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Amor fati

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“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Emma asks for the thirtieth time since they’d started this walk. She darts a glance at Regina, suddenly certain that this is the time that she’s going to get a yes or a no .

 

But again, for the thirtieth time, Regina laughs lightly and says, “Well, who else do you have?” She’s barely looked Emma in the eye since Emma had popped the question, and she continues to look ahead of them now, her gloved hands in her coat and her step businesslike as Emma hurries to catch up.

 

“I have friends,” Emma protests. “Belle said she’d be a bridesmaid. And…do you think that Zelena is over that whole thing where I sped up her pregnancy and tried to kill her?”

 

Regina rolls her eyes. “She thinks you did that for me. Now she’s decided it’s sweet .” She grimaces. Emma squints at her. Yeah, it…kind of had been for Regina, and when she’d been the Dark One, she’d thought it had been sweet, too. Regina, it seems, does not share that notion. “She’ll like being a bridesmaid. She’s so isolated out in that farmhouse.” She grimaces again, a shadow of guilt on her face. “Who else have you got?”

 

Emma ponders. “Lily. I think she’s over that time I tried to kill her by now, too.” She hasn’t seen her in months, but it’s something . “I have other friends! Who aren’t my mother’s friends,” she adds hastily as Regina opens her mouth. “Look, this was a lot easier to plan when the Queen was still split from you.”

 

“You were going to ask the Queen to be your bridesmaid,” Regina says slowly.

 

Emma shrugs self-consciously. “Well, she’s still you , isn’t she? And she toned down a lot after the snake episode. She reminded me a little of you when you were screwing us all over during the curse. I was...fond.” Regina is staring at her, her eyes wide and open for the first time since Emma had asked her her question. Emma twitches uncomfortably. “Anyway, my point is that I’m sure I could find someone else to be my maid of honor if you don’t want to do it.” She brightens. “Hey, remember Elsa? We were friends for…a full two weeks, even! Maybe she’d come back for–”

 

“I’m doing it,” Regina says swiftly.

 

Emma laughs, then grows serious again. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” she repeats. She doesn’t know why she can’t drop it, why she’s so certain that Regina won’t be, but for a niggling emotion in a shadowed place in her thoughts where she doesn’t visit anymore. “I know…I know you aren’t Killian’s biggest fan.”

 

“No,” Regina agrees flatly. “But I am yours.” Her eyes soften and she reaches for Emma’s hand, enclosing it in warmth. “If this makes you happy…” Her voice trails off.

 

Her gaze is finally on Emma’s, dark and somber and aching, and Emma can’t tear her eyes away. “You make me happy,” Emma manages. “I don’t…I don’t want to do any of this without you.” They’ve stopped in the middle of Main Street, their hands loosely entwined, and they’re staring at each other with that shadowed place in Emma’s mind growing brighter and brighter.

 

“Then you won’t,” Regina says. Her voice is soft, her eyes still striking somewhere deep within Emma, and she doesn’t look away. Emma swallows, pressed with a sudden urgency to do something , something stupid that would be– stupid, stupid – and Regina takes a step forward and wraps her in an embrace instead.

 

Emma sucks in a ragged breath and hugs her tight to her, feels Regina’s shaky breaths against her chest and their curves molding to each other. They’re holding on to each other as though magnets locked together, caught forever until they’d be pulled apart, and Regina buries her face in Emma’s neck and trembles against her.

 

Something’s wrong. They’ve never hugged like this, never gotten so close. There had always been a caution in how they’d touched each other, a fear of what might happen if they’d so much as let their defenses down for long enough to luxuriate in the other’s embrace. They communicate in light touches and long gazes, never this , never Regina quaking against her and holding on as though Emma’s her lifeline.

 

Emma never wants to let her go, but concern makes her finally loosen her grip on Regina and take a step back. “You’re not okay,” she says, her eyes scanning Regina’s face. Her hands are still, somehow, resting against Regina’s side, and Regina’s arms are laid across hers so her hands can settle on Emma’s shoulders. “Something’s wrong. Regina…”

 

“Nothing is wrong,” Regina says calmly, and her eyes are unreadable now. There’s a smile on her lips, sad but resigned, and Emma struggles to understand any of it. “We’ll talk more about the…the wedding later, all right? We have a lot of planning to do.”

 

“Regina,” Emma says weakly, but Regina’s already turning around, her hands falling from Emma’s shoulders and her back straight and determined as she walks away. Emma can only watch her go in gripped, miserable silence.

 


 

She’s still dwelling on it later, pacing through her living room as Killian watches impatiently. “She just hugged me and walked away,” she says, shaking her head. “Like it was goodbye. It felt like a goodbye. And then she still responded to my texts as though everything was fine, but I know it isn’t. Something’s wrong.”

 

“Could that something be that you’re more concerned with your maid of honor’s tantrums than you are the actual wedding?” Killian suggests archly. She shoots him a dark look and he shrugs. “The Regina obsession gets a bit tiresome, love.” He puts on a mock-high voice. “‘How will I ask her? Will she say yes? Should I bring flowers? Chocolate? A speech about our friendship ? Should I get down on my knees?’” he finishes, an atrocious American accent on.

 

She rolls her eyes at him. “Okay, I didn’t suggest getting down on my knees. Or…I was kidding about that one,” she amends, remembering the offhand suggestion one night while she’d agonized over it. “I brought her a single red rose in the end and just...popped the question.”

 

I brought you one of those on our first date,” Killian says, his voice on the edge of a whine. “I don’t see why your proposal to Regina had to be more elaborate than my proposal to you.”

 

“Regina’s a queen ,” Emma says, feeling suddenly defensive. “I wasn’t just going to…  casually ask. She’d expect more. And I know she isn’t thrilled about any of this–”

 

“Can’t imagine why,” Killian mutters, and Emma determinedly ignores him.

 

“I want her to be okay with it. I’m not losing my best friend over some–” She catches herself just in time, horrified at what she’d been about to say. Killian watches her, eyes narrowed. “I just…” she says weakly, and she goes to kiss him instead. It distracts him from what she’d been about to say. It distracts her , too, which is a blessed reprieve from the uncertainty of…whatever had gone on earlier. That hug , god.

 

And yet, she’s still thinking about it when she’s lying in bed hours later, dwelling on Regina’s arms wrapped around her, on the way she’d trembled and Emma had only wanted to hold her close and steady. Emma had launched into her planned speech about their friendship, had handed Regina the rose, and Regina’s eyes had gone soft, uncertain, as though she’d expected…

 

We’ve been through so much together, Emma had said, shifting from foot to foot. I’m closer to you than…pretty much anyone but Henry. And I can’t imagine getting married without you there with me , and Regina’s face had hardened again.

 

She’d done it wrong. She doesn’t know how she could have done it right– how this is ever going to be right , with them– but she knows she’d done it wrong.

 

She rolls away from a lightly snoring Killian and hits the first name on her phone’s contact list, chewing on her lip as she listens to the ringing. “Emma?” comes the breathless voice a minute later.

 

Regina sounds distracted, caught by surprise, and Emma swallows the dread that comes with an immediate dozen worst-case scenarios and says, “Sorry, did I interrupt anything?”

 

“No, no,” Regina hurries to reassure her. “I was just in the shower when I heard your ringtone. Is everything all right?”

 

Emma’s mouth is suddenly dry, and she can hear the movements on the other line, can picture Regina in her room, water still dripping from the smooth planes of her back down the curves of her hips and–

 

She swallows again, a little louder, and Regina says in concern, “Emma?”

 

There’s a towel now, Emma thinks, warm and fluffy as Regina wraps herself into it and dries her hair. “Sorry,” she says, her voice strangled, and she edges closer to the edge of the bed, clamping her thighs together and refusing to think about why. “I…no, everything’s okay. I was just worried about you.”

 

“I didn’t slip on the soap,” Regina says dryly, and Emma shuts her eyes and struggles to laugh in response. Regina’s voice softens. “I’m fine, Emma,” she murmurs. “I’m...honored that you gave me this privilege. I’m truly happy for you.”

 

“You keep saying that,” Emma says, bold for a moment. “More than anyone who’d actually be truly happy would.”

 

Regina hesitates on the other line. “You know I think you deserve better,” she says, and Emma can hear the creak as she settles back into bed. “You’re too good for Hook. But…” She exhales, long and slow. “You’re too good for most people,” she says, and there’s a quiet hopelessness to it that makes Emma’s throat close up with grief she can’t name.

 

“So are you,” she whispers, stricken. “You know that, right? You keep…telling me that I’m good or that I deserve all these things, but you are, too. You do, too. And I want…” It’s nighttime, and it feels as though anything is possible, as though the whispers in the shadowy place where she doesn’t think can finally be spoken aloud. She can hear Regina on the other end, holding her breath. “I want…” She’s unable to finish, frozen in a corner on her bed, and Killian chooses that moment to let out a loud snore from the other end of it.

 

There’s silence on the other end of the phone, and then a stiff, “Are you in bed?”

 

The panicky feeling that bubbles up in response to that is utterly unwarranted and ridiculous. “I didn’t realize this was that kind of call.” Emma laughs shakily, desperate to distract. “What are you wearing?”

 

“Absolutely nothing,” Regina says, but there’s no playfulness in her tone. “Emma, go back to your fiancé. We’re fine. We’ll both be fine.”

 

“Regina,” Emma says weakly.

 

Regina’s voice gentles. “I know you’re just trying to help,” she murmurs, and Emma still aches. “But there’s nothing to worry about. This is a happy occasion, and it’s not about me.” Another pause, as though she’s restraining herself from saying any more.

 

Emma inhales, thinks of a dozen things to say and rejects each more vigorously than the last. “I’m here,” she finally manages. “Okay? I’m here.” It’s not about me , as though Regina agrees with Killian. As though anything in either of their lives can be not about each other, at this point.

 

Regina is quiet, and Emma can hear nothing but her breathing for a minute. “I know,” she says, her voice barely an exhale, and Emma shivers as the phone clicks off, suddenly cold in her bed with her fiancé a foot away.

 


 

Regina isn’t at work in the morning, and Emma drives past her house and sees the Mercedes in the driveway. Maybe she’s just taking a day off. She knocks on the door, rings the doorbell, waits impatiently and finally shoots Regina a text.

 

Late start today , comes the response. Doing a run before work . Emma blinks at her phone, startled. She hadn’t known that Regina ran, and she struggles to imagine it, Regina in skintight clothes with rivulets of sweat beading down her neck. She leans against the door for a moment, a stray hope that Regina might be coming back now, but she doesn’t return.

 

She isn’t in her office at lunch, either, though she replies to texts with cool explanations. Meeting. Business lunch. Every one of them is starting to ping as a lie, and Emma finally gives up and calls her.

 

Her phone goes straight to voicemail. She gets another text. Terrible service here at the docks. I’ll call you later. Almost done with this meeting.

 

What the hell is she doing? Emma closes her eyes and concentrates, teleporting to the docks and peering into restaurant windows to no avail. She walks back and forth along the docks until she hears a familiar voice and Killian pops out of the Jolly Roger, beaming as though she’d come to visit him.

 

She plasters on a smile and texts Regina one last time before she heads to him. I’m worried about you. Can you swing by later?

 

There’s no response.

 

She spends too much of her work time with Killian, leafing through a bridal magazine he swears he hadn’t stolen and trying to pretend to take some interest in floral arrangements. “Regina and my mom will have all of this under control,” she protests finally. “I don’t really have strong opinions on flowers?”

 

Killian scoffs. “I know women. You must have had this all planned out since you were a child.”

 

“Yeah, sure. Right in between trying to stay warm and dodge handsy foster brothers, I was definitely thinking about my future wedding.” Emma rolls her eyes. Killian looks blankly at her. “I’ll let Regina pick, okay?”

 

“I’m surprised you didn’t let Regina pick the groom, too,” he grumbles, and Emma rolls her eyes at him and stabs randomly at a purple arrangement.

 

“Fine. These are nice. Happy?” Her phone rings, and she’s snatching it up before she even thinks to check the number. “Regina?”

 

“Mom?” It isn’t Regina. It’s Henry, and he sounds worried. “I got home and Mom wasn’t there. She isn’t in her office, either. And she isn’t answering her phone. Are you with her?”

 

Emma’s heartbeat quickens. “No,” she says, ducking out of the captain’s quarters. She motions a goodbye to an unhappy Killian and steps off the ship, onto the dock. Phone service is completely fine here, and she curses herself for buying Regina’s bluff. “Look, don’t worry about it, okay? I’ll track her down. She said she had some late meetings today.”

 

She can almost hear Henry’s brow furrowing over the phone. “She told me she thought she’d be home early tonight.”

 

A chill runs down Emma’s spine. “I’ll find her,” she says, keeping her voice steady. “Okay? You head over to Grandma’s house and stay with them. Just in case.” She hangs up with him and jogs away from the docks, through the woods where she knows Regina goes sometimes to practice magic. A quick call to Mary Margaret yields no results, and a quick call to Zelena yields only a cool reminder that Zelena doesn’t particularly care for any of them, and she doesn’t make a habit of spending time with Regina.

 

She’d thought they’d been getting along better now, but this is yet another reminder that Regina’s been keeping things from them. Emma comes to a halt in the cemetery, breathing hard, and makes a break for Regina’s mausoleum.

 

The secret entrance to the vault is open, and Emma exhales in relief. “You asshole,” she calls down teasingly, climbing down the stairs. “You’ve had me panicked all– Regina !”

 

Regina is sprawled out on the floor, unconscious. Emma races to her, heart pounding and boots crunching against shattered glass, and kneels beside her, feeling for a heartbeat. “Regina. Regina!” She dials on her phone before she realizes she has no service, dashes to the stairs again to call 911 before she returns to Regina. Her knees are bleeding, her jeans ripped, and Regina hasn’t moved. “Regina, please,” she pleads. “Wake up. What happened? Who attacked you?”

 

The last time she’d seen Regina unconscious in her vault, it had been right before Regina had sent her and Henry away for a year. She can feel the old dread returning, the terror that Regina might not be so readily okay this time. “Regina,” she whispers. “Regina, please.”

 

She’s still crouched on the floor beside Regina when the ambulance arrives, her forehead pressed to Regina’s side as she begs her to awaken.

 


 

Killian keeps trying to put an arm around her. She’s leaning against Henry instead, their hands locked together as they wait, and Mary Margaret is beside them, curled against David in their waiting room chairs. “She looks fine,” she says, over and over again. “I saw her. She looks fine. She just has to wake up.”

 

“She will,” Mary Margaret says firmly.

 

Henry says, not for the first time, “If it’s a sleeping curse–”

 

“Dr. Whale says that there are signs of minor neurological damage,” Emma reminds him. “Not a sleeping curse. Something natural.” It’d be easier if it were a sleeping curse, if it could be solved by any of the people in this room who love Regina. But no, whatever had happened, it won’t be solved with magic. “Maybe it’s just a concussion. Your mom is going to be fine,” she says vehemently, and Henry bobs his head and squeezes her hand in his.

 

They’re finally allowed to see her an hour later, after Killian has fallen asleep in his chair and the rest of them have fallen into a huddle, David’s arm around Emma and Mary Margaret’s around Henry and all of them sitting tensely together. They can only go in two at a time, and Emma bites her lip and lets David and Mary Margaret go first. She’s not planning on leaving.

 

Henry has the same determination on his face, and they watch through a window as Mary Margaret brushes a kiss to Regina’s forehead and David squeezes her hand, murmuring something into their onetime enemy’s ear. There’s no reaction to either of them, and Mary Margaret steps out of the room with tears in her eyes.

 

Henry ducks into the room next, Emma lingering in the doorway to give him some privacy. He tries for a true love’s kiss, same as Mary Margaret, but again there’s no response. “Mom,” he whispers, and Emma steps back, listening with her head turned away. Henry’s murmuring promises to a mother who can’t hear, everything from I’ll keep to curfew, I’ll stop chasing every demon in town, I swear, just wake up, to I’m always going to protect you, even if you’re the one with the big scary magic

 

She’s blinking back tears by the time he’s done, Regina still lying silent in the bed, and he says quietly, “Mom’s here to see you, too. If you won’t wake up for me, then maybe– maybe–” His voice shakes.

 

“You know it doesn’t work like that,” Emma murmurs, and Henry buries himself in her arms, wrapped around her and both of them trembling beside Regina’s bedside. “She’ll wake up soon. We have to believe that she’ll–” Her voice cracks.

 

Henry stares at her for a moment, his eyes searching, and Emma struggles to exude confidence instead of despair. She smiles wanly at him. “I want you to go downstairs to the cafeteria and get something to eat,” she says finally. “Your mom won’t forgive me if I let you miss dinner.” She squeezes his shoulder as he shakes his head. “Go,” she says. “I’ll watch over her.”

 

He hesitates, kissing his mother on the cheek again and waiting, waiting– and then he sucks in a sob and flees the room. Regina lies still, her face still glowing and her eyes closed; peaceful. Emma settles down on the chair beside her, putting a hand on the limp one in front of her. “Hey,” she says hoarsely. “I can’t…I can’t help but feel like this is my fault. I knew something was wrong, and I…I don’t know if I was making it all about me when you were being stalked or something, or if you did something with magic that backfired, or…” She bites her lip. “I should have been there. I don’t know what to do, Regina. I don’t know how to wake you up.”

 

She swallows. “I’m sorry about this, but I have to…” It’s stupid, and she’s already told Henry that it won’t work , but she leans over anyway, pressing her lips to Regina’s forehead. Regina’s skin is soft, even in the stark air of the hospital room, and still warm. And still very, very still.

 

“Okay,” Emma says, and she feels as though she might sob, too, and give up now. Regina looks small in a hospital bed as she’s never looked when awake. She’s imposing in reality, so much of a presence that it’s hard to see her tiny and vulnerable and exposed. Regina without her vitality is Regina without so much of herself , and Emma summons magic she doesn’t know how to use this way and thinks, wake up. Wake up. Wake up .

 

Nothing happens, and Emma drops her head, resting it against Regina’s side. “Please,” she whispers, and her voice catches on a sob. “I can’t do this without you.”

 

She’s asleep before Henry returns to the room, her cheeks cool against the tears tracking down them.

 


 

Regina opens her eyes. Her head is pounding, and she can smell the distinct odor of hospital when she inhales. What the hell had happened? She struggles to remember through a thick haze, trying to recall when she’d blacked out. The last thing she remembers is…

 

The fire . No, not the fire, Emma Swan charging through the flames to carry her out like some damned superhero. The debate for the sheriff’s office following the fire when Emma had pointed a finger at Gold and called the fire a setup. Yes. She’d been there, grudgingly impressed and irritated with the woman, and then…

 

Someone is holding her hand, and for a moment, her heartbeat quickens and she thinks, Henry ? But no, the hand is too large, too soft and feminine. Regina struggles to sit up, to shift under a weight on her side, and she sees finally who it is and shoves .

 

“Deputy Swan!” she barks out, slapping her hand away and pushing her from where her head had been resting against Regina’s side. “Get off of me!”

 

Emma tumbles to the ground beside the hospital bed, and Regina sits up, gathering her strength and her skin still crawling from the touch. Emma is awake now, if she’d been asleep before, and she’s staring up at Regina with a wide-eyed look. “Regina?” she says shakily. “You’re awake.”

 

“Did you think you’d take advantage of me in my unconsciousness ?” Regina barks out, horrified and furious. “Did you think I would tolerate that, Deputy? I could have you dismissed right now, vote or not.” She bites out the words with savage fury, watching Emma flinch back from them with satisfaction, and then zeroing in on the most important matter to deal with. “Now, where is my son ?”

 

Emma doesn’t immediately respond, looking dazed. “Why…why do you keep calling me Deputy?” she says finally, and then the door slams open and a boy tears in.

 

“Mom!” he cries out in a voice too deep to be– and he’s wrapping her in an embrace before she can move– before she can–

 

She hugs him back, uncertain and confused and how long has she been asleep ? “Henry?” she guesses, and she sees Emma’s face settle with comprehension.

 

“Oh, my god,” she whispers, very pale. “Oh, my god. Doctor Whale? Doctor Whale!” she shouts, and Henry pulls back at last.

 

He’s Henry. Regina is certain of that. He’s Henry, but he’s tall enough to be the one holding her, and his face is so different that he might as well be a stranger. She reels back, suddenly terrified and suspicious of the woman still crouched on the floor. “What the hell is going on here?” she demands. “What have you done to me? What–what–?” She falters at the sight of the concern blazing in Henry’s eyes, of the way he reaches to touch her shoulder with so much familiarity and love.

 

It’s impossible. It’s a trick. Henry was never going to look at her like this again, she’d been sure of it. It’s– it’s–

 

She flattens herself against the back of the bed, knees drawn up and arms around them, and she doesn’t feel like a formidable mayor anymore. She doesn’t feel like an unstoppable queen anymore. In the face of this impossibility, she feels small and terrified and powerless and so, so alone.


And Henry and Emma gather around her, protective as though this is natural , and Regina squeezes her eyes shut and tries desperately through sheer force of will to wake up from this nightmare before it swallows her whole.

Chapter Text

“Right now, the most important thing you can do is make sure that she doesn’t get too much information at once. There are bound to be some shocks to her system, and seeing as we don’t know exactly what it is that set this into motion, we can’t risk anything pushing her even further back into the past.” Whale is speaking in a low voice, but still loud enough for Regina to hear. Regina sits stiffly, hands tense on her lap, and she watches as Emma and Henry exchange a significant glance before they look back at her.

 

“Okay,” Emma says finally. “So can we take her home?”

 

Whale sighs. “I would rather she stay here for observation, but–”

 

“I’m not staying here for another minute ,” Regina barks out. She hadn’t liked Whale much when he’d been Dr. Frankenstein, and she likes him even less now. Slimy, lecherous ass.

 

“–I don’t think she’ll put up with that,” Whale finishes. Emma and Henry exchange another glance, this one amused and…a little fond? How dare she , Regina thinks automatically, her fingers gripping onto her skin until they turn white. “You’ll have to come in for regular appointments until your memory returns, but the sheriff can take you home for the time being.”

 

“I’m not going anywhere with her .” Regina reaches for her phone and Emma springs across the room at top speed, snatching it away. Regina gapes at her in disbelief. “How dare you. Give that back .”

 

Emma flips through it rapidly, scanning whatever she’s opened and nodding to herself before she returns the phone. “Sorry about that,” she says, biting her lip. “You heard the doctor. I had to make sure there was nothing on the phone that might...give you a shock.” She bounces on her heels, almost nervous, and then blinks suddenly and murmurs something in Henry’s ear.

 

Henry shakes his head. “He’s already gone,” he says. “I guess he got tired of waiting.” He shifts his head away from Emma, rolling his eyes in silent solidarity with Regina that Regina doesn’t understand. “We can go anytime.”

 

“He?” Regina asks. Every question is more frustrating than the last, another vulnerability laid before the mercy of Emma Swan. Emma opens her mouth, her eyes flickering away guiltily. “Never mind,” Regina grinds out. “I’ll have Sidney take me home.” She scrolls through a much more sophisticated phone than her last, searching for his number.

 

“He won’t do it,” Emma says. Regina glares at her.

 

Henry says, “Sorry, Mom.” He looks apologetic. “It’s just that you two aren’t really on good terms anymore.”

 

“Impossible.” She dials his number and gets no answer. Kathryn , she remembers. Kathryn had called her a friend. Maybe she’ll–

 

“Not a great relationship,” Henry puts in when she gets no answer there, either. “You did some…stuff.” He shifts from foot to foot, avoiding her eyes.

 

Regina heaves a frustrated sigh. “Of course. I’m still the villain of your story, aren’t I?” Henry will blame her for the sunrise if he has a chance, and even if they seem closer now, some things will never change.

 

But Henry’s shaking his head vigorously. “No. Of course you aren’t,” he says swiftly, his face screwed up with sudden worry. “Mom, I don’t think you’re…you’re a villain anymore. I haven’t thought that in a long time.”

 

“You might be the villain of Kathryn’s story,” Emma says dryly, and Regina is too busy staring at Henry in disbelief to glower at her. “But there were a few of those. Can you please just let us take you home?”

 

Regina straightens. “Apparently, I have no one else in the universe but you ,” she spits out. “So I don’t really have a choice, do I?”

 

Emma’s face falls, and Regina is glad to see it– glad to see that she still has some power over these strangers wearing familiar faces. “That’s not true. You have...other people, now. People who really care about you.” She shrugs, self-deprecating. “And yeah, me. You have me.” She looks up at Regina through her eyelashes, fingers twisting together as though she’s afraid at her own admission.

 

It’s laughable, and Regina does laugh, watching the flicker of pain that flashes across Emma’s face in response. “ Please ,” she says, straightening. “Don’t tell me you ever grow on me .” Her eyes flick down to Emma’s twisting fingers, catch sight of something glinting on them, and she seizes a hand to stare at the ring on it. “What is this?” she says, cruelly mocking. “Do we fall in love? Are we engaged?” She inflects each word with disgust, and Emma’s hand falls limp in hers.

 

“Mom,” Henry says reprovingly, his eyes moving from Regina’s face to Emma’s to Regina’s again. Emma looks stricken for a moment, and Regina’s mind works feverishly, struggling to understand what it is that she’s missing here. What the hell is their relationship?

 

“No,” Emma says finally, the words slow and careful. “I’m…I’m engaged to someone else.” Regina’s hand is still on hers, her thumb on the ring on Emma’s finger, and she snatches it away in sudden disgust at something she can’t name.

 

“Take me home,” she says sharply, and she feels even more lost now than she had been before she’d submitted to the mercies of Emma Swan.

 


 

They can’t tell her that the curse is broken. That much is clear to Emma from the moment she sees Regina’s glower, from the moment Dr. Whale had implied as much. This is the Regina who would murder and destroy to keep her curse intact, and who can’t see any other alternatives to it. This is Regina with all her magic, if she ever reaches out to find it. She isn’t ready to cope with the idea that the curse is gone– with the idea of vulnerability .

 

“You can’t be seen,” she mutters on the phone with Killian, who’s none too pleased about any of this. “We can’t excuse you as a new arrival. You’ve got to stay far away.” She’s pacing downstairs in the mansion, Regina on the couch in the next room while she watches the news.

 

Killian sighs expansively. “And when are you coming home, love?”

 

Emma winces. “Not for a while, I think. Regina’s on her own right now, and as much as I still trust her with Henry, it’s probably best if I help her out here. She needs me.”

 

“Of course she does,” Killian says, sarcasm dripping from every word. Emma scowls, exasperated, and hangs up the phone before she wanders into the next room.

 

Regina is still sitting there, eyes hollow, but her arm is wrapped around Henry. She hasn’t stopped touching him since they’d gotten home from the hospital, a secret wonder on her face each time he lets her press a hand to his face or hair or arm. Emma aches for them and for this Regina who softens in reverence each time her son wriggles closer to her.

 

Emma doesn’t step into the room. This Regina looks at her like she’s an intruder when she comes too close, and she’d already demanded that Emma leave the premises twice. If not for Whale insisting that Regina be supervised for at least forty-eight hours, Emma would have conceded, too.

 

She isn’t wanted here. This is a Regina who doesn’t give a damn about her, and isn’t afraid to show it. She sinks onto a dining room chair, elbows on the table and face buried in her hands, and she struggles to recall how Regina’s hug had felt.

 

Like home . Like family, like half of everything good in this world. She’s been moving forward so determinedly all night, trying desperately to keep upright a Regina who doesn’t want her. She hasn’t stopped until now, and now it’s finally beginning to hit her how alone she is without her Regina. Regina isn’t going to meet her at Granny’s tomorrow morning to see Henry off to school, their fingers bumping against each other and sparking as they head to work together. Regina isn’t going to look up from her desk with that glittering smile she saves for Emma at lunch, and Regina isn’t going to find excuses a dozen times a day to stop in at the station. Regina isn’t going to be there if Emma needs a friend, and Regina isn’t going to hug her ever again, not if her memories don’t return.

 

She doesn’t know how to do this without Regina. She’s…she’s been furious with her parents in the past, been separated from Killian, been alone in strange worlds, but it’s been years since she’s been truly without Regina or Henry. Even when they’d fought with each other, she’d never been capable of staying away for long, and Regina had never quite pushed her away for good . They’ve been to a half dozen realms together and have faced certain death and their son in danger, but it’s never been like this. It’s never been Emma without a Regina who cares about her. Not since Neverland, or maybe even–

 

Not since before the curse had broken.

 

Slowly, she becomes aware that someone’s watching her, and she knows who it is at once. She keeps her face in her hands, afraid to look up and endure a Regina who loathes her, and then she can’t stay away at all and peers at her for a moment. Regina stares back, her face unreadable, and turns abruptly away. “Henry,” she says, and he comes up behind her, Regina’s fingers moving out to brush his arm instinctively. It’s the sort of tableau that would normally leave Emma snapping pictures for Mary Margaret.

 

But this Regina won’t smile for her. “It’s late,” she says firmly. “Isn’t it time for bed?”

 

“I don’t have a bedtime anymore. I’m thirteen,” Henry protests, and Emma gives him a look . He makes a face. “Oh, come on. What’s the point of amnesia if I can’t at least get a later bedtime out of it?”

 

Regina smiles, uncertain, as though she isn’t quite sure whether or not she’s being mocked, and then Henry is hugging her tightly and her eyes drift shut. She presses a kiss to his forehead, her hands moving to his back, and he says, “Good night, Mom,” and pulls away just as her hands land. Emma watches, her heart thumping with sympathy and loss and yearning.

 

She removes them swiftly, smiling warmly at him, and he grins and then makes a beeline for Emma. “It’s going to be okay,” he whispers when he hugs her, the first secret indication of discomfort he’s expressed since they’d gotten home, and she squeezes her eyes shut and holds him to her, mussing his hair as he pulls back again. “Good night, Mom,” he repeats, and Emma’s eyes flicker over his shoulder to where Regina is watching them, her lip trembling as though this might be the thing to break her.

 

No , Emma realizes after they’d both gone upstairs and she’d been alone in the dining room for a long time. Not Henry hugging her. Henry had called her Mom , and to this Regina, that must have hit like a death knell.

 

She goes upstairs, tiptoeing through the hall as she sets up the guest room and goes hunting through the bathroom for the spare toothbrush she knows Regina had bought for her last month. She finds an oversized t-shirt in one of the guest room drawers that she’s worn here before, back when they’d been working overtime to hunt down the Author, and tugs it on before she finally steps out into the hallway and knocks lightly on Regina’s door.

 

“Come in,” Regina says, and Emma pushes open the door. Regina is sitting up in bed, her phone in her hand, and Emma can see in the light that it casts on her face that Regina’s eyes are red.

 

“Regina,” she whispers, aching. “I…”

 

Regina glares at her, voice hard and thick. “I don’t need your sympathy,” she says coolly. “I’ve been doing this half the nights since you came to town.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Emma whispers. They’ve long since moved past some… seriously questionable behavior from both of them early on, but it’s always been easier to laugh off semi-evil Regina than it has been to laugh off the way she’d struck terror into Regina’s heart by overstepping with Henry early on. They don’t talk about it a lot, or ever, really. “You have…you know you have Henry now, if that helps.”

 

“It doesn’t help ,” Regina says, her voice caustic. “Not knowing that having Henry is completely dependent on letting you stay around.”

 

“That’s not–” Emma stares at her, at a loss. “Henry isn’t here because of me. We don’t– we don’t make him choose between us anymore.” Regina is silent, eyes glittering with tears in the moonlight, and Emma knows she’s listening. “There was…there was a time when you were furious with me.” She remembers bringing Marian-who-wasn’t back from the dead, remembers leaning against closed doors and making vows and remembers spilling out a dozen vulnerabilities to Regina until I was just looking for you to be my friend . “Henry still spent pretty much all his time with you. You’re his mom .”

 

Regina looks away from her, back to her phone, and Emma settles down on the chaise almost automatically. This is always how it’s gone between them at night, the two of them comfortable to share in the dark as they never are in the light. It’s different now, but somehow it isn’t that different at all.

 

Except that this Regina has no memory of any of this, and when Emma squints over to Regina’s phone screen, she can see that the photo displayed is one of the three of them squashed into the frame together, Henry beaming and Emma and Regina both pressed to him with blinding smiles. Henry has it as his phone’s wallpaper. Emma had tried that for about a day before Killian had seen it and looked enough like a kicked puppy that she’d swapped it to one with just her and Henry instead.

 

Emma hadn’t even known that Regina had asked Henry for a copy of it. “I don’t understand,” Regina says finally, and Emma wants to say, me, too , but doesn’t. “I don’t understand how we could ever even become…”

 

“Friends?” Emma offers, and Regina nods uncertainly. “Is it really so unbelievable?” Regina nods again, this time with more certainty. Emma barks out a laugh. “I mean, we were either going to start to care about each other or tear each other apart. It was only a matter of time. We picked the one that would scar Henry less.” She bites her lip, contemplating the wisdom of bringing up the next point. “You were going to be my maid of honor, you know.”

 

It’s Regina’s turn to laugh, hoarse and a bit mocking. “Not Miss Blanchard?” she says dubiously.

 

“You.” Emma leans forward in her seat, studying Regina as well as she can in the dark. “You’re…you’re kind of pretty important to me,” she says, her eyes suspiciously misty.

 

Regina scoffs, though it lacks some bite. “Maid of honor,” she repeats. “You know, I’m starting to think that this whole engagement you keep talking about is a farce. Who in this town would marry you?”

 

There’s a sneer to it, but also a genuine curiosity, and Emma remembers that Regina still believes that this is a closed fairytale land where half the town must be somehow related to her. “He’s new to town,” she says cautiously. “You have…other new people here now, not just me. I guess I opened the floodgates.”

 

“Did you?” Regina is silent for a moment, worry creasing her brow, and Emma waits with bated breath until she laughs again, a choked and anxious sound. “I suppose we’re besties , too. I’m surprised he isn’t setting up shop in my house, as well.”

 

“You hate him,” Emma says flatly. It feels oddly good to be able to say it. “Well,” she amends as Regina’s head jerks up and she stares at Emma. “You don’t say that outright. But when I press, it’s always you’re too good for him or I think you deserve better .” She doesn’t know why those words always feel more like a comfort than a criticism, nor is she prepared to analyze it. “You just…” Her voice trails off, at a loss for words.

 

“I see,” Regina says, and there’s a note to her voice that has Emma’s brow furrowing. It’s…not quite the Queen, but it’s that melodic note that accompanies a dark realization. Regina rises very suddenly, slipping out of bed so Emma can see the thin satin of her nightgown, dipping down between her breasts and cut off at the top of her thighs, and Emma’s eyes drift down to her legs as she makes her way toward Emma.

 

She pauses in front of her, bending down so they’re face-to...face-and-cleavage, and Emma gulps and tries her best to keep her eyes on Regina’s suddenly intent brown gaze. “What’s wrong?” she manages, and Regina touches her cheek, cups her jaw with such aching tenderness that Emma can’t breathe.

 

“I see,” she says again, and she sounds satisfied this time. She drops her hand swiftly, letting it trail along Emma’s shirt for a moment before she turns on her heel, and she sounds far more confident when she speaks again. “Goodnight, Miss Swan,” she says, Emma summarily dismissed.

 

Emma leaves the room, unbalanced by Regina as she hasn’t been in…well, three years.

 


 

Regina wakes up and forgets, for a moment, that the world has turned upside down in an instant. She’s in her bed and she can hear Henry wandering through the hallway, chattering on the phone with a toothbrush still in his mouth, and she’s steeling herself for another day of cold glares and shrugs when she realizes that he isn’t on the phone.

 

Someone is responding to him, also in the hallway. Deputy Swan is in the hallway, and Regina sits up, the events of the day before returning in a flash. The events of the night before, and the realization that had followed.

 

She scrolls through her phone photos again, sees far too much of Emma Swan’s face with a blinding smile on it. She remembers Emma’s assertion last night that Regina, with her memories, had thought that she was too good for her fiancé. She remembers touching Emma’s face and watching the way her eyes had softened considerably.

 

The other Regina is weak , she determines grimly. The other Regina is fool enough to engage in some sort of...warped flirtation with Emma Swan while she’s engaged , to be so besotted with her that she’d responded to Emma’s obvious attraction to her. What kind of simple-minded woman does that with the woman who could take her son?

 

Who could take her curse?

 

She shivers in her thin nightgown, suddenly unnerved. Strangers can enter Storybrooke now, if Emma’s to be believed. The curse has weakened, even if it’s clear from every smile sent her way that it hasn’t broken. And she’d somehow, in a series of moments of pure carelessness, let her guard down.

 

God , there are pictures of Mary Margaret Blanchard on her phone. Snow White . On her phone . With David Nolan, with a baby boy, poking her head between Emma and Regina’s in pictures as though they’re family . Regina feels nausea bubbling up within her and makes for the bathroom hastily, shutting her eyes and letting scalding water spill over her in the shower.

 

Henry is out there. It’s enough to keep her moving when she’s done, to dry her hair and tug on clothing and venture from her bedroom. Henry will be downstairs, eating what smells like oatmeal with far too much sugar in it, and when she presses her lips to his temple and wishes him a good morning, he won’t pull away.

 

And he doesn’t, which is enough for Regina to go on. He beams up at her, still sleepy-eyed, and says, “Do you remember anything new? Are you still…” He taps his head significantly, and Regina’s caught somewhere between bemusement and distaste.

 

Emma says, “ Henry ,” and bats at his head with a spatula. Henry ducks, and Emma turns, hesitant smile on her face. “Coffee’s in the machine.” She’s making an omelet, a second one already on toast beside the stove. “Mary Margaret wants to come by and see how you’re doing. I thought you might need…” She jerks a thumb at the coffee.

 

It’s decadent, too much milk and sugar and exactly the way that she has it on her worst days. Of course Emma Swan knows her guilty pleasures now. She grimaces into her mug. “I refuse to believe that I’m friends with Mary Margaret Blanchard,” she announces.

 

Henry and Emma exchange a glance of mingled exasperation and amusement. Regina’s beginning to hate that glance. “She knows,” Emma says finally. “I’m sure she’ll…respect that.” She sounds dubious.

 

Regina looks sharply at her. Emma, at least, has mostly respected her boundaries. She can’t trust Snow White in any iteration to–

 

The door flies open and Mary Margaret says, “Regina! Regina!” and she’s barreling toward her, throwing her arms around Regina before Regina can flinch away. Henry manages to grab the coffee mug just in time. “We’ve been so worried, oh my god. Are you okay? How are you feeling?” She examines Regina, tilting her head as Regina struggles to back away. “It’s okay,” she says, a hand on Regina’s shoulder. “We hug like this all the time.”

 

Regina glances at Emma, desperate. Emma shakes her head sheepishly and shrugs, apologetic. “Un hand me,” Regina barks out, shoving Mary Margaret back. Her skin is crawling, and Mary Margaret pouts. Pouts , as though she’s twelve-year-old Snow White again. “We do not. I would never…”

 

“We’re family , Regina,” Mary Margaret says, her eyes shining, and Regina stares at her in a moment of absolute horror before she clarifies. “My– my roommate shares a son with you.”

 

“Well, we’re not roommates anymore,” Emma adds quickly. Mary Margaret frowns at her. “But…still family? You two are really tight. She gives you all her hope speeches and you take it. I don’t get it either,” she says, almost as an aside. Mary Margaret frowns harder. Emma shrugs helplessly. “Well, I don’t .”

 

“You were supposed to avoid unpleasant shocks,” Regina says grouchily. Henry is grinning to himself at the table, sniffing at her coffee like he’s thinking about trying it, and she focuses desperately on him instead of the awful two women clustered around her.

 

Emma winces, a hand on Mary Margaret’s back to guide her back from Regina. “This was more of an inevitability.” Mary Margaret is still smiling at her with unbearable fondness, a spark of mischief in her eye tempered by affection.

 

“Don’t worry,” she says finally, knowingly. Whatever had made Mary Margaret the mild-mannered mouse during the curse is gone, and what’s left in her place is unequivocally Snow White. Regina is thoroughly unnerved. “I promise you were positively prickly for a while there before I wore you down.” She puts a hand on Regina’s arm and Regina flinches. Emma takes a step forward and then freezes, looking between them uncertainly. “There were even a few minor murder attempts!” Mary Margaret offers cheerily.

 

“I’d feel a lot better about that if you weren’t smiling while saying so,” Regina mutters, knocking her hand away.

 

Emma clears her throat. “Okay, maybe we all need a few minutes to...adjust. M– Mary Margaret, would you mind–” Her phone rings and she glances down at it and then back up, silencing it. “I think Regina’s a little overwhelmed.” Her phone rings again, and she sighs and picks it up. “Hey.”

 

There’s a loud male voice on the other end, accented and vaguely familiar. Regina frowns, struggling to place it without stepping any closer to Emma. Emma sounds exasperated as she responds. “Yes, I know. I know. She just lost her memories , I need to–” Another pause, and then, “Do you really expect me to care about that right now?”

 

She’s fiddling with the ring on her finger now, and she takes a deep breath before her tone becomes more conciliatory. “No, you know that’s not what I’m saying at all. Of course not.” The male voice is demanding, angry. “Ki–” She swallows the word, glancing at all three of her intent audience. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Okay?” It sounds like it is distinctly not okay, but Regina doesn’t question it. Somehow, she finds she’s enjoying Emma flustered and torn, eyes flickering to her in turmoil.

 

Mary Margaret, who is clearly here only to take away everything entertaining from Regina, says, “You should go to him.”

 

Emma gives her a frustrated look. “I’m not– Regina needs me.”

 

And that’s a step too far. “I’m quite all right, actually,” she says coolly. “I don’t need any of you. Except for Henry, of course.” Emma gives her a hurt, betrayed look. It’s a bit like a kicked puppy. But less adorable. Definitely less adorable.

 

Henry steps in, dispelling the tension in the room with only a few words. “Mom, you’ve been worrying about Mom nonstop for the past day. And she’s okay now. She’s here, memories or not. I can stay here with her.”

 

“You have school,” Regina and Emma both say at once, and then look at each other, the small smile on Emma’s lips fading under Regina’s cold stare.

 

Henry gives them a dark look. “My mom has amnesia . I can take a day off.”

 

“I should stay,” Emma says weakly.

 

Mary Margaret puts a hand on her arm, gentle. “You were the one to say that Regina might need some time,” she reminds her, and Regina hates owing anything to Snow White. She glares coolly at them both, her lips pursed together, and Mary Margaret’s voice softens. “Give her that time with Henry.”

 

Emma drags her feet when she leaves, Mary Margaret’s hand on her back, and Regina watches from the doorway as Emma turns back to look at her with utter agony on her face. Whatever this… umbilical cord …between them is in the future, she decides grimly, it will have its uses. But not now.

 

Now, she has her son.

 

He’s eating Emma’s leftover omelet happily, his oatmeal forgotten, and he smiles up at her when she comes into the room. She’s never going to get used to that, Henry smiling at her . Henry looking at her as though she’s his again.

 

She’s never wanted anything more.

 

She clears her throat and sits down at the table, returning to her breakfast. “Is…is this an ordinary morning?”

 

“Sometimes,” Henry says. “Sometimes I sleep at Mom’s– Emma’s. We usually meet you at Granny’s for breakfast those days. But sometimes it’s just us. We were talking about making it a special occasion every Wednesday. It’s one of my favorite kinds of mornings.”

 

Regina, gripped by a natural competitiveness, says, “One of?”

 

Henry shrugs. “Well, my favorite is when Emma sleeps over and we all do this together in pajamas.” Regina thinks back to Emma’s familiarity with her kitchen and grimaces. Henry says knowingly, “Yours, too,” as Regina’s eyebrow shoots up in polite disbelief. “But it happens less now that Emma moved out of the loft.”

 

“A pity,” Regina says dryly.

 

Henry shrugs again. “You were really sad about it. You never said anything beyond, like…a few snide remarks about her boyfriend, but you missed her.”

 

It’s absurd . “This is the hardest part about this,” she says, shaking her head. “I’m meant to believe…all these fantastical things about how I feel about Emma and Snow and the others–” She winces at her slip, but Henry doesn’t seem to have caught it. “But they’re all being told to me by…by people I despise .” Henry frowns at her, hurt. “And you, of course,” she says hastily. “Who I could never hate. But you hated me.” Her last words emerge as a shamed whisper, her heart thumping with fear at the admission. She’d never conceded that hatred before, had found every other name to call it by– resentment. Adjustment. Childishness – but she’d known what it had been. She’d cried herself to sleep for weeks even before Emma Swan had arrived in town, defeated and longing and helpless to change her stubborn son’s mind.

 

And this Henry is as quick to assuage her doubts as a blessing. “I didn’t hate you, Mom,” he says, still looking hurt. “I just…I thought for a long time that you couldn’t love me.” Regina reels back, eyes widening. Henry tries a smile, uncertain but with so much quiet vulnerability in it that is unfamiliar on this face. He’s been so confident and happy since she’d awakened in the hospital that she hadn’t thought he might still be anxious around her. “And I was wrong.”

 

She crosses the table in quick steps, drops into a crouch in her tight skirt and cups his face in her hands. “You were,” she says, her voice thick, and she wants to reassure him, to explain all the love that feels as though it might spill out of her at any second, overwhelming them both in waves of emotion that they might drown in.

 

But it’s never been that easy for her, and she can only hope desperately that sometime in the future, she’s learned how to say the most difficult truths. Henry leans into her hand like she might have. “And you never loathed Emma,” he adds quickly, almost as an afterthought.

 

Regina retracts her hand. “I beg to differ.”

 

Henry takes it in his own before she can pull away. “You didn’t ,” he insists, and Regina looks at him disbelievingly, privately berating her future self for what lies she must have said to minimize the gulf between Henry and her. And then he says, “You were scared of her.”

 

That, Regina doesn’t expect. “What?”

 

Henry squeezes her hand. “You thought she might take me away,” he explains simply, and Regina stares at him in consternation.

 

She’d also thought that Emma had been the savior, that Emma would have taken away her curse and left her defenseless to a raging mob, to her son’s hatred, to Snow White wrapping a noose around her neck. And maybe she had done something, after all, because there are new people in town and no one fears Regina anymore. The curse still stands, but the land has changed irrevocably, and it must be Emma Swan’s doing.

 

She clears her throat, a new uncertainty scratching at it. “Henry,” she says slowly. “Last I remember, you had this…book.” She doesn’t want to bring up the book. She doesn’t want him to remember how much he’d distrusted her. “You thought it was true, and that I was…the Evil Queen.” She laughs, light and airy, and it sounds false even to her own ears.

 

“Yeah.” Henry’s eyes shift, as though he’s attempting to look away from her, and Regina’s suspicion grows. For a moment, she thinks he might still believe it, and she’s afraid, and then a surge of hope washes through her.

 

Because if he believes and he can still love her– if he believes and they’re still sitting together with their hands locked and smiles on their faces– if it’s true, then there’s a future for her beyond anything she might have dreamed of. Then there’s forgiveness in the future, and she blinks back wetness at the idea of it.

 

Then Henry says swiftly, “But I was a dumb kid back then. I don’t believe any of that anymore,” and Regina’s heart sinks again.

 

“Of course not,” she says, pasting a false smile on her face. “I’m…I’m going to go look through your video games. Maybe you can teach me something new that I’ve forgotten.” She makes a hasty retreat from the room, her heart pounding from that rise and sudden fall.

 

This world is false. The world that Regina had built for herself is a lie of smoke and mirrors, a lie of love and friendship that revolves around a curse that still looms high around the town. Henry loves her, but only because she’d managed to keep enough of herself secret from him. Mary Margaret Blanchard is her simpering friend who knows nothing about why they’re even in this town.

 

Emma Swan– the Emma who had tiptoed into her room last night and said you’re kind of pretty important to me and had stared at Regina when Regina had touched her and frozen as though she’d lost her breath– has no idea that Regina is her mortal enemy, not her beloved best friend. None of this is real. None of it.


And while the real Regina, with all her memories, might be content in her wobbling house of cards, Regina will never be so foolish.

Chapter Text

Killian is whittling at her desk in the station, carving a piece of wood into nothingness as he refuses to look at her. Emma flips through the bridal magazine listlessly. It’s the only thing that seems to make him less cranky, knowing that she’s some sort of cliche of a bride. Under the magazine is the incident report about Regina’s attack, if it had been that. She’d sealed the vault and she’d intended to go inspect it today for clues, but somehow she’d wound up…here, instead.

 

Her phone buzzes and she snatches it up midway through a comparison page of three identical veils. Killian glowers. It’s a picture from Henry, her son and his other mother grinning at the camera. Emma scrutinizes it for a moment. Henry’s eyes aren’t quite as bright as his smile, though both look genuine, and Regina’s smile is a little rickety, as though she isn’t quite sure how to do it anymore.

 

Heading to Granny’s for lunch! Henry’s caption announces. Don’t worry, Grandma already sent out a heads-up on the town Whatsapp about Mom! Emma grins at her phone, endeared as always to Henry, and Killian says loudly, “Can you bear to tear yourself away from her for a moment ?”

 

Emma takes in a deep breath and exhales, pushing aside her frustration in favor of a conciliatory smile. “I’m here with you, aren’t I?” She shifts over to the other side of the desk, sliding an arm around Killian’s shoulders and laying her head against his side. He doesn’t react to it, still in a snit, and she beams up at him and puts on her best girlfriend-smile.

 

Sometimes it feels like this relationship is all about that, about finding a persona that fits for a girlfriend in love instead of figuring out what it is that fits her instead. She doesn’t know how to do any of that, anyway. She’s never been in love when it hasn’t been about pain and grief and despair. And Killian comes from another world but he still has some set ideas about how it is that they should be when in love, and she gamely tries to keep up.

 

Their relationship had felt the least artificial when it had been Killian as the Dark One, spitting curses at her and threatening her life, and she doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean except that it’s...bad. Bad to think about. She swallows and kisses his cheek instead, feeling him slowly relax under her full attention.

 

Her phone buzzes again, and they both tense. “Look,” she says, fidgety again. “Why don’t I go pick up something from Granny’s for lunch?”

 

Killian gives her a dark look, pulling away from her. “And does Regina happen to be at Granny’s right now?”

 

“She could burn down the whole town if someone says the wrong thing to her,” Emma points out weakly. “If she figures out she still has magic…” She swallows. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

 

“Were you ever even here?”

 

She bites her lip. She’s fucked up again, slipped out of the mold too easily. “Let’s have a quiet dinner together tonight,” she offers. “Just you and me. I’ll leave my phone in my pocket,” she promises. “Some candlelight, romance, wedding planning…” She kisses his cheek again, and he’s unresponsive beneath her lips. For a moment, Emma remembers Regina’s arms around her, their bodies molding together and Regina’s face buried in her skin.

 

She doesn’t know why she’s thinking about that while appeasing her sulking fiancé. She should…stop. “How does that sound?” she asks, tangling her hand in his.

 

He finally smiles, tight and giving her no ground. “We’ll see if it happens,” he says darkly, and she hurries out of the station with guilt sitting high in her chest.

 


 

Granny’s is crowded during the lunch hour, and Emma looks around worriedly, searching for anyone who might be out of place. Maleficent, maybe, Ariel, or someone else Regina might recognize as an impossibility during the curse. But it’s all safe, all casual, and Regina is immersed in conversation with Henry, anyway. From the looks of his vigorous hand motions, he’s telling the story of the day they’d gone canoeing together last week and nearly been capsized by what they’d thought was a shark.

 

Regina is entranced, her eyes fixed on Henry with so much focus that Emma thinks she’d probably be stammering under the same gaze. Henry takes it with aplomb, as though it’s the most ordinary expression in the world, and Emma wonders how often they’d had conversations like this before she’d come to town.

 

She waits on line, her eyes flickering to their booth again and again. Henry hasn’t caught sight of her, so engrossed in his story, but Regina has. She watches Emma with a curious look on her face, one that Emma can’t quite place as the Regina she knows. Not hostile, exactly, but searching for something in Emma that leaves her feeling oddly naked under Regina’s gaze.

 

Regina murmurs something to Henry and he bobs his head, crossing the room to where a gaggle of familiar faces are sitting. Emma takes her bag from Granny distractedly, making a beeline for Regina’s booth. “Hey. How’s your day been?”

 

Regina’s face is stiff, as though she hasn’t decided what to make of Emma yet. Emma takes it gamely. “Henry looks like he’s having a good time. You two are pretty inseparable most of the time.”

 

“Of course we are,” Regina says coldly. “He’s my son.”

 

Emma holds up both hands in surrender. “I know. We’ve been through this already. Henry’s your son, he’s here because he adores you, and I’m not out to intrude.”

 

“You’re always out to intrude,” Regina says sharply. “You’re here right now as an intruder.”

 

Emma is taken aback. “I’m just checking in,” she says, and it takes a little extra sometimes for her to remind herself that this isn’t the Regina she knows and– that this isn’t her Regina.

 

Sometimes, Regina makes it all too easy. She scoffs mockingly. “Yes, of course. You hide it under the veneer of friendship , but I know what you’re doing.”

 

“What I’m doing?”

 

Regina sips at her drink, smooth legs crossed and seemingly calm. Emma knows her tells, though, and her shoulders are stiff. “You’ve gotten everything you’ve wanted, haven’t you? Not only to interfere with Henry’s life, but with mine, too.” The accusation is cool and biting. “You charge into my house– sleep in my beds – and claim that it’s natural.”

 

“It is ,” Emma insists, shaking her head. “You must have heard from Henry. I know you’ve seen pictures by now. You know it’s real.”

 

And something about that– you know it’s real – infuriates Regina. Emma knows it the moment she says it, sees Regina’s nostrils flare and her eyes darken into thunderclouds. “The only thing I’ve seen ,” she says darkly, “Is that someday, I cave to your incessant badgering and let you in. Which is all you’ve been trying to get since you came here.” Emma’s lips part, it’s not the same on her lips, but Regina isn’t done. “You haven’t changed a bit,” she bites out. “And I loathed you then– so all I can tell is that you just pushed and pushed until I gave in and granted you access.”

 

The words are alien and familiar at once, undoubtedly Regina at her most bitter and isolated, and Emma recoils. Her Regina doesn’t feel that way anymore. Her Regina looks at her like she’s someone to love , not to surrender to.

 

Or maybe that’s just a surrender, as well. “I don’t want you here,” Regina hisses. “I would never have wanted you here.” And it’s becoming more and more difficult over the course of this conversation to deny that to a woman who wears Regina’s face, to discount this idea that Regina has only surrendered in the future instead of embracing her. Emma swallows, shakes her head, swallows again.

 

When she speaks, her voice is weak. “I know it’s hard to believe, but we really are–”

 

“No, you believe we are,” Regina snaps. “We aren’t anything. If you believe that I would ever have a relationship with you outside of what Henry wants, then you’re even more of a fool than I thought.” She digs into her salad, her face cool and unyielding. “Begone, Miss Swan.”

 

Emma goes. She’s shaken and she doesn’t want to think about any of this, but she goes.

 


 

Emma goes, and Regina can breathe again. She flashes Henry a smile from across the room, watching his worried frown transform back into a grin, and she chews again at her tasteless salad mechanically.

 

You know it’s real . Emma Swan is as much an idiot as always, insisting that any of this world is true. None of this is real, not Henry loving her or a friendship with Snow White; and certainly not genuine feelings for Emma Swan. Maybe she’d been reading too deeply into the pictures on her phone, on whatever she’d stored on it to keep up appearances.

 

Emma is attracted to her. She’s attracted to Emma, certainly. But the fear that had gripped her last night– the certainty that she’d been desperately in love with an unavailable woman she despises– that is fading, for now.

 

She might have been a fool to invest in these relationships, but she’s never been that much a fool.

 

She scrolls through the texted conversations with Emma on her phone. They’re usually brief– call me, where are you?, dinner with Henry tonight? – and curt, but with the familiarity of two people who spend a lot more time talking than they do texting. There are a dozen frantic texts from Emma from the day before, and if she goes back far enough, she finds a series of unanswered texts from her memoried self.

 

You idiot. What were you thinking? And where the hell are you? And you can’t just go sacrificing yourself for any stranger off the street! Don’t you ever think? But the exasperation has faded in the next message, and instead it’s muted and wistful. It still means quite a bit that you did that for me. Please, come home.

 

Regina stares at them, her headache returning as quickly as it had gone, and switches off the phone. She doesn’t want to think about what any of that had meant, the longing affection in the texts. She’s spent decades guarding her heart from anyone but Henry, and she wouldn’t– she couldn’t–

 

She stands abruptly, desperate for some air, and slips out the door before Henry notices that she’s gone. She just needs some time alone , away from this mad world that had once been her domain.

 

And even outside of Granny’s and the cocoon of her supposed family , everything is wrong and different. A dwarf tips his hat at her as she walks past, and Marco climbs down from his ladder to clasp her hand in his. “I heard about your accident,” he says gruffly, and he examines her with a mixture of compassion and regret. “If there’s anything you need–”

 

“I’m not an invalid,” Regina says shortly, and there’s something paternal enough about him that it makes her uncomfortable. All of this feels familiar, familiar like touching Emma last night and watching her stop breathing. Muscle memories . Damned, damned memories. “I’m your mayor, and I intend to continue to be so.” She stalks onward, his hand still a phantom presence on hers.

 

People keep smiling at her, each friendlier than the last, and there are a few whose smiles don’t waver when she glowers at them. It’s atrocious, seeing how far she’s fallen over the years. It’s terrifying.

 

A part of her remembers being a queen and being desperate to be loved by the people, to being someone people would smile at like this. Perhaps that had been her impetus in surrendering her self-respect to the Charmings. Love .

 

Mother had been right. Love is weakness. Only anger and vengeance can endure.

 

Archie is sitting on a bench down Main Street, and his dog– Pongo – breaks free and makes a mad dash toward her. She catches him instinctively, scratching behind his ears until he settles down. “At least you’re the same,” she says under her breath, and a reluctant smile forces its way onto her face until she looks up.

 

Archie is smiling, too, but at least he’s someone she expects it from. He’d been solidly under her thumb since the moment he’d begun therapy with Henry, and he may have had some stubborn moments recently, but those must have passed by now. “Dr. Hopper,” she says formally.

 

“Regina!” He smiles genially up at her, shifting over on the bench expectantly. “I’ve been wondering if you’d want to talk.”

 

“I’ll pass,” she says, the comfort of familiarity fading. “I don’t need to talk about this. I feel as though I’ve been given a new lease on life.”

 

He takes her hand– takes her hand , as though they’re friends – and gazes at her with renewed compassion. “It’s perfectly reasonable to be troubled by this. Even as Emma’s friend, regardless of what else you might feel.”

 

Regina stares at him. “ This ?” she echoes.

 

Archie’s voice lowers, his hand still on hers. “You’re not the only one who’s had to play the supportive friend around a man who’s had a hand in torturing us both,” he says, glancing around furtively as though he’s afraid that even expressing that had gone too far. Torturing? Regina gapes at him for a moment before her mouth slams shut again. “But, well…my feelings for Emma are strictly friendship. I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through.”

 

He doesn’t know , she realizes with sudden clarity. He hasn’t gotten the message that everyone else has about her memories, and he’s the only one here who might be able to explain to her exactly how far she’d fallen. “I…” She can feel the nausea rising in her throat at even the question. “I’ve told you about…feelings for Emma,” she prompts.

 

“You didn’t have to.” Archie squeezes her hand. “It’s all over your face. It’s all over hers , too. You both could–”

 

“Archie! Archie! ” Regina’s never been disappointed to see Henry before. He’s hurtling down the street at top speed, his face white with panic. “Archie, check your phone!

 

“Oh! I always forget about that,” Archie says absently, digging into his pocket. “I miss half the demo–” He stops abruptly, his eyes scanning the message on the phone before he looks up at Regina again, eyes wide. Regina stares back stubbornly. “Memory loss?” he says finally.

 

“Yes, Dr. Hopper. Memory loss.” She rips her hand from his. “And I find it near-impossible to believe that I ever trusted you to help me with my son when you’re clearly an atrocious judge of character. Feelings for Emma Swan .” She spits it out with disgust. “Absurd.”

 

“Mom!” Henry says, out of breath as he staggers to a halt. He sounds reproachful. “You were supposed to stay with me!”

 

She hangs her head, thoroughly chastised until he’s satisfied with it. Archie watches, amused. “I thought…I might as well familiarize myself with my office again.” She smiles up at him, that false smile that’s never worked on him before, and he arches his brow in a mirror image of her own when skeptical and waits. She sighs. “It really doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” she amends. “And I do need to get used to this. I can’t spend the rest of my life sitting around and waiting for my memories to return.”

 

Henry softens. “I guess so,” he says uncertainly, looking at Archie for guidance.

 

Archie says, “It does sound like a good plan. Your mother has always been very good at running the town.” He smiles encouragingly at both of them, and Regina nudges Pongo’s head off her lap and rises. Henry’s hand slips into hers, as easily and as naturally as it hasn’t been in years, and she shelves her curiosity for now.

 

This– for this– it’s worth it.

 


 

Henry takes a genuine interest in the town workings now, it seems, and he gives her an overview of some of the current conflicts as she leafs through ordinances. There are some that are downright odd now, but there’s no explanation for why they exist, nor for the amount of money they’ve spent on repairs these past few years. No wonder Marco is so suddenly fond of her.

 

But it’s still comforting, these papers and numbers and this job that still comes so naturally to her. This is still her town, and she still knows how best to make it run smoothly. This hasn’t changed, and she’s quickly absorbed in balancing budgets and signing papers, in calling the Small Business Association and having a fierce debate about their last demands, in cringing at terribly written police reports signed by… David Nolan. For fucks’ sake.

 

Even with his newfound interest in bureaucracy, Henry’s attention span only lasts for so long, and he’s wandering the office and looking wistfully out the window within a couple of hours. “Go,” Regina urges him, and this time she doesn’t have to lie, exactly. “I’m doing fine here. Your friends must be out of school by now.” She cringes at her next sentence. “And I’m sure the sheriff is still at the station.”

 

Henry shakes his head. “I said I’d stay here,” he says, but with less conviction than before.

 

“How about you come back here in an hour or two and pick me up,” she offers. “We can stop at the store and put together something special for dinner.” She beams at him and he beams back, finally sold.

 

“I can do that,” he decides, wrapping an arm around her in a half-hug. She kisses his forehead and straightens his collar, her heart thumping rapidly at the opportunity, and he says, “Love you,” and dashes out the door before she can respond.

 

She stares after him, overcome, and yes , she understands sometimes why she would have given up everything else just for these smiles and goodbyes.

 

Still, though, she could have had everything , not a son who runs from Town Hall to the station where his birth mother works. And she’d been a fool to ever concede.

 

She waits a good half hour before she slips out of her office. The sky is beginning to darken and she eludes notice when she heads to the apple tree beside her window, pulling an apple down and tasting it. It’s sweet, firm in her hands and perfectly ordinary, and she curses and drops it to the ground.

 

To hell with this . She steps out onto the street before she thinks better of it. Apparently, half the town takes an interest in her comings and goings now. If she wants some time alone, she’ll have to find a subtler way to get it.

 

There’s a path behind Town Hall that leads to the woods, if she takes the fork in the road. Instead, she wanders along the pseudo-trespassing path that winds behind local stores and houses through to the quieter part of town.

 

Quiet . She doesn’t want to be alone with her own thoughts, not when they’re still racing between uncertainty and distrust and disbelief. She needs a plan. That’s it . A solid plan of action, something elaborate and underhanded to claim back her well-earned place here without meddling Charmings.

 

But without losing Henry. Her fists ball up in frustration, and she unclenches them, forcing a deep inhale and exhale. She can do this. She might not have been able to with her memories, but those seem to have only slowed her down. Now, she has the clarity that three years with the Charmings has masked. Now, she can do something with it.

 

Her feet are following the path through the trees now, moving automatically as though she’s made this trip before. She frowns, pausing and looking around. This isn’t a favorite route, or one she’s had much need to use before. The woods beside her are unfamiliar, the instinctive turns new.

 

Something is out here, somewhere she’s been often in the years she can’t remember.

 

She forces herself to think about something else, to turn her attention to anything other than the place that her feet remember. The path itself doesn’t look well-worn, so if she’s been going out here often, it isn’t because it’s suddenly a popular spot. Maybe this is just about solitude, about finding a place where her place in this world hasn’t been consumed by her worst enemies. Maybe this is a…a secret that even Emma Swan doesn’t know about her.

 

There’s a large clearing and a farmhouse ahead of her, and she sees that there are lights on in one of the downstairs rooms. She frowns. Had it always been here? She knows Storybrooke like the back of her hand, but she can’t recall this structure existing before today.

 

And someone is inside. A woman with wild red hair walks past the window, a bundle in her arms, and she glances outside and freezes, her eyes meeting Regina’s. Regina doesn’t know her. Regina’s never seen her before, and the woman bends to set down the bundle– a baby?– and then strides to the door.

 

“What are you doing here, Regina?” she says wearily. “What have I done now?” But there’s a note to her voice, a vulnerability that has Regina take a step closer. “I see your family found you yesterday.” She says family with a note of resentment, and Regina likes her immediately.

 

“Who are you?” she says, her voice nearly swallowed by the dark. The woman looks hurt and she clarifies, certain she may get some answers from her. “I don’t…I can’t remember anything from the past three years.”

 

“Of course,” the woman says, and she laughs roughly. “Of course. We’ll do this again. Regina, I’m Zelena. Your big sister.” Regina’s the one to laugh now, her eyebrows rising politely, and the woman says, “Mother abandoned me to Oz when I was born. She was very determined you’d be queen.”

 

The words, spoken so plainly, are enough that Regina blacks out for a moment, her mind fuzzy and her heart uneven. Zelena leaps forward, catching her as she staggers, and Regina gasps out, “I’m– Whale said to avoid any shocks. My sister ?”

 

“Half-sister,” Zelena amends, helping her inside. “The less spoken about my father, the better. We met once as children, but Mother took our memories. We–” She swallows. “We’ve had a bit of a rocky start, you and I.”

 

“How did you get here?” Regina demands, her mind still whirling. She’s a little dizzy, and she sinks onto a couch as Zelena lifts up the baby again. “This land is under a curse. There’s no magic here.”

 

“There’s no…” Zelena repeats slowly, and Regina leans back against the couch, her hands pressed to her temples. “Right,” Zelena says, clearing her throat. “This land is under a curse. I happen to have a special gift for portals.” She smiles, still with that same vulnerability. “I had some grand plans at first, admittedly, but now, I…” She tugs her baby close to her, wistful, and Regina knows . Regina knows.

 

“I’ve been there,” she says ruefully, thinking of Henry’s squishy smile when she’d first gotten him to stop crying. “You’re…you’re really my sister?” It’s unbelievable, but not nearly as unbelievable as someone with enough knowledge of the curse to talk so freely about it. “You said we had a rocky start?”

 

“You gave me a chance,” Zelena says softly, and she looks at Regina with such naked wistfulness that Regina is at a loss for how to respond. “A chance to be better. It was some time before I took it, but…” She sits down beside Regina, passing her the baby thoughtlessly. Regina holds her tentatively, staring down as the baby’s toothless mouth splits into a smile. “I don’t think you’ve been very interested in knowing me,” Zelena murmurs. “Not since…” She swallows and doesn’t finish her sentence.

 

“Since?” Regina prompts, but Zelena just shakes her head.

 

Regina sighs, watching the baby instead. “I don’t understand anything about this world anymore,” she admits, and perhaps she shouldn’t be trusting this stranger, except it’s such a relief to… “I just…I’m glad to meet someone real . Please, tell me you’re real.” There’s a note of pleading in her voice that she can’t restrain, and she takes in a gulping breath.

 

Zelena watches her solemnly, her eyes glowing a little, and she murmurs, “I promise you that I am.”

 

“Thank you,” Regina breathes, a lump in her throat. “I just…it’s been a headache, trying to understand a Regina who gives chances to be better . Tell me I’m not Snow-White-in-training.”

 

Zelena barks out a laugh. “You’re nothing like Snow White. You just…” She shrugs. “You make it seem natural, being good. Like you really do believe in it, regardless of what you’ve done. I don’t know if I’m all that interested in that, but I wanted–” She brushes the baby’s brow. “I wanted my daughter. And my sister,” she says quickly, as though she’s embarrassed to admit it.

 

“A sister,” Regina echoes, and she still can’t grasp it, what it might have meant to her to have someone like Zelena under the curse. “Who was I?” she demands, desperate for answers. “Why would I even bother with…Snow White and her daughter? It’s a futile pursuit.”

 

Zelena shrugs. “Don’t ask me. I think the whole bloody lot are a waste of time. But I know you fought tooth and nail for all those relationships. Especially you and Emma.” She wrinkles her nose. “You two are…uncommonly close,” she says, waggling her eyebrows suggestively, and Regina glares at her until she stops. “You went to hell and back for her. Not literally, of course,” Zelena says hastily. “That would be impossible. But…I suppose you saw something in them that made it worth it.”

 

“Maybe I was just weak,” Regina says, hopeless.

 

Zelena looks at her. “You were never weak,” she pronounces, and Regina very nearly believes it from her.

 


 

Dinner is cold by the time Emma finishes setting out candles and changing into one of the floral dresses that Killian likes on her. He smiles when he sees her, and she exhales a sigh of relief, putting the food back into the oven and determined that they can recapture whatever quiet bliss they’d had for a while pre-engagement. Henry is with Regina, Mary Margaret is supposed to drop by the mansion around dinnertime, and there are no new crises in town. She’s got this.

 

...And immediately screws it up. “You don’t think Regina saw anything magical in her paperwork, did she?” she says. It’s like she can’t help herself. Her mind is running on the twenty-four/seven Concerned About Regina Channel, and she doesn’t know how to switch it off. “We usually keep it pretty mundane because some of it does make it to the state, but there’s always the random ordinance about allowable spells or demon attacks–”

 

“Emma,” Killian says tightly, and she falls silent. “For just one night, can you try to control yourself?”

 

“Yeah. Of course. I’m sorry.” She reaches out and squeezes his hand, pulling him in for a kiss. It succeeds in distracting him, though all she can think about is Regina.

 

Regina, her eyes flashing as she hisses, I don’t want you here. I would never have wanted you here . And fuck, Emma had thought she’d be prepared for Madam Mayor’s cutting remarks by now, but that one digs deeper than it should have. She doesn’t know why.

 

Killian has shifted so they’re hugging now, Emma’s chin on his shoulder and her arms wrapped around him in an approximation of affection, and Emma stares into the distance and thinks about Regina as she’d been when they’d first met. She’d gone from a worried mother to a protective one so quickly that Emma had nearly gotten whiplash, and it had been…a lot of the reason why Emma had stayed in town. She’d never done well with being challenged and not fighting back.

 

Maybe it’s only that she and Regina had stopped fighting back over the years, and a Regina who challenges like this– without any thought of consequences, determined only to hurt, not push for better– isn’t one she’s equipped for. This Regina would despise her. This Regina would think little of her.

 

She’s blinking back silent tears when Killian finally lets go of her, and he looks at her with some discomfort. “It’s all right, love,” he says, almost kind. “I know you’re sorry. You don’t have to…”

 

She pulls away from him, bending to get their takeout out of the oven, and when she excuses herself right after, he seems only relieved. She dabs at her eyes in the bathroom mirror, frustrated with her own inability to put this aside for a few hours, and her phone rings from the next room.

 

Killian silences it a moment later, and Emma takes in a shuddering breath and exits the bathroom. “Who was that?”

 

He lifts an eyebrow, accusing, and she swallows and sits back down at the table. “Right. No calls.” She puts on her brightest smile. “How was your day?”

 

The phone rings again, and Killian snatches it away before she can reach it. “You promised,” he says darkly. “Your parents can handle whatever it is. There’s nothing in this world right now that isn’t more important than this– than us .” It’s a challenge, and not the kind that makes Emma want to fight back. It makes Emma want to fold, to drift away into nothingness and remake herself in the image of the woman Killian wants her to be.

 

The phone rings again, louder and shriller, and Killian throws it an annoyed glance and hits the power button just as Emma catches sight of the name on the screen. “It’s Henry!” she says, aghast, reaching for it. “ Give it to me, it’s my son –”

 

Killian pulls it back, his face dark. “He has two mothers, doesn’t he? As you’re so fond of telling me–”

 

For this, she makes the entra push, catching Killian’s wrist and yanking the phone from his fingers to switch it back on. “Henry. What’s wrong?”

 

“Mom! Where’ve you been?” He sounds breathless and close to tears. “Mom’s gone . I went back to her office and she’d–”

 

Emma sucks in a sharp, worried breath. “I’m coming,” she says, ignoring Killian’s glare. “I’ll be right there.”

 

She rises, tucking her phone into her pocket, and Killian catches her arm with his hook. “Emma,” he says, his voice low. “You swore you could put this aside for tonight.”

 

“Henry needs me,” Emma says helplessly. “I can’t–”

 

I need you,” Killian retorts, and there’s a whine to his voice now. “Am I so low on your list of priorities?” His lip curls into a sneer, ugly and unhappy. “Seems as though I’d have to die again for you to give a damn about me.”

 

Emma’s jaw clenches, and she can’t make herself small in front of Killian tonight like she does when they normally fight, breezy and quick to forgive everything before she loses him. Not when Regina is missing and Henry is terrified. “That’s a shitty thing to say,” she says flatly.

 

“And yet,” he says, just as flat, his hook still locking her in place.

 

She stands stiffly, waiting for him to let her go, her hand trembling in his grasp. Slowly, slowly, he unhooks her arm, and he says, “Fine. Go. I don’t give a damn.”

 

She runs, flies to her car and skids to Town Hall. Henry is on the steps in front of it, his face in his hands, and he runs to her when he sees her. “I’m sorry,” he says, clinging to her. “She lied to me. Mom doesn’t– I hate when she lies to me.” His eyes are red and still wet, and he shakes his head in despair. “And I believed her. I can’t do this, Mom, I can’t–” He takes in a shuddering breath. “I can’t do that awful year again–”

 

“You won’t,” Emma says firmly, and she couldn’t find any of the right words with Killian, but it’s far easier to find them with Henry. “She’s just…testing her limits right now. She’d never risk losing you for…for…” She kisses his forehead. “I’m going to drop you off at home and then go find her. Okay?”

 

“I miss her,” Henry says dully.

 

“I know,” Emma whispers, and she blinks back new tears. “Me, too.”

 

She still has a tracker on Regina’s phone, and she checks it as soon as Henry is set up in the mansion for the night and tenses. The farmhouse. That’s where Regina’s been hiding out, with Zelena, who’s never been much for subtlety in the first place and definitely doesn’t check the Storybrooke Whatsapp. If she’s lucky, she might get there before Regina discovers that she has magic and they’re right back to battling the Evil Queen for another few months.

 

She tears through town, screeches to a halt outside the farmhouse, and yanks the door open to storm into the building before–

 

Before–

 

Regina is on the couch, legs curled up under her and her eyes soft as she rocks Robyn. The furious, moody woman from Granny’s is gone, and in her place is the Regina that Emma knows , the Regina who’s nothing but all-encompassing love. Emma’s heart aches, and she stares, openmouthed, until Regina raises her eyes to stare tiredly at her.

 


 

Zelena and Emma are conferencing in the kitchen in low, irritated voices as they squabble. Regina ignores them both in favor of staring down at the baby girl cooing up at her. She isn’t ready to unpack any of what Zelena had told her, and the bits about Emma Swan least of all. She just wants to…

 

She’s tired, and it’s late, and she must have missed her time to get back before Henry did, and he must be furious with her. It’s been one day in this nightmare future, and she’s already ruined things with her son.

 

Emma appears in the doorway of the living room again, her eyes still stricken as she watches Regina with the baby. “Are you okay?” she says finally.

 

“I’m fine. I should…I should get back home,” Regina says, eyes flickering to Zelena. “Henry will be expecting me.”

 

“Yeah. You…kind of missed the boat on that one,” Emma says, grimacing, but she holds out a hand. Regina takes it, letting her pull her up. “Come on. I’ll drive you back.”

 

They’re silent in the car for the first few minutes, Regina lost in thought and Emma offering nothing. Finally, Regina ventures, “Is she really my sister?”

 

“Yeah. She just…showed up in town one day insisting it,” Emma says, her words careful. “But she’s the real deal.” She swallows and then ventures, “You sure you’re okay? I know Zelena can be a little…intense.”

 

“Yes,” Regina says, defensive of her unexpected sister. “I mean, she was…it was good to talk to her.” It had been a relief to find someone outside of the curse dreamland, someone who could tell her the truth without reservations. Even if the truth has left her with even more questions.

 

Her breathing is shallow, and she admits, feeling as though she’s breaking a dozen of her own rules by opening up at all, “I just feel as though I have no…”

 

“Control?” Emma offers, and Regina stares up at her, startled at how easily Emma had read her. Emma pauses at a stop sign two blocks from Mifflin, turning to watch her with gentle eyes that know too much. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

 

“No one’s afraid of me,” Regina says dully, and she doesn’t understand how Emma is still looking at her with so much tenderness when she’d done everything in her power to chase Emma off earlier today. “People smile at me on the street.”

 

Emma exhales, sharp like it might be a suppressed laugh. “Yeah,” she says. “I know it’s hard to believe, but you’re kind of a hero these days.”

 

A hero . It’s as absurd as everything else she’s been told, but somehow it hurts more than all the rest. She’s close to tears, suddenly, her throat stopped up as they pull into the driveway. “Don’t patronize me.”

 

Emma reaches for her and then pauses, her hand in midair. “Can I?” Regina stares at her, her heart pounding. Emma had listened to her. Whatever she’d spat out to hurt Emma at lunch, Emma had listened to her and is taking no new liberties. Emma is…

 

I suppose you saw something in them that made it worth it. She nods jerkily and Emma takes her hand, her thumb running over Regina’s skin as she speaks. “I think…you spent so many years trying to tear things down,” Emma says, her voice hushed in the dark. She smiles, eyes gleaming with affection. “And once you started building instead, you kind of blew everyone away.”

 

It’s still so alien , the idea that Emma Swan would be so bold with her. But then, Emma had always been bold. “Stop talking about me like you know me,” Regina says hoarsely.

 

“I do,” Emma murmurs. “I really do. Maybe I don’t know everything, but you do talk to me.” The absurdity of this woman insisting that she knows Regina when she’s in a cursed town is too much, and Regina shakes her head disbelievingly. She doesn’t wrench her hand away, though. Not yet. “I know about Daniel,” Emma says, and Regina stops breathing. “I know about your mom. I know about the…I know about the marriage you don’t like to talk about that pretty much…scarred you for life.” It’s so impossible that Regina wants to weep, that Emma could speak so plainly about–

 

She tries to speak, her voice strained and scratchy. “I don’t…”

 

Emma leans in, her hands still warm on Regina’s. “What?”

 

Regina laughs, wry and wet, and she still can’t seem to muster up the will to pull away from Emma. “I was going to say that I don’t understand how I’d trust you with any of that,” she murmurs, though every moment with Emma seems another reminder that yes , they could have had this together. Yes , somehow they might work, after all. “But I’m beginning to see,” she admits, and Emma strokes her hand, her skin, sends chills up her spine.

 

“You know when you…when you meet someone and you just…know?” she says, and Regina looks sharply at her for a moment, breathless at what might be revealed. “That you could…have something special together,” Emma clarifies. “I didn’t understand why you could hurt me so much when I know you’re not the Regina I’ve been so close to. But when I thought back to when we first met…I think I thought…from the start…”

 

“We hated each other,” Regina says blankly. Maybe she still does hate Emma. It’s hard to tell, in this tiny car while Emma’s touch is so tender.

 

“Because of Henry,” Emma agrees. “And yeah, getting to know him was a part of it. But you–” She’s smiling almost painfully, as though she’s finally put something together in her mind. “This you, I mean, not even my Regina–” Regina’s heart twists in her chest at my Regina – “I thought we might…”

 

And dammit , this car is too small, the air too heavy with emotion. “That’s terribly naive,” Regina manages, her voice raw.

 

Emma spares her a smile. “I know. I remember…standing outside the house, telling you about making a birthday wish on my cupcake and…” She shakes her head, rueful. “Well, you raked me over the coals for that one.”

 

“You still remember that?” It’s sharp in Regina’s mind, just a couple of months between then and now for her. She remembers Emma standing in front of her, desperately vulnerable as she’d spoken, and the twinge in Regina’s heart hadn’t been nearly as strong as the thundering reminder of Henry, Henry, this woman will take Henry .

 

Emma squeezes her hand one more time and then releases it, her eyes shining in the moonlight. “I remember everything,” she whispers, and for the first time, Regina sees that Emma’s eyes are wet, too.

 

Regina gapes at her for a moment, at Emma who won’t look away from her, and she finds that she can’t look away anymore, either. Not from Emma. Not from…whatever their history is. When she can think about it, she’ll be horrified at herself, but she can’t think of anything right now but Emma’s shining eyes, and–

 

Emma clears her throat. “We should…I mean, you should go in. Henry’s really upset,” she adds. “But an apology would be…I don’t think he’ll need more than that. He wants you to be honest with him.”

 

It should be presumptuous, should enrage Regina to be getting parenting tips from the woman who’d given him up for adoption. Tonight, she can’t muster up the will to do anything more than nod shortly.

 

And so she goes inside and crouches in front of Henry, who’s tall enough now that she doesn’t need to crouch at all, and she touches his cheek and whispers fervent apologies and I’m sorry, I love you, I just…I wanted to find someone who would tell me the truth until he’s hugging her tightly and they’re both on their knees on the floor, clinging to each other as Emma watches from the doorway.

 

He’s tired and it’s a Friday night and he’s probably too old for it, but she tucks him in anyway, kissing his forehead as he curls up in bed. Emma is lingering downstairs, wandering the foyer and staring at pictures she must have seen a thousand times before, and Regina descends the staircase without the dread of this morning. “Miss Swan,” she says formally.

 

She sees the minute flinch this time, as though she’s said something hurtful. Emma recovers a moment later, biting her lip as she looks up at her. “Is it okay if I stay here again tonight?” she says, her eyes darting to the door with anxiety that she doesn’t explain.

 

“What about your fiancé?” Regina asks. It isn’t quite accusing, but she’s beginning to wonder– between Archie’s mention of torture and the certainty they all have about how much she dislikes him– no, she knows why she must resent this mysterious man. “Doesn’t he care that you’re here every night?” she says, a puggish note to her voice.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Emma says, leaning back against the doorpost between the foyer and the living room. “He’s livid,” she admits. “I walked out on our big dinner together to find you tonight.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Regina says automatically, and she’s still…irritated at the idea that this man exists at all, that he could possibly supersede whatever it is that she and Emma had had–

 

It isn’t real , she reminds herself, but it’s weaker tonight.

 

“I’m not,” Emma says, a hollow look in her eyes. “But he’s going to be furious when I get back, and I just…” She shrugs, and she looks suddenly uncertain, suddenly so tired and wan that Regina takes a step back. “I can’t deal with it right now. You know?”

 

Regina doesn’t know, but she’s alarmed at the way that Emma’s face seems to lose some of its light with every moment she spends talking about her fiancé. “You’re welcome to stay,” she says, and she searches for a snide comment to tack onto the invitation, something to remind her that she still has edges.

 

But Emma only looks relieved, hurries up the stairs as though she’s been desperately waiting for the permission, and Regina still hasn’t found the right words.

 

They’re in the hall by the time she thinks of anything to do, and all she has is: to reach for Emma, touch her cheek until Emma stands motionless in front of her. To caress her skin at the curve of her jaw, to brush a thumb along her bottom lip, to feel goosebumps erupt wherever she touches Emma.

 

It’s a power over Emma, she’d thought last night. It’s an advantage she can mine, that she can make Emma shiver with a touch.

 

Tonight, she feels no advantage in it at all. Tonight, she shivers too, and Emma is the one who has to whisper, “Goodnight, Regina.”


“Goodnight, Emma,” Regina murmurs, and she stumbles back to her room before she does something humiliating that she’ll regret.

Chapter Text

It’s the weekend. She’s in Regina’s guest room and the scent of coffee is wafting up the stairs through the crack of her door. Henry is watching something loud and violent that switches off the moment Regina’s voice sounds through the house. It feels safe and warm, like being home.

 

Emma hums to herself as she wanders into Regina’s dressing room, perusing her closet in search of something to wear. Amnesiac Regina might not be quite as quick to share clothing with her, but…they’d built some kind of bridge last night, hadn’t they? Regina had looked at her, for a moment, and looked just like her Regina again.

 

Today, she’s going to head to the vault and examine the scene of the crime. If someone had been targeting Regina, she wants to know now. Then again, this might have been something as simple as a bang on the head that had taken her memories away. Dr. Whale hadn’t found any sign of blunt force trauma, though, which points to one possibility that Emma doesn’t want to entertain. Magic. Someone with magic is after Regina.

 

She hurries down the stairs, already spurred to speed at the thought of Regina in danger. But Regina is in the kitchen, spreading butter onto toast and drinking her coffee black, and she raises an eyebrow as Emma skids to a halt. “Where’s the fire?”

 

“Shut up,” Emma says, wincing. “I was just…never mind. You want eggs?” She makes breakfast at Regina’s more often than she does at her own. It’s been her unspoken morning contribution since the first time she’d been here overnight.

 

But this Regina doesn’t know that, of course, and she shakes her head. “I’m all right. Is that my sweater?”

 

Emma shifts. “Sort of?”

 

“I remember telling you to enjoy my shirt,” Regina says dryly, but her tone is milder than it had been yesterday. “I didn’t mean all of them. You do this often, do you? Go through my closet, stay in my house, fight with your fiancé?” She asks all three casually, sliding in the last question as though an afterthought, and Emma blinks and stares at her for a moment.

 

“I…no, actually. We don’t fight much at all. It’s a good relationship.”

 

Regina scoffs. “Please. I’ve seen your records. You haven’t had a healthy relationship in your entire adult life.”

 

“Hey!” Emma says, stung. “I mean…yeah, I didn’t for a long time. But I’ve gotten better at, well…apologizing. Shrugging off the dumb stuff. And it works .” She’s found that with Killian, it’s easier to let the little things go than dwell, to forgive quickly before she comes to resent him. She’d been too stubborn to even contemplate the idea of putting a relationship before her pride until now, but she’s changed. “I’ll call him in a few minutes and find a way to make it up to him, and we’ll be fine. It’s called being an adult.”

 

“Sounds like being weak,” Regina comments, sipping at her coffee. “I never thought you’d be the kind of woman to go groveling to a man who’d crossed a line.”

 

“He wasn’t the one who crossed a–” she begins, on the defensive, and then the rest of Regina’s words sink in. “The kind of woman ? What kind of woman?” Regina’s shoulders lift in a light shrug. “Well, maybe you don’t know me at all,” Emma says, her jaw working under her skin.

 

“Perhaps,” Regina says, but she leans back in her chair, the barest smirk on her face as though she doesn’t believe that.

 

Emma gets her plate of eggs and stalks to her seat before she can’t stop herself from retorting. “Listen, I remember how I was when I first came to town. I was– broken. I had these walls up a mile high, and I didn’t–”

 

“Wear floral prints?” Regina suggests, an eyebrow up.

 

“How do you know that I wear–” Okay, yes, she’d been wearing one the night that she’d found Regina in the vault. And yesterday. “Shut up.”

 

Regina sips at her coffee, her eyes glittering with amusement. “Walls up,” she repeats. “What’s next, you’re going to call yourself frigid ?” She sneers. “Men use these terms for women they can’t control.”

 

“That’s not–”

 

Regina spreads her hands, conciliatory. “You do you,” she says easily.

 

Emma narrows her eyes at Regina, suddenly certain that baiting Emma is the happiest Regina has been since she’d lost her memories. Fine . “I’m just saying, it’s been better since I stopped pushing everyone away. I’ve been better. And he’s the one who tore down those walls.”

 

“Sounds rather violent,” Regina comments, stirring her coffee and licking the spoon for a moment. Emma pauses in her rage to follow the movement of Regina’s tongue with her eyes, a bit dazed before Regina speaks again. “You were spilling your heart out to me a day after we met, and I hated you. How quickly did you move in with Mary Margaret?”

 

“That’s not the same,” Emma says, off-kilter from both the comments and the… licking . “Look, just because you’re still emotionally stunted–” She catches herself before she starts a fight. “Never mind.” Regina looks disappointed.

 

“I’m going to go call him,” Emma announces instead, doing her best not to stomp out of the room. She’d forgotten how easy it used to be for Regina to set her off, to leave her unbalanced and questioning herself with only a few well-placed words. Mary Margaret had lost a half-dozen kitchen appliances to that.

 

And okay, when she digs deep, she’s still angry at Killian for taking her phone away when he’d seen it had been Henry on the line. There are some things that are non-negotiable, and as much as she knows she’s been unfair to him lately with her focus on Regina, Henry is one of them. Henry had been afraid and heartbroken and she hadn’t been there because Killian had decided that their dinner had been more important.

 

Sometimes, she wonders if Killian would happily isolate her from everyone around her just to possess her.

 

But that’s ridiculous, and she’s in love, so she steps outside and calls him. The first call is cut on the third dial, and she shakes her head and calls again. This time, he picks up. “Did you spend the night with her?” he demands.

 

Emma grits her teeth, inhales, remembers Regina’s mocking smirk, exhales. “Good morning to you, too, dear fiancé of mine.”

 

He softens, as she’d known he would when she’d invoked fiancé . Sometimes he needs the constant reminder that they’re locked into this, that they’re going to get married. “I’ve been worried,” he says grudgingly. “You just vanished.”

 

“I didn’t think you’d want to see me,” she says, meek. There’s no point in bringing up the Henry anger, not when they’re getting along. Killian is supposed to be her de-stressor, not a source of more frustration. She softens her voice even more. “I missed you.”

 

“Well,” he says, mollified. “That’s something, I’d wager.” He clears his throat, and Emma hears a sudden shout behind him.

 

“Killian?” she says, worried.

 

He pauses. “Ah, yes, your father asked me to pass a message on to you. We’re dealing with a bit of a situation at the beach.”

 

She bites back her exasperation at this postscript. “Situation?” she echoes.

 

“Some sort of sea monster in the water. I didn’t want to interrupt your family breakfast ,” he says, a puggish sort of apology. “You should be here.”

 

Emma shuts her eyes. A sea monster at the beach. Just what they need to tip Regina off about the curse. “Is Zelena there?”

 

You , Swan. Not Zelena,” Killian says, a stubborn note in his voice. “We need you here.”

 

“Well, you didn’t actually tell me, so–” She bites back the retort. “I have to stay with Regina,” she says instead. “If she sees something like this–”

 

“Regina, Regina, Regina,” he says bitterly. “Seems as though the Evil Queen’s return has made you forget that you’re the savior instead.”

 

It’s snide and petty and it cuts deep, and she opens her mouth to express something scathing–

 

sounds like being weak , Regina’s voice echoes in her mind, knowing and all too judgmental of a relationship she can’t remember–

 

She swallows. “I’ll be there. Okay?”

 

Killian hangs up without responding, and Emma sighs into her phone and heads back into the house, swallowing down her eggs as Regina watches her in amusement. “You seem…content,” she says. Emma glares at her. Had she unbuttoned another button of her blouse while Emma had been on the phone? It’s even more irritatingly distracting now. “I suppose the groveling went well?”

 

“You suppose far too many things,” Emma grumbles. This new peace between them seems to have shifted the balance between them, and maybe that’s good for Regina’s sense of control, but it’s wreaking havoc with Emma’s. “I have to go out.”

 

“Of course you do.” Regina rises, and Emma follows her approach with wary eyes, standing up to meet her.

 

Which winds up being a mistake, because Regina doesn’t back down when Emma stands, and she’s suddenly too close, pinning Emma against the wall with glittering eyes. “I thought you might stay here,” she says, a finger running along Emma’s arm. “Spend the day with Henry and me.”

 

She’s turning an instant later, casually striding to the doorway as though she’d never been that close to Emma. Emma stares at her, her mouth dry and her chest heaving for a moment, in disbelief. Is Regina trying to seduce her?

 

No, Mayor Mills . Of course she is. They’d had a heart-to-heart last night, and Regina’s been kind of…flirting-slash-critiquing all morning. This Regina doesn’t do baring her heart without struggling to reclaim the upper hand.

 

She rolls her eyes and follows Regina from the room, determined to seem unbothered. “I wish I could,” she says apologetically. “But the station needs me, apparently. Some…vandals on the loose. And I’d still like to figure out who it is who gave you that concussion,” she says honestly.

 

Regina gives her a tight smile full of promise and irony. “My hero,” she drawls.

 

The doorbell rings, and Emma jumps away before Regina can touch her again. “I’d better get that!” she says, her voice pitched too high to be calm. Regina smirks. Emma tears the door open. “M– Mary Margaret,” she says, relieved. She can feel the temperature in the room behind her lower about thirty degrees.

 

“I heard you were heading out!” Mary Margaret says brightly. “I thought I’d come spend the day with Regina and Henry.”

 

Emma darts a glance behind her. Regina is glaring daggers at the doorway. “Um,” she says.

 

“Get the hell out of my house,” Regina says calmly.

 

Mary Margaret looks crestfallen. “Regina, please . Give me a chance. You gave Emma a chance!”

 

“Whoa, whoa,” Emma says hastily. “Keep me out of this. Mary Margaret, why don’t you come with me instead? Give Regina and Henry some time alone to…play video games or do homework or something. Regina, you haven’t forgotten how to do eighth-grade algebra, have you?”

 

Regina looks alarmed. “I…don’t know?”  

 

Mary Margaret says, “I haven’t,” hopefully.

 

Regina’s face firms. “I’m sure I’ll pick it up,” she says, twisting around to walk into the living room and away from them.

 

Emma squeezes her mother’s hand comfortingly. “She’ll come around,” she promises as they close the door. “Or…get her memories back. Which would be preferable.” She shakes her head, her arm still burning from the trail of Regina’s finger across it. “I don’t think I’m very good at handling her.”

 

“At least she lets you try ,” Mary Margaret says bitterly. “I thought…at least I could bait her a bit. I know she hates me, but even during the curse, she used to talk to me enough to insult me.”

 

“She’s different now,” Emma offers. “I guess it’s the…whole effect of being herself, but trapped in this future where we all like her. She’s adjusting.” She squints out into the distance, where she can see the faintest puff of blue-green magic in the area of the beach. “I’d better call Henry,” she says, tugging out her phone. “Make sure Regina stays indoors today.”

 


 

 

The sea creature is some kind of water dragon, long-necked and spitting sparks at anyone who tries to get close to it. The Jolly Roger has been smashed on one side by its tail, and it thrashes around and roars whenever David attempts to land a blow with his sword. Also, Leroy is in its mouth, howling at the top of his lungs.

 

Emma mutters a curse and yanks out her gun, firing one shot that bounces off the dragon’s sleek scales. “Fine,” she grits out, holstering it again and gathering her magic instead. The dragon howls when the magic lands, dropping Leroy from its grasp and diving back into the water.

 

Killian is in front of her and smiling when she looks up, brushing off her hands and feeling rather pleased with herself. “That’s my girl,” he says, leaning in for a kiss, and she obliges, pecking his lips. A memory crosses her mind– Regina’s thumb, tracing her lower lip last night– and she grimaces at herself and deepens the kiss, struggling to erase the memory of Regina’s touch with Killian’s.

 

It doesn’t work, but it does lead to a gentle throat-clearing from Mary Margaret that pulls Emma from Killian, feeling oddly dissatisfied. “Uh,” Mary Margaret says, and a ship that isn’t the Jolly Roger splinters as the dragon crashes back up through it.

 

“Dammit,” Emma grumbles, gathering more magic. It looks angrier now, and… bigger ?

 

“Magic can hurt it,” Belle explains breathlessly, hurrying over. Zelena is right behind her, a scowl on her face. “But it seems like it’s also been feeding off of it. You’re going to need a bigger blast to stop it.”

 

“I’ll do it,” Zelena says irritably, and she gathers greenish lightning in her hands, calling it to her as it sparks around them. Emma jumps back, dodging the electricity, and she lands somehow in Killian’s arms. Zelena tosses her an annoyed look. “Are you helping or are you just going to stand there?”

 

“Helping,” Emma says quickly, gathering her own magic into a white-hot circle around her hands. Killian’s hand and hook are still on her, resting on her hips, and she wants to pull away but doesn’t. “Ready?”

 

Zelena nods, and they combine their magic in a burst of green and white.

 

It feels… wrong , somehow, doing this with someone other than Regina. As though she’s violating some unwritten rule of her magic, and she doesn’t feel the same strength in this combination as she does when she fights with Regina. The magic sputters and dies, and it’s barely a whimper of her magic by the time it hits the dragon.

 

“I’m sorry,” Emma says, defeated. “I’m…I’m usually better at this.”

 

“You’re usually with Regina,” Mary Margaret murmurs, and Killian’s hand tightens on her hip almost painfully.

 

But somehow, that reason is enough to mollify Zelena. “I suppose so,” she says grudgingly. “Still, we’d better try again.” The dragon had only lurched back for a moment at that blow before diving back at them, this time aiming toward its attackers, and Emma wrenches herself free from Killian to dodge a hot burst of magic that scorches the sand near her.

 

It’s a long morning, exhausting and unproductive, and Emma feels more as though they’re keeping the dragon at bay than that they actually have a chance of taking it down. She’s tense and worried about Regina seeing it, about the people on the beach and the docks running to protect their ships instead of themselves, about Killian hovering, hovering, as though they can make up from their fight by kissing instead of talking, and she desperately wants to finish this so she can go away .

 

But the dragon is unrelenting, and Emma lands on the floor after one bad blow, cursing as she grabs onto her arm. “Sorry,” she gasps out to Zelena, who’s just as battered as she is. “Can I–?” She waves her hand and heals Zelena and herself in one burst of magic. “At least I can still do that,” she mutters.

 

“I don’t like fighting without my sister, either,” Zelena admits. It’s the most sympathetic she’s been so far, and Emma looks at her in surprise. Zelena shrugs. “I know we’re not at our best right now.”

 

“You two seemed to be getting along fine last night,” Emma points out. They’d been downright cozy on the couch before Emma had gotten there, talking like old friends. “I figured you liked her better like this. More…like you.” Regina had told her enough about the newest conflict with Zelena for Emma to feel oddly bad about it all. Yeah, Zelena had been Team Evil Queen for most of it, but she’d had her reasons.

 

Zelena fires a half-hearted spray of magic at the dragon. “You’re being a bit nosy for someone who wants me to agree to be her bridesmaid,” she says haughtily. Emma stares at her. “Belle told me,” Zelena says smugly. “I’m not wearing pastel. And my sister is going to insist on red, but she’s an idiot.”

 

“Is that a yes?” Emma says, distracted. The dragon rears up over them, dangerously close, and David has commandeered a jeep that runs well enough on sand to speed toward the dragon while it’s focused on them.

 

“If you go through with this, I suppose,” Zelena sniffs.

 

“If I go through with it ?” Emma repeats. “Why wouldn’t I–” The dragon hurls another magical fireball at them, and David rams the jeep into it an instant later. Emma rolls through the sand, half on fire, and her phone chooses that moment to beep loudly.

 

She yanks it out as soon as the fire is extinguished, squinting at the message from Henry. 808 . Is that an algebra equation? The dragon is roaring, falling back into the water with a thump, and the sand finally clears enough for Emma to read the text properly.

 

Not 808 . SOS .

 

She’s jumping up without a thought to her battered body, brushing sand out of her hair and jogging across the beach to Mary Margaret. “I’ve got to go,” she says breathlessly. “Let me know if it’s dead. Henry needs me.”

 

Killian is climbing out of the jeep and running toward her, and Emma panics, teleporting away before they can have another fight over this.

 

She reappears in front of Regina’s house with sand caked in her hair and a few scratches she hadn’t healed in time, just as the door swings open. Regina stares at her. “Were your vandals mermaids?” she says dryly.

 

“Ha ha,” Emma says, scuffing her boots to knock off some of the sand. “Everything okay here?”

 

“Quite.” Regina smiles faintly, the warmth in her eyes genuine. “Henry and I have had a wonderful morning. I thought we might go out to the park and get ice cream now.” Behind her, Henry looks panicked. Emma glances down at her phone and sees injured and angry– not dead!!! from Mary Margaret.

 

Fuck. “Um,” Emma says. “Actually, sometimes we kind of…do this thing where we picnic in the woods down that way.” She waves vaguely in the opposite direction of the beach. “It’s Henry’s favorite, right?” Henry nods vigorously.

 

Regina snorts. “If you wanted to take me out, you didn’t need such a flimsy excuse,” she says, and Henry’s eyes widen as Emma gulps.

 

“That’s not– I didn’t mean–” She stumbles over her words. Henry leans against the wall, his eyebrow rising in perfect imitation of his mother’s. “Look, do you want to come or not?”

 

Regina stands a little too close to her while they’re packing food, her arm brushing against Emma’s skin. Or maybe she isn’t that close at all– Emma is suddenly more aware of her proximity than she’s been in a while, and it’s eminently distracting. Maybe it’s all that flirting from earlier, or Regina’s casual accusation that she’d been asking her out.

 

Her hand bumps into Regina’s, her ring scraping against Regina’s skin, and she jumps back, her heart leaping with her. Regina shifts, standing very close– and no, it’s not her imagination, is it– and says, her breath tickling Emma’s lips, “Everything all right?”

 

“Fine! It’s fine! I’d better go…check on Henry,” Emma says helplessly, backing away from her. Regina smiles a secret smile and turns back to her sandwiches, seemingly unbothered by any of this.

 

Emma positions Henry between them once they’re traipsing through the woods, but she has other things to be tense about out there. If she shifts to glance back, she can see a greenish-blue flare in the distance, and she can hear the faintest roar in tandem with it. Regina is oblivious, though, Henry’s hand in hers as he tells her about…his girlfriend .

 

Emma spins around, on the alert again but this time for Violet’s safety. “Girlfriend,” Regina is repeating slowly. “You’re thirteen .”

 

“She’s really cool,” Henry promises. “You liked her when you weren’t insisting that you hated her. Right, Emma?”

 

“Right,” Emma confirms. “And Henry’s been an absolute gentleman.” Henry makes a face at that, but Regina’s eyes brighten like it might actually mean something to her. “Someone trained him right.” She pokes at Regina’s arm and flushes when she turns. “Violet’s a good kid. Smart, caring, and not afraid of you. She’s also fond of horses,” she offers, and Regina looks sharply at her.

 

Emma presses a finger to her lips, winking when Henry pulls ahead of them. As adorable as it is that Henry’s dating a girl just like his mother, they’d both decided that he’d be better off not noticing. Regina scowls. “I still don’t like it,” she mutters as they step into a clearing.

 

“You’re never going to like him growing up,” Emma says, kneeling down to lay the picnic blanket on the ground. “But it’s happening, and it’s pretty great. He’s pretty great. He has a great mom,” she says, and Regina stares at her for a moment like she had last night, when she’d been lost and lonely and had set aside the masks.

 

“Moms,” Henry says, and Emma sees the way Regina stiffens before she realizes that Henry’s just calling them from beyond the clearing. “Look! Isn’t that that cat that Ashley’s stepmom was missing? Up there!”

 

Emma squints up at the tree he’s gesturing at. An enormous cat is crouched on a thin branch that looks ready to crack. It bears a striking resemblance to the picture she’d been given, and it hisses down at her when she glares at it. “I don’t think so,” she says weakly.

 

Regina smirks, sitting back on the blanket. “Please, Sheriff ,” she says sweetly. “Don’t hesitate on our behalf. That poor cat.” She sighs expansively, her breasts straining against her tight blouse and her eyes bright in that terrifyingly entrancing way. Emma tears her gaze from both and stares up at the tree.

 

It’s not that bad, though she misses her magic more than ever as she tugs herself up through the branches. Henry shouts up encouragement and tries following her before Regina calls out a warning, and Emma shakes sand out of her hair where stray twigs have joined it in this...fun return to nature. “Here, kitty, kitty,” she grinds out, swinging a leg up against a bump in the tree trunk.

 

Below her, Regina is luxuriating in the sunshine, her eyes half closed and her head resting against the trunk of a nearby tree. She looks more like herself than she has since she’d lost her memories, her expression peaceful but for the hint of an amused smile at the edges of her lips. Emma watches her, an odd sort of grief suffusing her for a moment before she shakes it off. This is still her Regina. It’s just…not exactly right, but it can be. Regina is still Regina, even if it takes some time and adjustment for her to find herself again.

 

And this Regina, cracking an eye open to watch her clambering across a branch that barely holds her weight– this Regina she recognizes, and she’s staring down at her with a smile that could possibly be labeled goofy when her phone buzzes from her pants pocket.

 

It’s a text, and she hangs onto the branch and fumbles with it to stare at the three words on the screen. IT CAN FLY . Emma glances behind her, eyes wide, and–

 

–The dragon is back, flapping wings that had looked like little more than decorations before and heading straight toward them.

 

The cat hisses and leaps down from the tree as easily as it had gotten up, landing in Henry’s arms as Emma stares at the approaching dragon in a panic, a whirling green twister tearing up trees behind it. She stumbles down, tripping through the tree as Regina blinks up at her in confusion, and the dragon is a hundred yards away, closer–

 

–Closer–

 

She throws herself from the tree, out of ideas and distractions, and tumbles down. Branch after branch slows her fall, and Henry is shouting her name as she propels herself off one branch not too far from the ground and slams into Regina, rolling with her on the ground as a flash of blue and green soars by above her.

 

“If this is a way to reverse a concussion,” Regina says, breathless from her spot above Emma. “It’s a terrible idea.” She’s staring down at Emma, not at the dragon or the twister, and Emma catches her gaze and reaches up to touch her face. She’d scraped it in the fall, a thin red line running down her cheek, and Emma touches it and wants desperately to be able to heal her.

 

Instead, she lets her hand trail through Regina’s hair, tucking it behind her ears and a little breathless herself. This is– this is okay. This is Emma distracting Regina from what’s going on overhead, Zelena on a broomstick, because of course she is, as she winds the twister around the dragon like a wrung rag. “I can’t believe you used to claim the sheriff’s department didn’t need a deputy,” she breathes, her palm going still against Regina’s cheek. “You would have lost a sheriff a week at this rate.”

 

“Maybe that was my evil plan,” Regina murmurs, a wicked smirk creeping onto her face. Emma gazes up at it in mild awe. Behind Regina, Henry is pulling a face and turning away, and Zelena has finally trapped the dragon in her twister. She waves down at them, cocking her eyebrow and mouthing something that’s probably rude at Emma. “I can’t imagine how you’ve held the job for this long.”

 

“I’m better than I look,” Emma says, her thumb rubbing against the curve of Regina’s jaw.

 

Regina licks her lips. “I find that difficult to believe,” she purrs, and Emma swallows audibly. Zelena’s smirk is insufferable as she and the incapacitated dragon disappear in a burst of green. Henry has wandered off into the trees, the cat still agreeable in his arms as though it hadn’t caused this whole mess.

 

The coast is clear, but Emma still can’t quite summon the will to get up and nudge Regina off of her. “You don’t have to keep…” she tries, and her voice trails off. “Doing that thing .”

 

“Thing?” Regina repeats, and oh, god, she’s still hovering above Emma, her eyes dark with promise.

 

It takes all Emma has to manage, dumbly, “Thing. I…” She still can’t remember the words, and Regina’s the one to finally pull away, both of them exhaling as they sit up and stare at each other. “I,” Emma says, and she twists her ring around her finger, her stomach bottoming out with uncertainty. “Henry,” she says, remembering him.

 

“Henry,” Regina agrees, and she looks only slightly less unbalanced than Emma does. She stands, her shoulders stiff and her spine straight, and then she reaches out to pluck a twig from Emma’s hair. “Are you still up for that picnic?” she says, and the mask falls back in place with a plastic smile.

 


 

 

Somehow, she’s still with Emma Swan, this time at a new bar that had opened just weeks before. There’s a heady victory to this– to Emma Swan sitting next to her at the bar instead of back with her useless fiancé, to Emma startling every time Regina gets a little too close. Emma looks at her as though she knows exactly what Regina’s doing, but she still reacts the same way each time.

 

Regina has spent decades wielding sensuality as a weapon, using it to tame men and women of lesser wills before her. Emma Swan is no different than the rest, except, perhaps, that the need to stop her is more urgent than it has been ever before.

 

She shudders for a moment from hard whiskey and a flash of last night– Emma, laid all but bare before her the night before, her lips parted and Regina’s fingers tracing her skin. She’d wanted to lurch forward, to replace her fingers with her mouth and to back her against the wall, to be laid into a bed and made love to softly and–

 

She stops herself, nauseous at the thought of it. Enough . Enough confiding in Emma. Enough of these sickeningly tender emotions that creep into her, foolish and weak as the Regina she’d been with her memories. She will not surrender to useless, transient relationships.

 

She needs to get this out of her system, that’s all. She’ll seduce Emma and they’ll fuck and that will be it , no more lingering emotions. Emma already has her son and her town, and Regina will be damned if Emma takes any more of her.

 

She just has to be…subtle. Just the slightest brush of her breast against Emma’s arm as she twists in her seat, just an extra few seconds holding Emma’s gaze when they talk. Anything more overt, and Emma will run.

 

She clears her throat, her head already fuzzy from the alcohol and from Emma so close to her, head propped up on her hand as she gazes at Regina, and Regina says, very subtly, “I don’t see how we’ve never fucked.”

 

Emma chokes on her drink. “What?”

 

“It makes no sense,” Regina says, and she’s frustrated because it doesn’t , they don’t make sense at all. “We’ve been out drinking like this before, haven’t we?” Emma nods warily. “We’re both fabulously attractive and we’re so close, so…?” She spreads her hands, smug in how wrong this is. “We must have at least kissed a few dozen times.”

 

“No! No, we haven’t. We–” Emma stops, flustered, her face flushed from her drink or Regina, Regina doesn’t know which. “You think I’m fabulously attractive?”

 

“I think you’re terrible,” Regina says, wrinkling her nose, and she reaches out to tangle her hands in Emma’s hair. It’s very pretty and very long, though she wears it straighter these days. Typical . Everything about Emma is straighter these days, except maybe the way she can’t stop glancing down Regina’s cleavage. “I didn’t call you fabulously attractive.”

 

“You did. You said ‘we’re both fabulously attractive’ and yeah , you are, but I didn’t know you thought–” Emma squints at her. “Are you hitting on me again? I’m engaged.

 

Regina scowls at her. “I don’t hit on you , Miss Swan.”

 

Emma jabs a thumb at her. “I hate it when you Miss Swan me. Like we’re still…” She glares at her, affronted at her own realization. “Anyway, yes, you do. You unbuttoned a button at breakfast.”

 

“You threw yourself on top of me in the woods!” Regina points out, outraged at Emma’s presumption. As though she’d be so crass as to hit on Emma Swan. “I find it hard to believe that there were no drunken trysts.” She squints at Emma, searching for a concession and failing to find it. “No one-night stands? Impossible.”

 

Emma laughs, and then examines her for a moment, as though to attempt to figure out whether or not she’s being played. Regina stares back, dead serious. “The truth is,” Emma says grudgingly, “I guess there was always...I don’t know, I thought something unspoken between us. We’ve always been careful.”

 

“Careful not to have any one-night stands?”

 

“Careful not to…” Emma stares down at her drink. “I need another one,” she decides, and gulps it down in record time. Regina taps her fingers against the table, impatient for answers. “I don’t know,” Emma says finally. “We don’t, like…go out of our way to touch too much or hug or…or anything that could escalate.” She takes another drink. “What we have is too important to complicate. Also, engaged.” She waves the ring at Regina and then stares at it with sudden melancholy.

 

Emma, it appears, is a sad drunk. Tragic. Regina presses onward. “You’re really going to get married to this man?” Emma hasn’t so much as told her his name yet, and she’s supposed to believe they’re in love? Please.

 

Emma glares at her with sudden strength. “What is with you Millses and expecting this wedding to flop? Do you think I’ll drive him away that quickly?”

 

“Millses– has Henry–” Regina begins, brightening.

 

“Zelena.” Emma takes another gulp. Regina’s lightly buzzed, but Emma must be completely gone by now. “‘If you go through with this.’ As though we’re already doomed to failure. I don’t run away anymore.”

 

“Right,” Regina drawls. “Walls are down, flannel is gone, and you’re too afraid of accidentally fucking me to even hug me. Sounds like a recipe for true love and happily ever afters.”

 

Emma stares into her glass, glum, and says nothing more for a while. Regina shrugs and keeps drinking. Maybe if she keeps going, she’ll forget that she’s three years removed from her own time and stranded in this bar with a woman she’s really supposed to despise.

 

Maybe she needs another concussion for that.

 

“You know,” Emma says suddenly, several minutes later. “I thought we were going to…you know. There was…before Pan and New York–”

 

“Pan? New York?” Regina isn’t following. Apparently, alcohol is not helping with her already spotty memories.

 

Emma winces, shaking her head vigorously for a moment. “Whatever. I thought we were…having the same feelings. And then I got back to town and you were suddenly making out in hallways with this asshole. Whatever.”

 

I was making out in hallways with an asshole?” Regina says skeptically. “I don’t think so.”

 

“Neither did I,” Emma says, hunching down morosely with her hands around her glass. “But suddenly you were in love . It was gross. You barely knew him. You knew me . And he was about as interesting as a cardboard box.” She snorts. “And not nearly as attractive.” Her chin hits the bar as Regina stares at her.

 

“What happened to him?” He isn’t here now, whoever this man she’d supposedly been in love with is. Had she told him about the curse and he’d left her? Impossible. She’d never–

 

“Dead. As a cardboard box,” Emma says, delighted at her metaphor. Her face falls. “I’m sorry. That’s insensitive, I guess. You deserved a lot better.”

 

“Like you?” Regina suggests archly, and Emma turns her head, lifts it to stare up at her.

 

“I’m very drunk,” she decides, and topples off her barstool.

 

Regina catches her before she hits the ground, tugging her to her feet and easing her into a quiet corner booth. Emma’s head hits the wall, her eyes drifting closed, and she says, “He wasn’t good enough for you. He just kept making you cry, and I wanted to…”

 

“Don’t tell me,” Regina says dryly. “A forbidden hug.”

 

“No, I wanted to punch him in the face,” Emma says, her fists clenching. “And then give you a hug. Maybe. It’d be a good one.” She curls up against Regina, her head drooping onto Regina’s shoulders instead of the wall. “We could have been something good, you know? It was all I thought about for a long time. But our timing sucked.”

 

“So it seems,” Regina says, and her head is still swimming, still hazy, and Emma’s wrapped into one of her arms. She fits there, ungainly and sprawled out but warm. Very warm. And her skin is ridiculously soft, as though…has she shifted her budget from curling irons to moisturizer? Isn’t she the sheriff now? Can’t she afford both on her salary?

 

This is a mistake, she thinks suddenly, and then she thinks about how good Emma’s hair smells. “It’s your conditioner,” Emma says, rolling her eyes at her.

 

“It smells better on you. How do you do that?” Regina demands, irritated.

 

Emma just inhales, tugging at a lock of Regina’s hair instead. “Fuck,” she sighs. “This is so bad.”

 

“My hair? Your future hangover?” Regina says, but she’s turned to Emma now, their noses bumping for a moment as Emma looks up at her. There’s an electricity in the air at the contact, something that sizzles and sparks between them and is so strong that she can understand, suddenly, why she would have kept her distance from Emma when she’d had her memories. Curse aside– Henry aside– this is too much, too sharp and real. This is intoxicating in a way that she’s never felt before, and she’s just close enough to do something she’ll regret.

 

“This,” Emma murmurs, and her eyes are drifting shut, her lips drifting closer to Regina’s. Regina can’t tear herself away, can’t push Emma back, can’t seem to do anything but reach up to rest a hand on the nape of Emma’s neck as she closes the gap between them. And then they’re kissing, sloppy and drunk and Regina suddenly halfway on Emma’s lap instead of vice versa, Emma’s hands all over her skin until it’s burning and Regina tugs at Emma’s lip with her teeth and earns a groan and another kiss for it.

 

God. She’d imagined this happening dozens of times since Emma had ridden into town, and never like this, with so much affection in the kiss. Emma touches her as though the world is teetering on its axis and might fall if Regina slips away from her, each kiss a silent worship. Regina needs her, needs her as desperately as she needs air and water and the curse on this town, and it’s even more difficult to think now except that this can’t stop, because if it stops–

 

Emma tears herself away from Regina, eyes wide and horrified and finally sober as she scrambles back. “Emma,” Regina says hoarsely, reaching for her again. She can’t remember anything before this moment, before Emma kissing her, before–

 

Emma stands, shaking, her hand pressed to her lips and her cheeks already wet with tears that Regina doesn’t understand. “I really wish…” she says hopelessly, deftly sidestepping Regina’s outstretched hand as though she’d been burned. “I wish you hadn’t brought any of this up,” she says, and she flees from the bar with her hand still pressed to her mouth.

 

Regina stares after her, bereft and breathless and furious with herself.

 


 

 

Emma stumbles through the night, bereft and breathless and furious with herself. What had she been thinking ? She can blame Regina all she wants, but Regina isn’t the one with her memories. Regina doesn’t know about the things they don’t do , the doors they don’t open and the bridges they don’t cross. And Emma had been…god, it had been inevitable by the end of today, hadn’t it?

 

She’s crying now, drunk and sobbing in the dark as she struggles to find her way home. No, she’s moving toward Mifflin , and this is unacceptable. She has a fiancé she lives with, a future just beginning to look like a happy ending.

 

And she’s screwed it up by kissing Regina– Regina who barely even remembers her– and now it’s the only thing she can think about– running back to Regina, kissing Regina, falling into bed with–

 

Stop. Stop, stop, stop. She waves her hand with a weak spell that never does much for sobering them up. Tonight, of course, it works like a charm, her magic stronger than it’s ever been before. Stop, stop, stop .

 

Sobriety means actually dealing with what had just happened, or compartmentalizing it all. She chooses the latter, wanders in circles through town, and punches a building hard enough that she scrapes her knuckles raw.

 

And then she goes home– to her actual home, and to the man who’s supposed to be the love of her life.

 

He’s in the living room when she opens the door, drinking rum from a flask and staring moodily at the blank tv. “Killian,” she says, her voice trembling. “Killian, I’m…I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been treating you lately.” She can still feel Regina’s lips on hers, can nearly taste the scent of her perfume. “I haven’t been fair to you at all.”

 

Killian keeps drinking. Emma wonders if Regina’s still drinking. She kind of wishes she is, too. “Killian, please,” she says, sitting down on the couch beside him and draping his arm around her. “I’ve been…so wrapped up in family and friends that I’ve been neglecting you. And I don’t want to do that. I shouldn’t have…I shouldn’t have run off last night. Or this afternoon. I got so caught up in stupid things.” Stupid things like Regina’s touch, like her lips and that wicked laugh and the way she looks when she isn’t pretending to be the Big Bad Madam Mayor.

 

She can feel herself on the verge of tears again, and her voice is thick when she says, “Killian,” pleadingly again. She’s fucked up, more than he’ll ever know, and she has to fix it somehow. She has to stop wanting to be in that booth with–

 

Killian barks out a laugh, a bit more rueful than bitter. “I admit,” he says finally, “I’d much prefer you without all the…baggage that seems to keep you from me all the time.” Emma blinks at him, bewildered at the implication. Is he calling Regina– Henry– is he calling them baggage ? She’d wondered if he might like her isolated, but she’s always known the truth there. Killian wants the savior, the woman he’s shaped into the perfect wife.

 

Regina’s voice filters into her mind, mocking and sharp. I never thought you’d be the kind of woman to go groveling to a man who’d crossed a line.

 

The less she thinks about Regina, the better, she thinks, gritting her teeth and pressing her lips into a sweet smile instead. “You have me,” she promises him. “And you come first. We come first.” Except Henry, but she keeps the caveats to herself for now. Killian needs to believe that he is her priority right now.


She needs to believe that he’s her priority right now. Killian is never going to leave her. Killian loves her, and that’s rare enough– impossible enough, that she could be so loved– that she has to hold onto it with all she is. “I love you,” she says, and she kisses him until he shifts into someone else behind her closed eyelids, until she feels soft skin instead of stubble and a hand at the nape of her neck that glides across it as though it belongs there. I love you , she thinks determinedly, and she can almost hear the breath of exhilarated laughter in response, soft and feminine and rich and perhaps forgotten forever.

Chapter Text

The vault is empty, quiet and clean save for a few spots of broken glass on the floor. Emma crouches down to examine them with little luck; there are too few for them to be a cup or a weapon, and they’re just ground-up pieces of glass by now with no clue to what they had belonged to. For all she knows, the glass had been here for days before Regina’s accident.

 

Before the victim’s accident. She isn’t thinking about Regina, and certainly not the way her heart had stopped when she’d found Regina stretched out on the floor in here, still as though in death. She still can’t help but exhale in relief at the thought of Regina safe , at home with Henry or in her office or…wherever she is today.

 

Emma doesn’t know. Emma hasn’t called her, and Regina hadn’t texted or called or even stopped by at Granny’s at breakfast. Which is all for the best, even if…

 

Emma pushes aside silly, reckless hurt and focuses on her surroundings again instead, shining her flashlight in the dark. There’s something glittering just against the stairs, black and shiny against black shadow, and she kneels to get it and comes out with a cheap black gemstone. It looks vaguely familiar, maybe a piece of one of Regina’s magical instruments, but it’s the closest thing to evidence that she can find in the vault.

 

She tucks it into her pocket and heads back upstairs, magically sealing the mausoleum behind her so Regina can’t enter and see her mother’s body beside her father’s. There are too many secrets these days, too many uncomfortable revelations, and no one needs another one.

 

Especially not Regina.

 


 

Robyn coos in her lap, and Henry bounces, eager to hold the baby. “One more minute,” Regina promises, stroking Robyn’s cheek. Robyn roots instinctively, and Regina slips a finger into her mouth and feels her gnawing at it. “Teething already?”

 

“She’s ahead of the curve,” Zelena says proudly. “She gave Neal a bruise on his arm last week with her gums alone. A delight on playdates, truly.”

 

“Neal?”

 

“Mary Margaret’s son,” Henry offers, eyeing Robyn with sudden wariness. She gurgles happily and Regina passes her over with some reluctance.

 

“A true Mills,” she says, brushing Robyn’s thin wisps of hair back fondly. “Henry was a late teether, but he more than made up for it. He got almost all his teeth at once the moment he started. The nonstop screaming, though…” She winces. “I barely put him down for weeks. I remember bringing him to town meetings and propping him up on my lap while I tried to talk to constituents. He chewed up quite a few reports before we worked out a better system.”

 

Henry grins. “I got my own little table in Mom’s office with coloring supplies and a bunch of train tracks. I used to lay them out in the middle of meetings. One of my earliest memories is Mom eviscerating this guy from the DA’s office because he’d derailed my train when he’d been yelling at her. It was awesome.” He beams up at her, and she beams back, basking in the quiet peace between them today.

 

It had been oddly tense this morning when she’d stumbled downstairs blearily and Emma hadn’t been there. Henry had said, his eyes wary as though expecting another lie, I thought Emma was going to drop by in the morning , and Regina had–

 

–taken in a shuddering breath and managed only to shake her head in response. She’d only been determined not to lie to him, had been sifting through half-answers to offer and had been trapped and conflicted, and he’d stared at her for a moment and then nodded and looked down.

 

She’d apologized. It feels as though all she does is apologize to Henry, sometimes, but it gets easier and easier with each passing day. She wonders if that had been all they’d needed, before. She’d been so determined to keep control, to somehow keep him with her and loving her, and she’d been terrified of admitting any faults and losing him. Now, it seems, his eyes grow a little brighter each time she can admit that she isn’t perfect.

 

He’d hugged her and she’d wanted to cry; for missed opportunities, for finally understanding all of this now , too late, for a house where Emma Swan isn’t there making breakfast.

 

Fuck that , she reminds herself. She doesn’t give a damn. She’d seduced Emma and it had failed, and that had been that. She’s sabotaged a relationship that had been built to fall apart, anyway.

 

Today, she builds new, stronger relationships. She’d called Zelena this morning, had managed a tentative will you come over for lunch? that had been equal parts commanding and vulnerable, and gotten a pause and I’ll be right there from the other woman. “Are you going to be all right with her?” Regina asks Henry, and he nods, still eyeing his cousin as though she might take off a finger. She burps and smiles, eyes crinkling and lips widening, and Henry relaxes.

 

“Yeah, Mom. I’ve got this. You go do lunch with your sister.”

 

Your sister . It still seems impossible, and she still can’t stop sneaking glances at Zelena, searching her features for every last vestige of Mother. They don’t look at all alike– Regina had gotten her father’s coloring, to Mother’s dismay– but they both have Mother’s smile.

 

And neither of them have inherited Mother’s subtlety, it seems. “What happened with you and your work wife?” Zelena demands as soon as they’re out of the house. “I thought you two were glued together at the hip.”

 

“Please tell me you don’t mean Miss Swan,” Regina says guardedly.

 

“Of course I mean Miss Swan ,” Zelena mocks, mimicking her voice. “I saw her yesterday and you were the only thing on her mind. And from what I heard, you two seemed…cozy…last night.” She waggles her eyebrows.

 

Regina freezes. “Who– how– what did you hear?”

 

Zelena stares at her, her scrutiny intensifying. “Just that you two were at Aesop’s Tables last night until late, and you barely moved from your seats together. Why? What happened?”

 

“Nothing,” Regina says swiftly. “I…nothing happened.” A mistake had happened, and that had been it . She won’t obsess any more than that.

 

She’d spent the night tossing and turning, still drunk enough that she’d left her sheets damp with sweat and had dreamed of Emma with her with such vividness that she’d awakened and been startled when Emma hadn’t been in the bed. Some of the dreams had been passionate, skin sliding against skin and cries of ecstasy, and some of them had been eclipsed by Emma’s smile and her arms around Regina, naked and tucked against her but utterly sexless.

 

Regina had awakened with her hand between her legs and had ground against it, hating herself for every moment of the night before the nausea had even registered.

 

She doesn’t need any of this. She certainly doesn’t need Emma Swan, who’d run back to her fiancé anyway, who hadn’t bothered giving her a call or text since, who–

 

–who’s standing inside Granny’s when Zelena pushes the door open, wearing a dainty dress that doesn’t suit her and eyes deer-in-headlights wide when she catches sight of Regina. “Ah,” Zelena says triumphantly, “Maybe she’ll tell me.”

 

Regina grabs her arm, squeezing it hard enough for her nails to bite into Zelena’s skin. Zelena yelps. “Don’t you dare,” Regina hisses.

 

She pastes a smile on her face– like hell she’s going to let Emma know that she’s been affected by her– and Emma stares at her, eyes still open wide and bare and vulnerable as Regina approaches. “Afternoon,” Regina says pleasantly, her voice plastic as her smile, and walks right past Emma to the counter.

 

“Regina,” Emma croaks, and she stumbles back to stand behind her. Zelena immediately begins chatting with her, casual and friendly and without only one smug look back at Regina. Regina is beginning to think that this sister bit is less of a blessing than she’d thought it had been at first.

 

“Busy morning?”

 

“Working on an investigation,” Emma says, her eyes darting to Regina. Regina refuses to look at either of them. “I haven’t really found anything, though. I’m…I’m going home after lunch.”

 

“Some quiet time with the fiancé.” Zelena nods knowingly, winking at Emma with a suggestive look. Emma looks slightly ill in response. Regina simmers in silence. “We’re doing a late lunch together. I hear Regina had a long night.” She winks again.

 

Emma stiffens at that, her eyes shuttering closed, and she says tightly, “You know? I don’t think I needed anything here after all.” She bolts for the door and Regina lets out a quiet curse.

 

Zelena says, “You shagged her, didn’t you?” loud enough for half the diner to hear. Regina ignores her, frozen between a desire to stay right here and keep her dignity, or to…

 

She stalks to the door, death glare in place, and pulls it open, hurrying down the steps before she says, “Emma.” Emma is standing in the path to the street, arms folded around her and her torso trembling, and she turns slowly as Regina fumbles for something to say. “I didn’t– I know it sounds like I told Zelena–”

 

“I know you didn’t,” Emma says, her eyes averted. “It wasn’t– it wasn’t anything, right? It didn’t matter.” Her voice is weary, her shoulders slumped, and Regina doesn’t know what leftover instinctive memory it is that makes her want to reach for Emma in this moment.

 

“I’m not the one who ran off,” she says finally, and it sounds raw and needy enough that she hastily tacks on, “You can go back to your fiancé. Your secret is safe with me.” She sneers, desperate for some distance between them, and Emma stares at her in unspoken agony. Regina’s sneer falters.

 

It’s absurd that Emma Swan can mean so much so quickly, that a few days with her so fully enmeshed in Regina’s life is enough to make Regina ache at the thought of being without her. Is this how she’d felt before she’d lost her memories? How could she have possibly gone through with this, day after day, basking in a friendship that had only been halfway to where it could have been?

 

It’s absurd. She doesn’t want it. She doesn’t want any of it. But as she searches for the right words– scathing words, meant to wound and destroy instead of this agonizing limbo– all she can see is Emma’s face, pale and uncertain and tired. All she can do is stare back, the retort dying in her throat.

 

“I’d better go,” Emma says weakly, and she darts forward– gravitates toward Regina as though there’s an invisible pull between them, reaches for her as though Regina might be her anchor– and thinks better of it at the last moment and turns, fleeing from Granny’s outdoor seating area instead.

 

Regina watches her go, her heart thudding painfully against her ribs.

 


 

“You’re back,” Killian says, looking pleased. Good . At least she can still do something right. “I don’t know why you went into work at all today. It’s Sunday.” Now he sounds sullen, and Emma swallows, her finger dipping into her jacket to touch the gemstone she’d found in the vault.

 

“I have an open case,” she says, giving him a mollifying kiss. “And I know I’ve been…distracted lately. I’m trying. I really am.” She’s begun running through the good things in her mind, the memories of Killian with her that make her smile. Bringing her grilled cheese at the station. The two of them in a field of flowers. Giving up his ship for her. It’s become a mantra, a reminder of what it is she might lose if she does this wrong, if she can’t be who everyone expects her to be.

 

She tugs out the groceries she’d picked up in lieu of Granny’s. “I thought I’d cook us something for lunch so we can stay in.”

 

“A woman after my own heart.” Killian leans back, smirking, and Emma doesn’t know if he’s serious or mocking her. Grilled cheese at the station. Dancing together. Field of flowers. “But I do value my stomach,” he says, patting it. “Why don’t we leave the cooking to Granny and the swordfighting to you?”

 

“I can be good at both!” Emma protests. “I make a mean omelet. And my fritters are so good that Henry’s picked them over dinner with–” She stops herself just in time, though Killian’s eyes have already darkened at the almost-mention of Regina. “Anyway,” she says hastily. “My chicken is just as good as my swordfighting. And I beat you that time in the Enchanted Forest.” It’s meant to be playful, a good memory now, and she nudges him, plastering a grin onto her face.

 

He rolls his eyes. “I let you win.”

 

She laughs. “No, you didn’t. You were trying to kill me, remember?” It had been exhilarating, fighting against a man who’d psychoanalyzed and manipulated her, and called her… dried up, dead, useless . She’d thought little about anything during that fight other than how satisfying it had been to get to fight him.

 

She certainly hadn’t imagined this moment, years later, Killian scoffing at her. “You were a pretty little blonde. I was being a gentleman.”

 

Pretty little blonde– distraction , her mind supplies, and she swallows hard and pushes aside another, less exhilarating memory. They aren’t fighting. She can’t fight with him, not now. She forces a smile instead, pushing her pride aside. It’s called being an adult . “You were definitely hitting on me during that fight,” she concedes, settling down next to him. It hadn’t seemed flirtatious back then– it had seemed violent, a promise of violation– but in retrospect, maybe it’s time to reconsider.

 

She smoothes down her dress and tucks herself against him, and she can feel him relax beside her. He’s just as on edge lately– he’s always on edge, always hiding something damning, and she’s learned to wait for the truth and then summon up the will to forgive and put it aside. She’s had a dozen relationships like this in the past, when she’d been young and desperate only for a place to belong or a man or woman to care about her. But this one is it , the best she’ll ever have.

 

She thinks idly of Regina again, imagines her Regina grinding her jaw and saying nothing, imagines amnesiac Regina with her sly, mocking eyes looking down at her right now. Regina would have no respect for Emma like this, would see her as weak and a pale imitation of herself. She feels like a pale imitation sometimes, too, the kind of woman to whom she’d have given fiery speeches about breaking free and being herself.

 

But amnesiac Regina and her Emma counterpart are alone, and maybe that’s the crux of it. They’d erected walls around themselves to protect themselves, always protect, and ward off anyone who’d dare dig deeper. And what had they gotten for that? What had Emma gotten for that? Only heartbreak and loneliness.

 

Her parents want her fairytale ending, believe that this is it. Henry likes Killian. And Killian had chosen her– not because of a prophecy or blood ties or because she’d been convenient or easy to get to know, but her – and she can learn to shape herself into the person he wants. She’s so, so tired of being alone.

 

For a moment, she thinks about Regina’s lips on hers, to Regina reaching for her with hooded, needy eyes. But no , it’s not even Regina, is it? Her Regina loves her, she doesn’t doubt that– but like this? Never. Amnesiac Regina may want her, but that’s little comfort– only an illusion to keep her warm for moments before she falls back to cold, hard facts.

 

Field of flowers. Dancing. Grilled cheese and kale salad at Town Hall– No. No. No.

 

Killian loves her. She’s going to do all she can to keep him, regardless of how far it sometimes feels that she’s falling.

 


 

Zelena is…easily amused, a pain in the ass, and somehow still fiercely loyal to their sisterhood in a way that makes all the rest worth it. “I can kill him,” she offers thrice during their lunch. “He’s quite frankly more irritating than even Snow White.”

 

“Mary Margaret,” Regina corrects absently. “But I don’t…I don’t care about who Emma Swan marries. Or about Emma at all.”

 

“At all?” Zelena says, her eyebrows shooting up. “I saw the moony stare outside Granny’s. You two kissed . If that had happened a week ago, you’d be a wreck.”

 

“A week ago, I was a fool,” Regina says dryly. “Somehow, I seem to be seeing much more clearly since I lost my memories. I don’t give a damn about Emma.” Zelena looks dubious. Regina concedes, “Yes, I’m…attracted to her. But that’s as far as it goes. I’m attracted to Ruby Lucas, too, but you don’t see me getting choked up about her. Where is she, anyway?” She glances around, frowning as she realizes that she hasn’t seen her once since she’d been catapulted into the future.

 

Zelena shifts guiltily. “ My point ,” she says quickly, “Is that you do have deeper feelings for Emma. And she’s been…frankly, pathetic…since she started seriously dating that man. I can kill him,” she says again, hopeful.

 

“I don’t care ,” Regina says tiredly, and Zelena reaches under the table to squeeze her hand anyway. If not for the knowing look on her face, Regina might have squeezed back.

 

They split up after lunch, Zelena heading back to the house to pick up her daughter and Regina wandering down Main Street again, shooting daggers at anyone who smiles too broadly at her. She’ll be happy to settle back into a routine again, writing mind-numbing reports and coming home to Henry and not bothering with any of the drama that seems to accompany small-town amnesia. For all her faults, she seems to have built a fairly bearable life for herself in town. Regina had been miserable for years before Henry, as though there’d been a gaping absence in her life. With his discovery of his adoption and then the book, that misery had returned.

 

But this life– Emma Swan aside, this life can be good.

 

She’s smiling to herself, lost in satisfying thoughts, and she doesn’t notice she’s about to bump into someone until Mary Margaret Blanchard staggers into her, balancing a baby and more than a handful of bags. “Oh!” she yelps, and Regina leaps back as though she’s been burned, turning her glare on Mary Margaret. “Take him,” Mary Margaret orders in response.

 

Regina stares at her, scornful and startled. “ Excuse me?”

 

Mary Margaret nearly topples over, shoving the baby in her direction again. He waves chubby arms at her, his face lit up in delight. “Yes, yes, I know, you hate me, memory loss, blah, blah, blah,” she says, wavering in place. “Now take Neal before I drop him and all these bags.”

 

Regina takes the baby, very taken aback, and he gurgles something that might be “Ina!” and throws his arms around her neck. One of them, she notices with some petty satisfaction and a little concern, still has a little pink mark on it. He snuggles against her, and Mary Margaret says dryly, “Yes, your name is the only thing he says. You’ve been insufferable about it.” She steers them down the street back to Granny’s, where she pulls her stroller out from the outdoor seating area and dumps the bags into it. “I told Emma I’d drop some things off at her place, if you want to join me.”

 

It’s so flatly casual, no more big hugs and eager requests to spend time together, that Regina says automatically, “Yes, of course.” She’s just curious enough to see what Emma’s house looks like– or her fiancé, since everyone seems careful to keep details about him from her. Zelena has had plenty to say about him, none of it good, and Regina is just nosy enough to put up with Mary Margaret Blanchard to get her answers.

 

And Neal is absurdly adorable, which is par for the course for Snow White’s children and also endlessly frustrating. Regina sets him down only when Mary Margaret looks at her expectantly, plastering a disdainful look on her face. “I suppose you succeeded in your homewrecking, after all. Poor Kathryn.”

 

This Mary Margaret looks considerably less guilty about it than she had in the past. “Kathryn is happily dating Jim from the school, and I doubt any of us are holding a grudge over what happened back then. You know, you tried framing me for her murder?” She sounds almost nostalgic. “We had a long way to go before we became friends. You hated me so much, and I…well, I never could fully hate you.” She smiles to herself, pushing Neal peacefully along. “But we had a rocky relationship for a long time.”

 

“I can’t imagine what could have changed,” Regina says. She still can’t believe– of all the people in this town, there’s no way she could be friends with Snow White . No matter how pathetic her other self had been, she must have had a line left uncrossed.

 

Mary Margaret shrugs. “Well, it wasn’t like it was with Emma and you, where it was as simple as being joined by Henry…or maybe it was,” she says thoughtfully. “We were separated from them for a while when they had to go to New York.”

 

“What?” Emma had mentioned New York, too, but she hadn’t revealed that Henry had been with her. Regina’s hackles are raised, her nails biting into her palm. “I let Henry go–”

 

“You had no choice,” Mary Margaret says, putting a hand on Regina’s arm. Regina snatches it away. “You were the one who sent them away. It wasn’t safe here for them– for any of us, and you had to stay to…to take care of everyone.” It’s like hearing about another person, as though they’ve been trapped in this case of mistaken identity. Regina would never give up Henry, not for even Storybrooke. It’s absurd. “We were both separated from Emma and Henry,” Mary Margaret goes on, and she doesn’t comment on Regina’s simmering fury and disbelief. “We mourned them together. And it took me a long time to trust you, but you did so much for me– for everyone–” She tosses a sly look at Regina. “–insulting me all the way, of course– and we grew on each other.”

 

She’d been even more of a weak, worthless fool than she’d thought, if she’d been the one to reach out to Mary Margaret. Snow White deserves every last bit of her loathing, deserves to grovel before her and know how much pain she’d inflicted on Regina over the years. She doesn’t deserve Regina mending fences, as easily as though Snow had been an innocent . What the hell had gone on that Regina would have debased herself like this?

 

“You have no idea the misery you’ve caused me,” she bites out, her temper flaring. “I find it impossible to believe that I would have ever forgotten that just for…”

 

“Peace?” Mary Margaret suggests. “A friend?” Her face shadows over for a moment, and she says, the words careful, “I have some idea of…some of why you hate me. I’m not going to pretend that a lot of it isn’t valid.” Regina blinks at her, startled. She can’t possibly know. It makes no sense. Whatever she’d been fed had been a lie. “But this is…part of how we healed, Regina. Both of us. Isn’t this better?”

 

“No,” Regina says immediately, and knows it’s a lie. Because there is something about talking to Mary Margaret that has her at peace, melancholy but breathing easily. It isn’t like the tension that surrounds her conversations with Emma, the almost that has had them gravitating toward each other. It isn’t like getting to know a stranger who is her sister. It’s calmer, more centered. Mary Margaret is calmer, and Regina hates how she can understand why peace and a friend might have been so seductive to her.

 

“We’re here,” Mary Margaret says, and she glances at the house and then Regina with some trepidation. “I’ll let her know that we’re outside.” She types busily on her phone.

 

“Afraid I’ll take off the fiancé’s head?” Regina says, half-joking. “That’s Zelena’s big plan.” She can see figures in the window, one obscured by the drapes and the other– Emma– standing. She’s smiling at the seated man with a vapid sort of smile, the kind that Regina had put on as a young queen determined to fit in and show no sign of her agony, and Regina stares. Emma moves around the room– a kitchen, maybe– pulling something out of the oven and setting it onto the counter. Regina can see her shoulders droop, can see the man shifting as though he’s speaking, and Emma turns back around a moment later with a heartbreakingly desperate sort of smile.

 

Desperate . Desperate for him to…what, approve? Are they fighting? Is Regina reading far too much into this? But beside her, Mary Margaret seizes her hand, suddenly, squeezing it as though seeking comfort. “I want to believe this is the right decision,” she murmurs, and she sounds so lost. Regina doesn’t drop her hand. “David keeps insisting that I give them a chance. I want to believe that she’s happy.”

 

Somehow, despite all Regina’s efforts to the contrary, Mary Margaret had become Emma’s mother regardless. Regina can see it in the furrow of her brow, in the way she looks as though she might cry at the expression on Emma’s face.

 

In the window, the man stands, saying something else that has Emma’s expression drop for a moment, and she looks only…tired, for a moment. Then the smile is back, and she’s reaching for him, her eyes wet with tears. He pulls away– there’s something off about his silhouette, Regina thinks absently, something about his hand that doesn’t look right– and storms out of the room, and Emma darts after him.

 

They’re in the next window a few moments later, and this one’s drapes are down so Regina can only see the silhouette of both of them, Emma solicitous and the man irritated, and then they’re kissing for a long, long time. Mary Margaret is still holding tightly onto Regina’s hand. Regina can only stare, something hot and angry flaring up within her.

 

She turns away, tearing her hand from Mary Margaret’s grasp, and when she looks back, Emma is back in the kitchen. Her fiancé is gone, and she’s staring out the window at them, her phone in her hand. No. She’s staring at Regina, her face colorless, and she looks away when Regina meets her eyes with a defiant glare.

 

Mary Margaret waves, her face bright and without any sign of her prior fears. Regina says, sick and tired of hours spent thinking about Emma Swan, “I’m leaving.”

 

She stalks away as the front door opens and Emma emerges from her house.

 


 

Mary Margaret looks at Emma with a muted sort of compassion, the kind that makes Emma certain that she’d seen the squabble with Killian when she’d been outside. And if she’d seen it, that means that Regina had, too, and Emma really doesn’t want to think about that. Her mom’s compassion is one thing. Regina pitying her is– unacceptable.

 

She keeps the smile on her face until Mary Margaret’s gone, and sits at her kitchen table after, exhausted and fidgeting with the black gemstone she’d found in the vault. She is happy. That’s the ridiculous part of all of this. Yes, things are a bit tense between Killian and her now, but they aren’t any worse than they’ve been in the past. The relationship is easy, even if they’ve had some blips, and Killian can get nasty when he’s under pressure. She’s learned to let it lie, to kiss him and put aside her doubts, and things are usually all right in the morning. Killian has gone upstairs to sulk, and he’ll come down later and they’ll be fine .

 

Why had Regina been there, anyway? Since when had she and Mary Margaret gotten so friendly again? Emma squeezes the stone between her fingers, irritable. Why does Regina seem to be everywhere today? She doesn’t want to think about Regina. Thinking about Regina means craving Regina, means forgetting every promise she’s made to Killian and daydreaming about Regina pressed to her, Regina squirming on her lap and nipping at her neck and holding her close.

 

Regina wrapping her in a hug that had felt like goodbye, trembling against her and burying her face in her neck. Regina had taken as much strength from Emma as Emma had taken from Regina, and they’d both taken care of each other, and…

 

Emma misses her, Regina who is her friend and even Regina who can’t remember it, sharp-tongued and affectionate toward their son and prone to looking at Emma as though she might just be her whole world.

 

She tidies up around the house for the rest of the afternoon and evening, going upstairs briefly to check in on Killian and finding him brooding in silence in their room. Fine . Today had been another failure to do things right. She’s going to keep trying, because what else is there for her if she doesn’t?

 

She brings him dinner upstairs and comes back down to eat her own when there’s a phone call. It’s her picture of Regina on the screen, an eyebrow raised in amusement, and Emma scrambles for the phone and picks it up. “Hi,” she says, and she cringes at the breathless note in her voice.

 

Regina doesn’t respond. Emma can’t hear anything but rustling and a distant voice, and she strains to listen harder. “Regina?” she says, anxiety building, and there’s still nothing. “Regina!”

 

It’s been under a week since she’d found Regina unconscious on the ground with her memories gone, and she can’t–

 

She fiddles with the gemstone and then calls Regina back, her heart pounding. It rings thrice before she hears Regina’s voice on the other line and nearly weeps. “Miss Swan,” Regina says coolly.

 

Emma blinks, taken aback by her tone. “I…did you just call me?”

 

A pause, and then a rueful sigh. “Apparently so,” Regina says finally. “My apologies. I’m still getting used to this…touchscreen?”

 

“Touchscreen,” Emma agrees, and this is the point where they hang up, casual and just friends , if even that, but she lingers instead, searching for the right words to say. “I’m sorry,” are the only ones that come to mind. “I–”

 

Regina scoffs. “I don’t need your apologies, Miss Swan. I don’t need anything from you.” There’s a biting hurt in her voice that makes Emma want to recoil, to reassure, to explain why she had to leave last night and how she’s trying and what she wants is irrelevant, she can’t be selfish–

 

And then Regina surprises her, as she so often does now. Her voice is more guarded when she speaks again, careful with her words in a way that Emma’s never heard from this Regina before. “Are you all right?” she says, and Emma’s heart floods with–

 

No. “I’m…” Emma gulps in a breath and feels suddenly near tears at the simple question. “I–” I miss you , she thinks, and it’s only been a day , it’s ridiculous, she’d seen Regina twice today and she shouldn’t feel this kind of yawning loss when she speaks to her now. This isn’t even her Regina, is it?

 

Is there really all that much of a difference? “I’m fine,” she says, her voice going quiet and hoarse midway through her response. “I’m sorry. I’m fine.” She squeezes her hand around the gemstone and waits, listens to Regina’s quiet breathing on the other end and craves her in proximity, craves touching her and being held by her and…a dozen things she’s trying to be better about wanting.

 

Regina can’t hear what’s in her mind or heart, of course, and Emma is just desperate enough to imagine that she hears her breath hitch before Regina murmurs, “All right. Good night, Emma.” She somehow manages to caress Emma's name with only her tone, sounding it out in a heartstopping whisper that echoes in Emma's mind.

 

Good night, Emma . Emma swallows and sets down the phone, putting aside the conversation and watching mindless TV she barely registers until it’s nearly midnight and she can’t stall anymore. She’ll go upstairs, and she’ll–

 

She swallows back another image, this one impossible, Regina wrapped around her and kissing her ear, Regina with her hands under Emma’s shirt to palm her breasts. Regina spread before her, propped up against her headboard as Emma licks her experimentally. Regina’s face flushed as she comes.

 

Emma grits her teeth and takes a shaky breath, forcing herself to think of Killian instead. And then, as though summoned, he’s behind her. “You’re thinking about her again, aren’t you,” he says, and it isn’t a question.

 

Good night, Emma . She still reels at the gentleness of it, and it takes all she has to focus on Killian instead. “I don’t want to fight anymore,” she says blankly. “I know…I know this is always easier when we’ve got a crisis threatening the town, or when we aren’t spending every waking moment together–”

 

Killian smiles without any humor. “Ah, is this how you’re going to convince me that practically moving in with Regina is good for our relationship?” He sits down on the couch beside her, his lip curling. “Investigating Regina. Living with Regina. Protecting Regina from the truth. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that she’d orchestrating this whole thing, because it’s exactly what she’d wanted.”

 

“What she’d wanted?” Emma echoes.

 

Killian sneers. “We both know what she’d wanted. And now she has it. You, at her beck and call.”

 

“I’m being a good friend,” Emma says, and if not for the damning knowledge of what had happened the night before, she would have been outraged. If not for the way Regina can still make her lose her breath, she’d have fought back against Killian’s implications. No . She’s trying to fix this, to do the right thing, to appease him. “She’s done much more for me. She went to hell for me. She gave me a lifetime of good memories. She gave me Henry . She’s done nothing but fight for me for years. Of course I’m…of course I’m going to fight for her.”

 

Killian is shaking his head, patronizing as he reaches for her hand. She drops the gemstone on the sofa between them, unwilling to explain what it is. Not that she really knows. “She had ulterior motives,” he says, holding her hand in his. “She’s always had ulterior motives. She’s the Evil Queen , love. And if nothing else, this spate of memory loss has made it clear that it’s who she’ll always be. She isn’t worth saving.” He sits back, smug.

 

Emma yanks her hand back, horrified. “ What ?” she demands, and she’s too angry to remember to modulate her voice, to remember to be conciliatory. “Is that what you think of her? You were just as much a villain, remember?”

 

“I changed!” Killian retorts. “You’ve been telling me that for years, remember? I became a better man. For you . Because of you. I’m not…trying to split myself in half or contracting convenient amnesia so I can go back to my evil ways.”

 

Emma stares at him, wordless in her rising fury. This, she can’t contain, and she says tightly, “I don’t think we should talk about this. I don’t think you should go around claiming that you’re better than Regina.”

 

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Killian demands, his eyes flashing dangerously, and Emma looks at him and sees the Dark One again, sees how easily he’d turned against her. Sees how quickly he’d been ready to leave her behind when she’d come to hell to save him, when someone else had told him that he’d deserved better than her. Emma sees enough that she’s afraid of what might happen if she thinks about it too much, of what she might lose if she infuriates him enough, of what–

 

“Nothing,” she says, forcing her voice to sound soothing. It’s near tears instead, wet and shaky, and Killian turns away from her in disgust. Dancing together. Flowers in a– flowers in– “I’m sorry. Let’s just…go to bed.”

 

“Fine,” he grinds out, and how does he make her feel as though she’s been the one to say the outlandish, unacceptable things in their relationship? How does he–

 

His eyes light up for a moment and Emma thinks that maybe it’s going to be okay, maybe he’ll apologize and they’ll be able to move on with their lives without a bump here, but he’s staring instead at the couch. “There it is!” he says, snatching up the black stone. “I’ve been looking for this for days.”

 

Emma stares at him, her lips parting in disbelief. “The stone to my ring,” Killian says, pulling one of his rings from his pocket. “It must have been unseated. I didn’t know where.”

 

“The vault,” Emma says, and she hears her own voice as though from a distance. “It was in the vault.”

 

“What?” Killian looks confused, and Emma sees something furtive beneath it, something like guilt.

 

“I found it today in Regina’s vault,” Emma says blankly. “When I was looking for evidence for what happened to her. It’s been sealed since her accident. Why were you in Regina’s vault before then?” She stands. “What did you do to her?”

 

Killian stares at her as he begins to comprehend, shaking his head violently. “No,” he says swiftly. “No, it’s not what you think. I didn’t hurt her. I went there to talk to her.”

 

Talk to her. She doesn’t believe it, doesn’t know if this is another secret he’s been keeping from her that she’s meant to accept. There have been so many lies and secrets that it’s hard to trust even her lie detector anymore. She can’t– “Talk to her. Talk to her about what?”

 

“You, of course.” Killian’s hand squeezes around the gemstone, and the righteous-anger scowl is back. “What was I supposed to do, just let… that continue?” He waves vaguely at Emma with his hook. “I reminded her that you’re mine , and that all she’s been doing by hovering around you with those doe eyes is hurting you and the relationship you chose . I told her to stay away from you. I didn’t wipe her memory. Of course, she managed to make this all about herself anyway,” he mutters.

 

“You…you…” There are a dozen thoughts coalescing in her mind, each one more frazzled than the last. “You told my best friend to stay away from me?” She can’t imagine what Regina’s reaction to that would have been, if she’d…set Killian on fire or just give up. She doesn’t want to imagine how Regina had felt in that moment.

 

“I did what any man would do,” Killian says darkly. “This… thing between you two? It had to end. For the sake of our marriage. There was nothing healthy about your obsessions with each other.”

 

“You told my best friend to stay away from me,” Emma repeats slowly, and damn it , no matter what had happened last night, it hadn’t justified this with a Regina who would never have… “Because she cared too much about me? Would you…would you take away everyone who loves me if you thought they distracted me too much?”

 

“Yes!” Killian says furiously. “Yes, I would. I’m supposed to come first! And you spend all your time running around worrying about Regina and Snow and…and–”

 

“Don’t you dare say Henry,” Emma says in a low voice. “Don’t you dare tell me that I can’t have my…my parents and my son and my best friend in our lives if it means they sometimes come first. After all I’ve been through in my life without them, don’t you dare tell me I can’t have them.”

 

Killian must see the danger in her eyes, because he veers back to Regina. “Best friend,” he scoffs. “We both know that it’s more than that, love. And I think it’s my right as your fiancé to demand that you both put a stop to this–”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says dully, her heart cracking somewhere in the middle and leaving her empty and dark. “Yeah, I think we do need to put a stop to this.”

 

Killian exhales, and she reaches for his hand, clasping it in her own. When she pulls away, her engagement ring is in his palm. “No,” he says.

 

She doesn’t cry. It’s beginning to feel as though she’s out of tears for him. Maybe tomorrow, but not now. “What choice do I have?” she says instead.

 

He shakes his head. “You love me,” he says. “After all we’ve been through– you can’t possibly be this selfish. You can’t tell me that you would give up on us now . Over Regina .”

 

“Not over Regina,” Emma says, and she takes a step backward, then another and another, until her hand is on the door and it feels finally steady. “None of this is about Regina. But you’ve been too busy zeroing in on her to notice, haven’t you?”

 

“Swan,” Killian says warningly, and it’s the dark voice that reminds her of– pretty blonde distraction. You’ll always be an orphan– the voice that normally has her placating, terrified of how he’ll hurt her if she doesn’t calm him down.

 

Today, she turns the doorknob and stumbles from the house, vanishing in a cloud of grief-stricken magic before she makes it off the porch.

 


 

There’s someone moving around downstairs, and Regina sits bolt upright in her bed as she weighs her options. Whoever had given her the concussion that had taken her memory could be down there. Or it could be Henry, sneaking a nighttime snack. Whoever it is, they’re moving up the stairs unsteadily, and it doesn’t sound like Henry.

 

She casts around her room in search for a weapon to use, and seizes her phone instead, dialing 911 and waiting to hit the call button. Her door creaks open–

 

Emma is standing in front of her, still in that terrible dress and her feet bare. “How did you get in?” Regina asks, baffled, and only then does she see that Emma’s face is pale and wan, her eyes stricken. “Come here,” she says, her voice taking on an unexpected gentleness that she’d saved for Henry’s sick days, and Emma stumbles across the room to her bed.

 

“I broke it off with Killian,” she says, and she bursts into tears.

 

Regina is reaching for her before she can think about it, tugging her down into her bed. Emma curls nearly into a ball, her head resting on Regina’s lap, and she’s shaking with the effort of holding back more tears. “Stay with me,” Regina whispers, and her hands move without conscious thought, fingers brushing Emma’s hair from her face and lingering. What had been difficult to deny all day is nigh impossible now, and it all comes down to Emma curled up on her lap, clinging desperately to her.

 

Three weeks ago, in Regina’s memory, they’d been punching each other in the face outside her vault. Tonight, she murmurs soothing words to Emma as she quakes. “I’m sorry,” Emma gasps out, another apology unsolicited. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t…I’m sorry I ran off last night. I tried to…I tried to be what he wanted me to be, but I can’t .”    

 

Regina remembers, suddenly, the time her mother had come to her and insisted she’d find her her soulmate. He’d made several comments about how she could be weak and he’d be strong for them both, and she’d left him hanging in hellfire in her magic mirror. “The only Killian I’ve ever known was a self-absorbed, one-dimensional fool who didn’t have the brains to realize that he wasn’t half the man he thought he was,” she offers, and Emma gives her a watery laugh.

 

“That sounds about right,” she says, and the shaking is less violent now. “Sometimes I…I used to wonder if it was worth it, the lies and the secrets and the way he’d get so cruel when he was angry–” She sucks in a ragged breath. “But he loved me. God, Regina, I just wanted to be loved.”

 

She snuggles in closer to Regina and Regina thinks of the lies and secrets surrounding them, of the unbroken curse and the three years she can’t remember. “I just wanted to be loved,” Emma whispers again, and Regina puts it aside, puts aside her pride and her vengeance and every time she’d thought of her future self as a fool for caring so deeply, and she strokes Emma’s hair tenderly in non-response.

 

Emma drifts off quickly, thoroughly exhausted by the emotional upheaval of the night, and Regina remains awake. She leans back against her headboard, her hand still caressing Emma’s hair and cheek absently, and she watches her, something stuck in her throat. Emma looks so young like this, in the midst of heartbreak and despair, and so very vulnerable.


There had been a time, not long ago, when Regina would have revelled in it. Tonight, she can only watch her in silence until long after dawn breaks, her thumb brushing away Emma’s tears as they cool in the night air.

Chapter Text

Regina senses the presence in her bed before she opens her eyes. When Henry had been young, he’d climb into her bed in the morning and curl up beside her, all restless energy and whispers about whatever he’d deemed most important that morning– I made eight things out of Lego this morning! Should I use green crayon for my rainbow or turquoise? Did you know that there are eight clocks in my room? Before that, she’d, on rare occasion, awakened beside a bedmate, but never had it been intimate , just a holdover from a night before where she’d had no energy to be alone.

 

This morning, though, there’s a hand running along her bare arm, drawing out goosebumps and so soft she can barely feel it. When she opens her eyes, Emma is watching them, her gaze so gentle that Regina can’t breathe at it. Emma’s still wearing her clothes from the day before, her hair a tangled mess against the pillow, and her eyes are red and puffy but still glow at Regina. “Hi,” she murmurs, retracting her hand. “I’m sorry about last night.” She looks down. “I know you’re not my…my best friend, but I didn’t know where else to go. I wasn’t ready for Mary Margaret,” she says wryly.

 

“She might surprise you,” Regina says absently, and Emma looks at her, raising her eyebrows in amusement. “What?” Regina says, defensive. “I can have a polite conversation with Mary Margaret without telling her how much I hate her.”

 

“No, you can’t,” Emma says, grinning.

 

“No, I can’t,” Regina concedes. “But I do know she…she cares about your happiness more than anything. Except herself,” she has to add, because like hell she’s going to sing Snow White ’s praises.

 

It’s the wrong thing to say, somehow. Emma’s face drops again. “Killian was supposed to be my…my happiness. I’ve put everyone through so much for him. To tell them now that I broke off the engagement…” She rolls onto her back, staring up at the ceiling. “I’m so selfish . And it’s not like he wasn’t right about me and you. Everything he said was justified, and I– I just–”

 

“Miss Swan!” Regina barks out, and Emma stops mid-panic, turning back to face her with wide eyes. Regina clears her throat. “Do you want to go back to him?”

 

“I should,” Emma says dully. “I should– apologize and–”

 

“Do you want to?” Regina repeats, and Emma shakes her head miserably. “Then don’t. You don’t get married to someone because you should.” She’d been nineteen when she’d been sold to a king by her mother, and Emma is over a decade older but still trembles at that revelation as though she’d needed it. “That way lies resentment and misery and possibly murder,” she mumbles, and Emma leans back against her pillow, her eyes a little lighter than before, and says, “You really are one of my favorite people, you know that?”

 

“Glad to oblige.” She certainly does not flush. Maybe there’s just a tinge of color on her face.

 

Emma opens her mouth again to speak, but they’re cut off by a rapping on the door. “Is everyone dressed in there?” Henry asks from the hall, sounding slightly ill at his own question.

 

Regina clears her throat, straightening out her nightgown. “Yes, Henry,” she says, struggling to sound indignant.

 

He enters the room, balancing a breakfast tray that she hasn’t seen him use since Mother’s Day when he was eight. “Just checking,” he says, glancing between them. “I didn’t know what I was seeing when I walked past your door this morning and saw Mom in here with you.” He proffers the tray, coffee sloshing at the edges of its mugs. “But then Gr– David called and told me about the breakup and I figured you could use some breakfast in bed.” He clambers in between them, passing the tray to Regina, and he wraps his arms around Emma in a bear hug. She hugs him back just as tightly, her eyes squeezing shut, and Regina watches them with a sensation she can’t name rising in her chest.

 

“Killian told David?” Emma says finally, pulling away from Henry and gratefully taking coffee from Regina. “Is he– how is he taking it?”

 

Henry shrugs. “He’s being dumb,” he says. “He thinks you’ll both be fine again in a few days and this is just a fight. So does Killian. Mary Margaret told him not to play peacemaker, though, don’t worry.”

 

“And what do you think?” Regina asks, studiously buttering a piece of toast for Henry and then Emma before she does her own. It’s frighteningly domestic, all of it, and yet it comes naturally in a way that it wouldn’t if she hadn’t have done this before.

 

Henry shrugs again. “I want you to be happy, Mom. Moms,” he amends, and he smiles up at Regina so easily that it still steals her breath away.

 

“You like Killian,” Emma pushes. Henry glances away from her to Regina and wrinkles his nose in silent response. Regina watches, quietly delighted.

 

“I like you ,” Henry says simply. “I like what you like. Granny thinks you could do better,” he adds cheerily. “But Mr. Clark thought you made a cute couple. Leroy called him an idiot.”

 

“Why do you know–” Emma stares at him in consternation. “Are they talking about this on the Storybrooke Whatsapp ?” She makes a mad grab for Henry’s phone.

 

Henry keeps it out of reach. “You were the one who made the group,” he reminds her.

 

“I thought it was more efficient than Leroy running through town, shouting about the newest threat!” Emma stares at his phone screen in horror. “I didn’t mean for it to become a gossip chat!”

 

“Mostly it’s emoji and bad FAIL blog videos,” Henry informs Regina. “You left it an hour after it was created. Now you’re just on the family one because Mary Margaret keeps adding you back. But I think you have it muted.”

 

Regina blinks at both of them. “What’s a Whatsapp?” she asks finally.

 

“Since when did Moe French become the authority on my relationship failures?” Emma demands, typing furiously. “And why is Aurora validating this? They know I’m in this group!” Henry pats her shoulder comfortingly. Emma slumps back against the bed. “I haven’t had this public a breakup since that time I had to testify on trial after your dad left me,” she says glumly. Regina raises an eyebrow, a few little details about Emma Swan coming together in her mind. Henry seems unsurprised.

 

“This is a bad time to tell you that Mary Margaret and David are downstairs, isn’t it?” he says, and Emma jerks up, nearly splashing coffee all over Regina’s sheets. “They’re just waiting to see you! They think you were in the guest room all night,” he says hastily, and gives them both a sidelong glance. “Why…weren’t you in the guest room, by the way?”

 

Emma slides out of bed, not answering the questioning and leaving Regina to it as she dashes into the shower. Regina holds up a hand, defensive. “I don’t know. I hate her, remember? Maybe there was some amnesia brain damage, after all.”

 

Henry gives her a sidelong glance. “You guys are weird,” he decides, and he kisses her on the cheek and then heads downstairs, chattering happily with their visitors as he does.

 

Emma is out of the shower in record time, and she emerges wrapped in Regina’s towel and shaking. Her eyes are puffy again, and Regina notices that a single instant before her brain short-circuits at Emma in front of her, droplets of water sliding down into her very visible cleavage, her long legs wet and smooth and her hair settling in wavy curls around her shoulders as though she’s some sort of vision. Regina really, really needs to fuck these soft and fuzzy feelings for Emma Swan away, and she needs to do it fast , because she’s fairly certain that this image is seared into her mind now.

 

It’d be so easy right now, when Emma is vulnerable and lonely and still sees her as her truest friend. All she’d need to do is take a few steps forward, back Emma against the wall and reach under the towel, a hand cupping Emma between her legs and her tongue catching the droplets of water from between Emma’s breasts. Emma would be defenseless, would writhe against her in ecstasy and wouldn’t push her away, and Regina could finally get her out of her system.

 

“Stop that,” Emma says, squirming, and it’s so easy, it’s so simple. Emma doesn’t sound certain at all.

 

“Stop what?” Regina says innocently, moving forward two careful steps.

 

Emma sighs, an exhale that is too ragged to be unaffected. “Looking at me like I’m…edible,” she says finally, the flush high on her cheekbones. “I can’t…” Regina is close enough that her hand can brush against Emma’s shoulder for a moment, eliciting a strangled gasp before she moves up to touch her cheek in a far more platonic move. Emma leans into it, her eyes drifting shut, and she exhales this time more evenly, the sexual tension fading in favor of simple comfort.

 

And that’s too far for Regina, who stumbles back instead and clears her throat. “I’m getting dressed,” she says, and she seizes the closest item in her closet and ducks into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

 


 

David had taken one look at Emma before he’d wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly and leaving behind whatever assumptions he’d had about her and Killian. Mary Margaret had joined the hug, burying her face in Emma’s neck and kissing her cheek again and again, and Emma had never regretted more that Regina had lost her memories than she had not being able to call them Mom and Dad in that moment.

 

Not that Regina hasn’t been…really, really good to her regardless. Okay, yes, there had been that misstep after her shower, but she doesn’t think she’d have been able to control herself, either, had Regina stepped out of the shower in a towel in front of her. She hadn’t known what she’d expected when she’d come here last night. She hadn’t been thinking past how much she’d needed Regina to even comprehend that this Regina might have sent her away.

 

But she hadn’t, and maybe they’d all underestimated how much of the Regina who’s theirs is contained within the aloof Mayor Mills. Even now, she stands at the corner of the room, leaning against the doorway and watching the tearful hugs in silence. Henry is drifting between them, leaning against Emma for a moment and then shifting back to stand with his hand in his other mother’s.

 

“Oh, Emma,” Mary Margaret murmurs, pressing her lips to Emma’s forehead. “What…what made you decide to–?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says, biting her lip. No one needs to know about Killian threatening Regina and the realizations that had followed. No one needs to put those pieces together just yet. She musters up a wan smile instead. “Another failed engagement under my belt, huh?”

 

“Hopefully this one turns out better than the last,” Henry offers, tucking himself under Emma’s arm, and Emma holds him close, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead to his temple like Regina does when she’s emotional. It’s exactly as comforting as she’d always imagined it to be.

 

“Thanks, kid,” she says dryly. “I think I’ll be fine as long as Killian doesn’t start…” Her eyes flicker to Regina and she swallows sprouting wings and considering bananas their own food group . “I think I’ll be fine,” she repeats instead, and she must not sound very convincing because Mary Margaret is hugging her again a moment later.

 


 

But she is. Fine, that is. Well, it’s been two days and she hasn’t fallen apart, and she counts that as a victory. It’s odd, after spending so long certain that she’d be nothing at all without Killian– after violating his wishes twice, so desperate to keep him alive , because all her ideas about happy endings had been tied up in him– it’s odd to realize that life is going on.

 

And it’s easier . It’s spending time with her family like she hasn’t in so long without him, sandwiched between her dad and her son while they all play video games and eat on the couch, Neal kicking happily on the floor while he watches the screen. It’s scheduling her days without having to include someone who doesn’t quite fit, and it’s walking through town without feeling as though she has something to prove. Without having to be in love , glowing with it in every move she makes.

 

It’s popping in on Town Hall at lunchtime with a salad for Regina and a side order of fries that Regina turns her nose up at before she munches them methodically. “Terrible,” she pronounces.

 

“You know I’ve known your secret love for everything fried and fatty for three years now,” Emma points out, and then reconsiders. “ ‘Secret .’ I once calculated the calorie content of your lasagna and I don’t know how you’re not dead by now.”

 

Regina eats another fry, dipping it into ketchup. “I don’t even know why you’re here,” she sniffs, fixing Emma with a glare. It’s somewhat mitigated by the chewing. “Don’t you have a fiancé to be glued to– oh, that’s right,” she says, her face splitting into a gleeful smile. It’d be obnoxious if it weren’t so damned cute. “You tossed him out like last week’s garbage.”

 

“For someone you don’t even remember, you’re really getting a kick out of this,” Emma grumbles, snatching a fry for herself. Her Regina would be…privately smug, probably, and full of righteous anger. But she’d also hover and demand that Emma talk about it, or at least drink away her feelings with her. This is…refreshing. Ridiculous, but refreshing, not to have to find the part of her that’s heartbroken to play another role.

 

Regina shrugs, leaning forward on one folded hand, and says, “Maybe I just want you all to myself.” It’s followed by a dangerous smile that has Emma choking on her fry, her eyes widening to comical proportions. Regina’s casual flirtations are far from subtle, but they still manage to confound Emma every time.

 

“Stop that,” she says weakly, because she can’t . She can’t because this isn’t even Regina and there must be something about…weird consent where the version of Regina with memories wouldn’t be doing this at all. The version of Regina with memories would be on her best behavior right now, avoiding any touching and certainly not making insinuations across the mayoral desk that have Emma suddenly imagining laying Regina out onto it and–

 

Regina just smiles, ambiguous, and returns to her salad. Ambiguous. That’s the word of the day when it comes to Regina, since the night she’d spent in her bed. Emma is suddenly free to spend every moment she wants with her, and Regina is…reminding her just how frustratingly cryptic she’d been during the original curse.

 

There are still the ridiculous, dorky jokes with herself that Emma has to pretend not to get– “What?” Regina says when she manages to make it thirty seconds with Mary Margaret without tearing her to shreds and Mary Margaret stares at her in surprise. “I didn’t cast a spell on her.” She smirks and Mary Margaret and Emma exchange a look. What a nerd .

 

There’s her absolutely unapologetic hatred of Killian when she doesn’t even know him, and the sly comments that follow. “Is there a proper mourning period after you kick your fiancé to the curb?” Regina muses when they’re at the station one afternoon, officially having a meeting about an incomplete police report. It had been incomplete because there had been a dragon , but Emma isn’t telling her that. “I seem to have lost all my Decent Person training with the amnesia.” Her eyes glint wickedly, and she might be mocking or she might be toning it down, Emma can’t tell .

 

Emma struggles to remember how she’d handled Regina back when Regina had been Mayor Mills to Emma’s hapless Sheriff Swan. There had been a lot of eye rolling. Emma had been a lot better at shrugging off Regina’s comments when they had been under the guise of seething hatred. “Mourning period for what?” she says finally, feeling as though she’d stepped from solid ground into the spider’s web.

 

But she isn’t snared– or maybe she is, because Regina’s smile is so rich with unspoken promise that Emma can’t tear her eyes away. “Having fun again,” she says. “Ending this…fallacy that claims that you have to care when someone terribly unsuited is pushed from your life.”

 

There’s something reassuring about Regina’s voice in this, something that cuts through a muddle of guilt and uncertainty with a knife of steel and reminds her that, perhaps, there’s another way to view all of this. Regina makes it so simple to shrug off a relationship that had lasted months, that had been building for over a year. She’d been just as good at it before she’d lost her memories, too, though she’d never wielded that knife quite as ably when she’d been more in tune with Emma’s hurt. “I don’t know,” Emma says, staring at the incident report. “Maybe you’re right.”

 

“Of course I am,” Regina says, and it’s a voice, smug and confident, that is exquisitely hers. She reaches out with one hand, over the desk, to cup Emma’s cheek. She knows, somehow, what it does to Emma, how every touch is like water falling on a parched tongue, and Emma closes her eyes and can’t pull away.

 

It’s Regina who moves away, satisfied at having gained the upper hand, and she pulls her hand from Emma’s skin and smirks back at her, smug. Emma wants to close her eyes again, but she waits, breathless, despite her better judgment and a dozen reasons why it’d be best to flee now.

 

And as always, Regina examines her face for a long moment until her eyes are soft and Emma can see something more in them; and as always, that’s enough for Regina to spin away from her, her back ramrod-straight and her eyes dark and stormy as she says, “We’ll discuss your sloppy reports later. I have a meeting.”

 

And she’s gone.

 


 

Emma spends so much time berating herself for…for not being what some mediocre man who’d probably put Regina’s useless pirate Killian to shame. It’s tiresome and oddly sympathetic at once, and Regina is too regrettably fond to have tired of Emma instead. It’s also a continued source of frustration, because she can’t do this…faux friendship. Regina seethes over it and then is unexpectedly morose, staring out the window at her apple tree and– missing. Missing Emma Swan.

 

And there’s the crux why she has to make this happen, even if Emma isn’t cooperating right now. Every moment between them shifts into something tender, even when Emma isn’t there to shift it. Regina’s future self had been absolutely overcome with adoration for Emma, despite knowing that the curse would, in time, turn all her relationships into dust. Regina will not go down that path. This is…attraction, no more or less than that. Attraction is all this can be, and it has to be fed so Regina can push it aside for good.

 

At least the fiancé is out of the picture, even if Emma sometimes seems lost at the idea of that. “He’s been a constant in my life for years,” she admits one night, sipping Regina’s cider with her eyes drifting shut. “He…he pursued me, and then we dated, and it wasn’t all bad at first, you know? It wasn’t even all bad at the end, when I did it right.”

 

“And what did he do?” Regina presses, an eyebrow raised. Emma’s all too quick to talk about all the ways she hadn’t been enough for him, even after the clarity that must have preempted leaving him.

 

Emma wraps her fingers around her class morosely. “He became a better person for me. That’s…he sacrificed so much for me.”

 

“Being a better person just means that sometimes he eschewed the torture,” Regina says dryly, remembering Archie’s comment. “It doesn’t make him any less of an asshole.” She winks at Emma, and is horrified to realize that it’s more playful than flirtatious. “I’m beginning to get the impression that I fell into that category with my memories, too.”

 

Emma laughs, reaching out easily to squeeze her knee. It tingles with the contact, and Regina swallows and inhales slowly. “I’m not going to agree with that,” Emma says. “It was always much more endearing with you.” She has an impish grin on her face, so rare between all the heartwarming smiles. “You weren’t perfect . But you…” Her hand is squeezing Regina’s knee again, and Regina holds her breath. “You were still pretty amazing. You’ve always been…the kind of woman who doesn’t let what others think of you hold you back.” Now the smile is soft, and every instinct tells Regina to flee.

 

She ignores them all and says, “We seem to have that in common.”

 

“We did,” Emma says, and a shadow crosses her face, her fingers fiddling with a nonexistent ring. “I’m trying to get back there again.” She finishes her cider, setting it down on its coaster on the coffee table, and Regina remains wisely silent.

 

Emma’s still staying at her house, though she’s moved to the guest room now. She hasn’t shown any sign of being ready to go back to her house and retrieve her clothes, and she’s been combing through Regina’s closet instead each morning. Regina had gone out and purchased several pairs of skinny jeans to hide in the back of her closet. Which is a public service, really. Emma pokes her head out of the closet the next morning, looking dumbfounded, and holds up a pair with a hushed, “Why don’t you wear these?” then spends half of breakfast staring at Regina’s ass. All in all, Regina is confident that she’d made the right decision there.

 

The attempted seduction hasn’t been going nearly as well as everything else. Emma is cagey at best, fearful at worst when Regina comes too close to her. She nearly jumps out of her own skin one night when Regina knocks on her door with a negligee and a feeble excuse about why she’d come. “I…” she stammers, her eyes fixed on Regina’s face and only her face. “I don’t need any extra pillows, thanks.”

 

Regina settles down on the chair in the corner, legs crossed and arms resting near her stomach. Emma’s eyes drift down for a moment, her face pale, and she gulps audibly. “I’m going to head to sleep now, actually,” she says, a little too loudly.

 

“Of course,” Regina says patiently, and she moves forward in a prowl instead, stalking across the room to Emma to give her a tight hug. Emma is in a t-shirt and panties and nothing else, which brings back some fond memories and makes for a memorable hug as well, and her hands are shaking when she puts them on Regina’s bare arms. “Good night,” Regina whispers, and Emma looks at her, her face raw and unconcealed and her eyes wild, as though she wants nothing more than to throw her onto the bed and have her way with her.

 

Emma strokes a finger along Regina’s bare shoulder, over the strap of the negligee, up the base of her neck to her jawline. Regina stands, shivering in the cool air of the room, shivering against Emma’s gentle touch, and it’s a moment where Emma has shifted the mood from seductive to tender and Regina should leave but can’t . “Good night,” Emma breathes finally, their lips close enough that they brush with that movement, and she stumbles back from Regina with her eyes still hungry.

 

Regina sighs, long and exasperated, and whirls away toward her room. She’s never needed to get someone out of her system this badly before– has never had all these creeping soft and fuzzy feelings, where she dreams of them slicked in sweat but wrapped in each other’s embrace, where they curl together and kiss languidly and it’s less about the kiss than it is Emma .

 

She should never have invited Emma into her bed that night after she’d broken up with the fiancé. Not platonically . She should have taken advantage of her that night, seduced her and destroyed this burgeoning abomination of feeling between them. She’s made mistakes since she’d lost her memories, mistakes as acute as the ones she can’t remember, and Emma is the greatest of them.

 

They’re walking down Main Street several days after the last botched attempt to push this over a line, their hands bumping and tingling where they touch, and Emma is talking about Henry’s last birthday party. “Thirteen,” she says, shaking her head. “God, he’s really going to become an adult if we don’t put a stop to it.”

 

“Unacceptable,” Regina agrees, and Emma looks at her with warm eyes that leave her heart fluttering. “I’ve had to swap to four-inch heels just to match his height. In the house , Emma. What kind of gargantuan demon fathered that child?”

 

Emma laughs, tangling their hands together for a moment. “He was in town a while back,” she says, a shadow crossing her face. “Perfectly average, I promise.”

 

“Henry’s birth father was in town?” Regina demands, alarmed.

 

Emma shakes her head. “Relax,” she says, and she still looks perturbed. “He’s dead now, okay? Stop smiling .” She slaps Regina lightly on the arm. “He was a good guy at the end. You tolerated him, even. He was very good at wandering off to the side when you and I had to make parental decisions.” She winces. “Though I don’t think you actually directly addressed him even once while he was here. You once called him a person . That was about as far as it went.”

 

“Sounds about right,” Regina says gamely, lifting her chin. She can be gracious if he’s dead, at least.

 

Emma looks at her knowingly. “You’re ridiculous,” she says fondly. “Though I’ve really been enjoying those heels.” Her eyes take on a faraway cast. “Especially when you’re cooking. Or laundry, god.”

 

Regina says, “Miss Swan, are you objectifying me?” and Emma’s eyes widen, both of them on the verge of a revelation of some sort, and then she’s suddenly grabbing Regina. “Miss Swan–

 

“Shh,” Emma says, yanking Regina with her into an alley and backing her against the side of Any Given Sundae. Regina struggles, outraged, and Emma presses her hands to Regina’s, holding them against the wall as they’re obscured from the street by some shrubbery. “It’s him ,” Emma breathes, close enough that Regina can feel her chest moving rapidly against Regina’s. “Killian. I can’t–”

 

“Let me,” Regina says, relaxing in Emma’s grip. Her breath is warm on Regina’s cheek, and Regina strains to see past the leafy bushes that conceal them to spot the famed fiancé. “I’d like to have a conversation with him.”

 

“He’d like to have one with you, I’m sure,” Emma says grimly. “Trigger you into a coma again. Not happening.”

 

Regina scowls at her. “Oh, so there is someone who’ll tell me everything you’re concealing? Maybe I should–” She pulls away from Emma, making for the street, and Emma tugs her back.

 

“No,” she whispers fiercely. “He won’t give you the truth, anyway. And I spoke to Whale about what happened to you at Zelena’s and he’s been worried. He wanted to bring you in for an MRI. Didn’t you talk to him?”

 

“I have far too much on my plate to worry about Whale,” Regina says indignantly, remembering several ignored calls from the hospital with a vague sort of almost-regret. “And I’m not giving you more justification to keep things from me.” She grits her teeth, suddenly frustrated. “I’d rather be in a coma, knowing the truth, than wandering through my life blindfolded.”

 

Emma leans against her shoulder, forehead pressed to Regina’s neck, and Regina squeezes her hands and has to struggle to want to leave this embrace. “I know,” she says finally. “I know you do. And…soon, okay? It’s not that…there’s so much we’ve been through that I want you to know about. There’s so much for us to–” She takes a deep breath, her fingers moving along Regina’s palms until Regina turns them, her heart stopping in this embrace. “There’s so much,” Emma murmurs, the tips of her fingers on Regina’s. “And if I weren’t so afraid, then maybe–”

 

“Afraid of me falling into a coma?”

 

Emma laughs a short, uncertain laugh. “That, too,” she murmurs, and she presses her lips to Regina’s neck for a moment, almost automatic and nearly unconscious, and she doesn’t seem to have noticed what she’d done when she leans back against Regina’s shoulder. Regina’s skin burns and burns and she stares down at Emma, her eyes lidded over and Emma’s closed, and they’re far too close for Regina to think of anything but kissing her.

 

She doesn’t. Not yet.

 

But soon, she determines grimly. Soon, this has to come to a head. The sooner she stops losing her breath when she’s in Emma Swan’s arms, the better.

 


 

It does come to a head, somehow, just the next night. Regina is pacing the foyer, fists clenching and unclenching as Emma makes a second go at dinner and rolls her eyes at her. “It’s fine ,” Emma says, licking her soup spoon and then wincing at the spiciness, breathing hard and diving for her water. It’d be laughable if Regina weren’t so furious and panicked and…

 

Furious . It’s 9:09 and she’s walking in circles now, her fingernails digging into her palms. “It’s 9:09,” Emma says patiently. “He’ll be–”

 

The front door opens and Henry dashes in, face flushed and eyes bright as he looks at them. “Moms!” he says, grinning, and his smile falters when it falls on Regina’s glower. “Mom?” he says uncertainly.

 

“Good date?” Emma says from the dining room, and Henry’s face lights up again.

 

Regina finds her voice. “You’re grounded,” she says tightly.

 

What ?” Henry blinks at her, and then the clock. “I’m grounded ? It’s 9:10!”

 

“Your curfew is at nine o’clock sharp on a school night,” Regina grinds out. “I don’t know– I don’t know how you do things at Emma’s house , but here you will keep to curfew or suffer the consequences.” She can’t see much beyond red-hot fury at Henry staring at her in outrage, unapologetic and disbelieving. “A week’s grounding is the least I should do.”

 

A sullen look settles on Henry’s face, and it’s so familiar that she might cry. Instead, she forces her face into something harder, drawing on her prior panic for strength. “You’re being unreasonable,” he says, scowling at her. “You’d have never done this before–”

 

Henry ,” Emma says sharply. Henry turns to her, stung.

 

“Two weeks,” Regina bites out. Emma clears her throat, looking torn and uncomfortable. Quite frankly, Regina doesn’t give a damn. “I am always going to put your safety above coddling you,” she says fiercely. “And if that’s going to make you hate me, so be it.”

 

“It was ten freaking minutes!” Henry retorts, his chin trembling. “You never cared before about a few extra minutes! You let me– you didn’t–” He spins away from her, barging to the stairs and pounding against them as he heads to his room. Regina watches him, stubborn in her determination to enforce this.

 

Emma says in a low, even voice, “Regina. Is this really necessary?”

 

“Don’t you dare tell me it isn’t,” Regina snaps.

 

“He’s independent,” Emma says. “We’re proud of him for it. And it really was just ten minutes–”

 

“It was a full day in Boston!” Regina snarls, the rage all she can see or think of. “It was every day when he pretended to go on the bus and ran off– when he was cutting school and wandering through the forest – when he–” Emma stares at her, comprehension beginning to settle in, and Regina loathes her in that moment for the compassion in her eyes. “But you don’t give a damn, of course, because it was with you !”

 

It’s always been Emma that Henry has run to, that’s haunted Regina for months before she’d been abruptly thrust into the future. And ten minutes pacing the foyer as she’d done when Henry had vanished , when he’d been gone and she’d sobbed in her study until he’d come back with hard eyes and I found my real mom! – two weeks being grounded is far less than he deserves.

 

Emma stares at her, oddly subdued by the accusation, and Regina is angrier still at her silence. “I know who I am,” Regina snarls. “I know that I’d– that I’d have done anything to keep Henry with me, even if it meant–”

 

“Giving him a lot more leeway than you wanted to,” Emma murmurs. “I know. I know.”

 

“You don’t know a thing,” Regina says, furious again at Emma, who insists that she knows it all when she doesn’t . “You don’t know what it was like, losing him the way I did. Thinking he was gone forever–”

 

“Yeah, actually I do,” Emma says, and she stands up, eyes suddenly tired. “I’m going to talk to him, okay?” Regina opens her mouth to tell her that no , it isn’t okay at all, and Emma says, her voice firmer, “You’re both too upset to talk to each other right now. Let me do this.” She takes a step forward, hand hovering near Regina’s arm, and she sucks in a breath. “You’re right. You have…you have every right to be upset about this, especially considering what you remember. But Henry isn’t going to see that right now, not from you. Let me help ,” Emma pleads, and it really is a plea, as earnest and desperate to advocate for Regina as she’s been about anything. “I owe you that.”

 

Regina closes her eyes, weary and suddenly spent. She’d never meant to raise a child with a partner– had dreamed of it only once, when she’d been young and naive and still believed in nonsense like true love. She’d never meant to raise Henry with anyone , and she can feel every step of Emma’s up the stairs as they weigh heavily on her heart.

 

She can hear them in the hallway from here, hear Henry’s angry whisper and Emma’s gentle responses. You have to look at it from her perspective, Emma says, and Henry laughs bitterly and says something Regina can’t make out about a person– a poison? Emma’s tone is warning, and they disappear into Henry’s room together.

 

Regina follows, chained to them as she’s been since the start of this hellish adventure, and she moves soundlessly up the steps and leans against the wall opposite Henry’s doorway. Henry can’t see her from this angle, and Emma doesn’t look up to notice her, still engrossed in her conversation with Henry. “Things were going well with you two,” she’s saying, her arm around Henry’s shoulders. “It’s not fair to expect your mom to be exactly the same now. You know she loves you. She was just scared.”

 

Henry leans into her, his eyes red and face downcast. “We haven’t fought in years ,” he mumbles.

 

“Yeah,” Emma says wryly, and she musses his hair. “But she does kind of spoil you.” Henry scoffs, indignant, and Emma’s voice softens. “She’s still afraid of losing you, just…in different ways.”  

 

“I miss her,” Henry whispers, and it hits Regina like a knife to the heart. He’s crying again, stray tears falling from his cheeks. “I miss her so much.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma agrees in a murmur, and even that, somehow, shreds Regina into pieces. “But it’s–” She stops, very suddenly, and Regina lifts her eyes and sees that Emma has finally seen her. She stares at her, wide-eyed and stricken, and Regina can’t even hold her gaze.

 

I miss her . Her , as though Regina is only a pale imitation of the Regina they want. Her , as though Regina is gone , and she’s only a second-best replacement. She stumbles as quietly as she can away from them, away from Henry’s door, into the shelter of a room that isn’t a shelter at all, because it’s hers , too. The framed photo on the dresser is of Henry with the real Regina, the Regina that they want. There’s a dress hanging in the front of the closet, a light color that Regina would never have worn, except she had. Except the other Regina had–

 

She hurls the photo frame at the closet door, watching it crash to glass on the floor with grim satisfaction. Good . Someday Regina might get her memories back and regret it, but she can’t see that Regina as herself anymore, as someone worthy of– of–

 

She squeezes her eyes shut and doesn’t know why she’s thinking of them , as though anyone could have this power over her aside from Henry. Them , as though she cares at all about Emma Swan and the wistfulness on her face when she’d thought of her Regina , the Regina she wants. As though Emma matters at all beyond family ties and mutual attraction.

 

“He’s asleep,” Emma says from behind her, and Regina hears it in a haze, doesn’t know how long she’s been standing in place and staring at the closet door. There’s a little bit of blood on her hand from where the frame’s glass had ricocheted at her, and Emma lets out a low curse and heads into the master bathroom, emerging from it a moment later with a damp cloth and ointment. “He knows he screwed up. He’s just not great at…well, acknowledging it. You two should talk in the morning.”

 

She reaches for Regina’s hand and Regina snatches it away. “Go to hell,” she says hoarsely.

 

“Been there, done that,” Emma mutters, taking Regina’s hand again. Regina leaves it limp in Emma’s grasp, feels her touch like acid on her skin, soothing it and then burning it again. Emma clears her throat. “What you– what you thought you heard in there– He didn’t mean it like that. Neither did I,” she adds, fingers tentative as they rub against Regina’s cut.

 

Regina yanks her hand away again. “Do you think I give a damn what you meant? Or that you prefer her ? Of course you do,” she grits out. “For all your lies about her, of course you want Saint Regina ,” she says in a singsong voice, mocking as Emma flinches. “Your precious little friend, groveling after you like you do Killian .”

 

“Stop it,” Emma says shakily.

 

Regina will certainly not stop it. “Perfect Regina, chaste and forgiven and just a bastion of morality. Not like the evil bitch she was before you showed up in town and threatened to take away her son,” she says, rounding on Emma. “What do you call her? Your Regina. The only Regina good enough for you–”

 

“That’s not what I think. That’s not what you’re like ,” Emma says, and the exhaustion and the heightened emotions must finally be taking effect on her, because she looks near tears. “You’re still Regina . You’re just–”

 

“A little more interested in fucking you, right?” And this is the point where she needs to stop, where she’s going to reveal far too much and hurt only herself. An unfortunate fact about Regina Mills, the once-feared Evil Queen: she never knows how to stop. “A little too wrong . No wonder you ran away to your fiancé when we kissed.” Her voice is shaky, as shaky as Emma’s, and she hates this vulnerability, hates how wanting Emma has made her weak. “I thought you were just a coward, but you’re so much worse. No wonder you run away whenever I–”

 

Emma kisses her, fierce and sudden, a hand tangling in Regina’s hair and the other on her hand again. Regina gasps into her mouth, bites at her lip, needs this, and she hooks a finger into Emma’s jeans and yanks her closer. She’s staggering back, her shoulders hitting the wall as her hips roll against Emma’s and her leg slides between the other woman’s legs, and Emma hisses out a curse and presses her back. A hand slides up Regina’s thigh, tugging her skirt up, and Emma traces the underside of Regina’s thigh with a sudden, muted reverence. “Regina,” she breathes, and she surges forward to catch Regina’s mouth with her own again.

 

Regina kisses her wildly, needily, her tongue swiping into Emma’s mouth with singular focus. Emma groans and Regina puts a hand up her shirt, palming Emma’s breast and flicking her nipple over her bra. “Not your Regina,” she hisses as Emma throws back her head, trembling at the touch.

 

She freezes a moment later, and Regina stares at her with gripped, desperate eyes. If Emma pushes her away now – when they’re so close–

 

But instead she’s swept up into Emma’s arms, both of them unbalanced as Emma lifts her thighs and twists, stumbling toward the bed. Regina lands flat on her back, heart pounding and unrestrained, and Emma is there an instant later, crouched over her with one hand stroking her cheek and the other her thigh. “Always my Regina,” she whispers. “It took me a while to realize it, but you have to know that.”

 

Regina twists her nipple in response, watches Emma’s face contort for a moment and isn’t nearly as satisfied by it as she thought she’d be. “You’re a fool.”

 

Emma laughs into her mouth, kisses her cheek and her forehead and her eyelashes, and Regina can’t hold onto the wildness. She can feel tears gathering beneath her eyelids as Emma kisses them, useless and hot and bitter, and Emma kisses them again and again. “There is no Saint Regina,” she says, her words a balm. “God, you’re still an asshole with your memories, you’re just on our side. Is that what you want to hear?” Regina squeezes her breast harder, rocks up against her. Emma’s hands move along her skin, ruck up her dress higher and fumble with the zipper at the back. “You’re still the same Regina,” she says fiercely. “And it fucking kills me that you can’t remember everything we’ve been through, but that’s it . That’s all I– that’s all we miss. Haven’t you figured out yet that you’re kind of my world?”

 

Regina surges against her with a cry, kisses her tightly and shakes and shakes and shakes. Emma sways with her, their lips still locked, and her eyes are shining like moonlight when she pulls back, her hands easing Regina’s dress from her shoulders. “Is this okay?” she whispers, shifting to stroke Regina’s cheek. Regina can only nod, can only tug insistently at Emma’s shirt until Emma yanks that off, too, her unclasped bra falling free with the movement.

 

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go, Regina’s hand running through Emma’s hair instead of seizing it painfully, Regina’s eyes locked on Emma’s as Emma strokes her through her panties, a finger creeping beneath them to flick Regina’s clit once with Emma’s thumb. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go, Regina’s heart clenched and her hands trembling as she touches Emma, as she traces pale, silvery lines on her abdomen that can only be stretch marks from Henry. She kisses one very carefully and Emma’s the one to let out a sob, ringing out between them like something precious has been imparted.

 

Emma’s free hand creeps down to cup Regina’s ass, and she lets out a strangled laugh that has Regina staring up at her in dismay. “What?”

 

“You’re just… fuck . Exactly as perfect as I imagined. Fuck ,” she says again, this time because Regina has jerked up enough to catch her breast in her mouth. She flicks a nipple with her tongue, her hand returning to massage the other breast, and Emma writhes against her. Her fingers have left Regina’s center altogether, squeezing her ass as she thrusts one clothed knee between Regina’s legs. Regina grinds against it wantonly, rubbing against the rough material as Emma kneads her ass.

 

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go . Regina is desperate for Emma’s touch now, is desperate for things she’s terrified to name. If she’d ever thought she’d had control here, she’d been gravely, gravely mistaken, and she’s never cared less about that. “I–” She tears her mouth from Emma’s breast, feels Emma’s warm eyes on hers. “She– I– I really was still an asshole with my memories?”

 

Emma kisses her hard, laughs into her mouth and presses her thigh harder into Regina. “Yeah, you are. Promise. You’re just our asshole, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Regina murmurs, unzipping Emma’s jeans. “Okay.” She maneuvers her hand into them, maneuvers her fingers to rub against Emma’s center and buries them in, one and then the next and then a third, pressing them in deeply as Emma lets out a cry and rides atop them.

 

She looks glorious like this, a sheen of sweat across her forehead and her hair cascading down her shoulders as she moves with Regina’s hand, and she falls forward when Regina finally thumbs her clit, inner walls clenching around Regina’s fingers and her lips finding Regina’s as she comes. Regina kisses her back, revels in this moment, and thinks, desperately, how was I supposed to do this only once?

 

Emma slumps against her and Regina says, her throat so twisted that she can’t quite remember how to breathe, “Not bad for a rebound, hm?”

 

Emma lifts her hair to stare at her, eyes glowing and tired and so warm. “Not a rebound,” she whispers, reaching up to cup Regina’s cheek. “You would never be…”

 

The emotions that swell up are unwanted, unnecessary, and terrifying. Regina flinches and pulls her closer at the same time, struggling for composure. “I can be whatever you want me to be,” she says, but her eyes aren’t cool and mocking and untouched. Instead, she can feel them as dark and terrified, and Emma kisses her neck, her lips trailing along a line of salty sweat that dips between her breasts.

 

“Be Regina,” Emma breathes against her skin. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted.” She kisses one breast and then the other, kisses her abdomen and then slides back up right when Regina is ready to convulse beneath her to kiss the scar on Regina’s lip tenderly. Regina quakes beneath her, feeling hot tears sliding from the corners of her eyes as Emma returns to her descent down Regina’s body, and she lifts her knees and feels a scrap of fabric slowly removed over them, feels Emma’s tongue tracing her skin where she’s most sensitive.

 

She thrashes beneath her, reaches down to touch her, to remind herself again and again who it is who’s making her scream. “Emma,” she chants, and she’s still weeping, ridiculous tears with no cause still spilling down her cheeks. “Emma, Emma. Miss Swan ,” she says desperately, and Emma plunges her tongue into her and her thumb crooks and Regina’s coming, shaking uncontrollably, her eyes squeezing shut as Emma teases out her orgasm for longer and longer and longer still.

 

When it’s over, Emma drops onto her, her head resting on Regina’s abdomen and her knuckle absentminded against Regina’s slit. Regina pulls her back up, wrung out and exhausted and still, somehow, so needy for Emma Swan. Emma’s eyes glitter with the same tiredness and same eagerness, and they both come the next time in tandem, their foreheads pressed together and their eyes locked.

 

It’s Emma who falls asleep first, her arms wrapped around Regina and her head pressed to her back, and Regina wriggles away and rolls over to stare at her, her stomach flipping. This had been…this had been a last-ditch effort to flush Emma Swan out of her system, to save her from falling where she’d never return. She’d wanted a fuck , gone and done, and she can feel more tears falling at how naive she’d been.

 

There’s no gone and done when it comes to Emma, and everything about tonight had been…tender, affirming, the sort of night she’d dreamed about when she’d been a girl who’d still believed in true love. Every kiss had made her crave more. Every touch had been a revelation. She yearns with all she is to fall asleep wrapped around Emma Swan every night for the rest of her life.

 

There is nothing that can stop her from falling, not when she’d just torn through her safety net instead.


“Love is weakness,” she whispers in the dark, her voice strangled and unrecognizable, and she strokes Emma’s bare arm as she struggles and struggles and struggles to believe her mother’s decades-old words.

Chapter Text

Regina is kissing her shoulder when Emma awakens. She keeps her eyes closed for a moment, savoring the sensation of Regina pressed to her, lips against her skin, and Regina pulls her tighter, a hand sweeping Emma’s hair to the side so she can kiss her neck instead. “Morning, gorgeous,” Emma whispers, shifting to give Regina better access. “I could get used to this.”

 

“Waking up drenched in sweat and–” Regina bites her shoulder gently. “No regrets?” she says, and she almost sounds as though she wants the answer to be–

 

No , that’s ridiculous to think, especially when Regina seems just as desperate to touch Emma as Emma is to touch her. Emma twists around anyway to check, sees Regina’s eyes dark with emotion, and wonders instead if it’s insecurity within them. “No regrets,” she says firmly. “Well, one regret. We should have done this years ago.” She swallows up Regina’s laugh with her lips, kisses her languidly until Regina is humming against her with pleasure.

 

“You couldn’t have handled me,” Regina says when she’s done, rubbing her foot against Emma’s leg.

 

Emma quirks an eyebrow. “I handled you just fine last night, and you’re...three years in the past right now, or whatever.”

 

Somehow, it’s the wrong thing to say. Regina’s eyes cloud over and she says, “This is different,” and looks so troubled by it that Emma cups her cheek, her fingers brushing aside Regina’s hair from her face until Regina softens again.

 

She doesn’t know if this is more insecurity from the memory loss or something else, a conflict that Regina hasn’t shared with her. It feels almost ungrateful to dwell on Regina’s expression right now, like she’s searching for something to go wrong when things are finally right. This is the first time in a long, long time that everything has felt as it should be, that she feels like she’s found somewhere she belongs instead of furiously attempting to convince herself that she’s in that place, and her mind is casting doubts because this is too perfect.

 

Regina tugs the blanket up over them, wrapping it around herself and Emma before she leans in to kiss Emma again. “Our son should be up by now,” she says in explanation, and a shadow crosses her face that has nothing to do with Emma.

 

Emma wriggles in closer to her, runs her hands over Regina’s arms soothingly. “He’ll come around,” she murmurs. “You two just need to talk things out.”

 

“We’ve never managed that successfully before,” Regina says glumly, and Emma aches for her, for him, for this new tension in their family.

 

Their family . It’s how she’s begun thinking of them since she’d semi-moved into Regina’s house, not quite the expanded family that includes her parents and half the fairytale characters in the Disney brand, but their tiny little family enclosed in this home. And this morning, it seems more possible than ever that it might be real , that it might be something she can keep.

 

She wonders, with a shade of sudden unease, if Regina with her memories would agree. No . She’d told Regina last night that they’re still the same woman, and she’d meant it– can see very little about Regina’s gaze that is different. It feels traitorous to contemplate them as two separate people– to wonder if they might have broken something precious instead of building it.

 

The doubts are creeping in, and she brushes them aside and says, “Come on. Let’s get up and then you can…take the morning off with him, okay? You two need it.” Regina’s eyes turn so unnaturally soft that Emma shivers beneath them, adores her with all her heart and soul and can barely move from her embrace until they’re stumbling to the shower, stealing glances and linking hands along the way.

 

It’s good. It’s really good. And when Regina backs her against the shower wall and kisses her until Emma’s weak-kneed and Regina is staring at her with an unreadable gaze that also leaves Emma defenseless, it’s even better.

 


 

It’s a nightmare. She kisses Emma again when they’re about to leave the room, kisses her over the frying pan and kisses her against the front door when she leaves for work, can hardly stay away from her for a moment. She’s an addict, enslaved to emotions she’d never wanted, and she’s lost for good with every smile pointed her way.

 

She’d finally begun to feel as though she’s on firm footing and now she’s spiralling again, tumbling in a freefall into something that’s– that’s built on lies and half-truths, built on a curse that had never broken. She’d been terrified for a moment last night, had leaned forward with her stomach roiling and pressed her lips to Emma’s and very nearly believed that it might break the curse, and nothing had happened.

 

They don’t have true love, at least. That’s certainly something, even if it leaves her as sour as it does to know that her curse is destroying this… thing before it had ever started.

 

What cruel justice, to be foiled by her own false love. Mother had been right about love being weakness. And Regina can’t afford weakness, can’t drape herself in it as she’d done before she’d lost her memories.

 

Henry is carefully avoiding her gaze when she returns to the dining room. He’s eating Emma’s pancakes, dousing them in enough syrup that they’re nearly falling apart, and she wants to say something but is afraid that he might leave. Maybe this is how she’d felt, before she’d lost her memories. Maybe she’d just been afraid all the time.

 

Maybe Emma had been right, and this is all she is now, too.

 

She eats her own pancakes in silence, and the tension in the room isn’t quite as hostile as it might have been before, when Henry had been ten. There’s less anger, more…uncertainty. This is a Henry who doesn’t want to fight, as unreal as that seems now.

 

She gathers her courage and clears her throat. “I…I may have overreacted last night,” she says finally, and Henry looks up at her with sudden hope. “I was worried, and I took it out on you.” She swallows, tries to find the words to apologize, and discovers that that might be a step too far, too vulnerable for her.

 

Henry ducks his head. “I was late,” he says grudgingly. “I guess it’s just…you’ve never cared about it before.”

 

“I really doubt that,” Regina says before she can think about it, and Henry falls silent, his brow furrowing.

 

She expects him to lash out now, to remind her that she doesn’t know and she isn’t his Regina and she can’t possibly understand. Instead, he frowns even more deeply and says, “Maybe you’re right.” He looks up at her, his eyes suddenly sharp, and he says, “Emma said I’m spoiled. Maybe she’s right, too.” There’s a quiet pain in his eyes, understated but dark.

 

“Henry,” Regina breathes, stricken by his agony. “ No . I’m…” She clears her throat, but she can’t quite hide the wetness in it. “I’m proud of you– of the brave, beautiful, kind boy you’ve become, Henry. I was so afraid for so long that I’d…” That she’d raise a child like her mother had, though she doesn’t dare say that. “But you’re everything I’d ever hoped you would be.”

 

“Mom,” Henry breathes, and he throws his arms around her, holds her tightly as she rises in his grasp and wraps her own arms around him. She can tuck her chin onto his shoulder now instead of the top of his head, and she mourns the time she’s lost more than anything. “I love you,” he whispers.

 

“I love you ,” Regina says back, the words barely a sigh, and she kisses his cheek and understands, for a moment, why she might have given up everything for the love of Henry and–

 

No , she reminds herself firmly, and then Henry says, “Maybe she’s right,” again, and sends her world crashing down with the few words that follow. “You did…you gave me a lot of freedom because you were afraid of…of what happened with us when I was eleven.”

 

“When you were eleven?” Regina repeats, puzzled.

 

“Yeah.” Henry stares at his pancakes again. “Some bad stuff happened and I got hurt, and then…you sent me away.”

 

What ?” She can feel the dizziness a moment before it overwhelms her, and she’s nauseous, her vision blacking out for a moment as she falls back onto her chair. It’s the same fuzziness that had come with Zelena’s revelation that she had a sister, but slower, creeping in with a flash of pain that has her hands pressing against her temples helplessly.

 

“Mom. Mom! ” Henry’s voice is loud enough to break through her haze. When she blinks, he’s kneeling in front of her, his eyes wide and afraid. “I didn’t mean to…to break the rules,” he says frantically. “Are you–”

 

“I’m all right,” she manages, her head aching. “I sent you away ?”

 

“You were afraid you’d hurt me,” he says, and she closes her eyes and wards off the dizziness. “You said you didn’t know how to love very well and that you wanted to…to redeem yourself. So you sent me home with…with David and with Emma for a long time.” His lip trembles. “I was a dumb kid. I never really thought about…about what it might mean to you.”

 

She stares at him with rising horror, struggles to maintain an expressionless facade while her mind works furiously. She’d sent Henry away , less than a year from her last memories. She’d sent him to... Emma ? To the Charmings. This relationship they have now had come with a price, with Regina making herself small and harmless and self-flagellating before her greatest enemies.

 

Love is weakness . And she’d paid for it a dozen times over with Henry, had lost him and still flits around him, terrified that she’ll lose him again. She can’t imagine what could have happened to make her believe that it had been worth it to give him up. She can’t imagine how weak she must have become.

 

She feels a sudden wave of loathing for herself, for the sad, broken figure that had been her future self. For the woman who had lain in bed beside Emma Swan last night and wept at her own heart betraying her.

 

Never again. She has to put a stop to all of this before she loses herself again. “You’re here now,” she lies to Henry’s expectant eyes. “That’s…that’s all that matters.” It isn’t all that matters, and she’s nauseous, sick at the thought of giving Henry up. At having been so foolish as to entertain a future where she loses everything she loves because she’s so desperate to be good .

 

This has to end.

 

Henry says, his eyes suddenly bright, “And Emma is, too. It’s good, right?” He looks at her as though he knows , as though he could see the shift in their relationship without them ever having told him. “We made something good.”

 

She can’t do anything more than nod, can’t push away the thoughts of Henry leaving , of him hating her and calling Emma Mom and getting the life he’d wanted from the moment he’d found out he’d been adopted. She nods and it feels false, feels strained, and Henry sees enough for his face to fall. “Mom,” he says urgently, seizing her hands. “Mom, you know it’s okay to…to be happy, right?”

 

She stares at him, her insightful, perfect son, the boy she’d nearly lost because she’d chosen weakness over might. She can’t find the words to soothe him, to make him believe that she believes, and she watches as his face falls and he squeezes her hands in his own, clings to her with an anxious gaze and says, again, “It’s okay to be happy, Mom, I swear–” but it never lands upon her.

 


 

Regina feels as though she’s torn in two these days, as though she can’t quite be the same person when she’s around Emma Swan and when she isn’t. When she’s away from Emma, Regina can breathe, can put into context every moment with her as the beginnings of a slow transformation into her future self. She can stare at herself in disgust and remind herself that Emma is dangerous , that everything about this relationship is dangerous, and she’s a fool to let it persist.

 

When she’s with Emma, all she can think about is Emma, their hands catching and swinging together as they walk down the street from Town Hall to Granny’s one afternoon. Emma presses a kiss to her cheek and flushes and grins when Granny hoots. “You’ve traded up,” she says, looking very pleased. “Coffee’s on the house.”

 

When she’s with Emma, all she can think about is Emma, kissing her fiercely against the wall of the station and pulling her up onto her own desk in her office while yanking her pantyhose down. They’re both…insatiable, caught in a honeymoon period that Regina had never anticipated, and she’s breathless with wanting each time they’re alone.

 

When she’s with Emma, all she can think about is Emma, eyes shining and heart on her sleeve, and she can’t conceive of a world where she might turn that love to ash. This isn’t real , she knows instinctively. This is an Emma who would reject her in an instant if she’d known the truth about Regina’s past and the curse. And yet…

 

And yet. She curls around Emma at night, tangled close to her with their noses bumping and their eyes fixed on each other, and it takes all the willpower she can manage to even think of ending this. Of destroying something that makes her feel as she hasn’t around anyone but Henry.

 

The first afternoon after they’d slept together, Emma had been loitering outside Town Hall when she’d emerged that evening, and it had been a special kind of torture to avoid kissing her right there. “Hey,” Emma says, thumb in her waistband and a half-smile on her face. “You look amazing.”

 

Regina stares dubiously at her. “I’ve just spent four hours restructuring the budget in an office with a malfunctioning air conditioner.” She runs a hand through her hair. Mother would have been furious at the image she’d seen in the mirror on her way out. (Well. Mother would have been furious at a lot of what she’d seen in the mirror, lately.) “I have frizz . My shirt isn’t even tucked in.”

 

Emma’s smile only widens. “I know,” she says, and she catches the lapel of Regina’s pantsuit and adjusts it, stroking her thumb along the fabric while Regina shivers beneath it. “Listen,” she says, her other hand finding the other lapel, eyes somewhere down by Regina’s lips. “My– Mary Margaret and David asked me over for dinner tonight.”

 

“Oh,” Regina says, feeling a little bubble of anticipation within her deflate. She’d been looking forward to a quiet dinner with Emma and Henry, an easy meal with their feet rubbing together under the table and secret smiles on their faces. Of course Snow White would take even that from her. “I’ll see you later, then?”

 

Emma is still playing with her lapels, her knuckles running over Regina’s clothed skin. “They invited you and Henry, too. I know you’re…not crazy about them…”

 

“The understatement of the year,” Regina says dryly.

 

“But they’re kind of crazy about you,” Emma says hopefully, and it’s that hope in her eyes that has Regina reluctantly walking beside her a minute later, Emma’s fingers tangling and untangling with hers as they head toward the loft.

 

She wonders, sometimes, if it’d be this easy with the Emma she remembers– the Emma who’d come to town with tentative smiles and eyes only for her son. Maybe if Regina had never declared war. But she’d liked the war, liked the fire it had kindled within her after twenty-eight years of the world bending to her whims. She’d liked Emma Swan with her face hard and angry and a challenge all the way through.

 

She likes this Emma, too, who reminds her far more of the very first Emma she’d met, the woman who’d stood on her doorstep and managed only an awkward smile and a hi . This Emma reminds her of the Emma who’d talked to her while Henry had been lost in the mines, gentle and unyielding at once, determined only to do right by everyone who’d needed her. This is the Emma who would run into a burning building to rescue a woman who’d been her enemy.

 

There’s something different about her, now, a weariness that strips color from her face after years and years of giving so much of herself that she’d lost pieces of who she’d been in the process. But somehow, she can still light up the world around her with only a smile. Regina is helpless in her orbit, stunned by her light, and she can barely think wrong, wrong , when Emma’s beaming at her. “What?” Regina says, struggling for outrage.

 

“You’ve started smiling back at people,” Emma says, looking very pleased. “Did you just wave at Archie?”

 

“I don’t wave,” Regina says indignantly, putting her hand down at her side. “I was…lifting a hand in greeting. At Pongo.”

 

“Of course,” Emma says gravely, her eyes glittering with amusement. “Pongo. He is a very good dog.”

 

Regina looks at her, affronted. “Are you mocking me, Miss Swan?”

 

“I would never dare.” Emma catches her hand, swings theirs together and drops it when they enter the apartment building. They move up the stairs, Regina’s eyes flickering back to Emma as they ascend into what she can’t help but see as the lion’s den.

 

She clears her throat. “Good. I have the monopoly on mockery in this–” She pauses in horror before she can say relationship , with all the baggage it entails.

 

Emma shoots her a knowing look. “Right. You do that really cute thing where you…scrunchy nose,” she says, mimicking it. “I wouldn’t miss that.”

 

“I do not ,” Regina says, her eyes widening in denial. “Like hell I’m–”

 

“Adorable?” Emma suggests, ducking when Regina swings her bag at her. Regina takes a threatening step forward, and Emma raises an eyebrow, unintimidated, and returns to her lapels, stroking them with single-minded fascination. “It’s okay. You put on a good show for the hapless villagers, Your Majesty.”

 

Regina freezes, her blood running cold. “What…what did you just call me?” She must have misheard, or the curse is wearing thinner than she’d thought, and she can feel her heart pounding in her ears as Emma looks at her with sudden concern.

 

“I…” Emma chews on her lip, her eyes flickering back to Regina’s lapels. “You remember Henry’s book, right? Where he used to think you were…”

 

“I see,” Regina says, exhaling slowly as the panic begins to recede. “I– I assure you that I don’t need a fairytale to be intimidating.”

 

Emma brightens again, eyes sparkling. “Right. I don’t think I’ve been intimidated by you since the night we first met.”

 

“I didn’t know I’d ever managed it with you,” Regina says, bemused. “The night we met?”

 

Emma shrugs, her gaze steady and warm. “You were this gorgeous, badass single mom who’d raised Henry into a pretty cool kid. Of course I was intimidated.” She quirks an eyebrow. “Until you started threatening me. Then I was just pissed.”

 

“Of course you were,” Regina says, and she certainly does not mean to be awash in affection at the thought of it.

 

Emma smirks. “Also, you know…that whole powerful woman thing. That was…” She tugs on Regina’s lapels at last, and Regina shifts toward her, closing the distance between them. Emma kisses her patiently, quiet and soft and as though they have all the time in the world, and Regina closes her eyes and cups her jaw, savoring every moment. She can feel her lips curving up into a smile, can feel the world settling into something good and right around her, and her fears and doubts are stopped by an impenetrable wall when Emma’s lips are on hers for what should be an eternity.

 

When she opens her eyes, it’s to Emma’s steady gaze, and she can’t shut them again. “Emma,” she whispers between kisses, and there are no words to be said, nothing that can break this moment.

 

Emma’s hand settles over hers, her thumb drawing goosebumps with its slow descent down Regina’s arm, and Regina kisses her again, breathless and wanting.

 

“I’ll see if they’re on their way–” The door to Mary Margaret’s apartment opens with a clatter, and Emma and Regina spring apart, a moment too late. David Nolan blinks at them from the doorway, and Emma blinks back, looking trapped. Across the room, Mary Margaret is cooking, her eyes on them, and had everyone been watching the door when it had opened?

 

Even Henry is sitting on the floor with Neal on his lap, his face unreadable, and Regina bites back the panic of being caught by Snow White, again , and remembers instead his earnest face when he’d reassured her that it would be okay to be happy.

 

“I…” Emma says hoarsely beside her. “We were just...um…”

 

Mary Margaret speaks, and Regina tenses. “Good, you’re here,” she says briskly. “Regina, if you would caramelize these onions? Emma, you’re setting the table.” She presses forward, thrusting a wooden spoon into Regina’s hand, and she tugs Emma with her to the table.

 

Regina is taken off-guard, but she manages to move on automatic, dragging her feet to the stove and stirring the onions. What the hell is Mary Margaret’s game? What is she planning to–

 

Emma says in a low voice, following her cursed mother around the table, “Mary Margaret, can we talk about this?” Mary Margaret doesn’t respond, and Regina feels a prickle of fear that she can’t control, a building panic at the idea that another of her relationships might hinge on Snow White.

 

Maybe this is for the best. Maybe this will be her salvation from Emma Swan and the weakness that she’s wrought within Regina. Maybe–

 

“I know , okay?” Emma says, setting down silverware with a clatter. “I know how it looks. I’ve just…gotten out of a long-term relationship, and Regina has amnesia, and maybe this is all just…terrible timing, but–”

 

Mary Margaret’s voice is still very neutral. “You don’t have to justify anything to me,” she says.

 

“Mary Margaret,” Emma says, her voice pained. “I know there’s…you probably have a lot of really valid questions–”

 

When Mary Margaret looks up, Regina’s startled at the way her face lights into a smile, soft and understanding. “Emma, it’s you and Regina. Of course I don’t have any questions.” Emma and Regina both pause, gaping slightly at her, and Mary Margaret says serenely, “Pass the glasses, will you?”

 

Henry still hasn’t said a word, but he’s grinning, tickling Neal and casting them sidelong glances. Emma sits down next to Regina at the table, her fingers trailing across Regina’s palm on her lap, and nothing more is said about what they’d all witnessed.

 

Henry sits on Regina’s other side, which leaves Mary Margaret across from her. Her eyes are knowing when they speak, light with an awareness of Regina that unnerves her, and Regina’s hand shakes in Emma’s as they all make small talk.

 

“How have you been handling the differences in the town since your last memories?” Mary Margaret inquires, and Regina tenses automatically at Mary Margaret’s eyes on her.

 

Emma interjects, squeezing Regina’s hand under the table. “You know Regina. She’d be running this place in a coma and still do a better job than anyone in a fifty-mile radius.”

 

“Don’t I know it,” Mary Margaret says, almost wry, and Regina gets the distinct impression that she’s being excluded from an in-joke. She lets Emma’s hand go, fingers twitching with nervous energy under the table. “That’s our Regina.”

 

Regina bristles. Henry says, “Hey, is it true your class adopted a dozen ducklings?” and intentional or not, Mary Margaret is distracted at once, talking animatedly about a class project while Regina picks at her food.

 

There’s something unnatural about sitting here, with these people, in this apartment. She shouldn’t belong here, not when these are her mortal enemies, people she’s sworn to destroy. An exception for Emma– falling for Emma – doesn’t mean an exception for her parents, and she can feel her skin crawl with the wrongness of it–

 

–and with the way it doesn’t, entirely, feel wrong at all. It feels familiar, comfortable, as though this is a place where she’d felt safe before she’d lost her memories. It feels like a second home, and she shudders in disgust as she helps clean up, opening cabinets automatically and finding just the right spot in the fridge when she doesn’t think about it.

 

“Muscle memory,” Mary Margaret says from behind her when she’s dried the glasses and put them away. Regina startles, whipping around. Emma and Henry are on the other side of the apartment, attempting to put together one of Neal’s new toys. It’s only Mary Margaret in the kitchen, and Regina takes a step back.

 

Mary Margaret touches her arm, her eyes gentle and knowing, and Regina swallows back revulsion at how her muscles seem to relax at the touch. “It’s okay to be happy,” she says, echoing Henry’s words with a simple smile. “It’s okay.”

 

From Henry, they had triggered despair. From Mary Margaret’s mouth, they serve only to infuriate Regina. She musters up a sneer, a pit of nausea settling in her stomach at how easily she’d let down her guard, and she bites out, “You have never been a part of my happiness.”

 

“You must know by now that that isn’t true,” Mary Margaret says, and Regina tears her arm away from the woman, suddenly suffocating in this room with its dark-paneled walls and quiet distraction and Snow White with her patronizing smile. She stalks past Mary Margaret, makes a beeline for the door, and she slams it shut and starts running before Emma can see her leave and follow.

 

Once she’s outside, she walks with purpose, sucking in air as though she’d been denied it and her hands still trembling with fury– at herself most of all. For a moment in that apartment, she’d truly believed that she might belong– that this could be manageable, that she could coexist with these people as her future self had done. For a moment, she’d been as much a fool without her memories as she had with them, and she’d–

 

Weak . Love is weakness . She makes a sharp turn at the cemetery, following a well-worn path to the mausoleum where her father is buried. She hasn’t been here since she’d lost her memories– first because she’d been supervised at all times, then because she’d been– complacent , damn her stupidity. This is her safe space, not family dinners or lying in bed with Emma Swan. This is where she needs to be.

 

She pulls at the door to the mausoleum and the vault below it, and it doesn’t budge. Not at all , and she thinks at first that it might be locked until she pulls and pulls and there’s no lock on it, nothing giving way within it for even an instant. That isn’t a lock. Not a physical one, and she sinks to the ground in front of the doors, her breathing quickening more and more with rising despair.

 

She must have done this. She must have…wasted the last of the magic in this land on sealing herself out of her one sanctuary, preventing temptation or whatever nonsense she’d come to believe in the future. She doesn’t know this woman she’d become, can’t recognize any of her as Emma can so easily, and she shakes with loss and fear and the trapped, angry hatred that follows.

 

And it isn’t directed at Mary Margaret or Emma or anyone else as much as it is herself.

 


 

She’d been a queen, unstoppable and powerful and with the world beneath her thumb, and she can’t lose that power because Emma makes her heart quake as though it’s finally found home. She hasn’t spent twenty-eight years ruling this town to give it up for a woman who loves her because of a lie.

 

She can’t love Emma. She can’t fall into the same trap that her future self had. She can’t–

 

“But you do, don’t you?” Zelena says amidst her vigorous denials. “I see the way you look at her.” She’s leaning against the couch on which Regina’s lying, Robyn gurgling in her arms and slapping her little hands against Regina’s arm. They’re in Zelena’s house while Emma and Henry are at home, and Regina can breathe again. “It’s all right to be happy, you know. Those moments are rare enough.” She sighs heavily. “Villains don’t get happy endings.”

 

“I thought I was a hero now,” Regina says, quirking an eyebrow sardonically.

 

Zelena shrugs. “Oh, you are. But you’ve never done any better at escaping your past than I did.” She makes a face. “Perhaps partially because of me, to be fair.”

 

Regina shelves that for now, unwilling to lose the one person who seems to understand all of this. “So all this about me being…content and loved and–” She can’t say anymore, can’t get past this roiling uncertainty that everything she’s been told until now is a lie.

 

And why not, if she’s been lying to the whole town for three decades?

 

Zelena looks at her, eyes sharp. “I don’t know,” she says. “As far as I’ve seen, you’re always surrounded with people who love you. And that’s…isn’t that worth all the pain?” Her eyes take on a wistful cast and she holds her daughter close, forgetting Regina for a moment.

 

Regina stares at the ceiling, utterly lost and hating herself for it. She’s supposed to have a plan. She always has an exit plan, a way to rescue herself from dire circumstances. She’d never before imagined those circumstances as being in love , and she shakes her head and can’t answer Zelena.

 

Zelena sighs. “I’d better take Robyn for a walk,” she says. “She gets tetchy at night if she doesn’t get air before bed.” She pauses, waiting for Regina to join her, and Regina lets her eyes drift shut instead. Zelena’s hand grazes her forehead gently, still soft and affectionate, and Regina wonders how it can be that she can resent and look down upon and envy her future self all at once.

 

When Zelena closes the door behind her, Regina springs into action, sitting up and peering through cabinets and dark rooms without any luck. The house is quiet and too-large and is only brightened by the rare rooms used for Robyn. Someday, she’ll fill every room in the house, take it over as children do and chase away the darkness. And hopefully for Zelena, she’ll never leave it until they’re both ready.

 

Regina blinks back sorrow and squints around, certain that she’s missed something. Perhaps Zelena is the one who’d sealed her vault, kept her from her last link to magic.

 

No . Zelena isn’t like the rest of this town, without memories of who they’d been before. Zelena wouldn’t surrender all her power so easily, and Regina casts an eye out the window to the cellar door, suddenly certain that that’s where she needs to be.

 

She slips out the door and tests the cellar door, yanking it upward with relief and stealing down the stairs. Inside, it’s–

 

It’s magic, and she inhales the scent of a dozen potions and ingredients as though she’s coming home. This is it. This is her salvation from the world she’s locked herself into. This is her salvation from Emma–

 

–She thinks of Emma, eyes laughing and trusting and full of love, and she sinks down in front of a chest and feels ill. Emma is everything , and destroying her will break Regina in turn. She can’t do this. She can’t–

 

Love is weakness , Mother’s voice reminds her, and she prepares the potion she needs with her hands shaking and her heart clenched tight as a fist in her chest. She stops on her way home at Town Hall, gets what she needs and hides it away in her purse, and she stands outside her house and stares into the windows for a long time before she enters.

 

Emma and Henry are on the couch, playing video games, and the curtains are open so she can see them both. Henry is laughing as Emma taunts him, leaping up as she wins whatever it is they’re playing, and he hunkers down and grips his controller with new determination. Emma is still taunting when the next round begins, and she’s smirking in satisfaction as she glances out the window and catches Regina’s eye.

 

It’s Henry’s turn to whoop in victory, Emma distracted from the game as she watches Regina. Regina manages a smile she can’t feel beneath the traitorous thumping of her heart, and Emma cocks her head and looks at her with sudden concern. It’s– god , Regina can’t do this, can’t give her up. But she can’t live this lie when it feels as though it’s tearing her apart with every moment, reminding her over and over again just how little control she has over her story now.

 

But Emma . Emma moves out of view and steps outside a moment later, walking down the path to her in a rush. “What’s wrong?” she murmurs, a palm against Regina’s cheek and her eyes intent and worried.

 

Regina shifts away from her, the item in her bag hitting her side as she moves. Emma withdraws her hand, her brow furrowing.

 

Regina catches it. She can’t bear to let it go, and she intertwines their fingers, leaning forward to press her forehead to Emma’s. Emma exhales, bringing Regina’s knuckles up to her lips, and she says, “Regina, please. Whatever it is, I want to help.”

 

To help . Even Regina with her memories hadn’t been foolish enough to believe that Emma could help her when it had come to the curse. She’s terrified of the woman before her as she fears the inevitability of heartbreak, of despair, of losing her grip in the ocean and being swept away. And she still– still–

 

She kisses Emma with all she is, loses herself in their tangled hands and tongues and skin pressed to skin, and Emma curls a hand onto her wrist and nuzzles her cheek, kisses the lines of her weary face and drops her head onto Regina’s shoulder, eyes drifting closed. “Come to lunch with me tomorrow,” Regina whispers, and she loathes herself nearly as much as she craves salvation from this helplessness.

 

Emma presses her warm forehead to the crook of Regina’s neck. “Madam Mayor, are you asking me out?”

 

She can feel the smile in Emma’s voice, even if she can’t see it, and she closes her eyes and wonders just how different her future might have been had she learned to trust in happiness.

 


 

Regina is preoccupied for most of the night, and Emma entertains Henry and stays out of the kitchen while Regina stress-bakes. The house smells amazing, and Emma focuses on that instead of on whatever it is that has Regina distracted and so sad.

 

She’d thought– she’d thought, foolishly, that it would be enough for them once they’d gotten together. She’s been dreaming of Regina for so many years that she’d imagined that this would be it , that they’d fall in love and…and everything would suddenly be simple. It had been a pipe dream, of course; nothing has ever been simple with Regina, and she doesn’t think she’d like it very much if it were.

 

Still, though, she can sense that something is wrong , and for the first time in years, Regina isn’t talking to her about it.

 

She knows instinctively that this is her fault, somehow– that she’s whatever it is that’s wrong about Regina’s life right now. That somehow, she’s the reason that Regina looks at her sometimes with agony in her eyes. She sinks down onto the couch after Henry’s in bed, pulls up her feet and wraps her arms around her legs, tucking her chin onto her knees and wondering how it is that she can make this right.

 

She’s still sitting there when she feels a gaze boring into her and turns, afraid that this is the end. Regina leans against the doorway, but her eyes aren’t cold or angry. She looks just as afraid as Emma feels, and her eyes are limned with red as though she’s been crying.

 

Emma jumps up at once, insecurities forgotten in the face of Regina’s misery. “Regina.” She’s reaching out for her and Regina folds into her arms, kisses her frantically, little kisses that deepen and send shockwaves through Emma’s body at their intensity. “Regina, please , whatever I did, I’ll– I’ll change it,” Emma says desperately, feeling Regina trembling in her arms. “I’ll make it better. I’ll be better.”

 

Regina shakes her head, pulls away for a moment to regard Emma again until she squirms beneath her gaze. “You’re perfect,” she whispers, and it sounds hollow and lost in the silence. “You’re…” She puts a hand on Emma’s cheek, lets it run down her skin and returns it back to its initial place, strokes it again and again while Emma shivers in her embrace. “I can’t–”

 

And Emma still doesn’t understand , but this is better. This is the two of them stumbling upstairs together, making it only as far as Regina’s bed before they’re entwined, tugging at clothes and pausing to press foreheads and lips and palms to skin. There’s something heated about tonight, something that feels less permanent than it ever has before, and Regina clings to Emma and Emma can only hold her tightly in return.

 

She kisses the top of her head, kisses Regina’s cheek and chin and shoulder, kisses her between her legs until Regina shudders and slides down her body to return the favor. They twist midway through, reluctant to be so apart, and Emma lays her head against Regina’s thigh and sucks and bites until she can see a faint bruise forming. Mine , she thinks, and Regina lets out a sigh beside her and dips her tongue into Emma, squeezes her ass and brings her closer and closer still.

 

They don’t talk, even after the gasps and the moans and their names escaping each other’s mouths, and Regina shifts again after they’ve both come and turns to face Emma, her eyes gleaming with new tears. Emma brushes them away with her thumb, stares at Regina helplessly, wonders, wonders, wonders…

 

“You know I love you, right?” she whispers, which Regina knows , because she’s made no secret of how much she’s loved her for years. Even Regina without her memories knows it, and sleeping together isn’t going to change that.

 

But Regina blinks back fresh tears and shudders at the words, lets her hand run over Emma’s side and says, her voice barely a murmur, “I wish you didn’t. You shouldn’t. I…there’s so much you don’t know about me.”

 

That’s what’s been eating away at her. The curse, the curse, and three decades of Regina’s past all wrapped into it. Emma aches to tell her the truth, to damn the consequences and give Regina the reassurance that she so craves right now. So what if Regina knows that she has magic. So what if Regina knows that her curse is broken. It isn’t worth these tears and this misery.

 

She gathers the right words, thinks over what she’s going to say for probably the first time in her life, and she whispers, “There’s something you should know,” as she shifts to meet Regina’s eyes again.

 

Regina’s eyes are closed. She’s breathing evenly, her fingers still digging into Emma’s side, and she’s curled up beside her, her face still wrinkled into a frown in slumber.

 

Emma passes her thumb over the wrinkles and watches them smooth out, wriggles her feet to maneuver the comforter to wrap around them both. Regina sighs in her sleep and snuggles in closer to her, and Emma kisses her tearstained face and slides her arms around her.

 

Tomorrow. At lunch, even, during their date. She’ll talk to Whale and get the go-ahead and to hell with playing games with Regina’s memory, no matter how noble their intentions. Regina deserves the truth.

 

Tomorrow, she’ll get it.

 


 

“We’re going into…the woods?” Emma says skeptically, following Regina through the underbrush.

 

Regina keeps her eyes up ahead, mentally tracking how much farther they have to go. “I thought we always go on picnics in the woods,” she teases, her voice light. “Now, I’m not much for the outdoors these days, but I know it’s your natural habitat–”

 

“Hey!” But Emma bounds after her to catch up, her eyes crinkling as she tucks the picnic basket under one arm and Regina’s arm over the other. “A picnic sounds nice,” she admits. “I just…didn’t really think it was your speed.”

 

It’s harder to force the smile this time, in the face of Emma’s tentative happiness. Regina does her best. “I thought…” she begins, and she touches Emma’s arm carefully. “It’d be nice to talk here. You seem to know…everything about me, and I still know so little about you.”

 

“Background check not enough?” Emma says, smirking. “Or those photos you had Sidney take of me?”

 

Regina blinks at her in dismay. “I didn’t–”

 

“If you wanted a picture, you only had to ask.” Emma snags Regina’s phone from her jacket pocket before Regina can protest, leaning in beside her and beaming at the camera. Regina smiles, too, and she can see the uncertainty in her eyes on the screen. Emma glows like the moon, and Regina simmers with darkness.

 

As it should be.

 

“There isn’t really much to tell,” Emma says when they’ve sat down and unpacked their lunches. They’re right by a ravine that makes Emma laugh when she sees it. There had once been a rope bridge across it, but it appears to be gone, now.

 

Another difference in once-unchanging Storybrooke. The curse must be straining at its seams by now. “Much to tell?” Regina echoes.

 

“About me,” Emma clarifies. “You know the basics. I was a foster kid, jail at seventeen, Henry soon after.” She shrugs. “I mostly just…tried to survive. I didn’t have anything beyond that.” She laughs suddenly, oblivious to the guilt that suffuses Regina, the reminder again that there’s so much that can’t be forgiven. “You were one of my first friends, you know? Though I guess we fucked that up.” She slides across the picnic blanket for a moment, her eyes light, and kisses Regina on the cheek.

 

Regina leans into her touch, her eyes drifting closed for a moment. Today, she’ll treasure every touch, every embrace. Today, she’ll be weak until she can be strong.

 

“Hey, what’s in the bag?” Emma says curiously, peering into the picnic basket as she eats her chicken sandwich.

 

Regina bats her hand away before she can take it. “Dessert,” she says. “Not yet.” She clears her throat. “What about Mary Margaret? You’ve had other friends before me.”

Emma shrugs that off. “Mary Margaret is basically my mom,” she says dismissively, and Regina thinks straining at the seams again and feels sick at the knowledge. “It’s different, you know? You were…” She squeezes Regina’s knee. “You were like me,” she says finally.

 

“I find that very difficult to believe.” Emma is good , she’d have thought disgustingly so if she weren’t so attached to her. Regina is acutely aware that she’d endured in Storybrooke only by the grace of Emma and her friends, and there’s little comparison.

 

But Emma is shaking her head. “I’ve done a lot I’m not proud of,” she says, and she gazes out into the woods for a moment, pensive. “And Storybrooke…Henry and Mary Margaret and everyone here…they gave me a second chance, just like they did you.”

 

It’s absurd to compare them, to believe that a few petty thefts or whatever else had been on Emma’s criminal record measures up to anything close to what Regina’s done in her life. Regina stares into the woods, into the dip of the ravine just beyond them, and she can feel a lump in her throat as she speaks. “You deserved that chance.”

 

“So do you,” Emma says, so earnest that Regina wants to loathe her, wants to snuff out the warmth burning in her chest for Emma and forget all her plans. “There are some things I want to talk to you about, Regina. I think…I think you underestimate yourself.”

 

“I think you’re the one who underestimates me,” Regina counters. Her voice is hoarse and wet already, and all she can see is the black bag poking out of the picnic basket, the reminder that– “There are some things you can’t come back from, Emma.”

 

“You once told me that there was nothing I couldn’t come back from if we just talked about it,” Emma counters, and she looks sad in that moment, her eyes darkening in remembrance of something beyond Regina. “You’ve more than redeemed yourself for everything, Regina.”

 

“You’re wrong,” Regina says at once, and she’s certain of it. Without the curse breaking– without the truth – her redemption would have been just smoke and mirrors. And maybe she would have been content with that in another life, with the memories of losing Henry or of learning to accept Snow. But now, with Emma…

 

Emma, whose hand slips into hers as she says, “No, you are. You’ve changed. I’ve seen it.”

 

“People don’t change. They only fool themselves into believing they do.” She’d said that to Emma once before, in Granny’s on one of Emma’s first days in town. Emma had believed it then, she’d known. She’d left Emma stubborn and unnerved with cocoa down her shirt, and they’d both known that she was right.

 

Today, Emma recognizes it and scoffs. “Regina, do you think you’re still the same woman you were that day? Even without your memories? You’re good . You’ve been…You’ve been here for me this whole time, even when you thought you hated me. I’d still be spiralling toward a wedding I didn’t want without you. I–”

 

“You’re wrong,” Regina says again, and she can hear the pitch in her voice, the way it deepens when it shouldn’t and has Emma squeezing her hand more tightly. “I’m not– I’m not good . You need to know that. You need to know me. I’ve never been good . I’m–”

 

Evil. The villain. The reason why you grew up the way you did. I’m Henry’s worst nightmare. I’m going to destroy you . The savior and the Evil Queen, careening toward a bitter end, and Emma can still sit here with her hand in Regina’s as Regina schemes desperately to be the one to survive this final battle. She can’t be the Regina that Emma’s built up in her mind. She can’t endure another moment of Emma insisting that she’s good . She can’t–

 

“I know who you are,” Emma says softly, and she brushes a kiss to Regina’s lips, gentle and tender and light. Regina squeezes her hand in a vise grip, and it takes all she can to let go. “I think…maybe we should take a walk, okay? I want to talk to you about–”

 

“Wait,” Regina says, and she can hear her heart pounding, so loudly that she doesn’t know how Emma’s missed it. “Dessert.”

 

Emma flashes her a grin. “How could I forget?” She reaches into the picnic basket, the bag crinkling as she pulls out the container and opens it. “Was this what you were baking last night? It smelled–” She stops talking, very suddenly.

 

Regina says, her brow creasing at the way Emma’s staring at the container, “It’s an apple turnover.”

 

“I know what it is,” Emma says dully. The smile is gone from her face. Regina watches her, the slightest unease beginning to unravel in her stomach. “Just the one? Nothing for you?”

 

Regina shakes her head, cursing herself for not thinking of that. “I wanted to make something special for you,” she says, flashing Emma a smile that wavers at Emma’s stony face. She can’t possibly– how could she know

 

She doesn’t. She can’t possibly know about the sleeping curse Regina had infused into an apple yesterday, can’t possibly know that the woman she claims to love has betrayed her like this. Regina had been desperate to get rid of Emma, to get rid of the emotions and the love that creeps through her, making her weaker and weaker as her curse begins to fall apart. And she couldn’t bear the thought of losing Emma completely, of Emma hating her.

 

A sleeping curse had been…the only solution, as had a quiet picnic in the woods where Emma could be tragically injured. If Regina had wound up in an unexpected coma, why couldn’t Emma? At least Emma would go into her sleep believing she’s safe and loved and–

 

And Emma’s staggering to her feet, her eyes wet with betrayal, and something has gone wrong here. “You know,” she says, laughing shakily and taking a step back. “You know, a few weeks ago, I might’ve eaten this.”

 

“Emma, be careful ,” Regina says, eyes flickering to the edge of the ravine in alarm. She stands, too, her mind working furiously. If Emma knows– if somehow, Emma’s figured this out– Henry . She can’t lose Henry. Emma has to eat the turnover.

 

Emma shakes her head, her lip curling. She’s never looked at Regina like this before, and it’s damning in its disgust. “What the hell do you care?” she demands. “What the hell is…was any of this?” She waves at the picnic, waves at the turnover, waves at Regina with her eyes hollow with despair. “Who are you?”

 

“I care. I care more than– than I ever should have,” Regina says, struggling to keep her voice even. “Please, Emma, I don’t want you to get hurt.” She takes a step forward.

 

Emma takes an instinctive step back, her fist clenching. “Well, that’s a load of bullshit ,” she bites out, and Regina can’t let her stand there anymore, can’t stand still when Emma’s at the edge of a cliff , and she darts forward, reaches to seize her and pull her back and explain, somehow, or god , shove that turnover into her mouth before she dissolves into tears–

 

Emma dodges her grip and topples over the edge.

 

EMMA! ” Regina drops to the ground. She can’t– the horror that suffuses her is deeper than anything she’s experienced since Daniel , god damn it. Emma can’t die . This wasn’t supposed to harm her, just– just save Regina, fuck

 

She’s reaching out instinctively, and doors slam open within her, release in her panic something wild and powerful and impossible in this land, the Land Without Magic– but no, this is magic, funneling desperately from her fingertips into the ravine. Regina is on her knees at the edge, her hands stretching out as Emma flails, and she’s sobbing but there’s magic, how the hell is there magic , what has she forgotten

 

Purple light snakes around Emma and slows her descent until she stops in midair, and Emma claws at it as though she knows it, as though she hates it. Emma fights it and fights it until there’s white magic spilling from her own fingers, scorching Regina’s magic and pushing it aside, until Emma’s encased in a white barrier that doesn’t let any of Regina’s magic in.

 

She floats back up to Regina, and Regina can only stare at her in tearstained disbelief. The apple turnover is no longer in her hands– had descended where Emma hadn’t, and Emma’s eyes burn with furious agony. “Yeah,” she says coolly. “I have magic, too.”

 

Regina sits back, stares up at Emma, and knows suddenly how someone can be so shellshocked that they’d fall off a cliff. Emma smiles without any humor. “At least Henry didn’t eat this poisoned turnover,” she says.

 

Fear takes precedent, followed by full comprehension. “Henry–? You knew,” Regina croaks.

 

Emma steps onto land, circles her to stand on their blanket, kicks the picnic basket aside with enough force that she dents it. “The curse is broken , Regina. The curse has been broken for years.”

 

No . It’s impossible, after all this. If the curse is broken, she’s dead , she’s imprisoned, she’s lost. She’s certainly not…palling it up with Snow White and the savior. Henry would never have–

 

“Some bad stuff happened and I got hurt, and then…you sent me away.” Regina can feel the wave of dizziness this time, sharper and heavier than the two times she’d previously blacked out. “Impossible,” she finally croaks out.

 

Emma laughs, caustic and bitter. “I was so naive ,” she says, raising her face to the sky. Regina can see her tearstained cheeks as black dots begin to break out in her vision, can see very little but Emma’s pain.

 

Emma who’d…known the truth about her and still loved her? “Impossible,” she chokes again, and it’s all she seems to be able to say.

 

“I’m an idiot,” Emma says, and she’s still crying. There’s a part of Regina beneath the fuzziness that wants to go to her, to hold her until it stops. Her limbs are leaden weights, though, and they won’t move. Even for Emma. Only for Emma. “I thought… god , I thought you were my Regina.” Emma, Emma, Emma , Regina thinks in her rapidly darkening mind. Emma doesn’t hear her, if she’d spoken aloud at all. Instead, she turns, looks down at last and catches Regina’s gaze with a fierce glare.


“But you’re nothing more than the Evil Queen,” she bites out bitterly, and Regina’s vision goes black at last.

Chapter Text

She eats three donuts before she gives up on ridding her mouth of the sour taste from the apple turnover and everything that had followed. David is indulgent, proffering a fourth to her from her chair behind the sheriff’s desk, and Emma shakes her head mutely. It’s not working. She doesn’t think anything’s going to work right now.

 

Even now, the devastation of opening that container and seeing the turnover waiting inside– flooded with the horrific certainty that it is exactly what it seems to be, that this is the Regina who bakes cursed apple turnovers and hands them to her with a smile– even now, it’s not nearly as much as the fear she’d felt when Regina had blacked out and fallen to the ground. Not her Regina. But the closest link she’ll ever have to her, and–

 

She scoffs at herself, disgusted, and David says, “Emma,” and puts a hand on hers.

 

She swings her feet against the desk, taking the fourth donut anyway and then setting it down after one bite. It tastes like ashes in her mouth. “I know what you want to say,” she says, staring over his head to the bulletin board behind the desk. There’s a picture of Regina and Henry tacked onto it, their faces glowing in the sun as they beam at the camera, and she hadn’t been the one to put it up. It had probably been Mary Margaret, and no one has taken down the picture beside it yet, of Killian and David from a fishing trip.

 

“Do you?” David says neutrally.

 

Emma swings her feet again. “Maybe not I told you so , exactly,” she says under his patient gaze. “But… I told you so .” She swallows. David’s brow furrows. “That I should have…that I shouldn’t have left Hook. And I got what I deserved.” It’s been spinning through her head since she’d gotten here, what everyone will think of her now. That the breakup had been about Regina, and that she’d grossly miscalculated– her parents are going to be so disappointed–

 

But David is staring at her in bewilderment, his head shaking slightly from side to side. “Why in the world would you think that?”

 

Emma forces a smile, forces her tone to be light when she wants to sob some more. “Come on, Dad. I know you loved Killian.”

 

“I love you ,” David says as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and it isn’t , it’s still a shock to hear someone choosing– someone so easily being hers , and she trembles and jerks forward just as David stands, encasing Emma in his arms.

 

She hangs onto him as though he’s a life preserver, his arms tight around her as he murmurs soothing nonsense into her ears. It’s comforting in a way that she’d only dreamed of as a child, having a father who loves her and can hold her when she’s heartbroken. She feels very, very young today, vulnerable and lost and hoping desperately for someone to come along who can make sense of all that’s happened.

 

Mary Margaret is there when they drive back to the loft, and she takes one look at Emma’s face and is holding her, too, eyes squeezed shut and her heartbeat steady as Emma’s pounds against it. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’m so, so sorry.”

 

“You heard? Did…did everyone hear?” Has she been relegated to humiliating stories on the Storybrooke Whatsapp again, because she won’t–

 

Mary Margaret shakes her head, still clutching her close. “I got a call from the mansion,” she says.

 

Emma lets her go, eyes inquiring even if she can’t quite find the voice to ask. Mary Margaret says, “She hasn’t awakened yet, but she seems…otherwise fine. Aside from that whole bit about losing her mind and trying to curse you ,” she says, her voice suddenly sharp and reedy.

 

Emma touches her hand, feels it trembling in hers. “It’s okay,” she says, her heart still thrumming with pain and heartbreak and more than a little anxiety. “It’s okay if you want to go there and…be her mom, too.” There’s that weird dynamic her mom and Regina have always had, where they take turns parenting each other. Or maybe that’s just how friendship works with them. Emma doesn’t know. Emma hasn’t been friends with Regina without being in love with her, and that’s…

 

“Maybe eventually,” Mary Margaret admits wryly, but a shadow crosses her face. “I think if I went there right now, I might put her into another coma.” There’s a ferocity to the insistence that takes Emma aback, her parents both united to protect her first, and Emma feels obligated by instinct to give Regina a voice here, too.

 

“It’s not entirely her fault,” she says dully. “I think…we should have told her a long time ago about the curse. She was staring at me at the end like she’d been backed into a corner, and I can’t…” She can be angry, she can be hurt, she can be gasping out sobs of heartbreak and confusion because why, why, why – but she can’t hate Regina, not for something that still seems so nonsensical to her.

 

Regina had held her like she’d loved her. Regina had looked at her with eyes so soft that she’d very nearly looked like the Regina whom they’d all lost. Regina had glowed and curled up with her and kissed her as though she’d known how precious they could be together, and Emma doesn’t know how they could have gone from that to a desperate cursed apple. “I don’t know what was real,” she says finally. “I don’t know what was real and what wasn’t with her.”

 

“Of course it was real,” Mary Margaret says, seizing her hands. “I saw the way she looked at you. She’s…you know how unpredictable Regina was during the curse, but that was real , no matter what came next. I know how much she meant to you. That was real.”

 

Emma almost laughs, because it’s so simple that it’s a disaster instead. “Well, she didn’t think any of it was real.” Mary Margaret opens her mouth to argue, and Emma cuts her off swiftly. “She thought we were all cursed ,” she says, and pieces connect in her mind, an almost-clarity that hovers at the edge of her thoughts. “How could any of it have been real if she was living a lie?”

 

David looks troubled. Mary Margaret is still watching her, her eyes shining with tears, and Emma sinks to the couch and closes her eyes, Regina’s desperate scream as Emma had fallen into the ravine still echoing through her mind.

 


 

She’s screaming in her dreams, reaching wildly for Emma as Emma falls from her, hands barely brushing before Emma drops down, down, down into the ravine. Mother says, love is weakness , gazing down at her with cold eyes, and Regina crawls away from her, toppling over the edge of the cliff as well and falling behind Emma. Henry says, somewhere in the distance, You’re the villain of this story! You’re–

 

She wakes up with a gasp. She’s in bed, someone curled up beside her, and for a moment, she reaches for her and rasps out, “Emma?” with so much hope in her voice that it nauseates her.

 

“If you try feeling me up, I’m leaving,” the woman says darkly, flipping the page in her magazine. Zelena. But she brushes hair out of Regina’s face with tenderness that belies her true feelings. “Emma called me after your…rather tremendous idiocy earlier. You’re as bad as I am, honestly. It’s reassuring.” She shuts her magazine and peers down at Regina. “I brought you to the hospital, but what does Whale know about treating patients? Useless wanker. So we came back here.”

 

Regina’s mind is still a little fuzzy, hopefully from sleep. She doesn’t want to imagine what sort of lasting brain damage there might have been from that shock. “What…” She lifts her head and lets it fall again to her pillow. It’s so heavy. “How was Emma?”

 

Zelena pokes her forehead, looking fond. “On a scale of one to ten?” Regina bobs her head. “Oh, absolutely devastated, I’d say. You really did a number on her.”

 

It’s nothing she hasn’t expected, but it still has Regina swallowing back the lump in her throat and loathing her own…well, as Zelena had said, rather tremendous idiocy .

 

“I did try to put in a good word for you!” Zelena says brightly. “I reminded her of that time I fell for a hell god who tried to kill you all.” Regina blinks at her, her headache increasing in intensity at rapid speed. “She didn’t seem all that moved, though. Honestly .” She scoffs. “She certainly knows how to pick them.”

 

Regina stares at her, uncertain if she’s being defended or insulted, and she gives up on an attempt to pull herself up and slumps back down, staring at Zelena’s magazine cover instead. It’s a copy of Cosmo addressed to her, featuring someone named Daisy Ridley on the cover, and Regina says, betrayed, “There was a new Star Wars ? No one told me.”

 

Zelena peers at her again. “That’s what you’re getting from this conversation?”

 

“Since when do I get Cosmo ?” Regina says, struggling to make sense of a swiftly nonsensical world.

 

Zelena shrugs. “I had to get my copy under your name. The second curse never gave me an identity. Or a bank account.”

 

“Second – how many curses?” Regina demands. What is this world she’s come back to?

 

Zelena cocks her head, considering. “Too many,” she says finally. “It’s a wonder any of us remember who we are, given the number of sets of alternate memories we have.” She wrinkles her nose. “Are we just talking curses, or alternate universes, or that time Emma became the Dark One and wiped six weeks of our memories–”

 

What?

 

“You have no idea how hard it’s been to conceal the truth from you,” Zelena says, leaning back with an exaggerated sigh. “Pretending to be just another Storybrooke citizen–”

 

“You told me you were my sister the moment we met,” Regina points out. “And that you weren’t under the curse. You didn’t hide anything .”

 

Zelena heaves another sigh. “ Nevertheless .”

 

She’s ridiculous, and Regina intends to tell her so when there’s a knock at the door and Henry pokes his head in. Regina freezes, a cold terror washing over her as he scowls at them, but all he says is, “You were supposed to tell me when she woke up!” He turns on his heel and storms out of the room.

 

Regina sits up, struggling to go after him, but Zelena lays a hand on her shoulder and says, “Wait.”

 

It’s gentle, not affected as she so often is, and Regina says, “ My son –” in a choked voice.

 

“Is coming right back,” Zelena says gently, and sure enough, Henry is back in the room a minute later, a tray in hand that’s loaded with food as he climbs into the bed beside her.

 

“Henry,” she whispers, reaching for him, and he sets down the tray and hugs her tightly, fingers digging into her back hard enough to hurt. She finds that she doesn’t care at all.

 

When she looks up from the hug, Zelena has made a quiet exit, and Regina cups Henry’s face and can’t believe , not that he’s here with her, not after the curse has been– “You knew about the curse,” she says in wonder. “You knew – all this time, and you still–”

 

“I love you, Mom,” Henry says simply, and he’s smiling at her with crinkling eyes, not quite Emma’s smile but close enough that it sends a wash of affection and regret through her at once. “I believe in you.”

 

Regina shakes her head, shakes it again, touches his face and struggles to understand how he could possibly– “This me?” she says finally, her voice small. It’s easier now, perhaps, to understand her future self, who’d lost everything and built herself a family through sheer force of will. She doesn’t want to think too deeply into it, into a future where she can be happy without a curse and a town under her thumb.

 

But she has Henry. She still has Henry, even if he must not know what she’d done to Emma or he wouldn’t–

 

“Every you,” Henry says, stealing the leftover cobbler he’d brought upstairs for her. “You’re my mom .” He says it as though it’s obvious, as though he can’t imagine any other outcome.

 

Regina, who’s been living with dozens of them, each worse than the last, is dumbstruck. Henry who loves her, despite her past. It’s almost a cruel joke, something new for fate to snatch away from her. Something impossible that she can’t dare to believe. But he sits here with her, his eyes guileless and shining at her, and she’s breathless at this impossible child and his impossible love for her. “I don’t…” She swallows. “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you,” she says finally.

 

“You made me like this,” Henry says, and he wraps an arm around her and leans onto her shoulder, as though that’s a simple truth enough for them both.

 

Regina wants to weep, wants to hold him, wants to kiss the crown of his head as she’d done when he’d been a baby. With Henry, she’d finally done something right, and it staggers her. Maybe it had only been as simple as that, once the curse had broken. Maybe it’s only living for Henry that had kept her going when she should have been dead.

 

And she can only think, amidst the gratitude and disbelief, that it’s wholly unfair that he’s here with her now when there’s someone else to whom he is an entire world. “I love you,” she whispers, and she does kiss him on the forehead, straightening her back to reach it even when they’re seated. “And so does Emma. So much. Emma…Emma needs you right now.”

 

Henry looks at her for a long moment. “You two are fighting,” he says finally. “I can always tell.”

 

Regina freezes, afraid somehow that Emma’s told him everything, that he knows her latest shame. “Why– why can you–”

 

“You always…aggressively leave me out of it,” Henry says, rolling his eyes. “And then you spend all your time talking each other up. Emma told me that you needed me when I called her. And she isn’t here, which means…” He gestures around them. “You were both fine this morning. What happened?”

 

Regina can feel the tears threatening to fall, the despair at what had seemed so necessary a day ago. “I did something terrible,” she says, and she’s afraid to say anything more. Henry looks at her with the fierce eyes of someone who’s already ready to forgive, and he won’t – he shouldn’t – and she can feel something long-dormant within her, something she’s avoided for so many years that she doesn’t know how she’ll cope with it now.

 

Remorse . Damned, terrifying remorse. “I’ll drive you to the–” Blanchards’? Nolans’? “I’ll drive you to the Charmings’,” she says at last, blinking twice until she’s certain that her mind isn’t hazy anymore. No, it feels clearer than ever. “Emma will want to see you.”

 


 

Emma sees Henry first, sticking his head into the apartment as though to check if she’s there, and she exhales and stands up. She’s in a pair of old pajamas she’s left here, barefoot and ready for bed. David has taken her night shift and Mary Margaret is already asleep in bed with Neal, and Emma’s been…thinking about getting up and making the impossible trek upstairs to her old bed. She doesn’t want to sleep there tonight. She doesn’t think she’ll sleep at all.

 

Where’s that apple turnover when you need it? she thinks inanely, and then Henry’s at the door and her mind goes blissfully blank of anything but gratitude. “Henry,” she says, and he runs into her arms, wrapping her tightly in a patented Henry Hug. There are times when she can’t bear to think about him growing up, and there are times when she’s grateful that he’s gotten big enough that she can stand in his arms so easily and hold him in hers without even bending.

 

“Mom,” he says into her shoulder. “Don’t be mad, okay? I asked her to walk me up–”

 

Emma disentangles herself from him very suddenly. Regina is standing just beyond the doorway, against the wall where they’d kissed just days before. No. Not against. She isn’t leaning. She’s standing in place, her fingers twisting together over her stomach, and she’s watching Emma with drawn, uncertain features.

 

“Henry,” Emma says in a very calm voice. “Please don’t do that ever again.”

 

Henry doesn’t answer. Instead, he says, “I’m going to go pull out the cot upstairs, okay? Mom says I should stay here tonight.”

 

“Must be convenient to have a babysitter on hand now,” Emma says coolly, and she aches . She feels as though she’s been carved into stone, her features immobile while something hot and angry and hurt rages within. “You can do anything you want while he’s with me, huh?”

 

Mom ,” Henry says reprovingly.

 

Regina speaks for the first time. Her voice is low and raspy, barely a whisper, but Emma’s attuned enough to her to hear every word. “Henry, no. This isn’t–” She falters, looking to Emma pleadingly. Emma looks away.

 

Henry sighs heavily. “She just didn’t want you to be alone,” he says, and a little bit of stone shatters on the inside of Emma’s mask, only to be devoured by the flames of the rest.

 

How dare she. How dare she– play some kind of noble hero when she’s fucked them all over , when she’s the reason– like she gives a damn that Emma’s alone right now–

 

She kisses Henry’s forehead anyway, her eyes never leaving Regina’s. They’re smoldering, she can feel it, scorching holes into Regina’s tired face, and Regina stands very still and doesn’t react to them at all. Henry gives her a hug, then Regina, and he bolts upstairs as Emma slips out the door and shuts it firmly behind her. “I don’t want you to come here,” she says.

 

“Emma,” Regina says softly, and she looks…smaller now, more worn, less with the glowing vitality she’d had when Emma had first come to town, and more the woman who’d stood outside Granny’s with her before she’d been accused of Archie’s murder. Post-curse Regina , Emma thinks. She’d transformed in an instant, and all she’d done was attempt to poison Emma instead of Henry this time.

 

Emma doesn’t want to think about what that means– what Regina means, when she’s standing here with her eyes wide and round and uncertain. She shuffles in the hallway, slouching against the door and folding her arms so her elbows end in sharp points. “So was…was this some kind of evil scheme?” she says finally, and she might have mastered a face without emotion but her voice is too quiet, too timid and unsure. “Seduce me and then poison me–”

 

No ,” Regina says vehemently.

 

Emma stares at her, willing her to drop her eyes to the ground. She doesn’t. She stares back, her face as immobile as Emma’s. “So was it some kind of…twisted vengeance? For the curse? For Henry?” Regina had expressed plenty of displeasure about how she’d been…dragged into Emma’s family, for better or for worse. Emma had kind of steamrollered over it in the hopes that Regina would understand, if Emma kept explaining it.

 

But Regina just shakes her head, eyes steady on Emma’s gaze. “Not everything is about Henry, Emma,” she says, her voice clear, and Emma doesn’t understand .

 

Why would Regina do this, if not to break Emma? How could Regina do this, if it hadn’t been some kind of vicious attempt at destruction? “So what was the evil plan, then?” she demands, at a loss. Her anger is draining away with this quiet Regina’s unfaltering gaze. She doesn’t want it to go. It’s all she has right now. “You must have had some evil plot.”

 

Regina’s eyes finally drop, and Emma tastes a bitter victory in it. When Regina looks up again, it’s with eyes that glint with pain. “Please stop saying evil ,” she murmurs.

 

She thinks about arguing, about saying it again just to spite Regina. Regina deserves it. This Regina is nothing like the Regina she loves, the Regina she trusts to never hurt her. This Regina is…

 

Still Regina enough for it to hurt to keep up the stone mask for long, to lash out and watch her fold. This Regina has damaged Emma more than she’d ever thought imaginable, but Emma can’t shut off the part of her heart that aches when Regina aches. “Okay,” she says finally, and something inside of her cracks open when Regina gives her a small smile. “Okay. This is…this is fucked up, Regina. You’re –”

 

“I thought the curse was still intact,” Regina says, not quite an explanation but not quite not one, either.

 

“I know. I know that was a bad idea now,” Emma concedes, and her hands are shaking like they once did when she’d thought she might die. “But that isn’t an excuse for trying to poison me –”

 

“You made me weak!” The words fly from Regina’s mouth, louder than anything she’s said since she’d gotten here, and they ring with a vicious sort of truth that has Emma recoil. Regina means it , every last bit of it, and it’s more of an explanation than Emma thinks she’ll ever get from her. You made me weak, so I had to eliminate you . It makes a frightening sort of sense from the queen she’d met, from the mayor who’d never allowed a crack in her facade that hadn’t been about Henry.

 

Emma is no Henry to Regina, and she knows that. But somehow, every reminder of it now leaves her even more raw, more hurt and longing for things that are impossible and ill-advised. “Funny,” she says, and she can feel the coldness settle over her features again. “I always thought we made each other strong.”

 

Regina watches her in silence, no snappy rejoinder today, and Emma opens the door and backs inside, sliding to the floor against it once it’s closed again. She can’t hear any movement from beyond it, no retreating steps or the sound of heels on stairs, and she raises her knees and buries her face in them in quiet, longing despair.

 


 

Funny. I always thought we made each other strong. It had been easier to zero in on the truth of the curse until she’d seen Emma, easier to push aside complicated emotions and deal with this improbable present instead. Now, Emma’s words ring in her ears and her hollow eyes are all Regina sees when she closes her eyes.

 

She’d thought the sleeping curse a perfect solution, a way to preserve Emma and keep her whole without giving her the power she’d held over Regina. She’d thought…it might have been the one way that Emma wouldn’t hate her, once she’d been awakened from it. Once Regina had learned to be strong again without her.

 

It’s only late at night, just before she finally falls asleep of sheer exhaustion, that she considers that maybe Emma had been right. Maybe this hadn’t been the way.

 

In the morning, there is less clarity than before. She’d hurt Emma, and it cuts into her in a way that so little has in decades. Emma, who’d believed in her and wanted her and been so good that Regina had been illuminated by her radiant love. Emma, who’d meant something even in those final moments she can remember before the amnesia, standing at a podium and denouncing Gold for rigging the sheriff’s election.

 

She’d almost– there had been a twinge of something, in that instant. An admiration that had surpassed her resentment and left her breathless, left her hovering on a pinpoint and about to fall.

 

It would have been…shockingly easy to have fallen in love with Emma Swan right then, she thinks, though it’d be a slow, painful process. She finds it difficult to believe that there would have been any escape from it over the years, that there could have been a time when she wouldn’t fall in love with Emma.

 

And she’d fallen too hard and far since her amnesia for it to be anything but that.

 

She closes her eyes, slides her face into her hands, and wishes desperately that her memories would return. She doesn’t fit in this world, where everyone else has healed and left her behind. The other Regina– the one she’d thought weak, a coward– she’s the Regina that Emma and Henry deserve. She’s the Regina who knows how to cope with…with…

 

Her front door opens, and there’s a squeak of stroller wheels across the foyer that has her relaxing. There’s only one person she isn’t ashamed to see right now, and that’s–

 

–not her .

 

Snow pushes the stroller into the study, maneuvering expertly around furniture to park Neal beside the couch. “Get out,” Regina says at once.

 

“Yeah, that’s not happening.” Snow perches on the couch opposite Regina, heedless of Regina’s glare. Now that she knows the truth, Regina can’t imagine how she could have ever believed this woman had been Mary Margaret Blanchard. The old arrogance is back, the confidence that the world will twist itself to orbit Snow if she’d only will it, and Regina can feel her skin prickling in discomfort at Snow’s gaze on her. “I thought we should have a chat.”

 

“I’m not your friend,” Regina says coldly. “I’m not– nor will I ever be– the Regina who…who groveled to you until you became besties . If you think–”

 

“I think you just scarred my daughter for life, and I could flay you for it,” Snow says pleasantly. Regina arches a brow. Snow, it seems, has developed some teeth along the way. “But that wouldn’t be very productive, would it?”

 

Regina considers a fireball, considers hurling it at Snow’s smug face until there’s nothing left of her so-called fairest skin but crackling blisters. Unbidden, Emma’s pale face comes to mind, another heartbreak to set on her shoulders, and Regina sets her hand down on her lap again. “That remains to be seen.”

 

“I know it’s hard to believe,” Snow says patiently, eyes flickering to Regina’s hands as though she knows what Regina had been thinking. “But we really have made peace. And we’ve both been stronger for it.”

 

Funny. I always thought we made each other strong . “You would think that,” Regina bites out, the bitterness in her throat directed as much to a safe target as it is frustration with herself. “All I see when I imagine– when I see myself reaching out to you is weakness .” She grits it out in quiet fury, and Snow watches her silently for a long moment.

 

“You think it made you weak to make peace?” she says finally.

 

Regina’s hands shake on her lap, craving fire. “I think I would have made myself as weak as I needed to be to keep Henry. I don’t want peace with you. I never wanted peace with you. I want your destruction.”

 

The worst part of this Snow– this Snow who talks to her as though she has special insight, with none of the pleading that had accompanied that insight from Emma– is how calm she is in the face of every one of Regina’s attacks. She doesn’t flinch, she doesn’t retreat, and she just watches Regina with that damned serenity on her face. “Would it be so terrible to be family?” she says, and Regina shakes.

 

“Yes!” she snarls. “Yes, it would! I was friends with you once and you took my life away!”

 

Snow tilts her head, her eyes sad. “And you took mine.”

 

Regina scoffs bitterly. “It doesn’t look like it. You have your family.” A curse hadn’t kept them apart forever, and now Regina is more linked to Snow than ever. “You have your true love and the continued adoration of everyone in this town.” Her hands flash with purple smoke and she squeezes them shut, sets them in her lap. “You have everything . You even have the one thing I had the power to keep from you for all this time.”

 

Snow’s brow furrows. “And what is that?”

 

Me! ” The word comes out too high, strangled with emotion, and Snow’s eyes are wide and almost remorseful when she sits back. Neal stirs in his stroller and she rocks it for a moment, intent on Regina as Regina spits out her fury. “You took me from my life . You killed my true love and gave me to a king as a glorified– as a– because you wanted us to be family , and you won! You somehow– because I was weak–” The fury comes too quickly, all at once, and she’s choking on too many grievances, too much anger, and she can’t finish a single thought. “You won , and I had no choice– because I loved my son– because I loved–”

 

“Emma,” Snow finishes softly, and Regina falls silent, shuddering with suppressed emotion. Snow crosses the gap between them, still fearless, and crouches in front of Regina.

 

“Don’t touch me,” Regina says hoarsely, and Snow is not her daughter, who might have listened. Snow takes her fists and unfolds them into her hands, and Regina shakes and can’t pull them back.

 

“I’m sorry,” Snow says, and she looks up at Regina, finally beseeching. It had felt more satisfying when she’d done it last, when Regina had towered over her as the curse had set in and Snow had huddled over her unconscious husband and begged. Today, it feels like air gradually escaping a balloon, too slow to ever pop. But still, the air escapes and the balloon deflates. “And I know…I know there are some things between us that can never be undone. But this is good. Your life now– it’s good . I want that for you.”

 

“It’s absurd,” Regina says, and Snow’s hands tighten around hers. “Every bit of this so-called future that I have. It’s a farce.”

 

Snow’s eyes are dark, soft and empathetic. “Is it really so hard to believe that all these people could love the Evil Queen?”

 

Evil from Emma’s mouth had felt damning. Snow calling her by her name just brings it back, brings back the agony that she’d felt each time it had been said. “Yes!” Regina bursts out, and falls silent, shuddering at what she’d confessed.

 

Snow’s thumbs draw circles into Regina’s palms, achingly gentle. “And yet,” she says softly, and Regina blinks back tears, quakes, and Snow rises to kiss her forehead.

 

“There’s something else,” she says, and she lets Regina’s hands free at last as she returns to the other couch. Regina watches her, her head thick and hazy with too much emotion, and she isn’t ready for yet another bombshell. Snow smiles without much humor. “I’ve learned to keep a secret, finally,” she says, self-deprecating. “I know it’s hard to believe.”

 

Regina barks out a wet laugh. Snow says, “I’ve been waiting for you to…to learn that magic was back all this time. I didn’t think it was anyone else’s business.” And there’s something in her eyes, a fierce loyalty that is enough for Regina to, maybe, believe that they could indeed have changed along the way.

 

And then Snow says, “I know how you lost your memories,” and Regina puts aside everything but what Snow tells her next.

 


 

Emma had sent Mary Margaret to Regina’s that morning, and she doesn’t know why, except that she’s tired. She hadn’t slept all night, had laid awake and listened to Henry’s little snores, had run through the day before over and over again.

 

How is it possible to go from perfect contentment to devastation in so little time? She doesn’t know. She stares at the photo on the corkboard in the station again, at the Regina in the picture who’s hers , who’d have never–

 

It’s getting harder and harder to separate them in her mind. Amnesiac Regina had never smiled that same beaming smile that Regina has in the photograph, but she’d laughed sometimes until her eyes had grown light and her face had been glowing. Regina has the same light in her eyes here.

 

No . They’re different people. They have to be. For Emma’s own sanity, she has to believe that her Regina would never

 

She slumps against her desk, massaging her temples in a vain attempt to stave off a headache. Fuck , she misses Regina. Her Regina, impatient with wallowing and so quietly exactly what she needs. But thinking of Regina leads to thinking of kissing Regina, of Regina inside her, of Regina two nights ago gathered into her arms as she’d wept, thinking about–

 

Thinking about what she’d decided she’d had to do the next day, Emma understands with sudden clarity. God, this Regina is fucked up. She’d methodically plan Emma’s destruction and then weep for her, as though this makes any sense. It’s so wildly wrong , and it’s exactly what–

 

It’s exactly what she’d expect from Mayor Mills, Regina under the curse who’d been vengeful and twisted and had never quite understood that she could come back from any of it until she’d hurt someone she’d loved. Emma remembers Regina’s eyes, soft and pleading when she’d been the Dark One. There’s nothing you can’t come back from if you just tell us . Regina knows better than anyone, and Emma had only been so foolish as to see a lion and think it a housecat.

 

There’s a movement in the station in front of her. Someone’s come in while she’s been lost in thought, and she wills it to be Regina with all her heart, wills it to be some way to make things right , to make this something she can come back from. She just wants to be a little less tired, just this once.

 

But it isn’t Regina. It’s Killian, moving toward her quietly with his brow furrowed and his eyes dark but not angry, and she waits for I told you so and gets nothing but him standing in front of her, reaching to squeeze her shoulder. “You’re sober,” she says, too surprised by it to think to be polite.

 

“I heard about what happened,” he says, and he tugs up a chair and puts an arm around her back. She stares at him, astonished that he’s actually here – she’d thought that he’d never speak to her again, let alone offering to be her friend in this moment– and leans against him, shutting her eyes for a moment as she seeks the comfort she’s been craving.

 

It isn’t the same. It isn’t Regina, and she doesn’t think it would have been the same even if they were still dating. Regina’s always been–

 

But he’s here, and he loves her, and so she does her best to exhale and try to accept his comfort. “I just…I don’t think she was capable of understanding what it means to have something real,” she says finally. “Regina’s changed a lot in the past few years, you know? Even she didn’t trust herself with Henry for a while there. And she loves Henry. She doesn’t–” She hesitates, remembering who she’s speaking to.

 

There’s a dark shadow on his face, and he forces a smile. “I did warn you,” he says lightly, rubbing her shoulder. She wants to shrug it off but stiffens, forcing herself to stay still instead. Since when had he made her so uncomfortable? “I can always off her for you.” He laughs.

 

She doesn’t. “I think I just…need to keep my distance until her memories come back,” she says finally. “If they ever do.” If the Regina she loves isn’t gone forever, taken from her by cruel fate with only a facsimile left behind. She can feel her hands shaking, feel her breathing stuttering as it emerges, and she can’t…she can’t break down in front of Killian. She can’t break down at all. She is ice, she is stone, she is stronger than heartbreak , and she’s–

 

A few tears slip free, and she misses Regina so fucking much. She withdraws, her shoulders tight and hunched together, and Killian seizes her chin and turns it, brushing the tears away with his thumb. “Sorry,” she whispers, and he shakes his head, smiling sadly at her, and leans in–

 

She springs back before he can kiss her, tears stopping in an instant. “What the hell?” she demands, forgetting her grief.

 

Killian blinks up at her, owlishly confused. “I was attempting to comfort you,” he says.

 

“You were hitting on me?” Emma says, her voice rising to near-hysterics. “What, did you think that I was kidding about breaking up with you? Did you think I just…had to get Regina out of my system first?” Killian has the grace to look a bit shamefaced at that. “I didn’t break up with you because of Regina ,” she says furiously. “I thought you were– I thought you were trying to be a friend.”

 

Killian snorts. “Yes, I recall the last time we were friends .” Emma does, too, remembers Neverland and Neal and Hook claiming ownership over her, remembers him finding her in the woods to inform her that she would be his, remembers his relief over her heart being broken because that means it still works , remembers the casual pressure, over and over again, for her to give in and crack at her walls.

 

She’d fucked that one up, too. “Get out,” she says coolly, ice, stone. “Give up and get out. I don’t want to see you ever again.”  

 

He barks out a bitter laugh. “You’d rather run doe-eyed to a woman who wants you dead ,” he snarls, the compassion gone. “You deserve exactly what you’ve gotten.” He spins around, stalking to the door, and it opens just as he approaches it.

 


 

Regina stares at the pirate in the doorway, her eyes narrowing in shock, and Hook stares right back in disgust. “You?” Regina demands finally, out of words. “You?” She’s gaping, her face twisted into disbelief, and she can’t believe that he’s– that Emma’s Killian is– “ You ?” she repeats. Oh, he’d been fun to tease in the Enchanted Forest, but never for a moment had she thought that Emma would ever lower herself to be with–

 

Hook glowers at her. “Have fun with the savior,” he grits out. “You two deserve each other.” He storms from the station, shoving past her, and she has to resist the urge to snap his neck. She should . That…that utter waste of oxygen had touched Emma ? Her Emma?

 

Her hand flies out before she can stop herself, an instinctive magic that erupts out of pure spite, and Hook skids on a puddle and lands on his ass in the mud. She can’t call it back a moment later, though, and he rises, glaring at her, and stalks away again as she stares after him.

 

She whirls around, her head spinning, and bites out, “ Him ?” at Emma before she can think to show all that remorse that’s been roiling all day. “ Really ?”

 

Emma is standing behind her desk, her hands in fists. “We’ve established that I have crap taste in lovers,” she says coldly. “Do you really think you’re the one to tear me apart for it?”

 

“I just– there’s no substance there!” Regina says, outraged. “He’s a flunky. A worthless, useless pirate. You wanted him ?” Somewhere past her fury, she can remember that she isn’t here to pick more fights with Emma, that she isn’t in any position to judge Emma’s past relationships. Somewhere past it, she can see Emma’s eyes are stony and dark, are on the verge of a fuming hatred toward her, and Regina is…

 

So incredibly jealous . “What was he doing here?” she demands. “That’s it? You’re angry with me so you’ll go back to that inadequate –”

 

“Angry with you?” Emma repeats, cutting her off with low, dark words. “You’re going to reduce this to…some kind of couple’s argument?” She’s shaking, her face flushed and her icy exterior thawing into fury instead, and Regina wants to…

 

Never mind that . “You said I wasn’t a rebound,” she accuses instead, the distress as sharp as the regret.

 

“Yeah, well,” Emma bites out. “I was an idiot who trusted you.” She takes a furious step forward. “How dare you…walk into my station and cast judgment on my life. You’re not my Regina. You’re not anyone . You don’t get to be here.” She sucks in a breath. “Get out .”

 

No, she can’t do that. Not yet. “I have to talk to you about something,” she says, remembering the conversation with Snow.

 

“Go fuck yourself,” Emma snaps. “I’m not talking to you. I don’t want you around me. I hate you.” She takes another step forward, threatening, and Regina can’t muster up the fear that Emma is trying so hard to inject into her with her movements. Maybe it’s the way that Emma’s still shaking. Maybe it’s the crack in the stone of her face, the fear and the grief beneath the fury. “I hate you ,” she snarls again, and the stone cracks a little more, her eyes swimming with anger and loathing and frustrated tears. “I hate– ” Her voice hitches.

 

Regina moves forward on automatic as the tears spill free. She doesn’t know who she is anymore. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever belong in this foreign world where everyone she loves deserves better than her. She doesn’t know why she couldn’t have embraced the good things in her life instead of destroying them, as she always does.

 

What she does know: Emma Swan is standing in front of her, shaking with rage and tears and loss, and she’d never wanted to make Emma cry again. She doesn’t know how to do this– how to be natural , how to be Regina , but she takes another step forward as Emma’s head bows, slides her arms around Emma, and pulls her close. “I hate you,” Emma sobs, and she doesn’t wrap her arms around Regina, just stands in place. “You fucking asshole . I want my Regina. I want–” Her head falls onto Regina’s shoulder.

 

Regina staggers forward a few steps as Emma slumps, leans against the wall and strokes Emma’s hair and whispers in soothing murmurs that had always calmed Henry. These are different. Darling , she whispers. Emma. I’m here . Emma trembles in her arms, clenching her fists and shaking her head, and she still doesn’t pull away. Regina puts one hand on her back and the other through her hair, brushing her cheek, running along her neck. She kisses the top of Emma’s head and Emma burrows into her shoulder. Darling. Emma. I’m here .

 

She doesn’t realize that she’s crying, too, not until Emma finally tilts her head to stare up at her and touches a tear on her cheek. “I hate you,” Emma whispers.

 

Do you think you’re alone in that? Regina wonders silently, and now she can feel the tears, wet and cool against her skin as she holds onto Emma. “You can get your wish,” she says instead, and her voice is wet and hoarse as she finally admits what she’d come here to tell Emma. “I know how to get my memories back.”


Emma pulls away from her as though she’s been burned, as though the past five minutes had never happened. Her shoulders are straight, her face is hard again, and she would look entirely disinterested if not for her blazing eyes. “Tell me,” she orders, and Regina’s heart cracks a tiny bit as she begins.

Chapter Text

“The potion I used wasn’t a memory potion,” Regina says. She’s calm, calmer than she should be right now, and Emma would be angry if not for how close her Regina is at last.

 

You used?” Emma echoes. “How do you know–”

 

Regina shrugs. “I know,” she says simply, and gives Emma nothing more. “It wasn’t a memory potion. But something was corrupted along the way, and it took my memories instead of just…” She stops.

 

“Just?” Emma demands.

 

Regina’s face stiffens. “I don’t think I would want you to know any more than that,” she says finally.

 

“Oh, like hell ,” Emma bites out, infuriated. As though this Regina knows anything about what Regina wants. As though Regina with her memories wouldn’t have destroyed her for that stunt at the picnic. But this woman has the temerity to continue to stare at her, emotionless as she waits, and make no response to Emma’s outrage. Emma seethes. “Why would you even want to get your memories back?” she finally demands. “What do you care about the life that my Regina built?”

 

Regina’s face is a mask. “I don’t want to exist in this world anymore,” she says. “I don’t fit here.”

 

A flash of memory– Regina just nights ago, curled into Emma and fitting so perfectly that Emma hadn’t understood why she’d been weeping– and Emma is furious again.

 

She doesn’t know at whom anymore, if it’s fury at this Regina who’d only reacted to weakness in the same way as Regina had in the past, or if it’s fury at herself for being taken in so easily. Fury for breaking down, again , and clinging to Regina even after knowing that this isn’t her Regina. Regina had kissed the top of her head not ten minutes ago, had held her tightly until the tears had faded, and Emma’s…yes, furious.

 

Furious at her . How dare she take Emma into her arms, comfort her as though she cares. How dare she mix sleeping curses with one hand and brush away Emma’s tears with the other. How dare she– she–

 

She can feel the despair rising within her again, and Regina’s hand touches her arm for an instant before pulling away. “The potion,” she says, her voice rough. “If I could see– I need to get into my vault.” She flicks her wrist and nothing happens. Her brow furrowing, she does it again.

 

“You had some trouble getting your magic working again after the curse,” Emma says grudgingly. “You needed a…a jumpstart.” She’d spent nights in the Enchanted Forest after she’d fallen through the wraith’s portal, lying still and remembering Regina’s startled glance at her when her magic had finally worked. She hadn’t known what to make of it then. She hadn’t known what to make of Regina at all after the curse.

 

Today, she takes Regina’s arm again, and Regina looks up at her with mingled pain and hope. “Try again now,” Emma murmurs, swallowing, and Regina flicks her wrist and they’re gone.

 

Emma doesn’t want to think about why it is that it had been so easy for Regina to call her magic at the ravine, when she hadn’t even been able to do it to save herself from the wraith the first time around. It’s twisted as fuck , that Regina could really mean it when she says that she hadn’t wanted Emma dead. That Regina could–

 

Regina’s arm is cool beneath her fingers when they reappear in the vault, and Emma shrugs off her jacket automatically, sliding it onto Regina’s shoulders. Regina looks at her, startled. “It’s cold in here,” Emma mutters, which isn’t really an explanation at all.

 

“Thank you,” Regina says formally, and she shuts her eyes, tracing the walls of the vault with a hand. She’s focused, magic coming off of her in waves, and Emma closes her own eyes and tries to feel what she’s feeling.

 

There’s pain in this room, and not just from dozens of hearts that can never be returned. The air is steeped with it, with heartbreak and despair, and Emma gasps at how sharply it hits her. Regina had been here for the whole day before she’d taken this potion, and something had hurt her so deeply that she’d– whatever decision she’d made, it had been because of this.

 

A hand brushes against hers, and Regina says softly, “Here.” She guides Emma’s hand along the wall, bringing it with her to a space where the air thrums with malice instead. It feels…like a pit of hatred harsher than anything else in the room, like a black hole that would consume every last bit of the despair and spit it out as a broken husk. It feels broken , and Emma recoils from it and opens her eyes.

 

They’re at the bottom of the stairs, hands still joined and bodies nearly touching. Regina says, her voice hoarse and her eyes still closed, “It was a delicate potion. Something in this room was enough to…to make it worse than it could have been.” Her hand is warm, trembling just a bit, and if that malice toward Regina had been enough to repel Emma, Emma can’t imagine how much it must hurt Regina to have touched it.

 

She clears her throat. “It was…I found a gemstone here a couple of weeks ago,” she admits. “From one of Hook’s rings. He admitted that he was here that day and…I guess he came to screw with you. I don’t know.” She doesn’t want to repeat what Killian had implied about them, not with the Regina who’d actually wanted–

 

But Regina opens her eyes at last, and they’re thoughtful. “I see,” she says as though she actually does understand. “That would explain the interference. If it were deliberate, it might’ve been a bit less…messy.” She lets Emma’s hand go gently, walking across the room to stare at her reflection in the mirror.

 

Emma remembers in a rush of emotion coming downstairs one night, determined to repair their relationship after her time-traveling episode, and Regina turning around to face her in dismay, what do I have to do to get you to leave me alone, Swan?

 

This Regina doesn’t remember that exchange, doesn’t remember Emma opening up and Regina begrudgingly accepting it. This Regina doesn’t remember her eyes widening just a bit and the hope of something in her voice when she’d said, you thought we were friends ?

 

But this Regina still looks in the mirror with the same dislike of what she sees, and Emma still watches her and wants to…

 

God . There are too many emotions jumbled in here together, and she clears her throat and says, “So what do you need to undo it?”

 


 

She can feel Emma bristling beside her as they walk, her arms wrapped around herself as though she’s afraid they might touch Regina if she isn’t careful. Regina says once, “If you’re cold–” because she doesn’t need Emma’s jacket, she can feel her magic thrumming within her– and Emma shakes her head shortly and walks ahead for a few dozen steps.

 

There’s so much magic . It’s easy to get drunk in it, to feel whatever Emma had done coursing through her veins, but the woman beside her has a sobering effect. She could come up with an exit plan now, could shrug Emma off and come up with reasons why the potion would fail, could use her magic to conquer this feeble town–

 

But she’s tired, and all she really wants right now is for Emma to drop her arms so they brush against Regina’s again.

 

Foolish, sentimental girl , she can hear Mother’s voice in her mind, and she can’t find it in herself to listen anymore. Sometimes she envies the other Regina so much that it hurts, that all she can think about is the ways that Regina had succeeded when she’d failed. Sometimes she wants to be her so desperately that she aches, to become a Regina for whom all of this is easy .

 

Well, maybe not too easy. There’s still the matter of the potion that makes her want to laugh and cry and shake her head, because her future self had been as self-destructive a fool as she is.

 

“I don’t think he’s going to give it to us straight out,” Emma says finally as they approach the docks. “But I’m counting on him currently drinking himself into a stupor, and we can work with that.”

 

“It’s noon,” Regina says dubiously, squinting out at the docks. There’s no sign of the Jolly Roger there, but she can feel the shimmer of magic now, a concealing spell meant to keep her from figuring out the truth.

 

“Yeah, well. He had a crappy morning,” Emma mutters, and Regina looks at her askance. So that hadn’t been a friendly encounter she’d interrupted. Small favors, at least.

 

She clears her throat. “How– I mean, he’s so insubstantial ,” she says finally. “I don’t see how someone like you would get engaged to…”

 

Emma shrugs. “He was very persistent,” she says, which isn’t an explanation at all. “I didn’t have many people in my life who’d cared enough to be persistent. My parents had a new baby, you had…” Her face screws up and Regina remembers Emma drunk at Aesop’s Tables and talking about some boyfriend. “It was nice for a while. And I got attached.” She barks out a laugh. “I went to hell for him, did you know that? He died and I went into the underworld to–”

 

“For him ?” Regina says, her nose wrinkling in disgust. “You’re better than that.”

 

Emma spares her a look. “Don’t get too smug about it. You came with me.” Her eyes soften, and she hasn’t called the other Regina my Regina this time, so Regina counts this as a victory.

 

“These memories…” Regina says slowly, daring to ask at last. “When you said that it killed you that I didn’t remember, you meant things like this.”

 

Emma bites her lip. “There have been a lot of great quiet moments, too,” she says. “But we do tend to deal in grand gestures. You once gave me a lifetime of memories with Henry. You’ve jumped into another universe just to find me. We’ve both saved each other’s lives more times than I can remember.” She shivers suddenly, and Regina finally takes off the jacket, wordless, and sets it around her instead. “It’s not like we built this friendship by…just getting coffee together and doing lunch at Town Hall.”

 

She doesn’t look angry for a moment, just sad, and Regina is wistful and lost and so full of regret that it might consume her. “It sounds…like quite the relationship,” she says. It’s the kind of epic story that she’d only dreamed of as a child, before she’d known how painfully falling in love would end.

 

Emma’s eyes clear up. “Yeah,” she murmurs, moving forward toward the docks. “Yeah, it was.”

 

The was stings enough that Regina doesn’t ask any more questions, following Emma silently to the place where the Jolly Roger is cloaked. “He’ll be inside,” Emma murmurs. “I don’t know how we’re going to get the ring from him, but he’ll be in there.”

 

Regina quirks an eyebrow. “I can just cut off his finger.” Emma elbows her. “What? He has another four to spare.”

 

Emma elbows her harder. “Behave,” she hisses, stepping out into nothingness and disappearing. Regina scowls after her and follows her onto the Jolly Roger.

 

Inside, she can hear nothing, and Emma seizes her hand and pulls her down a deck to the captain’s quarters. She pokes her head into the room and then retreats, frowning. “He’s not there. I don’t get it.”

 

“Is the ring there?” There’s enough of that same malice in the air that she’d tasted in the vault for it to twist her stomach now, making her more than ready to leave this place. “This ship is filthy.”

 

Emma gives her a wry look. “Sorry. I didn’t supervise his housekeeping when we were engaged.” She ducks into the room, and Regina follows reluctantly. “He’s usually wearing the rings, but there’s a chance that he hasn’t fixed the gemstone yet, so it might be…” She peers at one table, brushing through the dust to pick through the paraphernalia on it. “I know he hasn’t been using the house, but maybe he did leave it there.”

 

Regina examines another table, finds a black rat dropping on it, and takes a step back. “I can get it back,” she says with confidence. “I know how to maneuver the pirate.”

 

“You really don’t anymore,” Emma says with a sigh. “We need to–” She stops abruptly.

 

From upstairs, getting gradually nearer, comes the sound of raucous singing. Hook is stumbling down the stairs, banging against the walls, and Regina winces as there’s a thunk and a groan of, “Bloody hell.”

 

“Hide,” Emma hisses, grabbing Regina and pulling her into a closet. It’s tiny, and there are…three items in it. Regina almost laughs, if not for how tightly they’re wedged in. Emma slides around, twisting to angle herself into the room, and she manages to close the door all but a crack.

 

Hook is in the room a moment later, a flask in hand and the singing devolving into near-manic laughter. “Home, sweet home,” he slurs, taking another swig before he slams his hook into a table. Items go flying. Regina strains to see over Emma’s shoulder, squinting at his hand for the black gemstone.

 

It’s there. Dammit . She exhales in exasperation, and Emma sighs. “It’s on his hand, isn’t it?” she breathes, her breath tickling at Regina’s neck. Regina nods, very distracted by the ring on Hook’s hand and the body pressed against hers.

 

Emma shifts, snaking an arm around Regina to keep herself steady, and Regina holds her close. Emma flinches. “I’m sorry,” Regina whispers despite herself.

 

Emma shakes her head. “It’s fine,” she says, and she’s standing tall enough now that when Regina sags against her, Emma’s lips brush her forehead for just a moment. Regina flushes in the dark and wishes desperately to just…read Emma’s mind for a moment, to know why it is that Emma is even tolerating her right now–

 

Because she wants her Regina back , she reminds herself, and the remembrance sobers her. Emma is here for one reason and one reason only, and Regina is nothing more than a stepping stone to the right Regina. The Regina who belongs.

 

But Emma is holding her close, and Regina’s only human. She closes her eyes, embracing this for what it is, and Hook flops onto the bed in a rush of energy before he takes another drink from his flask. “Damn her,” he groans. “Damn them all.”

 

“We’re flattered, really,” Regina mutters, if only to make Emma laugh softly. “You have such atrocious taste in–”

 

“We’ve established,” Emma says dryly, and she lifts her hand for a moment, her thumb brushing at Regina’s cheek. “Not all bad, though.” But she’s looking through Regina, looking for the woman beneath the amnesia, and Regina’s heart twists in her chest.

 

“I think we’d all be happier if she were here,” Regina murmurs flatly, and Emma startles, eyes widening for a moment before they droop again. The first time Regina had offered her reason for wanting her memories back, Emma had been angry. Now, she stands millimeters from Regina, her eyes glinting with compassion instead.

 

She’s good , precious in a way that Regina is only beginning to learn to value, and Regina’s lost her for good. Fool. Weak. Evil . The words are no different than before, but with new connotation, and Regina sways in the dark, flattening herself against the wall to give Emma more space.

 

Instead, Emma shifts closer to her, glancing over her shoulder. “I think he’s asleep,” she whispers, and creaks open the closet door.

 

Hook is passed out on the bed, and Emma creeps across the room while Regina remains in the closet, readying her magic for a quick getaway. Emma crouches down next to the bed where Hook’s hand is over the side, the flask dripping from it, and she tugs the flask out carefully and then puts two fingers on either side of the ring.

 

Hook’s eyes pop open and his hand closes around Emma’s, yanking her to him as he swings his hook at her throat. “Who’s there?” he barks out, his words still running into each other.

 

Emma tosses one helpless look at Regina before she says, very carefully, “It’s me.”

 

“The bitch,” Hook grunts, shoving her back. There’s a thin line of blood across her neck, and Regina squeezes her fists tightly together and waits in the dark. “What do you want?”

 

Emma glances down for a moment at his hand. “I need that gemstone back,” she says, her voice wavering but mostly steady. “It’s part of an investigation, and–”

 

Hook snorts. “Go fuck yourself,” he says, his hook flashing out threateningly again.

 

Emma sidesteps it easily, and he sits up in his bed, eyes dark and brooding. “What, have you forgiven her already?” he sneers. “The Evil Queen beckons and you come bounding like a lapdog. Never mind the man who’s given up everything for you.”

 

“That’s not fair,” Emma says evenly. Seeing her like this is…like seeing another person entirely, Emma strong and unmoved but for the little tremble she can’t conceal. This Emma is wary and focused but still so vulnerable in front of her ex, so afraid of what he might do next. Regina wants to step between them and destroy Hook.

 

Regina stands in the closet and waits, her teeth grinding together. Hook laughs wildly. “Ah, yes. It’s not fair when anyone tells you the truth. You walk through town, puffed-up savior, so arrogantly certain that you’re right , that you’re the hero and the victim of every story.”

 

“I’ve never said either of those things,” Emma says, her lips pressing together thinly for a moment. “I never wanted to be the savior. You were the one who was so…so obsessed with that title.”

 

“Blame me a little more, won’t you?” Hook laughs again, darkly. “As though I had any choice in the matter. You’re a fucking piece of work, Swan. I was in love with you, and you dragged me around– you brought me back to life when you had no right–”

 

“I’m sorry,” Emma says, and her voice is rising. “I’m sorry I– I thought you wanted to come back in the end,” she whispers. “I couldn’t–”

 

“What? Give up on emasculating me some more?” Hook demands. “I was your pet project. Reform the villains and make them yours.” He scoffs. “The queen used to be fun before she started pining after you.” Regina arches an eyebrow. Emma tosses her a desperate look. “And now look at us. Look at me . Look at what you did to me. You threw me aside after you made me a changed man–” And he swings up to his feet, hook raised threateningly again, and Regina glances at the thin slice of red on Emma’s neck and is fed up.

 

“Not nearly changed enough,” she says, stepping out into the light and flicking a finger at him. He’s hurled through the air with enough force that he slams through the shoddy wooden wall, shattering it so they can see the sunlight through the deck overhead. Hook is flung into the air, illuminated against the sun, before Regina flicks another wave of magic at him and sends him flying into the sea.

 

Emma is staring at Regina, her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide. Regina says, “What? He can swim.” She opens her hand and turns it over. The ring is in her palm. “And I didn’t even have to cut off any fingers.”

 


 

Emma is watching her warily. Emma has spent most of the day watching her warily, and Regina has spent years being invisible and years being as visible as possible and has never quailed so much under a gaze. Maybe it’s only because it’s Emma, and she can’t read her anymore, can’t understand why Emma’s even here without the vitriol and loathing.

 

It must be for the promise of the right Regina, and Regina mixes the potion in determined silence under Emma’s stare. “I think I can counteract the effects of the gemstone with this,” she says briskly, pushing a vial of smoking potion into its holder. “Then these ingredients should be enough to undo…” She’s narrating nonsense, nearly babbling , which is unacceptable. Somehow, it’s preferable to leaving Emma to examine her in silence and to reveal too much.

 

Emma’s eyebrows are slightly raised, though, which means even her smokescreen has been detected. “I see,” she says, diplomatically silent about it. “And you think you can bring back your memories with this?”

 

“I believe so,” Regina says, staring into the roiling potion. “I can’t predict exactly how that gemstone reacts to magic. Do you have any idea where the pirate got it?”

 

“Some gruesome murder, probably,” Emma mutters, and it’s a relief to see her distaste aimed at someone other than Regina, for a change. Regina is…weak now, undeniably so, and she can barely muster up the self-loathing for that through the reams of self-loathing for a dozen other missteps. “I’d ask him, but I don’t think he’ll be talking to me…anytime soon.” Unconsciously, her hand goes to her neck, and Regina sets down a beaker, distracted at once.

 

Emma hasn’t healed the thin red line across her neck, though Regina’s certain she could if she’d want to. If this is some twisted penance…well, Regina’s never been one for penance. She takes a step forward, reaching out to touch Emma’s neck, and Emma raises her chin and presses her lips together and doesn’t flinch away.

 

Regina doesn’t ask permission. She’s never going to be the Regina who behaves , and she’s resigned to the consequences of that. But she traces the line on Emma’s neck, mends the skin and cleans the blood away with her magic, and Emma shudders under her touch and doesn’t pull away.

 

When she’s done, they stare at each other in silence. “I would…” Regina clears her throat, her eyes fixed on Emma’s. “I would like to go home before I take the potion,” she says. “It’s dinnertime, and Henry will be expecting me.” She doesn’t say the rest of it, the certainty that this is obliteration , that these are her final steps in any world.

 

Emma hears it anyway, and her face softens as it hasn’t since the turnover. “She’s still going to be you,” she murmurs.

 

“It doesn’t feel that way,” Regina says, her voice hoarse and tinged with wetness that she’d never meant to reveal to Emma. “I would…I’d like to say my goodbyes.”

 

Emma hesitates, looks at the potion with utter longing and hunger, and Regina’s heart thumps painfully at the way she’s been neatly eliminated from the equation of Emma and Regina . It’s nothing more than she deserves, but it stings as though she’d never quite let go of hope. Fool. Weak fool. Mother’s voice still rings in her ears, and she wonders how the other Regina had ever silenced her. Upstairs, there’s a second casket beside her father’s, and she suspects the answer is there.

 

“Okay,” Emma says finally, and there’s impossible compassion in her voice, Emma’s capacity for kindness as staggering as always. “I’ll be over after dinner to get you.”

 

Regina can only nod before she climbs back upstairs, every movement heavy and slow with grief she can’t face. Perhaps Emma is right. Perhaps the other Regina will see them as complete.

 

Perhaps she’ll despise Regina as she is now, and erase her with all she has.

 

It’s late when she finally steps into the house, and Zelena’s bustling around the kitchen, brightening at the sight of her. “I’ve made my famous Ozian stew,” she announces, beaming at Regina. Robyn bangs a spoon against her high chair, which has somehow made it to Regina’s house.

 

Henry is stirring the pot on the stove, squinting into it with dubious eyes. “I don’t think Mom’s going to eat anything this bland,” he says. “You just…dumped a bunch of random stuff into a pot and poured ketchup all over it.”

 

“Exactly. Ozian stew.” Zelena preens for a moment, then ducks into the fridge and emerges with a bottle of hot sauce. She shakes in an obscene amount and then smirks. “Now we’ll see who can handle my stew.”

 

Regina, as it turns out, rather enjoys it. Henry picks out the hot dogs and potatoes and eats them plain. Zelena makes it through two bites before she starts turning red and coughing and opts for last night’s leftovers instead. “I suppose my palate is…is too refined for Ozian stew these days,” she scoffs, and Henry smirks into his potatoes. “Where were you, anyway, Regina?”

 

“I threw Hook into the sea,” Regina offers, skipping to the most palatable part of the day.

 

Henry whistles. Zelena pats her hand. “That’s my girl.”

 

“He had it coming,” Henry says, making a face. “He hurt Mom.” It’s as simple as that for him, and Regina’s stomach sinks just a bit.

 

“I hurt your mother, too,” she says, because maybe that’ll make this easier, if Henry hates her, too–

 

But he’s steadfast, so much so that he doesn’t bat an eyelash at her revelation. “You didn’t mean to,” he says loyally. “I mean, Grandma said there was an apple turnover, which is pretty bad, but you really love Mom. It’s different. You were just…confused.”

 

“She was a damned idiot,” Zelena corrects him, and Henry cracks a smile.

 

“That, too,” he concedes, and Regina stares at them both in disbelief, how they can know the truth about her and still sit at the table as though nothing has changed. “Anyway, now you know about the curse and you’re not going to do anything dumb, right?” For a moment, his eyes are steel, firm in their warning, and he has the commanding air that any son of the Evil Queen should have.

 

“I’m not…” Regina clears her throat. “I’m not going to be doing much of anything, actually,” she admits. “Emma and I have found a way to return my memories.”

 

Henry’s brow furrows. Zelena’s fork drops onto the table. “ What ?” she demands.

 

“I’m fairly certain it’ll work,” Regina says, setting her own fork down and struggling to keep her voice even. “By the time you see me next, I should be back to the right Regina.”

 

Zelena stands up, her face clouded with anger, and she seizes Robyn from her high chair and storms from the room. Regina follows her, heels clicking against the floor of the foyer. “I don’t know why you’re upset–”

 

“You can’t !” Zelena says, spinning around, eyes flashing. “You can’t– you can’t leave me !” she bursts out.

 

Regina can feel the odd heaviness in her heart again, the despair she can’t quite shake. “She’ll still be here,” she says. “She’ll still…you’ll still have your sister.”

 

“She hates me,” Zelena bites out, and there are tears glimmering in her eyes. Robyn clings to her, sensing her dismay, and Zelena strokes the little wisps at the nape of the baby’s neck and lowers her voice. “You don’t understand. I’ve never been good enough for her. She doesn’t want to be my sister. She doesn’t want to be my anything.”

 

“That’s not true,” Regina says, and she’s surprised herself at how fervent it is. “Zelena, I know you’ve had a…rocky relationship, but I can tell you that.”

 

“You don’t know her!”

 

“I know me,” Regina says steadily, determined to comfort, determined to give Zelena something to hold onto before Regina fades away. “And I know I’m…not exactly a people person. If I could…if I could care about you as much as I do, there’s no way in hell that my…oh-so-perfect doppelganger couldn’t.” She takes a step forward and Zelena launches into her arms, holds her close with Robyn sandwiched between them, and she shuts her eyes and struggles to smile when they part, struggles to give Zelena some hope. “She’s going to remember all of this,” she reminds Zelena. “She’s going to remember what you’ve been for me. If she doesn’t– if she doesn’t hate us both–”

 

Zelena shakes her head, a sad smile on her face, and she backs out of the house before she can say another word. Regina watches her retreat down the path to the house, watches as a familiar yellow car pulls up, and she turns away from the door with a sigh.

 

Henry is sitting at the bottom of the stairs, watching her with his forehead still wrinkled. “You keep saying she ,” he says. “Like you’re a different person.”

 

“I don’t feel very much like her,” Regina admits tiredly. “I don’t feel like I’ll exist after tonight.”

 

Henry shakes his head. “You know,” he says suddenly. “I’m glad…I’m glad you lost your memories for a little while.” Regina arches a brow, taken aback. Henry shrugs. “You tell me the truth,” he says simply, and Regina reaches for him, holds him with shaky hands and cries silently into his hair as he hugs her tight.

 

“Regina,” Emma says from behind them, and Regina can’t turn around just yet, can’t let this perfect, beautiful boy of hers go yet. Emma falls silent, and Henry whispers into her ear, “I’ll see you later tonight.”

 

“It won’t be me,” Regina whispers back shakily.

 

Henry pulls away from her, fixing her with a stern stare. “I’ll see you later tonight,” he repeats, and he spares a single smile for his other mother before he turns and bounds back up the stairs.

 

“Do your homework!” Regina calls after him, and her voice is still wet with tears and cracks on homework , helpless and clinging to a last bit of normalcy. She can see her reflection in the mirror, can see red eyes and a wan face and none of calm she’d meant to project tonight.

 

She turns to Emma anyway, sees Emma’s eyes firm and her face unreadable, and Emma says with a touch of undeserved gentleness, “Are you ready?”

 

And all she can do is nod.

 


 

There’s something surreal about all of this, about driving beside a Regina who isn’t quite right, about guiding her down the stairs to the vault with a hand hovering at her back on automatic. It’s difficult even now to differentiate between them, the Regina who is her best friend and the Regina who’d tried to poison–

 

–who’d kissed her so sweetly that she’d nearly wept, who’d looked at her as though she might truly be capable of love for her, who’d been someone new and someone so familiar that Emma had helplessly adored–

 

Emma swallows and clears her throat, taking a step away from Regina. “You all set?” she says instead.

 

Regina’s eyes are dull, and Emma knows why– had seen Zelena storm past her, looking heartbroken, had seen Regina sob into Henry’s hair as though she’s being torn away from him.

 

She’s still going to be you.

 

It doesn’t feel that way.

 

“Thank you,” Emma says, suddenly desperate to say something. “For…for figuring all of this out.”

 

Regina shrugs, barely a twitch of her shoulders. “I just want out of this world,” she mutters. It’s so at odds with the Regina who’d clung to Henry that Emma wants to laugh disbelievingly; instead, she watches Regina’s stiff face and feels only an uncomfortable stirring in her heart. She reaches out– the gentlest of touches, only fingers brushing against Regina’s back– and Regina twitches under her touch and doesn’t pull away.

 

She says instead, “I’m going to neutralize the effect of the gemstone first. You didn’t find out whose ring it was, did you?”

 

Emma shakes her head. “No, I’m pretty sure Hook is never talking to me again.”

 

A smile twitches at the corners of Regina’s lips. “ Good ,” she says, exhaling. “You are far too much to be held down by someone so unworthy.” She says it as though it’s obvious, as though she can– can still believe all of that of Emma even through this new tension, and Emma blinks back the tears that spring forth at Regina’s firm belief in her and looks away.

 

“Emma,” Regina whispers, and Emma can’t– can’t explain why it is that this Regina still affects her, why it is that she feels on the verge of tears when she’s going to get back the Regina who knows her. Maybe it’s only that there’s still so much that feels unresolved between them. Maybe it’s only that this Regina is the only one who might still want to kiss her.

 

Selfish , she reminds herself, Hook’s words still digging deep weeks after the breakup. When she dares to think about the two Reginas– about the horror that might fill Regina’s eyes when she gets her memories back and realizes what they’ve done– she’s only afraid, only desperate to retreat and forget all of this.

 

But she doesn’t. She dares another peek back at Regina after too long and sees that she’s returned to the potion, stirring it cautiously as she holds the gemstone above its opening. “Ready?” she says, her fingers shifting–

 

Emma grabs them, holds them between hers to stop the gemstone from falling, and Regina turns to stare at her in surprise. They’re too close, their faces millimeters away from each other, and Emma inhales slowly and says, “Yeah. Sorry.” She lets go of Regina’s hand reluctantly, and Regina drops the gemstone into the potion.

 

It hisses , the potion and the stone at the bottom of it, and black smoke pours from the vial to envelop them. Regina coughs and Emma tugs her back, protective, as the gemstone flips through the air and lands with a sharp noise on the ground in front of them.

 

The smoke whirls around, rapidly taking form; Emma stares in horror as it slowly finds its shape. That chin, the high cheekbones and the curve of her neck– it’s unmistakable, but for the malice in the other Regina’s eyes. “Ah,” the smoky figure says, moving forward. “The pale imitation.”

 

Regina is undaunted. “Says the mirage made of smoke,” she says, lip curling. “If you’re meant to be me, you’re doing a piss-poor job of it.”

 

“You?” Smoke-Regina laughs scornfully. “Why would I want to be you?” She moves independently of the gemstone, circles both of them before she returns to Regina. “You’re a bitter husk of what I could have been.” She takes a step forward, wispy but more solid every moment in the candlelight that illuminates the vault. “Alienating the people I love. Proving to everyone that you will never be me.” She gestures to Emma, who still has a hand on Regina’s arm. “Do you think she ever once kissed you without picturing me in your place?”

 

“Yes, you’ve figured out my secret fetish for weird smoke creatures,” Emma says dryly, but she can feel Regina’s arm stiffening in hers, her face set and dark.

 

Smoke-Regina laughs, low and rumbling and as familiar as the true Regina, memories and all. When she turns to Emma, Emma’s stomach bottoms out, and she can’t quite find the ridiculousness of the situation anymore. Smoke-Regina has mastered the soft eyes of Regina with her memories, has mastered her movements, is as intimately familiar as amnesiac Regina hadn’t been for a long time. “You– you, who took advantage of me,” she says, her voice suddenly lost and despairing. It’s uncanny. Emma stares at her, wide-eyed, as she gestures at the real Regina. “If you pretend she’s me, does it assuage your conscience? Does it make you believe I was given any choices here?” she says sadly.

 

“Regina,” Emma whispers, her heart aching.

 

Smoke-Regina no longer looks insubstantial, no longer looks like wisps of nothingness. She seems real as she steps forward, and her touch burns against Emma’s skin as she cups her face. “My Emma,” she breathes. “I never saw your betrayal coming.”

 

Emma flinches, dropping the real Regina’s hand. Regina says urgently, “Emma, don’t listen to her. She’s not her. She’s not–”

 

“I’m more her than you could ever be,” Smoke-Regina says darkly. She turns back to Emma, settling on her with eyes shining. “This Regina– this false one you embraced– she isn’t the Regina who followed you to hell. She isn’t the Regina you sacrificed your soul to the Dark One to save.” They are truths that a smoky illusion shouldn’t know, and Emma’s brain is getting fuzzier, her mind centered somewhere around where Smoke-Regina is stroking her cheek. “She isn’t the Regina who stood in this vault and told you she didn’t want to kill you.” Smoke-Regina rolls her eyes, a perfect mimicry of a memory precious to Emma, and Emma inhales sharply.

 

“You…you’re not…”

 

“I can be anything you want me to be,” Smoke-Regina breathes, and she lowers her mouth to capture Emma’s lips with hers.

 

It feels– wrong , like the life is being sucked out of Emma, and Emma can’t gather her thoughts enough to remember how to push her away, how to stop this connection. Smoke bursts around her in blacks and greys, pouring into her mouth and nostrils and ears as though to consume her, and Emma dazedly thinks Regina and little else–

 

There’s a resounding CRACK and then, suddenly, she’s being released. She stumbles backward, her heart pounding and her whole body seizing up as it had when the dagger had consumed her, and she chokes and vomits up black smoke that’s heavy and half-solid within her. Smoke-Regina is gone.

 

Amnesiac Regina is crouched on the floor of the vault, a hard rock in hand, and the gemstone glitters in a thousand shattered pieces beside her. “I had to,” she whispers, looking horrified. “I had to–”

 

“You saved me,” Emma says, her voice rough and her heart tightening into a fist in her chest.

 

Regina looks up at her, eyes gleaming, and she breathes, “Of course I did,” as though it’s been the clearest choice in the world. “But I…I…” Her face twists into anger rapidly, her brow furrowed and her eyes flashing, and she smashes the rock into the gemstone again, harder and harder. Purple magic echoes from each spot where she hits the ground, glowing in circles as though she can’t quite contain her magic, and Emma yanks her back, pulls her up against her.

 

“Hey. Hey! Stop it,” she says, breathing hard. “You did what you had to. We can…gather the pieces and try the potion–”

 

“It won’t work !” Regina snarls, and she hurls the stone at the mirror across the room, shattering it. “Not without the gemstone! Not with the magic gone from it! It won’t–” She’s shaking, raging, and Emma holds her back, seizes her arms, keeps them pinned to her before she does something she’ll regret. “It’s useless! It’s gone. It’s gone.”

 

She’s shaking now with barely restrained sobs, but her arms are limp and Emma lets her go gently. “Hey,” she murmurs again. “Hey, it’s going to be okay. I know you don’t want to be here, but–”

 

“I want to be here more than anything,” Regina bites out, whirling around to glare at Emma with flashing eyes. “I lied. This is– this world is–” She closes her eyes, the fury gone as quickly as it had come. “I want all of this. I want to be here with Henry, with my sister, with a town that doesn’t loathe me–” Emma holds her breath, can feel the pain rising within her at Regina’s grief. “I want to be here with you ,” Regina whispers, and takes a step back away from her, as though she’s afraid of what Emma might do.

 

Emma can’t do anything at all.

 

“I know that I can never make up for what I’ve done,” Regina says, her voice hitching. “I know you deserve better than…than me.” Emma can only stare at her, wordless. Regina gives her a sad smile. “I think she deserves better, too,” she says, an admission that twists her face for a moment.

 

She doesn’t look very much like Mayor Mills anymore, standing with her fingers locked together and her shoulders bent inward. “She’s…she’s everything I couldn’t be. I thought she was weak.” She laughs, rueful, so short it’s nearly a sob, and she pulls her hands apart and reaches for Emma instead. Emma lets her take her hands, her thumbs brushing tenderly against Emma’s palms. “This was supposed to be my gift to you,” Regina says, her voice raw with emotion. “The Regina you should have.”

 

The Regina you should have . And there are no two Reginas, even if this one is a bit more fucked up than the other. Regina who would throw herself into oblivion for the people she loves is– still Emma’s Regina, still the only Regina. Maybe it’s easier to separate them, to deny the one who’d hurt her legitimacy, but…

 

Hers . Utterly hers. My gift to you , Regina says, and she doesn’t know that she’s used those words before. She doesn’t know that Emma had loved her then, that Emma hadn’t known it for a long time but had loved her for as long as she can remember.

 

Emma says, her throat stuck with tears. “It’s okay. It’s okay,” and it will be. Even without memories, even without so much of what they’d given each other. They’ll find those pieces of themselves again. They’ll find each other again, and it’ll be enough because… “I love you,” she admits in a whisper, and Regina shakes her head, disbelieving, wanting, afraid.

 

Emma takes a step forward, drops Regina’s hand to caress her cheek, and Regina closes her eyes as though she can’t bear to see her, can’t bear to accept this softness. But when Emma moves closer still, Regina’s breath cool on her lips, Regina doesn’t pull away.

 

Their lips touch again, familiar and still so different, and the shockwave that follows starts in Emma’s stomach and– no , it’s not, it’s beneath her feet, it’s in the air around them, it’s within Emma but not like the black smoke had been because it’s coming from within, echoing outward around them in a blinding, multicolored surge of light.

 

Her hand has been blown from Regina’s cheek with the force of the surge, and she stumbles backward, her heart pounding with the knowledge of what had just happened. She– they’d been–

 

Regina opens her eyes slowly, and Emma knows at once that she remembers everything. It’s written across her face, it’s in the weight in her gaze that had never quite settled there when she’d lost her memories. She carries herself differently with her memories, watches Emma with eyes so much more pained and soft. “Emma,” she breathes, and her voice is as different as it is the same.

 

The same , because of the grief that flows from it in waves, and Emma is suddenly ashamed again, terrified of what Regina will think of her now. She bows her head, waiting for sharp words or fury or an echo of Smoke-Regina’s condemnation.


Instead, there’s only silence, and when she looks up, there are only the last wisps of purple magic hovering in the air where Regina had been standing.

Chapter Text

Henry is asleep already. It’s far too early for him, but it’s been an exhausting few weeks, and he’s passed out on a notebook in his bed, face pressed into its spirals. Regina eases him off the notebook, setting it onto his night table and prying a pen out of his hand.

 

His eyes drift open for a moment and he mumbles, “Mom?” blinking up at her.

 

“Go back to sleep, sweetheart,” Regina murmurs, and she slides a hand through his hair, breathing out as his eyes drift shut again. She sits with him for a long time, and she doesn’t tear her eyes away from him for a moment.

 

There’s a familiar knock at the door downstairs, followed by Emma’s call. “Regina? Regina, are you here?” She sounds desperate, her voice small as it echoes through the house, and Regina shudders and closes her eyes, leaning back against the wall by Henry’s bed.

 

She can’t talk to Emma yet. She doesn’t know when she’ll be able to talk to Emma, not with the memories of the past weeks still swimming through her mind and damning them both. She doesn’t know where to go, except that Emma’s voice is coming closer and she can’t– she can’t–

 

She vanishes just as Emma pushes Henry’s door open, eyes wild and searching out hers, and she reappears in the first place she’d thought of.

 

Zelena is drinking a tall glass of wine on her couch, and she glances up with so much hope in her gaze that it’s crushing when it fades away. “Oh,” she says. “You’re back. I’d recognize that scowl anywhere.” She swallows another gulp of wine. “Come to reprimand me for all that time with you?”

 

“No,” Regina says in a near-whisper. She should have gone to Snow. Snow would have…Snow would have made her talk about her feelings, and no , she doesn’t want to go to Snow at all. This is…somehow, she’d known the right way to be around Zelena when she’d been without her memories. She’s startled at how much she aches for it now. “No, I don’t want to…I know we have a lot of baggage,” she says finally. “I know it’s been…hard for us.”

 

Zelena shrugs. “I don’t give a damn,” she says, which might have made Regina angry if not for– Zelena with her eyes wet, beseeching. “She doesn’t want to be my sister. She doesn’t want to be my anything

 

“I never meant for you to think I didn’t care,” Regina manages at last, her voice hoarse. Maybe she had, sometimes. Maybe it had been easier than navigating the pitfalls between them. Zelena watches her like she knows it. “I don’t– I don’t know how you could be so good to me when I didn’t have my memories.” It’s an apology and an expression of gratitude at once, and she’s still too stilted to give either one properly.

 

Zelena shrugs, sullen and unconvinced. “It was nice to be the big sister for a change,” she says shortly. “Especially to a younger sister who actually wanted me.”

 

Regina shuts her eyes tightly, feels tears leak out unbidden, and her voice is shaky when she struggles to respond. “I don’t know,” she whispers. “I could…I could really use a big sister right now.”

 

Zelena is at her side in an instant, an arm wrapped around her, and Regina buries her face in her sister’s shoulder and tries desperately not to cry. “It’s all right,” Zelena murmurs. “You got your memories back. You don’t need to…” She pauses, comprehension dawning. “What did Emma do?”

 

“Nothing,” Regina whispers, quick to defend her. “She didn’t do anything. I haven’t– I haven’t let her talk to me yet.” She shivers, and the memories are too sharp, too clear. Emma backing away from her at the top of the ravine. Emma sobbing in her arms. Emma naked, skin gleaming in the dim light, her lips moving in tandem with Regina’s and her eyes glittering with so much love that even Regina’s very worst self had been moved.

 

Emma kissing her, I love you , and the torrent of memories that had followed.

 

“You can’t hide from her forever,” Zelena says, but her arm tightens around Regina and Regina wonders , if it really could have been as effortless as her amnesiac self had made it seem. If she hadn’t self-destructed and imploded and she’d have all of them, Emma and Henry and Zelena and Snow and–

 

“Finding people is kind of my specialty,” a voice agrees, and Regina’s head jerks up. Emma is standing in Zelena’s living room, rocking on her heels a bit as she watches them. Zelena’s embrace turns into a shove at her back, pushing her forward to stand. “Hey,” Emma says. “Can we talk?”

 

As tempting as it is to teleport away, that isn’t much of an option anymore, and Regina sighs to herself and says, “I suppose so.”

 

“Okay,” Emma says, biting her lip. “Uh…” She gestures to the door, waiting until Regina opens it before she steps outside.

 

They walk down the path together, sneaking glances at each other, and Regina says, “Where’s your car?”

 

“Back at your place. It was faster to just…poof,” Emma says, making a motion. “Evened the chase a little bit.” Regina looks at her askance. “I saw you in Henry’s room,” Emma reminds her. “I thought you’d have gone to my mom after that.”

 

“She would have made me talk,” Regina mutters, and Emma hears her and barks out a laugh of her own. It’s short but not unpleasant, rueful, and it relaxes Regina about a hair.

 

“No, that’s fair,” Emma concedes, and she takes in a deep breath. “Look, we don’t…we don’t have to talk about any of it if you want. We can just…pretend the last month never happened, if that’s easier.” She looks up at Regina with earnest eyes, and Regina smiles back her mouth dry as she remembers again– Emma in her arms, Emma kissing her desperately, Emma’s I love you and her eyes glittering with all the affection in the world.

 

Emma’s offering an out, and Regina would be cruel not to give it to her. “Yes,” she says, the words straining as they emerge. “We can do that.”

 

“Okay,” Emma says, though she doesn’t look okay. She looks uncertain, sad, and Regina never wants to bring back any of this again if it’ll hurt Emma like this. But Emma smiles through her unhappiness, and it’s still enough to leave Regina breathless. “I missed you,” she says, and she hugs Regina, arms tight around her and her hair tickling at Regina’s lips, both of them swaying a bit in their embrace.

 

Regina holds her back, clings to her and stiffens her arms in an attempt to force distance between them, and all she can think of is how this could have ended, days ago.

 

No , she reminds herself, and Emma inhales her scent almost imperceptibly. Pretend .

 


 

So they pretend. Regina wants to pretend, and she hadn’t had a choice in any of this, so Emma’s going to pretend for her. Emma had offered her a way out– had offered it to both of them, because she’s still terrified of what Regina must think of her right now– and Regina had taken it gracefully. They can go back to how things were.

 

“And this is really how you want it to be?” Mary Margaret says dubiously. “Just…acting as though you and Regina–”

 

“It’s what Regina wants,” Emma says, sipping cocoa that Mary Margaret can’t possibly know isn’t just cocoa. Granny had offered it to her with a sympathetic smile and a pat on the shoulder. “I want what Regina wants.” She glances across the diner to where Regina is at the counter with Henry, absorbed in studying for a test he’s having tomorrow. She smiles at their son, light and shadowed only slightly, and Emma can only think wistfully of the way that she’d smiled at Emma without her memories.

 

Fuck , they’d been good together, even if it had gone upside-down after a while. She doesn’t know how she’s supposed to go on with her life with these memories still swimming within her, teasing her with what could still be. She doesn’t know how she’s ever going to move on from Regina when she’ll never– “We don’t need to be dating to have a meaningful relationship,” she says, more to herself than to Mary Margaret. “You know we’ve always had more than that.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Mary Margaret says, glancing significantly over at Regina again. Regina feels eyes on her and turns, her face settling into a warm smile that sends heat blooming through Emma’s chest. Mary Margaret waves. Emma stares dumbly. Regina’s brow furrows. “I remember trying to be friends with your father,” Mary Margaret says conversationally. “And that was even without memories of seeing him naked.”

 

Emma gulps down a lot more cocoa. “Please don’t ever talk about Dad naked again.” Mary Margaret smirks. Emma drinks some more. “Look, it’s different. What you and Dad have is…you know, epic. The whole fairytale. What I have with Regina is…me being stupid enough to hook up with her past self and make things awkward for us. Not a single fairytale in there.”

 

“Maybe you’re just not looking closely enough,” Mary Margaret says thoughtfully.

 

Emma winces. Her drink is done, and Granny’s is beginning to feel a bit stifling. “I’d better get back to work,” she says, rising. “I have a late shift tonight.”

 

“Breathalyze before you get in the patrol car,” Mary Margaret says helpfully, and Emma winces again and ducks out of the diner, leaning against its outer wall and struggling to breathe. There’s something about being around Regina now that feels…heightened, somehow, like all her nerves are alive and the world is muted and dull except for the woman across the room from her. She’s trying to behave, struggling with all she is to be normal , but it’s too much. Regina’s too much.

 

This is why they’d never crossed any lines before now, and Emma will be damned if she ruins their friendship now just because she’s clinging to…

 

“You left quickly.” Regina is on the other side of the diner wall– no, the edge between them, close enough that Emma can only stare at her in breathless want.

 

She shuts her eyes and turns away, forcing her breathing to even out. “My mom started talking about her sex life. Always a sign that I’ve got to get back to the station.” There’s nothing casual about the conversation, not even Regina’s groan of solidarity. Sometime soon, Emma’s going to make it through a chat with Regina without imagining her naked. Sometime .

 

“Late shift tonight, right?” Regina says, and Emma envies how easy it is for her to cast all of their memories aside. Regina’s always been better at pretending, anyway. She nods, and Regina reaches out to squeeze her arm. Emma’s skin is set aflame. “Stop by the house if you get bored,” she murmurs, which is…something they’ve done dozens of times before, but somehow now–

 

–Now it’s different. Now, everything is different.

 

Pretend , Emma reminds herself, and she smiles and turns to Regina, shivering under her warm, warm eyes. “I always do,” she says, and Regina squeezes her arm again, gentle and affectionate and enough to leave Emma spiraling into an abyss.

 


 

Emma is jumpy around her now, quick to downplay it but still wide-eyed and silent at the most awkward of times. Regina does her best to act as though she doesn’t notice any of it, still too steeped in her own guilt to do anything more than pretend.

 

But that’s what Emma wants anyway, isn’t it? Regina stands at her window at eleven pm, waiting for the headlights of the patrol car to come down her block, and Emma pulls up in front and doesn’t come out for a long time. When she’s finally inside, Regina acts as though she hadn’t known that Emma had been there for twenty minutes, and Emma acts as though she’d only just arrived.

 

She doesn’t blame Emma for the tension. Emma hadn’t been the one to manipulate and take advantage of their relationship to– to take away a happy ending. Regina knows herself too well to think of her amnesiac self as anything less than her worst impulses, strutting about and maneuvering Emma into a position where her care for Regina would be twisted into seduction.

 

She’s furious at herself for doing this, for ruining them and all they’ve built. She’s envious and resentful and how is she supposed to pretend when she’s tasted a life with Emma? When Emma could have been hers ?

 

Emma doesn’t want to be hers. Emma only wants to love her, as she does anyone else in her family. And Regina had taken that away from them both in careless, selfish strokes. “Have a drink,” she offers, when she wants to say something different.

 

Emma shakes her head. “Patrolling, remember?” She pours a glass of wine for Regina anyway, passing it to her so their fingers brush slightly. Regina shivers, downing the wine in record time. It’s not her first glass of the night, or second. Or third.

 

“Please,” she scoffs. “You’re the sheriff of a quaint little town in Maine. My town. The worst you’ll find on a nighttime patrol is Leroy drunkenly stumbling into a manhole.”

 

“Yeah, well, last time he got stuck ,” Emma says, but she’s grinning at Regina, a quick kind of smile that lacks all of the tension of before. “Someone’s got to take care of him.”

 

“You’ve had a harrowing few weeks,” Regina says, swallowing more wine. “I don’t think you need to be taking care of anyone right now.” It’s an oblique reference to…the thing they’re not talking about, and Emma inhales and shrugs, silent again. Regina winces and drinks some more.

 

The conversation begins again, more halting now and more cautious, both of them dancing around the words that they’ve agreed not to say. Regina drinks and drinks until the room is fuzzy, until she can pretend that Emma’s looking at her and seeing something else entirely. “It’s late,” Emma says finally. “And you’re drunk.”

 

“I don’t get drunk,” Regina sniffs. “You should know that by now. We’ve been drinking–” She freezes, another night out drinking returning to her in stark color. Not her. Not something to remember.

 

A shadow crosses Emma’s face and she shrugs, rearranging her features into something lighter. “Yeah, yeah. I know you. You don’t get drunk, just mysteriously tired and chatty.”

 

“Ha,” Regina says triumphantly. “Told you.” She stands up, a bit unsteady, and weaves across her study to Emma.

 

Emma rises, holding out a hand. “Come on, Sleeping Beauty. I’ll bring you upstairs.”

 

“I’m not that insipid brat,” Regina says, indignant. “I’m the Evil Queen.”

 

“You’re definitely something,” Emma mutters, but her arm is steady on Regina’s, her hand strong at her back. Regina leans against her, eyes drifting shut as they exit the room, and she’s just sleepy enough not to second-guess their closeness. It’s just…nice, Emma as she should be, where she belongs. That’s what it is.

 

They make it up the stairs, Regina kicking off her heels halfway up, and Emma crouches down for a moment to retrieve them. Regina smiles at her, utterly charmed, and Emma mumbles, “What? I don’t want to trip on my way down.”

 

“Mm,” Regina says, and Emma is back with her a moment later, supporting her as she heads to her room. Regina scrabbles sightlessly at her nightgowns, finding something and ducking into the bathroom, and she’s afraid to return to her room and see Emma gone.

 

But Emma isn’t gone. She’s shifting around in the room, gazing at photos and throwing a glance at the door with reluctance. She takes a step toward it and then stops, twisting around and nearly jumping when she sees Regina watching her from the bathroom doorway. “Oh! I just…wanted to make sure you didn’t pass out in there and hit your head,” she says lamely. “I’d better get back to patrol now.” But she’s already crossing the room to put a hand on Regina’s back again, guiding her to her bed.

 

Regina closes her eyes as she descends onto it, bone-weary and ready for sleep. She hasn’t let go of Emma’s hand yet. “There’s your side,” she says sleepily, squinting at the empty side of the bed.

 

“Yeah. I mean…” Emma stops helplessly. “Maybe you are drunk.”

 

“I’m just so tired,” Regina whispers, feeling it dull in her bones. “I miss you sleeping next to me.” No. No, no, that’s the wrong thing to say, isn’t it? Emma is watching her with alarm, and Regina thinks– this isn’t her , this isn’t the her Emma’s thinking of right now, the Regina who’d taken advantage of Emma instead of being who she’d needed. The Regina who’d sabotaged all of Emma’s plans and left her alone.

 

She still remembers Emma beside her, though, Emma with her arms around Regina and Emma waking up beside her. She yearns for it again, craves it with all she has, and she’s just deep enough in a wine-induced haze that she can imagine wistfulness on Emma’s face. “Come here,” she whispers.

 

“Patrol–” Emma starts weakly.

 

“Can wait.” Regina says it with a firmness she doesn’t feel. “I want…”

 

Emma hesitates and then kicks off her boots, climbing into the bed to wrap Regina back into her embrace. Regina curls against her, savors the comfort of Emma’s touch, loves her so urgently that all she can do is think about a dozen times they’d slept like this before she’d gotten her memories back. She’d been terrified then, but she’d still needed every touch just as desperately.

 

Emma’s lips brush against the top of her head so lightly that Regina almost thinks she’s dreaming. “Go to sleep, Regina,” Emma breathes. “I’ll be here.”

 

Regina clutches onto Emma in return, eyes drifting shut, and she sleeps easier than she has since the day she’d first taken the failed potion.

 


 

Emma spends a night with her head propped up on Regina’s pillow, staring down at her sleeping companion with undisguised longing, and she barely stumbles out of there in time to end her shift. There’s nothing to say to Regina, not when pushing her any more would just be…the culmination of the past month of taking advantage of an amnesiac version to have what she’d wanted. And an awkward morning in which they both have to face that is…unfair to Regina.

 

She finds sometimes, in a rush of guilt, that she misses the old Regina, who might have been a disaster in the making but hadn’t quailed at pushing boundaries. This Regina is as much that Regina as she’s ever been, but she’s…careful, too, if only around Emma. She dances away from their tension and–

 

–But no, she’d never dodged their tough talks before, had pushed Emma into them even when Emma had been resistant. This Regina is different , different even than Regina had been before the memory loss, and Emma only has herself to blame for it.

 

She should have kept her distance. She should never have kissed Regina the first time, and she certainly shouldn’t have begun a relationship with her that she’d known deep down that Regina wouldn’t have wanted. She’d been happy to overstep when given the opportunity, happy to surrender to desires that she’d tamped down until then. And now, she’s paying the price with Regina’s friendship.

 

They’re getting better at pretending. Regina smiles at her the morning after the patrol gone awry, orders her coffee from Granny’s and has a waitress bring a bear claw to Emma without any explanation. No hard feelings , it must be supposed to convey, and Emma eats it with relish as Regina watches indulgently from the other side of the diner.

 

But there’s a new, frustrating distance between them, and Emma has to swallow back a hot bolt of jealousy every time she sees her mother or Zelena engaged in friendly chatter with Regina. Regina laughs with them, talks without the weight of the past pressing down on them, and Emma thinks, what’s the point . What’s the purpose of any of this if she can’t do for Regina what everyone else seems able to?

 

There’s a family dinner at the apartment one evening, which means a lot of silent simmering and an intolerably awkward moment where she gets there just as Regina does and they’re left standing in front of the door where they’d been caught kissing just weeks ago. “Hi,” Emma manages, glancing at the spot against the wall and then flushing.

 

Regina blinks at her, wide-eyed, as though she knows exactly why Emma’s red. “Hello,” she says, her voice a little hoarse. “Is Henry already here?”

 

When in doubt, they fall back to Henry. “I think so. He was supposed to come right after school.” She swallows and then tries to keep up the conversation before the awkward silence returns. “I’ve been looking at some of the apartments nearby,” she says. “I don’t think I want to go back to the house, but it’d be nice for Henry to have a little more space than the loft when he’s staying with me.”

 

“Not another house?” Regina says, brow furrowed in concern. Emma thinks she reads guilt in her expression and doesn’t understand it.

 

“I’m just one person,” Emma murmurs, shrugging. “I don’t need something so…permanent.” She’d meant to say big and something else had emerged instead, and she flushes deeper and stares at the ground, determined not to see pity in Regina’s gaze.

 

“There’s–” Regina begins and then stops, her mouth snapping shut. Emma doesn’t know what she’d been about to offer, except that her heart had soared and she’d thought, for an instant, of the guest room down the hall in the mansion. She’d thought, for an instant, of lazy mornings and quiet nights and Regina and Henry, family , in a home they could all share. “There are some beautiful apartments in this neighborhood,” Regina says instead. “Enough for the two of you and very homey.”

 

“Yeah.” Emma leans back against the wall and then springs away from it, remembering herself. When the door slides open this time, they’re standing three feet apart and avoiding each other’s eyes.

 

Mary Margaret looks disappointed. “I thought I heard some noise outside,” she says, her eyes flickering from Emma to Regina. Regina gives her a tight smile. Emma stares at the ground.

 

They’re given dinner assignments and Emma stirs the sauce at the fire, listening with half an ear as Henry sits on the kitchen island with a bowl on his knee and tells them about his day. “So we make it as far as the science lab when there’s a fire alarm out of nowhere and smoke starts pouring from the room. Turns out that there’s this…fire-breathing banshee in there. No one knows where she came from, either, but then she just drags off my teacher and starts doing stuff to her inside the lab.” He winces. “And my teacher was into it. Violet made me leave to give them some privacy.”

 

Regina says, rolling pastry dough at the island beside him, “Fire-breathing banshee? Did you catch her name?” She doesn’t sound surprised at the existence of a fire-breathing banshee who occasionally pounces on amiable women, and Emma gives her a suspicious look. Regina catches it and says swiftly, “I would think that law enforcement should have taken care of this situation by now.”

 

By now ?” Emma echoes.

 

“Gramps came. I think the banshee was hoping for Mom, though.” Henry tosses them both a sly look, returning to his mixing bowl with a smirk on his face at their frozen expressions. “So, you know, if you see her again–”

 

“I won’t .”

 

“She won’t .” They say it in tandem, glaring down at their respective chores instead of at their son or each other. Emma can feel ridiculous jealousy bubbling up again, the usual resentment toward every single person whom Regina interacts with who isn’t her. Even, it seems, fire-breathing banshees.

 

It’s a relief when David wanders over to the kitchen island, Neal draped over one shoulder as David sniffs the air. "Something here smells amazing ,” he pronounces, peering down into Henry’s bowl and then yelping. “Apples?” he says disbelievingly, twisting around to stare at Regina’s carefully formed pastry dough. “Apple turnovers ? Whose idea was this?”

 

Emma shifts, frowning as she turns to look at her son and his mother. They’re both staring at David, unintimidated, one eyebrow arched per Mills. “I wanted to see what all the fuss was about,” Mary Margaret says serenely, humor dancing in her eyes. “So I asked Regina for her recipe.”

 

“Oh, they are to die for,” Regina says, regaining her equanimity with surprising speed. Her voice is playful, only a hint of discomfort beneath uncertainty, but Emma still stares at her, aghast. “Even without my memories, I knew that.”

 

“I mean, if you’re going to poison me, I would take some good food over a pinprick,” David concedes. “Maybe not twice, though.”

 

They’re all laughing, eyes bright as though this is…ancient history, ignoring the fact that– “Hey!” Emma finally snaps. Her parents look at her, startled. “You’re out of line!”

 

“Emma–”

 

“No,” Emma says, holding up her wooden spoon threateningly. Mary Margaret falls silent. “What happened to forgiveness? You can’t– you can’t dredge up everything that makes Regina uncomfortable just for some kind of practical joke. She doesn’t need this, especially now.” She can feel her fist clenching, can feel the fury and displaced humiliation settling in. How dare they, when Regina is right here, her eyes flashing–

 

–with restrained fury, directed at Emma. “Excuse us for a moment, please,” Regina says tightly, and she yanks Emma with her to the hallway outside the apartment before she spins around to hiss at her, “What the hell are you doing?”

 

“They can’t treat you like that!” Emma hisses back. “Look, I know how you feel about–”

 

“You don’t know a damn thing,” Regina says furiously. Her eyes are still hard with anger, her face tight and Emma doesn’t understand how she’s the target of Regina’s fury right now when she’d only been– “I don’t need a white knight . Has it ever occurred to you that I want this? That I agreed to give Snow that recipe because I thought it was funny, too?”

 

Emma shakes her head wildly. “No! I know how you– you told me how you feel about this. You told me that you thought you were just…just playing along so they’d be okay with you.” Regina had been so resentful of it all without her memories, had been blatantly honest about what her motivations would have been, and it’s all seared into Emma’s mind by now. “I know .”

 

Regina’s face darkens. “You know what a crude facsimile of me thought when she had half the information and was just evil enough–”

 

“She didn’t want to be called that,” Emma cuts in, half automatic, half distressed. She can’t just…stand by and let anyone talk about Regina this way. Not even Regina, who looks as though smoke might start pouring from her ears sometime soon. She can feel her own anger rising, irrational and pointed and so frustrated at everything they’ve been doing since Regina’s memories had returned.

 

“I don’t give a damn what she wanted,” Regina bites out. “She didn’t give a damn what you wanted, so–”

 

It’s a baffling turn in a conversation that had already turned upside down, and Emma’s just close enough to rage that she lashes out instead of demanding answers. She isn’t here to be victimized by the one person she’d been trying to protect, and– “You know what?” she says coolly, her voice low. “I don’t need a white knight, either.”

 

Regina scoffs, shaking her head in disgust. “You’re full of it,” she grits out, and they’re left glaring at each other, hands shaking with restrained fury and Emma still at a loss as to how this has escalated so quickly. They’ve left too much unsaid when they never do that, and Emma doesn’t know how to cope with–

 

Regina throws up her hands. “You know what? It was ridiculous to think we could pretend . I’ll just…leave you to it.” She clenches her jaw and stalks past Emma, heading for the stairs as Emma’s mouth opens and closes wordlessly.

 

They’ve been loud enough that Mary Margaret opens the door a moment later, David and Henry behind her with identical looks of chagrin on their faces, and Emma shakes her head and closes the door again before she sinks to the floor, burying her face in her hands and struggling desperately not to sob in frustrated anger.

 


 

This fight is different from their usual, where they tend to squabble and solve little until one of them bends. And one of them always does , so Regina clenches her jaw and prepares to wait Emma out.

 

But Emma isn’t apologizing this time. She’s glaring at Regina from across the diner, stomping into the house when it’s time to pick up Henry, and altogether ignoring Regina as though she’s a child . In return, Regina makes snide comments and sends back half-completed paperwork and reacts like the asshole that her amnesiac self hadn’t believed she could be.

 

Because it had been Emma who’d started this, by acting as though she has some special insight into Regina’s life by believing a con artist seductress’s anger. Emma’s the one who can’t let anything lie without a fight, who always thinks she’s right, who’d held her one night just days ago and then disappeared by morning–

 

–And okay, maybe there are some other factors at play. Regina misses Emma desperately, misses being able to reach out and touch her and being able to speak to her with the candid honesty that she had without her memories. Not that Emma had been right about her supposed anger and where it had gone. Regina doesn’t have that anger anymore, that’s all.

 

If she did , she’d have to think about it, and that’s…not a place where she’s willing to go. She shuts her eyes, opens them again, sees Emma staring at her brazenly from across the diner, and glares right back.

 

“You two really need to fuck away all that tension,” Zelena observes from beside her, wiggling her fingers in a wave to Emma. Emma looks sheepish for a moment, waving back at Zelena, and then goes right back to burning a hole into Regina with her eyes.

 

Regina scoffs. “We’re not even talking . You don’t understand how people work at all.”

 

Zelena snickers. “Right. So this fight is about…”

 

“Emma making presumptions about me based on what I said without my memories.” Regina grimaces. “I’m tired, Zelena. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

 

Zelena, of course, dismisses that with a careless shrug. “So you told her the truth when you didn’t bother with hiding it, and you’re angry with her now because she listened?”

 

It sounds absurd from Zelena’s lips, to blame Emma for being one of the only people in her life who’d been a comfort to her when she’d lost her memories. Emma had been…so good to her when she’d been alone in the world, terrified and lashing out and with only Henry to hold onto. Regina had only known her as an enemy, but she’d been hopelessly in love with Emma, desperately afraid of her own emotions because they’d run so deep.

 

And you’re not desperately afraid now? The little voice niggling at the back of her mind is smug and condescending and sounds remarkably like Zelena. And you weren’t desperately afraid when you took that potion?

 

She’s gone self-destructive and she’s gone flat-out destructive, and she’s finally grown from both of those into some healthy, old-fashioned anger. This isn’t about feelings . This is about Emma glimpsing too much and refusing to let it go. This is about Emma glaring at her as though she’s the one who’d started this.

 

This is about craving Emma’s kisses still, with her longing tripled by the fact that she’d tasted them this time and knows what they can be.

 

She looks up, her gaze on fire anew as it settles on Emma, and Emma stares back at her with equal heat. “That’s certainly a look,” Zelena observes, and Regina’s eyes snap back down to her place, her breathing a little too rapid as she tackles her dinner again.

 

It’s easier to neglect unpacking all her emotions and to choose hostility instead. They’ve been through far too much for this, maybe, but Regina doesn’t know how else to cope anymore. She’d tried magic and she’d tried fleeing and she’d even tried being Emma’s maid of honor , and all that’s left is to…back away and let herself be angry instead.

 

Henry is growing exasperated with both of them. Snow says gently, “Don’t you think you’d both be better off talking about this?” Even David makes several muttered comments about emotionally stunted women that have both of them staring at him in outrage, then quickly glancing at each other and then away.

 

Regina can hold out for Emma’s apologies. This is easier than the tension of before, the almost-wanting that had never quite been sated. She’s perfectly content in this new limbo, feeding the fire of her own anger until something changes, and she’s definitely not thinking about Emma every waking moment.

 

Maybe every other , she thinks, snatching up her phone when it rings and cursing her own disappointment when it’s Henry on the line instead. “Henry?”

 

“Mom?” Henry’s voice sounds distant and small, and Regina snaps out of her funk and clutches her phone. “Mom, I’m at the vault. I think I’m in trouble. I need you–”

 

She’s vanishing in a puff of smoke before he can finish the request, her phone clattering to the floor behind her. “Henry? Henry!” she calls out, glancing wildly around the dim room. “Henry, where are you?”

 

There’s nothing but silence, and then another puff of smoke behind her. She whirls around just as Emma’s voice sounds in the dark. “Henry?” She sounds just as frantic, and Regina freezes as realization sets in. “Henry–? Regina,” Emma says, her voice taking on a distinct chill. “What’s going on?”

 

“Your son,” Regina says, her lips pursing together, “Is playing games with us.”

 

Emma holds up a hand. “Oh, no. You do not get to pin this on me. Your son is–”

 

“As charming as this is,” says a voice from behind them, and they twist around and gasp in mutual outrage. Zelena is in the mirror, framed with Henry and a grim-looking Snow and Charming. “We won’t stick around to watch.” Zelena covers Henry’s ears, mock-solicitous. “Your son shouldn’t have to watch his mothers fight.”

 

Snow frowns at them as Emma’s mouth opens in protest. “You’re both in time out,” she informs them. “Zelena did a spell. You’re trapped in there, and we’re not letting you out until you talk .”

 

“Actually, I set the spell to only release if they kiss,” Zelena says smugly, and Snow tosses her a startled, admiring glance. “For at least thirty seconds.” Henry winces. “We all know what you need.”

 

“For fuck’s sake,” Emma bursts out, and the mirror turns blank again. “I’m not–” She looks wildly at Regina. “Your sister’s insane.

 

“I’m well aware,” Regina says tightly.

 

“We can call their bluff,” Emma says, biting her lip. “They won’t let us starve to death, right? They’ll have to let us out eventually.”

 

Regina snorts. “Have you met my sister?” Emma sighs in acquiescence. Regina grits her teeth. “Let’s just…it’s not like we’ve never done it before. And I don’t think either of us wants to be down here for long.”

 

Emma stares at her, eyes wide and a little glassy as Regina reaches out to her, touching her cheek and taking a step forward. They’re close enough for their breaths to mingle, and Regina can feel a thrill of anticipation shudder through her as Emma wets her lips and leans forward–

 

–And then stumbles back, shaking her head. “I can’t,” Emma says. “I can’t– I can’t do that to–” She turns away, staring at the ground. “ Fuck Zelena,” she says under her breath.

 

Regina shrugs, hurt and determined not to show it. “Fine,” she says coolly. “So we’ll stay here until Zelena loses patience or that smoke beast comes back. I don’t care.”

 

“Smoke beast comes back?” Emma ventures, glancing around the room. The shards from the broken gemstone are still on the ground below them, and Regina stares at them with dread.

 

She shrugs again, avoiding Emma’s gaze. “I’ve been pushing off cleaning up that mess. I didn’t want to–” She doesn’t want to come face-to-face with the smoke-Regina again, this time with all its attention on her. She doesn’t want to think about that night in the vault at all , nor does she want to contemplate the last kiss that she and Emma had shared.

 

“I get it,” Emma says, her voice gentle, and dammit , they’re supposed to be fighting. “You think it’s still got some magic in it?” She crouches to sweep a handful of gemstone into her palm, wincing as it pricks and draws blood. “Ow.”

 

“Emma–” Regina begins, reaching for her automatically. A burst of black smoke emerges from the wound instead, blowing at her face, and she coughs and presses forward. “You’ve fed it, you idiot,” she says, her concern forgotten and replaced with irritation.

 

“Sorry! I’m sorry,” Emma says, staring with growing alarm at her hand. The blood is gleaming and vanishing, absorbed into the gemstones that sit above it, and she tosses them to the ground.

 

A new cloud of smoke appears at that, blooming from beneath them, and Regina yanks Emma back as it grows and grows. It doesn’t take shape this time, but seems to devour everything around them, building as though it’s been given new life with just a drop of Emma’s blood. “Crap,” Emma says, staring down at the smoke. It whirls around them, spreading lazily to encompass the vault, and Regina blasts it with magic that is swallowed up by it just as easily as the air around them. “Too late for that kiss?”

 

Idiot ,” Regina grunts again, and she extends her hands and sends more magic into the smoke. Emma sighs and raises her own hands, hurtling clumsy magic out to join Regina’s, and it’s barely a wisp compared to the billowing smoke.

 

“Together,” Emma reminds her– together , the only way they’ve ever managed to win when they’re fighting– and Regina nods shortly and reaches for Emma, their fingers twining together for a moment as they throw out their free hands.

 

The magic explodes from them with renewed force, thrumming through Regina like she’s on fire, and Regina gasps and feels Emma’s life-force soaring through her. They’re connected intimately, magic singing through their veins as though they’re one, and Emma’s hand squeezes Regina’s tighter and tighter, the magic exploding from within them with extra force.

 

Emma laces their free hands together, too, the magic flowing from their skin, from their pores, from all they are instead of only their palms. Regina can see Emma’s eyes bright and wild, her forehead gleaming with sweat, her heart pounding a pulse in time with Regina’s, and god . Regina’s missed this, missed the two of them channeling their connection into something powerful and unstoppable. There’s nothing like this, both of them drifting together, the smoke around them charred and falling to the ground as ash as they crunch the last remains of the gemstone beneath their feet.

 

They’re still holding onto each other, still trembling from the force of the magic, and the magic still echoes from within them as though it can’t be stopped. Emma’s never looked more beautiful, shining as though lit by something otherworldly, and Regina is breathing hard and can’t tear her eyes away. Can’t tear her hands away, either, and she doesn’t know which of them falls forward first when the kiss begins.

 

The magic glows brighter around them, and Regina can feel it like electricity beneath her skin, can feel Emma’s lips on hers and her nerves alive and little more. Emma whimpers her name and pulls her closer, Regina bites her lip and strokes her tongue with her own and nearly sobs into her mouth, and they’re alive , bursting with energy that can’t be explained only by magic. Emma’s kissing her, and Regina doesn’t remember how to breathe when it isn’t in tandem with Emma, when it isn’t in Emma’s arms.

 

When they finally tear apart from each other, gasping for breath and staring wildly, the magic has faded and Regina wants to sob again. “I– oh god,” Emma says in a strangled voice. “Regina, please– I’m sorry . I did it again. I never meant to–” She’s crying, tears slipping down her cheeks, and Regina can only gape in horror at what she’d done to Emma again. “I violated you,” Emma whispers. “ Again .”

 

“Violated?” Regina echoes, aghast at the wording. “Is that what you think happened before?” Emma looks away, scrubbing at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “I took advantage of you, Emma. I manipulated you away from your happy ending and then broke your heart. You can’t blame yourself for what I– what I–” She’s horrified. Of course Emma– her selfless, self-doubting Emma would blame herself for Regina’s– “Emma, no . The only person who violated was me. I used your…your care for me to–”

 

Care for you ?” Emma repeats, shaking her head in disbelief. “Is that what you’re calling me being in love with you?” Regina recoils at the sudden pain in Emma’s voice, lifts a hand to her and then drops it before it can reach her. “God, Regina, is this what you’ve been telling yourself? We had true love’s kiss .”

 

“We also have that with our son!” Regina says helplessly, wringing her hands. “We love each other. Of course we do. But you can’t tell me that you ever thought it was romantic until I propositioned you!”

 

Emma stares blankly at her, her eyes smooth and unseeing for a moment before she says, “Fine. Rewrite history, I don’t care.” She tangles a hand through her hair, her voice subdued, and Regina’s ready when she turns around again with her eyes fierce. “You might not feel that way about me, but I do. And I can– I can try to just…get over it, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I’m not ready yet.” She ducks her head, takes a step forward and takes Regina’s wavering hand. “I’m sorry. I’m…I’m going to need time.”

 

Regina’s mouth opens and closes and she wants to laugh , she wants to deny everything Emma’s saying because fuck , what if it’s all a lie? What if Emma’s just clinging to the closest life preserver after losing her engagement to a sham?

 

What if she isn’t?

 

Emma turns around, her steps careful as her shoulders slump, and she has one foot on the stairs out of the vault when Regina whispers, “I took the potion to stop loving you.”

 

Emma stops.

 

“It was…I talked to Snow about it. She’d taken one like it years ago that had backfired. I don’t think she realized why I was asking her those questions until I had lost half my memories,” Regina admits. “I just…I couldn’t do it anymore, Emma. I couldn’t watch you marry someone else when it felt as though every moment was tearing me apart.” Her voice is wet with unshed tears, and Emma turns around again, her eyes glinting but unreadable in the dim vault.

 

“You wanted to stop loving me?” Emma steps toward her, into the light, her voice fragile and her face very pale.

 

She’d wanted– she’d wanted the pain to stop. She’d wanted to give Emma the kind of friend she’d deserved, a friend who could be happy for her and mean it. She’d wanted Emma to have her happy ending and she hadn’t wanted to lose her. “I wanted to love you the way you needed,” Regina manages. “I was trying to give you the Regina you deserved.”

 

Emma takes another step forward, still pale, still with glittering eyes. “You haven’t changed a bit in three years,” she murmurs, and it falls like something precious upon Regina. Like not changing had been something good indeed, instead of a burden she’s been carrying with her. “Regina, I needed you . I always needed you.” Emma’s so close now, and Regina’s misty eyes have created a glow around her, a fuzziness that has Emma appear almost otherworldly as she approaches.

 

There’s a hand on her cheek, a soft touch that shakes but doesn’t budge, and Emma breathes, “I just…didn’t know that I could have you.”

 

“You always had me,” Regina chokes out. “Don’t you understand? That potion…it might’ve been corrupted, but it did what it was supposed to do. It wiped my memories beginning from the moment I fell in love with you, up on that ridiculous podium during that ridiculous special election with your ridiculous noble–”

 

Emma leans forward, presses her lips to Regina’s and Regina stops. The world stops for a moment, like a blip of silence before sound comes crashing back in, and Emma is still kissing her, is still moving too-soft fingertips along her cheeks, is still leaning in as Regina’s hands settle on her hips and hold her in place. “I love you,” Regina murmurs. “I loved you when I wanted to hate you and I loved you when you were going to marry someone else and I never thought– I never thought you might–”

 

“I do,” Emma whispers, and there are tears on her face again but she’s smiling, rubbing her nose against Regina’s before she dives in for another kiss. “I didn’t think you’d –”

 

“This is pathetic,” comes a voice from behind them, followed by a hushed “Zelena! ” Zelena ignores the reproof. “I thought they’d at least be naked by now,” she says, disgusted. “We made Henry leave for some kissing ?”

 

Emma shifts, slipping an arm around Regina as they turn back to the mirror to face Regina’s unimpressed sister and Emma’s beaming mother. “Please go away,” Regina says, her voice lacking any bite with Emma pressed against her.

 

“We’re really happy for you,” Snow says brightly. “We thought it’d take–” Regina flicks her fingers and the mirror fades from sight as they reappear in the mansion foyer.

 

Emma tucks her chin onto Regina’s shoulder. “Home, sweet home,” Regina says wryly, the gentlest of invitations in her voice, and Emma blinks at her and smiles.

 


 

The ravine seems deeper now, the drop to the bottom longer than it had ever been when she’d been in freefall there. She’s fallen down here twice now, and pushed a woman down it a third time. She still doesn’t even know how Storybrooke has a cliff this high that the ravine can exist at all, but somehow, the impossible is always possible in Storybrooke.

 

It’s a nicer descent this time, though maybe that’s just because of Regina floating down beside her. “There’s probably a faster way to do this,” Emma says sheepishly. “I didn’t really…I didn’t really think it through. This is the only way I’ve ever gotten down here.”

 

“It’s peaceful,” Regina says, and her hand slides into Emma’s and it really is, kind of. They’re on old pieces of wood that had been a part of the rope bridge, at one point, and Regina is sitting on hers, legs crossed and dangling over the edge as though this is a ski lift. Emma’s standing, her own raft slightly below Regina’s, and she casts an eye down to the underbrush deep below them and slides to a sitting position as well.

 

Their rafts lock and stay, held in place by glowing purple energy, and Regina drops a kiss on the top of Emma’s head and shifts over to lay her head against Emma’s shoulder. “How was your day? Aside from this…event.”

 

“It’s a date,” Emma insists. “If we can have magic dates and coffee dates, we can definitely have ravine dates.” She wiggles her eyebrows. “And this makes three, by the way, so you have to sleep with me tonight.”

 

“Mm,” Regina says agreeably. “Because we’ve never done that before.”

 

“Not third date sleeping together. It’s a milestone,” Emma informs her.

 

Regina bobs her head. “Anytime we can make it through three dates without poisoning each other is something to celebrate.” She laughs lightly, the pain in her eyes all but gone at the mention of their last time here, and Emma slips a hand up her thigh, daringly high. “Not in midair, darling,” Regina says warningly. Emma pouts. “Splinters.”

 

“Okay, fair. And my day was fine. Pretty quiet. I found a bridal magazine in my drawer and set it on fire,” Emma says, grinning at the memory of it. “I think– if I ever did get married, I would like to elope.”

 

“No, you wouldn’t,” Regina says fondly. “There’s no way your mother would ever forgive us. And Henry would have to have a part.” Us , she’d said, a given as though–

 

–but yeah, of course it’s us . Emma can’t think of it any other way. “A quiet ceremony, then,” she concedes. “Somewhere outside, with just our closest friends and family around.”

 

Regina lifts her legs up onto the raft, snuggling into Emma’s side. Her eyes are distant, and Emma knows that she’s thinking of her own wedding, the cold and impersonal party to a king she’d never chosen.

 

Emma’s never thought much about marriage– even to Regina, even after her own failed engagements, the extent of it had been daydreaming about waking up in the morning beside Regina with a good morning, Mrs. Swan-Mills – but she thinks now that it might be…cleansing. For both of them. “How does that sound?” she wonders.

 

Regina snorts. “Like you’re speeding past the third date to the thirtieth,” she says, but she kisses Emma’s neck and says, “If a single one of your mother’s birds comes anywhere near the ceremony, I’m setting it on fire.”

 

They’re just about at the ground now, and they slide off the raft together, squinting around at the bottom of the ravine. “Maybe look for unconscious animals,” Emma offers. “Think you could kiss a frog awake?”

 

“Only if it had a terrible red leather jacket on,” Regina shoots back, and Emma pokes her and kneels down, brushing aside a mass of branches and grass to reveal a plastic container.

 

“Here,” she says, relieved. The apple turnover is still inside the plastic, untouched by human or animal, and she sets it onto a slab of rock and steps back as Regina sets it on fire. The plastic collapses into itself, the turnover burning brown, then black, and Emma sinks to the ground to watch it go up in smoke.

 

Regina joins her, watching the turnover with intensity, and when it’s finally nothing but ashes under melted plastic, she waves her hand and makes it all disappear. “Not my usual apple flambé,” she says, making a face.

 

“It probably was delicious,” Emma says, a little wistfully.

 

Regina kisses the shell of her ear. “I will make you a dozen more,” she promises. Emma turns to look at her and sees that Regina’s staring at her with the same intense gaze with which she’d watched the turnover burn.

 

“What?”

 

Regina shakes her head. “It’s nothing. Just…something you said, back when I…” She gestures at the rock. “You said that a few weeks ago, you might’ve eaten the turnover. I’ve never understood.”

 

“Oh.” Emma swallows, unwilling to return to that night. “It’s nothing, really.” But Regina is still watching her expectantly, and she stares into the sunset as it dips into the ravine and confesses, “I don’t know. I think I spent so long tied up in what other people thought my happy ending was that I stopped…for a while there, I stopped trying to figure out what it meant for me.”

 

Regina’s hand slips into hers. “Oh, Emma.”

 

Emma shrugs, self-conscious. “It’s not a big deal. I just…I guess I might’ve been relieved to fall into an eternal sleep for a while there. It would have been easier than figuring out if I was really happy, or what my future looked like.” She leans into Regina. “I know it was kind of fucked up for a while there, but I’m glad that…that Madam Mayor came back when we were all so busy trying to be noble that we gave up on ourselves instead.”

 

She peeks over at Regina, still wary of upsetting her with mentions of the past. But Regina’s face shows no turmoil, and when she shifts, it’s to graze Emma’s ear with her teeth again and murmur, “You know, Madam Mayor can make a reappearance whenever you might need her, Miss Swan .” She smiles at Emma, that shallow, dismissive smile that had always made Emma want to–

 

–Want to make Regina shut up and listen – and goosebumps break out over Emma’s skin with just a look. “Third date,” she says, a little breathless.

 

“Third date,” Regina agrees, pouncing on her. It’s a hard kiss, fast and rough until Emma topples back into the underbrush, and Emma twists them around until Regina’s lying on her back beneath her, eyes dilated and hungry. “Shall we?”

 

They fade out of the ravine and onto their bedroom floor, Regina attempting to shift their position with the distraction, but Emma holds steady. “Nice try,” she gasps out, lifting Regina to pull her onto her lap. “Madam Mayor.” Regina bites her shoulder and yanks at her jacket, grinding down onto her.

 

Emma shrugs it off and sticks her hand back up Regina’s dress, exhaling as Regina lets out a groan of delight. And oh, yes, Sheriff Swan might have some tricks up her sleeve, too.