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almost forgiveness

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It’s the first Friday night in June, and there’s always a breeze off the water, but it’s warm again. Emma rolls up the sleeves of her favorite flannel shirt, a Christmas gift from Henry, on her way into the store. She has plans with David in an hour, but she’s out of toilet paper and the milk in the fridge could really use replacing.


She’s got a basket hanging off of her left arm, and she’s humming Hole’s Skinny Little Bitch as she rounds the end of the cookies and crackers aisle. Regina is bent at the waist just a foot past the toothbrushes, and she’s squinting at something in the middle of the shelf. 


Emma’s throat goes dry and she stops humming. It’s not that she hasn’t seen Regina since New Year’s Eve, she has, plenty of times, walking down Main, at Granny’s, the occasional town meeting. It’s just that they haven’t spoken. They haven’t spoken, and there’s always at least one other person in the equation, an excuse. But the store is fairly empty, Friday night, and it’s just the two of them. 


Regina is taking up most of the aisle and Emma approaches with a fair amount of caution. Regina doesn’t look up, in the process of selecting something on the shelf in front of her. “Uh, excuse me.” Emma tries to move around, tries really hard, but Regina’s really taking up more space than she needs to. She bumps Regina’s hip with her own and manages to knock over a few bottles of laundry detergent with her basket. “Shit.”


Regina drops whatever it is she’s holding and manages to catch herself and stand up before the detergent hits the ground. “Damn it, Emma.” It’s frustrated, but there is something gentle about the way Regina says Emma’s name.


“I’m sorry, shit, I’m really sorry,” Emma drops her basket and bends down to pick up the Tide at her feet. “I didn’t mean to, I didn’t want to bother you, you looked so focused—” She’s picking up the box Regina had been holding, reaches out to give it back, “I — here.”


Regina looks slightly appalled but reaches out anyway, takes the box just as Emma looks down, and fuck, she wishes she hadn’t. But Regina’s fingers are brushing hers so she can’t help herself.


First Response. Early Result Pregnancy Test.


“Oh. Oh. Oh.


“Yes,” Regina’s taking the box in both of her own hands now, holding it at the waist of her skirt. “I mean, I’m not — we’re not sure.”


“Right,” Emma nods, keeps nodding, can’t breathe. “Well, congratulations.”


Regina shakes her head, but she’s almost smiling, “Thank you.” She ducks her head, pushes her hair behind her ear, and it’s almost shy. She smooths one hand over her stomach and Emma feels her stomach twist.


“I’ll see you,” Emma turns and picks up her basket again. She throws a four-pack of Charmin into her basket and doesn’t look back.



“I don’t want to love her, I don’t.”


“Sometimes you can’t help loving someone, kiddo,” David’s sitting on the couch, a sleeping Leo on one shoulder and Emma on the other. She’s too old for this, too big for it, but David has one strong arm around her and her head is tucked up under his chin and something about it feels sort of right.


She hasn’t told David. She can’t tell David, not about the pregnancy test and the baby. “I hate her.”


“That’s kind of like love too though, isn’t it?” David says, puts his feet up on the coffee table.


“She’s an asshole.”


“That she is,” David agrees, kisses the top of Emma’s head.


“She treats me like shit, but she wanted to give me a home.”


“Those two things don’t go together, she doesn’t get to do both,” David mumbles into her hair, pulls her a little closer on the couch. “You can’t change her though, Em.”


“I know I can’t. I don’t want to change her, but she changed herself first, I just want her to change back.”


“I’m pretty sure that isn’t how that works, kiddo,” David sighs, but it’s not exasperation, nor is it frustration. It sounds a little bit like sadness and a life that wasn’t his.


“It’s been five months since we’ve said anything to each other,” Emma curls up closer to her father. “But she said my name and it made me stop hating her for a second.”


“You don’t hate her, really.”


“No,” Emma pulls the wool and cashmere collar of her turtleneck up over her mouth. “I love her, but I don’t wanna.”


David pauses before he speaks again, “The way you love is special, baby girl. I know it, your mom knows it, Henry knows it, and Regina knows it too. She’s being a selfish asshole because she doesn’t want to give that up.” David sighs, “I’m not saying it’s fair, because it’s not. You’re hurting and that’s not okay, but it sounds like she’s not ready to stop loving you either.”


“I never said I wasn’t ready to stop loving her,” Emma whines, starts to shift her weight away from David. “Fuck Regina.”


“Hey, wait,” David’s arm tightens around her. “You’re sort of bound to each other, kind of like that Kanye West song, right?”


There’s an image of Regina naked on a motorcycle that stops Emma for a brief inappropriate moment.


“Please don’t use pop culture references anymore,” Emma groans, and closes her eyes. A moment of silence passes before she speaks again. “I just don’t wanna be so angry but it’s all I can be.”


“Give it time, baby girl. These wounds don’t heal overnight.”



Emma sees Regina on the street a few days later, passes her outside the library. She doesn’t expect Regina to stop her, so she nearly jumps a foot into the air when Regina reaches out and grabs her forearm.


“Emma. Do you have a minute?”


Emma nods, pushes her sunglasses up onto her head. “Yeah, sure. What’s up?”


“I know you want space, I want to respect that, you. I want to respect you.” Regina is still holding Emma’s arm, and jesus, she’s being sincere.


“Thank you?” Emma’s brow furrows and she looks down at Regina’s hand.


“I don’t want to overstep, but I’d like to talk with you. There are some things I’d like to apologize for. Some things I’d like to discuss. And I’d like to try to be,” she pauses, lets her hand drop from Emma’s arm. “I’d like to be respectful and I’d like to be within bounds.”


“Okay,” Emma draws out the end of the word, chews her bottom lip for a second. “Yeah. If you want to come over later, or something, we can talk.”


“After dinner, perhaps? I have a few hours between that and Roland’s bedtime.”


Emma nods, “Sure.”



Regina texts somewhere after seven and shows up at a quarter after. Her hair is loose, messy, and she’s wearing jeans. She’s wearing a pair of penny loafers and a tee shirt that probably costs more than any of Emma’s sweaters.


“I’m sorry,” she sets her purse next to the coffee table and follows Emma into the kitchen. “I thought we’d be finished sooner, but there were a few little hiccups, Roland and Henry wanted to help with the cooking and—” Regina shakes her head, “I’m sorry.”


“It’s fine.” Emma gestures to one of the barstools at the kitchen island. “You want anything to drink?”


“I’m fine, thank you,” Regina shakes her head and sits down.


Emma leans against the sink, the island between them, and she tries, really fucking tries, not to be so angry anymore. “So…”


“I’m sorry,” Regina clasps her hands in front of her on the island. “I’m sorry for the way I behaved. I’m sorry I allowed myself to be that person. I’m sorry that I overstepped, and I’m sorry that I tried to give you something I didn’t have to give. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right.” She sighs, “I know we’ve both hurt each other very much these past years, but I would like, if we can, to hurt each other less.”


Emma nods once, lets her chin fall forward so her face is hidden by a curtain of blonde hair. Her vision is clouding and her nose is starting to run, but Regina doesn’t get to see her cry. Not anymore. “Okay.” But her voice is trembling a little and she reaches up with the back of a hand to wipe her nose.


“I don’t know if we could ever be friends,” Regina continues, and there’s something in her voice too, something that shakes a little. “What with the way that’s gone previously, but I don’t want us to be enemies. I know it’s unfair to ask, but I’d like us to be civil, to speak again.”


“Okay,” Emma says again, and now she’s looking at Regina’s hands, still clasped together on the counter. Her knuckles are white and her hands are shaking.


“If we can move forward, if we can better see our boundaries, better understand how we’ve hurt one another for ourselves, maybe things could be different.”


“Yeah,” Emma nods, presses the heels of her hands just below her eyes. She’s crying now, really crying, “Okay.”


“Okay,” Regina echoes, places her hands flat against the countertop. “I’m glad we spoke.”


Emma can’t breathe, her breath hitches with every quick inhale, and quakes against her ribs with every labored exhale. She tries to steady herself with another deep breath, but it chokes her and she coughs. Twice. And when she speaks, there’s a hitch, a hiccup, a sound, between her words. “You made me think I had a home. You made me think I belonged there with you.”


“I know.”


She looks up at Regina, sees that Regina isn’t unmoved. “You made me think I was just as important to you as they are,” Emma’s next inhale becomes a gasping sob. “But I can’t be because you can’t do that. And fuck you for it.”


“I’m sorry. Emma, I truly, truly, am.” Regina rises, takes a step away from the island. “If I could fix it, I would. If I could take it back, I would. I don’t want to hurt you. Not like I did.”


And then she’s gone.



She doesn’t see Regina for a few days after that. She’s busy, some stupid property dispute between Albert Spencer and several cabin-owning Storybrooke residents takes up a lot of her time. Eventually, the whole thing is taken to Snow, leaving Emma to her usual patrol route.


They see each other again on Leo’s second birthday. Mary Margaret and David throw a Curious George themed party. Leo gets his own little monkey ears and David plays the Man in The Yellow Hat. There are banana splits and chocolate cake. Regina is there with Robin and Roland, all cautious smiles and a black sundress. Roland has the nerve to wear his tenta-cool octopus shirt and a pair of tiny sunglasses while he runs around the backyard with Henry.


Robin is a regular party animal. He laughs at all of David’s terrible jokes and compliments Mary Margaret’s cooking. He reminisces about Sherwood Forest with Sneezy and Doc, and even gets a smile out of Leroy. Regina stays by his side, for the most part, one of her arms wrapped around his waist while her free hand holds a glass of lemonade.


Her smile is bright and god damn beautiful when Leo blows out his two candles (and spits in the frosting) and Emma isn’t sure where to look. But Regina’s eyes meet hers over Roland’s head and Emma knows she’s been caught. She nods awkwardly, looks down at her baby brother, but she can still feel Regina’s eyes on her.


Emma is in the kitchen, opening a fresh beer, when Regina and Roland appear in the doorway.


“Emma?” Regina has one hand on Roland’s shoulder, the other is still wrapped around a glass of lemonade. “Roland is wondering if he might have a second piece of cake?” She runs her fingers through Roland’s hair and he smiles. “What do you say to Emma, Roland?”


“Please!” he holds out his empty plate and Emma can’t help but smile. There’s chocolate frosting at the corners of his mouth and he reaches back with one hand to tug at Regina’s dress. “Please?”


“Sure thing, dude,” Emma sets down her beer and takes Roland’s empty plate. “Just don’t get too sugared up, otherwise things might get crazy.”


“Just one more, alright?” Regina bends at the waist to press a kiss to the top of his head. “And milk with it, no more juice.”


Roland makes a face, but his eyes widen when Emma hands him a fresh plate. His new slice has a frosting banana on the top of it. He’s about to turn and make a run for it when Regina prompts him, “What do you say, sweetheart?”


“Thank you, Emma!”


“No problem, Roland.”


“Thank you,” Regina smiles, but it’s tentative where it should be strong and Emma shrugs. “How are you?”


“Fine,” Emma reaches for her beer. “You?”


“Fine,” Regina nods, takes a slow sip of her lemonade. “Your father has truly committed to the party theme.”


“I’m just thankful Curious George didn’t have a monkey sibling, or I’d be stuck in a monkey suit today.”


Regina chuckles softly, “We do ridiculous things for children.”


Emma doesn’t say anything, but she watches the way Regina’s hand moves to her stomach for just a few seconds. Watches the way it drops back to her side, even though her fingers twitch. It makes her sick.



“How were things with Regina today?” David’s ditched his Man In The Yellow Hat ensemble for his flannel pajama pants and a white thermal shirt.


“Fine,” Emma shrugs, tosses back the rest of her beer. “Weird.”


“You two seemed to be getting along. You spoke to each other.” David opens the fridge and grabs a beer of his own and another for Emma. “Smiled at each other a couple times even.”


“Yeah. It’s just like, after someone’s sort of seen your insides, and you’ve sort of seen theirs, how do you go back to small talk over a fucking birthday cake.” Emma reaches out an arm for the beer David offers. “It’s just sort of fucked up. Like we’re both pretending we have no idea. Like, she’s pretending she doesn’t know I would run into a burning building to save her or some shit.”


“You did that once,” David nods, sips his beer.


“No shit.”



Regina calls on a Sunday afternoon.




“Emma? It’s—”


“Regina, I know. Hi.”


“Hi,” there’s a pause, some rustling. “How are you?”


Emma’s fist clenches on top of her desk, something in the back of her neck tenses. Pleasantries and idle small talk with Regina have never and will never be easy. Nor pleasant. “Fine,” she shrugs, switches the phone to her other hand. “What’s up?”


Regina sighs, something heavy and slow, “When we saw each other at the store—”


“Is this something we have to talk about? I mean, I know we said some words, apologized, but this is like, a friend talk. And I don’t think we’re friends.”


“You’re the only one that knows. You and Sneezy.” The dwarf’s name is dripping with disdain and Emma rolls her eyes despite the situation. Regina’s next words are slow, cautious, “I would appreciate your discretion.”


“Discretion, right. I mean, now that there are technicalities involved, what am I actually being discreet about?” she can’t help it. “Are congratulations in order? Should I buy Robin some cigars?” she doesn’t mean to be an asshole, not really, but Regina’s sort of being an asshole, and Emma can't remember what it feels like to have solid ground beneath her feet anymore.


“Don’t be cute.”


“I’m trying to be the exact opposite of cute,” Emma reaches for the green stress ball David bought her last month. She squeezes, hard. “So, cigars? A singing telegram?”


“I don’t know,” Regina snaps. There's a pause and a soft sight. “I’m not sure.”


“What do you mean you're not sure?” Emma looks down at the squished green foam in her hand. “You’re either pregnant or you’re not. How can you not know?”


“I haven’t… I haven't taken the test yet.”


Emma takes a slow fucking breath, purses her lips to keep from spitting out unnecessary words. 




“Yeah, still here.” She closes her eyes, leans back in her chair. “Okay. So, does Robin even know you’re possibly,” she trails off, feels her ribs constrict. “Jesus."


“He doesn’t know."


“I feel like you're trying to pick a fight with me right now.”


Regina huffs, "I am doing no such thing. I couldn’t very well call one of your mother’s dwarves, could I? Or worse, your mother?”


“Christ, this is so fucked.” Emma’s nails are digging into the stress ball, and she finally throws the thing into the open drawer to her right. “Okay, what exactly do you want from me right now?”


“Initially? I wanted to call and make sure you could be discreet.” Regina has the nerve to sound haughty and fucking superior.


“You know that I can, so tell me why you really called.” Emma slams the drawer shut and runs a hand through her hair. “I don’t wanna play games, I don’t wanna fuck around. Why haven’t you taken the test? I ran into you at the store two and a half weeks ago, Regina.”


“I don’t know,” she sounds so young, so unlike herself.


“You do, though. What is it about knowing that’s upsetting you so much?” Emma doesn’t mention the way Regina had looked with her hand on her stomach, the way it made something in Emma burn and burn.


“What if I’m not?”


Emma nearly chokes on her next words, “Then you try again.”


Regina sighs, “And what if I am?”


“Then you have what you wanted, right?”


Regina’s right is so soft, Emma wonders if she’s imagined it.


“Do you want a baby? Is that what this whole thing is about?”


“Of course I want a baby,” Regina is quick to respond, it all comes out in a whoosh of breath. “Of course I do.”




“It’s complicated. It’s not as simple as I thought.”




“Yes, Emma?” she sounds hopeful, sounds so god damn young.


“Take the test.”



She sees Regina a week later. 


She’s on her usual evening patrol route, just curving down by the harbor when she sees Regina sitting on a bench near the pier. She’s wearing that black sundress again, a light jacket over it, and she’s just gazing out at the water, like she has all the time in the world to do so. Emma knows that look.


She pulls over, tries desperately not to scrape a hubcap against the curb.


“You okay?” she’s standing in the open door of the sedan, one hand on top of the cruiser, the other against the window of the door.


“Fine, Sheriff,” Regina doesn’t turn to look at her.


“Okay,” Emma steps away from the car enough to close the door. “Mind if I join you?”


“I suppose not," Regina shrugs and it’s invitation enough.


Emma sits down, just a foot away from Regina. They don’t talk for a while and Emma follows Regina’s gaze, thinks it’s awfully fucking cliched to sit and stare at the horizon, thinks about Neverland and how far they've come. How far they’ve fallen.


“I don’t wanna pretend with you,” Emma says after a while. It’s still light out, still warm enough, but the sun is beginning to dip lower and lower as the silence passes.


“How so?” Regina turns to look at her, eyes glassy.


“I don’t wanna do bullshit with you, is what I mean, I think.”


“Okay,” Regina nods, looks back out at the water.


It’s another few minutes before Regina offers anything else.


“I'm not pregnant.”


Emma doesn't turn, can't look.


“And I think I’m a little relieved.”


Emma does look then, “Relieved?”


Regina sighs, full of longing and something a little like regret, “Do you ever feel like everything is happening so quickly around you, and you try and try to keep up, but you're always falling behind?”


Emma gives a mirthless laugh, “Yeah.”


“It’s not that I don’t want this life or this marriage, because I do. I think I’ve given up on the idea that soul mates and true love are easier than any other kind of love, I’m grown enough to know that nothing is without its work, that the work of it can sometimes make it all sweeter, more important. But I feel like I’ve fallen into convention, I feel like everything is happening around me sometimes, like I’m not always living in it.” Regina shakes her head, looks down at her hands clasped in her lap. “We’re not ready for a baby. We’ve barely adjusted to being a family of four, we’re still trying to navigate co-parenting the two children we have.” She takes a deep breath, looks out at the water again. “And to be completely truthful, I’m not ready for a baby.”


“I thought—” Emma shakes her head, stops herself before she says something she shouldn’t. Something about natural mothers and the way Regina touched her stomach at the party, and the way Regina smiles at Leo.


“It’s too soon. We haven’t even been married a full year yet. We haven’t really discussed what having more children would look like for us, for our boys. It’s been an idea, but it’s still so new.” She closes her eyes and takes a slow breath through her nose. “There was a point in time, somewhere early in the new year, where I wondered what you would do if it happened. I know you won't be surprised when I tell you I wanted it to hurt you, but there was also a part of me that wanted you to be happy for me like I’ve asked you to be. You make things hard for me, Emma.”


“You make things pretty fucking hard for me too.”


“I know. I don’t always mean to.”


“I know.”


“I’m not used to having choices. I’m not used to options.”


“Me either. But now, we both have more of those than we think.” She shrugs, almost smiles at Regina. “Maybe someday it’ll all feel right.”


“I hope so,” Regina nods in return.


Regina’s shoulders have softened the slightest bit and Emma can’t help but watch her for another moment before she stands, stretches her legs. She doesn’t pine, not really, not anymore. Doesn't romanticize the way they’re both drowning, grasping at each other in the dark. But those almost smiles they share now, those could be almost forgiveness.


“Goodnight, Regina. I’ll see you around.”


“Goodnight, Emma.”