She hated how her gut twisted and her eyes watered as the memories came flooding back, memories of Emma leaving already breaking her heart, and then everything after she left, Henry, oh Henry, her sweet boy, he wasn’t a boy he was a man with a wife and child, forced to think dead from this curse, grieving and broken and not knowing they’re really the people around him. She hates herself for showing weakness, but her heart is breaking filled with too many emotions, too many memories and feelings fighting for their chance to be acknowledged.
It’s not until she bumps into Henry on that bench, heard his story, Emma’s story where those memories and feelings for the woman tried to push themselves to the front, trying to shove aside the anger and heartache over her son and what Drizella did, clawing their way up her throat trying to force themselves around the lump in it because she’s cried enough and Henry will worry and she’s never been very good at lying to him ever since she made her promise, because he’s her sweet boy and, she can’t lose him too.
So she sat there and held his hand and did her best to be okay, to be alright, to protect him from things he’s unaware of but at night alone by herself those feelings and memories finally clawed their way free and she was forced to remember, to feel everything she thought she’d pushed aside years ago but, seeing Emma again so fresh in her memories, hearing that small nervous “hi” in her head like it was just yesterday, it made her smile until it didn’t, until she remembered everything else, until she remembered watching her say “I do” to someone that wasn’t her, until she remembered watching her kiss another, tell I love you to another, run into the arms of another all over again, but it was sudden, it wasn’t small hits in her gut over time it was like a straight hour of her heart sitting mangled in her gut fighting to beat around the deathgrip curled around it.
She sobbed and she raged because how dare she leave them, her family, to play house with the pirate leaving her alone to protect their son, to save their son, alone to deal with all of this, alone to watch their granddaughter grow and Henry to marry, alone here crying because getting her son back means losing him and Emma should be here, she promised her she’d be here, to give Regina her happy ending but there's nothing happy about this ending and Emma got to live a life with her child and the handless wonder and she was left to fight every day to keep their son safe and she should be here! She promised to be here…they were supposed to do this together, weren’t they? That was the deal after Neverland, wasn’t it? Maybe not spoken but when Emma chose to stay, when she fought for everything they built, that was an agreement, of friendship, of co-parenting, of love, because she loved Emma Swan with all of her heart, squished in tightly with Henry, and she left her.
Was she even still alive? How much time has passed since they said goodbye…although could it even be considered a goodbye? It was just a nod because she was so angry Emma was choosing him over their family, so mad she was leaving Henry, replacing him like her parents replaced her. She remembers late night drinks where Emma ranted about how that felt, angry and broken and then she did the same thing to Henry, she left them in a different world and all she got was a nod because she was so angry and her nails were digging holes in the palms of her hands, keeping herself back, together, standing in that spot instead of running across the distance and wrapping her in her arms, instead of bagging her not to go, instead of bringing up promises of happily ever after and together, stopping herself from ringing her neck and slapping her, from confessing love she was still working so hard on keeping down and, why didn’t she hug her? Because even if she didn't want to accept it she knew, she knew she’d never see her again and she should have sucked up her pride and hugged her even if she sobbed in the arms of a woman who she barely recognized most days but she nodded and Emma was gone and that moment will haunt her forever.
Regina sobbed herself to sleep, haunted by memories in her dreams, of fantasies and what-ifs, of death and heartbreak, of “Unique and maybe even special” of “I believe you” of “You’ve worked too hard to have your happiness destroyed” and she woke up all over again sobbing at the images of a gravestone with the woman’s name on it because, how many years has it really been?
Does time move differently here than it did in the other land? Is it the same universe she left all those years ago? Is Emma still young? Is she happy with the pirate and their child? Did she grow old, have more children and get to meet her grandkids and great grandkids? Did she ever think of them, wonder if they were happy or okay?
Regina’s sure she’s deep in the stages of grief, stuck somewhere between anger and depression because she still wants to ring her neck but she also doesn’t want to get out of bed and face this new cursed world, to face her fully grown son and her 10-year-old granddaughter, to serve booze in this wardrobe that reminded her too much of Emma’s that she sobbed staring into her closet, clutching a band tee of Emma’s favourite band with the sleeves cut off -because cursed her was really proud of her arms. The only luck of her new profession she didn’t have to be up and moving at the crack of dawn so she could sob and rage and put on that shirt wishing it was Emma hugging her body and not the cotton fabric.
She finally made it downstairs -because she lived above a bar now- at quarter to ten, turning on her iPod while she cleaned and set up and tried to stop crying, to force herself to get a hold of herself but the thought of never getting to say ‘I love you’ or never seeing her again, of her possibly no longer being in this world, it was too hard to push aside.
She broke three shot glasses and 4 bottles of beer, drinking more than she should at this time, than she should with a full day of work ahead of her but it all hurt too much, the thought of her whole family being gone, of being alone, of Lucy losing her father, Ella losing her husband, her true love, and Emma wasn’t here to help her figure out how to make it right, and Snow wasn’t here for her annoying hope speeches and…and she doesn’t want to feel anymore, please, just make it stop, just for a moment...
She was sweeping up broken glass, tears finally held tight inside of her when it started, when the first notes to the damn song started playing on the speakers bringing forth memories of the blonde draped across the couch in her home office, drunk from too much cider and warm from the fire and her companies laugher, singing along to this song. To memories of Emma twirling her around Granny’s both too drunk and heartbroken to care about strange looks all she was focused on were the feel of Emma’s hand in hers and her laughter ringing in her ears between amazingly in tune drunk singing of an 80s hair band’s song.
And she laughed, she laughed as the song filled the bar and every thought and care out the window as she let the song take over, dancing around the open space, song loud and worming into every broken piece of her heart, of her soul, filling her up to the rim with the memory of her laughter and the feel of their hands clasped together and bodies as close as they could ever allow, of love and freedom and she sang, sang at the top of her lungs, her short curls bouncing around her as she moved around the space, broom still clasped in her hand, like Emma’s once was.
Heartbreak mingling with love and freedom until she didn’t care about anything and she could swear she could feel Emma all around her, smell her scent, feel her magic mingling with hers, hear her the laughter, beautiful and wild and not heard enough, until she felt like she was home for the first time in probably over 3 decades, so lost in everything Emma that she didn’t hear the bell ring above the door or hear the approaching footsteps, didn’t hear the voice call her name.
Didn’t notice the man watching her, eyes curious and worried, the initial humour lost when he saw tears on her cheeks and the way her body shook and not from dance but the sobs she wasn’t even aware were shaking her body between verses and guitar solos, between the musical sound of Emma’s laughter that she knew she would forget again soon. She didn’t notice until he called her name again, until the song finished and the lightness masking her pain vanished and she felt herself crumbling again, to a floor that still housed shards of glass and, then she met his eyes, eyes like ones she’s mourning and she barely caught herself on the bar as he looks at her with an expression so familiar to the one he gave her before Emma married the pirate, to the one after Emma left them for good.
“Roni, are you okay?”
She forced herself to smile, she knew it looked fake and broken and too painful to fool anyone but she had to try because she needs to save him, to protect him but right now her body is mourning a love she never really had the chance to experience and why can’t she stop fucking crying!?
“I’m fine,” She forced out, trying to be strong but she felt the tears rolling down her cheeks still, that lump in her throat again from trying to keep in sobs.
“You don’t look okay.”
And one more look into those sea green eyes and her heart was crumbling and her body was giving in again, barely processing that she was falling until strong arms were around her, keeping her upright, and she missed this, the feeling of her sons warm hugs and she let herself fall into him, still unable to process that her head now rested against his chest instead of his against her middle, how he was now comforting her instead of she comforting him but it was home and safety and her hands clutched at his jacket and she sobbed into his chest, angry and heartbroken.
“Shhh, it’s okay, Roni, it’s okay,” he soothed in a voice so deep now she still couldn’t believe it but he was still her sweet little boy even cursed he was still Henry, sweet, strong, brave Henry.
So she let herself have this moment, she let herself sob in her sons arms over his mother who she never got the chance to love the way she wished she could, seeking comfort from a man who doesn’t even understand, who doesn’t and can’t ever find out who she really is or she’ll lose him, her sweet little prince and he’s all she has left, the curse taking away Zelena and Robyn, leaving her with him, Henry Mills who believes he never had a mother whose world revolves around him let alone two of them, who never knew family until he found it but the curse took that too, told him they died, that he too was all alone and how was she supposed to lie to him, to let him believe he wasn’t ever loved like Emma always struggled with? That they were once so happy Henry could never understand, that is until now.
“I’m sorry,” She gasped against his chest, she needs to pull herself together, but it’s so hard because she’s constantly being flooded with 80 some odd years of memories, memories she wishes she could forget.
“It’s okay,” he soothed, rubbing her back like she once rubbed his to calm the tears after nightmares and maybe he doesn’t remember that she raised him but he’s still in there.
She sniffled pulling back to look up at him, kind eyes and a soft smile on his face, his smile goofy and lopsided just like his mothers, and it was too hard looking at him while at the same time she never wanted to look away.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded, stepping back to find the broom and finish cleaning up the glass.
“If you want to talk you know you can talk to me?”
She looked back at him before straightening up with the fallen broom in her grasp, eyes looking at the small glistening shards on the floor, “I’m fine, Henry I’m just…” she sighed, shaking her head as she bent over to sweep the small pile of glass into the dustpan before moving around the bar to bump it out, broom left leaning against the back of the bar.
“Bad breakup?” her head shot up to meet his eyes, curious because was she that obviously broken up over a lost love? “If you’re worried I’ll judge you or something you don’t have to be, I’m here to listen if you want.”
Regina sighed, moving to stand in front of him ringing the cloth from the bar in her hands, “It’s not exactly a breakup…we never…we were never…sh-I los–”
Henry reached out, now large hand covering her own, her mind flashing back to when it was only big enough to wrap around her finger, “I don’t care if they were a woman, Roni, it’s the 21st century. Anyways you’re not exactly subtle, I saw you checking out Jacinda’s roommate just the other day.”
Regina shook her head, “I was not –”
“You were, and it’s okay, I get it, she’s attractive and you have needs.”
“Oh god! Please stop, if I tell you about her, will you promise to never talk to me about my love life again?”
Henry smiled widely, “Cross my heart.”
Regina looked at him, eyes suddenly sad again as she shook her head, trying to push aside all the memories, “I loved her but she didn’t love me, we were best friends,” she smiled nostalgically at the memories that popped into her head, “We didn’t always get along, we fought, it was messy and dirty but we eventually saw ourselves in each other, saw someone who understood what it was like to feel alone in a crowded room, to know what it’s like to be truly lonely. So where we started off as bad for each other we quickly became good for each other, she helped me learn to love again, to trust and open up, she was an idiot and hopeless and she had the worst fashion sense in the history of all the realms, but she made me smile and laugh and she felt like home when nobody else did. Slowly she became someone I trusted my life with, someone who saved me more times than I can ever count.”
She shook her head at herself trying to dislodge the goofy grin she knows Emma always causes, “She was beautiful and strong, stubborn and ate like a teenage boy, but we never had a chance, I was too scared to lose her friendship I lost her instead and now I don’t know where she is, how she’s doing…and I’m so angry because the last time I saw her I was sure it wouldn’t be the last because it had never been and I was so angry she was leaving me behind for a man who didn’t treat her the way she deserved to be treated and now I’m here in a bar god knows how many years later sobbing while she’s off raising her child probably happy with her family and I’m alone again, I’m alone and heartbroken and she’s not here to help, she promised me she’d be here and she’s not and I’m so angry that she left me but I was never what she wanted, what she deserved either.”
Henry squeezed her hand, smiling Emma’s smile at her as she reached up her free hand to wipe away her damn tears.
“I just miss her today, is all,” she shrugged because she did, she missed her with every fibre of her being, every atom was calling out for Emma, for home but she was never going to get to see her again, to feel how her presence calmed her ever again.
“What’s her name?”
She looked at him, eyes searching as she tried to figure out if she should tell him Emma’s real name or make one up but just the thought made her stomach twist unhappily so she said, voice broken and eyes downcast as she spoke, “Emma, her name was Emma.”
And suddenly it’s like everything makes sense for him and he’s squeezing her hand tighter until she looks at him and his smile is soft with understanding, “This is because of our conversation yesterday? Because of my book?”
And yeah, sort of because she was fine, literally oblivious to all this until yesterday, “Yes, it’s been years since I’ve thought of her but yesterday every moment came flooding back like a tsunami and I just haven’t been able to catch my breath, to shake the memories that won’t stop coming, I can hear her voice ringing in my ears calling my name and her laughter filling me up with warmth and home until it all comes crashing down with memories of her wedding and goodbye…of watching her walk away…”
“Roni,” she looked at him, their eyes locking and she couldn’t help the soft smile from forming as she looked at his serious face, “I’m here for you, okay, and if you ever need to talk about her or anything else I’m here. Now, you go rest, people will have to survive a day without their favourite bartender because not only are you heartbroken but you smell like a distillery and that’s saying something considering we’re literally standing in a bar right now.”
She couldn’t help the laugh that broke free, pained and cracking with emotion but it felt good, even if it was because she was drunk and heartbroken over her son's mother in front of her son who she just opened up to…is this how Mary Margaret felt after the curse broke? “I can’t just leave the bar, Henry, I have an income to make, a nutjob to keep from stealing my home, quite literally considering where my home is located.”
“Then call in Tim and get him to cover you, everyone deserves a mental health day.”
She smiled softly at him patting his hand still over hers with her free one, “Very well, I’m too exhausted to argue that’s the only reason why I’m agreeing, this is not considered a win, more like a forfeit.”
“But I still get the win,” He smirked and she rolled her eyes, stepping away to pull her phone from her back pocket to find her other bartenders name.
“Yes, but it doesn’t give you the same burst of pride as actually earning the win.”
Henry rolled his eyes, watching her as she placed the phone to her ear, holding it with her shoulder as she pulled out a beer from the cooler, popping the cap before wordlessly handing it to Henry, focusing on her phone conversation.
“There you go, Tim is coming in. Now I’m going to go upstairs because I don’t need anyone else seeing me like this. I have a reputation to keep up and sobbing drunk loner isn’t the one I’m looking to present.”
“You’re not alone,” Henry said, hand reaching out to catch her arm as she passed, “You have me, and Lucy and Jacinda too.”
She flashed him another soft smile, reaching out to squeeze his hand on her arm, “Thank you. Now, no drinking the booze, this bar is closed until Tim gets here if anyone comes in tell them just that and if they put of a fight there’s a baseball bat behind the counter, but before you go cracking heads do try to just tell them I left you in charge.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Henry mock saluted and she had to bite her cheek from telling him how much he was like his mother. “Bye, Roni, I hope you feel better soon.”
“Thank you, dear,” She said, flashing him a smile before disappearing into the back room and taking the secret staircase up to her tiny apartment.
She felt a little less in pain, her heart a little less sore, but there were still too many memories to properly sort through and she was so tired and her eyes felt like they were on fire. She was sure she was all cried out as she stripped out of her clothes and crawled into her miraculously comfortable bed in just her underwear, so exhausted from crying she fell asleep within moments, images of Emma filling her dream still but these ones happy, filled with closure and long hugs and when she woke up hours later with the late afternoon sun streaming into her apartment she just stared at the roof, replaying the sound of Emma’s laughter in her head on repeat as she cried quietly, acceptance worming its way between anger and depression, because she knew she had to accept she wouldn’t see the woman again, that she’d never get to hold her or hear her voice, that she’d never get to say I love you and it hurt, it hurt that she missed her chance but Emma wouldn’t want her to be like this, she'd want her to fight for their son even if Emma wasn’t, and okay, maybe she’s still angry about that and okay maybe she still wants to ring her pale neck but she did just fine raising Henry for the first 10 years of his life she’s sure she can handle saving his life…right?
It’s weeks maybe months later that she thinks of Emma and doesn’t feel that anger, that betrayal, that she only feels that slight pang in her chest again and that she can finally say she went through all the damn 5 stages of grief and that she can forgive her, forgive her for leaving, for not being here, for not loving her like she wished, that she can forgive her and hope she’s happy and surrounded by family, free and laughing like she still laughs in her memories.
“Goodbye, Emma, I’ll always love and remember you,” She says one night into the wind, letting it carry the message off into the night, one part of her hoping somehow it might reach her, that she’ll know she’s happy and safe, that she’s taking care of Henry and his family and they’ll all be okay, because Regina Mills does not give up on the people she loves and she refuses to lose anyone else so she’ll save him, she’s almost sure of that now with Zelena at her side to help. “I forgive you, Emma,” She whispers, tears rolling down her cheeks before she turns on her heels walking back to her bar and her apartment, to her new home because this is where she belongs now, right? At least in this life, but maybe in another, just maybe they’re happy, everything she ever wished to be true in this one, but for now, for now, she’ll keep her safe within her heart.