“The mother of the bride is back,” the shopkeeper calls out, beaming at Snow. “You’re just in time. And…” A shadow crosses her face, a curiosity that never quite leaves her face. It’s become familiar by now in the eyes of all the townspeople. “The matron of honor. Please come in, Madam Mayor.”
“Maid of honor,” Emma cuts in from behind her, catching Regina’s eye. “She nearly set me on fire when I called her a matron .” Naturally, she’d done it another dozen times that day, and Regina had growled at her and it had been an easy way for both of them to…be unhappy around each other, that day. It had been a relief.
Today, there’s no relief. There’s only Emma surrounded by dresses and gauze and a seamstress who fawns over her and selects dress after dress that Emma turns down.
“None of them are right,” Emma mutters when they finally come in. Regina had been supposed to stay home for this, and Snow had only summoned her after hours with an intractable Emma, citing an emergency. “None of them…” She pushes another dress aside. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for her to drag you here.”
“It’s all right,” Regina says stiffly, glancing around the room at the two shop owners darting frustrated looks at Emma. “I’m the maid of honor. I should have been here in the first place.”
“Regina,” Emma says, pressing her lips together. But she doesn’t finish whatever she’d been about to say, returning to the dresses instead. “I don’t know why I’m being so difficult,” she says helplessly. “This kind of big wedding isn’t even my thing . I don’t care .”
“Clearly, you do,” Regina says tightly. She moves away from Emma before she can say something they’ll regret. Dresses. She’s here for the dresses. She peers through a rack with determination, finally pausing at one that seems promising and holding it up to herself to check the height for Emma. “Emma,” she calls, raising her eyebrows.
Emma stares at her for a moment with wide eyes that swim with longing, her lips parted and her knuckles turning white as her fingers press against each other. “That one,” she says, sucking in a breath, and Regina moves it away from her own body to hand it to Emma and Emma’s eyes dim.
“I…Can you help me get it on?” Emma whispers, her eyes fixed on Regina’s face instead of the dress.
Now it’s Regina’s turn to lose her breath. “Of course,” she croaks, following Emma into a large dressing room. She turns away when Emma slips out of her jeans and top, struggling to be discreet, eyes half-closed and catching only the barest glimpse of skin in the mirror.
And then there’s a familiar red jacket draped over her arm. She turns, catches Emma’s grin first and then bare skin and a black bra and then forces her gaze back up to a suddenly pink Emma. “Hold that for me, will you?” she murmurs, stepping into the wedding gown.
She bends and Regina catches sight of–too much, god –and she waits until Emma’s back is turned to her before she helps tug the dress onto Emma’s arms.
Her knuckles ghost over Emma’s skin as she eases the zipper up, too slowly and she can’t breathe, and Emma lets out a dry sob that has Regina freezing. “Emma–“
“I’m fine,” Emma whispers. “I’m–“ She bows her head and they’re both relieved when Snow breezes into the dressing room, impatient, and takes over fixing the train and lacing up the sleeves.
Regina ducks out, afraid to look at Emma in that dress any longer, and–
–Sometimes she can’t believe that any of this is real, that this is how their story ends. As friends, as moms, as nothing more or less than that. Sometimes she can’t believe that the vaunted savior’s great love story is going to be so paltry . Sometimes she sobs and doesn’t know why and Emma puts her hands around Regina’s and makes promises she doesn’t understand–
Emma steps out of the dressing room, radiant like a fairytale, and Regina can feel new tears spring to her eyes. It fits her perfectly. It’s simple but elegant, easy to move in but still with a dreamy sort of design that befits a princess knight. It’s perfect. She’s perfect.
“I hate this,” Emma says, laughing nervously, and Regina can only stare at her in wordless awe. Emma tugs at the skirt self-consciously. “Can I even dance in this dress?”
“Only one way to find out,” Snow murmurs, nudging her forward.
Emma is barefoot and she stumbles on the hem of the dress. Regina is catching her before she falls, before Regina can think, before she can do anything but follow Snow’s order.
And then they’re dancing, Regina leading Emma through a delicate dance that she’d learned as a girl and forgotten long ago. They move back and forward again, eyes soft on each other, and then there’s a twirl that Emma takes control of and Regina is brought into her arms.
Their gazes never break. Regina is dark-eyed and vulnerable with wanting and Emma is breathless, caught in Regina’s gaze until the uncertainty fades. She dances with more confidence, fingers light against Regina’s waist as they sway together, and Regina can’t pull away.
They’re surrounded by white gauze and ribbon, by attendants who have fallen silent and Snow White, eyes crinkled in a smile, by five decades of change and growth and tension and a story that has spiraled beyond control. Emma leans in, drawn inexorably to Regina’s mouth in a movement that Regina feels intimately, and there’s a brief moment where Regina can almost feel Emma’s lips brush against her own before she reluctantly pulls away.
“You’re going to be beautiful,” she says, tugging out each word with helpless, damned goodness. “At your wedding. You’re going to be beautiful.”
She breaks away from Emma, the stillness of the room around them shattering into noise and murmurs and the magic gone from it like a twenty-eight year curse on happy endings. Emma stares at her, voiceless, eyes wanting and so rich with helpless confusion, and Regina chokes out a transparent, “I’m going to be late for Henry,” and flees from the store.
She hears the exchange as she escapes (“No, I can’t wear this dress, I can’t–” and Emma’s voice rising higher and higher) and then there’s nothing but the busy street around her and dozens of people going about their unfettered, mundane existences.
She does very little to organize the bridal shower. Snow is the epitome of an over-involved parent; while it might have irritated her in the past, she’s grateful for it now. The less she has to do to celebrate this union , the better. She does what she does for Emma, but she hangs back where she can.
She sits as close to the wall as she can in her own living room at the bridal shower as Emma’s other friends gather around her. Her gifts are a ridiculous mix between practical presents and lewder ones that have Snow quirking her eyebrow in amusement and Emma rolling her eyes.
And somehow, after each gift is opened, Emma’s eyes shoot up and catch Regina’s. Every single time. And Regina holds them and nothing is said and–
It’s the houseware that aches more than the lingerie, really; the permanence of Emma Swan with a full set of silverware and a blender and a dozen things she’d never bothered with, in a house that Regina had teased her before is only a bachelor pad for her and Hook.
(Emma Swan, Emma Swan. You’re taking his name? Regina had said, startled to hear it. Somehow she’d thought…Emma had always clung so hard to that piece of her identity that she couldn’t imagine…
But Emma had shrugged and looked uneasy and said, I guess so , like she hadn’t meant it at all.)
Emma Swan , Regina repeats in her mind, and Emma eyes her curiously and fishes out the next gift.
It’s Henry’s. He hadn’t let Regina see it before the shower, and she finds herself finally crossing the room now to look at the small package with Emma. The other women move aside to let her in by unspoken agreement. She doesn’t know what they know or think or believe about her. She doesn’t dare ask anyone.
But she’s seated comfortably at Emma’s side by the time Emma peels the wrapping paper off the edge of a photo frame. “He has pretty decent taste for a teenaged boy,” Snow says approvingly. “That’ll be a nice frame for wedding photos–“ Her brow furrows. “Oh.”
Henry’s already put a photo into the frame, one they’d taken on that ill-advised family picnic last year. Neal is toddling in the background of the photo, David crawling after him, but the focus is on the three people in the forefront of the photo. Emma and Regina are seated together, Henry on his knees behind them so he can tuck his chin over Regina’s hair. And Emma is curled into Regina’s side, grinning up at her instead of at Snow’s camera.
Regina tears her eyes away from the picture with some effort, and turns to Emma and sees wetness gleaming in her eyes. “I…” Her voice is shaky. “I don’t have many pictures up at home. It’s a thoughtful gift.”
She doesn’t look at Regina for the duration of the gift-opening time. The photo frame lies on the chair next to her that Regina has vacated again, but Ashley moves it over to take the seat and it’s dropped unceremoniously into a bag of gifts, just like everything else.
Later, everyone is eating dessert in the living room and Regina escapes to the kitchen, hands braced against a counter and head dropping with a sigh. She isn’t surprised when someone enters the room behind her. “Snow, if I could have one minute of privacy from your little squad of princesses…”
“Hi,” Emma says from behind her.
Regina breathes in, breathes out, breathes in again. “Emma.” She can hear the timidity of the footfalls now, the way Emma walks around her these days as though she’s afraid she might break something. Regina walks the same way.
Emma pauses next to her and Regina turns, her breath caught in her throat at Emma’s tentative eyes. “Thank you for…for setting up this.” She waves vaguely toward the living room.
“Your mother arranged the games,” Regina says quickly, words running into each other. “I just…hosted.”
“Yeah.” But Emma’s eyes glow a little and Regina flushes, barely keeping in check an instinctive hand reaching to touch Emma’s arm. She tugs it back and Emma watches its retreat with unmasked despair.
“I…” Emma clears her throat. “I noticed you didn’t bring a gift. Not that I expected one,” she adds hastily. “You put together this whole event and I’m…I’m really grateful…”
She’s stumbling over her words, the question still unspoken but present, and Regina is so tired of dancing around the words that matter, of pretending they’re both two other people who aren’t–
She says, “I–“ and Emma looks up at her with such urgency that she falters. “I bought you a full set of towels,” she admits with a sigh. “His and hers. They’re upstairs. I didn’t–“ It feels like defeat, like it had bringing them into her house and imagining them settled in Emma’s new home with her awful husband . “I’ll go get them.”
Emma sags. “Oh,” she says, reaching for Regina’s wrist before Regina can turn. “No, that’s fine. I– thank you. I don’t need–I just wanted to know–“
She darts forward until they’re standing too close, Regina’s hand loosely in hers as she turns away from Emma, and Emma whispers, “You’re my best friend?” more of a plea than a statement.
Regina bows her head. Emma leans forward to cross the gulf between them, and Regina is afraid to move. “Thank you,” Emma breathes, brushing trembling lips against Regina’s cheek.
And then Mulan calls Emma’s name and Emma jolts, backing away from Regina and running to the living room again.
Light footsteps. Always light, as though one step too heavy could ruin them both. Regina stands in silence in the kitchen, her eyes blurring and a finger tracing a pattern on her own cheek. But it can prolong the sensation of Emma’s lips on Regina’s skin for only so long.
Emma’s disappointed when Regina isn’t wearing her dress to the rehearsal. “I picked that out for you,” she says, frowning. “You looked better than me in it.”
“I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work,” Regina says dryly. “And I didn’t want the boor you have me seated next to spilling wine all over it on the day before the wedding.”
“I’m sitting right here,” Zelena grumbles, sloshing her wine menacingly.
“Well,” Emma says, deflated, “You look really beautiful.”
“That’s my line,” Regina murmurs, eyes sweeping over the dress that Emma’s opted for for the day. It’s another gauzy white one, the kind that Snow picks out and Emma wears because Snow had picked it out. But it looks good in a way that makes Regina’s throat burn.
Emma ducks her head and peers up at Regina through her eyelashes. “Thank you for being here today,” she says tentatively. “For this. For me.” She swallows. “I don’t think I’d be able to do any of this without you.”
Early on, Emma had looked trapped when the wedding had come up, making excuses to flee and turning up to sleep on Regina's couch instead of returning home. She'd waited months to ask Regina to be her maid of honor, even though they'd both known it was a foregone conclusion. But the words had stuck in their throats when the topic had come up and they'd both just...avoided it for a long time.
Now, Emma no longer looks afraid. She looks resigned, dull-eyed and defeated, and it's only decades of defeat that allow her to do it with a smile.
Regina wants to hold her in her arms, kiss her temple and protect her from herself. But they don't do that. They don't do any of that.
They speak in tentative touches, in wordless affection, in restraint that holds them down like they're helpless underwater. Emma's fingers skirt up Regina's wrist and Regina can't breathe, caught in her gaze, and Zelena mutters something uncomplimentary that she can't register.
And Regina says, one day to go and everything on the line, "Emma, I–"
There's a noise by the entrance, a rush of attention to it, and Emma and Regina are both jolted from their moment.
The groom is here.
And Emma changes, as she always does in Hook's presence. There's a fleeting glance at Regina, a moment when the thread that binds them tightens and snaps, and then she's rushing to his side and treating the room to another teenage-romance kiss.
Zelena scoffs bitterly to herself. Regina folds her arms to herself as tightly as she can bear and looks away.
Despite herself, she turns back and sees Emma beaming adoringly up at Hook, Emma who never lets go of him and never looks away. Emma in Hook’s presence is…happy, maybe? Regina can only guess. She’s never been able to read her like this at all.
It’s why it’s been over a year since the engagement and Regina’s never dared to say a word against it–because Emma’s better than this, Emma’s wrong like this, but what does she know about Emma Swan, anyway?
(Except gentle eyes and fingers skittering over her fine cheekbones. Except slow dancing with Emma in a wedding dress and never feeling more at home. Except late nights with the two of them seated on opposite ends of a couch as though they’re terrified of what might happen if they’d dare move any closer.)
(They’ll never find out.)
Regina walks down the aisle. With her son , of all people, but Hook has no friends and Emma had only managed to find one groomsman who hadn’t been her father. Even finding an officiant to marry them had been a struggle. (“He tortured me,” Archie had said, looking very reluctant about his role. “Join the club,” Regina had said dryly.)
She walks down the aisle with Henry and stands in the background as Emma floats down the aisle. She has eyes only for Hook–
–except a single breathless moment when her gaze shifts and lands on Regina. Except Emma turning a bit green and looking suddenly trapped again, suddenly lost like she had on the day of Pan’s curse. Except beseeching eyes that pour all she is into Regina and plead for deliverance.
No . No, this isn’t what Emma wants anymore, if she ever had. Regina very deliberately turns her eyes to Hook instead of keeping Emma’s gaze. Emma turns back to him, too, every step a mile.
They make it through the rehearsal until the dinner, and only then does Regina flee to the bathrooms. She hasn’t eaten all day, but somehow she still manages to retch into a toilet until her body is aching and she’s doubled over in the stall, gasping soundless words as she flushes again and again and again. And she would sob, but for the noise of someone else present in the bathroom doing the same.
She doesn’t stop to see who it is. She fixes her makeup and steps out of the room with a plastered-on smile and sits with Snow as they wait for Emma to reappear.
The smile is dangerous and angry and plastic, but no one expects more from her, anyway.
The upside and downside to being the maid of honor at Snow White’s daughter’s wedding is…well, Snow White. She’s overbearing and overly involved and sometimes that means that Regina can step out and breathe. And sometimes it means that all of Regina’s plans have been completely foiled by good intentions.
“I thought you were joking about the stripper!” Snow hisses in her ear. Emma is across the bar with the rest of the bridal party, adeptly distracted by Zelena.
“You said you’d take care of it,” Regina sighs, massaging her forehead. “Isn’t there anyone you can–“
Right. Fairytale town isolated from the rest of the world. No one’s coming with this late notice except for Leroy, and Regina had flatly rejected that suggestion.
Regina pinches her nose. “Fine. No stripper. I’m getting a drink.” It’s maybe her fourth of the night already. Maybe she doesn’t give a damn anymore.
Snow is on hangover duty, which mostly means a lot of food and water and making sure that Emma doesn’t spend the morning of her wedding sick. Not that that’s been a challenge. Emma tends to self-medicate with alcohol, but tonight she’s barely touched her drink.
There’s no reason for her to be self-medicating right now, Regina thinks bitterly, and settles down at the bar for some quiet time with some single-malt scotch. She is. Not thinking. About any of this.
She’s lost count of how many glasses she’s had by the time Zelena drapes an arm around her shoulder and drags her back to the table. They all look disappointed in her, which is–not fair. She drinks another glass.
Emma says, voice strained as she struggles for another topic of conversation, “I can’t believe you didn’t get the stripper.” She laughs, eyes on Regina, and Regina is angry and probably not thinking straight.
“That’s the crisis of the night? That’s fine .” She stands up. (Zelena mutters darkly, “No, that isn’t the crisis of the night,” and Emma still looks strained and pale.)
There’s music playing, half the town’s female population is spread around the room, and Regina isn’t thinking straight at all. All she wants is…
What does any of it matter, anyway? she wonders fuzzily, and she pulls Emma up. “You want a stripper?” she demands, seized by a desperate desire to–
Emma stands in front of her, reaches for her hands. “Regina.” Regina bats them away and sways with the music, stopping only to gulp another drink down.
Emma is beginning to look alarmed. Good . About fucking time.
Regina spins, fumbling for the zipper of her dress and yanking it down defiantly. “You need a stripper for tonight to be perfect,” she grinds out. Someone hoots. “Perfect night. Perfect wedding. Perfect bride and groom.” She attempts to yank her dress over her head. It gets stuck.
Emma looks sick. “Regina, no. Let me take you home.” She reaches for the material still stuck and Regina shoves her back against a wall.
“Perfect happily ever after,” Regina snarls, and finally manages to get her dress off.
Zelena saves her from the suddenly hushed room, in typical Zelena way, though it takes until morning for her to realize it. “That’s the spirit!” she calls out, yanking off her own dress. Mulan looks alarmed and not uninterested. Belle laughs and follows suit, nudging Ruby until she does the same.
Emma does not pull anything off. Emma stares at Regina, stricken, and Regina sways her hips and dances closer to her.
The room is loud and busy, the attention shifting as the party grows more raucous. Emma stays flat against the wall, her hands pressed to her sides and her eyes raking over Regina’s bare skin. Regina spins, moves, slides her hands down her own body and then onto Emma’s. Emma looks–
–longing, terrified, incapable of turning around.
Emma doesn’t move when Regina dances against her, swaying with hands creeping along Emma’s torso, but an unconscious hand reaches for Regina. “Like hell,” Regina growls, angry again.
She finds her dress and nearly falls over trying to put it back on, and then Emma’s hands are back on her, easing her dress onto her and zipping it carefully.
“Fuck off,” Regina says intelligently.
Emma helps her anyway. “I’m taking you home,” she informs her.
“It’s your party.” No matter how much Regina drinks, she can’t forget that.
Emma presses her lips together in a thin line. “I don’t care about the party,” she says. “I don’t care about the stripper or–or any of this. I came here because you were going to be here, and I thought–“
“What?” Regina demands, regaining enough hand-eye coordination to down another glass. “You thought I’d sweep you off your feet? You thought I’d come in with some impassioned plea for you to give up on your joke of a fiancé? I’m not your savior anymore, Emma Swan. I’m not going to–“
Emma’s hands land on hers, her eyes wide and her chin trembling. “Regina,” she whispers. “Regina, please–“
Oh, damn . Regina hadn’t been supposed to say any of that. Fuck . “What do you want from me?” she grinds out.
Emma shuts her eyes and then opens them again, cool green flashing in the dim light. “I wanted you to say something ,” she says fiercely. “Anything. Dammit, we’ve had this thing between us for years and you never said a word. I pushed off this wedding a year and you…helped me pick out a hall, Regina, what the hell was I supposed to want from you?”
She’s angry now, too, pleading and desperate and Regina can’t look at her like this or she’ll forget why she’s so angry. “You never said a word!” Emma says again, furiously wrought, and then pleading again.
Regina wobbles on her feet, manages to turn around, and storms from the bar. Even in this semi-lucid state, she knows whom the footfalls behind her belong to. “Don’t,” she orders. The footfalls don’t stop. “Don’t you dare . What was I supposed to do? Break up your wedding? Ruin our relationship? You were clearly happy enough with him to–“
“Yes!” Emma cries. “Yes, I waited for you for so long. I didn’t even know–I still don’t even know how you feel–“
“I love you,” Regina snarls. “Is that what you were waiting for? I’ve been in love with you for years–“ She’s shaking and her head has cleared up too much and no, god no , she can’t be sober for this. She can’t lose her fury over the way Emma’s face lights up and hope gleams in her eyes. She can’t–
“I love you, too,” Emma gasps out, and they’re in each other’s arms, breathless kisses and tears and holding on like they’ll shatter if they let go.
Regina can’t pull away. Regina can’t do any of this, but she can’t pull away most of all, and she slides her arms around Emma and strokes her hair and back and memorizes every curve with all she has. Emma is crying, kissing her lips and jaw and forehead and nose. “I would have married you the day I’d met you if you’d ever asked, Regina, if we’d ever had a chance –“ She kisses the soft hairs that drift down along the side of her neck, brushes her lips along the shell of Regina’s ear. “I shut down every time I remember it’s not you at the end of that aisle. I shut down every time I see him because he’s not you.”
And when faced with the possibility of acknowledging their reality or the possibility of Emma Swan in tears, Regina can only hold her and close her eyes and remind herself that this is only a dream. A last-ditch escape from a woman who’s never stopped running and won’t stop now, even if it means running everything about them that matters to the ground.
The wedding is set. Emma has never said a word before tonight. This isn’t anything more than a last hurrah borne by cold feet, and any moment now, Emma’s going to say…
“Run away with me,” Emma murmurs into her ear, and Regina closes her eyes and finally lets her own tears fall.
Emma kisses them away. Regina kisses her back, hard and fierce and desperate not to say goodbye, and they stumble backward in a cloud of purple and blue and land a mile away in Regina’s bedroom. They’re still desperately reaching for each other until clothes are gone and fingers are everywhere and both of them are crying out in a five-year release that’s destroyed them for good.
In the morning, Regina finds herself quite incapable of being in her room, staring down at Emma as she curls in tighter beside her.
Which is…fine. It’s fine. Emma has had her last hurrah, resolved that sexual tension between them, and can go marry her pirate without any regrets. Regina will be damned if she has to reassure Emma of that fact this morning, though.
She slips out the door at around sunrise, collects what she needs for the wedding, and locks herself in her vault for a good six hours.
Emma never comes looking for her. A secret, fanciful part of her (the girl who runs with horses and loves freely and wildly and has never yet wed a king) is dejected. The part of her that has kept her alive this long quashes it.
She leaves the vault and her phone immediately begins to buzz with missed messages. For a moment, hope surges– but no, it’s just Snow, over and over again.
“Where have you been ?” Snow demands, wringing her hands as Regina stalks into the hall where the wedding is being held. “I’ve been trying to reach you all morning. I thought you’d eloped .” Her face crinkles in confusion. “Wait. Did you? Where’s Emma?”
“What?” Regina nearly stammers. “You thought– eloped ?”
“Emma disappeared with you at her own party and never came back! I just assumed…” Snow studies Regina’s face, her eyes narrowing. “Oh,” she says, in a tone that bespeaks satisfaction. “Well, good.”
“Don’t read too much into it,” Regina says sharply. “It was just cold feet. I’m sure she’s fine now.” She turns away from her, refusing to deal with this…nonsense…and then the rest of Snow’s words hit her. “Did you say that Emma’s been missing?”
Snow bobs her head. “I know she’s getting my calls and ignoring them. I sent her a bird and it never came back. I thought–“ She hesitates, still looking disappointed, but with a flicker of something else in her eyes. “I’ll be right back.”
Regina nods, long given up on understanding Snow White, and finds Zelena and Mulan with a makeup artist in a back room. She changes silently into her gown, ignoring her sister’s ribbing, and allows the makeup artist to start on her face.
Snow hauls Emma into the room twenty minutes later, Emma’s face set and grim. “You found her,” Mulan says, darting a curious glance at Regina.
For once in her life, Snow doesn’t volunteer any information. “We have under an hour until pictures,” she says stiffly, a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “I’ll be back soon.” Regina dares one glance up, sees Emma’s shaky nod and white face, and Emma doesn’t look at Regina at all.
Regina’s never been more relieved than when she’s done and can escape the room. She hurries across the hall, searching for Henry and some kind of reprieve from this hellish day, and instead finds herself in the wrong room.
Hook smiles at her, sharp and smug, and says, “Regina.” She stares at him, her lip curling unconsciously.
“I hope you’re looking after my fiancé on her big day,” he says sleekly, oil and falseness and that same victory in his eyes. “I’ve heard so much about what you did for her last night.” Regina freezes, fire sparking just beneath her palms. Hook smirks. “But here she is today.” He lounges back against the couch in the room, slouching as he fiddles with his open necktie. “And you’ll do your duty as her maid of honor, I know, and make this day perfect for her.”
Regina hesitates, caught between loathing and a sudden, stabbing guilt. Hook tilts his head. “Such a good friend,” he drawls. “Help me with this necktie, won’t you? I don’t want to be late for pictures.”
She contemplates pulling it tight, squeezing all the air out of his throat and leaving him dead on the floor. She contemplates giving Emma another apple turnover just to spare her this fate. And then Hook says, almost sincere but not quite, “I’m very grateful that Emma has a friend so devoted to her happiness,” and fuck, how has he learned exactly how to play Regina? She seethes, ties the necktie, and returns to the bridal party in a wave of guilt and shame.
Emma is resplendent in her dress, hair wound up elegantly and makeup that makes her face glow even with a frown tugging at the corners of her eyes and lips. Regina sucks in a breath, too loud, and Emma turns.
Snow says loudly, “I think we’re done here. Emma, we’ll meet you downstairs?” and she’s hurrying the bridesmaids along, out the door past Regina with a significant glare at her. Regina glares back, unwilling to be scolded by her.
Emma slides one arm around herself, staring into the mirrors along the opposite wall instead of at Regina. Regina ventures, “You really do look stunning,” an olive branch that’s the best that she can do right now.
“Okay,” Emma says, eyes still fixed on the mirror.
Regina falters. She tries again, remembers Hook’s smug face as though he’d been daring her to let Emma down now. “I…where did Snow find you?”
Emma does turn then, gapes at her disbelievingly for a moment, and then her eyes lower in defeat. “In your bedroom,” she says in a small voice. “Waiting for you to come back.” Regina reels, stumbles backward and barely catches herself in the doorway. Emma’s eyes glitter with unshed tears. “But waiting for you was always a waste of time, wasn’t it?”
Anger wins out. It always wins out when there’s this much defeat and hurt. And they’re doomed now, anyway. “Yes,” Regina shoots back, fingers biting into her palms. “I never thought you were the kind of coward who waited around for other people to make decisions for you. I thought–“
Emma cuts her off. “I can’t ruin my makeup before pictures,” she says stiffly, and flees the room in a wave of gauzy white.
Hook cuts a dashing figure in his suit, or so Zelena comments with a sly glance at Regina. Mulan takes her arm and murmurs something warningly in her ear.
Emma’s just angry enough at Regina that the shine isn’t there when she looks at Hook today, much to the photographer’s chagrin. “Closer,” he orders them. “Closer.”
“If I get any closer, I’m going to be inside him, and no one fucking wants that,” Emma snaps at him. Henry presses his hands delicately to his ears. Regina kind of wants to do the same.
“All right, Bridezilla,” the photographer mutters. Emma’s face sets. “How about a kiss?”
Emma scowls at him, and Hook tugs her around and attempts to kiss her. She pulls away. “Look, can we just–“ They all stare at her, eyebrows raised. She closes her eyes. “I just need a minute, okay?” She walks away from the party, and Henry scurries after her after a nod from Regina.
They take the few photos they can without her, and she returns with Henry’s hand tight in hers and dutifully complies with every pose, dull-eyed and silent. Henry takes photos with Hook and Regina inhales long, deep breaths. Emma kisses Hook and Regina turns away.
They all take photos in a row, the four bridesmaids and the maid of honor and the bride at their center. Emma’s arm slips behind Regina’s and she plasters a smile on her face.
“Now the bride and the maid of honor,” the photographer coaxes, shifting to a new angle. They stand stiffly side-by-side, false smiles cracking their faces. “Hold her hand,” the photographer orders. Regina takes Emma’s hand and hears a soft inhalation.
The photographer mutters, “You ask the Evil Queen to be your maid of honor and you’re surprised when no one can relax?” Regina sneers at him, her face still split in a rictus of a smile.
“Watch it,” Emma snaps. “I’m relaxed. We’re relaxed. See?” She slides her arm around Regina’s, leaning against her side, and Regina exhales and can’t quite tamp down the fond smile.
Emma’s eyes shine, just a little, and the photographer snaps a dozen photos. “One more angle,” he decides, eyeing them appraisingly, as though he thinks he might get his only decent bridal shots now. “Maid of honor, hug her from behind. I want to see wide smiles.”
They don’t hug. They've never hugged before, as though wary of what might have happened if they'd ever stand too close. But it's too late for that now, isn't it?
Regina complies, slides her arms around Emma’s waist and tucks her chin onto Emma’s shoulder and she’s suddenly breathless. She's suddenly with Emma in her arms and she can’t see Emma’s face but the photographer looks pleased and Snow has a hand pressed to her lips, eyes mournful. Emma’s hands land on hers and this isn’t a friendly photo. This isn’t how friends hugging each other goes , but they aren’t friends. No one thinks they’re friends.
It takes a moment for them to pull apart again, and when they do it’s with a new sense of despair for Regina. “Family photos,” the photographer announces, and Regina looks for Henry–but no, it’s Emma and Hook and the Charmings whom the photographer is looking at instead.
Regina’s done. She retires to the bridal dressing rooms, memorizes her makeup as best as she can, and takes a moment for herself.
After, she waves a hand over her mascara-stained face and restores it to perfection.
Snow walks down the aisle first, one final pleading glance at them both before she leaves the bridal area. “I know you don’t want me to meddle–“
“I don’t,” Emma says tiredly. “It’s okay, Mom. Please, just…I want to get this day over with.” She’s standing alone, Ruby and Belle hovering nearby but not daring to move any closer.
Regina stands on the opposite side of the room, Zelena’s hand resting on her shoulder, and she’s equally tired. “We should get ready,” she decides, listening to the processional music outside the room. Hook is following Snow, Archie ready behind him, and it’s almost time for the bridesmaids.
They go down in pairs, Zelena and Mulan and Ruby and Belle, and then it’s just the last stragglers left in the room. David hangs back, keeping Robyn and Neal in check in their little formal clothes, and Henry takes Regina’s arm. “Our turn,” he says, eyeing his mothers worriedly.
Regina inspects Emma’s gown and train, straightens out her veil, smoothes down her bodice, and somehow manages to avoid meeting her eyes throughout. Emma says, “Henry, can you give us a minute?”
Henry bobs his head and moves to the back of the room with David. Regina reluctantly tears her eyes away from the veil and meets Emma’s dark gaze. “I wasn’t waiting for you when I agreed to marry Hook,” Emma says swiftly, her eyes burning into Regina’s. “I was…settling. Because I thought you didn’t want me. Because I thought I’d never find anyone else who wanted me. If I’d known…if I’d even thought we’d have a chance, I would have dropped all of this. But I never…” She sags, squeezing her eyes closed.
Regina says weakly, “I thought you wanted me to help you run away.”
“I never needed help for that,” Emma says, biting her lip hard enough that a smear of lipstick mars her teeth. Regina wipes it off, her knuckle dragging across Emma’s lips like a shadow of the night they’d lost, and Emma shivers. “I never did that with someone else before.”
And oh, god, it’s too much. It’s all too much, too close to the end, and what are their lives going to look like tomorrow? What more do they have to hold inside, to hide behind and build walls around? “I thought…if we had time…if we had nothing in our way…” Regina confesses, that little girl who still believes rising like nausea in her throat. “I thought we were going to have our happily ever after.”
Emma looks down, surrendering to the future beckoning her like sand to the tides, ready to disperse and weaken her and sweep her away from Regina. “It’s too late to believe in that, isn’t it?” she says, the fire fading from her voice.
This is the end. They both know it’s the end. And David is clearing his throat from behind them and Henry is moving forward reluctantly to take her arm. Regina steps out of the room and then hesitates, something in Emma’s voice lingering in the air. “Do you?” she whispers, turning back to Emma. “Do you still believe we can…?”
Emma’s head is still bowed, and she doesn’t respond. The processional music reaches its finale and begins again, and Regina starts the walk down the aisle with her head still turned behind her.
The “altar” is designed in the vein of Enchanted Forest custom, an arch wreathed in flowers with a dozen of Snow’s feathered friends fluttering around it. Regina takes her spot on one side of the arch and Henry on the opposite side, tucked in behind Hook and tossing her significant glares that she can only shrug helplessly in response to.
Emma’s made her choice.
Emma walks down the aisle on David’s arm with careful, slow steps. He murmurs something to her that Regina can’t make out and Emma smiles up at him, her eyes gleaming with tears, and then turns to watch the party around the arch.
Her eyes catch Regina’s and hold, and Regina doesn’t breathe for the duration of the walk down the aisle. Part of her desperately wants Emma to run , to turn around right then and flee the wedding hall and tomorrow might remain intact. Part of her is incapable of seeing Emma walk toward her and not long for her to come closer.
David lifts Emma’s veil and kisses her forehead, and then he sits down. It’s just the four of them and Archie at the altar, Regina and her son and Emma and Hook.
Archie glances nervously at them both and then clears his throat and begins the ceremony. There’s a speech that he’s cobbled together about true love and adversity that sounds both mildly generic and intensely personal, and Regina holds Emma’s bouquet and feels the material of her dress sweep past her fingers.
“Into this union, Emma and Killian now come to be joined,” Archie drones on, and a few stems crack in Regina’s hands. Archie clears his throat again. “If any of you can show just cause why they may not be lawfully wed, speak now; or else forever hold your peace.”
He pauses. Everyone pauses, an almost collective intake of breath from the first row alone. Regina can feel eyes on her, inquisitive and judgmental and demanding. She thinks of Emma’s bowed head and kisses that had been desperate like a final goodbye, and she remains silent.
Archie says again, “Speak now, or else forever hold your peace,” looking very disappointed, and Emma whispers, “Please go on.”
“Right. Yes.” He continues with the ceremony, Regina stiff and full of dread behind Emma, and this is their end, right? What’s done is done. They can’t just…have a moment before they walk down the aisle and–
Archie says, “Do you, Killian, take Emma to be your wedded wife…” Regina tunes it out, watching Emma’s hands trembling in Hook’s. “…For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?”
“I do,” Hook says, attempting to hold Emma’s hands still.
“And do you, Emma, take Killian to be your wedded husband…” There’s something droning in the back of Regina’s head like a violent drilling, a buzzing where she can’t hear anything anymore or see anything but Emma’s pale, terrified face. And god, she looks familiar , like a vision from a faraway time that Regina can’t place.
She looks like…
She looks like a child bride brought to marry a king, like Regina when she’d been a girl heartbroken and obedient enough to follow through on the only plan she’d had. She looks lost, as though today guarantees there’s no tomorrow for her, and when Archie finishes and turns to her, her tremulous smile is more terrified than emotional.
“I…” Emma says, and her voice trails off. “I…” Killian sighs, exasperated. Henry bites his lip and looks pleadingly at Regina. Emma’s shoulders fold inward and her head bows again and then…
And then she turns just slightly, enough that she can meet Regina’s eyes, and her gaze is locked on Regina’s as she says, “I do.”
There’s a murmur of confusion in the audience, and Regina can only stare, their final words before the aisle ringing in her ears. It’s too late to believe in that, isn’t it?
Do you still believe we can have our…?
Archie has hesitated again. Regina doesn’t move. Regina says in the rich voice of a queen, “Sorry I’m late,” wry and self-deprecating, and watches as Snow brightens in the front row and Emma turns to her with the ghost of a smile. Regina calls up her magic and transports herself and Emma to a balcony above the crowd with a puff of purple smoke.
No one sees them reappear. Hook is shouting something and Henry is shouting back at him, Snow hurrying to the stage and Zelena laughing. Regina barely notices any of it, not with Emma lurching into her arms.
Emma clings to her, cries mascara-black tears into Regina’s dress, kisses her and smiles up at her and looks happier than she has in months as she whispers, I do, I do, I do– Regina kisses her back, strokes her cheek and curls her fingers into Emma’s side and whispers I love you into Emma’s neck as the crowd breaks into a roar far below them.
It’s the third time she’s walked down an aisle, and it’s still nothing like she’d dreamed of as a child. The first time had been on her father’s arm, shaking and terrified of what had been yet to come. She’d looked back, peered into the crowds around them and seen a cloaked figure– seen Rumplestiltskin’s face grinning out at her, and she’d calmed herself and walked on, determined to be strong.
The second time she’d walked down the aisle had been just two years ago, on her son’s arm and still looking back at the bride waiting behind her. She’d seen Emma’s face and she’d clutched Henry’s arm and she’d marched on forward to another sort of doom.
Father and son– and it’s only fitting that she’s holding onto Emma’s arm this time, her fingers dancing along the inside of her elbow as they walk together. (Before, they’d been torn on who would stand where and walk down when, and Emma had leaned into her shoulder and said, “I don’t ever want to wait for you again” and it had been decided, just like that.)
It’s an outdoor ceremony, simple and intimate. Neither one of them had been interested in elaborate wedding halls or a church or castle. Emma had gone as far as to suggest a ceremony at Town Hall, and Regina had caught Snow’s stricken face and suggested a quiet wedding on her property instead.
They’ve walked through hell together. They’ve fought demons and witches and each other, they’ve saved their son and raised him through adolescence as a team, and none of it has ever been easy before.
It’s almost jarring, how easy it is to walk down the aisle together now. There have been no moments of hesitation, no waking up in a cold sweat with the realization that this is it . There have been tearful proposals and kisses that never end and eyes that glow ever more brightly with what’s to come. They’ve been gliding effortlessly (never effortlessly, though sometimes she looks back at everything that had come until now and it had felt inevitable all along) down this aisle for seven years; and now that it’s here, it’s as comfortable as coming home after a long day.
Emma shifts, letting Regina’s hand fall from its hold on her arm, and Regina eyes her curiously. Her hand lands in Emma’s and tightens around it, their fingers interlaced as they move toward Archie and their family at the end of the aisle.
Regina looks ahead, moves ahead, not a march to her end but a journey to her future, and Emma matches her pace with a hand firm in hers.