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until the end of time

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“Hey.” Emma ducks her head out into the hall where Regina had vanished. Snow likes to joke that she has a Regina Sense, where she’s acutely aware whenever something’s up with Regina. Emma rolls her eyes at Snow’s assumption but it’s pinging right now, and she bites her lip and shuts the door behind her. “You okay?”


Regina looks up, and for a moment there’s a look of such heartbroken devastation on her face that Emma reels. No , she’s imagining it. Or…she thinks back to Regina’s confession in New York last month and wonders if it’s only that Regina’s lost another chance at love, and it burns again now that Emma’s…


The ring sparkles at the corner of her eye, and she smiles. Every time she looks at it, she smiles, a stranger’s smile that she doesn’t recognize when she looks in the mirror. She’s happy, she is , and she tries to smile again when Regina gives her a quick smile of her own. “I’m just worried about the Evil Queen,” she says, putting a hand on Emma’s hand. It brushes against the stone of the ring, and Regina snatches it away. “I truly am happy for you.”


Something’s wrong. Regina’s wrong , and Emma plasters the stranger-smile on her face again. “You were shaking before,” she points out. “When you…when you hugged me.” Emma doesn’t think she’s ever been that close to Regina before, a warm, soft body pressed to hers in a way that had fit so well that Emma had been dazed in the instant that it had lasted. “You’re not okay.”


“Of course I am,” Regina says briskly, but it falters when it should be haughty. Emma stares, struggling to understand and coming up short again. Regina stares back, and this time, her eyes are searching. “Are you?”


“Of course I am,” Emma echoes, ducking her head to avoid Regina’s face. There’s something about her stare that lays Emma bare before her, and Emma can feel the stranger-smile slipping away in the face of Regina’s unwavering gaze. “I’m engaged. To the man I love.” She shrugs her shoulders. “And hey, I might be dying soon, but at least I got to do this first, right?” She laughs a little wildly, shaking her head and turning away from Regina’s expressionless face. “He didn’t even really get to propose. I saw the ring and I just–”


Regina is listening silently, her face colorless, and when she smiles, it’s a stranger-smile too. “You’re in love,” she says, and the words from her mouth sound brittle and false instead of congratulatory. “Of course you want to marry him.”


“Yeah.” She touches the ring again. “I never thought I’d get married at all. I never imagined Killian being the marrying type.” The stranger-smile is elusive, suddenly, as though she’s forgotten how it works. “I figured my only long-term relationship ever would be…you and me, co-parenting Henry.” The laugh this time is nervous, and Regina’s eyes soften. “This is different. But it’s… I guess it’s what every girl dreams of, right? The fairytale. Like my parents.” She’d seen the ring and she’d just wanted to give Killian what he’d wanted, had jumped into it without a second thought because she’s going to die soon, maybe, and he deserves what he wants. They all do.


Regina most of all, but Regina so rarely gets it. And today, she looks even unhappier, and maybe that’s why Emma can’t find the smile to plaster onto her face again. “We’ll still…I’ll still be co-parenting with you,” Regina says carefully, and she reaches up, tucking hair out of Emma’s face with a motherly sort of gentleness. Emma shivers, and Regina smiles painfully. “Until the end of time.”


“Unless I die next week, of course,” Emma points out, and Regina looks at her with sudden fierceness.


“Like I said,” she says tightly. “The end of time.”


Emma swallows, and she blinks rapidly, her eyes suddenly wet. “Regina–”


“I’m glad you’re getting your fairytale,” Regina says softly. “I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.” She reaches for Emma’s hand again and stops, centimeters from the ring. Instead, she leans forward and presses a gentle kiss to Emma’s cheek, just beside the corner of her mouth.


Emma can feel the tears slipping from her eyes, the meaningless, pointless tears that make no sense , where’s the smile she’d perfected, where’s– She stumbles forward and wraps her arms around Regina again, pulling her tight against her, feeling Regina tense in her arms and then relax.


And this – this is an embrace, another where Regina fits so well in her arms that Emma can’t breathe at it, can feel Regina’s warm breath against her cheek, can feel the sort of safety and comfort in her touch that she can usually only find in Regina’s eyes. Regina is…her best friend, her co-mom, her partner and her other half, and she doesn’t know why they don’t do this more, god. God. “I want you to be happy,” Emma murmurs fervently in her ear. “I love you…so much. I want you to get your fairytale.”


Regina kisses her cheek again, right on the tear tracks that make no sense. “I love you, too,” she says, and of course they love each other, none of this is news, but somehow it still clenches at Emma’s heart when Regina says it to her, clenches like it does when Regina’s hands tighten on her back as she says, “But I don’t think that’s in the cards for me.”


“Because of Robin,” Emma guesses. The fake Robin is...out there, still, wreaking havoc that they’ll have to take care of after the Evil Queen is dealt with. Fuck, this is a disaster for Regina, and she shouldn’t have brought him up.


But Regina only shakes her head, silky hair brushing against Emma’s cheek. “Not because of Robin,” she says, sounding almost frustrated. “Never because of–” She kisses Emma’s cheek again, cutting herself off. “It’s all right,” she whispers, breathless with an emotion Emma can’t understand. “It’s all right. We’re going to be all right.”


She dives in again for another kiss on Emma’s cheek, and Emma turns her head without thinking– or after thinking too much, perhaps– and their lips meet instead. They both freeze, their bodies tensing against each other, and Emma thinks, fuck, fuck, fuck , but doesn’t pull away. But can’t–


Regina lets out a strangled sob and Emma parts her lips and kisses her again, tentative little pecks that Regina responds to with kisses of her own. Emma’s hands are sliding on her back, falling to her hips, and she presses Regina against the wall outside her parents’ apartment.


It’s quiet in the hall, a breeze wafting in from a window, and Regina Mills is kissing her. Emma breathes in, catching Regina’s lower lip between her teeth and sucking it while Regina groans and kisses her again. “Emma,” she says faintly, as though she can’t quite manage the words she needs to say. “Emma, you can’t possibly want–” Her hand closes over Emma’s on her hip, squeezing down over the engagement ring until it’s all Emma can feel.


You can’t possibly want – as though Emma’s thought about what she wants in years. As though she hasn’t been following a script laid out for her, a book that’s already been written and Emma’s only a character within its pages. As though this isn’t her first deviation from that script and it finally feels right , feels like rainbow waves in a hospital room and feels like pulling a bitchy mayor from a fire and feels like that moment when Henry had breathed again in Neverland and their arms had been around him together.


Regina’s hand comes away from the ring with a mark seared into her palm, and Emma lifts it, kisses her palm tenderly and sees the tears streaming down Regina’s face at last. “I want–”


“You want the fairytale,” Regina whispers. “You want him ,” and it’s never sounded so wrong as it does in this moment, when the woman she’d always meant to have a future with– the woman she loves against all odds and every story written for them– says it so brokenly.


Emma kisses her again and feels…brighter, somehow. More alive. As though she’s been sleepwalking for years and has only now awakened. And Gideon and death have never seemed so distant until this moment. “I want,” she repeats slowly, and she takes a step back, drinking in Regina as she is now– rumpled, breathing hard, and her eyes swimming with tears. “I don’t want...what you think I deserve, or even what Killian deserves,” she says, licking her lips nervously. “I want what we deserve,” she murmurs, and she presses her palm to Regina’s cheek, cupping her jaw with gentle affection. “Haven’t we waited for long enough?” Regina’s eyes shine, and Emma holds her breath. “Is that okay?”


There are a lot of unpleasant conversations to come, a lot of confrontations and complications but god , she’s dug past the stranger-smile and found her smile beneath it. Regina leans into her hand, still with so much disbelief on her face, but her eyes are sparkling with the kind of hope and love that always steals Emma’s breath away. “It is indeed,” Regina says, and she brushes away the last of Emma’s tears with her fingers, pausing to run them over Emma’s lips.


Emma feels another surge of something like magic– like stopping a sword from striking Regina as she remembers who she is, like raising a dagger and watching Regina stumble back to safety, like smiles with their hearts in their eyes in Regina’s office. Regina’s eyes are just as bright now, brighter than they’ve been in a long time. “It is indeed.”