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the crimson spring

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It starts on a Thursday.

Of course it starts on a Thursday, because why wouldn’t a thing of the sort begin on the most mundane of days.

It’s been a week since they got back from the Underworld, five days since Hook’s funeral, and about a minute since her throat has been itching with something that eventually claws its way up, scratching and scratching until she’s coughing into her sleeve once, twice, and then—

a lone, pink flower petal falling by her feet.

She crouches and picks it up, brow creasing in confusion as she studies the petal, turning it over and over in her fingers.

”What the—”

”Ma? Hey, you in here?”

Emma sprints to her feet, the petal wrinkling inside a clenched fist, and meets Henry’s perplexed eyes staring back at her from the foyer, the door wide open behind him.

”Hey, kid. What’s—” She attempts to clear her throat but it turns into a mild coughing fit. ”What’s up?”

”You alright?”

”Yeah, sure. What’s going on?” Then, with looming, founded dread from the past few years curling around her ribs: ”Is your—where’s Regina?”

”She’s okay , don’t worry. I just, uh…” He rubs the back of his neck and she can practically see herself in the gawky gesture. ”We wanted to check if you were up for dinner.”

”We?”

He glances over his shoulder, gaze landing on Regina currently crossing the doorway with a brown paper bag in her arms. Regina pauses next to him, a curious look on her face as her gaze flickers between the two of them.

Henry gives a curt nod towards his mother, and, ”Yeah, we ,” he says pointedly.

Automatically, mother and son turn to each other. She arches an eyebrow, the reproach wordless between them, and Emma has to bite back a laugh for the sake of her parenting ways.

It’s clear that Henry has inherited her smile and Regina’s complete lack of subtlety.

Emma chuckles, sauntering forward. ”I don’t need babysitting,” she informs them (but mostly one of them), and Regina rolls her eyes as she breezes past and into the kitchen, says, ”It’s just dinner, Emma,” in a tone that suggests the matter shouldn’t be pushed further.

Unfortunately, Emma has never been great at doing as told. She catches a glimpse of Henry hurrying up the stairs towards his bedroom and proceeds to lean against the doorway, arms folding across her chest (and hand clenched with deliberate care) as she watches Regina unpack the groceries with her back to her, hair dark and longer than she’s ever seen it cascading over her shoulders.

”Uh-huh,” she starts. “Just dinner and not at all you guys checking up on me because you’re afraid I might— oh, I don’t know—do something stupid.”

Still busy with the groceries, Regina retorts, ”A highly fair assumption, considering your track record.”

Hey .”

”And yes, you do,” Regina adds, and Emma can almost hear the smirk in her voice. ”Need babysitting, that is.”

Emma gasps in faux outrage, pushes off the doorway. ” Uncalled for.” Then, following Regina around the kitchen, a traitorous smile spreading across her face: ”So what’s for dinner? Do you need help?”

“Definitely not.”

“Do you want help?”

“Maybe.”

They eat an hour later and Emma takes care of the dishes before joining Henry and Regina in the living room where Henry is trying out one of the latest video games they purchased for him. Wordlessly, Emma drops onto the empty spot next to her son on the couch and throws her head back against the cushion, eyes drifting past his head. Over by his other side she finds Regina, heels on the floor and legs folded beneath her as she watches the screen with undivided attention, and Emma swallows thickly.

Slowly, she feels her muscles unwind one by one, eyes drifting shut.

During the next half hour, it hits her in waves, the familiarity of it all, the intimacy undercurrent as the three of them settle further into idly companionship.

It is, unsurprisingly, the safest she has felt since they came home a few days ago.

”Can I stay over?” Henry asks after a while without tearing his gaze from the screen.

Eyes fluttering open and pretending as though she wasn’t about to doze off, Emma sits up on her side of the couch. “Uh, sure.” She looks over to Regina and finds her already smiling fondly at the two of them. “If that’s alright with your mom?”

Regina nods. ”Of course.”

”Cool!” Henry exclaims, focus still on the game. “Prepare to have your ass kicked at Street Fighter.”

Henry .”

”Sorry, Mom,” he offers, wincing as he turns to her first, then Emma. ”Prepare to, uh… lose very badly at these extremely didactic and not at all violent video games?”

Next to him, Emma scoffs, and, “Nice one,” she teases, completely missing the glare he shoots her way, too busy keeping Regina in her line of sight as she pushes off the couch and onto her feet, sliding back into her heels before leaving the room with unknown destination.

Emma follows right after through pure instinct—pushes onto her feet too and lingers in the living room at first, then moves slowly towards the kitchen, shadowing Regina from afar as though their movements were tethered the same way their lives seem to be.

She watches Regina glance around the house like she’s seeing it for the very first time, and it dawns on Emma that perhaps she is, one way or another.

(Perhaps, like Emma, she never really looked at it before now, before coming back from… everything.)

Regina heads for the backyard, and Emma can’t help but smile to herself before pausing with purpose in the kitchen.

When she steps out a moment later, the sun is setting beyond the houses in the distance, casting a golden light over the roofs, through the trees.

Over the side of Regina’s face.

Arms folded loosely across her chest, she turns at once when Emma comes up to her and Emma wonders if she will ever get used to the way Regina’s eyes seem to shift to yet unnamed, warmer hues in this light, to the way the sunlight reflects on them.

She hopes she doesn’t.

Oblivious to Emma’s train of thought, Regina’s gaze drops to the brown bottles in her hands.

”So I’ve run out of all the fancy wines I never had to begin with, but —” Emma explains, and waves one of the bottles in the air. ”I thought you might enjoy this.”

Regina takes the bottle from her, eyes landing on the label. ”Honey beer?” she asks. ”Didn’t take you for the type to go for other than draught and the occasional dose of hard liquor.”

Rude . Need I remind you I knew exactly what kind of drink to bring to Town Hall during working hours? That requires at least some vague knowledge on the matter, mind you.”

”That’s true,” Regina concedes, fond and reminiscent. ”You did bring me root beer.”

Emma smirks victoriously, says, ”Damn right I did,” and takes a large swig from the bottle.

Silence settles between them as they stand under now weak, orange sun rays, eyes trained anywhere but on each other. It’s easy enough, slipping into these silences nowadays, and for a short moment Emma’s mind wanders back to the crushed petal in the trash bin under the sink, something dreadful pulling at her ribs while she sips at her beer.

Before she can gather her thoughts (much less make it to a fruitful conclusion on the matter), they hear Henry shout, “Mom, your phone is ringing!” from the living room, and they both turn in tandem towards the house, a sigh leaving Regina’s lips as she heads back to tend to it.

Emma lingers (again) but soon enough she finds herself tracing Regina’s footsteps (again), somewhat bothered by how flimsy her efforts to fight the need to stay within Regina’s orbit seem to be nowadays.

She’s re-entering the living room when Regina clicks the call.

“I’ll be right back,” she tells Henry, but her eyes linger on Emma over his head, and Emma nods in response, pretends it’s okay, pretends the interruption doesn’t feel invasive to her, to them .

Pretends she can’t hear the hushed voices coming from the porch once Regina steps outside and leaves the door ajar; tries and fails to shut out the ”It’s not your responsibility” and ”You don’t understand ” filtering through.

Eventually—too soon, too goddamn soon—Regina leaves with Robin, and Emma’s throat itches through the entire evening.

 

-

 

It doesn’t start on a Thursday, though. Not really.

It starts with You’re Henry’s birth mother? and Hi and then it sort of creeps up Emma’s spine, settles there somewhere until they’re caught in the crosshairs with promises of gifts and happy endings being spoken by the town line, raw certainty pounding in her chest as she ponders that this would have been enough .

In hindsight, she will concede that maybe the final nail in the coffin was throwing herself into an abyss of darkness without giving it a second thought, without even thinking

Without even considering anything but the things she knew to be true right before she had to take Henry and drive off:

that she didn’t want to go;

that they would find each other again (they had to, right?);

that she had, slowly at first and then all at once, quite irrevocably fallen in love with Regina.

(That their first instinct had been to turn to each other when Snow spoke of happy endings, that her heart rate picked up as soon as Regina talked about having to give up the thing she loved the most.)

But being gone for a year meant having to face the fact that lives had inevitably moved on during their absence, and she couldn’t help but feel that the only remaining constants from the things they had left behind amid the purple fog were the ones that pushed Regina and Henry towards one another.

She felt constantly inadequate, as though she were a stranger, a mere observer in a context that was supposed to belong to her too, once and for all.

Instead of moving on like everyone else had, she kept clinging to her and Henry’s life in New York; clinging to that blissful obliviousness that had enclosed them before the illusion was snapped, shattered by the sharp edge of a knife-like reality and leaving a pool of glass shards by their feet.

It’s the reason why being shoved into the book felt like a breath of fresh air at the moment: it made her feel like she belonged at last, like there was room for her in those established fairytales after all. Like maybe it wasn’t so bad that the dice had been rolled for them already; and thereafter she felt herself succumbing bit by bit to Hook’s persistence until she allowed him to pull her into a relationship that had no clear beginning or middle, but that did give her purpose in a way.

Because seeing how vehemently sure he was of them, how certain he was of her ability to be everything he wished for and thought himself worthy of somehow led her to believe that giving him those things would make her happy, too.

It was easier—so much easier—to work towards molding herself into being someone else’s happy ending and file away the things she still longed for but fate had decided she be without.

She had to be happy with what she had, especially when everyone else seemed to be.

But then the chess pieces had rebelled and moved against Regina, her life and happiness suddenly at risk, and Emma’s entire world had come crashing down.

Usually, she doesn’t let her thoughts linger on her time as the Dark One, the memories too entangled and too gruesome for her to make sense of everything that occurred, but she does know one thing in regards of the sacrifice:

The dire need to take it all back pounded loudly in her ears afterwards, pushing her even more towards Hook, to cling even harder to whatever it was that they had. Because her words might have been directed at him before taking upon darkness, but her actions left her feeling utterly predictable and exposed and so dreadfully transparent after what she had done.

Like she had bared her entire soul in order to save Regina’s.

(She would sometimes feel Robin’s gaze, clouded and fixed on her every move like he knew about all of it .

Their eyes would meet across a crowded room and he would look at her when no one else but Regina could bear it, would watch her as though he knew of the exact things she wanted to take back without actually saying it out loud.

As though he knew about the things she was trying to reclaim and was merely waiting for her to take a false step in her quest for righting her wrongs.)

That is why whatever it was that Hook wanted, she would give if it meant it would avert narrowing gazes and shut out the voices in her head that spoke of happy endings; as if kissing him harder would ever make up for the fact that she wished she had been the one fate chose to be Regina’s instead.

Always holding on for dear life, always thinking of what lead her to become the Dark One to begin with.

Always, always too aware, biting her tongue bloody and raw from time to time up until she had dragged just about everyone to the Underworld to save someone who simply didn’t wish to be saved. Until she had no other choice but to face the fact that she still wanted

that despite it all, she was still waiting.

(It starts and ends with Regina, is what matters.)

 

-

 

She runs into the couple at Granny’s a few days later, her throat sore with what she suspects might be the beginning of a nasty cold, and endures a few minutes of small talk by the counter.

For some reason, Ruby keeps smiling at her from behind a talkative Robin and an oddly quiet Regina. It eases her through the conversation, being able to focus on a genuine smile, and when her morning coffee (black, no sugar, no cream) is ready in a take-away cup as opposed to her usual porcelain mug, Emma welcomes the kind and—judging by Ruby’s furtive glances—deliberate mistake without further ado.

Less kind and much less welcome is coughing up another pink petal (from another camellia (strong desire, “longing for you”), she has learned since the last time it happened) as soon as she’s out of the diner. She doesn’t hold it between her fingers this time, but crushes it in her fist right away, then disposes of it with paranoid urgency before heading to work once and for all.

 

-

 

For two weeks, there’s nothing.

In her obliviousness, she dismisses the few petals as a one-time thing; a two-time thing, even. A figment of her imagination perhaps, if she tries hard enough.

(It’s the simmering calm before a raging thunderstorm, she will realize later, a bit further down the road.)

It’s easy to focus on other things when she now shrugs effortlessly into the same skin that up until a few weeks ago felt strained to the point where she would constantly feel a little short of breath.

But something’s changed now.

She gravitates towards Regina and Henry and the life they lead with such ease it leaves her breathless in a completely different way.

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the first time they have all been still long enough since before the first curse was broken, the first time they’re allowed to just be after being separated and brought back together over and over. It keeps them busy, trying to reconcile the people that they were with the people they are now, with what they have become to each other and the things they would now do for each other.

Soon enough they fall into a routine that circles the three of them only, slip into this fierce protectiveness of the other, and Emma watches them, files away their interactions, tries to keep going whenever their eyes land on her and she can feel her heart grinding to a halt.

In the end, it comes down to one thing:

right by their side is the only place where she no longer feels like a lost girl.

 

-

 

They’re called into the principal’s office one afternoon after Henry gets into a fight with an older kid. Once they arrive they find him sprawled on a chair outside the office, cheek swollen and red and a vacant look in hazel eyes.

His shoulders tense up ever so slightly upon taking note of their hurried steps approaching, and Regina has to yank at Emma’s sleeve so she doesn’t go after the other kid as soon as they take in his disarrayed state. Emma agrees in the end, although not without putting up a short fight, and they turn in tandem to focus on their son.

“What happened?” Regina asks sternly.

His eyes are zeroed in on the tiles beneath their feet, hands clenched around the arms of the chair.

“Nothing happened.”

Henry .”

“Kid, you gotta talk to us.”

“I don’t wanna talk about it, alright?” he snaps. “Just go inside and leave me alone. They’ll tell you all about it, I’m sure.”

After a second of due hesitation, Regina’s lips part, but Emma steps in: “That’s real considerate of you, but it’s not their version we’re after right now,” she says sharply. “Your mother asked you a question and you will answer her, and you will look at her when you do.”

Wordlessly, he does as told and cranes his head up; quiet fury blazing in previously vacant eyes as they latch onto Regina’s in a silent exchange.

Across from him, Regina’s features soften slowly, understanding washing over her.

She crouches down, coming eye to eye with Henry as his gaze holds onto hers. “Do you remember what we talked about?” she asks him, voice stripped of the sternness that was there just a moment ago. He nods. “It doesn’t matter what they say about me. I don’t care, not anymore.”

She reaches up with one hand and thumbs his swollen cheek with utmost care. The gesture sends a shiver down Emma’s spine.

“You don’t have to worry about me. You can tell me what happened.”

Henry’s eyes flicker between the two of them, and, “It wasn’t only about you this time,” he says after a while.

“Oh.”

Instinctively, Regina turns to Emma who is standing behind in quiet observation.

“Oh?” Emma echoes, catching up as well. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. Then, trying not to stray from her parenting persona: “Well, no matter what happened, fighting is bad and we do not condone your behavior.” Regina straightens up and steps back onto her previous spot next to her, and, slightly unsure, Emma adds, “Right?”

“Right. No screens for a week.”

“But Mom —“

“Wanna make that a month?” Emma cuts in, and he closes his mouth immediately. “That’s what I thought.” Silence stretches between them for a moment. Voice bordering a whisper, she can’t help but sway forward in complicity and ask: “How’s, uh… how’s the other kid doing?”

His face breaks into a knowing, smug grin. “He’s still at the infirmary.”

“Oh my god, Henry ,” Emma hisses, but all authority has slipped through her fingers within mere seconds and by the looks of Henry as he bites back a snicker, she suspects he might be far too aware of it.

Regina, however, still holds some of it in a steel grip. “Even more reason for you to be grounded,” she says.

“Uh, yeah. Exactly. Super grounded for a whole week.”

This time, Henry flashes them a genuine smile. “That’s alright. I don’t mind anymore.”

(They’re both summoned into the principal’s office soon after and Emma tries not to look proud during their conversation with the woman in charge of the school and their son’s education, but all through it she can see the subtle smirk on Regina’s face as they’re told what happened from a less important, less subjective perspective, so she allows her chest to swell, too.

They get sundaes afterwards.)

 

-

 

Although she tries not to dwell on it, the incident does open her eyes to something she hadn’t been aware of to that extent:

no matter which constellation consisting of the three of them she finds herself in, she starts to notice that looks will follow everywhere—be it at the supermarket or at a Town Hall meeting or the diner, Emma can’t tell if it’s always been like this or if it’s something new entirely.

Nevertheless, whispers of “The Evil Queen, the Savior, and their son” in all possible tones and connotations trail hot on their heels pretty much wherever they go.

It only causes them to gravitate closer to each other, to hold onto the sacredness carved into the things they’ve built and that are so unapologetically theirs , and Emma’s heart soars of its own volition whenever her thoughts land on each of those things. She could so easily stretch out that feeling, could allow it to consume her until she’s nothing but the sheer belief that she’s exactly where she was supposed to be all along.

She wonders if this is where they would have ended up, too, had they not been robbed of a year’s worth of getting to be around each other after Neverland.

(She hopes it is, hopes they would have.)

Things are good for once; they’re good and relatively quiet and although there might be other people and relationships to take into account, it dawns on her that perhaps this is as close as she’ll get to the things she thought she could have back when they stood by the town line.

She thinks she can manage.

(She doesn’t know that she won’t.)

 

-

 

Except the petals do come back, slowly but surely and spread over the course of a couple of weeks.

The upsurging of flowers catching at the back of her throat is so scattered at first that she could’ve easily lived with it for the rest of her life, it’s so slow that she didn’t think

Didn’t want to think, perhaps.

Didn’t want to know.

It’s not only camellias now, either. It’s an explosion of color; poignant, intermittent fireworks rocketing out of her at increasing pace without paying heed to the endless, profane prayers she’s started to mutter under her breath.

It’s a mix of petunias ( anger ) and marigolds ( jealousy, secret affection ) whenever Robin’s around (or about to be), and orange lilies ( hatred ) one time when she’s home alone nursing a drink and feeling particularly resentful towards the chain of events that lead her there. It’s stripped carnations ( “I can’t be with you” ) on two different nights after she leaves Regina’s studio, and white anemones ( unfading love , ”forsaken”) for three days straight after they agree on where to take Henry for vacation next summer.

All in all, it’s rather easy to manage—or well, to hide—until one day, it simply isn’t.

It doesn’t really help the cause that she goes way too long without telling anyone, without even looking it up. Treats it like a pebble in her shoe, as if going into sporadic coughing fits that end with a small brown paper bag overflowing with withering flowers at the end of certain days was a small inconvenience at most and not something that screams of insidious omens.

In the past, she has refused to believe—in Henry and the curse, in Regina’s innocence once ( just once, just that one time ), in herself—but this is something different, something new entirely.

On the rare occasion she allows herself to go there, she will hear the truth whistling in her ears just as she’s about to surrender to sleep at night.

She knows, someway, somehow.

It throbs within her.

 

-

 

Still, resisting the truth gets harder with each passing day, and she caves after one particularly bad night during which the scraping at the back of her throat has her losing sleep for longer than she’d care to admit.

She’s at her desk downing a black coffee the following morning when it happens; a quick google search leads her to a rather grim website featuring extremely colorful pictures. The combination alone makes her stomach to recoil, and she lets her eyes dart quickly through the site, slamming the laptop shut after skimming through the first paragraph and catching the words unrequited love and overflowing lungs and goes:

”Well, fuck.”

The whistling in her ears ceases at once, but the throbbing doesn’t.

It gets worse, in fact, pulsating beneath her skin along with the sheer disbelief that this—

this thing is literally blooming within her; that it will keep growing, will keep blossoming until she’s all vines and withering flowers, until there’s nothing left of her but the very thing that caused it to begin with.

(Bit by bit, it all sinks down her already bruised lungs, lodging there somewhere next to the crushing realization that she will most likely allow it to burn her to the ground.)

 

-

 

Keeping the pretenses up works relatively fine until one evening when the overflowing paper bags become an overflowing sink, and she feels overthrown to the point that she calls in sick.

Of course, she’s missed work a handful of times—often in the past few years and always due to some imminent, magical threat, but never amid the quiet and never like this.

Her parents are worried (always so worried) and call numerous times the first couple of days. It’s easy enough to keep them at bay when they never really learned how to give her space and when to burst through the door.

She never really taught them, she supposes.

Not for the first time since finding them, she wonders what their relationship would look like now had things been more placid after they were reunited. She files away the thought for another day, for when she isn’t drowning in shriveled petals as though she has been cursed by Persephone herself, now that Greek gods are a thing that they’ve encountered, too.

(And maybe she has—been cursed, that is. Wouldn’t be the first time.)

 

-

 

There’s a few knocks on her front door on her third day behind fully drawn curtains.

She drags herself up from the couch and can’t help the groan once the sunlight hits her face after reluctantly pulling open the door. Regina is in front of her one second, then breezing past her and onto the foyer before Emma can register what’s happening.

Emma spins on her feet and manages a, “Uh, come in, I guess,” moving past Regina and towards the kitchen, blocking the way in what has become extreme, notorious paranoia.

Brow furrowing, Regina glances around the poorly-lit house without uttering a single word or offering an explanation for having just barged in. Emma crosses her arms, suddenly self-conscious in her white tank top and gray sweats while Regina stands in front of her in immaculate hairdo and work attire, a brown paper bag clutched in her hand.

“What’s going on?” Emma asks.

Focus shifting back, Regina finally offers, ”You missed our meeting,” and purses her lips.

”Yeah, I—I’ve been sick?” Emma counters, somehow more of a question than the statement she was going for. “I thought David was covering that for me?”

”He did. Terribly.”

Emma gives her a pointed look. “Did he, really?”

“He talks too much. I suppose that should have been expected, seeing as he doesn’t really get a word in at home.”

Emma rolls her eyes and steps aside, waving a hand with a flourish. Glaring in warm exasperation, Regina follows her lead into the rather chaotic kitchen.

“Delightful,” she comments in passing after taking one look a the counter brimming with dirty dishes and a variety of half-eaten takeout containers.

“Hey,” Emma protests, “I’ll have you know this is pretty standard for someone who’s been in quarantine for three days.”

But she moves some of the dirty dishes to the sink nonetheless if only as a symbolic gesture, hyper aware of the fact that Regina is right behind her.

Hyper aware of the fact that Regina is right there despite the half-hearted efforts that Emma has made to keep people at arm’s lengths over the past few days, with Regina being at the very top of the list of people she thought she ought to stay clear of.

But then again, they never really did learn how to not burst into each other’s personal space, even though their take on it nowadays doesn’t involve the same amount of physicality that it did before, during the beginning, during their middle.

(Emma wonders if they ever really did touch freely, wonders what would happen if they would.

Just once, just for a moment.)

“Better, Your Majesty?” Emma teases, turning around with an arched eyebrow.

Regina rolls her eyes again, doesn’t really dignify her with an answer. It’s just a matter of seconds until they’ve slipped into another one of their silences, only this time Emma doesn’t quite have it in her to settle into it.

She blames it on the extraordinary circumstances she suddenly finds herself in; on the endless tickle in her throat and the handful of petals she luckily disposed of right before Regina’s sudden arrival.

She tries not to blame it on the fact that she has recently been granted confirmation that her feelings are quite literally bound to be her undoing.

”What’s, uh…” Emma nods towards the paper bag in Regina’s right hand. “What’s that?”

Following the nod, Regina’s eyes drop, and Emma thinks she can discern cheeks popping with color behind a curtain of dark hair.

Without saying a word, Regina hands Emma the bag, and, bursting with curiosity, she opens it to take a quick look at the content—cold medicine, a sudoku magazine, a couple of video games, one small honey jar, and, underneath it all, a tupperware with what can only be a glorious meal judging by the smell emanating from it.

Grinning broadly for the first time in several days, Emma looks back up to ask, ”You brought me a care package ?”

This time there’s no doubt that Regina blushes, and furiously so. ”Just some things Henry thought you might need.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Fine. We thought we’d spare you the ride to the store,” Regina concedes. “No need to fuss.”

“I wasn’t —“ Emma chuckles, holds the paper bag against her chest, against her shriveling lungs. “Thank you, really. It’s—this is great.”

Across from her, Regina nods and offers a coy smile. As if on cue, Emma feels bile rising and sets down the bag on the counter before dashing towards the guest bathroom. When she comes out a moment later—hair even more disarray and skin further on the ashen scale than before she locked the door behind her—she finds Regina waiting right there in the hall.

”You’re really ill?” Regina asks cautiously, concern flashing across brown eyes.

”Did you ever doubt I was?” Emma shrugs, gives a light chuckle. “You do know that being the Savior doesn’t make me immune to the flu, right?”

She tries to move past Regina and the apprehension clear in the lines between her brows, tries to make nothing of the fact that she refuses to give into Emma’s banter. She tries to, but her efforts are rendered fruitless once again when Regina closes the distance between them, blocking the way before her palm is on Emma’s forehead and the lines between her brows have become even more pronounced.

“I’ve never seen you like this,” she says under her breath. “Emma, I think you might have a fever.”

At once, Emma regrets wishing to feel Regina’s skin against her own and makes a dash for the opposite side under the latter’s perplexed gaze.

Slowly, Regina lowers her hand.

“It’s just a cold,” Emma says with a weak smile, holding onto the teasing note to her voice. “No need to fuss.” A heavier silence settles between them, one that Emma simply deems herself unable to bear. Rubbing the back of her neck, she starts, “Listen, I should really…” and leaves the implication unspoken.

“Oh.” Regina nods. “Of course, I’ll let you get back to rest.”

But her resolve to leave seems feeble by the door, lips parting in something unknown to Emma before her gaze lands on a couple of red cypress ( mourning, despair ) petals on the floor.

Emma follows Regina’s line of sight, and, ”I, uh. I left the window open,” she says as she whisks them up.

”No wonder you got sick,” Regina retorts, and Emma would take it as a reproach had there not been such genuine concern bleeding onto her voice still.

”I’m alright.”

”Are you sure?”

Emma smiles through the chest pain and the retching, says, ”Promise,” and wishes she could at least feel air going into her lungs; if only as an illusion, if only as phantom, shallow breaths.

Wishes she didn’t know, deep down, that she was lying.

 

-

 

Nevertheless, she is nothing if not astute when it comes to survival, which is why she’s knocking on Zelena’s door later that night after spending hours rummaging one of the dustiest sections of the library.

Acute, baby shrieks can be heard through every single wall of the house, and it crosses Emma’s mind that the two of them are pretty much on their own living in the farmhouse.

She knocks again.

As steps approach the front door from inside the house a moment later, she glances around checking off a few things in her head.

Already bordering exasperation, Zelena yanks open her front door to find Emma waiting on the other side, barely getting out a, “Wh—“ before Emma is demanding, “Teach me how to brew this.”

“Brew what , exactly?” Zelena asks, schooling her features back into complete nonchalance.

Across from her, Emma holds up a ripped out paper sheet featuring a scribbled list with a set of instructions. Zelena’s brow creases as she gives it a quick read.

“Where did you get that?”

Emma shrugs. “I’ve got my ways.”

“Some thieving habits die hard, I see,” Zelena sneers. Then, batting away the sheet with an impatient hand: “And why would I help you brew this… whatever it is for?”

“Because I can’t do this alone, not yet at least, and I could really use the help of someone who doesn’t care for me.”

Zelena eyes her with interest for a short moment, seemingly considering the proposal. “That’s one way to put it.”

Emma rolls her eyes and shoves the list in her pocket.

“Are you gonna help me or not?”

Another heartbeat, then: “Fine. But take off your boots, they’re filthy .”

As soon as they step inside and Emma’s boots have come off, the baby goes quiet. Zelena waits for a few seconds, standing perfectly still as though she’s scared a single movement of hers will set off something completely horrific.

Nothing happens.

She scrunches her nose in astonishment, and Emma bites back a smile.

“Your sensor’s off,” she comments.

Zelena snaps back. “My what ?”

“Your motion sensor light? I noticed you have one, but the sensor’s off.”

“Oh. Yes, well.” She folds her arms across her chest. “It’s been off for a while. Doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s not like we have a lot of people coming over for tea.”

“I could have it fixed for you.”

“In exchange for this potion?” Zelena drawls.

Emma flashes her a smile. “In exchange for your silence.”

After giving her a quick once-over, Zelena huffs and motions for Emma to follow, which Emma knows is the closest thing to a handshake and a, “Deal” she will be getting, so she simply chuckles and obliges.

The next few hours are spent in the basement with a rather smiley, rather chatty baby bouncing right behind them, and somewhere between baby Robin’s magic hiccups and Zelena’s care and tenderness masked as strict kinship, Emma begins to feel that diving into this aspect of magic with the two of them as companions isn’t bound to be quite the disaster she first imagined it would be, not even when she inevitably fails to hold in the handful of anemones clawing up her throat.

(Zelena stares in silence and fright and watches Emma dispose of the white petals with a certain share of reluctance, but much to Emma’s surprise Zelena doesn’t comment, doesn’t say, doesn’t point out what they’re both surely thinking:

that it’s an omen of death.

Beautifully, heavenly disguised. But an omen of death nonetheless.)

It’s almost the crack of dawn when she steps out of the farmhouse and into the dissipating mist, spirit slightly lifted and a potion in her hand that will hopefully restrict the amount of petals and slow down her symptoms for the time being.

She draws a deep breath, arms stretching towards the firey sky before the front door creaks behind her.

“That bottle will only last you a week,” Zelena warns.

Baby Robin is finally asleep in her arms after a night of mischief and wonder. Emma turns around and offers a smile—tired and somber, but genuine nonetheless.

“See you next week, then. Gotta fix that sensor anyway, right?”

Wordlessly, Zelena nods and heads back inside.

Emma goes back to work by the end of the week.

 

-

 

Regina’s visits, however, don’t stop.

She starts coming over a lot, always with a very legitimate excuse—often to do with Henry at first, and then because of the last moving boxes that Emma hasn’t gotten to yet, or the state of their garden, or due to something as insignificant in the grand scheme of things as the fact that she noticed Emma has yet to find her kitchen utensils.

”You can’t live like this,” Regina comments off-handedly one afternoon on her way out after watching Emma rummage around the boxes in order to find a particular ladle, and minutes later Emma is hunched over the toilet coughing up purple hyacinths (“I’m sorry”, “please forgive me”, sorrow ) and primroses (“I can’t live without you”) in the privacy of her locked bathroom; silently musing that yes, maybe there’s some truth to that.

Maybe she can’t.

Maybe she won’t.

 

-

 

Often trailing after Regina is Robin, but luckily for whatever it is that has taken literal roots in Emma’s lungs, he never comes inside, always makes sure to keep his distance from them, from her .

From what she’s gathered (mostly through Henry’s off-handed comments and her own rather rigorous observations), Robin is busy with Roland and the baby and trying to navigate the utter catastrophe that must be co-parenting with someone as overprotective as Zelena.

Emma thinks she would want a break from that, too, if she was in Regina’s shoes. Then again, up until just a few years ago, Emma’s first instinct had always been to leave when things got tough.

Still, whatever the reason might be, their time together sort of tugs at her weary heartstrings, as though it wasn’t really theirs—be it because of Robin or because of each and every one of the fears etched onto Emma’s sleeves.

It leaves her feeling thankful and resentful all the same.

 

-

 

“You don’t have to do this,” Emma tells her one day.

They’re alone at the station because Emma’s night shift started half an hour ago and Regina had waltzed in mere minutes into it with the excuse of dropping some signed paperwork for David and just happened to have some intact leftovers from Granny’s with her.

Wearing a quizzical look, Regina drags her eyes from an old report she found on David’s desk that for some reason needs to be revisited while she’s there.

“Checking up on me?” Emma elaborates from her own desk. “You don’t have to. I know you feel guilty about the way everything unfolded but—“

“I don’t,” Regina says calmly, and she is bold enough to look Emma straight in the eyes all the way from David’s desk when she explains: “I don’t feel guilty about any of it.”

Emma breathes, “Oh,” and Regina goes back to the report as if the matter had been resolved and sealed, whereas Emma doesn’t know what to make of the statement, doesn’t know how to read the wave of relief that washes over her.

(Or maybe she does . Know how to read it, that is, which is all the more terrifying.)

She bites her bottom lip before adding, “I won’t do anything stupid. You don’t have to worry about me, really,” and she hears rather than sees Regina sighing behind the report in her hand.

“I’m sorry you weren’t successful in the mission that drove you to the Underworld,” Regina tells her, “but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to let go of those who are gone. I just hope it won’t be as hard for you.” Emma waits, eyes on Regina as the latter gathers her thoughts. Then, gaze locking with Emma’s after she lowers the folder: “That being said—let there be no room for mistakes. I am not one to act out of anything other than my own volition.”

“Oh. Cool.”

 

-

 

Mulan is the first one to know.

Someone was bound to find out, Emma always assumed, but she didn’t anticipate it to be met with so much serenity, didn’t anticipate the hint of recognition flashing in Mulan’s eyes.

She sits down across from Emma on the bathroom floor, somehow comfortable with a silence that creeps up Emma’s spine like frozen arrows, that leaves her shuddering on the already cold, cold tiles.

Emma shoots the deputy a quick glance, wipes at her mouth with the paper towel Mulan handed her just a moment ago after demanding Emma unlock the stall.

”What did you do?”

Lips curving onto a weak smile, Mulan explains, ”I struck a deal.”

”You—what? Who would…” She pauses, forehead creasing. ”Rumple?”

Mulan shakes her head. ”A witch that I crossed paths with while traveling with the Merry Men. She offered to have them removed.”

”Them?” Emma echoes. ”Your memories?”

”The flowers. And with them, my feelings. Each memory is still there, untouched, but I—“ Her brow furrows. “I remember… objectivity. I don’t remember what any of it felt like.”

”You used magic to forget about Aurora?”

A shadow crosses Mulan’s face, and she pushes off the floor and onto her feet. ”I did what I had to do to survive,” she says glumly. “As should you.”

”I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—” Emma sighs heavily, runs a hand down her face before looking back up and asking the question burning hot on the tip of her tongue: ”Was it… was it worth it?”

”I can’t tell,” she admits, and it sounds a lot like No, not really , but how could she tell, really, when she has no recollection of it.

How can she possibly know when she doesn’t know, Emma ponders to herself, and the thought makes her blood run cold.

Heading for the door, Mulan glances at Emma over her shoulder, offers, ”But I can tell you this—it’ll only get worse,” and leaves.

 

-

 

It does get worse right after, and it does so in ways Emma suspects she won’t be able to revert or even slow down this time.

She can manage the amount, can manage the breathlessness and the trepidation in the pit of her stomach when she gets up each morning not knowing what the rest of the day will bring (more anemones, maybe?), but even in her state of embraced denial, she gathers this will hardly be manageable in the long run.

It’s the middle of the night when she wakes up gasping for air. She sits up and coughs into her hand before being able to reach for the bag she keeps on the nightstand, before taking note of something warm smudging along her thumb when she wipes her mouth.

Brows knitting together in the moonlit room, she flicks on the night lamp and opens her hand to reveal the shriveled, violet petals of scabious ( unfortunate love ) she just coughed up, plus something else entirely and new to the equation:

crimson stains dotting the petals, smeared across its wrinkles and leaving red patches on the palm of her hand.

Blood .

 

-

 

Part of her had expected Mulan to stay out of it altogether, but it had been a colossal disservice to Mulan’s character to assume, even for a split second, that she would be the kind of person to leave a fallen soldier behind.

Over the course of the next few days, Mulan pushes and pushes , and, “ Fix this ,” she grits out one evening over a beer at some newly-opened dive bar that offers awfully cheap drinks along with perfectly secluded corners. Still, Emma hushes at her before Mulan adds, “ Do something before it’s too late.”

Already on edge ( constantly on edge as of late), Emma glances around before hissing, “I’m on it, okay?”

Emma .”

“Look, it’s hard to—“ She blows out a breath. “I’m weighing my options, alright? It’s hard to let go of what could have been. With, uh—with Hook.”

“With Hook,” Mulan echoes. “Right.”

Taking a swig of her beer, Emma pretends not to notice the way Mulan is shooting daggers at her, then proceeds to very strategically steer the conversation towards the cute girl across the room that hasn’t teared her eyes from the deputy since the moment they stepped into the bar.

And even if the odds are Mulan most likely sees right through Emma’s blatant deflection, she’s kind enough to not let on.

 

-

 

Of course, she supposed someone else apart from Mulan was bound to find out, but she didn’t expect it to be her father—not so soon, not the way it happens.

The bathroom door is yanked open one late afternoon when she’s splashing ice cold water on her face, a pool of unattended primroses still by her feet. She whips around, feeling so incredibly small all of a sudden, so much like the little girl she once was and that her father never got to meet.

Crestfallen, David mutters something under his breath, and she can’t shake the feeling that this was something he wanted to see for himself.

(Can’t shake the relief coursing through her.)

He whispers, “ Emma ,” features melting into something acutely similar to commiseration, as though his already halved heart is being split in two at the mere sight of her in this state.

And she doesn’t have it in her to come up with excuses anymore.

So she stands a little taller, chin raising under the light being shed by cool, bright bulbs, and David looks at her like he knows of it in ways that run deeper than having heard of it from third parties.

On her way home one rushed conversation later, Emma will wonder how come nobody warned her about this allegedly rare disease that has somehow scraped the lives of so many people she holds close.

So much for not caring , reads the text she shoots Zelena later that evening. She knows it’s unlikely she will get a reply, so she doesn’t wait for one.

 

-

 

Regina arches an eyebrow from her spot by the dining table, eyeing Snow and David with rightful suspicion. “And to what do I owe the pleasure of partaking this meeting?” she wants to know, arms folded across her chest.

She had been on her way home when Snow had called to summon her to the loft in what appeared to be a very urgent matter, but she has yet to be granted an explanation despite having arrived minutes ago.

The Charmings turn to look at each other, each of their questioning looks equally as infuriating as they are cryptic. It puts Regina’s short fuse to test.

David’s lips part slightly, and, “Well...“ he starts before taking note of the steps closing in on the front door.

“Well?” Regina pushes.

A hand closes around the doorknob.

”It’s Emma,” Snow says briskly. ”She’s in—she’s at risk.”

Regina barely has time to register Snow’s careless explanation before Emma is walking through the door, one eyebrow arching when every pair of eyes darts to her.

Chuckling, she closes the door behind her, and, “ Really weird energy in here,” Emma jokes, but it inevitably falls flat in light of everything. “Uh, anyway. I got your text. What d’you need me for?”

It isn’t until she’s given the room a sweeping look, features faltering at the sight of Regina, that she understands the nature of the meeting.

She hunts down her father at once.

“Emma—“

“Of course you told. Of course you did.”

“Sweetheart, I—“

“Took you long enough. What was it, two days? Three, maybe?” David raises his chin, lips parting to object, but Emma hisses, “You promised ,” with outrage and delusion and heartbreak in her voice.

“Promised what? Told what ?” Regina asks, but it’s completely stifled by Snow’s, “We’re just worried , honey. This is—it’s not a matter to be taken lightly.”

“You’re worried ? About what, exactly?”

“That you… that you might…” Snow trails off, gaze shifting to David, but he looks as rattled as she is, and Emma feels her blood reach boiling point.

“Go on,” she pushes through gritted teeth. “Say it.”

“Say what ?” Regina echoes, way past the first stages of exasperation. But neither of them seem capable of getting a word out, and Regina’s gaze flickers between all three before bristling, “What the hell is going on?”

Without tearing her gaze from her parents, Emma scoffs, bites, “I’m sick is what’s going on, but apparently they’re too scared to break the news despite having staged a whole goddamn intervention because of it,” then recoils right away, eyes apologetic as they search for Regina’s upon realizing what she just said.

What it all means.

A heartbeat passes. Emma cuts her gaze to the floor.

“What?” Regina chokes out, but it’s only met with another share of silence. “What do you mean you’re—“

“She’s coughing up flower petals,” David explains somberly. “It’s rumoured to be caused by matters of the heart, by… by unrequited love, I think, but I don’t—I mean we don’t—” He stops, rakes a hand through his hair. Snow reaches for his other hand, fingers lacing together soothingly. He sighs. “We don’t know much, except that It goes by different names in different real—”

“La primavera carmesí,” Regina whispers in shuddering realization. Every pair of eyes that had previously avoided her is on her all of a sudden, but her focus rests solely on Emma. “The crimson spring. Gets its name from the blood-stained petals you start to cough up some time before your lungs eventually collapse.” Emma swallows, and a shadow crosses Regina’s face. She straightens her spine with purpose, then: “But you knew that already, didn’t you?”

Emma gives a nod and the confirmation causes commotion to break out at once, ignites a round of discussion during which her parents do most of the talking: everything from scolding her to soothing words to urging her to find a cure, a solution—

Anything , Emma, please—“

“Didn’t tell, didn’t even think to tell us , your family, and I—“

“—just want what’s best for you—“

“—can’t believe you let it get this far, can’t—“

“—we’ll go to Rumple if necessary, we’ll strike a deal if it means—“

Stop !” Emma thunders, chest heaving as the room goes quiet. “If you think you’re making things easier then let me be the one to break it to you that you’re seriously mistaken.”

“Emma—“

“I got this, okay?” she bites. “I just need time to… to find a way to fix it, to figure things out.”

David tries, “But—“

“Just—god, please, just—“ She blows out a breath, runs a hand down her face, and, “I don’t know how to make this better without compromising… other aspects of myself,” Emma says, and the lie laced within stings on the tip of her tongue, makes her stomach curl.

She knows what needs to be done. She’s known for a while.

Dripping hesitation, Snow exchanges a look with David before taking one tentative step forward. “Emma, sweetheart… Hook is gone. He’s not coming back. You can’t let this—his passing, as hard as it might be, and—and of course it is, it can’t be the thing that destroys you.”

For once in her life, Emma is grateful for their utter obliviousness.

She nods because she doesn’t trust herself not to spill forward—literally, figuratively—and because speaking would require to be rid of the vines currently smothering every bit of air in her chest.

“Just promise us you’ll think about it,” she hears David say. “Promise you’ll try.”

Next to them, Regina listens and listens and trembles quietly, says nothing but, ”Meet me in my vault tomorrow morning,” right before stalking out of the loft.

Emma wonders if it really is the click of Regina’s heels that cease for a moment on the other side of the door, wonders if it really is Regina’s bracelet clattering against the railway as she white-knuckles it, or if it’s all in her head. (It isn’t.)

 

-

 

She takes off her heels in the foyer and pads her way to her studio in the dark, only one thing on her mind to ease the tension currently settled between her shoulders: two fingers of whiskey, straight.

And then maybe two more.

She makes it through the first glass undisturbed, but the door screeches against the floor when she’s pouring herself the second drink. She doesn’t turn around until Robin has crossed the threshold, his brow furrowing when she lifts her gaze to greet him and finds herself unable to offer the reformed thief anything more than a rather bleak smile.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” she echoes.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, I… yes, I’m okay.”

“What did the Charmings need you for?”

“Nothing, just… I would rather we discuss it tomorrow.” She downs the contents of her glass in one sip, then goes for a third pouring. All through it, Robin stands in excruciating silence, until she inevitably feels the walls closing in and, “I’m sorry I missed dinner,” she offers, fingers closing firmly around her glass.

“That’s alright,” he tells her, but the assurance doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “It’s still early,” he adds, glancing towards the second story of the house. “I don’t think the boys are asleep yet.”

It’s easy to recognize the implication threaded into his words considering the way they’ve proceeded as of late. She thinks it best to not pretend she doesn’t know the meaning hidden behind this time around.

“Stay,” she says, soft and forthright. “It’s too cold for Roland to head out right now.”

He nods, allows silence to stretch between them once again as though he’s waiting for something else, something he knows she can’t give at the moment. She nurses her drink, eyelids drooping under the dim lighting, and after a while he makes a move to leave, either understanding her need to be alone or accepting that their conversation won’t be much more beneficial for either of them.

Stalling by the door, Robin turns around and asks, “Will you come to bed soon?” and a vacant brown gaze locks onto his as she tosses him another bleak smile.

“Yes. Of course.”

It’s not until after midnight that she drags herself up the stairs, and she’s out of bed before dawn.

 

-

 

As suggested (or rather, as ordered ), Emma is venturing down to Regina’s vault first thing the following morning.

Once there, she finds Regina with her back to the entrance, a book in one hand and eyes trained on something unknown to Emma. Hands tucked in the back pockets of her jeans, Emma shuffles forward and clears her throat as to announce her arrival. Wide, dark eyes travel up right away as Regina clenches her right fist and shoves it into her pocket.

“Sorry, I didn’t—” She comes out of the shadows, hands up in surrender. “It’s just me, just… Emma. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Regina flips shut and puts down the book. “You didn’t.”

“Uh. Okay. Good.”

A heartbeat passes, and, “You’re late,” Regina adds tersely.

“I—what? It’s eight in the morning . Not even the birds were chirping on my way here.”

“Well, you look terrible. Did you get any sleep?”

Emma makes a face. “Not... really, no. What about you?”

Focus shifting back to the book, Regina asks, “When did it start?” and Emma sighs at the change of subject before crossing the room and disclosing just the right amount of information needed, nothing less and nothing more.

They slip into silence afterwards, and it hangs in the air, all of it—Emma’s condition, the potential outcomes, and well. Everything in between.

Even so, they manage for a short while; manage through glances that convey more than the uttered words are able to; manage through Emma’s explanations of symptoms and Regina’s rapid scribbling of flowers; manage until Regina reaches over to grab a dusty book from the shelf next to Emma’s head and Emma practically jolts to the other side and knocks over a lit candle that she manages to catch with one hand before it hits the ground.

Despite Emma’s quick reflexes, the atmosphere between them bursts and splatters by their feet. Regina stops in her tracks, eyes zeroed on the candle clutched in Emma’s hand and face slightly obscured by a curtain of dark hair.

Emma murmurs, “I’m sorry,” the words charged in all the right places, in all the wrong places, and it’s a ticking bomb, the whole damn thing, and one that is about to go off.

She doesn’t know if it’s the guilt lodged in her throat or the fact that she can see the fresh, dark circles under Regina’s eyes; doesn’t know if it’s the certainty buzzing beneath her skin and telling her that things already took a turn for the worse or the stubborn part of her that believes there’s something to be salvaged still.

She does know, however, that the apology does not refer to the fact that she just knocked over an insignificant, white candle. And maybe Regina knows that, too, because her spine straightens, eyes drifting upwards and locking onto Emma’s.

Regina swallows, and, “What are you sorry for?” she asks.

Emma shrugs. “For this, I guess. All of it. I’m sorry you have to find a way to save my life, again .” Unexpectedly, Regina scoffs in response and Emma grits out, “Look, I get that it sucks to be wasting your morning here with—“

That’s what you think this is about?”

“I don’t—I guess? I mean what else could it—“

Regina groans, fires, ”How could you keep this from me?!” and Emma freezes for a split second before stuttering out a, “W-what?”

“You’ve been sick for, what—months? At least it would seem that way giving your advanced symptoms, and instead of coming to m—to us —you decide to lie about your condition and keep it a secret. So my question stands: what exactly are you sorry for, Emma?”

“Okay, alright , look. Whatever I do or don’t do, it’s got nothing—“

“Oh, please ,” Regina scoffs, and Emma grits her teeth once more before they both launch into a short-lived screaming match for which Emma simply doesn’t have enough air in her bruised lungs. An argument that goes on until they’re both drained of everything but the blood-stained camellias Emma coughs up into what surely must be a magical bowl of some sort and Regina is looking at her with something flashing in her eyes.

Breathing heavily, Emma stumbles back against the brick wall, watches Regina move away from her and towards the exit. Her stomach drops at the prospect of Regina leaving, and she dismisses the chest pain and the vines crushing her lungs and pushes off the wall.

She tries, ”Regina, wait —” before taking note of glistening tears welling in brown eyes when Regina turns around to hand her a satin handkerchief.

An offering, a truce. Something of the like.

Carefully, Emma takes it and draws a deep, rather painful breath.

“I’m sorry I kept this from you,” she says, voice unwavering despite the fact that her breathing is hitching at the back of her throat. “I really am.”

Regina nods subtly and looks away. “There are ways to fix this.”

”Yeah, well. I’m not getting surgery,” Emma deadpans. ”Like hell I’m leaving this under the care of Dr. Frankenstein.”

”I’m not talking about surgery ,” Regina counters, indignant.

Her eyes are on Emma once more, suggesting. Implicit.

Emma whispers, ”Of course. Magic. Because that doesn’t come with a price.”

”Emma, this thing is—it won’t just go away by itself.”

”You can’t know that.”

Regina steps forward. ”But I do .”

Emma falls silent, cuts her eyes to the ground. Regina is nothing but meticulous in her research, in her obtaining of knowledge. She should know better than to argue with her about curses, or magical diseases, or whatever it is that has overtaken her.

”I will pay it,” Regina adds, and Emma’s eyes dart back to her. “You said magic always comes with a price and you’re right. It does. I’ll pay it if needed.”

Wryly, Emma says, ”It’s not your price to pay,” and Regina hurries to argue: ”I can make them disappear. I can make it go away, if you let me… if you—”

”No.”

”Emma—”

No .”

“It’s the only way—"

“I don’t want you to make it go away, okay? I don’t—”

“You can’t just give up—”

“I’m not , I’m just not willing to sacrifice the one thing that…” Regina waits for whatever explanation is coming, listening closely. Emma draws another shallow breath, if only to win time amid what most certainly feels like a race against the clock. “I just can’t do that,” she says in the end.

Regina blows out a huff, throwing her hands in spiralling outrage. ”You need to do something!”

“I’m on it, okay?”

“Are you, really? Because from where I’m standing, you might as well—”

“I don’t want to forget!” Emma roars, and just about everything goes so, so quiet that she has to squeeze shut her eyes for a second in order to keep the tears from brimming over, has to clench her jaw so it doesn’t tremble further in anger and frustration.

It’s in the middle of that same charged, blood-curdling silence and in the middle of Regina’s stupor that Emma brushes a quick finger under her eyes and squares her shoulders.

“I don’t want to forget, alright?” she repeats, much softer. Much quieter. “I’m not—I’m not ready to let go, not yet.”

Slowly, Regina begins to regain her composure as well. When she speaks a moment later, her voice is stripped of pretenses, cautious and gentle and as sincere as she can muster without unraveling on the spot.

”I’m sorry that this is happening, that he… that the person that you love is gone. I really am,” Regina tells her, and means it. She might not lament his fate in general, but she is tremendously sorry about the consequences of his absence, about the inevitable effects it has had on the people that cared for him. ”That being said, I won’t… I won’t just stand by and watch you die.”

Emma nods and looks away. ”Then don’t.”

She leaves without sparing Regina another glance, and Regina waits for the footsteps to fade away before reaching quickly into the pocket of her blazer, unscrewing her fist and considering the shredded, yellow petal laying inside.

 

-

 

There’s a knock on the mansion’s front door later that evening, just mere minutes after Regina gets home. Judging by the lit hall and the music seeping from the second floor, Henry must be in his room. She runs a hand through her hair before opening and finding her sister on the other side of the door, a small pear-shaped bottle clutched in her hand.

“I thought you might need this on the quest I assume you’re about to take on,” she says, thrusting the bottle towards Regina.

There’s rarely small talk when Zelena is involved, and this visit isn’t shaping up to the exception.

Regina takes the bottle, eyes it, and, “You knew,” she whispers.

Zelena nods, seemingly unbothered by the clear accusation in her sister’s tone. “She came to me a few weeks ago, said she needed to enlist the help of someone who didn’t care for her. Turns out the baby is extremely fond of her for some reason I can’t quite comprehend, and since I don’t necessarily want to watch the Savior die,” she waves a curt hand towards the bottle, “there you go.”

It’s doesn’t really strike Regina as a shock that baby Robin would be completely smitten with Emma, or that Emma would have managed to charm her way over to Zelena’s good side in the end. The thought alone sends a wave of warmth through her—she’s far too acquainted with Emma’s ways and can’t help the twinge of fondness hitting the center of her chest.

“Thank you,” Regina says. “What does it do?”

“Slows it down, mostly. It’s not strong enough to revert the disease.”

“How long has she been taking this for?”

“Since a few weeks after the pirate made that one sound decision and asked to be left down in the Underworld.”

Regina nods, slightly distracted and lost in thought. The version Emma gave down at the vault earlier matches with what Zelena is telling her.

“But if you ask me,” Zelena drawls, “the best thing you can do for her isn’t this potion.” Regina’s brow creases, but Zelena doesn’t offer anything more than a, “Anyway, she’s all yours now!” before being gone in a cloud of green smoke.

When Regina—far too exhausted to try and decipher her sister’s enigmatic ways—pushes the door shut and turns towards the stairs, she finds Henry sitting at the very top of them.

He looks at her, and the plea is latent in his eyes and voice when he says, ”Please, Mom. Nobody is telling me what’s going on.”

“Come on.” She stretches out a hand. “I’ll make you hot cocoa.”

“And we’ll talk?”

“And we’ll talk.”

 

-

 

Henry goes to bed eventually, and she does too in a vain attempt to conceal sleep—her sheets might as well be made of sandpaper, and her musings of marble stone.

She did her best to soothe Henry, to assure him and reassure him that things will be okay, but all through the night she’s haunted by the crushing horror settled between her collarbones, kept awake by the way their lives seem to get caught in the crossfire despite every single one of their efforts to be textbook good, to be fairytale good.

Everything they’ve done in the past few years, everything they’ve fought for has been side by side, and now there’s nothing but utter dread seared onto her ribs at the inconceivable prospect of Emma not getting to be around, not being there with them to see it all through.

It doesn’t escape her, the sheer irony of her trying to run Emma out of town upon meeting her and losing sleep all these years later after realizing that Emma could indeed be leaving them after all.

And what is worse—if the yellow petal currently stashed away in her vault is any indication, then there is simply no escape from the things she decided to let go of along with Emma and Henry by the town line.

Because there had been a moment (a split second, a blissful fraction of time) in which she could see why fate had given them unbalanced hearts, in which the thought alone sent her heart into a frenzy, leaving her winded and outraged and so, so full of hope.

There was a moment, she remembers; a moment before Emma and Henry were inevitably gone, before an already established happy ending was thrusted upon her; one that she had ran away from so long ago but that had come back to claim her in the end.

So she tucked away their story (the one that wasn’t supposed to be anyway), she put it all aside in order to not interfere with anyone’s happiness. She had to in order to provide Robin with the happy ending she once deprived him of and allow Emma to follow with her heart’s desires, no matter how much it teared at Regina’s insides.

And yet it was all rendered meaningless as soon as she was being dragged into a vacuum of darkness and Emma was giving up just about everything to save her. Heart in her throat, Regina had stumbled forward, the urge to rage against the night and the powers that were taking Emma prisoner throbbing in her ice-clogged veins, but then there had been a hand on her wrist—a timely reminder of the way things should be—and she had stopped in her tracks just for a second but long enough for Emma to vanish into thin air and leave a forsaken dagger in her place.

(Emma, a powerhouse. Emma, a force of nature not to be reckoned with.

Emma the Savior, the sweetest of silver linings.

Emma, Emma, Emma abruptly gone in exchange for Regina’s safety in a cruel twist of fate.)

Still, that feeling had lingered, woven into her every decision starting from that night, paying no heed to Robin’s deterring hand on hers as though new life had been breathed into it. She was prepared to fight for Emma’s wellness and happiness the same way Emma had fought for hers, even if said fight took her to unknown realms and collapsing underworlds.

But it drove her into a guilt-ridden spiral, trying to reconcile the things she ought to embrace with the ones she could still feel herself drawn to. If she had been granted happiness despite everything she’s done, then who was she to turn her back on it? And most important, who was she to deny someone else said happiness for a second time?

And now, as they both have to face death with withering flowers in their lungs, Regina can’t help but feel enraged by the way everything has unfolded in the end—

because what has been the point of stiffling her heart’s desires, of settling for watching Emma follows hers if there’s a chance they will be turned to ashes by said desires anyway?

What is the point of every single one of her choices if Emma will be ripped from them for good?

(Emma, who unknowingly has sinister petals currently catching at the back of Regina’s throat.

Emma, who will be the Evil Queen’s undoing after all, as it were.

And she has faced death countless times before; the remnants of a battered, darkened, beating heart left to prove it, which is why Regina knows

if she has to go, then let it be because she dared to love again.)

 

-

 

The sun has yet to set the following afternoon when Regina and Henry are standing on Emma’s doorstep.

Henry greets her with a placating smile and mumbles something about a hidden stash of chocolate, and his mothers linger by the door for a moment, the aftermaths of their last exchange still hanging in the air to the point where they wait for Henry to settle in the living room before daring to look at each other properly.

Emma shifts her weight from one foot to another.

“Does he know everything?” she asks.

Regina nods. “Everything I know, yes.”

Much to her surprise, Emma exhales in relief. “Thank you. I didn’t know how to… I couldn’t. But I’m glad you did. Thanks.”

“That’s not the only reason we’re here.”

One swift flick of Regina’s wrist and all cabinets have flown open.

“What the—“ Emma starts, and one second later she’s watching her entire stock of magic ingredients vanish from one of the cabinets after Regina waves a curt hand in the air. “Why'd you do that for?” she whines.

“As much as I appreciate the initiative to learn on your own—and I do quite a lot—I will be the one in charge of the brewing from now on.”

Arms folding across her chest, Emma shoots her a suspicious look. “What’s the catch?”

Regina shifts sideways to face Emma, and, “I will not go against your wishes, Emma,” she says calmly. “If you don’t want to forget, I… I can understand that. I do understand that.” Then, chin raising in the air: “But I will not watch you die, either.”

“What does that mean?”

“That you will take this in order for us to win time. We’ll search until we can find an alternative that doesn’t require for you to be rid of your feelings, if that’s what you want.”

Emma nods. “It is. Thank you.”

 

-

 

They start spending each of their afternoons and evenings at Emma’s, and soon enough they find themselves absorbed in a world of their own, putting off plans and previously scheduled commitments and saying their goodnights with more and more reluctance as the days go by.

As opposed to Emma and Regina, Henry actually voices it one evening over dinner, says, “I don’t understand why we can’t be here, or there , all the time,” and they turn to blink at each other before Emma jokes that she couldn’t possibly deprive Regina of her silky sheets and then asks to be passed the salt.

By the end of the next week, Emma has stopped going to her parents’ altogether, Henry has missed at least three soccer practices, and Regina has just rescheduled dinner with Robin via text, again —only this time he actually comes looking for her, pacing the porch until she steps outside.

Emma’s front door closes quietly and Regina leans against it, hands clasped behind.

”I told you we’d be here,” she says as a means of explaining, exhaustion woven into her voice, into the lines on her face.

”I don’t mean to diminish Emma’s troubles,” Robin says. “Or her current condition.”

“But?”

“But we’ve been through a lot as well.” He dares to close the distance with another step. Regina lets him. “I was just hoping for a quiet evening with you.”

Guilt clawing up her throat, Regina strings together an appeasing smile. ”I’m sorry,” she says. “I’ll make it up to you. Dinner tomorrow night?”

 

-

 

Unsurprisingly, they do move in the end.

It starts gradually, like honey from a single spoon:

Emma calls Regina from the station one morning, voice slightly strangled, and, “I don’t think Henry should be around me right now,” she says.

There’s a thread of restraint in her voice, like she’s trying to keep intact a house of cards that is about to collapse, and Regina’s stomach drops as she wonders how much blood Emma lost in a coughing fit this time.

On her side of the line, Regina takes off her glasses, the paperwork before her completely forgotten. “Parenting is a full-time job,” she counters.

“I’m aware.”

“Then act like it.”

And later that night they’re both knocking on Emma’s door with small overnight bags lying by their feet.

Emma rolls her eyes at the booming statement, a traitorous smile spreading across her face as she waves them in.

“What about your fancy sheets?” she asks.

“I’ll make do with what you have for one night.”

Except one night turns into a few nights a week, and soon enough they’re not even bothering to magic away the conjured bed next to Henry’s where Regina has taken to sleep.

Henry still has every other week with Emma, and it’s only during those that Regina makes sure to spend more time in Mifflin Street, partly because of her own occasional coughing fits (she might be hiding in plain sight when they’re at Emma’s, but she’s still constantly looking over her own shoulder) and partly because she has a relationship to uphold.

(Despite having mentioned the overnight stays for him, Robin doesn’t ask about Emma, not anymore, and Regina doesn’t know how to read the sudden disinterest from his side, doesn’t know how to read the way she feels lighter because of it.)

It’s during one of her Henry weeks—most of which has been spent at Emma’s—that Regina wakes up in the middle of the night. She sits up on the bed and tries to listen for anything out of the ordinary, anything similar to what drew her out of her sleep, but nothing happens.

Still, she gets up and tiptoes across the hallway, towards the weak light seeping through from under Emma’s door, and knocks once before letting herself in and being met by Emma seated on the edge of the bed, wrinkled sheets pooled around her feet and a sheen of sweat on her forehead and collarbones.

The visual alone causes Regina’s throat to constrict. She swallows.

Emma smiles warmly at her. “I’m okay.”

“You aren’t.”

“Okay, I feel like shit. Can you hand me another bag? They’re in the top drawer.”

Regina drives home after work the next day and packs more of their things into two much larger duffle bags, then heads back to Emma’s place.

 

-

 

Their improvised living arrangement works relatively fine for a couple of weeks, practically idyllic to Emma except for two things: the fact that she seems to be getting worse judging by the amount of scattered, forgotten petals she keeps finding around the house, and the silence echoing between her and Henry as of late.

They reach their breaking point one evening when she’s reading on the couch and Henry trots downstairs and into the living room in search of something in the bookshelf.

Emma scrambles up on the couch, trying not to make anything of the twinge of irritation crossing his face upon seeing her.

“Hey,” she says, pushing onto her feet, the book forgotten already. “Wanna give the new Mortal Combat a go? I know it’s the middle of the week but your Mom’s working late and you’re off school tomorrow, so I say we take shameless advantage of that.”

He searches haphazardly through a few titles before supplying his reply: “No, thanks.”

“You sure?”

He hums. “Got homework.”

“What’s it about?”

“Science.”

“Do you need help with it?”

“Nope.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite.”

She blows out something between a sigh and a groan. “Henry, come on. I’m trying here.”

Much to her surprise, Henry scoffs with venom, turns around at last. “You’re not, though. You aren’t trying,” he says, voice strained with emotion all of a sudden, and it dawns on her why he was so reluctant to face her before just now.

“Henry—“

“He’s not worth it!” he roars, his façade pierced with raw, pent-up fury and due bluntness. Emma waits, certain that there’s more to it, and there is: “Look, Ma, I’m—I’m sorry that he’s gone, but he’s—he isn’t worth dying for.”

Still in control of her composure, Emma says, “I know,” and she doesn’t have it in her to pretend as though she doesn’t mean it.

Chest heaving, Henry considers her for a long moment. “You do?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Then I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“It’s not your job to understand everything, kid,” she tells him. “I’m your mother, and all you need to do is trust that I’m doing this for a reason.”

He cuts his eyes to the wall before turning back to her with angry tears welling in them. Slowly, he staggers back, and, “You’re not even trying for me,” he says quietly, and Emma stomach plummets as she watches him turn around and run up the stairs.

She waits around half an hour (for his sake, for her own sake) before dragging herself to his bedroom and knocking on his door once, twice. Nothing happens. She knocks again, and when her attempts prove futile, she presses her forehead against the wooden surface.

“I know you’re mad at me, and we both know you have every right to be,” Emma says softly. Then, forcing out a chuckle: “And I know this won’t go down as my best move, but I really need you in my corner right now. Do you think you can you do that for me? Can you just… hold onto that anger until this is all over? You’re allowed to yell at me all you want afterwards.”

She waits again for what feels like an eternity, then decides it best to give him space and makes a move to leave, but she doesn’t make it very far before the door is creaking and opening behind her.

Henry comes out, eyes red-rimmed, and nods.

 

-

 

When Regina steps into the house, it’s to a pitch-dark first story. She takes off her coat and trudges up the stairs, feet heavy and throat sore due to another sporadic stream of stripped carnations that she had to take care of before leaving the office.

(They’re less recurrent nowadays for some reason, ever since they have been staying at Emma’s. She doesn’t dare to question it, so she simply attributes it to the potion and a possible, much needed stroke of luck.)

She checks on a sleeping Henry first, then stops by Emma’s on her way to the guest room that Emma insisted she take the same night Regina came back with more of their belongings stuffed in duffels bags.

The door is ajar. She lets herself in in what has become dangerous, alluring domesticity, and watches Emma turn in her sleep before taking note of her drenched tank top and sheets and crossing the distance to the bed in three large steps.

Emma’s eyes flutter open upon feeling Regina’s palm against her forehead. She tries to sit up but Regina holds her in place, gentle but firm.

“How was work?” Emma asks, voice hoarse.

“Uneventful,” Regina says softly, and withdraws her hand. “You’re running a fever.”

“I know, but the meds should be kicking in any moment now.” She flashes Regina a smile. “Wanna pick up where we left off with Hell’s Kitchen? If work was that dull then I bet you could use a dose of food and dramatics.”

“You only do think about food, don’t you?”

Emma pretends to be caught in thought for a moment, and then: “Pretty much, yeah,” she says.

A fond smile spreads across Regina’s face. She glances at the clock, then back to Emma, and, “You should sleep off the fever,” she suggests half-heartedly.

“No need. I’m feeling better already.”

Regina rolls her eyes. “Move over,” she says, and Emma obliges and scoots to the other side of the bed with a huge, dumb grin on her face. Regina kicks off both heels, sits down over the covers and leans back against the bedhead. “You know there are studies that list all the negative effects of having a TV in the bedroom?”

“Yeah, well.” Emma gives a small shrug and reaches for the remote. “I like my audiovisual experience to be as pompous and comfortable as possible, thank you very much.”

They’re not even halfway through the episode when Emma dozes off, her breathing even and soothing and blonde hair cascading over her face when she turns towards Regina to sleep on her side.

Regina grasps at this borrowed moment amid the tumultuous lives they are leading nowadays and watches Emma, her own breathing in tandem with hers, and brushes a few strands of hair off Emma’s warm cheek.

She closes her eyes, too. Just for a moment. Just to rest.

When she wakes up hours later it’s to Emma trying to crawl back into bed without making a sound and the remote gliding down the covers and hitting the floor.

She scrambles up from her sleeping position (also on the side, also facing the middle of the bed), and, “Hey,” Regina croaks out, a quick hand raking through her slightly disheveled hair.

Emma lingers by the side of the bed in the poorly-lit room. “Hey.”

“Are you feeling better?”

“Yeah, I…” She smiles weakly. “Yeah. Much better.”

“I’m sorry, I must’ve fallen asleep—“

“No, I didn’t mean to wake you—“

Regina sits up properly. “I’ll let you rest—“

“No, please, I—“ Emma stops, lips pressing into a thin line.

“I could… I could stay for a moment,” Regina ventures, unsure and terrified of the warm feeling barrelling into her chest at said prospect. “If you…” She clears her throat. A wave of relief washes over when she finds it petal-free. “If you want me to?”

“It’s, uh… it’s a big bed,” Emma replies in turn, and they both take it as what it is: a clumsily-worded yes.

Regina sinks down on the bed, muscles unwinding once more against the soft mattress, and waits for Emma to do the same before allowing herself to exhale. Emma lays down over the covers as well, eyes strategically trained on the ceiling.

Because the silence between them is so much louder, their closeness so much more potentially conductive when there are no excuses such as shallow reality shows bringing them together like this.

A few minutes go by. Despite willing herself to sleep, Regina finds herself as awake as ever, and judging by Emma’s tossing, she is too.

She’s debating whether to leave or not when she hears Emma draw a few short, shallow breaths in a row.

“What is it?” Regina asks.

“Nothing,” Emma says brisky. Then, barely a whisper into the dark: “It’s just… I’m sorry.”

Regina cranes her head in order to get a better look at her. Emma’s eyes are still zeroed on the shadows dancing on the ceiling.

“What are you sorry for?” she asks, mirroring Emma’s tone.

“This.” She gives a small, seemingly nonchalant shrug. “Everything.”

“Emma, what’s going on?”

She bites her lower lip. “Henry’s really mad at me. I think we’re okay for now, but…” she trails off, pauses for a moment. “I don’t know. I don’t know how you got through it back when he… I don’t know how you did it.”

There are days when she doesn’t know, either.

“He’s just worried.”

Emma shakes her head. “He’s right, in a way. He said—“ She stops herself. and then: “I’m thinking about it.”

Against her judgement, Regina pushes, “About what?”

“About getting rid of the flowers.”

Regina waits, tries with all she has to overlook the fact that, even in the scarce lighting, she can make out a trail of tears on Emma’s cheek.

“I don’t want to forget,” Emma says quietly, and Regina’s heart shatters and shatters and shatters.

 

-

 

Over the course of the following day, it becomes quite obvious that Henry’s anger is not only being directed at Emma but at both of them.

She decided to work from home since Henry would be off school anyway and Emma had matters to take care of at the station, but it turns out her decision did nothing but worsen and fuel Henry’s already volatile mood.

As opposed to how it was a few years ago, Regina can sense him trying to not let his feelings get in the way, even though he gives nothing but curt nods and monosyllabic answers all day.

The last straw is, however, when he steps into the kitchen unaware of her presence then freezes as soon as their eyes meet, looking ready to bolt in a way that reminds her way too much of their roughest patch yet.

She soldiers through those grim memories, and, “Dinner will be ready in a moment,” she says instead.

“Not hungry.”

“You would think you would be seeing as you barely touched your food at lunch.”

He grabs an apple from the counter, and, “Whatever,” he mutters, whipping around and stalking towards the stairs.

“Henry Daniel Mills,” she calls, and it’s the emphasis on his middle name that has him stopping in his tracks before he turns around in what she can clearly recognize as a façade of apathy. “Come here,” she says, and he sulks all the way across the room until he reaches her. “Talk to me.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“You’re angry. I want to know why.”

He looks away.

She says, “Cariño—“ and it’s like the term ignites him, eyes snapping back to her.

Don’t ,” he grits out. “Don’t try to sweet-talk me when Emma is—Emma’s about to—and she’s not even trying , and you’re not even—“

“I’m not even what?”

“What are you waiting for?” he wants to know, and it all clicks for her. “You could heal her if you wanted to, if you—you can fix her but you won’t .”

Her eyes darken several shades. “What I won’t do, Henry, is use magic against Emma’s wishes. After everything we’ve been through, after everything you know —“ She pauses, scared of the potential fissures in her voice if she doesn’t take a moment to steady herself. “Surely you can understand that?”

And he does understand, eyes glistening and remorseful when he gives a small nod. “I do. I’m sorry. But Mom, there’s… there has to be something we can do.”

He sounds as downhearted as she feels under her stoic façade, gaze falling to their feet. On sheer instinct, she places a soothing hand over his pounding heart then reaches up and and places her thumb and index finger under his chin. His lips curve into a sprained smile before he looks back up.

“We can hope,” Regina tells him.

“Hope for what?”

“That she will heal on her own. With time.”

Henry swallows. “What if there isn’t enough time?”

“We’ll cross that bridge once we get there.”

 

-

 

But time is a luxury, and one that seems to be slipping through their fingers at alarming rate. She’s at home—technically Emma’s home, she supposes, although it feels a lot like theirs too, nowadays—when it happens.

There’s a courtesy knock on the front door, and then David is letting himself in as his daughter’s name trips down his lips and Regina whips around, a handful of petals crushing inside her fist.

“Is the concept of privacy completely lost to your family?” she sneers, stalking towards the front door in the hopes that it will switch the focus to her. “If you’re looking for your daughter, she’s at the store with Henry.”

But David pays her no heed, gaze latched onto the small puddle of yellow petals by the sink. Regina waves a hand to dispose of them, but a second later she feels it scratching up her throat again and then she’s coughing into the sleeve of her blazer, a few withering daffodils ( unrequited love ) swaying towards and hitting the floor unceremoniously.

She magics away those as well.

“But you’re soulmates ,” David says, brow creasing in deeper thought. Then, as realization dawns on him: “Unless…”

“David—”

“Unless it’s not about Robin.”

“You’ve got it all wrong.”

He gives a laugh, a scoff, something of the like, and, ” Don’t lie to me, Regina,” he warns in raw, ticking desperation. “Don’t—please, just—it’s not about Robin, is it? This–this thing, these petals aren’t because of him, are they?”

And much like Emma had felt upon being caught in the station’s bathroom, Regina feels now that she doesn’t have it in her to come up with excuses.

She smooths down her already wrinkle-free blazer, chin craning upwards.

“No, they aren’t,” she admits, and it feels like the beginning of the end and the end of a beginning, all of it and all at once.

Something flashes across David’s eyes, and, “When did it start?” he asks.

”When Emma…” She rakes a hand through her hair. “When we found out she was sick.”

”Because that’s when you lost all hope of ever being with her,” he says pensively. Then, snapping back all of a sudden: “You need to talk to Emma.”

Regina forces out a scoff. “That’s not gonna happen.”

“No, trust me, she… she needs to know about this.” Terrified of the familiar feeling pounding inside her ribcage, Regina wills her lips to remain sealed and cuts her eyes to the side, but David pushes: ”Would you rather die than pursue happiness with her?”

”It’s not that simple,” she says quietly.

”Would you rather let her die?”

Her head whips up. “ Of course not.”

“Then please, just… just talk to her.”

 

-

 

Would you rather let her die? is the bit that stays with her through the rest of the day.

She leaves the house shortly after David agrees to go home (albeit not without trying to put up a fight in true Charming spirit) and before Emma and Henry can make it back from the store.

The vault is familiar and welcoming when she steps inside, dark and confining but one of the few places in town that still belong to her only. She dives into magic practice in order to blow off some of the steam settled in the back of her head and stays there watching colorful particles of magic ignite and fade in front of her, all the while ignoring her phone lighting up and buzzing against the shelf every now and then.

Her mind is elsewhere, and she’s determined to keep it that way.

(She doesn’t want to think about the decreased pressure against her lungs nowadays, or about David’s insistence that she comes clean to Emma, or about the riveting shred of hope rearing up in her whenever she allows herself to think that maybe —)

Despite her best efforts, her solitude is disrupted by heavy footsteps entering the mausoleum. Regina takes a moment to wonder whether this will be one of those instances in which they talk to each other without really saying anything, or if they will be too exhausted to beat around the bush.

(She knows she is.)

Either way, she has an inkling, a foreboding that fixes her on the spot until he’s made it downstairs and their eyes meet.

He just short of sneers upon seeing her.

“Robin,” she breathes. “Hi.”

“Thought I’d find you here.”

“Yes, I’ve… I had some research to do.”

“Rumor has it you’ve moved into Emma’s?”

Straight to the point it is, then.

“I’m not—we’re just staying there until things have calmed down.”

Christ , Regina. I had to hear it from one of the Merry Men because you won’t even pick up your phone.”

A shiver shoots down her spine as he calls her out for the poor way things have been handled from her side. “It’s—” She clears her throat. “It’s been a couple of rough weeks.”

“Because of Emma,” he says, and the accusation is no longer intended to go unnoticed.

“She’s Henry’s mother. You can’t expect me not to… she means the world to him.”

“And to you?”

“What about me?”

“Bloody hell, Regina—what is she to you?”

After months of tiptoeing around the subject, it no wonder they’ve reached this point, but his tone and demeanor—so affronting, so challenging, so foreign to her—have her snapping back and schooling her features into equal defiance.

She’s suddenly unafraid of this particular confrontation, one that they’ve edged but not quite delved into so many times before, but it’s the way it’s being thrusted upon her—like she has no say in this, either—that has her heading for one of the shelves.

“I’m not doing this again,” she says dryly.

Unwilling to back down this time, Robin follows her around the room, tipping over several items from one of the podiums in the process.

“We have never done this, Regina, because you refuse to talk about what happened, about what she did, I—“ She whips around to shush him, but he launches: “Are we really going to pretend as though she didn’t sacrifice her soul for you? Are we going to pretend as though we don’t know what it means, that she’s—“

“Robin—“

“That she loves you! That things between us haven’t been the same ever since she took on darkness for you, that you—”

“Robin, please .”

“That you will drop just about everything as long as it’s for her, even though you don’t owe her anything, Regina, you don’t —“

Enough !”

The room stops spinning at once, and Robin waits for his breathing to even out before squaring his shoulders. “That’s what I thought,” he deadpans.

Instinctively, Regina opens her mouth to protest, but there’s a thump against one of the podiums by the entrance and suddenly her eyes are on Emma, wide-eyed and fidgety and standing right there within superb earshot.

Robin follows her line of sight and turns around, his pained gaze flickering between the two of them before a dry laugh leaves the back of his throat.

“Guess I’ll leave you to it,” he says.

He heads for the stairs and Emma’s fists clench on each side when he stalks past her. Regina makes no attempt to go after him.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—” Emma starts. “We came home and you weren’t there, and then it got late and I thought—” She blows out a breath. “I don’t know what I thought.”

The massive door to the mausoleum upstairs screeches and closes so jarringly it sends a shiver down both their spines.

Cautiously, Emma moves further into the room and watches Regina busy herself with the items that were just tipped over in her argument with Robin. She puts them back into place with meticulous care. Emma waits.

“How much of that did you hear?” Regina asks after a moment, a casual note to her voice that Emma knows how to read by now.

“Not much,” Emma lies. Then, half a second later: “Okay, a lot. Perhaps all of it.”

“I’m sorry you had to witness that. We’re just… it’s been a couple of rough weeks,” she says again.

Emma nods to herself, thinks back to the past few months and the flowers curling around her lungs and the way she’s constantly aware of the fact that it’s not only the petals she so badly tries to push down as to keep them from soaring out of her.

“He’s right, you know,” she says.

Regina runs a quick hand through her hair for composure. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she retorts, bestowing Emma with a quick glance. “This isn’t about whether or not I owe you anything.”

Emma shakes her head. “He’s right about me . About how I—about my feelings for you.”

“What?”

But Emma is surging forward, lips crashing onto Regina’s as though swallowing the gasp caught between them was enough of a cure for her current condition. As though the feel of Regina’s lips against her own was the one thing able to sustain her once she inevitably runs out of air—short-term, long-term—and suddenly it’s like her chest is being hit by a lightning strike and there’s one hand threading into her hair and another one grabbing a fist full of fabric and Regina is pulling her closer, closer, impossibly closer, and Emma obliges on sheer instinct and feeling and rampaging frenzy until Regina’s back hits the wall and Emma is pulling away and jumping back in her steps.

Eyes wide like a deer in the headlights, Regina breathes, “ Emma ,” and Emma almost trips over her own words when she leaps: “I’m sorry, I just—” She coughs, a ceaseless, rough tickle in the back of her throat, but she fights through it. “It’s not about him, it never was, and I couldn’t… I couldn’t imagine a world in which I didn’t know, in which I didn’t feel … but I can’t bear the thought of you and him, I can’t… knowing he gets to be with you, knowing he gets to—”

She pauses for much needed air; staggers back one step, two steps under Regina’s puzzled, distraught gaze.

“You were right, I can’t live like this. I just had to—I wanted —just this one time. Just for a moment. But Henry was right too, see, it’s… it’s selfish , and I… I should get rid of them. I have to. I will.”

“Emma—”

“Please, forgive me.”

She squeezes her eyes shut, so desperate to leave that she does so in a haze of white smoke, making it significantly harder to be followed.

(Not that Regina is left in any condition to do any following, because for the next half minute she stands perfectly still, perfectly stunned , unable to move and feeling as though she has been drowning in a sea of deadly flowers up until this very moment when she has made it up to the surface gasping for air.

And she has, one way or another.)

 

-

 

For the first time in weeks, she decides it best to spend the night at Mifflin Street and texts Henry an explanation that he is likely to be wary of but that he simply has no other option but to take for now.

There are things she needs to take care of now that several doors have been kicked wide open simultaneously. On one hand, it’s like a can of worms or Pandora’s box, or a raging thunderstorm during a warm, stuffy day.

But on the other… everything’s so much clearer now that the world has spinned on its axis, now that she has finally—

now that she’s no longer afraid to fight for the things she had folded and tucked away beneath her heart.

She texts Robin as well and asks him to meet her at the mansion, but much to her surprise he’s already there and waiting when she gets home.

The click of her heels cease right after she enters the living room. Robin’s shoulders tense and sag before he pushes onto his feet and turns around. A withered, yellow petal is carefully clutched between his fingers.

Regina’s eyes flicker between the petal and Robin, realization dawning on her as he shortens the distance between them.

He lifts the petal in silence, and her lips part at once but Robin beats her to it: ”I was gathering my things when this… I didn’t mean—” He sighs, all fight from earlier now completely drained out of him. ”I found this in your bedroom.”

She swallows.

”This isn’t hers, is it? This isn’t Emma’s.”

Slowly, Regina shakes her head. Robin’s features falter altogether.

“It’s always going to be her,” he says.

A question cleverly woven into a statement, and one that shouldn’t need to be confirmed nor denied, at least not this far in the game, in the story.

( Their story, that is—the one that concerns Henry, and Emma, and her only.

That story, the one that shouldn’t have been and yet is in all its glory and gore.)

She answers anyway: "Yes.”

“What about us?” he wants to know. “What about what we have?”

“What we had was a few months of preordained happiness.”

He chuckles through the blow. “You never did want to be dictated by fate.”

And for the briefest of moments, she thinks he might have known her a little bit after all.

 

-

 

She tosses and turns between hollow walls that have bled desolation in the past but that now throb with Henry’s laughter and Emma’s smile and the way something flares up within her whenever she remembers that, through it all, they found each other, stayed with each other.

Weariness does overtakes in the end, and she sleeps soundlessly through the entire night in what has become a rare occurrence as of late.

There’s newfound resolve coursing through her veins, a decision pounding loudly in her ears, and three almond blossom petals ( hope, contemplation )—a divine vestige of something akin to lightning striking their tenacious hearts—resting on her nightstand.

 

-

 

As soon as she hears the familiar, acute sound of heels against tiles, Emma wishes she hadn’t just sent Mulan on a breakfast mission around town. Still, she remains fixed on her spot by the deputy’s desk and doesn’t lift her gaze from the compendium clutched between her hands, not even when Regina has crossed the room and is far too close to be ignored.

Still, Emma—being the self-proclaimed champion of pushing things down—figures it doesn’t hurt to try, no matter how intoxicating Regina’s perfume is when it floats under her nose.

No matter the fact that she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Regina’s lips on hers, or the vague scent of lavender in her hair, or the needy sound she had made when Emma had pulled away.

She hasn’t stopped thinking about the way Regina had looked at her afterwards either, which is what has her glueing her eyes on the now extremely indistinct print as she pretends to read through the document.

“We need to talk,” Regina says.

“Kind of in the middle of something here.”

She’s being an asshole, they both know, so it doesn’t really come as a shock that Regina answers by snatching the compendium from Emma’s hand and dropping it on the desk before them.

Now ,” she says, stalking towards the fire exit.

Emma follows sulking like the child she never really got to be, then pushes the door shut as Regina magics the lock on for total privacy.

“O-kay,” Emma drawls, running an awkward hand through her hair. “Look, if this is about what happened last night—“

”I love you,” Regina says, and feels her entire being spill forward along with the words, even closing the distance by another step.

Any second without an answer is a second too many, but even so she wills herself to wait longer than she wishes to endure, witnesses the way Emma’s features settle on something unbearably impassive considering the situation and the words that hover between them.

“Emma, I—“

“I heard you the first time,” Emma says, and swallows the glimmer of hope surging within her, swallows it along with the stream of petals and the bile rising up her throat.

Regina forces herself to push through the agonizing stillness: ” Say something.”

”What do you want me to say?”

”Emma, I’m—I’m in love with you.”

But Emma isn’t looking at her, jaw set as she swallows even harder than before, as she tries in vain to keep it all from clawing up and out of her.

She’s buckling over in a matter of seconds, and Regina rushes to her aid before Emma yanks herself free, stepping back and out of the pool of blood-stained cypresses and petunias gathered by their feet.

“Wha—” Regina’s eyes flicker between Emma and the flowers, mind on the almond blossoms on her nightstand. “This shouldn’t be happening.”

Slowly, Emma wipes at her mouth with the back of her hand. ”I know you—” She pauses. ”You and I, we—we save each other. It’s our thing, right? And I know that you’d do anything… I know you mean well. But please, just… please , don’t do this.”

Regina staggers back too, aghast. ”You don’t believe me. Your flowers—you don’t believe .”

”You fought so hard,” Emma says, shoulders sagging. ”You have this—this soulmate , and I want you to be happy, I… I really do. You should be happy.”

Eyes stinging, Regina says, ”Emma, please .”

”I think you should go,” Emma says, and she tries to stand a little taller in a room that is closing in on her at alarming rate.

Regina shakes her head.

“No.”

“Reg—”

This time it’s Regina who launches forward, desperate hands framing Emma’s face as their lips crash together. But there’s no suspension between her heartbeats this time; there’s only Emma kissing her back for a short, borrowed moment before her hands are closing around Regina’s and she’s lowering them and stepping back in shuddering, steel resolve.

“Please,” Emma croaks out. “Just… just leave.”

And Regina does.

In the span of a second she has careened out of there and Emma is left listening to the fading, hurried footsteps instead of paying attention to the colossal riot in her heart.

When she makes it out of the fire exit a moment later, she’s met by a steaming paper mug waiting for her on her desk. Immediately, she searches for and finds Mulan all the way by the empty cells, an upside-down report in her hand as her eyes dart rapidly through it.

Emma wills herself to find her voice, however cratered it might be, and, “Thanks for the coffee,” she says.

A dilated heartbeat passes, then: “Wanna talk about it?” Mulan asks.

She’s not looking at Emma, which Emma files away as yet another act of kindness from her part.

“No,” Emma says. “Yes. A little.”

Mulan looks up, lower lip caught between her teeth as she takes in Emma’s broken state. “Are we done pretending this is about someone else?”

“Yes. Definitely.”

 

-

 

Every single lamp in the house has been flicked on when she gets home later that evening, just like it usually has been lately, and yet Emma can sense Regina being gone long before she makes it to the guest bedroom and finds it empty of all her things.

It’s her week with Henry (something they have barely differentiated in so long) so she strings together a smile for both their sakes, drags him to the kitchen to make dinner together and then for a round of video games before going to bed.

Henry lets himself be dragged around, sits on the counter with a bleak smile of his own while instructing her on how to season their food. After dinner, he kicks her ass at Need for Speed and doesn’t once comment on the drastic change in their living arrangement, at least not out loud.

(His eyes keep wandering to the front door every now and then and whenever he thinks she won’t notice.

But Emma does notice, because her eyes keep wandering there too.)

 

-

 

After a couple of days of hardly bearable niceties—two short phone calls about work and one about Henry, plus one stiff encounter outside of Granny’s—Regina finds herself seated by the kitchen island in the loft, fingers fidgeting idly with the tea cup placed in front of her.

The Charmings watch her attentively from across the island, digesting the news of the break-up that she just divulged on her own and without prodding in what can only be described as a moment of utter weakness.

While Snow’s jaw has dropped slightly, David, having learned his lesson when it comes to disclosing information that belongs to third parties, stands next to his wife without uttering a single word and wearing an expected, unfazed look on his face.

“Well?” Regina pushes after a while. “Never thought I’d see the day you two wouldn’t have something to add to the conversation.”

“Is it… is it over for good?” Snow dares to ask.

“Yes.”

A moment passes. Snow lifts the mug to her lips. “Because you’re in love with Emma?”

Regina’s head jerks up, eyes darting between each of the Charmings before they land accusingly on David.

Snow turns to her husband, and, “You knew ?” she asks in a shocked whisper.

You knew?” David and Regina ask back in tandem.

Shrugging, Snow explains: “You forget I’ve seen you in love before. And I’ve seen the way you look at her, the way you’ve been caring for her through all of this, even when she’s… even though she isn’t... “

She trails off sounding throughout-fully rueful, and Regina can’t help but feel that the conversation has gone awry, that it feels wrong to speak of something that she otherwise holds so close to her heart, so hidden from the spotlight and the public eye.

Something that is and has always been Emma’s and hers only.

The tea spoon clatters against the mug when Regina stirs the untouched, most likely cold beverage. It’s rather amazing that Snow can read her like one of the fairytales featuring her fellow princesses but simply isn’t able to do the same when it comes to her own daughter.

“Yes, well,” Regina deadpans impeccably, and Snow’s eyebrow arches up.

“What aren’t you telling me? Is it Emma? Is she—”

“She’s alright ,” Regina offers. “Or as alright as she can be under the circumstances.”

“Then what is it? I can tell you’re holding back.”

Next to her, David swallows thickly, exchanging a pointed look with Regina from across the island, and Regina can almost pinpoint the moment Snow catches up at last.

“Oh my god, it is you,” Snow breathes. “Of course it’s you. It’s not about Hook, of course it isn’t. Oh, I knew it.” Then, as though it was a blessing rather than, well, a curse that the Evil Queen and her daughter have fallen in love, she glances between David and Regina with a grin on her face, and, “Go to her,” she urges.

“What?”

Go to her. She loves you, and you love her, and—“

“You’re okay with this?”

“If it’s my blessing you’re after—“

Certainly not.”

“Well, you have it. Emma is… everything. And she loves you.”

The wording feels like a blow to the chest in considering their current situation, their latest exchange and the fact that no similar words have made it past Emma’s lips.

“She doesn’t want to see me,” Regina says briskly. “And I’m not about to impose my presence on her, as opposed to your usual—and might I add, rather unsuccessful—approach.”

Regina .”

“No, David—she’s… she’s right.” Her focus switches back to Regina, voice unwavering when she adds, “Is there anything we can do to… to help?”

Regina sighs, cuts her eyes to the mug before her. “I tried to talk to her already and it lead absolutely nowhere.”

That short recounting is enough for David to finally chime in: ”What do you mean?”

”She doesn’t believe,” Regina explains. ”At first she didn’t know and now that she does she doesn’t… she just doesn’t believe me.”

“She’ll come around,” David says with steel conviction, and puts his hand on Regina’s. “She just needs time.”

“But what if she gets worse?” Snow asks.

And David’s eyes flash with reminiscence and innate hope when he tells them (but mostly Regina): “You know, I have the feeling she might be doing better already.”

He tosses a complicit smile across the island, and Regina’s lips mirror his as she allows herself to exhale.

 

-

 

“Hey Swan, wanna tell me why Madam Mayor came into the station this morning walking as opposed to strutting in and looking as though she hadn’t slept a wink in at least three days?”

Emma freezes momentarily before resuming her way to her office. “Not really, no.”

“Wanna tell me then why she dropped what can only be an excuse shaped as a report on my desk then demanded the sheriff get back to her with this tonight at the very latest?”

“She what ?”

Mulan beams unashamed. “Gotcha.” She spoons the mango yoghurt in her hand, and, “I mean, she did drop by with a report but she didn’t mention you. Except for the furtive, rather indiscreet glances to your office, that is.” Emma shoots daggers at her through the glass window. “What?" she says, the spoon hanging loosely from the corner of her mouth, "I thought you might appreciate me providing you with every bit of crucial information.”

Emma runs a hand down her face before collapsing on her desk chair. She hasn’t slept a wink lately, either. Not that sleep has come easily to her for the past few months, but it’s much worse this time. It certainly feels much worse.

She hears rather then sees Mulan leaving her desk and walking up to her office.

“Ready to talk about whatever trouble in paradise you have going on?” the deputy asks, leaning against the doorway.

No . I mean, no, there’s no... paradise, or anything of the sort.” Fingertips fidgeting with the edge of some paper sheets, Emma offers: “She, uh… apparently she broke it off with Hood.”

“Ooh, interesting,” Mulan coos, pushing off the doorway, face breaking into an impossibly broad grin. “And how do we, as the neutral bystanders that we both are in this situation, feel about that?”

Emma shoots her another pointed look. “We don’t feel anything. I think.”

“You think ? What’s with the unnecessarily cryptic narration? You know, it’s very hard to follow how we feel about all of this when you’re telling it backwards.”

I’m telling it backwards? I literally found out about it through our kid—who, may I add, is totally a snitch.”

“Still not talking, huh?”

“Yeah, we’re not exactly on speaking terms at the moment.” Emma cuts her eyes to her desk, picks up another folder to fidget with. “Anyway,” she says, a conclusive, dubious note to her voice. “It’s got nothing to do with me.”

“Uh-huh.”

She leans back on the chair, throwing the folder unceremoniously on the surface of the desk with such force it slides right off of it. “He’s her soulmate , and I’m… I can’t compete. I won’t. They’ll find a way to make it work and everything will go back to the way it should be.”

“You know,” Mulan says through a mouthful of yoghurt, “for someone who wants this so bad you sure are fighting it a whole lot.”

 

-

 

Naturally, they fall into step with each other within another week.

Emma wishes she could be rid of the need to stay within Regina’s orbit, but the pull is too strong even when all she wants to do is sulk and stare broodingly, so when Henry short of orders her to come over on Friday night to help bake the cupcakes he’s signed up for for the school fair next day, Emma agrees without putting up much a fight, musing that it’ll be easier to be broody and there than broody and hungry and at home alone.

(And she misses it, them, everything .

Misses it to the point where her heart hurts more than her lungs ever did.)

She arrives right after dinner and pretends to not care for the relieved exhale that Regina gives when Emma materializes behind Henry on their way to the kitchen.

They make it through the first fifteen minutes unscathed, but then Henry is trotting up the stairs after yawning dramatically for around thirteen minutes and they’re left alone without him to serve as buffer through the rest of their baking session.

Regina chuckles to herself, and Emma—perched on the counter since before Henry fulfilled his devious plan—has to rip away her eyes from the patch of flour on Regina’s left cheek that has her fighting the urge to cross the distance between them and brush it off with her thumb.

She gets lost in thought for a moment, lost in soft lips against her own and the recent range of red tulips ( declaration of love , “believe me”) and mallows ( deep in love ) mysteriously overrunning the rest of the flowers and surging up her throat like a soothing balm instead of climbing it with thorns.

She blows out a sigh, chews her bottom lip idly before sneaking a glance at Regina and being met by brown eyes already on her.

Without tearing her gaze from her, Regina leans against the sink and folds her arms across her chest. Feeling scrutinized all of a sudden, Emma straightens her spine, her weight heavy on the palm of her hands against the edge of the counter.

“What?” Emma asks.

“You’re still sick.”

“Well… yeah.”

“You said you’d get rid of them.”

Of me .

“I’m weighing my options.”

“Please,” Regina drawls, “do enlighten me about these options.”

“You know what, I—“ She groans, jumps down from the counter, and, “Never mind,” she says, making a move to leave the room.

No ,” Regina says, and she waves a hand that has a scintillating veil falling around them. Emma stops in her tracks. A soundproofing spell. “Tell me, Emma. For once, just be honest and tell—”

“I can’t!” Emma exclaims, whipping around. “I can’t tell you about it because I feel like… I feel like I had the chance to—to tell you that I’ve loved you for so long I can’t remember how it felt not to. I could’ve told you that there’s not a timeline or a goddamn universe in which anything else but you and Henry make sense to me; could’ve told you that you’re absolutely infuriating and completely maddening but that I fell head-over-heels in love with that same heart that you sometimes seem so keen to give up.”

Seemingly frozen by Emma’s sudden candor, Regina waits, and Emma draws a deep breath before throwing up her hands in complete defeat.

“I could have told you that…” She chuckles lightly. “That being with you makes me feel like less of a lost girl. That what I feel for you runs so deep beneath my skin that I would rather die than let it be taken away. I could’ve but I didn’t and then we got back from New York and you were… you were…”

Voice a thin thread, Regina pushes: “I was what?”

“You were soulmate’d up,” Emma says grimly. “Giving away your heart for safekeeping to—to him and I couldn’t… I won’t. I can’t do this.”

Brown eyes shift to a slightly darker shade. “That’s not fair,” she grits out. “I thought I’d lost Henry, I thought I’d lost you , and by the time I got you back there were other people to take into account for both of us. I didn’t… I didn’t know how what to do.”

“You didn’t have to know, did you? It’s written.”

What is?”

“You and Robin, it’s—it’s written with goddamn pixie dust whereas this thing between us, this thing with me is nothing but a death augury leaving a trail of withering flowers. Doesn’t exactly scream happy ending.”

Regina is quiet for a long moment and then, spine steeling: “You kissed me,” she says.

“What?”

“You kissed me. When you look back, I want you to think of that moment and remember how it felt. Remember what happened.”

 

-

 

And for the next few days, Emma does think about it—

she thinks about the feel of vines loosening around her lungs, about anemones and violet scabious being exchanged for scrumptious, painless hiccups of almond blossoms and red tulips and ambrosias ( reciprocated love ) with nothing but a few, small specks of blood on them as opposed to the gore she got so used to somewhere along the way.

She thinks of Regina’s Emma, please and how her heart short of bolted when they kissed the first time.

She thinks about it.

She thinks about it a lot.

 

-

 

“How long are you and Mom gonna be like this?” Henry asks her one day over dinner.

It’s just the two of them in the house, just like it has been countless times before, but Regina’s absence is louder than ever, echoing between their quiet exhales.

Emma blinks at him from across the table, blindsided not by the intervention itself but by its abrupt nature, and, “Well?” he pushes, eyes widening in exasperation.

“I, um… It’s complicated,” she says, and reaches for her glass.

“Complicated as in ‘we want to kill each other’ or as in ‘we’re in love with each other but are way too hard-headed to admit it’?” She nearly chokes on her water, but Henry pays her little to no heed. “It kinda took me a while,” he says quietly, “but then it hit me like a freight train and suddenly it all made sense. It was Mom you would be erasing by removing the flowers, wasn’t it?”

Slowly, Emma nods.

“Mom, and to an extent… me. Our family. Us.”

Emma nods again, gives a light chuckle. “I’m sorry, I should have… I didn’t mean to keep this from you but I didn’t know how not to, either.”

“That’s okay,” he tells her, and she knows in her weary bones that it’s sincere. Henry bites his bottom lip in further thought, and, “It’s just…” he starts.

“What is it?”

“I thought you’d work it out, especially now that you’re doing better, but now Mom isn’t even here, and—”

“Henry…”

“Ma, just…” He sighs, defeated by something much bigger than any and all of his operations. “Just hear me out. Or rather…”

The chair screeches lightly against the floor when he pushes off his seat. Henry leaves the room without another word and comes back a moment later to Emma waiting, her brow creased in escalating expectation.

Wordlessly, he places and spreads a few petals on the table, all of which Emma recognizes right away… except for one.

“She thinks she’s been good at hiding it,” Henry says. “And she has. Most of the time.”

“What—when are these from?”

Henry points at each of the petals as he explains: “Last week, three weeks ago, two days ago. For the record—you don’t have to almost die in order to get the girl, Ma.”

 

-

 

It’s during the earliest hour of the night that Emma arrives at Regina’s doorstep, clenched fist banging on the front door until the lights have been flicked on and she’s standing there winded and tasting something sweet and unfamiliar against the roof of her mouth.

(She will remember the taste for the rest of her life, will hold on to the lucky feel of pale blue on her tongue.)

Regina opens the door clad in one of her black work dresses and flats, lips parting, but—

“There were no yellow flowers for me,” Emma says.

She knows. She looked each of them up, even saved some petals between faded pages in an old, dusted-off book.

Regina nods to herself and proceeds to join Emma on the porch. “No, there weren’t. Where’s Henry?”

“At the house. Don’t worry, your sister’s babysitting.”

“She—since when does my sister babysit ?”

Emma gives a shrug. “Since about ten minutes ago when I told her to come over because I needed to talk to you.”

“Oh.” Silence falls between them. Regina crosses her arms loosely, and, “What is it, Emma?” she asks.

Hands tucked in the back pockets of her jeans, Emma shifts her weight from one foot to another, swallows like she’s fending off the remnants of her inner demons.

“Did I do this to you?” she asks back.

“What?”

“Are you… when we kissed, when I kissed you something happened, something like—” She stops herself, too conscious of the fact that she’s edging along the memories of when she broke that first curse, of the same thunderbolt in her heart that swept over the whole town and wiped off their set of fabricated memories. “Something happened.”

“They did change,” Regina says, voice and spirit curbed with due precaution. “Your flowers—they’re different, aren’t they?” Emma simply nods in silence, seemingly dumbfounded by the same confirmation she came for. “You did do this to me,” Regina tells her, daring for a step closer, “the same way I did to you.”

Emma burst into teary, bitter laughter, shaking her head. “God, this is so—I didn’t mean for this to happen, I didn’t… I didn’t know. I never wanted to hurt you.”

“You didn’t .”

“But I could have,” Emma argues. “I could have—I don’t know what I would’ve done if you’d…” She trails off, the rest of the sentence left unspoken like so much else between them has been.

“It went both ways, didn’t it?” Regina says ruefully, and Emma can’t help but agree with that logic. “So what happens now?”

She’s baring every ounce of expectation pounding within her, eyes alight with all the things that Emma feels as well but isn’t ready to be consumed by just yet.

“I don’t… I don’t know,” Emma breathes, and glances around before turning back with a small shrug. “What if… what if you wake up one day and realize you took a wrong turn? That this isn’t… that you were so much better off with him instead of with me.” She gives another shrug. “With a lost girl.”

“Oh, darling,” Regina breathes. Emma’s heart does an olympic summersault at the term of endearment, at the way it rolls down Regina’s tongue. “You really have no idea, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Come with me.”

“What? Where?”

“There’s something you need to see.”

“What is it?”

“Will you just do as told for once in your life?”

Emma nods vaguely, and Regina flicks her wrist. They’re in the porch one second, then wrapped up in a dissipating purple haze outside of Granny’s a moment later.

“What—” Emma spins on her feet, eyes landing on an ashen, younger version of herself hurrying out the door and trotting down the steps.

 

Archie made a cake. You don’t want to stay for a piece? 

I’m fine, thank you.

 

She remembers this version of them.

A version that threaded lightly, that was scared but unafraid; that fought through gain and loss with poisonous words and hardened eyes, and wanted and wanted even though understanding had yet to dawn in its totality.

“Is this…” Instinctively, Emma sways closer. “But how?”

“This is where I knew,” Regina says quietly from behind her. Emma turns, lungs in her throat upon taking note of Regina’s fond smile, upon hearing her chuckle. “From this day onward, I knew there was no going back, no matter how hard I tried. And trust me, I did try.”

“You did?”

Regina smiles. “At first.”

She waves her right hand in the air and the setting switches to one that Emma recognizes at once. Tears are welling up in her eyes within seconds, just like they are now in the eyes of a version of them that was holding on for dear life, clinging to crumbs and what ifs.

 

You'll have never given him up. You'll have always been together.

You would do that?

 

Raw, eloquent grief, as palpable on the tip of their fingers as it was that eerie day.

The town line.

Emma does move closer now. They both do.

“I didn’t want to go,” Emma says, and allows her gaze to land on Regina without pretenses. “I really didn’t.”

“I didn’t want you to go.” Regina draws a breath under Emma’s poignant gaze, and, “This is where I wish I’d told you,” she says.

“Me, too,” Emma murmurs as they’re swallowed by purple haze one last time, and maybe Regina does hear her because her hand slips into Emma’s just as the last fragments of a marooned, phantom version of them crumble to the ground and they’re materializing on the dim-lit sidewalk of Mifflin Street.

Regina lets go of Emma’s hand and Emma automatically careens closer, following her into the front yard before stopping dead in her tracks.

She sways on the brick path, unsure, and there’s a full moon bouncing on Regina’s eyes when they latch onto Emma’s.

“Aren’t you gonna walk me to the door?” she asks.

“Uh, yes. Sure.”

They’re almost halfway through the brick path when Regina comes to a halt in her steps, turns around to face Emma.

Bright eyes wandering around the familiar yard, Emma asks, “What is it?” and it sounds a lot like What is it with this place in particular?

“Since you’re so bent over on giving fate so much credit,” Regina says, “I thought I’d do things your way.” She glances around too, and, “This is where we met,” she tells Emma, eyes warm when they land back on her as opposed to that night when they were brimming with tears and smeared with dark makeup.

“I remember,” Emma says quietly.

“Then you remember everything that followed, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“We were supposed to destroy each other. You were supposed to be my undoing, your mere existence the beginning of my downfall.”

“I never wanted that, I didn’t ask for that—“

“Our paths were fated to cross, yes, and Henry was the reason we agreed to put aside our differences and work together, but this…” She steps forward. “Us? That’s ours only.”

Emma waits, positively speechless. Regina glances around once more before her gaze lands back on Emma. She smiles, warm and sweet and completely disarming.

“Let me ask you something,” she says. “Do you feel lost? Right here, right now—do you feel like a lost girl?”

Of course not,” Emma says, honest and forward and completely disarming in her own way.

“I don’t, either.”

Bit by bit, Emma’s face breaks into a knowing, broad smile.

“This is where we met,” Regina says, “and this is where I choose you.” She gives a shrug, then pushes off the tip of her toes to place a quick kiss on Emma’s flushed cheek. “I don’t care how long it takes, as long as you’re safe. Good night, Emma.”

She makes a move to leave, getting as far as a half step away, and it’s kind of perfect, Emma thinks as she reaches for Regina’s wrist and gives it a gentle tug, that they’re standing in the middle of the brick path where it all began.

It really is kind of perfect that Regina lets herself be pulled back towards Emma and pushes onto the ball of her feet just as Emma leans in, a hand threading into silken dark hair and palming the side of Regina’s face with utmost care.

“It kind of took too long already,” Emma says, and when their lips brush there’s no mistaking the monumental beat her heart skips, or the velvet feel of petals grazing her knuckles when Regina closes the distance between them.

Fingers digging into the dip of Emma's hips, Regina kisses her first, kisses her hard, kisses her for all the times they couldn't and all the times they will; lips parting and aflame and potentially, decidedly addictive if the fireworks fizzling in Emma's abdomen are any indication.

When they break apart a moment later, it’s to a rain of pale blue petals pouring down on them. They’re pooled by their feet and spun into their hair, and Emma thinks she might have made peace with these organisms that were so keen on taking roots in the pit of her lungs.

“What’s happening?” Emma whispers, gaze traveling upwards.

Regina’s eyes are on the night sky too, lips curving into an awestruck smile before laughter bubbles out of her.

The sound alone sets Emma’s skin on fire.

“Forget-me-nots,” she says, and Emma kisses her again and again and again.

( True love , memories , hope .)

 

-

 

They make it back to Emma’s house just as the sky is shifting to a cooler palette, hearts swarming, fingers interlaced and lungs mended at last.

Emma glances sideways as they stall by the door, and, “Wait,” she says, careful fingertips removing a pale blue petal from a strand of Regina’s hair before they go further into the house.

A piece of charred toast drops from the corner of Henry’s mouth and down to the floor as soon as they round the corner into the dining room.

“Moms?” he asks, wide eyes flickering between their joint hands and them. “Is this—uh, are you…?”

“Is that supposed to be your breakfast ?” Regina hisses in response, gaze hunting down her approaching sister, but her reproach is rendered useless when Emma’s flushed cheeks are good enough of a reply for everyone in the room.

Toast forgotten, Henry collapses on the couch, splaying dramatically across the cushions, and, “Thank freaking god!” he exclaims.

Zelena, on the other hand, arches an eyebrow at them, then covers baby Robin’s eyes with the same share of dramatics her nephew just displayed. “ Such indecency around here,” she sneers, but she still obliges to Robin’s grabby hands and passes her over to Emma whose smile now stretches from ear to ear. “Glad you’re not dying, Savior. Don’t forget you’re mowing my lawn this weekend.”

Henry bounces to his feet, whisking up the toast from the floor in the process, and, “Can I please be there when you tell grams and gramps?” he begs, a wicked grin on his face.

“Uh…” Emma starts, exchanging a look with Regina as Robin giggles away in her arms.

Regina clears her throat. “School,” she commands with the little to no sternness she can muster at the moment. “Now.”

“Fine,” he concedes, throwing his backpack over his shoulder. He places a quick kiss on each of his mother’s cheek. “I’m really glad you guys are okay,” he tells them before heading for the door. “Because this whole living in separate houses thing really sucks.”

 

-

 

“For a moment there, I considered trapping you two in an elevator,” Mulan says, happily munching away at a cookie she snatched from Emma’s desk before she dropped onto the desk chair. “You know, telenovela style? It’s supposed to be very effective.”

“You know, it’s during times like this that I miss the version of you that was blissfully unaware of what popular culture was.”

Chest swelling with pride, Mulan offers, “Li has been teaching me some of your colloquialisms and popular culture references.”

“Li, the girl from the bar?”

Mulan nods, color rising to her cheeks, and Emma is overtaken by both bliss and a tiny shred of remorse. She’s been so wrapped up in everything that has been happening to her that she completely missed this development. Last thing she had heard was that they were going for a beer, but it seems they’re way past bar dates now. Either way, it makes Emma’s chest swell too.

“Last name basis, huh?” Emma teases. “That’s like, flirting 101.”

“You would know, wouldn’t you?” Mulan shoots back, and then, beaming obnoxiously, “ Miss Swan ?”

Emma throws a wrinkled paper ball at her. “Shut up,” she mutters, but the grin on her own face doesn’t falter one bit.

 

-

 

It goes away eventually, all of it.

Fades away with soft kisses, with delirious kisses, with I’ll-see-you-later kisses after falling asleep to the sound of each other’s steady heartbeats and waking up in sun-drenched beds.

It gets swallowed by their lungs the same way arid nature disappears beneath the ground before being brought back to life, enriched and vigorous and blossoming across entire fields.

“Forget-me-nots,” Regina breathes again on the night Emma arrives to pick her up for their first official date a week later.

Her eyes flicker between the bouquet in Emma’s hand and the pristine cut of her black suit, a rapturous feeling tugging at her heartstrings.

“This is very dark,” she says, running a hand down the fabric of her wine red dress. “Even for your standards.”

Emma groans in feigned exasperation, and, “Just take the flowers and let me in,” she counters, one arm circling around Regina’s waist and pulling her considerably closer.

“Or what?” Regina asks, eyebrow arched up.

“Or I’ll catch a cold. And I think we’ve had enough of diseases for a while.”

“For a lifetime.”

“Okay, I’m going to kiss you now.”

“Thank god .”