. “We can’t be separated,” she scoffs, “We can’t be cut cleanly in half like a pirate’s wrist.”
She runs her knuckles along the curve of Regina’s jaw, her eyes hungry. Regina’s eyes are hungry, too, and Emma sucks in a breath and puts a hand on Regina’s wrist protectively. “You’re a part of me,” the Queen murmurs. “And I’m a part of you.”
It’s been weeks since they’d thought they’d eradicated half of who Regina is, and Emma’s borne witness to it all– Regina’s frustration at her own indecision, Regina with every edge filed off and lost without it, Regina who is guilty and prone to tears and self-pity instead of the uncompromising fire she’d had before. Regina stares at this piece of herself with fear and loathing and so much want that she’s rigid under Emma’s touch, trembling and burning as the Queen cups her chin and presses her lips, very carefully, onto Regina’s.
“Whoa,” Emma says, eyes wide. Regina stands still, hands stiff at her sides, and doesn’t respond or pull away. Emma tugs her away instead, finally regaining control of her faculties in the presence of the Evil Queen, and there’s a sharp intake of breath from Regina as she retreats to Emma instead.
“Coward,” the Queen says smugly, watching them back away toward the door. Regina’s hand tightens in Emma’s, looking more terrified than Emma’s seen her since Henry had handed his heart to Peter Pan. “Too afraid to rejoin me,” she sighs. “Too afraid to admit the truth to her.” She waves a bored hand at Emma.
“The truth,” Emma repeats. “What truth?”
“Emma, let’s just go,” Regina hisses, glaring at her other half again. The early evenness is gone from her now, though, replaced with a shaky uncertainty that doesn’t suit her at all. “We’ll take her down another time.”
The Evil Queen laughs, melodious and rich and terrifying. “I’ll see you soon, Em-ma.” She breathes her name like Regina does when they’re fighting, a seductive purr that prickles at something deep in Emma’s belly. “We have some unfinished business to catch up on.”
She twists a hand dramatically and vanishes in a cloud of purple, and Emma can only gape after her in confusion and more than a little sexual frustration.
There’s no time for dwelling on the encounter, though, not when Regina is white-knuckled and tense and determined to protect everyone she loves from the Queen. “She can get past blood magic,” she says, pacing when they meet up later that evening to fight Hyde’s ghostly minions. “She can get through any barrier that I can get through. Short of locking myself in my house with Henry–“
“I need you,” Emma says immediately. Regina blinks at her. Emma can feel the back of her neck warming at the startled gaze. “I mean…to fight whichever puppets Hyde unleashes next from the Land of Untold Stories. I can’t do that alone.”
Regina’s fingers fidget against her waist. “You have Zelena.”
“I need more than Zelena to take on the…evil Three Musketeers. Or all the ghostlings. Or Dr. Whale’s brother.” She wrinkles her nose. “All the books I skipped out on reading in high school.”
“You dropped out of high school.” Of course Regina knows that, though she covers up the judgmental tinge in her voice well.
Emma scowls anyway. “Yeah, well, I didn’t actually believe that lit class was going to help me build any life skills for the real world. Of course, I also made the mistake of believing that I would be in the real world for the rest of my life…” She leans back against the wall of the station. “My point is, I need your help. I can’t have you benched when we’re up against Hyde and your evil self.”
She shifts at the reminder of just what it means to be up against Regina’s evil self, her stomach twisting. Regina curls her fingers into her side and murmurs, “I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t do anything.”
“She sows chaos wherever she can,” Regina says, catching Emma’s gaze, and Emma’s gripped within it. “She…did what she did to make you uncomfortable.”
“Yeah,” Emma says, biting her lip. “She, um…she definitely succeeded at that.” Her mind conjures up memories of the Queen– lacking in Regina’s tenderness but still so fiercely passionate and demanding in all the ways that Regina does best– and hands and lips on hers. She pushes them away guiltily. “Super uncomfortable. Not with you,” she says hastily, and her hands move without any permission from her brain to seize Regina’s hands in hers. “I know you aren’t her.”
Regina’s hands are warm even as her eyes are unreadable. “No,” she says. “Of course not.”
Emma thinks back to that moment on the roof in New York, to I’m sorry murmured from Regina to her other half and to the sorrow in her eyes when she’d crushed the Queen’s heart. “Do you miss her?” she dares to ask. Regina’s eyes shoot up to hers again. Emma swallows. “I mean…I don’t know. She was a part of you.”
“She was all the worst parts of me,” Regina says, and Emma’s lie detector pings. “No, I don’t miss her.” The vulnerability in her eyes flares like it had on that roof– Look what you’ve become, the Queen had sneered, and Regina had been trapped in her gaze like a fearful child– and she looks away from Emma.
Emma doesn’t know what she’d do without her harder parts– especially now that she feels soft all the time, like every nudge and blow penetrates and reshapes her, again and again and again, and only the hardness beneath it keeps her intact– and she’s learned to value them in others just as deeply.
But Regina had wanted hers gone so desperately, and so Emma doesn’t say a word to question it.
It’s much later in the night when Emma ventures outside alone. Regina has them all sleeping at her house tonight– a barrier sealing them in until morning, so the Evil Queen can’t break in while they’re sleeping and kill Mary Margaret or herself– and the house has finally quieted. Emma had invited Killian into the safe house but he’d declined after their earlier conversation, which had ended…poorly. Maybe not as poorly as the Evil Queen kicking him out of his own house to seduce his girlfriend, but poorly.
It’s crowded in the house now, five adults and three children all in close quarters, and Emma’s claustrophobic enough that she risks stepping out of the barrier to get fresh air before bed. Zelena has one guest room and her parents have the other, which leaves Emma as the only one downstairs on a pull-out couch. No one notices when she slips out into the backyard instead, walking in long circles around it and inhaling fresh night air.
“Are you really this reckless or were you expecting me?” drawls a voice from behind her.
Emma whirls around, her hands poised in front of her and prepared to do magic. “Have you been lurking around out here this whole time?”
The Queen saunters out from the trees. She’s wearing something darker and slinkier tonight, a dress that hugs all her curves without the high necks and rigid spine of the one from this afternoon. Her hair piles up on top of her head and cascades down to her back, and her eyes glint with amusement when Emma gulps. “No,” she drawls. “I stopped by to see my son, and discovered that she had locked me out. Then I went to your house. Where your boyfriend was waiting, all alone.” She quirks an eyebrow. Emma watches her, tense. “Useless, really, and not worth the minute it’d take to dispose of him.”
“He isn’t my boyfriend,” Emma says quickly, relieved he’s alive anyway. “I mean, we kind of broke up. I guess.”
The Queen glides around her, hips swaying and her movements graceful and a little hypnotic. “Do tell.”
“Apparently, telling someone you love him and then making out with your best friend’s evil half is…not good for the ego, he says.” She’d gotten annoyed at him for making it all about him when she hadn’t even known who'd been kissing her and then he’d snapped an admittedly valid point about her kissing back, and now…breakup. Kind of.
“I haven’t told Regina about this,” she says, licking her lips. “Or anyone, but please don’t mention it to…” She pauses. The Queen looks at her with bemusement. “Right. Of course you’re going to.” Somehow it’s easy to be in the Queen’s presence and forget that she isn’t Regina, that all those familiar little tics and that sharp voice isn't still just…Emma’s overly defensive best friend.
“I could kill him,” the Queen offers. “If he’s become a nuisance.” She smiles, a gleam of warmth in her eyes at the idea of murder, and Emma’s oddly touched.
“That’s…sweet, I think?” Emma furrows her brow. She can feel a headache coming on. “But I prefer him alive, thanks.”
“Have it your way.” The Queen turns around, uninterested again, and Emma watches the way her ass moves under the clingy velvet with more interest than any platonic friend probably should. The Queen turns back, catches where her eyes are fixed, and gives her a wicked smirk.
“Uh,” Emma manages as she returns, a hand snaking around Emma’s waist and then trailing along it as the Queen pulls away again. “What I don’t get is…I’m the savior. Your mortal enemy, right? But you haven’t tried to kill me once.”
The Queen shrugs, an unexpectedly human gesture from a relic of a fairytale. “Yes, yes. I’ll get to you and Snow White eventually.” Her eyes are distant. There’s something terrifying about seeing this amalgam of Regina, who cares so much, and to watch the detachment in eyes that have never been detached before. “But first, the woman who did this to us.” She’s hovering behind Emma now, inhaling the scent of the curve of her neck, and her tongue dips out to taste Emma’s skin.
“I won’t let you hurt Regina,” Emma says shakily, tilting her head back to give the Queen better access. She’s as helpless to resist her as she is Regina, so much of the Queen still uniquely the woman she…her best friend.
But the Queen pulls away from her, eyes flashing with sudden fury. “You won’t let me? You won’t?” she snarls. “You’re a weak, unworthy protecter for her, and you think you can–“ She cuts herself off and Emma watches, hands tensing again as she waits for her attack. The Queen whirls around. “She thought she could use me and then reject me? And then crush my heart? How dare she.”
She stalks forward again, Emma taking an unconscious step back to lean against a tree. “I’m going to make her pay for everything she’s taken from me,” she purrs against Emma’s lips, and Emma aches for her with everything she has.
It takes more strength than she’s willing to admit to turn away from her. “I’m not going to let you use me to hurt Regina,” she says, the Queen’s lips brushing against her cheek instead.
The Queen sneers. “So be it,” she says, straightening, and she strides off into the night without a second glance back. Emma watches her longingly and hates herself a little for it.
She steps into the kitchen and freezes. Regina is sitting at the table, eyes on the back door, sipping at a cup of tea. “Have a good chat?” she says flatly.
There’s no way she could have heard what they’d talked about from across the yard, with a protection spell between them, but Emma shifts guiltily anyway. “Kind of,” she admits. “She doesn’t seem that interested in hurting my mother or me. Or Henry, I think. I wouldn’t let her near any of us, but we…don’t seem to be her main target here.”
“Just me.” Regina finishes her tea. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“Do you think she’s working with Hyde?” Emma ventures, desperate to get away from Regina’s dark, mournful eyes that say everything and nothing at once.
Regina shakes her head. “I’m sure he thinks she is, and she’s letting him believe it for now. Where that goes…I wouldn’t want to be Hyde at the end of this.”
“Is there any way to…I mean, what do we do with her?” Emma wonders. “If we can’t send her away to torment some other realm or crush her heart…” The latter idea prickles at her throat like murder when it had only been an affirming moment for Regina when she’d first tried it.
Regina shivers with equal revulsion, as though the idea now makes her sick. “I don’t know,” she says, and Emma sits in tense silence as Regina rinses her cup and sets it on the drying rack.
She turns when she’s done, her fingers twisting together as she takes a breath, and her voice is uncertain when she speaks. “I came down here because Henry said you’d been planning to sleep on the couch.”
“Oh. Yeah, it’s no big deal.” Emma shrugs. “Between a couch and sharing a thirteen-year-old’s room with him–”
“You can share mine,” Regina says swiftly, and Emma stares at her. Regina’s cheeks tint a warm light brown. “I mean…there’s plenty of space in there, and I don’t see…why not. You certainly shouldn’t spend the night on the couch because I insisted everyone stay here.” She shrugs, the move more natural on her than on the Evil Queen. “And I’d thought that you’d be coming with Hook, but…”
“Yeah.” Emma chews on her lip, equally nervous. “Um. That’d be great, thanks. If you don’t mind?”
“Of course not,” Regina says, offering her a genuine smile. “Let me get you settled.”
She leads the way upstairs, Emma’s bag in her hands, and then there’s no more discussion of the Evil Queen, just the two of them moving around each other in the master bedroom as they prepare for bed.
Regina’s bed is probably the most comfortable one that Emma’s ever laid in; and she stretches out on her side of it and lays her head on the pillow, watching the last of Regina’s nighttime routine. Her face is freshly scrubbed of makeup and when she climbs into the bed, Emma catches a whiff of that expensive skin lotion that she associates solely with Regina. She’s wearing satin pajamas and she curls up on her side as she catches Emma’s eye, smiling across the bed at her. “Did you see Henry’s math test?”
It’s so perfectly mundane, and Emma breathes more easily with every moment in Regina’s presence like this. “Yeah. Our kid kicks ass at junior high.” She wiggles her eyebrows. “And he’s good with the ladies, too. He had a date this afternoon.”
“Ugh,” Regina grumbles good-naturedly. “Don’t remind me. I’m still outlawing any dates past eight pm until his senior prom.”
“Damn straight,” Emma agrees, a thought occurring to her. “So…” She squints at Regina. “When you sent us away because of Pan’s curse and gave us fake memories…”
“Mmhm.” Their hands drift toward each other, almost unconsciously, and Emma laces her fingers through Regina’s and squeezes them.
“I just…you know, afterwards, I thought that would have been a really simple way to implant memories of a sex talk without having to actually have it. And Henry was at the right age and everything.” She peers suspiciously at Regina, whose eyes are lidded and there’s a ghost of a smirk on her face. “Maybe you just didn’t think about it. It was a hectic time.”
“Maybe,” Regina murmurs agreeably.
Emma eyeballs her, her mouth falling open in outrage. “You did leave it for me, didn’t you!” That had been…probably the most awkward experience of her life, except maybe the moment earlier today where Regina had walked in on her making out with the Evil Queen.
Regina remains smugly reticent. “You can’t confirm anything,” she retorts, the smirk still toying at her lips.
Emma’s eyes narrow and she says playfully, without thinking, “I bet the Evil Queen would tell me.”
There’s a frozen moment of tension, Regina’s eyes darkening and Emma holding her breath as the Evil Queen hangs over them like a cloud of ash hovering, ready to devastate all below it. And then Regina rolls her eyes and Emma exhales so loudly that Regina almost smiles. “All right, yes. Yes, I did. You had it coming.”
“What?” Emma yelps, voice too high with relief. “What did I do?”
“You had my happily ever after with our son!” Regina accuses. “If you were going to get that while I was miserable, I was going to make you squirm at least a little.” She shrugs smugly. “I have no regrets.”
Their hands are still intertwined, and Emma pinches her sharply on her palm. “You’re the worst.”
There’s another breath, Regina’s eyebrows shifting upward. “I’m hardly the worst,” she says, a paltry attempt at levity. “I cast out most of that, remember?”
Emma scoffs. “Oh, yeah. The infamously terrible Evil Queen mostly seems to want to…you know.” She pauses, embarrassed. “Seduce me.”
Regina’s eyes lid over, heavy and amused, and Emma twists her legs together under the comforter. “That does sound like her modus operandi,” Regina says, her thumb tracing patterns into Emma’s palm.
Emma shivers, the air between them thick again with a new kind of tension. “So…” She licks her lips. Regina’s eyes follow the passage of her tongue and Emma swallows. “That’s how you subjugated thousands? You put them up on your kitchen counter and…” She presses her legs together with a bit more force.
Regina’s face alternates between chagrined and embarrassed and still amused at Emma’s predicament. “No,” she admits. “I was…I used people to get them where I needed them to be, but I rarely felt any desire to…” Her cheeks are two shades darker than usual, and she’s suddenly shifting so she can look away from Emma. “Kitchen counter them,” she finishes, her fingers slipping from Emma’s.
Emma leaves her hand where Regina had left it, her palm still burning from the touch. “So I’m special,” she says, laughing in her most self-deprecating way. She’d been more malleable, maybe, less resistant and too eager and embarrassing, oh god, and Regina knows it.
But Regina turns back to meet her eyes and hold them, something lurking within her face that is both warm and deadly serious. “Yes,” she murmurs, reaching out to splay light fingers against Emma’s cheekbone. Her thumb brushes a lock of hair back, and Emma feels it like a fire scorching her skin. “You are.”
She closes her eyes, the conversation over for her, but her fingers remain against Emma’s skin; and Emma closes her eyes and feels Regina shift closer until they’re breathing the same air. Regina’s breath evens out and Emma mimics it as best as she can, but when she opens her eyes a few minutes later, neither one of them is sleeping at all.
They don’t talk about the morning after– about Regina wrapped around Emma and Emma’s hand up her shirt and the moment when Emma had awakened and smiled lazily, lost in a dream, and leaned in for a kiss. She’d jerked back just as quickly and Regina had flushed and run to the shower; and Emma had staggered out of the room, shellshocked, and nearly slammed into a smirking Zelena.
“Fun night?” she drawls, and heads downstairs for breakfast.
Anyway. They don’t talk about it. They head out later to put up a new barrier around Henry's school to keep the Queen out and keep safely to business. “Henry doesn’t leave the building until I arrive–“
“You need a password,” Emma puts in.
Regina blinks at her. “Password?”
“She looks just like you, remember? Something that’ll let Henry know it’s you.”
“Oh. Yes.” Regina is off-kilter now, disoriented as she’s never been before that night on the roof. It’s not just the Evil Queen’s presence in the town that’s left her flailing– it’s the piece of herself that she’d given up when she’d split in two.
She’s been prone to tears lately in a way that had been more restrained before now. Emma’s walked into the mayor’s office on a half dozen occasions for lunch and had found Regina red-eyed and unsteady, given to a nameless despair that Emma hadn’t been able to free her from.
She’d wanted to hug her. But they don’t…do the hugging thing. Ever. Emma had taken her hands instead and Regina had smiled up at her wanly and said, “It’s just an adjustment,” and she’d agreed to see Archie again with minimal persuasion.
The Evil Queen has brought out more desperation and more determination from Regina, and Emma walks side by side with her and watches with a quiet sort of admiration as she barks out new orders. There’s always something missing– something Emma had been drawn to as much as she’s drawn to Regina now– but contemplating that means contemplating the kitchen counter incident, and Emma isn’t ready for that.
Instead, they wander the town, fighting off Hyde’s puppets as Zelena patrols the school building. “Do you think she loves Henry?” Emma wonders as they start back toward the school at the end of the day.
“I don’t think she’s capable of love,” Regina says stiffly. “I’m sure she thinks she loves Henry, but she’d…want to possess him instead. She’ll twist and pervert every bit of love within her into ownership.” She glares into the woods behind them, the self-loathing sharp on her face, and Emma takes her hand.
Naturally, that’s the moment that Killian appears in front of them, turning a sharp corner from the Rabbit Hole and sneering at them both. “Swan,” he grinds out. “Regina.” He says Regina's name with such bile that she blinks at him, startled.
“What now, pirate?” Emma can feel Regina’s eyes on her, inquisitive, and she shakes her head minutely.
Killian catches it and glowers at them both. “Tread lightly, Swan. I have nothing more to lose.” It’s a threat that should be laughable, but Emma can feel old uncertainties and desperations rise anew at his disgust with her. It’s easy sometimes to surround herself with family and new missions and pretend that the Dark One and hell had never happened. Sometimes– every time Killian’s lip curls and something inside her remembers how much she’d put into a waning relationship– she’s that pleading, lovesick child all over again.
“Don’t threaten her,” Regina says, her voice disbelievingly mocking. “Who the hell do you think you are?” The resemblance to the Evil Queen is so uncanny for a moment that Emma examines her in consternation. But there’s warmth in her fiercely protective eyes, and her hand is tight in Emma’s and Emma breathes again. “Do you think you’re any threat to either of us? Let’s go, Emma.”
“Bye,” Emma says flatly, and she hangs onto Regina and allows herself to pulled along away from Killian.
“You two are fighting,” Regina says when they’re alone again. “You didn’t say.” She scans Emma’s face, worried, and rests a hand on her shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Emma bobs her head. “It’s fine. It’s…nothing to worry about. I have it under control.” She doesn’t know why she’d so readily give the Queen all the details but she can’t even admit that she’d broken up with Killian to Regina.
Maybe it’s because she’s certain that it had been Regina who’d gone down to hell for her. Maybe it’s because she’s holding back so much shame that Regina– Regina who’d rejected all those dark, shameful parts of herself, just as everyone else had– won’t understand in the same way that she once had.
But Regina knows her well enough to know that she’s hiding something from her, and Emma can feel Regina’s eyes on her as they walk down the road to Henry’s school. “Emma, if there’s something you want to talk about–“
She pauses. Zelena is standing at the entrance to the school, Snow beside her, her face white as she stares at Regina. “But I just saw you,” she says, her voice high and frantic.
Emma stops breathing.
“It takes eleven seconds,” Regina grinds out as they vanish and reappear at the house. She’s thrown backward with force, the barrier intact and rejecting any Regina who might venture into it, and Emma concentrates on tearing it down. “Three seconds into the chest, two to yank the heart out.” Regina’s breathing hard, the words shriller and shriller. “One to turn your wrist. Five to squeeze until it turns to dust. Do you know how easy it was to learn that? Do you know how easy it is to make someone dust?” Her voice is rising. “She does.”
“I know. I know.” Emma finally manages to tear the barrier down and they race into the house as one. “Henry! Henry?”
“She’s going to take everything from me. She’s going to punish me for loving him. Love is weakness.” Regina slams a hand against the table in the foyer and splinters it. “Eleven seconds.”
Henry isn’t in the house. Of course he isn’t. The Evil Queen didn’t show up to his school in a sensible pantsuit and guess the password just to bring him home. “Where now?” Emma says, pacing. She isn’t thinking. She isn’t thinking about eleven seconds or the powerlessness of knowing that Henry’s been taken, god, she’d liked the Queen and now– “There’s that passage under the library, and that cabin in the woods where we practice magic, and who knows where–“
“How are you so calm about this?” Regina flings at her accusingly, her eyes wide with outraged terror. “How can you just stand there like it’s– like she isn’t going to–“ There’s a certain kind of added fear that suffuses Emma at Regina’s frantic helplessness. Regina is deadly precision when they’re under threat, quick to take action but always with focus, and this is–
“One of has to be!” Emma snaps back, breathing hard. “We have to take a minute and think this through, and you aren’t…” She gestures helplessly at Regina. “Regina, I’m scared, too,” she whispers, a dozen images of Henry in the Queen’s clutches seizing her with a violent tremble.
The fury crosses Regina’s face like a shiver and then falls, and Emma feels as though she can breathe through the claustrophobia again. “I know,” Regina says, inhaling. “I…how the hell did she get the planning gene?”
Emma laughs shakily, her heart still about to burst but its beats evening out. “Have you ever had a planning gene? Aren't you usually just…” She flexes her hands and a little ball of flames spark from her palms before they sputter out again.
“Emma!” Regina says, delight running through the strain in her voice. “You’ve finally picked that up!”
“Kind of,” Emma says, beaming a little like the proud pupil who’s rightfully impressed her teacher. It’s almost like the days before everything had gone to hell, including them. “I’m getting there, anyway.” They breathe in tandem, eyes meeting with renewed, calm determination. Emma says, “Now, where do you think she’ll be?”
Regina closes her eyes, thinks, opens them again. “The vault,” she says. “There’s a room inside that I rarely use. She’ll be there.” She takes Emma’s hand and they both disappear.
They reappear in the corner of a room Emma’s never seen before, concealed behind a tall wardrobe. Regina presses a finger to her lips and they peer around it, and–
Emma chokes out a barely audible sob.
Henry is sitting at a table that the Queen has magicked up for him, his brow furrowed as his pencil scratches against paper. “I don’t know how to do these equations,” he says, his voice sullen again like the ten-year-old boy who’d brought her home.
She moves into view, eyes dark and threatening as she looms over him. “You learned it today in class, or you wouldn’t have had it for homework. And you’re not moving from this table until your homework is done.”
Emma blinks. The Evil Queen is…making Henry do his homework. That’s unexpected. She blinks again. Henry says, “I was going to have help, if you’d just let her go–“
Her. What her? Emma twists and winces.
There’s a second table set up near the back of the room, and Violet is wrapped in chains to a chair in front of it. She struggles against her bonds and the Queen says darkly, “You aren’t going anywhere near my son.”
“She’s my girlfriend!” Henry protests, but he falls silent at the sneer that crosses the Queen’s face.
“Be glad I didn’t rip out your heart,” she hisses at Violet.
Violet’s face is pale but defiant. “No, that’s what Henry’s other mom did to me when she was evil.” She grimaces. “It’s going to take a lot more than this for me to give up on Henry.” Henry blinks at her, gratified.
The Evil Queen raises an eyebrow. “I like you,” she notes, and Regina’s mouth falls open in outrage.
“How can she like her?” she hisses. “I don’t like her! What side of me could possibly–“
“Shh,” Emma says, eyes glued to the scene in front of them. Henry is scribbling on the paper again, and he looks close to tears. “I want to go home,” he bursts out, pale and angry and fearful.
The Queen’s eyes darken, and she restrains herself with visible effort. “This is your home, Henry. I’m your mother. Home is with me.” There’s a note of pleading about her voice now, and it tugs at Emma like Regina at Granny’s years ago, I have his room just waiting for him. She’d turned Regina down then and agonized over it for days. But with this Regina– manic eagerness glinting in her eyes– she wouldn’t have thought twice about keeping Henry from her.
“Why would you want to leave here?” the Queen says, wiggling her fingers. A cupcake appears on top of Henry’s homework and his pencil is transformed into an ice cream cone. “I think we’ve had enough homework now. How about dinner?” She claps her hands together, childlike. “And if you’d like to go out later, we can go to your math teacher’s house and order her to do your homework for you!” She beams.
Henry drops the ice cream cone. The Queen scowls, capricious as always. “Don’t be ungrateful, dear. You don’t want to make me angry.” There’s a familiar note to her voice, a not-quite-Regina threat that chills Emma’s skin, and she’s stepping forward just as Regina speaks.
“That’s enough,” she snarls, stalking past Emma to the table. “You don’t talk to him like that.”
“He’s my son,” the Queen growls, unsurprised at their appearance. Henry exhales in a sob, standing unsteadily. “Don’t move, Henry,” the Queen orders.
“It’s okay, kid,” Emma says, inching forward. She catches Violet’s eye. “We’re gonna get you out of here, okay? It’s two against one.”
The Queen scoffs. “You and her? That frail, shaking child? What could she possibly do to me?” She glides forward, circling Regina with her lip curled. “Weak,” she spits out. “What have you ever done but be defeated by enemy after enemy until your enemies were all you had?”
Regina draws a fireball like a sword to battle. “I ripped your heart out and crushed it,” she grinds out, her back straight and her eyes on Henry. “If we’re talking weak.” But Emma sees her falter when the Queen steps closer, black nails scraping along the side of Regina’s neck to her shoulder.
She steps between them and Henry, letting him flee to her and catching him in her arms. A furrowed brow and she manages to release the chains around Violet. “No one is leaving with my son,” the Queen says, eyes still on Regina. She flings out an arm and a magical energy fuzzes at the corners of the room.
“Our son,” Emma says automatically, and both Reginas blink at her. She winces. “I mean…mine and Regina’s.”
“Oh, yes,” the Queen says, whirling around. Emma stumbles back, her fingers tight on Henry’s arms. “I’m not your untainted little success story anymore, so you can take my child from me. Isn’t that how it works?” She laughs, bitter and mocking and murder gleaming in her eyes. “Thirteen years of being a mother, discarded because I don’t live up to the birth mother's standards.” It’s Henry who reacts first, leaning forward in Emma’s arms as his brow furrows, studying the Queen with a cocked head.
“Regina–“ Emma says helplessly, her eyes on the Queen’s. There’s no answer she can have to that, to dredging up old resentments and judgment as though they haven’t moved past it when they have. When even the idea of letting the Queen be anywhere near Henry is…
“Don’t call me that!” the Queen thunders, fire crackling from both hands. Henry is gaping at the Queen with the dawning understanding of a child who’s finally beginning to comprehend what had gone so wrong. Regina is staring at her with an expression Emma can’t read, and Emma can’t lose both of them to three-year-old mistakes, she can’t–
Their son saves them. “Mom,” Henry says, darting away from Emma to approach the Queen timidly. The Queen blinks at him, fury mingling with uncertainty and leaving her still. “Mom,” Henry says again, reaching for her hand as his own trembles.
She lets him take it, suddenly stymied by the kindness, and Emma holds her breath. There’s nothing he can say that can possibly…
But he doesn’t say anything at all, just lets his hand swing in hers and smiles at her tentatively. And somehow, she doesn’t attack him or teleport away or do anything more than gape at him and hold his hand tight.
Regina still looks on edge, still looks torn by the whole thing, and Emma’s afraid to say anything that might make it worse. It’s Henry, again, who navigates them through it. “Can I come back and see you tomorrow?” he says, and Emma’s tense at the question and even tenser at the Queen’s hesitant nod.
But the Queen doesn’t object when they leave together, Henry tucked back under Emma's arm as they head aboveground, and only then does Regina gulp back a sob and run to Henry.
“It’s okay,” he says, ducking into her embrace and holding her tight as her tears spill down her cheeks. “It’s okay. She wasn’t that bad until I said I wanted to leave. And I kind of want to see what she’s like.” He still holds on to both of them with as much energy as he had after the body swap with Pan, fingers clenched around their shoulders with force that belies his fear. “So I guess I have three moms now, right?” he says, laughing shakily, and Regina cries harder in his arms.
“The thing with her is–“ Emma starts, and then stops again.
Regina says wearily, “Don’t say that she’s not that bad.”
“She’s not that bad,” Emma says, wincing. They’re patrolling the town again, eyes out for any more of Hyde’s cronies. He’s started sending out what Emma’s been calling ghostlings, shadowy people from the Land of Untold Story with their autonomy robbed from them. They’re less affected by magic than they should be, and Emma’s at a loss about what to do with them.
Which…not an uncommon problem in recent Storybrooke, it seems. “I mean, she’s clearly not a very good parent, but she hasn’t been…trying to subjugate the town or anything? She tries to mother Henry, she tries to…talk to me…” She pulls her jacket tighter around her. “I don’t know. I met the Evil Queen when I went to the past, remember? She seemed a lot worse then.”
Regina shrugs moodily. “So…what? The Evil Queen isn’t all that evil because I’m not inside her?”
“Maybe,” Emma says thoughtfully. “Maybe that woman wasn’t just your worst traits, but your best, too.” Regina gives her a sharp look. Emma puffs out a breath of air. “I’m just spitballing here. But aside from the dresses, the Queen doesn’t seem all that evil.”
“That’s because you’re underestimating her,” Regina says sharply. “What she does in taking Henry– in taking you– that isn’t vulnerability. That’s vengeance and manipulation. She wants you because she knows it’ll hurt me, and she’s letting you…do your damned thing where you believe in me with her because she knows it’ll serve her well when she betrays you.”
Emma’s not listening by the end of the sentence, focused instead on a throwaway comment at the start of it. “In taking me?” she echoes. “I’m not Henry. How do you figure that I’m…?” She frowns, uncertain where her question is going.
Regina purses her lips, inhales, says, “Emma, you and I–“
A bullet flies past them, nearly nicking Emma on the shoulder. Emma spins around, catching sight of a ghostling across the road with a musket pointed at them. Behind him, another dozen men step forward like they’ve just emerged from a Civil War reenactment. “Guns,” Emma bites out, eyes narrowed.
The twelve men fire as one. Regina throws out a sparking hand, catching the bullets with purple-white lightning, and Emma ducks and twists just in time to see another army of ghostlings behind them, these armed to the teeth with swords and axes and spears. “What the hell?”
“Hyde’s bringing out the big guns tonight,” Regina hisses, tossing out a wave of magic that shivers through the ghostlings but does little more.
Emma squints up at Granny’s roof, spying Hyde– no, Hyde and a woman she knows all too well– standing there, watching the ghostlings bear down on them. “No, he has new help,” she says, cursing her own optimism. The men raise their muskets again. Emma uses her own magic, strains and tosses out a wave of it at the closest ghostling.
He howls, Hyde’s connection over him snapping as his body solidifies. The magic tears through his face, leaving it red and blistering, and he keels over on the ground and clutches it. “They can be hurt,” Emma says, horrified. “They’re real?”
“We have to get out of here,” Regina says grimly, flicking her wrist. A weak cloud of magic erupts and dissipates in an instant. Regina stares at Emma askance. “Too many of them. There’s some dampening effect on our magic.”
The thirteen musketed ghostlings are shooting in a row, fire-reload-fire-reload, and Regina shields them as best as she can. Then there are swords swinging and Emma’s ducking, throwing herself in front of Regina, grabbing the sword from the one she’d hurt and swinging it as best as she can to hold off the others.
It isn’t enough. It isn’t going to be enough. They can’t teleport away and they can barely slow them, and Hyde’s ghostlings are fighting with extra force. “It’s them or us,” Emma says urgently, swinging the rusty sword and slicing lightly into a ghostling’s stomach. He folds, trampled by other ghostlings as he becomes solid again. “Regina, what do we do?”
“We can’t kill them!” Regina says desperately, magic wild around her. “Emma, they’re people–“
A ghostling lifts Emma into the air and throws her to the ground. She lands with a grunt, crouched down behind Regina’s protective shield, and Regina falters above her. “Emma!”
“I’m okay. I’m okay.” She tries to get up. Regina shifts, moving in front of her. “Regina, what are you doing?”
“He wants me,” Regina grits out, jerking her head toward Hyde. “He wants to take me down, fine. But I’m not letting you get hurt in the process.” She turns, firing one last wave of magic at the musketed men, and then charges into the fray in front of them.
“Regina!” Emma shouts, flying after her, but a ghostling tosses her back. They’re converging on Regina and ignoring Emma, all singleminded focus on the former. Regina is deep in the crowd now, and Emma pushes and shoves and can’t see anything–
–Anything but a flare of light and then a movement near the back of the crowd, a blur of purple and red and more red and Emma falls back, craning her neck to peer up at Granny’s roof again. There’s only Hyde standing up there now, his face tight with displeasure.
Emma stumbles forward again, determined to save Regina. A ghostling rushes toward her, waving his axe, and then there’s another flash of movement and he’s missing his heart. His physical heart, a cavity clawed open where it had been and a rapidly solidifying man gaping down at his bloody chest as he falls.
Emma staggers back. More ghostlings are falling, covered in blood and their own intestines and their necks at unnatural angles. The ghostlings are no longer intangible creatures under Hyde’s control; they’re men and women, clawed open and murdered as though they’re no one at all. There’s blood everywhere and Emma can’t see anything but red-splattered corpses, can’t hear anything but a soft sobbing from somewhere near the center of the massacre.
Regina. She follows the weeping, lunges blindly through fallen men with no regard for her own safety, and grabs Regina’s elbow before she can lose her again. Regina is crying openly, her eyes stricken with horror like Emma’s only seen from her before when Henry is in danger, and her gaze is glued to the figure snapping necks in front of her.
One final ghostling remains standing, his axe in midair as he holds it over Regina’s head, and she raises her face to it as though she might let it fall. But then the Evil Queen is in front of them, gleeful pleasure splitting her face into something inhuman, and she reaches into the ghostling’s chest with magic-tinged strength and pulls out a bleeding, blue-red heart.
She crushes it like a sponge, squeezing until it’s a broken mass of thick blood, and only then does she drop it and turn to Regina. Regina is still sobbing, unmoving but for the tears that fall from her cheeks, and the Queen reaches out to brush them away with a tender thumb. “Hush, darling,” she murmurs, leaving sticky blood behind to streak Regina’s face with crimson.
Regina stares at her, empty-eyed, but she doesn’t move away. The Queen turns. “You,” she says, her voice sharper now. Emma is frozen in place, afraid. “Come with me,” she says, and Emma takes an involuntary step forward. “We have unfinished business to attend to.”
Regina remains silent and still, her hands trembling. Emma hesitates. The Queen says, “Very well.” She extends a hand toward Emma and Emma shakes her head, futilely, as the world around them melts into violet.