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Mirror Tricks

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This story picks up after the season 5 finale, with the Evil Queen separated from Regina and arriving in Storybrooke. I don't care about the Jekyll & Hyde storyline so I'm just going to pretend that hasn't happened - instead, prepare for some glorious jealous Regina and flirty Evil Queen goodness. Enjoy! x


Chapter one

Emma pushed open the door and stepped through the hazy air. The air pulsed with a wash of green. The force field that Regina had put around the house reminded her ever so strangely of jumping into warm water, and a part of her liked coming here now, just to feel that gentle brush against her skin as she stepped over the threshold.

Henry followed her, shrugging his backpack off of one shoulder. As Emma turned to close the door, a second pulse of light told her that the house was sealed once more.

"Regina?"

Her voice echoed through the empty hall, but she knew that Regina would have heard her. Since the news that the Evil Queen had made her way into Storybrooke had reached the mayor's ears, she'd barely left the house. Her den here had become her new office, and she had spent every waking hour of the last week searching for a way to send her darker counterpart back over the town line again.

Still, Emma received no response, and she rolled her eyes. Henry shrugged back at her. "You know she'll just be in her normal place."

"I'm sure she will," she said, grabbing the back of his coat as he began to walk towards the stairs. "But humour me."

"Mom," he groaned, pulling himself free. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," Emma replied, gesturing for him to wait where he was. "Regina?"

She heard a long-suffering sigh come from the other side of the house. "You should listen to our son, Miss Swan. I'm exactly where I always am."

Emma ignored the smug expression on her son's face and called back, "Code word, please."

"Stop being ridiculous."

Emma groaned.

"This was your idea," she said, abandoning Henry so she could stomp towards the source of Regina's voice. Henry seized the opportunity to dart up the stairs, his cell clutched in one hand and a message to Violet already half-typed.

The door to Regina's den was ajar and Emma pushed it fully open. Regina was sat behind her desk, her hair pulled back into a short ponytail and her glasses perched on the end of her nose. She didn't look up.

"Why did you even suggest we have a code word if you're just going to mock me any time I try to use it?" Emma asked.

"Because when I suggested it, I didn't realise that you were going to be even more paranoid about this than I am," Regina murmured, still not looking up. Henry's storybook was open in front of her, as it usually was nowadays, and in her right hand was a fat, glass syringe with a trickle of purple potion still swirling around the bottom.

"I'm not paranoid," Emma said, taking a step into the room. "I'm trying to protect our son."

Regina opened her mouth to argue, as was her natural reflex, and then stopped herself, sighing.

"Cobra," she muttered, and Emma's tensed shoulders finally relaxed.

"Thank you," she said, approaching the overflowing desk. She could count six coffee cups at first glance, sitting next to an uneaten sandwich and a pen that was looking decidedly more chewed than it had been when Emma had seen it two days ago. She paused.

"Have you taken a break at all today?"

"No," Regina replied flatly, turning the page. The circles under her eyes were dark and sallow, and though Emma could see her lips moving as she read, she knew that there wasn't anything new for her to take in. She'd read the book cover to cover a dozen times and for once, it had nothing else to offer her.

"You should," Emma said, reaching across the desk and collecting up all the dirty mugs. "You're going to go crazy."

"It's a little late for that, I think," Regina said, and the fact that she wouldn't look up was maddening. Emma reached out for the plate.

"Are you going to eat this?" she asked, hovering the sandwich in front of her nose. Regina shook her head.

"No."

"I'm going to make you something else."

"I don't want anything," Regina muttered. "Just like I told you when you made me that sandwich this morning."

"And just like I told you this morning, I don't care – you need to eat something. As you've mentioned plenty of times, there would be nothing worse in this world than you dying on us all and Henry being left alone with me as his sole guardian."

"I've actually had second thoughts about that," Regina said, twirling the syringe between two of her fingers like a baton. "The worst thing would be if I died and he was left with you and the one-handed wonder as your co-parent."

Emma felt her nostrils flare. Finally giving up, she straightened her back and turned towards the door. Making sure that the cups looped between her fingers clattered together as loudly as possible, she stormed out of the room and headed for the kitchen.

As she was angrily throwing yet another ham and cheese sandwich together from the rapidly deteriorating supply of food in Regina's fridge, the door opened behind her. Emma jumped at the sound – since the queen had arrived, everyone in town seemed to be irrationally jittery, even though after more than a week the town's newest visitor had barely made her presence known at all.

But even so, Emma spun around with the butter knife held in front of her, only to find Regina stood in the doorway watching her with her eyebrows raised.

"Are you going to ask for the code word again?" she asked. Emma glared back at her.

"You ignore me all week, and now is when you decide to take a break?"

"You interrupted my train of thought," Regina said, taking a step into the kitchen. Her eyes automatically regarded the sandwich Emma was making with some suspicion.

"A thousand apologies," Emma said, turning back to the counter. She could feel Regina's eyes on her and she knew that whatever she did now, it would be wrong.

And, sure enough –

"Not too much butter."

"This isn't too much butter," Emma snapped, stepping to one side so Regina could see the tiniest sliver of yellow on top of the whole wheat bread. "And I bought that expensive ham that you like from the deli and your cheese had gone mouldy so I got you some more this morning. Same type. Okay?"

Regina pursed her lips. Emma's tone made her bristle and she was all ready to think of another criticism, but after a beat she just nodded. "Fine. Thank you."

Emma knew that was as good a response as she was going to get, so she turned back to the sandwich and finished making it without another word. She could hear Regina moving around behind her and deliberately didn't turn to look at what she was doing.

When the sandwich was made and Emma had cut it as neatly as possible – into triangles, because everyone knows that sandwiches taste better that way – she turned to find Regina sitting at the kitchen island, two cups of coffee in front of her. Emma blinked.

"Is one of those for me?"

Regina's right eyebrow shot back up again. "I'm not so selfish that I would let you make me a snack and then just tell you to leave."

A thousand catty remarks immediately came to mind, but for once Emma chose not to say any of them. She hopped up onto the nearest stool, sitting at a right angle to Regina, and slid the plate towards her.

"Thank you," Regina said, looking down at it. She wasn't hungry – she hadn't been hungry for days – but she picked it up and bit off one corner just to show willing.

Emma pulled her coffee towards her and wrapped her fingers around the warm cup. Silence fell between them, as it often did, and Emma felt her toes beginning to curl in her boots.

No matter what had changed between them over the last year – no matter how close to being friends she thought they may have been – Emma still felt painfully unsure of herself whenever Regina was around. Even now, when Regina was make up-less and wearing a scrubby old sweater, there was something intimidating about her that made Emma's tongue dry up in her mouth. She wanted to say something witty, but whenever she tried, it came out childish. She wanted to make Regina laugh, but Regina seemed to laugh at very little nowadays.

Even so, whenever Emma said something that Regina found particularly ridiculous, there was something about the look of amused derision that she would shoot across the table at her that Emma loved. It was almost worth making a complete ass of herself just to see that scornful smile being tossed her way.

"So," Emma said, abandoning any hope of being coming up with something clever and instead settling for mundane. "Any luck today?"

Regina shook her head, chewing slowly. "I don't know what I'm expecting to find. I've read that book a hundred times."

"What about all those other books?" Emma asked. "The ones you got from the library, and from Mr Gold's shop?"

Regina shrugged, and it was the completely helplessness in her slumped posture that was hurting Emma more than anything. "Nothing of any use. The magic I used to release her… it's not the same magic we have here. I'm not sure any of our books would know where to start."

"To start doing what?" Emma asked, shifting in her seat. "To kill her for good?"

Regina sighed, replacing the sandwich on the plate. Emma's eyes followed the solitary bite mark in the corner of it, but she said nothing.

"I don't know," Regina admitted. "Originally that was the plan, yes. But now… I'm conflicted. I don't know if that's the right thing to do."

"Why's that?"

Regina's eyes flicked up to look at her, and Emma saw the suspicion that still lingered there. But Regina pushed through it, reminding herself that – however ludicrous it felt – it was okay to trust Emma. "She's still a part of me."

"Well. Not physically."

"No, not physically. And I did feel freer when I thought she was gone. But now she's back here and I'm not as certain anymore. I thought that getting rid of her would make everything easier but instead I just feel…"

Emma swallowed and gently inserted, "…not like you anymore?"

When Regina breathed a sigh of relief, Emma felt her chest swell.

"Yes," Regina said, offering her a grateful smile. "Exactly."

Clenching her stomach muscles against the excited fluttering feeling deep inside her, Emma smiled back. "Trying to find a way to destroy her once and for all probably isn't the best way to go anyway."

"Why is that?"

"Well, if nothing else, you'll feel guilty as hell. You're not exactly the killing type anymore."

Regina glanced back down at her sandwich. Her left hand was absently picking at the crust.

"If I put her back, though… I'm not as strong as I was before. Maybe I won't be able to resist the evil side once it comes flooding back in."

"The Evil Queen has never been your strength, Regina," Emma said. "She was your ruthlessness, sure, and your fortitude, but you've shown plenty of courage as a hero. I don't have any worries about you suddenly giving all that up again."

She was hoping that Regina would smile at her again, but instead she just sighed.

"Even if that is true, we have a bigger problem."

"What's that?"

"I somehow doubt my dear evil twin is going to willingly hop back into my body, even if we do find a way to keep her there. She's tasted freedom, and I expect she likes it. There's still going to be quite a fight ahead of us."

Emma thoughtfully pursed her lips. "Well… maybe. But maybe not? She's been here for a week and she's had plenty of opportunities to make life difficult for us since then, but there's been nothing."

"Probably because I put a force field on the house. She can't get in to hurt me, or Henry."

"Come on, Regina. You know as well as I do that a little force field wouldn't stop her from having fun if she really wanted to. There are plenty of other places in town for her to mess up while she waits for you to come running."

Regina considered this. "I suppose that's true. But she could just be lying low – biding her time so that when she strikes, it hits us even harder."

"Maybe. Or maybe you're just expecting the very worst. The only reason we even know that she's here in the first place is because Leroy nearly hit her with his truck while she was crossing Main Street. She's barely been seen since then."

"She's in my vault."

Regina said the words so casually and with such certainty that for a moment Emma didn't register the significance of them. Then she frowned. "What? How do you know?"

"Because she is me, and that is exactly where I would go," Regina sighed, pushing the uneaten sandwich away from her. Emma forced herself to ignore the hurtful pang in her chest. "I have no idea what she knows about this town – she might remember every single thing that I have done since I arrived here, or she might only remember what happened up until the point where the Evil Queen turned into Mayor Mills. I don't know. But either way, she will remember the vault – that I am certain of. That's exactly where she is."

Emma bit her lip. She hated it when Regina was right – which she usually was – and now that the image of the Evil Queen prowling around Regina's magic-filled vault like a cat was in her head, she couldn't shake it away.

"If that's true," Emma said slowly, her eyes fixed on the cup of coffee between her hands. "Then maybe you're right – maybe she is planning something. So how about we just go and ask her?"

Regina's scoff of derision was louder than a gunshot. "What a tremendous idea, Miss Swan."

"I'm being serious. We're going to come face to face with her eventually, so why not now? She still hasn't come after us, so she probably isn't prepared for any kind of attack yet. And we might even take her by surprise. She definitely won't be expecting you to show up with the saviour, of all people."

Regina narrowed her eyes. "It's suicide."

"Come on, Regina. You know as well as I do that together we can handle just about anyone. This is only different because you're scared to face her again."

She watched as Regina bristled, her dark eyes flashing with something that Emma hadn't seen in a long time.

"I am not scared."

"Then what are you?"

"Right now, I'm annoyed. You have no idea what you're talking about."

"Oh, come on. You know I'm right. I'm not saying you shouldn't be scared – I wouldn't want to go and confront my evil counterpart either. But you have to at some point. You might as well do it with me by your side."

Regina pressed her lips together, staring Emma down. Sometimes she wondered why she ever decided to let this woman get close to her – it had been one of the biggest mistakes of her life.

After a moment she turned her face away, looking back down at her coffee. "It's a ridiculous idea, Miss Swan, and there is no way you will convince me to go and take the fight to her. We have no idea what she's planning and we could be walking straight into a trap."

"Yes, but—"

"Now, I am going to get back to my books, where I have a chance of finding something that will actually help us. You are going to leave, and you will not mention this again. Do you understand?"

Emma narrowed her eyes. Regina's voice was rich with a familiar old hatred, but she could see from her pallid expression and fidgeting hands that her heart wasn't in it. She was just lashing out, and as usual Emma was the only person there to take it.

In spite of everything Regina might say and how often she might tell Emma to leave her alone, she knew that Emma wouldn't go away. Not forever. She didn't really want her to.

Which is exactly why Emma slid off of her stool and straightened her jacket.

"Fine," she said, shrugging like it didn't matter either way. "I get it. I'll go."

She walked towards the door with purpose, her fists clenched by her sides. She could feel Regina blinking with confusion behind her, unable to believe that she had actually called her bluff, and even before Emma heard the sound of a wooden stool scraping back against the kitchen floor, she knew that Regina was coming after her.

"And where are you going?" Regina snapped at her from the open kitchen door as Emma reached the middle of the hall. Emma kept walking.

"You know where I'm going," she said, reaching the front door. "I'm going to go and talk to her myself."

Immediately Regina spluttered, "No you are not."

"You can't boss me around, Regina," Emma said, pulling the door open. "I'm going, and you can't stop me."

"I have magic that would drag you back into the house and tie you to that chair over there," Regina countered.

"And I have magic that would untie those ropes and drag you out of the door with me," Emma shrugged, turning back to face her. "But we both know that we aren't about to do that to one another."

Regina faltered. Infuriatingly, Emma was right – once upon a time she would have gladly used magic on Emma to get her way, or to prove a point, or even just to blow off some steam. She wouldn't have thought twice about it. Now though, there was an unspoken agreement between her and the saviour that magic was off-limits when it came to one another. Without even thinking about it, she had abided by that rule for months.

Regina knew that she could ignore their silent pact and use her powers to bend Emma to her will, but the simple, sad truth was that she didn't want to do that. That didn't feel right anymore.

She paused, clenching her teeth together, and Emma watched as her hand reached up to rest against her stomach. Emma could practically hear the cruel words that were crashing around inside Regina's head. When did you get so weak?

But the only way to pull her past them was to force her to ignore them, so Emma shrugged once more and turned back to the door.

"If you want to stay here and re-read useless books, then be my guest," she called over her shoulder as she began to stride down the path. "But I'm going to do something that will actually help."

And before Regina could respond, Emma had reached the end of the path and turned onto the street, disappearing from sight.

Feeling her rage prickling from her fingertips, Regina reached out one hand and, from across the hall, used her magic to slam the door shut. The glass in the window frames shook with the force of it. She turned back towards her den, ready to furiously study her books until she found something useful, just to spite Emma – but then she paused. Her fingers curled into frustrated fists.

She couldn't let her go alone. If she did, Henry really might have to deal with having just the one mother again.

Regina glanced towards the front door and immediately felt her pulse quicken. She knew the queen was up to something – she would never stay quiet for this long unless she had something up her sleeve. By going to find her, Emma was deliberately putting herself in danger. It was the stupidest idea Regina had ever heard.

But… Emma had a point. If the queen didn't expect them to come together – and why should she? – maybe the element of surprise would give them an edge. Maybe they would get there before she had a chance to set her plan in motion.

Regina groaned and glanced over at the staircase. Henry was upstairs, no doubt texting the girl who he was still feverishly claiming was absolutely not his girlfriend, and the thought of leaving him at home alone made her feel sick. But, then again, that was what the force field was for. He was far safer here than he was at school, and nothing had happened to him there either.

Clenching her fists, Regina let out a hiss of annoyance.

"Henry," she called up the stairs. She waited for his faint response before she said, "I have to go out. Stay here, don't open the door to anyone, and if there's any trouble I want you to call me right away."

Then she grabbed her coat and hurried out of the front door, feeling the warm caress of the force field around her for one last second before she left.


"I knew you'd come."

"Shut up, Miss Swan. I'm very annoyed with you right now and your smug I-told-you-so's aren't helping."

"Can't you just admit that I know you better than you think I do?"

"I absolutely cannot and will not admit that, because it's not true. You're just a manipulative child who knew I would feel too guilty to let you come here alone and get yourself blown up."

Emma rolled her eyes. She had been walking down the street on her way to the cemetery when that familiar black Mercedes had pulled up alongside her with an aggressive honk of its horn. She hadn't jumped, even though she knew Regina had only done it to make her do exactly that. Instead she had just turned and hopped into the passenger seat, clipping her seatbelt in without a word.

"You need to face her."

"And you need to keep your nose out of other people's business," Regina snapped back. Her knuckles were white as she gripped hold of the steering wheel. "What exactly are you expecting to happen here?"

And of course, Emma didn't know. She rarely did. She just knew that she'd spent a week doing things Regina's way – being careful, being quiet, and patiently waiting for the mayor to get a grip of herself – and it wasn't getting them anywhere. The longer they waited, the stronger the queen would be.

"You know that however strong she is, she can't beat both of us," Emma said gently, her eyes fixed on Regina's fierce grip on the wheel. "She has the same amount of power as you. And you have me."

"Lucky me," Regina drawled, and for the first time in a long while, Emma felt a stab of hurt inside her stomach. She pressed her lips together and turned away from Regina, letting her gaze wander out the window instead.

A terse silence fell in the car, and Regina glanced over at her. Emma's jaw was clenched and resting on her knuckles, and for once it didn't look like she was merely trying to think of a witty response.

Regina sighed.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't keep taking this out on you."

Emma hesitated for a moment before she turned back to look at her.

"Normally I don't mind," she said, and in spite of everything she so desperately wanted to reach out and touch Regina's arm. "I know I can be annoying. But I'm just trying to help, Regina. You have to trust me – I know you think this whole Evil Queen mess is all your fault, but your guilt is starting to blind you. I can see a lot clearer than you can right now."

Regina's teeth automatically gritted at Emma's considerate tone, but she forced herself not to snap at her again.

"I just hope you know what you're doing."

Emma paused. "I don't. But I still think that's better than doing nothing."

Eventually the car pulled up at the edge of the sidewalk that ran alongside the cemetery, and for a moment Regina just sat there, her hands resting on the wheel and her eyes staring blankly ahead. Emma watched her, taking in the rough ponytail that was so un-her and the circles below her eyes. Then she reached out, gently touching her forearm.

"Come on," she said. "She probably knows we're here already."

Regina nodded, for once in her life unable to think of a response. Emma clambered out of the car and waited for a moment until Regina reluctantly joined her.

They walked across the graveyard together, Emma carefully keeping a metre of space between her and Regina. She could see the mayor loosening her fingers beneath the sleeves of her coat, and with neither of them talking she could hear the faint clicking of her wrists as they flexed back and forth.

The vault was visible on the other side of the graveyard, and with every step they took Regina could feel her heartbeat getting just that little bit faster.

"She's in there."

Emma blinked, looking across at her. "You're sure?"

"Yes."

"How can you tell?"

"I just can," Regina said, not looking round. Emma rolled her eyes, but continued walking alongside her. The vault was getting closer and Emma found herself remembering all too vividly the first time she had come here with Regina – it had resulted in a blow to her temple, a bruised fist, and a dead sheriff.

She swallowed.

"So. What do we do?"

She glanced down at Regina's hands, which were still twitching beneath her sleeves. Her dark eyes stared straight ahead.

"We go carefully," she said flatly. "She's a dangerous woman. You should be prepared to kill her if you need to."

Emma forced herself not to snort. "Aren't you being a bit dramatic?"

"No, Miss Swan, I am not," Regina spat back at her. "Stop treating this like it's some kind of joke. Maybe once she's ripped your heart out and forced you to watch as she crushes it with her bare hands, then you'll take this seriously. But I, for one, don't plan on letting her do that to me."

Emma blinked. "Fine. Sorry."

Regina finally stopped walking, forcing herself to take a steadying breath. The cemetery was quiet and that only made her feel more anxious.

"Just… be careful," she said in her softest voice. "Henry likes having two mothers. I don't want to ruin that for him."

Emma offered her a cold smile. "That's very considerate of you."

"Look, can you stop fighting me for once and maybe focus on her?"

"You're the same person," Emma said flatly.

"Not quite," Regina growled. She folded her arms across her chest and faced Emma head-on. "I take it you remember exactly how we ended up here? You rememberthe part where I split my soul in half and she climbed out of me and disappeared into the night?"

"Of course I do," Emma said, narrowing her eyes. "But when we removed your evil side, I really thought she would have at least taken some of your bad temper with her. Given how pissy you're being, maybe not that much has changed after all."

Regina clenched her fists to stop the sparks from flying out. "Excuse me?"

Emma knew she was being deliberately antagonistic, but she couldn't help herself. Regina had been subdued all week, barely registering Emma's presence when she stopped by and refusing to eat a thing. In spite of everything, Emma missed the old mayor. Taking the Evil Queen away from her had seemed like a great idea at the time, but if it came at the expense of the very fire that made Regina Regina, maybe it hadn't been worth it.

So Emma glanced down at Regina's hands, which she knew were trembling with rage and with magic, and said, "You're not exactly proving me wrong here, Regina."

"I am not—"

"Unfortunately, she does seem to have a point, dear."

The voice came from elsewhere, and it was familiar and foreign all at once. Both women twisted around to find the source of it, their bickering immediately forgotten.

As soon as she caught sight of her, Emma blinked, taking half a step backwards. It was Regina, but several shades darker. She was somehow taller, more threatening, more shadowy, with dark purple skirts billowing around her and gleaming black hair piled up high on top of her head. She was Regina mixed with rich, poisonous berries and overflowing with a deep, bubbling cackle.

Emma heard Regina growl from beside her, but for once she couldn't turn to check she was okay. She was transfixed, her arms hanging lifelessly by her sides.

"You," Regina hissed, staring herself down with an open fist automatically raised by her waist. The queen looked back at her with hoisted eyebrows.

"Me," she confirmed. "Did you miss me?"

In response, Regina raised her fist higher. It was shaped like a claw and, as Emma blinked, a ball of fire appeared in her curved palm.

Emma found herself merely staring at the both of them, unable to participate in any way. She hadn't considered how confusing this would be – it was Regina. A dark, cruel Regina, sure, but it was her all the same. Emma couldn't be expected to kill her, like Regina had told her to – she wouldn't even be able to try.

She couldn't believe she hadn't realised this before.

She shook her head, trying to gather her senses back to her, and took a minute step closer to Regina. At once, the queen's gaze snapped onto her. She didn't appear to have noticed her before that moment, but now she smiled. Her teeth seemed whiter and sharper than Regina's as they slowly appeared from between her dark red lips, and Emma didn't know whether to recoil or blush at the sight of them.

Something was fizzing inside her stomach, and just the effort of pushing it down nearly ended her.

"Now," the queen said, her voice a slow, deliberate drawl. She let her black eyes wander freely down Emma's body, pausing at her narrow waist and aimlessly dangling hands. As if some irresistible magnetic pull was tugging at her gaze, her eyes suddenly snapped back up to consider Emma's face once more. "You must be the saviour. What a pleasure."

Emma swallowed. At least that answered their question about whether the queen had Regina's Storybrooke memories or not.

"Stop that," Regina snapped. With a sigh, like this was the biggest inconvenience she'd ever been faced with, the queen turned to look at her once more.

"Stop what?"

"Stop talking to her."

"Why should I do that?" the queen huffed, tilting her head to one side. Everything she did was grand and dramatic, like she was in a play and knew that every single person in the audience was watching her. "Why bring her along if you don't want me to make friends?"

"I mean it," Regina growled. "You're not here to see her."

"Actually, I'm not here to see anyone," the queen said, delicately swishing her skirts to one side and taking a step towards them. The fireball in Regina's hand automatically swelled. "If I'm not mistaken, you just came here to find me."

"You came to Storybrooke," Regina snapped, "after I tried to kill you. I doubt you did that just to mock the saviour and declare squatter's rights in my vault."

The queen's eyes flicked back over towards Emma, who had finally snapped back to some sort of attention and lifted her hand to match Regina's fighting pose. As the queen's gaze fell back on her Emma tried to look away, but it was impossible. When the queen slowly licked her lips, she felt a shiver run through her entire body.

"Stop that," Regina repeated, and the queen suddenly tutted, rolling her eyes.

"Oh, hush," she snapped. "The saviour is right – you're being overdramatic."

"I am not—" Regina started, but that was as far as she got before the Evil Queen sighed and raised one hand. In a flash, Regina was frozen to the ground, her lips slightly parted and her eyes wide open. The flames in her hand went still.

Emma jumped, immediately darting towards her. She reached out for Regina's arm and hissed at the contact – she was freezing cold and as solid as marble.

"What did you do to her?" Emma demanded, turning to face the queen. She found her already watching her, an amused expression on her face.

"Relax," she said, taking a step towards her. The closer she got, the less she looked like Regina. "She'll be fine. I just wanted her to stop yammering on for a moment."

"But what have you done?" Emma asked, looking back at Regina. Her skin was paler than normal and it was obvious that she couldn't see or hear them anymore. Her stomach churned.

"Would it be too patronising if I told you that I froze her?"

"Wake her up!"

"No," the queen said simply. "Not yet. I told you – she'll be fine. I just wanted to speak to you."

"Me?" Emma asked, but she was distracted. She reached back out for Regina, gently covering a frozen hand with her own warm one. "She could die. You have to wake her up. Now."

"She won't die. Don't be so dense, dear – I don't know what will happen to me if she's dead," the queen said. "No, sadly she needs to stay alive. Although, I suppose there's nothing stopping me from keeping her frozen like this forever."

Forgetting that it wasn't Regina who was speaking to her, Emma snapped her head around and shot the queen a withering look.

At once, the queen let out a bark of laughter, shaking her head at Emma's vicious expression.

"Well, princess," she said, inching closer still. "It seems you certainly don't need this guard dog to keep you safe."

"She isn't a guard dog," Emma said. "And I'm definitely not a princess. You saw to that, remember?"

A flash of something that looked like admiration crossed the queen's face, taking Emma by surprise. The queen crossed her hands over in front of her.

"A good point," she said. She took another step closer, and suddenly she was within arm's reach of Emma, her sharp black eyes taking in every inch of the younger woman's face. "So, tell me – what is your name?"

Emma straightened her shoulders. "Emma Swan."

The queen smiled once more, and Emma saw that same flicker of admiration in her face.

"The daughter of Snow White is a swan," the queen mused, and the softness in her voice was startling. "It's very fitting."

Emma narrowed her eyes. "I'm glad you like it. But, to be perfectly honest, I'm not really here to seek your approval."

"Then why are you here, Emma?"

The queen said her name differently to how Regina did – she rolled it around her tongue like chocolate, savouring it down to the last letter. Emma's name had never sounded delicious before, but she heard it now.

She forced a smile – a brief, arrogant one that she knew gave nothing away. It was the smile that most infuriated Regina.

"I'm here to find out what your plan is."

The queen laughed. "I have no immediate plans. Unless you're inviting me to dinner, in which case I would be glad to make some."

Ignoring her, Emma said, "You obviously have some score to settle with Regina."

"That's a reasonable assumption. She did try and kill me, after all."

"Right, because you've never ripped a heart out before. How stupid of me – you'd never do something so barbaric."

Another reluctant smile twisted at the queen's lips.

"Miss Swan, you really needn't concern yourself with what my plans are. I can assure you that it's only Regina who needs to worry about them."

"And that's exactly what worries me," Emma said coolly. "Regina has worked hard to get to where she is now. Getting to the stage where she wanted to take her evil self away and destroy it completely was a huge step. You're not going to ruin that."

"I'm not?"

The queen's eyes were glinting with the challenge, but beneath that she looked curious. Emma was standing firm, her arms crossed over her chest, and most bizarrely, she didn't look scared of her. She was staring the queen down like she'd faced worse evils every single day.

No one had ever looked at her like that before.

Emma shook her head. "No, your majesty. You're not."

"I suppose you plan on stopping me?"

"You're damn right I do," Emma said. "I'm the saviour, and Regina deserves saving more than anyone else in this town."

Then she paused, reassessing the queen. "Then again, maybe I shouldn't be worried. I'm starting to think that you don't have a plan at all."

The queen barked with laughter. "Oh, really?"

"Really. You followed us back to this town, but you haven't done anything since. If one of the dwarves hadn't nearly run over you, we wouldn't know you were here at all. That doesn't seem like your style."

"How sweet. You think you know me already?"

"I know Regina," Emma said. There was a pause, and then the queen's lips twisted into a perverse smile. Emma knew at once that she'd said the wrong thing.

"Yes…" the queen murmured, inching forwards. "You do, don't you?"

She reached out one hand, expecting Emma to flinch away, and found herself strangely disappointed when the blonde woman didn't move, instead continuing to watch her levelly.

The queen gently touched Emma's cheek with one sharp fingernail and considered her. "It is strange that, of all people, the saviour would be the one to get close to her."

Emma shrugged. "We have a lot in common. It's not that weird that we should become friends."

The queen raised her eyebrows. "Friends?"

"Yes," Emma said firmly. "She might not like to admit it most of the time, but I think that's what we are."

But the queen was examining her curiously, her hand still pressed against her cheek. Regina was tiny, far shorter than Emma, but the queen was wearing towering heels that allowed her to stand taller than the saviour. Emma looked up to meet her gaze, taking in the strangely familiar face that was just inches away.

When the queen suddenly laughed, Emma felt herself jump.

"Oh, I see," she cackled, releasing Emma's face and taking a step backwards. "I understand. Oh, isn't this marvellous."

Emma narrowed her eyes. "What is?"

"No wonder she's become so weak," the queen continued, talking more to herself than to Emma.

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about you, you foolish girl," the queen said. "You really expect me to believe that you are just friends?"

"Of course I do," Emma said, blinking. "That's the truth."

"Hardly," the queen said. She began circling Emma, examining her like she was up for sale. "My dear girl, you have made such a mistake."

"I really don't know what you're talking about."

"You've fallen for her, haven't you?"

Emma spluttered, snapping her head around to face her. "Excuse me?"

"I'm not as naïve as Regina is," she said slowly, still prowling around her like a panther, its fur so jet-black that in certain lights it almost looks blue. "You came with her today to support her, and to protect her. You've been by her side all week – I've seen you. I've seen your face when you leave her. You long for her every day."

Emma's face blushed crimson. "I have a boyfriend."

"Yes, I know. The one-handed pirate," the queen sniffed. "I must say, you do seem to make some poor life choices. But don't worry, we've all been there."

"Been where?"

"Forcing ourselves to spend time with a man we don't love, convincing ourselves we do. I'm afraid you're fooling no one, Miss Swan," the queen said, looking pointedly at Emma's leather jacket and boots as she spoke. "Besides, men aren't all they're cracked up to be, so you shouldn't bother pretending. Admitting your true feelings really will make things easier."

"I don't have any 'true feelings'," Emma snapped. Her words came out far more loudly than she had intended. "I don't like Regina that way. And she certainly doesn't like me."

It was the worst possible thing she could have said. The queen's face cracked with a smile that was half gleeful and half pitying. At once, Emma fell silent, swallowing down any more stupid words that she may have been about to say.

"You poor girl," the queen said softly. Yet again, she reached forward to touch Emma's face. But this time Emma pulled away, her cheeks burning and her eyes desperately looking anywhere else than at the wretched woman stood in front of her.

The Evil Queen pulled her hand back, letting it hover between them for a moment. She continued to watch Emma, taking in the furious pout of her lower lip and the tick-tick-ticking of confused thoughts crossing over her face. For a moment, she almost felt sorry for her. Then she remembered how much fun she was going to be able to have with this.

Because she knew Regina. She had seen the longing in her eyes too.

The queen suddenly flicked her hand through the air and, with a gasp, Regina returned to them. She staggered to one side, choking down warm air with her hands grasping at her own throat.

Emma's automatic reaction was to reach out and steady her – but she wavered. Suddenly, some part of her wasn't sure she should touch her. The queen saw her hesitation at once.

"Regina," she said in her brightest, boldest voice. Regina glared up at her, still bending over her knees as she tried to catch her breath. "I'm so glad you're back with us."

Regina spluttered, "You just…"

"Yes, yes," the queen said, dismissing her outrage with a wave of her hand. "I assure you, it's not the worst thing either of us has ever done. You'll be fine. Miss Swan, don't you want to go and help her?"

Emma immediately glared at her, her jaw jutting painfully far forwards. She didn't move, and the queen tutted at her.

"Dear, dear," she chided, shaking her head. "She hasn't got the best manners, Regina. You really do know how to choose them."

Regina straightened up, one hand still rubbing at her own throat.

"What?" she wheezed. She glanced across at Emma, expecting to see the same confusion on her face, but instead she found her glaring at the queen with discomfort and resentment radiating from her entire body. She paused. "What are you talking about?"

"Then again," the queen continued, beginning to approach the pair of them once more. Emma edged backwards. "I can't say I blame you. She does have a very pretty face."

"Stop it," Emma muttered, her eyes on the ground. The queen suddenly appeared in front of her, taking hold of her chin and hoisting it upwards. Emma gritted her teeth as she came face to face with her self-satisfied smirk. God, she longed to reach out and slap it off of her.

"Stop what, dear?"

Out of the corner of her eye, Emma could see Regina moving towards them both, her fist raised once more. The queen barely seemed to register her. Her eyes were on Emma, who appeared to be shrinking with every passing second.

Emma gritted her teeth once more and forced out, "Stop making shit up. It's not going to work."

"I'm not making anything up, Emma," the queen sing-songed, releasing Emma's chin and turning back to face Regina. "Regina, you really have to get your pet under control. She must walk all over you."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Regina growled. "But you need to stop this right now. Either say what you need to say, or go."

For a split second the queen seemed to actually consider these options, but Emma knew exactly what would come out of her perfectly pouted mouth next: a stupid, nonsensical lie that Emma would be left to explain.

Emma groaned. A hundred thoughts were clattering around inside her head like an upturned box of Lego, and she realised then that she didn't have enough time to try and sift through them for a solution.

Without thinking, she raised her hand, mimicking Regina's stance, and waited for the burst of warmth to appear in her palm. She didn't need to look down to know that the flames she'd been hoping for had appeared.

The queen turned to look at her with mild wonder on her face.

"You need to go," Emma said quietly, standing very still. "Now."

"Oh, Emma. You aren't going to use that."

"Really?" Emma spat, and both of the women in front of her blinked in surprise. "You wanna bet?"

The queen turned to face her head-on, smiling her intoxicating smile. She didn't look at the fireball either: her eyes were locked entirely onto Emma's.

"I do," she said softly, taking a step closer. "Go ahead. Hit me."

Emma drew her hand back, ready to hurl the fire towards her with every tiny scrap of energy she possessed. But she hesitated – because the queen's readiness was unsettling, or because her resemblance to Regina was, she wasn't sure. The queen noticed at once and threw her head back, laughing loudly and deliciously. When she looked back at Emma, she was shaking her head.

"That's what I thought," she said. And then she turned to face Regina instead, a ball of fire in her own hand. At once Emma gasped, taking a step forward.

The queen grinned. "How about now?"

She pulled her arm back to throw the flames at Regina, but Emma got there first. She hurled her own fireball at the queen and watched, her heart pounding furiously, as the woman disappeared into smoke, the fire smashing into the grass where she'd been standing moments before.

Emma faltered, looking frantically around her with a dry mouth and trembling hands. The cemetery had fallen silent again and all she could hear was her own blood pounding through her temples.

Then a whispered voice came from behind her, only inches away from her ear.

"That's what I thought," the queen repeated, and as Emma spun around to face her, she disappeared once more, her cackling laughter wisping away on the wind.

Emma stood with her chest heaving up and down, her clenched fists quivering by her sides. She took a deep breath.

When she turned to face Regina, she was met with the exact expression of confusion and fury that she'd been expecting.

"What the hell was that about?"

Emma swallowed, reaching up to smooth down her hair.

"I have no idea," she said, trying to shrug. The wobble in her voice was obvious at once, and Regina scoffed.

"Don't you dare try that," she said, walking towards her. When Emma flinched, Regina felt her heart tremble slightly. She stopped in her tracks and tried again. "How long was I frozen for? What did she say to you?"

"Not long…" Emma said, pulling down on her sleeves. "And she didn't say much. Apart from that she wasn't going to kill you because she wasn't sure what would happen to her without you here."

Regina raised her eyebrows and took a step forwards, slower this time. "She froze me to the spot just so she could tell you that you don't have to worry about her killing me?"

Emma groaned to herself – she was normally much better at lying than this.

"She's messing with you," she eventually admitted. "She wants to pull you back over to the darkness."

"I think I could have guessed that much myself, Miss Swan," Regina said, and Emma could see the annoyance starting to build beneath her flushed cheeks. "She said something to you. I know it. Why was she looking at you like that? Why did she call you my pet?"

"It's nothing," Emma said. "She just… she was asking a lot of questions about you and me, and how you managed to become friends with the saviour. She could tell we are kind of… close. She thought it was funny, I guess."

Regina just stared at her for a moment, her eyes getting progressively darker as they darted furiously across Emma's face. When she finally spoke, it was like an explosion.

"What is wrong with you?" she all but screamed. "Emma. She is the Evil Queen. You can't just stand around chatting with her like this is some kind of goddamn PTA meeting."

Emma opened her mouth to defend herself, but Regina immediately cut across the top of her.

"No," she snapped. "This is typical you, Miss Swan. You drag me down here when I explicitly tell you it's a bad idea, and then when she freezes me to the ground you don't even try and help me – instead, you have a nice little chat with the person who's keeping me hostage and tell her all about the intimate details of my life."

Emma felt her cheeks turn red. "I didn't tell her anything."

"I'm sure you told her more than enough," Regina spat at her. "And she thinks we're close? I've never heard something so ridiculous in all my life. We aren't friends, and this is why we never will be – this is just another example of why I never should have decided to be nice to you. Now it's going to get me killed."

She had turned away before she'd even finished talking, and the heat of her words carried across the graveyard long after she had walked away. Emma stayed where she was, burning from the humiliation, and watched as Regina drove away without looking back at her. 

Chapter Text

The table by the window was Emma's favourite one in Granny's. When she sat with her back to the rest of the diner, she could see the full length of Main Street through the glass, from City Hall all the way down one end to the very edge of Henry's school building at the other. When she sat in the booth, with her back to the window, she could watch the daily comings and goings of Storybrooke's residents as they traipsed into Granny's for their morning coffee. It seemed that most of the interesting occurrences that took place in the town happened within Granny's four walls, and Emma liked to be there for it.

That morning, she had chosen the latter seat. The Storybrooke Mirror was open on the table in front of her and there was a mug of hot chocolate clasped in her left hand. Any time the door chimed she glanced up automatically, waiting for someone to walk over to her table. A specific someone. But every person who entered walked straight past her without even a glance her way.

She sighed and looked back down at her newspaper. It had been nearly a week since she had gone to the graveyard with Regina, and they hadn't spoken since. Or rather, Emma had been endlessly trying to force some kind of conversation between them, but every attempt had been met with a frosty silence. Asking Regina to shout out a code word when she brought Henry home was indisputably off-limits. Now, after several days of trying, Emma just let her son into the mayor's house and quietly shut the door behind him.

Emma swallowed, and as the door chimed once more, she forced herself not to look up. Sure enough, whoever had walked in went straight to the counter, not stopping to talk to her.

She pulled her cell out of her pocket and checked for messages, tapping her short nails against the screen when she saw there weren't any waiting for her.

Or, more accurately, there was one message. But it was from Hook.

Are you alright love? Can I come by the station today?

He was asking because it was nearly lunchtime and she was meant to be at the station already, but for some reason she hadn't managed to drag herself there yet. She blinked down at his message a few more times, wondering why she was finding it so difficult to think of a response, when the door chimed again. After a moment, a figure appeared at her table.

She lifted her head, Hook's message now entirely forgotten, and found Regina stood in front of her.

She opened her mouth to say something, but faltered immediately. Something was different: Regina was wearing one of her normal pantsuits and her hair was shiny and skimming over the tops of her shoulders. The tips of her fingers were resting on the edge of the table, equal parts uncomfortable and poised. But something wasn't right.

And then she realised. It wasn't Regina.

Forcing herself not to laugh, Emma smiled up at her, trying to look pleasantly surprised. "Regina."

"Miss Swan," the queen said, and Emma could see that the make-up around her eyes was too dark, too gaudy. Regina hadn't worn hers like that for years, and she certainly wasn't in the right frame of mind to be trying out new styles right then. She'd barely gotten properly dressed in the last two weeks. "May I sit down?"

Emma bit at the inside of her cheek, looking back down at the newspaper in front of her. "Sure."

The queen slid into the chair opposite her and crossed her legs under the table. Her posture was straight as a rod, but her hands, which were resting on top of the table, were twitching nervously. Emma had to hand it to her – she'd done her research.

"What can I do for you?" Emma asked, still not looking up. She heard the queen clear her throat.

"I wanted to apologise."

"For what?"

"For… overreacting. At the cemetery. It wasn't your fault that the Evil Queen started trying to play tricks on us."

After a long pause, Emma said, "She certainly does like her tricks."

"She does," the queen said, peering down at the article that Emma was pretending to read. The fact that she didn't have the sheriff's undivided attention was already infuriating her, to the extent that Emma could feel the impatience burning from her fidgeting fingers. It only made the urge to laugh even more difficult to suppress.

The queen sighed, and continued, "We need to decide how we're going to get rid of her."

"I couldn't agree more," Emma said flatly. "Is this supposed to be news?"

"No, of course not. I just wanted to make sure you were aware of the urgency."

"You know I am. It's why I've been helping you all this time."

"I know," she said. "I appreciate that. You… you have been a good friend, Emma."

"Thanks," Emma said, her voice expressionless. She looked up to find the queen watching her expectantly.

"I mean it," the queen said, and she reached across the table like she was going to take Emma's hand. "I really do appreciate everything you've done for me."

Emma looked down at her outstretched hand and, with the faintest of laughs, went back to her newspaper. "Nice try, your majesty."

The queen blinked. "What?"

"It was a good plan," Emma said, shrugging. "And you nearly pulled it off. But I could tell from the second you walked in that you weren't Regina."

There was a pause as the queen tried to decide whether it was worth maintaining her ruse or not. Then she pulled her hand back with a groan.

"How did you know?"

"I'm not sure you want to hear the entire list," Emma said, but she gestured towards the queen's face with her index finger. "But the make-up is wrong. Regina doesn't wear it that dark."

She continued looking down at the article that she hadn't read a single word of, but she could sense that a satisfied smirk had started spreading across the queen's face.

"It seems I underestimated you."

Emma shrugged. "Not really. You were pretty convincing."

"You just know Regina better than I thought."

Emma lifted her eyes and offered the queen a perfunctory smile. "I guess so."

"I'm sure she's delighted to have found such a loyal friend."

"Regina is delighted about basically nothing," Emma said, finally folding the newspaper shut. "But yes, I think she's grateful to have me. Does that put me in some kind of danger, your majesty?"

The queen smirked. "Not from me. But from her – almost certainly."

Emma rolled her eyes and leaned forward against the table.

"She may be mad at me right now, but she wouldn't hurt me," she said. She paused before adding, "You were a real asshole in the cemetery the other day, by the way. Thanks for that."

To her surprise, the queen burst out laughing.

"An asshole?" she asked. "That's how you're choosing to describe me?"

Against all her good sense, Emma felt herself smiling back. "It seems fitting."

"No one has ever called me that before," the queen mused, settling back in her chair. She looked more like Regina than she ever had done before, but there was a wicked spark in her eye that had long softened in the mayor's. A small part of Emma had missed it. "Generally people use much harsher terms when they're referring to me."

"I'm sure that's probably true. But you didn't do anything particularly evil in the graveyard – you were just a dick."

The queen laughed again. She had pushed her chair back from the table, and Emma could clearly see her long, crossed legs stretched out in front of her. The sight of them always made Emma's throat dry out.

Once her laughter had died down again, the queen paused, allowing herself a moment to eye up the sheriff.

"You aren't afraid of me."

Emma replied, "No. I'm not."

"That's a mistake," she replied, looping one arm over the back of her chair. "You've gotten too used to being around Regina. I'm the Evil Queen, remember."

"Yes, you are," Emma said, crossing her arms over her chest. "And I'm the saviour. And a former Dark One – I like to think my chances are pretty good."

A reluctant smile flickered across the queen's face. Emma recognised it from the cemetery – it was one was told her that against all odds, the queen was slightly impressed by her.

"You were right," she said softly. "You really are no princess."

And it was strange, but Emma took it as a compliment. She smiled more genuinely this time, glancing back down at the table. "Not by a long shot."

"Were you ever scared of Regina?"

Emma raised one eyebrow. "Whatever information you're hoping to get out of me, it's not going to happen. I think we've established that, no matter what Regina says, I am smarter than that."

"I'm not trying to get anything out of you, dear – I'm trying to have a conversation," the queen said.

Emma narrowed her eyes at her. With Regina, she could always tell when she was lying, or trying to trick her. With the queen it wasn't so easy.

But still, she heard herself saying, "No, not really. And that didn't go down so well with Regina when we first met."

"She didn't like you?"

Emma laughed. "You could say that."

"But you liked her?"

"No," Emma said, still watching the queen carefully. "For my first year in this town, we locked horns on a daily basis. But a lot has changed since then – Regina has changed. She's different now."

"She's weak," the queen said plainly. But Emma shook her head.

"No," she said, and the firmness of her voice surprised them both. "She's not. She's been from darkness to light and back again a hundred times, but she's in a good place now and she got there all by herself. She is easily tempted and really easy to piss off, but she's strong, and she's a good person under it all. That's why I was never afraid of her, and that's why I'm not scared of you either."

The queen's eyebrows shot up. "You think I'm a good person, deep down?"

Emma shrugged, still smiling. "You have potential."

"Well," the queen said, and the disgust in her voice was evident. "This is the first time I've really had proof that you are Snow White's child. I'm a little disappointed."

"Somehow your disappointment doesn't cut me quite as deep as you might think it would."

And just like that, the queen was laughing again.

"You know," she admitted, "I can see why Regina took a shine to you."

She watched Emma's face closely as she said this, hoping to see a blush of pleasure in her cheeks. But Emma's expression remained placid, and she smirked at the queen's disappointment.

"Regina never took a shine to me," Emma said, tugging her hot chocolate towards her. "She'd probably kill you just for suggesting that."

"Oh, she'd kill me for a lot less. But not you. She must care for you in some way."

"No, she's just not that kind of person anymore. I told you – she's put all that behind her."

She was expecting a snort of derision to be tossed her way then, but instead the queen fell silent. Emma looked up in surprise.

The queen was looking at her with a strange gentleness around her dark eyes; unbridled curiosity shimmering in her gaze. "You certainly have a lot of faith in her."

And Emma heard the tone in her voice all too clearly – it was the same one she'd used at the cemetery, moments before she unfroze Regina and opened up a can of worms that Emma would never be able to close.

Emma rolled her eyes. "You really have gotten the wrong idea."

"Have I?" the queen asked, raising her eyebrows.

"Yes," Emma said. "We are friends – barely even that sometimes. Regina puts up with me because I force her to, and that's all there is to it."

The queen smirked. "You're not as defensive as you were last time. You've had some time to practise your argument."

"Or you just didn't catch me by surprise with your quite frankly stupid insinuations this time," Emma said.

"Did you tell Regina?"

"Tell her what?"

"Tell her what I suggested you might be feeling about her."

Emma rolled her eyes. "Why would I do that?"

"I have no idea," the queen said quietly, her lips curving upwards. "But I know exactly why you wouldn't."

Her smirk was infuriating and intoxicating in equal measure, and as much as she wanted to snap back at her, Emma found that she couldn't. There was something about the queen's towering presence that kept stopping her in her tracks. Nonetheless, she opened her mouth to respond – to shut her down as forcefully as she possibly could – before the crash of the diner door opening swiftly interrupted them both.

"Emma!"

Emma blinked and turned towards the door. Regina was there – the real Regina – wearing a pantsuit not too dissimilar to the queen's and an expression of absolute terror on her face.

"Emma," she gasped, pointing to the queen. "That's not— she's tricked you."

"I know," Emma said as quickly as she could, trying to offer Regina a reassuring smile. "It's okay. I know."

But Regina wasn't even looking at her, much less paying attention to what she was saying. Her face was white and her wide eyes were fixed on the queen.

"What did you do?" Regina spat at her. All eyes in the diner were now looking towards their table and Emma groaned, forcing herself not to slump down in her chair.

"She didn't do anything," Emma hissed, hoping Regina would take the hint and match her volume. "Regina. I knew it wasn't you from the second she walked in the door."

Regina opened her mouth to argue, and then slowly closed it. "You did?"

The queen folded her arms over her chest and smirked up at her. "It's true. It seems that the saviour knows you quite well, Regina. Almost intimately well. Is that reassuring for you?"

Emma watched as Regina's nostrils flared.

"Yes," she replied through gritted teeth. "I am overjoyed at this news. What are you even doing in here?"

The queen blinked like this was the most ridiculous question she'd ever heard.

"Well, I'm enjoying a chat with Miss Swan here," she said, gesturing across the table with a smile. "I was also just about to try one of these famous grilled cheese sandwiches that I've heard so much about. Would you like one too?"

Emma laughed – she couldn't help herself. "She doesn't like them."

"She doesn't?"

"Emma," Regina snapped, thrusting her hands into the pockets of her blazer.

"What?" Emma replied, slumping back in her chair. "You don't. You said they give you heartburn."

"Yes, I told you that – why do you think it's important for her to know?"

"Oh, right, I am sorry – I forgot that she might use this key information to bring the entire town down. Good thing I didn't tell her about your complete aversion to Gilmore Girls or we might have had an apocalypse on our hands."

The queen's eyes followed their interaction like she was watching a tennis match, and with every passing insult her smirk grew a little wider. She settled back in her chair, ready to watch more of the show, but Regina suddenly turned to her and snapped, "You need to go."

The queen raised her eyebrows. "From the diner, or the town?"

"Well, the latter would be preferable, but I'm assuming you're not about to oblige."

"You would be right," the queen said, before she stretched out her arms with a sigh. "But sadly, you are right – I should probably get back to my vault."

"My vault."

"Finder's keepers, dear," the queen said, standing up to face Regina. They were the same height, same build, with the same look of flushed anticipation on their faces – but the differences between them were striking to Emma. She could see the softer lines around Regina's eyes, and the confident pout of the queen's mouth. She stayed in her booth and stared up at them both, her pulse suddenly pounding a little harder.

The queen looked back towards her with a smile. "I should leave now, Emma. But I expect I shall see you again very soon."

And even though she could feel Regina's furious stare on her, Emma offered her a faint smile in return. "I guess you probably will."

With a satisfied glance at Regina, the queen swept out of the door. She disappeared in a cloud of purple smoke the second she was over the threshold.

The diner fell into silence, all eyes still on the table by the window. Regina stood at Emma's side, practically vibrating with rage, and Emma could see how close she was to snapping. She swallowed, waiting for the fuse to finally catch.

Regina suddenly turned to the rest of the room and barked, "Do you mind?!"

As the other diners reluctantly started to talk amongst themselves once more, Regina slid into the seat that had only recently been vacated by her other half. She shuddered when she realised it was still warm.

"What the hell are you trying to do?" she hissed at Emma, leaning as far across the table as her small frame would allow her. "Is this some kind of game to you?"

"I wasn't doing anything," Emma said. "She came in here and sat down with me. I knew it wasn't you, and I didn't tell her anything useful. We just talked. There's nothing to panic about."

"There is plenty to panic about!" Regina shrieked, causing several people to look round at her once more. "You can't keep encouraging her like this! Emma, she isn't me – she is a terrible, vile person. She will kill you without thinking given half the chance."

"Regina, she's had plenty of chances," Emma said gently. "She isn't trying anything. To be perfectly honest, she's being way nicer to me than you are at the moment."

"Well, I'm sorry that my current behaviour doesn't live up to your expectations, but one of us has to focus on trying to get rid of her again, rather than inviting her out for grilled cheeses."

"I've been helping you as much as I can," Emma said. "But I don't see the point in tiptoeing around town being terrified of her."

"The point is that she's the Evil Queen."

"And so were you, once upon a time, but look at you now – you're more of a hero than I am," Emma said. For a split second, Regina's anger ebbed away as she absorbed those words. The contented blush that began to prickle at her own cheeks made her want to vomit. "I'm starting to think that this Evil Queen title is just a load of bullshit – you've never seemed very evil to me, and neither does she."

And just like that, Regina's rage returned to her. "She's tricking you."

"Maybe she's trying to," Emma said, shrugging. "But that doesn't mean she's going to succeed."

"Right," Regina drawled. "Because your wit and intelligence do tend to wow us all on a daily basis."

Emma raised her eyebrows. "Like I said. At least she's being nice to me at the moment."

"Emma," Regina sighed, running her hands through her hair. "Please. You have to stop this. If you keep encouraging her, she'll keep coming for you. For us."

Emma's heart leapt at the final word, but she forced it back down to somewhere where it wouldn't bother her. "Look – I won't go after her. I promise you that. But if she comes to talk to me, what's the point in pushing her away? Surely making her mad isn't going to help anything."

She had a point, and Regina knew it, but rather than admit it she just sat back silently, chewing on her lower lip.

But I'm scared for you.

She thought the words, but it would have taken someone a great deal more intimidating that the Evil Queen to be able to drag them out of her.

"Fine," Regina sighed, pushing her chair back. "If your death wish really is that strong, then on your head be it. Just keep me updated. And keep Henry out of this."

"I promise. I haven't even mentioned him to her."

Regina nodded. "Good."

She turned to leave, then, with a sigh, added, "Thank you."

"No problem," Emma responded, but Regina was already out of the door. Emma watched as she paused on the top step, in the exact same spot that the queen has disappeared from only minutes before, looking down at her feet like she was tempted to let them lead her back inside. But then she straightened her back, lifted her head up, and walked off down the street without stopping.


"All I'm saying is, you could have replied."

Emma forced herself not to sigh. It was the fifth time Hook had said those same words since he'd caught her leaving the sheriff station that evening, and she still wasn't sure how she was supposed to respond.

"I'm sorry," she repeated. "I told you – I was replying, and then the queen walked in. I was a bit distracted after that."

"Too distracted to want to see me?" Hook asked, and the hurt in his voice was grating. Emma swallowed, tightening her grip on the crook of his elbow.

"I'm sorry," she said yet again. "But I'm here now."

"I suppose," he muttered, and they continued walking in silence for the next few moments. Then he asked, "So what happened with her?"

"Not a lot," Emma said, trying to laugh. "We actually just talked. She's a nut job, but she's not as bad as everyone says she is."

Hook scoffed. "You need to stay away from her."

"You sound like Regina."

"And do you plan on listening to either one of us?"

"I told Regina I wouldn't go looking for her," Emma reluctantly said. "But I'm not going to deliberately antagonise her by telling her to go and screw herself any time she comes around. There's no point in doing that when she hasn't done anything to hurt me."

She waited, expecting Hook to tell her she was crazy and that she needed to find a way to get rid of the queen altogether. But instead he stopped walking, pulling her to a halt alongside him, and said, "You promised Regina that, but you wouldn't promise me?"

"Killian," Emma groaned. "You haven't even asked."

"Because I haven't been able to get near you for days," he said, prising her fingers away from his arm. "But you'll go by Regina's to make her lunch every afternoon or you'll hang out with her evil twin in the town diner where everyone can see you. What am I supposed to make of that?"

Emma couldn't help the sigh that escaped her lips. "I've got a lot on my plate at the moment. I just need you to be patient."

"You always need me to be patient," he scoffed.

Emma looked up at him, a quiver of annoyance starting to build in her stomach, and opened her mouth to respond. But before she could, a flurry of purple smoke appeared behind Hook's shoulder.

"I can't imagine why," the queen said as she materialised. "You seem to be such an understanding person."

Hook spun around so quickly that he missed Emma's faint smile. Faced with the Evil Queen, he scowled. "Your majesty."

"Captain," she replied, looking him up and down. Emma saw the predatory expression in her eyes and she automatically stepped forward, her stomach tightening – but as quickly as it had come, the queen's interest in him evaporated. She took in his grungy leather and faintly clinking necklaces and rolled her eyes.

"Like I said," she drawled, looking over at Emma. "We've all been there."

Hook's head whipped back round to look at his girlfriend. "What? Been where?"

"Don't worry about it, dear," the queen said, gliding towards them. As she moved closer, Emma caught sight of what she was wearing: it was a long, tightly fitting dress made of black velvet. Her hair was pinned as high as ever, and her lips were dark purple. As she moved towards Emma, her dress trailing along behind her in a delicate train, she winked.

"What are you doing here?" Hook snapped. The queen immediately turned back to him, her face going cold.

"I'm here to speak to Emma."

"Well, you can't," he replied, moving to Emma's side and clamping his arm around her shoulders. "So you should leave now."

A cruel sneer twisted at the queen's features, one that Emma hadn't had directed at her yet. In that moment she finally saw the woman that everyone else feared, and she felt something clutch tightly at her heart.

"A good idea," the queen said, and the casualness of her tone screamed like a siren. She paused like she'd suddenly had a brainwave. "Or maybe you should leave instead."

"I'm not going anywhere," Hook growled. Emma could feel the sharp point of his hook digging into her arm.

"Incorrect, captain," the queen replied. The second that he opened his mouth to snap back at her, she lifted one hand and flicked it through the air. Emma felt a cold blast of wind brush against her right side, and when she looked around, Hook was gone.

She turned back to the queen with a sigh. "What did you do now?"

"I disposed of him."

Emma let out a strangled noise. "You killed him?!"

"Don't be ridiculous," the queen said, surprising Emma by how offended she sounded. "As enjoyable as that would be for me, I'm well aware that you wouldn't take too kindly to it. Although why you choose to spend time in his company, I have no idea. No, I just sent him off into the forest – something tells me it will be a while before he manages to find his way out of there."

In spite of herself, Emma could feel her mouth quirking upwards at the thought. Folding her arms over her chest, she asked, "And why did you want to get rid of him?"

"So I could talk to you, of course."

"We talked this morning," Emma said. "And I got in enough trouble for that."

"From whom?"

"Just about everyone," Emma replied. "I've been warned to stay away from you. I'm starting to think maybe everyone has a point."

"Why is that, Miss Swan?" the queen asked, edging closer to her. The sun was setting down the other end of Main Street, and in the darkening orange light Emma could see an unfamiliar softness to her expression. "Are you worried you'll be overcome by my wicked charms?"

Emma laughed, rolling her eyes. "Sure. Something like that."

Without discussing it, they both began walking again, taking the same path that Emma and Hook had been on before the queen had arrived. The two women didn't link arms, but the queen walked close enough to her side that Emma could feel the brush of her long sleeve against the tip of her little finger. The evening felt warm around her.

"So," the queen said, her eyes looking straight ahead. "The pirate?"

"What about him?"

"Bit of an odd choice, wouldn't you say?"

"Why?" Emma asked. "He's a good guy."

The queen scoffed. "He's a baby, and a criminal. He won't treat you well."

"He does treat me well."

"Maybe for now, but it won't last forever," the queen said in that quiet voice that always surprised Emma. "No matter who they pretend to be, people always go back to their roots eventually. He'll get bored here, and he'll get tired of pretending to be good."

Emma frowned at her. "Is this your convoluted way of telling me to stop being friends with Regina?"

"Actually, no," the queen said. "This is genuine advice that you can do better than a lecherous pirate."

Emma narrowed her eyes. A familiar irritation plucked at her stomach, but it wasn't quite as strong as it should have been. Beneath it, something else was brewing – a sick sense of unease that made her want to double over. It was the same feeling that tried desperately hard to resurface any time Emma thought – really thought – about her future with Hook.

As the silence stretched out, the queen looked round at her. "Did I touch a nerve?"

"Of course you did," Emma snapped, pushing those sick feelings back down to where they belonged. "You don't just get to walk around insulting my boyfriend whenever you feel like it."

"You don't seem to be doing anything to stop me," the queen said. Emma rolled her eyes.

"Nothing I do would stop you," she muttered. "Why waste my breath?"

"Because I so enjoy hearing you try."

Emma shot her another contemptuous look. "Very cute, your majesty."

"Well, what can I say," she replied, gesturing down at herself. "I know what your type is – I might as well use it to my advantage."

Without looking round at her, Emma said, "I do not like Regina."

"Not convincing. Try again."

"I don't have to prove anything to you," Emma snapped, and immediately the queen chuckled.

"No, you don't," she admitted. "And yet here you are, walking with me, not telling me to leave you alone."

Emma's whole body heaved with an irritated sigh. "Where are we going, anyway?"

"Back to that charming diner from this morning," the queen said, gesturing to where Granny's was just visible down the street.

"Hoping to finally try that grilled cheese?"

"Not quite," the queen said, taking Emma's elbow and steering her across the road. "When we were there earlier, I noticed that they served liquor."

There was a pause before Emma asked, with the hopefulness in her voice endearingly apparent, "You want to get a drink with me?"

"I do," the queen said, turning to assess her. "I take it you're not opposed to the idea?"

"I will never turn down a drink," Emma said, quickening her pace to match the queen's. "Even if it is with you."

The queen laughed. They continued walking towards the diner, and after a moment Emma realised that the queen had linked their arms together. She hadn't even felt it happen.

She paused, wondering if she should disentangle herself, but then the queen said something to her – something charming and witty that made a small, dark part of her heart light up – and if anything, Emma only found herself moving closer to her.


Across the street, pushing a stroller with a crying baby in it, Snow White watched them walk away from her.

She had been standing in the same spot for a while. When Emma had been talking with Hook, she had been tempted to go over and say hello to them both. Now though, there was no way she was going after her daughter – not if that meant putting her son in danger instead.

She looked down at Neal, who was still screaming bloody murder, and rubbed a hand over his swollen tummy. Then she reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her cell.

"Regina? You need to go to Granny's. Right now."

Chapter Text

As Snow could be fairly idiotic when it came to a lot of things, Regina truly hoped this was just one of those occasions. As soon as she had hung up from their phone call, she had jumped into her Mercedes – leaving Henry by himself yet again – and raced across town, her hands gripping onto the wheel so tightly that she was certain she was about to rip it from the car.

She told herself over and over again for the entire journey that Snow must have made a mistake. There was no way that, after the conversation they had had that morning, Emma would have ignored Regina and gone for dinner with the Evil Queen.

And when Regina arrived at Granny's, she realised that she hadn't. She'd gone for drinks instead.

The two women were perched at the bar, with empty chairs stretching along the rest of the counter and a room full of uneasy eyes surrounding them. Granny herself was behind the bar, wiping glasses clean with her suspicious gaze fixed on the queen. The queen, however, was looking at Emma alone.

Regina paused outside the building, her hand resting on the door handle and her heart pounding in her throat. The nerve. The complete audacity. She couldn't tell who she was madder at – Emma, for being even stupider than normal and choosing to hang out with this woman against everyone's wishes, or the queen, for being deliberately goading and seeking out the one person whom she knew would truly hurt Regina.

Regina paused, blinking to herself as she realised exactly what she'd just admitted to herself without meaning to. The thought had come from nowhere, startling her.

Pushing it from her mind, Regina straightened her spine and let her anger wash back over her like a cloak. She shoved the door open. For the second time that day, every person in the room looked up as she stalked in, her eyes flashing.

Emma had her back to the door, but the queen spotted the new arrival at once. Her face cracked into a sneer.

"Regina, dear," she chimed, raising her glass by way of greeting. "I was hoping you'd show up at some point."

Emma swivelled around in her seat and, in the split second where she realised who was standing there, her face lit up. Then she caught sight of the rage that was evaporating from Regina like steam and faltered, swallowing down her greeting.

A long pause followed before Regina asked in a low, rumbling voice, "What are you doing?"

"Having a drink," the queen said, but Regina ignored her. Her eyes were fixed on Emma, and she repeated the question.

"Emma. What are you doing?"

Emma wetted her lips. "She… invited me for a drink."

"And you didn't see the problem with that?"

If she hadn't been so angry that she could have throttled Emma then and there, the confused expression on the sheriff's face might have been slightly endearing.

She watched as Emma swallowed, gently placing her glass back onto the bar.

"No. Not really."

"Emma, you can't—"

"Oh, Regina, please," the queen sighed, cutting her off. "This is the second time today you've interrupted a perfectly pleasant conversation with your shouting. Can't you just calm down for a second and join us?"

"No, actually, I cannot," Regina said. "How about you pack up your things and leave instead?"

"I don't think so," the queen said, raising her glass to her lips. "I'm starting to enjoy it here."

Emma offered Regina a weak smile. "It's okay, Regina. Really. You don't need to keep worrying about me."

"I am not worried about you," Regina snapped, relishing the wounded expression on Emma's face. "I'm worried about what your selfish actions are going to do to this town."

She was expecting Emma's cheeks to redden further, but instead her expression turned cold.

"If you want to talk about selfish actions," Emma said quietly, "maybe we should discuss that time when you ripped your evil half out because you couldn't be bothered to deal with her anymore. We wouldn't even be here if you hadn't done that, would we?"

The warm chuckle that came from the queen should have encouraged her, but it didn't. Because at once Emma saw the way that Regina staggered back half a step, the shock breaking through her like she had been shot. She regained her composure in a flash, but the hurt expression on her face that had barely lasted a second was enough to make Emma's whole body go numb.

"Miss Swan," Regina said in a deep, dangerous voice that Emma recognised all too well. "Can I speak to you in private, please?"

"Um," Emma stammered, looking round at where the queen was watching her expectantly. "I don't…"

"Now," Regina snapped, and before Emma had a chance to argue, she had stormed off into the back corridor of the diner. Emma sighed, looking back at the queen.

"Go ahead," she said, her purple lips twisting into their usual amused smile. "I'll get you another drink."

With a groan, Emma heaved herself off her stool and followed Regina into the hall. She could feel her palms starting to sweat.

Regina was waiting with her back perfectly straight under her long black coat and her hands folded in front of her. Her face gave nothing away, but Emma could feel the annoyance scorching from her like heat from a faulty radiator.

Emma stopped in front of her and swallowed.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have said that. I don't think that."

"I don't care what you think," Regina replied, and the disappointment on Emma's face should have made her feel better. It didn't. "I care about why you came here with her, after I explicitly asked you not to."

"You told me to stay away from her, and I told you that I would," Emma clarified. "But I said that if she came to see me, I wouldn't push her away. And you agreed to that. I haven't done anything wrong."

"I agreed because I didn't think even you would be so stupid to come and do shots with her," Regina snarled, stepping closer to Emma. Emma's eyes automatically fell to look at the angry downturn of her lips, and she snapped them away again as soon as she caught herself staring. "What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that she's actually kind of fun," Emma shot back at her. "And she's nice to me."

"She's the Evil Queen, you fool! She isn't nice."

"Oh, come on, Regina – name one evil thing she's done since she got here."

"Well, I just had your mother on the phone telling me that she'd seen her casting your boyfriend off into a different realm."

"She sent him to the forest," Emma rolled her eyes. "He'll be fine."

For a moment Regina just gaped at her. "You don't even care? How do you know that's where he really is? She could have just said that to keep you quiet – he could be anywhere."

The heavy pause that followed told Regina that Emma hadn't even considered that. She groaned.

"You really are an idiot."

All at once Emma snapped, her last remaining shred of patience disappearing into the night like a wisp of smoke. "Why do you even care?! You hate Hook! You've always made that perfectly clear. And now you don't like her either – it seems like you have immediate animosity towards anyone who wants to be my friend."

"She only wants to be friends with you because she's trying to get close to me, you idiot."

"Well, you said yourself that you and I aren't close, so there's no danger there then, is there?"

Emma's shoulders were heaving up and down as she struggled to contain a hundred other words that were threatening to come tumbling out of her mouth. It took a moment for Regina to realise that she wasn't just angry – she was hurt.

Regina opened her mouth to respond, but Emma was done listening.

"I'm going back to my drink," she said, turning away. "If you still want to make sure that she's not secretly trying to recruit me into her dark cult, then feel free to join us. Otherwise, go away and stop interrupting everything."

She stomped off with her blonde curls flying behind her. She'd taken off her jacket and Regina could see the lines of the angrily tensed muscles in her arms. Her eyes lingered on them.

Emma sat back down at the bar and immediately the queen reached out a hand and rested it on her shoulder, checking she was okay. Emma nodded curtly, and the queen leaned into her ear, whispering something that, against all odds, made Emma laugh.

Something solid and frozen dropped in Regina's stomach, nearly knocking her sideways. She stayed there, welded to the spot, unable to take her eyes off of them.

There was a back door right behind her. She could easily turn around and walk out, leaving them to it. This had nothing to do with her.

But instead she reached up and fluffed up her hair, turning to check her lipstick in the nearby mirror. She unbuttoned her coat with trembling hands.

"For god's sake," she muttered to herself as she strode back into the diner, ignoring the dozens of eyes that were on her as she walked towards the woman whom she knew she absolutely should not care about.


The queen slid another shot glass towards Emma before gesturing to Regina.

"You're sure you wouldn't like one?"

Regina glared back at her, her lips pressed tightly together.

"No, thank you," she said coldly, watching as Emma threw the drink down her throat. "Some of us actually have work in the morning."

"I do too," Emma protested, turning to face her. Regina looked like she was sucking on a lemon.

"Outstanding," Regina drawled. "I'm sure our town will be in especially safe hands tomorrow, in that case. Perhaps it would be better for everyone if you just handed the patrol car keys to Leroy for the day."

"Oh, stop being such a killjoy," the queen said, throwing back her own drink. She was already on her fourth, but for some reason the alcohol didn't seem to be having any effect on her at all. Emma, on the other hand, was already sporting flushed cheeks and a glazed look in her eyes that told Regina she wasn't really listening to anything either of them was saying. "I don't understand why you decided to join us if you're just planning on sitting there with a face like sour milk."

"I joined you because someone needs to stop you from corrupting the saviour just for your own personal amusement," Regina shot back at her.

"The saviour seems fairly willing to be corrupted," the queen pointed out, waving Granny over. The old woman approached them and, without a word, poured out two more shots of tequila. She glanced over at Regina before she walked away again and, for the first time in their lives, they shared a look of mutual concern.

As Granny disappeared, the queen slid the refreshed glass towards Emma.

"Drink up, Miss Swan. We don't want you going thirsty."

"Don't you think she's had enough?" Regina snapped. To her dismay, Emma groaned at her.

"Regina, I'm a grown-ass woman," she said, but she couldn't hide the slurring of her words. "Give me a break. I can handle a few shots."

"Five shots," Regina corrected as she threw back the latest drink. "On a Thursday evening."

"Thursday is the new Friday," Emma shrugged.

"I really don't recommend that you drink like this on any day," Regina said, a wobble of anxiety breaking through the coldness of her voice. Emma didn't hear it – but the queen did. It was written all over the dark smile on her face.

"You need to loosen up a bit," the queen said, her eyes slowly moving back over towards Emma. They trailed down her body. "Like Miss Swan here. She's nice and loose now."

Regina gritted her teeth so aggressively that she thought she heard a crack. "Loose enough for all of us, it would seem."

"Certainly enough for me," the queen said. "But you'll have to wait your turn."

Emma looked blearily round at her. "What are you talking about?"

"Don't worry about it, dear," the queen said, reaching out for her empty glass and waving a hand over it. It refilled on its own, and Emma giggled.

"Regina never thought to teach me that."

"I can't say I'm surprised," the queen said, refilling her own glass. Granny glared at them from across the room. "Regina isn't one for having a good time, it would seem."

"Because you would know all about having a good time," Regina said coldly. "What does that involve, in your mind? Having a few drinks, murdering a few civilians, maybe taking a few men back to your palace and then disposing of them in the morning?"

"Not exactly," the queen said coolly. "I've gone off men. I find that they lack the excitement I'm seeking."

As she spoke, her eyes settled on Emma once more. Regina felt her toes curl.

Emma, meanwhile, just laughed.

"She doesn't like Hook," she explained to Regina.

"Finally, something we can agree on," Regina replied, and Emma rolled her eyes.

"He's a good guy," she muttered, staring down into her glass. Her face had darkened at once, and not through mere offence: something far more complicated was bubbling below the surface of her words, and it was like all the joy had been sucked from her. For a split second, Regina and the queen shared a look.

"Such enthusiasm," the queen said after a pause, prising Emma's glass from between her fingers and refilling it with her empty hand. Across the diner, Granny tutted loudly. "I wonder, Miss Swan, if 'good' is good enough for you?"

"It's better than 'evil'," Emma shot back, and the queen chuckled.

"True," she admitted, handing her the refilled glass. Her fingers brushed against Emma's as she did so. "But 'he's a good guy' isn't enough. You can't stay with someone for a reason as paltry as that."

"And what reason are you looking for, your majesty?"

"Well," the queen sighed. She reached out for a strand of Emma's hair, tucking it gently behind her ear. It was such an intimate gesture – and such a casual one – that it took Regina a moment to absorb it. When she had, she was left with a bitter taste in her mouth and a sick feeling in her stomach. "Does he excite you? Do you miss him whenever he's gone, no matter how long it's for? Does the very thought of him make you feel a little bit breathless? You must want him, surely?"

Emma just blinked at her.

"I guess."

The queen's perfectly stencilled eyebrows slowly lifted. Her hand had come to rest on Emma's shoulder, and though she wasn't looking over at Regina, she could feel her vibrating with fury.

"'I guess' isn't good enough, princess," she said, leaning close to Emma's ear. "If you aren't mad with desire any time he's around, then what's the point?"

And suddenly Emma wasn't looking at either of them. Her gaze fell into her lap, and in that moment it was painfully obvious that she'd been thinking the same thing for quite some time. It had just taken nearly six shots for her to admit it to herself.

As if on cue, she grabbed hold of the latest drink and lifted it to her lips, sinking the golden liquid without a word.

After a pause, the queen said, "I didn't mean to upset you."

Emma snorted. "Right. I'm sure you're really concerned about that."

"I am," the queen replied, reaching out to squeeze Emma's knee. When she felt Regina's eyes follow her movement, she left her hand resting on the tight denim. Emma didn't even seem to notice it was there. "I'm saying this for your benefit, Emma. If you're only staying with him because you're afraid you won't find anyone else, then that's ludicrous. I'm sure there are plenty of people here who would take better care of you."

Regina couldn't be sure if she'd imagined it or not, but it looked like the queen's hand slid slightly higher up Emma's thigh as she said this. She had to physically restrain herself from reaching out and slapping it away.

And right then, the queen looked up at her.

"Don't you agree, Regina?"

Emma turned to look at her, her eyes wide, and Regina realised that she was actually waiting for her opinion. On any other day, Emma would have bitten her head off for so much as breathing negative air in Hook's direction, but today – six shots down and another one probably on the way – she felt watery and weak, and she didn't know what to do.

Regina wetted her lips, ready to offer the most constructive feedback possible. Then she glanced down, saw the hand that was still resting on Emma's thigh, and stopped. She sat up straighter.

"It's not my place," she heard herself say, and Emma's face crumpled.

With a smirk, the queen lifted her hand off Emma's leg and waved it across her glass, refilling it once more.

Granny hollered from across the room, "Can you stop that? Some of us are trying to make a living."

Without looking around, the queen flicked her hand in Granny's direction, causing her to fall silent. The old woman grasped at her throat, her voice suddenly out of her own reach. Emma rolled her eyes.

"Don't do that," she said flatly, and the queen raised her eyebrows at her.

"Excuse me?"

"I mean it," Emma said, gesturing to where Granny was now wordlessly yelling across the room at them. "Give it back."

The queen pursed her lips with annoyance. She was all but ready to laugh in Emma's face and snatch her voice away too, just to make a point. Then she looked over Emma's shoulder and saw that Regina wasn't even paying attention to the situation – she was staring at the back of Emma's head, looking like a child whose puppy had been taken away.

The queen remembered that look all too vividly – she remembered being in the stables, watching Daniel working only feet away but not being able to talk to him. She remembered the way her heart had reached for him.

She shuddered. Pathetic.

She looked back at Emma, who was still watching her expectantly, and shrugged. "Fine."

Her hand reached back over her shoulder, and she flicked something in Granny's direction. At once the woman's voice returned to her.

"Don't make me regret doing that," the queen called across to her, and Granny scowled, stomping into the kitchen muttering curse words under her breath.

When she turned back again, Emma was watching her with an amused expression on her face.

"Thank you," she said, and to everyone's relief, she was smiling again. "Not that I don't want to do that too, sometimes."

"You must have the patience of a saint for refraining on a daily basis," the queen said with a coquettish smile. "Don't forget your drink, dear."

"I think I might have had enough," Emma giggled, pushing the full glass away from her. She turned to look at Regina. "Do you want this?"

"No, thank you," Regina said flatly. The queen caught her eye and immediately smirked.

"I won't let it go to waste," she said, leaning her body close to Emma's and snaking the glass out of her hand. Pressing her mouth against Emma's ear, never taking her eyes off of Regina, she added, "If you don't mind?"

Both Regina and the queen saw Emma blush at the warm tickle of breath against her ear.

"Help yourself," she said, her voice trembling.

Still smiling cruelly at Regina, the queen pulled away, lifting the glass to her lips and draining it with a grace that startled them all. Emma watched her admiringly as she replaced the tiny glass on the counter.

"Very nice," she said, and then queen smiled back at her.

"I'm glad you approve," she said, leaning towards Emma and pinning her with her most intense stare. "All I want is to impress you, princess. Is it working?"

As she spoke, her eyes trailed down from Emma's face to her throat, down to the edge of her tank top and finally settling for just a second on the faint shadow of her cleavage. When her eyes snapped back up again, the sheriff's cheeks were pink.

Emma swallowed against the sudden dryness in her mouth and tilted her head to one side.

"Maybe," she admitted, then paused. She opened her mouth to say something else.

Suddenly there was a crash from behind her, and Emma spun around in her seat. Regina was on her feet, her chest heaving up and down and her cheeks burning. She had stood up so quickly that her stool had gone flying backwards, knocking into the nearest table.

"Regina?" Emma asked, her head swimming slightly from the sudden movement.

"It's time to go, Miss Swan," Regina snapped back at her, beginning to button up her coat. "Get up."

Emma blinked. "Why?"

"I don't need to give you a reason," Regina said shortly, looking expectantly at the jacket hanging from Emma's chair. "Just do as you're told."

"Regina, I'm having a—"

She stopped talking when Regina suddenly leaned into her, her voice low enough that the queen couldn't hear, but sharp enough to turn Emma's blood to ice. "I swear to god, if you are not up and out of this diner in the next 10 seconds, you will never see Henry again. Now do as you're told for once in your damn life."

Emma blinked, too surprised to be angry, and shakily stood up. The tequila hit her at once and she stumbled to one side. The queen caught her, taking her wrist with one hand and pressing the other against the small of her back. Regina growled. She reached past Emma and snatched the queen's hand off of her wrist, gripping it tightly enough to crush the bone beneath her fingers.

"Get off her," she hissed, tossing her arm away. The queen just smiled at her, her eyebrows raised. "Coat, Miss Swan. Now."

Emma was blindly trying to pull her jacket off the chair behind her, her hands shaking with alcohol and confusion and frustration. When one sleeve got caught she groaned and pulled harder. Suddenly Regina was beside her again, tugging the jacket free and thrusting it against Emma's chest.

"Out," she snapped. She wanted to press a hand against her back and push her towards the door, but she couldn't bring herself to touch her where the queen's hands had been moments before.

"Just a second," Emma mumbled, struggling into her coat. "I just want to say goodbye to—"

"No," Regina cut her off, taking hold of Emma's now leather-clad elbow and turning her towards the door. "Out."

Emma staggered through the door and out into the sharp night air without another word. Her fingertips felt warm and swollen from the alcohol, and any time she tried to think of something to say, the final syllable seemed to disappear into the night before she could reach it. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the breeze on her burning cheeks, and took a deep breath.

Then Regina was behind her, one hand on her arm, guiding her down the stairs. She didn't say a word, but Emma could feel the anger coming off of her. She swallowed.

"Regina," she slurred, somehow turning her name into a one-syllable word. She turned to look at her, but Regina was staring straight ahead, her lips pressed firmly together. "What did I do?"

"I shouldn't have to tell you what you've done."

"Well, maybe you shouldn't, but I need a little help here," Emma said. Some perverse part of her wanted to giggle, and it took all her self-control to force the sound back down into her chest. "It was just a few drinks. I don't know what the problem is."

"The problem," Regina snapped, and Emma realised then that she was being guided towards Regina's car, "is that you seem to have completely lost any regard for your own safety, or anyone else's in this town. You've been constantly warned against befriending this woman – who, I should repeat, is not called the Evil Queen just because the name has a nice ring to it – and yet you still ignore our advice and do as you damn well please. I don't know what you were thinking."

"I told you – she came and found me, and I don't see the point in—"

"Talking to her is one thing," Regina interrupted coldly. "But letting her take you off somewhere and get you drunk is something else entirely. Didn't you notice how much alcohol she was forcing onto you?"

"She was matching me."

"And yet she was stone cold sober when we left," Regina said. "She was trying to lower your inhibitions, Emma. Don't you realise how dangerous that was?"

Emma blinked. She knew Regina probably had a point, but the rage – and, weirdly, the hurt – in the mayor's voice didn't seem to match up to what she was saying.

Emma staggered to a halt and, with a sigh, Regina let go of her. Emma stumbled to one side, clutching onto a lamppost to stop herself from falling into a nearby hedge, and turned back to look at her. Regina paused – Emma's eyes were large and watery, and she could see her jaw trembling from two metres away.

"Are you going to cry?" she asked uncertainly. Emma shook her head fiercely.

"I just don't get you, Regina," she said, her voice gurgling against the tears at the back of her throat. "Why does this bother you so much? So the Evil Queen has taken an interest in me – so what? Why can't you just be happy that actually, she's not completely wicked after all. It's a good thing, isn't it? She's less of a threat now."

"She's just tricking you, you silly girl," Regina sighed. A flash of the queen's face ricocheted through her mind – her hand on Emma's thigh, her eyes on Emma's lips. She flinched.

"So what?" Emma sniffed. "At least she's nice to me. That's more than I can say about you. And it's not like you even like me so I really don't see what the problem is – if I get hurt, so what? It makes no difference to you anyway."

Regina swallowed. Emma was looking straight at her, drunk and hurt and angry, and god, all Regina wanted to do was reach out and hold her close to show her just how much of a difference it would make to her.

"Emma," she said slowly, taking a step forwards. She could feel her pulse thundering in her throat. "Look – I lied, okay? I was mad at you and I lied. We are friends. We are, and I do care about you."

Emma looked curiously back at her, the golden warmth of tequila still swirling around her in a haze. Then sudden clarity struck her, and she sighed.

"Oh. I get it," she said quietly, disappointed. "You've seen someone else playing with your toy, and now you want it back."

Regina opened her mouth, a protest ready on her tongue. But she was interrupted before she could begin to tell Emma how wrong she was.

"Swan!"

They both turned toward the source of the voice and found Hook staggering towards them, mud caking his boots and leaves stuck to his knees. His hair was sticking up in a hundred different directions and in any other situation, Regina would have cackled with glee. But he was looking at Emma with a murderous glint in his eyes, and her laughter dried up in her throat.

"Killian," Emma replied, blinking rapidly. The closer he got, the madder he looked. "Are you okay?"

"No, I am bloody well not okay!" he shouted. "Where the hell have you been? Why didn't you come and help me?"

Emma tried to think of an excuse, but the alcohol had softened her brain. She wetted her lips.

"I…" she stammered, looking back at Regina for help. For once, the mayor was as wordless as she was. "I'm sorry. I tried, but I didn't know where you were, and—"

"Are you drunk?" he hissed, looking at her more closely. "Oh, that's bloody perfect. I'm out in the woods, freezing my arse off and still believing that you would actually come and find me, but instead you're here having drinks with our dear Madam Mayor. I bet you were having a great old time, weren't you?"

Emma swallowed. "No, I wasn't. It… it was…"

Hook didn't wait around to find out what it was. With a final glare towards Regina, he turned his back on them and stomped off down the street with his long coat whipping behind him.

Emma watched him for a moment, her feet feeling suddenly heavy. She didn't want to go after him. She didn't have the energy to.

After a moment she turned to look back at Regina, her forehead creased. Then she sighed and turned away once more. She disappeared into the night, following Hook down the road, and Regina was left alone under the watery light of a street lamp, somehow not wanting to leave.


A/N: I'm starsthatburn over on tumblr too if you want to drop by for more swan queen ramblings x

Chapter Text

Emma was no stranger to hangovers. She'd woken up with her head pounding and her mouth tasting like the inside of a garbage chute a hundred times before, and she was certain that it would happen a hundred more times before she died. She forced herself upright in bed, running her tongue over her fuzzy teeth, and groaned. This wasn't the worst she'd ever felt, but Christ, it was close.

She pulled her legs up to her chest and rested her forehead against her knees. Without looking around, she already knew that Hook wasn't lying next to her. That was her first sign that something bad had happened last night: he rarely left her side nowadays, and the fact that he'd decided to sleep somewhere else for once told her that she'd royally fucked up.

She deeply inhaled the air that was somehow too dry and too thick all at once and forced herself to lift her head. Then, as her eyes finally began to focus on her surroundings, she received her second clue about what she'd done the night before.

Because she was back in the loft.

She groaned, her head thudding back down against her knees. She'd bought that stupid new house on the other side of town, so if she'd ended up crashing at Mary Margaret's apartment instead of going back there, she must have drunk more than she'd thought.

Scrunching up her eyes against the agonising brightness of the room, she threw out her hand and fumbled around on the nightstand for her cell phone. She hadn't quite managed to plug in the charger before she'd hit the pillows the night before and now the screen was angrily blinking up at her on two percent battery. However, her eyes were already busy focusing on something else.

She shuddered: seven missed calls from Regina.

That was when the memories of the previous night finally came rushing back to her, and she fell back against the lumpy pillows with a groan.

You seriously went and did shots with the Evil Queen?

The word 'shots' sent a wave of nausea rippling through her mouth and she immediately squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for it to pass. Jesus Christ, Emma. She would be able to taste tequila for weeks.

After a few minutes of lying in silence, Emma realised she could hear voices downstairs. Shit. She would have to do a walk of shame past her entire family if she planned on making it into work at any time that day.

A few more moments passed before she forced herself out of bed. She stared down at herself – she had managed to take off her boots before she had fallen into bed, which was a good start, but she hadn't gotten as far as removing her pants. Also, her bra was missing. She rubbed her index fingers under her eyes, grimacing when a crust of black make-up came off onto them, and started to hunt for her missing clothes.

Eventually she found her bra and one of her socks under the corner of the mattress, and she forced herself to collect her jacket and walk downstairs. As soon as she had, she wished she'd stayed in bed.

Three heads turned to look at her. Snow, who was holding a sleeping Neal, looked disappointed, while Charming looked relatively amused at the sight of her. The third person, however, was Regina, and before she even opened her mouth she looked like she was ready to explode.

"Oh," Emma sighed, faltering at the bottom of the staircase. "The calvary is here."

"I have been calling you," Regina snapped, not bothering to tone down her blinding rage. "You didn't come to collect Henry this morning, and I couldn't get into your house. I thought she'd killed you."

Emma didn't need to ask who 'she' was. She groaned, taking a wobbly step towards the kitchen.

"Can you maybe lower your voice a bit?"

"I most certainly cannot," Regina said, although she did glance at the sleeping baby as she spoke. "Where have you been?"

"Right here, I guess," Emma said. Charming had gone to the fridge to pour her a glass of orange juice and she took it with both hands. "To be perfectly honest, I don't remember. Where's Killian?"

Regina scoffed at her. "I don't know, and I can't say I care either. The last I saw of him he was storming off into the night with you chasing after him. I just assumed you caught him."

Emma squinted, sipping at her juice. "I'm pretty sure I fell over. When I got up, he was gone."

Charming turned back to the fridge, suppressing a snort of laughter. Regina, meanwhile, rolled her eyes so dramatically that Emma was sure she could hear them grinding against her skull.

"Why am I not surprised?"

"Why are you here, Regina?" Emma asked, heaving herself up onto one of the bar stools.

"I told you – I thought the queen had probably gotten her hands on you."

"Sure, this morning that might have made sense," Emma said. "But then you came here to ask my parents if I was here, and they probably said yes. But you hung around. Why? Just to make me feel worse?"

There was a pause, and Emma watched as the three people stood in front of her exchanged looks that she couldn't quite read.

"Emma…" Snow said, gently laying Neal down in his crib. "Regina told us about what happened last night. We're... worried about you."

"What?" Emma said, looking frantically between them all. "This isn't the first time I've drunk a few too many shots, guys. My liver can definitely take it."

"It's not the drinking we're worried about," Charming said. "Regina's been right to try and warn you off of that woman – she's bad news. We've all seen what she can do."

"She can conjure a mean tequila," Emma mumbled, resting her head on one hand.

Regina snapped, "Will you please take this seriously? Listen to your parents, if you won't listen to me."

Resisting the urge to snap back at her, Emma gritted her teeth together and nodded for her father to continue.

"Emma, you weren't raised in the same world as us. You haven't seen what the queen can do. To you, she's just Regina in different clothes."

"That's not exactly true," Emma said. "I went back in time with Hook and saw her then. She locked me in a dungeon, remember? And she tried to kill Marion right in front of me."

Regina winced at the memory, but Snow was already shaking her head.

"Fine, you saw her once," she sighed. "But she's done worse – much worse. And Regina's right – the only reason why she's taken an interest in you is because she wants to weaken you in some way. If she befriends you, you won't see her as as much of a threat."

Emma's face suddenly dropped. "The only reason?"

Regina sighed. "Come on, Emma. You can't seriously want to be friends with her."

"Well, why not?" Emma bristled. "She's fun to be around, plus she's one of very few people who haven't tried to kill me so far. I'm just offended that you all think she couldn't possibly want to get to know me for any other reason than to destroy me. That's an unnecessary blow to my ego right there."

Snow sighed. "Emma…"

"No," Emma interrupted. Her throbbing brain was beginning to press against her temples. "Look – I can take care of myself. I'm not spilling my darkest secrets to her, and I'm not telling her how to destroy anyone here. You're all safe. She's just... fun. We fight with each other and we make fun of each other, and she gives as good as she can get. I'm allowed to want a friend and she just… she reminds me of someone. That's all."

Regina blinked.

"You have friends already, Emma," Snow said in her softest voice. At once, Emma looked towards Regina, her expression cold.

"Do I?"

"Yes," Charming insisted, his hands on his hips. "You do. And you have a family. Don't throw it all away on nothing – maybe just trust that we know better about this, and you should stay away from her."

"But—"

"Emma, please," Snow said, her voice pleading. "Just do this for us."

Emma sighed. She could see the desperation in her parents' eyes, and she didn't have the energy to push them away again. But then she glanced towards Regina, and she suddenly faltered: for the first time in days, Regina didn't look angry. She looked sorry. The sight of her repentant face made Emma's whole body go soft.

"Fine," she grumbled, dragging her eyes away from her and staring down into her orange juice instead. "I'll help you find a way to get rid of her. If that will make you feel better."

"And you have to stay away from her," Charming clarified. Emma closed her eyes, feeling far too much like a teenager being told to stay away from a boy at school.

"Fine."

"Promise us."

"Fine, I promise. God, guys," Emma rolled her eyes. "You don't have to be so parenty about it."

She waited for them to tell her that it was probably time they showed her exactly what she had missed out on during puberty, but instead there was only silence. She looked up and her parents were just staring back at her, theirs eyes wide open and their lips unmoving.

"Um," Emma said, blinking. "Are you okay?"

She glanced over at Regina, who was approaching them with the same bewildered expression on her face. She waved a hand in front of Charming's nose, but he didn't react.

"Are they frozen?" Emma asked. Regina sighed.

"They are," she said, perching herself on a nearby stool with an exhausted groan. "Which means we must be due a dramatic entrance any minute now."

Emma looked towards the door, holding her breath. She couldn't hear anyone outside. But then she remembered that, generally speaking, the queen didn't like to use doors.

She slowly turned in her chair, and sure enough, there she was, leaning against the kitchen sink with her arms crossed over her chest.

"Very good, Miss Swan," the queen said. Regina jumped at the sound of her voice and spun around in her seat to face her. "It appears you know me better than you thought."

"For god's sake," Regina immediately rolled her eyes.

"Oh, hello Regina," the queen chirped at her. "Feeling just as festive this morning as you were last night, I see?"

"You can't leave her alone, can you?" Regina snapped, rising from her seat. There was a beat where nothing happened, like Regina still wasn't sure how she was meant to deal with this situation, and then a fireball appeared in her hand. It was soft and the flames wavered, and it was obvious that her heart wasn't in it.

The queen looked down at it, narrowing her eyes.

"There's no need for that," she said, waving her hand. The flames in Regina's palm were immediately extinguished. "This is a social call."

"We're done with your social calls," Regina said. "Emma – tell her."

Emma groaned. Her head was pounding and she really didn't need this drama so early in the morning. But she had, after all, just promised her parents that she wouldn't keep humouring the queen, and with them creepily staring at her like rejects from Madame Tussauds, she didn't really feel like she was in a position to go against their wishes.

Resting her forehead on one hand, she forced herself to look over at their visitor.

"You need to go."

The queen blinked. "What? Why?"

"You know why," Emma said wearily. "You were probably listening to the whole conversation. This is stupid. We had fun last night, but my family's right. You should stay away from me."

Regina listened to her speaking with a throb of pride, even though she could tell that Emma absolutely didn't believe the words that were coming out of her own mouth. But miraculously, that thought alone was somehow reassuring – Emma was so reluctant to part with someone who was essentially just another version of Regina. That had to say something about their friendship too, whatever state that was in.

But the queen was looking at Emma with pride too. With a faint smile, she crossed the small gap between the sink and the kitchen island, and she leaned forward against the wooden edge. Barely a metre away, on the other side of the bar, Emma had a full view of her plunging cleavage and her intoxicating smile, and she couldn't help but glance down.

The queen smirked. At once, Regina took a step towards them.

"She asked you to leave her alone," Regina said. The queen slowly rolled her eyes towards her.

"It wasn't especially convincing though, was it?"

"That's not the point," Regina snapped. "You need to leave."

"Oh, do I?" the queen asked, standing upright and walking towards the other end of the counter, where Regina was standing. "And who's going to make me? You?"

"Just try me," Regina growled, and Emma could see what was coming next. She didn't have the patience for it.

"Guys," she said, and both women turned to look at her. "You may or may not be aware that I have a bitch of a hangover right now. Can we please keep the shouting and threatening to a minimum?"

Regina scowled at her opponent. "I will if she will."

"Oh, very mature."

"Shut up," Emma said, pressing her fingers against her temples. "Now, if one of you feels like making me a coffee, please be my guest. Otherwise you can both go."

For a moment there was silence, and then Regina was pushing past the queen, making a beeline for the coffee machine.

"Thank you," Emma said, dropping her head onto her folded arms. But within an instant, she could smell the faintly intoxicating scent of coffee wafting under her nose. She reluctantly lifted her head to find the queen stood in front of her, brandishing a delicate china cup filled with steaming coffee and a satisfied smirk on her face.

Regina was glaring at her from over her shoulder, her hand hovering impotently above the coffee pot.

"I don't know what you were about to try and do," the queen said to Regina as she pushed the cup towards Emma's uncertain hands, "but I find that, more often than not, magic is the superior solution."

Even from across the room, Emma could see the pressure in Regina's temples beginning to swell. She narrowed her eyes.

"You know how I told you that you were a bit of a dick in the graveyard?" Emma asked the queen. Regina suddenly turned away from them both, pressing her stomach against the counter with her shoulders tensed like steel.

"Vividly, dear."

"Well, you're doing it again," Emma said, taking the coffee from her nonetheless. "Stop trying to antagonise Regina. There's no need."

Regina was facing away from them, leaning over the now redundant coffee machine with her hands gripped around the edge of the counter. But even from there, Emma could see the faintly grateful smile on her turned face.

It was nothing, however, compared to the delighted smirk on the queen's. Her eyebrows were raised so high that they nearly met her hairline, and Emma could see the satisfaction dripping from every one of her features. It was a look that said 'God, you want her'.

Emma glared at her. Stop it, she mouthed.

Never, the queen mouthed back.

Emma glanced back towards Regina, who still wasn't looking at her, and felt something tighten in her stomach.

"So," the queen breezed over the entire event, ignoring the multiple invitations for her to remove herself from the apartment. "What are your plans for today, Miss Swan?"

At once, every muscle in Regina's body clenched. She stayed where she was, still leaning over the coffee machine, desperate for Emma to shut her down once and for all.

Instead, the idiotic blonde woman just groaned. "I have to get to work at some point. I might throw up in the cell."

"It's already gone 11," the queen said, waving one hand dismissively. "Don't bother yourself with that."

"In this town we actually work for a living, you know," Regina suddenly bit out, turning to face her. The queen ignored her entirely.

"There are plenty of other fun things we could do today," she said, wiggling her shoulders. Emma snorted.

"Regina's right. I have to go to work."

The queen sighed as if this was the worst news she'd ever received in her life. She returned to her position against the edge of the breakfast bar, leaning forwards so that her pouting face was only inches away from Emma's.

"You don't want to spend time with me?" she simpered, and her expression was so obnoxious that Emma couldn't help but laugh.

"I asked you to leave," she said, feeling Regina's eyes burning into her from across the kitchen. "That wasn't secretly an invitation to go for lunch."

"I generally don't wait for invitations before I do anything," the queen said. "I also don't tend to leave just because someone has asked me to — no matter how pretty their face is."

Emma raised her eyebrows. "Very cute. But I mean it this time – you should go."

"Because she told you to say that?" the queen asked, gesturing towards Regina with one accusing finger. "Or because you actually want me to leave?"

Somehow she was leaning even further forwards, and the deep opening at the front of her dress was distracting Emma's already muddled head.

She glanced back across the room and saw that Regina's cheeks were slowly turning redder. She was glaring at the queen with a hatred that was verging on venomous, and Emma could see that the urge to use magic was starting to spill out of her.

Emma could understand her annoyance, obviously – but the revulsion on Regina's face was far beyond mere irritation. She was hurt, and what had hurt her was obviously something deeper and far more shameful than she would ever be willing to admit. It was something that she would never have admitted to Emma even under pain of torture, and so she was choosing to torture Emma instead.

Emma groaned.

"Because…" she started trying to answer the queen's question, but the crashing sound in her head rendered actual rational thought completely impossible. "...Regina. Help me out."

With great satisfaction, Regina pushed herself off of the counter and opened her mouth to list off the many, many reasons why the queen should leave Emma alone.

"Because—"

"Terrific," the queen interrupted, never turning around. "As usual, Regina, you make some fantastic points. I will duly consider those."

A noise that sounded like a ship crashing into a harbour erupted from Regina's throat. Emma looked over at her and thought that, if this were a cartoon, there would undoubtedly be steam billowing out of her ears.

"Stop interrupting me!" Regina snapped, and the queen heaved out a sigh.

"We are trying to have a conversation over here, and you keep interrupting us," she said without turning around.

"I am trying—"

"Emma, we still haven't tried those grilled cheese sandwiches that you rate so highly," the queen continued, focusing her attention back on the woman sat across from her. When she spoke to Emma her voice became an intimate whisper, so low and melodic that Emma couldn't bring herself to look away from her gently moving lips. "You aren't going to deprive me of them yet again, are you?"

Her mouth really was deliciously pouty. Emma swallowed.

"I… I'm sorry," she took a deep breath. "I have to go to work."

The exertion of resisting nearly killed her, but she had done it. She straightened her back, proud of herself, feeling like she had managed to miraculously overcome her hangover in less than 10 words. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Regina sagging with relief, her knuckles still white as she clutched onto the edge of the counter.

But then, before either of them could prepare for it, the queen reached out one hand and gently cupped Emma's face, grazing her thumb over the peak of her cheekbone. The movement took her entirely by surprise, but Emma couldn't have pulled away for all the money in the world.

God, she'd dreamed of this for years, and she hadn't even realised it until that very moment. It wasn't right – this wasn't Regina, but some twisted Regina 2.0 – but right then it was enough, and her heart plummeted down into a warm pool in her stomach from which it would probably never resurface.

"Come on," the queen said quietly, her thumb grazing against her skin once more. Emma's eyes flicked down to watch as she slowly licked her lips. "For me?"

Regina couldn't stand it, but she couldn't look away. Emma was staring at the queen's mouth like she was melting, aching, her whole body being drawn towards it, and even though there was a metre of wooden counter between them, the two women were intimately close together. Regina felt a crack of pain shudder through her and she wanted to leave, she wanted to bolt for the door. But, God – she was trapped there, held in place by her own disbelief and her own stupid, aching heart.

Besides, a figure had appeared in the doorway. One who looked only marginally more surprised than she did.

Hook had stumbled in, the smell of rum apparent even from across the room and his pants still caked in mud. He already looked angry. But when he caught sight of his girlfriend, her face resting on the queen's open palm and her eyes completely lost in a pair of deep red lips, his face turned purple.

"Emma?"

Even at the loud crash of his voice, it took Emma a moment to register his presence. She shook herself like she was emerging from a trance and turned to look towards the door.

There was a beat before she managed to say his name. "Killian."

"What the hell is this?"

"I…" Emma said, finally realising how close she had been to the queen and pulling herself sharply away. She glanced over at Regina, who was staring at her with her nostrils flared and her arms crossed over her chest, and swallowed. "We were just… talking."

"You call this talking?!" Hook demanded, taking a step into the apartment. He caught sight of Snow and Charming, their features still frozen and their arms hovering in mid-air, and frowned. "What's wrong with them?"

"Oh, I was just having a little fun," the queen said, pushing herself upright. "They'll be fine."

"And this?!" he spat, gesturing to Emma's flushed cheeks and the green eyes that were looking anywhere except at him. "Was this just fun too?"

The queen glanced back at Emma, letting out a satisfied sigh when she saw just how flustered she looked.

"Yes, actually," she said. "That's exactly what it was."

Emma's eyes snapped up then. "That isn't what—"

"Save it, Swan," Hook interrupted, slurring on the multiple S's. "This is one step too far, even for me."

"Killian," Emma protested, forcing herself up from her seat and then immediately staggering to one side. She groaned, then continued, "I didn't do anything. You just came in at the wrong time. It looked worse than it was."

"I'm sure it did," Hook scoffed, and then he was turning back towards the door, leaving a trail of dried mud behind him. "Save your breath, Emma. I'm tired of listening to you."

Emma reached out one hand, like she could bring him back to her through sheer will alone. But the truth was that she simply couldn't make herself go after him. If he wanted to leave, that was fine. They'd make up later.

Or maybe they wouldn't.

Hook disappeared through the door without closing it, without looking back, and all Emma could do was sigh. When she glanced across to the other side of room, Regina was still watching her, her mouth tight and her cheeks burning. Emma waited for her to say something.

But instead she just sighed, gathering her coat around her and walking towards the now-open door.

"Regina?" Emma asked. Her voice cracked. "Where are you going?"

"I'm leaving," Regina said.

"Why?"

As she reached the door, Regina turned to look back at them. Her eyes locked onto Emma's more firmly than they ever had before.

"For once, I'm with the pirate," she said, and she sounded so desperately sad that Emma's heart skipped twice. "This has to stop."

And she left, closing the door quietly behind her. Emma took a step forward, ready to chase her – but she couldn't. Regina didn't want to speak to her, and she suddenly realised that she couldn't blame her.

For a few moments all Emma could hear was Regina's steady footsteps disappearing down a wooden staircase, accompanied by her own splintering heart crackling in her eardrums. She pressed her lips together, her hangover suddenly gone and replaced by something much, much worse.

It only took a moment before the silence in the apartment was broken.

"So," the queen said, her voice light and frothy. "You went after her, but not him. That's interesting."

A sudden, toxic rage hit Emma square in the chest and she spun around, her fists clenched by her sides.

"What are you doing?" she demanded. "What is this?! Why are you trying to ruin every relationship I have?"

The queen was examining the nearby fruit bowl. "I'm not. I'm just trying to ruin one."

"Look, if you don't like Hook, that's your problem. But you don't—"

"Oh no, dear," the queen said, selecting an apple. "The one-handed wonder was just a lucky bonus. It's Regina I'm after."

Emma groaned, staggering back towards the bar. "Why? Because you think I have some twisted crush on her?"

"Because you do have some twisted crush on her," the queen said coolly, leaning back across the counter. She dangled the apple from one hand like it was a delicate Christmas bauble.

"Even if that were true," Emma said, and the automatic blush in her cheeks told them both everything they needed to know, "what good is all this going to do? Regina doesn't care. You're wasting your time, you know."

For a split second, the queen looked genuinely sorry for her. "Oh, Emma. You really are the most naïve person I've ever met. Don't you see how angry she's getting?"

"Well, sure," Emma stammered. "But I'd be getting angry too, if my evil twin was being as obnoxious as you are."

The queen smirked, momentarily pleased with herself. "She's jealous, you fool."

"No, she isn't."

"She hates your charming boyfriend too, does she not?"

"Yes," Emma said, then paused. "But…"

"I don't see anyone else caring that much about him. Or about me, for that matter."

"She has a temper," Emma said weakly. "She gets angry about a lot of stuff."

"I'm sure she does," the queen said dryly. "Except she doesn't seem to care that I froze your parents, or that I've been camping out in her vault for two weeks now. All she cares about is how I'm talking to you. When you're looking at me, she's looking at you, and she looks like her world is ending."

Emma swallowed. Every remaining shred of reason in her head told her that she shouldn't believe a word of this – but a tiny shard of hope had hooked its way into her chest, and she couldn't force herself to remove it.

"And, what? That has been your grand plan all along?" Emma asked, her voice cracking.

"In a sense," the queen shrugged. "Regina tried to kill me. Now I'm ruining her life. It's a fair trade, wouldn't you say?"

"If you want to ruin her life, there are far easier ways to get to her than through me," Emma said. And the queen laughed, stepping around the island and approaching Emma with long, slow strides.

As she reached her, she smiled, her eyes never once leaving Emma's lips.

"And the fact that you actually believe that is what makes this so enjoyable."

She leaned forwards, smiling when she heard Emma's sharp intake of breath, and pressed a cool kiss against her cheek. Then she brushed past her, heading for the door that Regina had just disappeared through, taking a bite of the apple as she went.

Chapter Text

A/N: Sorry for being a mega arsehole and making you all wait so long for this - basically I was all set to publish chapter 5 like 3 weeks ago, then when I was editing it I decided something was missing and I needed to write a new chapter to go in between chapter 4 and that one. So, downside: there's been a massive delay. Upside: the fic is now a chapter longer!


Chapter Five

As usual, the house was quiet. Henry rarely came to visit Emma out here, even though the house was barely five minutes away from Regina's, and Emma had long suspected this had something to do with Hook's constant presence in her new home. But today Killian wasn't around either, and Emma was sitting at the kitchen table alone. She hadn't had time to redecorate yet and she hated the colour of the walls.

The mug of coffee between her hands had gone from hot to lukewarm to cold far too quickly. She'd been so lost in thought that it hadn't ever occurred to her to drink it.

Her eyes sought out the clock on the wall. It was nearly lunchtime on Saturday, and this was the first time she could remember in months – maybe even years – that she'd gotten this far into the day without speaking to someone.

She had spent the previous day slumped over her desk at the sheriff station, groaning any time the phone rang and waiting impatiently for five o'clock to roll round so she could drive home and fall into bed at once. After the incident in Mary Margaret's loft, her hangover had only gotten worse. She had gone to sleep that night with a bucket by the side of the bed.

Now she had just about recovered, but the crackling silence around her was starting to feel just as suffocating. Hook was ignoring her; that much was clear. But Regina, it seemed, was doing so as well. She had stormed out of the loft looking infinitely more hurt than Emma could have ever expected, and now it was 24 hours later and she still seemed to be stewing about it.

It was strange, Emma thought momentarily, how Regina was reacting to the queen's behaviour quite so similarly to how her boyfriend was. It was even stranger, though, that Emma was more bothered about Regina's feelings than she was about his.

She pulled her cell out of her jeans pocket and placed it on the table. She had received one text so far that day – it had been from Charming, checking that she'd finally recovered from yesterday's tequila coma – but now her phone was woefully silent. She pressed the home button.

Her wallpaper was a group shot that Granny had taken for them one night in the diner. Emma was sat in one booth, squeezed in tightly between Hook and Snow. In the seat opposite them, Henry was pressed between Regina and Charming. They were all grinning at the camera, and the table between them was spread with half-eaten burgers and the greasy remains of fries. It was one of Emma's very favourite pictures – any time she looked at her phone, it reminded her of just how far she had come since the day Henry had first knocked at her door.

The photo faded, and she pressed down once more to bring it back. Her eyes fell on Hook: he was beaming, and he looked handsome. Emma waited for herself to smile at the sight of him. For a moment, the clock above her seemed to become louder. Then, gradually, her eyes crept across the screen and landed on Regina. She wasn't smiling quite as broadly as the other people in the photograph – she looked tentative, like she wasn't sure she should really be a part of it at all. But there was a smile on her face nonetheless, and it made her eyes look softer than normal. The corners of her deep red mouth were curved nervously upwards.

As Emma looked down at her, her own lips quirked up to match.

It really was quite interesting how such a small glimmer of a smile could change Regina's face so abruptly. When she wasn't scowling or fretting or telling Emma that she was an idiot, Regina looked so much younger. Her posture was somehow different, like the smile was lifting her higher. And her eyes. Emma suddenly couldn't stop staring at those soft, cautious eyes.

She paused, allowing herself to absorb the warmth that always flooded through her when she looked at this photo. It was always accompanied by the sudden pounding of her heart.

Then she glanced up, and those same brown eyes were looking at her from the other side of the kitchen table.

Emma flung herself back in her chair, her hand pressed against her chest. "Jesus!"

With crossed legs and her chin thrust in the air, the queen smirked back at her. "Hello, dear."

"What the hell?" Emma demanded, the shock reverberating through her like a blow to her funny bone. "Can't you learn how to knock on a door?"

"I'm a queen," she replied, folding her hands over in her lap. "Queens don't knock."

"Then get someone to announce you with a trumpet or something," Emma muttered. "You can't just keep showing up like this. You're going to give me a heart attack one of these days."

"Oh, come on, Emma. You know I'd never do anything to hurt you," the queen replied, and with her usual mocking attitude lingering just below the surface of her voice, Emma couldn't tell if she was being serious or not. "I just wanted to say hello."

Emma glared at her. The last time they had seen each other, the queen had driven both Hook and Regina out of the apartment and then confessed to Emma that, essentially, the only reason she was talking to her in the first place was because she wanted to make Regina go insane. Somehow Emma struggled to believe that she was there just to exchange pleasantries.

"Fine," Emma scowled, pushing herself out of her chair and carrying her full mug over to the sink. "You've said hello. Is there anything else?"

"You don't have to be so literal," the queen said, her eyes following Emma across the room. "I popped by to chat."

Dropping the mug into the sink with a crash, Emma turned back to look at her. "I don't want to chat with you."

"Why not?" the queen asked with a flash of hurt on her face that made Emma waver. "Oh. Because of what happened yesterday?"

"Yes, because of what happened yesterday," Emma snapped. "You made it perfectly clear what your intentions are in this town, so why would you think I would ever want to talk to you again?"

"I don't know," the queen mused. "You still talk to Regina."

"Because she's not actively plotting against me."

"Neither am I," the queen protested. "I told you that I am enjoying making Regina miserable. That doesn't mean I'm not also enjoying your company in the process."

Emma narrowed her eyes. "But you're still plotting against her. And she's my friend. I'm on her side, not yours."

"Oh, Emma, please," the queen scoffed, rolling her eyes. "There's no need to take sides in this. That's going to make things a lot harder than they need to be."

"Things are already hard, your majesty," Emma snapped at her, watching with some pleasure as the queen jumped in her seat at the sudden harshness of her tone. "God, you have no idea what you're doing, do you?"

The queen blinked, her cheeks suddenly turning pale. Emma watched as she wetted her lips. "I… what?"

"Don't play innocent. You're making a mess of everything because you enjoy being a pain in everybody's ass, but you don't actually know what this is doing to me, do you? You have no idea what I have to deal with once you're gone."

It was strange, but the queen looked suddenly relieved. Her cool, regal mask slipped back onto her face and she offered Emma a perfunctory smile.

"You mean, what you have to tell the pirate?"

"No, because I haven't been able to tell him anything. He's been ignoring me ever since he saw me with you yesterday."

The queen raised her eyebrows. "What a pity."

"Look, would you please just stop?" Emma sighed, leaning back against the counter. "This isn't funny anymore. Things have changed. It was fun to hang out with you, it really was, but if you're going to come between me and my family then I can't let this carry on."

"Your family?" the queen asked. Her voice was as frothy as ever, but Emma could hear that she was curious. "You mean your parents?"

"Sure, them," Emma said. "But also Hook. And Regina."

The queen blinked. "You consider Regina to be your family?"

"Of course I do," Emma replied. "We have a son together, and she's a massive part of my life. When you were just trying to piss her off, okay, I should have stopped you, but I have to admit it was kind of funny. But now…"

She paused, shaking her head.

"She means a lot to me," she admitted, her eyes fixed on the ground. "You know that. You've always known that. And you shouldn't have told me that you're here to hurt her, because I can't let you do that."

The queen was frowning at her. Emma hadn't looked up, but she could feel the weight of it on her face.

"You're actually admitting it?" she asked. Her voice was quieter than normal.

"Admitting what?"

"Your… feelings for her."

Emma rolled her eyes. "Is there much point in denying it any more? It's not like you didn't already know."

"Well, no. But it was very enjoyable watching you squirm."

For the millionth time that week, Emma scowled at her. The queen smiled back.

"Just cut it out, okay?" Emma said, walking back over to the seat she'd just vacated. She dropped into it, suddenly exhausted, and rested her head in her hands. "You were an asshole yesterday. And not in a cute, charming way that I could laugh about later – you were really out of line. I'm not going to keep defending you if that's the way you're going to act."

The queen blinked at her from across the table. "You… seem serious."

"I am," Emma muttered into her palms. "You know I like having you around, but yesterday you just took it too far."

"I think you might be overreacting, Miss Swan."

"No – for once, I'm actually not. I've been underreacting this whole time and you know it. I've been way too lenient with you so I guess it kind of serves me right that things would get this bad, but Jesus, you don't even care…"

She was rambling, and if she'd looked up then she would have seen the queen blinking at her like she was some mythical creature who had just drunkenly wandered out of the woods.

"And how bad have things gotten?" the queen heard herself ask. There was genuine concern in her voice and she flinched as soon as the words were out of her mouth – but, luckily for her, Emma was too distracted to notice.

She lifted her head from her hands and groaned. "Hook's going to leave me."

The queen rolled her eyes. "Emma. How can you possibly know that?"

"I just do," Emma said, dropping her hands to the table with a dull thwack. "He's been getting bored of me and all my issues for a while and I've been trying to ignore it. But now that you're here and you're making him jealous, he's got an excuse. He can blame it on you, or even on me. He's going to leave."

She waited for a sarcastic comment, or two very raised eyebrows, but there was nothing. The queen was watching her silently, her expression dark.

"You aren't blaming me?" she asked.

After a beat, Emma said, "No."

"Why not?"

"Probably because it's my own fault," Emma shrugged. "You were… right. He was never right for me. I was never really into him. He was just the best of a bad bunch and I decided to stick it out. And now that he's getting sick of me, I don't even care."

She paused.

"Does that make me a bad person?"

The queen scoffed. "I think you might be asking the wrong person, dear."

"I'm being serious," Emma asked, her voice falling just short of whining. "If anyone should know, it's you. Come on – you owe me. Tell me the truth."

If the queen had thought about it, she would have asked Emma exactly why she owed her. She would have laughed and told her that yes, she was a bad person. The worst. Then she would have swept out of the door filled with glee, glad that another person was as lonely and unhappy as she was.

But she didn't stop to think. Instead, she sighed. "Of course you're not."

"Then why don't I care about him?"

"You do care about him," the queen said. "You just don't love him."

"But I was so sure I did," Emma groaned. "Until you came along."

"Should I take that as a compliment?" the queen asked, trying for some of their usual playful banter, but it was obvious that her heart wasn't really in it. Her mask had slipped somewhere along the way, and since Emma hadn't run away screaming at the sight of her without it, maybe it was best to just see where this train took her.

Emma offered her a half-hearted smile. "If you like."

Her normally bright green eyes looked somehow duller today, and it pained the queen to look at them. Even yesterday, when Emma had been longing to be hung over a toilet bowl, she hadn't been acting like this.

Something clutched at the queen's heart, and it was a feeling so old and unfamiliar that she didn't even recognise it.

"This isn't about Hook," she said softly. Emma lifted her eyes to look at her.

"No," she said with a sigh. "Not really."

"I know I'll regret asking this," the queen groaned, leaning forwards against the edge of the table, "but have you even tried to contact her today?"

Emma paused, wondering if she should pretend that she didn't know who 'her' was. "No."

"Why not?"

"You know why not," Emma said. "She's super mad at me right now. And you did that on purpose, so you should know exactly what kind of mood she's in. If I text her, she won't even reply."

The queen paused. "What is 'text'?"

"The point is," Emma said, glossing over it, "I'm the last person she wants to speak to right now. The best thing I can do is wait for her to cool off."

"Do you honestly believe that?"

"Yes. Why?" Emma asked. "Shouldn't I?"

Even though the queen's stomach felt like a pit of snakes, she shrugged. "I have no idea. Maybe you should try reaching out, though. She is easy to anger, certainly, but she's also probably more forgiving than you might realise."

"Do you think so?"

The queen lifted her eyes, and Emma was shocked by how empty they seemed. "Well. What do I know? We aren't the same person anymore, after all."

And it hit Emma in a flash, what that must feel like – to have been carved away from her former self and suddenly disposed of like she never meant anything in the first place.

Emma thought back to her 16 years in the foster system, being picked up and dropped and left to fend for herself because no matter what, she wasn't worth the trouble in the long term. She remembered what it felt like to watch other people going on without her, and she felt something cold grip at her heart.

She wanted to reach out and touch the queen's hand, but she didn't. Instead she smiled. "No. But you're your own person now, and I want to know what you think."

The queen blinked at her. "You do?"

"Of course I do."

"I thought you were mad at me?"

"I am mad at you. But if you talk to me a bit, that might go away."

The smile that flickered over the queen's face was half hopeful and half scornful. Only one half was really convincing. "You think I care that much about your opinion of me?"

Emma shrugged. "No, of course not. You're a queen, and a queen cares about no one's opinion. I'm guessing."

The queen laughed at once. "Touché."

"So you do care?" Emma grinned.

"No," the queen protested. "Or, well. Maybe a little bit. But only because this town is incredibly boring when you aren't talking to me."

"This town is boring anyway," Emma said. "I'm still surprised you decided to come here if you really weren't planning on getting rid of Regina entirely. You could have had much more fun elsewhere. You should try California."

But the queen had gone strangely pale again, and when Emma noticed the new milky hue to her skin, she heard her own voice fade out.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," the queen quickly said, leaning back in her chair. "I was just listening to you."

"You look like I said something—"

"What is California?"

At once, Emma smiled. "It's a place on the other side of the country. You can go surfing there."

"What's that?"

"You stand on a board in the sea and ride the waves around."

The queen frowned. "You mean, like a boat?"

"Not exactly. It's not really meant for transport, it's more just for fun."

"Well, that sounds like a complete waste of time," she scoffed. "Have you ever done it?"

"No," Emma admitted. "Balance isn't exactly my strong suit."

"I see," the queen said, and then paused. "And what is your strong suit, Miss Swan?"

Emma frowned, considering the question. "I don't really know. I've never thought about it."

"Well. Think about it now. What's your best feature?"

Emma blinked. "I guess I'm… brave?"

The queen snorted with laughter, but Emma didn't take it as an insult. "That's the best you can come up with?"

"Well, excuse me for not preparing my answer for the last 30 years."

"Is that how long it takes you to answer a simple question?"

"No," Emma said, holding her gaze. She wasn't laughing. "Just how long it took me to get to know myself properly."

This sudden admission took the queen by surprise. "Oh. I see."

"How long did it take you?"

Emma watched as the queen's porcelain complexion turned slightly pink. "Longer than 30 years, I can assure you."

"Do you know yourself now?"

The queen didn't like personal questions. Or, more accurately, she'd had very little experience of dealing with them. No one wanted to get to know her — it had been a long, long time since anyone had tried.

She swallowed. "I'm not sure."

"It must be hard," Emma said, talking slowly so that she could gauge the queen's reaction. "Getting to grips with what Regina did."

"Thank you for stating the blindingly obvious," the queen replied at once, and all of a sudden there was a wall — one that Emma had thought she'd managed to chip through over the last two weeks — standing around her. Emma sighed.

"Why are you always so hostile towards me?" she asked quietly, tilting her head. The queen laughed.

"Are you telling me you weren't expecting hostility from the Evil Queen?" she asked. "It's in the name, Miss Swan."

"Yeah, okay," Emma rolled her eyes. "And that's all there is to you. You're wicked and malicious and incapable of feeling anything or being kind to anyone."

The queen was practiced at suppressing her emotions, and if she had been talking to anyone else then, they probably wouldn't have noticed the faintest flicker of hurt on her face. But Emma did. She raised her eyebrows.

"That's what I thought."

"What?" the queen snapped.

"You put on this performance all day long," Emma said, gesturing towards her glistening black dress and towering heels. "And you act like nothing phases you. But it does. You don't have to pretend around me."

The queen looked at her coldly. "I think you assume too much."

"Probably," Emma smiled. "But worse things have been said about me before."

"Then is it any wonder why I am hostile towards you?"

"Yes, it is," Emma said, leaning forwards against the table. "Because I know you do actually like me, and I know it's not just some act you put on whenever Regina is around."

The queen narrowed her eyes, taking in Emma's annoyingly perfect princess curls and the way that her lips constantly pointed downwards at the corners. They did so even when she was smiling – which she was right then. She was looking back across the table at the queen and smiling faintly. The sight of it made the queen's heart skip.

So, naturally, she laughed with derision. "And what makes you think that?"

"Because you're here," Emma said simply. "I'm by myself – no Regina – and you still showed up. You haven't done anything to annoy me yet, so I have to assume you have no agenda for once. You're just here because you wanted to see me."

When the queen didn't respond, Emma added, "But there's a barrier around you. There always is. You pretend to hate me, and you're kind of mean sometimes, because even if you are warming to me, you still don't want me to get too close."

"Well, what do you expect?" the queen snapped. "I'm evil, remember? Your whole family has been warning you about that since I arrived. I'm not exactly going to lay myself bare just because a pretty pair of green eyes asked me to."

"Except you kind of are," Emma said, and the queen's mouth snapped shut. "Which means you do like me, and you must know I like you too."

The queen's eyes narrowed. "You like me?"

"Sure I do. Why wouldn't I? You're fun to be around, and arguing with you gives me something to look forwards to. But again, this begs the question – if you like me, why do you keep being such a dick?"

She hadn't meant to make the queen laugh, but she somehow managed it.

"I do wish you'd stop calling me that," the queen said, but she was smiling.

"It's the only word that really fits the purpose," Emma grinned. "But okay, I'll stop."

"You will?" the queen asked.

"Yeah."

"…why?"

Emma frowned. "Because you asked me to."

Emma was taken aback by just how must this seemed to confuse the woman sat opposite her. The queen's eyebrows were drawn together and her eyes, which had once seemed so much darker than Regina's, were darting across Emma's face, trying to find exactly where the lie was hidden.

Eventually she released the tiniest breath of laughter. "No wonder Regina couldn't resist you."

Emma rolled her eyes. "I've told you, it's not like that. She doesn't like me that way."

"I didn't actually mean it like that," the queen said quietly.

"Then how did you?"

The queen sighed. "She trusts you, Emma. Even if she doesn't show it. And she cares about you. At first I thought she was a complete idiot to open herself up like that again, but now… I can almost see why she did it."

There was a pause before Emma could bring herself to speak.

"That was… a really nice thing for you to say."

"Yes. Well," the queen said, not looking up. Her legs were delicately crossed and her posture was rod-straight, but the unexpected vulnerability on her face jarred so strongly with the rest of the picture that Emma wanted to reach out and hold her. "I am capable of doing that sometimes."

She looked so desperately sad, and all of a sudden Emma understood: of course she was hostile and sharp-witted and cruel. That was all she had.

When you open yourself up to other people, all your quiet truths come pouring out, and the queen didn't even have Regina's happy memories to pair hers with. She just had the worst moments – the doubt, and the hurt, and the loneliness. She just had the Evil Queen, and the Evil Queen had been dark for a reason.

Regina had wanted to be free of her, but god, even Emma knew she hadn't meant to do this – to inflict all of her pain onto one body and let it wander around alone.

Emma swallowed. "What Regina did… I don't think it was right."

The queen turned her coldest eyes on her. "I don't need your pity, Miss Swan."

"I'm sure you don't," Emma said. "So it's a good thing this isn't pity. This is… empathy."

"That's even worse."

"How is that worse?"

"I don't know, but it isn't better," the queen sniffed. "You can't empathise with me, anyway. You haven't been in this situation."

"No," Emma admitted. "But… maybe I've been somewhere close."

The queen looked up at her then, ready to scoff and shut down Emma's ridiculous claims with a wave of her hand. But something made her pause.

"Because of the curse?"

"Mostly," Emma shrugged. "I didn't have a great life either. Nowhere near as bad as yours, I'm sure, but bad enough to turn me into a bit of a basket case."

The queen frowned. "Don't you blame Regina for that? Or me?"

"No. Not anymore."

"Why not?"

"I don't know," Emma shrugged. "I know she – you – were going through some stuff that I couldn't possibly understand, and I know neither of you would do something like that to me now. Besides, I got bored of being angry with everyone. Sometimes it's just easier to forgive people and move on."

"She doesn't deserve your forgiveness," the queen said, surprising Emma with the iciness in her voice. "Or you, for that matter."

"What makes you say that?"

The queen paused, suddenly unable to think of a coherent reason. So instead she just ground out what she felt deep in her cold heart.

"I hate her."

"Do you though?" Emma asked. "Or are you just angry with her?"

"Those are hardly different things, Miss Swan."

"Of course they are," Emma protested. "You were the same person for years and then she threw you aside like you didn't even matter. Of course you're angry at her, and upset with her. You must feel betrayed by her. But I don't think you hate her, just like I don't think she hates you."

"If she doesn't, she has a funny way of showing it."

Emma smiled. "Regina has a funny way of showing a lot of things. But I can read her – she hasn't come after you, not really, because she can't do that to you. To herself. She cut you out because she thought she was doing the right thing, but I don't think she still believes that. She feels… lost."

The queen blinked, momentarily curious. Then she shook her head.

"You think you know her better than you actually do."

"Not possible," Emma said. "I know her better than I know anyone."

"Including me?" the queen asked with a mischievous smile. But Emma didn't laugh.

"No – I know you exactly the same. You're still the same person to me."

"Well, then you're even stupider than I thought. She's made it pretty evident that we are two very different people now."

"Maybe physically," Emma said, not backing down. "But you're just a side to her, and it's a side I knew very well. I liked it. It's a side I miss."

"You liked her when she was like this?" the queen demanded. "When she was bitter and cruel to you?"

"I could have done without it sometimes. But yeah, I liked her. And I still do. She's just… different now."

The softness in her voice made the queen's blackened heart thud.

"You really do care about her."

For once, she wasn't taunting Emma with that statement. She simply sounded amazed.

"I do," Emma said simply. "I always have."

"Even now, when she's snapping at you and chastising you and—?"

"Yes," Emma interrupted, her arms folded over her chest. "No matter what she's like, the answer is yes. She's my family, and I lo—"

She stopped herself just in time. She took a breath and finished her sentence with a slightly weaker sentiment.

"And I care about her very much."

The queen blinked. "But… why?"

"I don't know," Emma said. "I can't give you a reason. I just know that she's important to me and I would do anything to keep her safe. I've always felt this way, and just because she's a bit irritable now that you've shown up and she keeps calling me an idiot, that doesn't change anything. As much as I like you, I still like her. I always will."

The queen was torn momentarily between being hurt and being flattered. But before she could dwell too much on either emotion, Emma interrupted her thoughts.

"Tell me why you're here."

The queen blinked, looking around her. "I thought we'd already covered that. To talk to you."

"I don't mean here in my kitchen," Emma said. "I mean in this town. I know you're trying to make Regina miserable, I get that, but before you met me and decided that making her jealous would be a super fun thing to do, pissing off Regina didn't even seem to occur to you. So why were you here then? What made you come to Storybrooke?"

There it was again – that trapped, tight-lipped expression that made the queen look so much like Regina instead. She swallowed.

"I don't really know why you care so much," she said, trying to smile. "Can't you enjoy the fact that I'm here now?"

Emma smirked. "Sure I can. But I still need to know. If my family is in danger then I'd like to be able to protect them."

Part of her wanted the queen to smile wickedly, to be so proud of herself for having an evil scheme that even the saviour couldn't figure out. It would have made her life so much easier if she had.

But the queen just swallowed, her eyes flicking towards the door. It was strange how quickly she could shrink when she felt cornered.

Emma knew the answer, but she asked the question again anyway.

"Tell me why you came here," she said. Her voice was soft, and the queen felt herself go weak at the sound of it.

She wetted her dark red lips.

"I'm…" she started, then cleared her throat. "I don't actually…"

But before she could really begin her sentence, it was ended by a knock at the front door. Emma could have screamed, until she realised whose knock that was.

She spun around in her chair, facing the direction of the hall. The kitchen door was closed, but part of her expected Regina to come storming through it without waiting.

When she turned back around, the queen was looking at her.

"Your friend is here," she said, and Emma winced. After yesterday, she wasn't sure she had enough energy for another fight between them.

"Yeah," she said slowly. She sighed. "Are you going to be civil?"

For a moment, the queen just looked at her. The sight of her empty eyes sucked the air clean out of Emma's body.

"No," the queen responded, finally looking away. "I'm going to go."

Emma blinked. "What?"

From the other side of the house, that knock came again. "Emma?"

Even now, the sound of Regina's voice made Emma's fingers spark. But she forced herself to ignore her, just for now, looking back at the queen who was staring down into her lap like her whole world was being taken away from her.

"You don't have to go," Emma said. "You two can talk. It might be okay."

The queen smiled weakly. "I highly doubt that. Besides, you two are the ones who need to talk and… you're right. It's my fault there's a wedge driven between you. I shouldn't make it any worse."

Emma's heart thudded painfully in her chest. "You can't—"

"Emma?" Regina's voice got louder as she pushed open the front door, cautiously making her way into the house that she didn't really know yet.

"It's fine, dear," the queen said, her voice cold and unyielding. "I'm sure we'll see each other soon."

"Of course we will," Emma said, jumping any time she heard a footstep approaching the closed kitchen door. "But—"

"Soon," the queen said, and there was a flash of a smile on her deep red lips that made Emma's whole body go weak. But then the footsteps in the hall reached the door behind her and, with a swirl of purple smoke, the queen was gone.

Emma stayed exactly where she was, half-twisted in her chair and facing the empty space where the queen had just been sat. Her mouth had gone dry.

The door swung open, and she wasn't sure whether she should be happy or disappointed.

"Emma?" Regina said, blinking when she found herself faced with the back of her blonde head. Emma was staring at seemingly nothing, her left hand half reaching out for something that wasn't in front of her.

Emma seemed to shake herself before she turned around. "Regina. Hey."

"Didn't you hear me calling you?" Regina asked, taking a step into the room. She didn't like this house very much – not because it wasn't attractive or clean or any of those things, but because it was so bland. It didn't suit Emma, and it was obvious Emma thought so too.

"Yeah," Emma said vaguely, turning back to the empty space on the other side of the table. She paused, wondering if maybe the queen was still there after all, listening. But the sad smile on the queen's face as she had disappeared had told Emma that she wouldn't do that. Against all odds, she was actually trying to make amends. "Sorry. I was…"

Her sentence trailed off into nothing and Regina felt herself pausing awkwardly in the centre of the room.

"Miles away?" she finished for her, and to her relief Emma turned back to look at her, smiling faintly.

"Yeah," she said with a sigh. "Exactly."

Regina slowly approached the table and for a moment Emma's heart stopped – if Regina sat down where the queen had just been, the chair would still be warm, and she would know that someone else had been here.

But instead, after a pause, Regina dropped her purse on the chair, then moved over to the counter on the other side of the room. She leaned back against it, leaving the table and three metres of space between them.

"I wanted to apologise."

Emma blinked, frowning across the room at her. "What?"

Regina took a deep breath. "For yesterday. And for… everything. I've been too hard on you recently."

"You… have?"

For a moment Regina's eyes flashed with impatience. "Yes. I've been stressed out about the queen and about how to get rid of her and… I don't know. I shouldn't keep overreacting. I'm as bad as Hook."

Emma smiled. "Not quite. He hasn't come to apologise. Not that he has to, but… He wouldn't take the high road like this."

"No," Regina agreed, looking down. "He certainly wouldn't."

"I'm sorry too," Emma said. "I don't mean to keep making things worse, I just…"

"You have an inherent aptitude for it," Regina said, smirking. Emma glared at her.

"That's not exactly what I was going to say. But yeah – messing things up does sort of come naturally to me. I'm sorry for getting you more stressed out when I should have been helping you."

To her surprise, Regina groaned. "There's nothing you can do to help me, Emma. I honestly have no idea what I'm looking for and even if I did, I probably wouldn't be able to pull it off. We're going to be stuck with her forever at this rate."

"Not that I think that would be such a bad thing," Emma said, ignoring Regina's stare of derision, "but I'm sure that's not true. If there's one thing I know about you it's that you shouldn't be underestimated. You can do anything."

The sudden vouch of confidence came as a shock to Regina, and she narrowed her eyes. "Do you actually think so?"

"Of course I do. You're Regina I'll-kick-your-ass-if-you-so-much-as-look-at-my-family Mills. I spent way too long underestimating you and it never worked out very well for me."

Regina smirked. "Are you referring to the time when I punched you in the face?"

With a snort of laughter, Emma said, "That, plus a billion other times when you made me look like a complete idiot. I have to remind you, though, that on that occasion, I did punch you back."

"I remember it vividly," Regina said. "My face was hurting for weeks."

"Really?" Emma raised her eyebrows. "You didn't even bruise. I was incredibly pissed off about it at the time."

"Make-up is a wonderful thing, Emma," Regina smiled. "I was never going to give you the satisfaction of knowing that you have a very intimidating right hook."

The smugness that radiated from Emma's face then told her that she'd been right to do so.

Regina took a step forwards and removed her purse from the chair opposite Emma, sitting down in it with a sigh. "That feels like such a long time ago."

"It does," Emma said. "I'm glad things have changed since then."

"You mean, between us?"

"Of course," Emma said. Regina's hands were folded on the table in front of her and Emma couldn't help but stare at them as she spoke. "Not just because fighting with you every day got a little bit stressful at times, but because it's really good knowing you have my back now. Assuming you still do, of course."

Regina smiled. "I do. Just like you have mine."

"Always," Emma said without hesitation, and Regina felt her cheeks turn pink.

There was a pause, and then Regina said, "There was another reason why I came here."

"Oh?"

"I came here to tell you that I spoke to your parents, and we've decided to have a meeting tomorrow."

Emma narrowed her eyes. "Is that code for 'intervention'?"

Regina laughed, and the sound made Emma's palms tingle. "No, Emma. An actual meeting about… About the queen. And what we're going to do about her."

She had been expecting Emma to sigh at that, or at least try and convince Regina that she was overreacting. But instead Emma fell silent, her lips pressed tightly together.

Regina blinked. "What?"

"I'm just not sure I should be a part of that."

"Why not?" Regina asked. "You're the only person who's really spoken to her. You can help."

"I know I can," Emma said. "And I want to. I do, really. I just can't help feeling like I'd be… betraying her a bit."

She waited for Regina to explode with her usual rage, but when Emma looked up, the mayor was looking at her with confusion. "Betraying her?"

"Yeah," Emma cringed at how much her voice stammered on that single word. She took a deep breath. "I… I want to help you out, and I want things to be easier for you. But I also don't want to hurt her."

Regina narrowed her eyes. "Because the saviour gene has finally kicked in?"

Emma glared back at her. "No. Because she hasn't actually done anything wrong, and because I like her. This just feels like we're ganging up on her a bit."

"Well, of course we are," Regina protested. "She's—"

"She didn't ask to be made a separate person," Emma said as gently as she could. "She didn't fight her way out. You got rid of her, and because you can't kill her, she just followed you back here. She didn't ask for any of this."

Regina fell silent.

"I want to help you," Emma said. "But I can't hurt her. Please don't ask me to do that."

She was expecting Regina to snap at her then, or call her an idiot like she usually did. But, to Emma's surprise, she sighed.

"I wouldn't ask you to."

"You wouldn't?"

"No," Regina said softly. "I don't especially want that either. I just want things to go back to how they were and I... I don't know how to do that without you."

Emma's entire body went warm then. "Without me?"

"Your help," Regina suddenly clarified, her cheeks flushing. "Without your help."

But that was enough, and Emma could feel her face breaking into a contented smile. "Okay. Right."

Wetting her lips, Regina pressed, "So? Will you come to the meeting tomorrow?"

And because Emma couldn't refuse Regina anything, she nodded. "Sure. At yours?"

"Yes," Regina said. "Around 12. I… I will invite Hook too."

She saw Emma wince as soon as she heard his name, but she pretended not to notice.

"Okay."

Regina nodded, knowing that this was probably her cue to leave, but for some reason she couldn't bring herself to get up.

"Thank you, Regina."

She jumped at the sudden words from Emma's mouth. "For what?"

Emma was looking down at the table, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. "For coming here today. I was really worried that I'd pissed you off for good and… I'm grateful you came by."

"You didn't try to contact me," Regina heard herself say, mentally kicking herself as soon as she did so. Emma shrugged.

"I didn't think you'd want to hear from me."

"Emma, come on," Regina sighed. "I was mad, but I'm always mad about something. Surely you should know by now that it doesn't last forever. I thought our friendship meant more than that."

Emma's heard clunked in her chest. That was exactly what the queen had said to her.

She is easy to anger, certainly, but she's also probably more forgiving than you might realise.

She felt herself go hot as the realisation washed over her like sweet, sticky water.

They cared about her. Both of them did.

"Of course it does," Emma said softly, and Regina's head shot up at her tone. "I'm sorry. Really. I'm still kind of used to being alone – I haven't got my head around the fact that people actually want to spend time with me."

Regina smiled at her. "Understandable. Our relationship hasn't exactly been the most straightforward one, after all."

"True," Emma laughed. "I still half expect you to try and get rid of me like you did with the queen."

She meant it as a joke, but she still held her breath as she waited for Regina's reaction. She breathed a sigh of relief when Regina laughed back.

"Maybe I'd have more success cutting you off," she smirked.

"I doubt it," Emma said. "I'm wily as hell. Besides, you'd miss me."

"I would not."

"You absolutely would," Emma insisted.

"Miss Swan, I would miss you like a hole in the head," Regina said coolly. "But you are probably right – there's no spell in the world powerful enough to get you out of my sight."

"Even if there was, you'd spend the rest of your life trying to find the antidote," Emma said. "You would go nuts without me, Regina. Admit it."

But Regina was looking at her curiously, her face suddenly dark. Emma blinked.

"What?"

"What did you just say?" Regina asked, leaning forwards.

"I was joking," Emma stammered, trying to read the expression on Regina's face. It looked strangely like realisation – but she knew it wasn't about the thing she wanted it to be.

Regina shook her head. "Did you say I'd look for an antidote?"

Emma swallowed. "Yeah…"

Regina suddenly sat back in her chair, her face pale. "God. You're right."

"I'm… what?" Emma asked, shaking her head. "Regina, you've lost me. What's happening here?"

"I have to go," Regina said, suddenly standing up and leaving Emma flailing in her chair like a beached whale.

"What?" Emma asked, standing up and following her out of the room. "Did I do something?"

"No, no," Regina said, not looking round. "Not at all. You just reminded me of something."

"Okay..." Emma said uncertainly, watching as she tugged open the front door. She swallowed. "But we're alright?"

Finally, Regina paused. She turned on the threshold and, seeing the confusion and the worry on Emma's face, she smiled softly.

"Of course we are," she said, taking a step back towards her. "We're absolutely fine."

There was a long pause, and then she added, "I really do have to go. But I'll see you tomorrow?"

Emma nodded at once. "Sure. At 12."

"Yes. Perfect."

Emma waited for Regina to leave, but she paused once more. Then, before either one of them knew what was happening, Regina took three sharp steps forwards and wrapped her arms tightly around Emma, hugging her close.

Emma blinked, her whole body going tense. Before she could even think about lifting her arms to hug her back, Regina had pulled away once more.

"Tomorrow," Regina repeated, quickly turning and heading out the door. This time, she didn't look back.

Emma watched her go. Her dark hair was glossy and bouncing on her shoulders, and the damn black dress she was wearing was so tightly fitted that Emma had no idea how she managed to walk in it. Regina reached her car, all but threw herself into the front seat, and drove away without clipping in her seat belt.

Emma knew she was supposed to shut the door then, but something had her stuck.

She could smell Regina's perfume hanging about her and she didn't want to move in case she disturbed it. The phantom feeling of Regina's touch was still hanging around her shoulders, and she was certain she could still feel her hands pressing firmly against her back.

Emma's toes curled in her shoes, and she still didn't move to close the door. Instead she stared out at the empty street, the air golden and sparkling with her new favourite smell, and she waited for her heartbeat to slow down.

It was the second time that day someone had left her. It was also the second time she wished she'd gone after them.

Chapter Text

Even though it was her living room, Regina found herself without a seat. Instead she was standing awkwardly between the fireplace and the coffee table while Charming, Snow and Henry took up the large sofa. Across from them, Emma and Hook were crammed together on the loveseat. It was the first time all six of them had come together since the queen had arrived in town, and the air felt slightly uneasy.

"Emma?"

Emma glanced up at the mention of her name. Charming had asked her a question, and the whole room was looking expectantly at her. She bit her lip.

"Sorry," she said. "What did you say?"

Charming and Snow exchanged a look before he repeated the question.

"Has the queen told you anything that might be useful?"

Emma had been quiet ever since she'd arrived, preoccupied by something that wasn't sadness but was pulling her features downwards as if it were. It was obvious she hadn't slept, and now Regina couldn't force her gaze away from the dark circles under her eyes. She too was distracted from their meeting, because all she could think about was what could have possibly kept Emma up all night worrying.

Even now, Emma just shook her head in response to her father's question. One of her hands was tangled in her silver circle necklace, and her gaze had fallen to the floor once more.

Charming frowned at her lacklustre response.

"You're sure?" he encouraged her. Regina dug her fingernails into her palms as she stared across the room at Emma, willing her to look up.

But before Emma could do so, or even try and answer the question in a more satisfactory manner, Hook scoffed. "I'm sure she's told her plenty, mate. But none of it is useful to us."

Snow glanced between her daughter and Hook. She waited for Emma to snap back at him, but she stayed uncharacteristically silent. It was hard to tell if she'd heard him in the first place.

Emma had been ignoring every one of his scathing remarks – and there had been plenty of them since he had arrived – but for every other person in the room, the thickening atmosphere was starting to become unbearable.

Regina cleared her throat and moved towards the large sofa, perching herself on the armrest next to Henry.

"I don't think the Evil Queen is likely to spill her darkest secrets to anyone," she said as lightly as she could, squeezing her son's shoulder. "Not even Emma."

"No matter how taken they are with each other," Hook muttered. Regina glared across the room at him, but he didn't register it. His sharp blue eyes were on Emma, and like everyone else, he was willing her to react in some way. When he still didn't get a response, Regina saw the fingers of his good hand curl into a fist.

"There has to be something we're overlooking," Snow said, leaning over the arm of the sofa to check on Neal in his stroller. "It's been a couple of weeks and she still hasn't done anything. It's like she didn't come here with any purpose at all, but rather she just… ended up here. If she had a plan, surely she would have struck by now."

Regina glanced back over at Emma. Her gaze was still resting on the foot of the coffee table, and the thin silver chain around her neck was wrapped more tightly than ever around one finger. Regina could tell from the glazed look in her eyes that she was barely listening to what was going around her, and that worried her – because that could only mean she was thinking about something more important. Something that she wasn't willing to tell any of them.

"She must have come here with a purpose," Regina said slowly, never taking her eyes off of Emma. "But… other than to be a general pain in my ass – sorry, Henry – I really can't tell what it might be."

"You'd think you of all people would be able to work it out," Hook muttered. "Don't you share a brain with her?"

Regina threw him a contemptuous look. "We did once, yes. But as you can see by the fact that we are now two separate people, that is no longer the case. I take it they didn't teach you basic anatomy in pirate school?"

She thought she saw a glimmer of a smile on Emma's lips out of the corner of her eye, but by the time she had snapped her eyes back onto the sheriff's face, it was gone.

"Oh, I do apologise, your majesty," Hook replied, and his voice was rapidly spiralling into a shout. "I didn't realise that I was expected to be the expert on Evil Queens and their stunt doubles now."

Regina saw Henry flinch. She replied, "Cut the attitude, Hook. You're not helping."

"Oh, like you are, you mean?" Hook bit out. "Whatever would we do without you, Regina? Look how much you've achieved so far. If only I could match up."

"Don't yell at her," Emma suddenly said. Her voice was soft, but it cut over the top of Hook's like a shard of glass shattering on the floor.

He turned to look at her, his eyes narrowed.

"Oh, of course," he said quietly. "You defend her."

Emma's eyes slowly crawled over to look back at him, but she didn't say anything else. She looked tired.

"Anyway," Charming said cautiously, glancing at his wife. "I feel like we can't just sit around waiting for her to do something. We need to come up with a line of defence in case she eventually does strike. Regina, have you found anything in your books yet?"

Regina swallowed. "I… no. Not yet."

"Nothing at all?"

"…no. Nothing of value."

At once, she felt Emma's eyes snap up to look at her. Her stare was heavy and unexpected, and Regina had to force herself not to look back at her.

With you, Regina, I can always tell when you're lying.

She shook the voice from her head and continued to stare levelly at Charming. He nodded.

"Okay. Will you keep checking?"

"Of course. I will go to Gold's shop at some point and see if he has anything else that could help."

"Great. Hook, maybe you could check the library?"

The pirate sighed. "Fine."

"But really," Charming continued, looking at Regina. "I think our best chance still lies with you, and with Emma. You're the only two who have managed to get close to her."

"Too close, in some cases," Hook immediately interjected, slouching back against the couch. Everyone in the room groaned, except for Emma, who closed her eyes.

"Lay off her, Hook," Charming said in a low voice. Hook glared back at him, then looked over at Regina, who was staring him down like she was trying to set him on fire with her eyes.

"Why is everyone acting like I'm the villain?" he demanded. Neal stirred, letting out a small cry. "I'm not the one letting this bloody woman seduce her."

"Hook," Regina warned, raising her eyebrows. Emma still wasn't looking at him, but her cheeks had gone pink.

"Oh, and you're no better," Hook scoffed. "You were there, letting it happen. You don't seem to be trying to stop the queen at all – maybe you're in this with her, helping her destroy us from the inside."

"Hook…"

"It wouldn't be the first time you'd double-crossed us all, would it, your majesty?"

"Stop it."

Emma's voice startled them all. She was finally looking at her boyfriend, her fists clenched in her lap.

"Stop what?"

"Stop attacking her," Emma snapped. "Stop trying to hurt her. I'm sorry that you walked in when I was talking to the queen but nothing happened and you need to stop acting so butthurt about it. I can't deal with everything else that's going on right now while also trying to pacify my man-baby boyfriend. Give me a break, Killian."

The room went deathly quiet. For a single second Regina felt the urge to start laughing, but she could see the storm that was crossing Hook's face. He was staring at Emma like he'd never met her before.

Very slowly, he stood up.

"I see you with her," he said, his voice flat. "It's not normal, and I don't trust her."

"You mean you don't trust me," Emma said.

"I don't think I do anymore, no," Hook replied. "I have to work so hard to be able to see you – you never want to spend time with me, and yet you seem to hang out with the evil bloody twins every single day. Why do they mean more to you than I do?"

Emma couldn't help but glance at Regina. She couldn't think of a reply.

Hook said, "You have to choose."

Emma couldn't help but snort at this. "Killian, for god's sake. I'm here right now because I promised you all I'd help get rid of the queen. Clearly there's nothing to worry about."

"Maybe that's true, but she's not the only person coming between us, is she?"

"What?" Emma blinked. She hadn't been expecting this, and yet somehow she knew exactly what was coming next. "What are you talking about?"

Hook gestured towards Regina. It was a vicious stabbing movement, and Regina recoiled from it.

"Her," he said, and the tone of his voice made Emma's blood boil. "You have to choose between me and her."

"Her name is Regina," Emma snapped, "and you're acting insane."

"Choose."

Regina couldn't have spoken even if she'd wanted to. Every person in the room had their eyes on Emma, who was blinking up at Hook like he was speaking a foreign language. Her necklace was back in her hand.

"Killian," she said slowly, and Regina's heart thudded, waiting for the terrible blow that was certainly going to come next. "I'm not going to stop speaking to Regina – the mother of my son – just because you're throwing a tantrum. I'm not even going to consider it."

It was then that Regina's heart stopped beating altogether. She wanted to stop staring at Emma, but god, she couldn't have dragged her eyes away from the fierceness on her face if her life had depended on it.

"Fine," Hook said, his voice dangerously low. "Fine. I always knew you were a waste of my time, Swan."

He turned away from her and headed for the door, shooting Regina a look so hideous that her skin went cold as he passed by.

The front door slammed shut and Neal shrieked once more. His distressed cries were the only sound in the room for quite some time.

"Emma," Snow asked as she scooped the baby up, holding him against her. "Are you okay?"

Emma had a frown on her face. She was looking at the coffee table again.

"Did he just… break up with me?"

No one knew how to respond to that. Regina waited for Emma to realise whose fault this really was and held her breath, expecting the abuse to come her way any second now. But Emma just looked confused, like she couldn't remember how she'd gotten there in the first place. She didn't glance at the door that Hook had just walked out of. She didn't follow him.

As she settled back on the couch, her necklace still tangled around one finger, her family slowly went back to discussing their plan for the queen. Henry vacated his seat on the other couch and moved across the room, sitting down next to Emma and gently squeezing her spare hand. But she didn't seem to notice – she just sat, and thought. And all the while Regina couldn't take her eyes off of her.


Eventually Snow and Charming decided they should probably leave. Regina walked them to the front door as Henry scurried back up the stairs. They didn't exchange any words, but Snow reached out for Regina's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze as she left.

When Regina had closed the front door, watching as the green force field pulsed over the wood and sealed her safely inside, she took a deep breath and returned to the living room.

Emma hadn't moved from her spot in the corner of the couch. She didn't look sad, and she didn't look angry, but she was still staring intently at the coffee table as though any minute now it was going to spill the secrets of the universe to her. Regina stood a metre away from her, blinking. She wasn't entirely sure Emma knew that the others had left.

Regina hesitated, then sat down on the couch. Emma didn't react to the cushions dipping down next to her, and after a few moments Regina wondered if she should get up and leave again. But then Emma spoke.

"Did he break up with me because of you?"

She sounded confused. Regina sighed.

"I suppose he did, yes."

Again, she waited for Emma's anger. It wouldn't be long before it dawned on her that it was because of Regina that her precious Captain Hook had walked out the door – even if for once she hadn't done it on purpose – and so surely, when that realisation came, her hysterical shouting wouldn't be far behind.

But Emma just laughed. It was a small, sad laugh, but it shocked Regina.

"What an asshole."

Regina blinked. "You're… okay?"

Finally Emma looked up from the point on the coffee table that had been holding her attention all afternoon. "Well – I guess. I can't exactly say I've absorbed it yet, but… come on, Regina, what a stupid thing to dump someone over. He was being a baby."

Regina narrowed her eyes. "But… you love him."

She saw the shadow that crossed Emma's face, then disappeared again in a heartbeat. "Yeah. Maybe."

Relief flooded through Regina's extremities like warm soup. Instead of questioning Emma on this, she simply offered her a reassuring smile, settling back on the sofa with her chest feeling inexplicably looser.

"You'll be fine," she said, wanting to reach out and touch Emma's arm. "Hook is… not worthy."

"Of what?"

Regina laughed. "A lot of things. But mostly of you."

A soft smile spread over Emma's face. "I'm not sure that's true."

"I have no reason to lie to you," Regina said, ignoring the faint clunk from her heart. "There's nothing in this for me."

"True," Emma sighed. "I just… I feel like I should care more?"

"About him leaving?"

"Mm."

Regina paused, weighing up the situation, before she said, "Tell me if I'm out of line – but you don't exactly seem surprised. Did you have some time to get used to the idea?"

She was startled when Emma smiled at her. "Sometimes I forget how well you know me."

"How so?"

"Well, no one else would have noticed that," Emma said. "No, I wasn't surprised. I knew it was coming. I just… wasn't expecting him to pin the blame on you."

Regina felt a painful beat in her heart. "No?"

"No. I mean, he had the queen excuse to latch onto – I'm just surprised he didn't take it with both hands."

There was a pause as she realised what she'd just said.

"Well," she corrected herself, watching as a wicked grin spread across Regina's face. "So to speak."

For a moment, Emma and Regina shared a smile. Something warm passed between them, like a secret only they knew. And then Emma paused, curiosity finally getting the better of her, and she opened her stupid mouth and spoiled it.

"It's weird though, right?" she said slowly, trying to gauge Regina's reaction. "That he even thought to make me choose between him and you?"

Regina blinked, forcing her face to remain impassive. "Because he didn't use the queen instead?"

"No," Emma said. "I just... I wonder what he saw between us that he thought was a threat to him in the first place."

And then she held her breath. Some sweet, naive part of her wanted Regina to reach out with both hands and pull her close, showing her that Hook had been right all along to sense a spark that shouldn't have been there. But instead Regina just paused, her eyes glancing down at Emma's lips for the smallest of seconds, before she spoke.

"Do you remember what the queen said while we were in Granny's?" Regina asked. Emma scrunched up her nose, reliving every single shot of tequila in one nauseating flash.

"I can't say I do."

"She said that Hook being a 'good guy' and nothing more isn't good enough for someone like you," Regina said, her chest tightening. "And as much as I wanted to hit her for it at the time, she is right. Hook is undeserving. He hasn't even tried to get past this – he just gave up on you."

Emma smiled sadly. "People seem to do that a lot when I'm involved."

"Not everyone," Regina said, her voice firm. "Anyone who was really worthy of you would have fought for their relationship with you, no matter who had showed up in town. And I… Plenty of people would have fought for you."

Emma was smiling softly at her. "Thank you, Regina."

"You're welcome," Regina said, glancing down at her lap. "I just don't want this to dishearten you. Don't suddenly think you're worthless just because you no longer have a man on your arm."

"I never said I stopped thinking I was worthless," Emma joked, but Regina didn't smile.

"I mean it," she said quietly. "You're better than him. You're better than most people."

Emma felt her stomach muscles suddenly tighten. Regina's voice had dropped and, with her wonderful, sweet words flowing silkily out of her, Emma suddenly felt more comfortable than she had done in months.

"Am I better than you?" she heard herself ask, and they both heard the tremor in her voice. Regina wetted her lips.

"Of course not," she said. She was joking, but for some reason she couldn't force her voice to go louder than a murmur. "No one is better than me."

Emma grinned. "That is true."

"Not even your new best friend," Regina said without thinking. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to slap herself.

"Regina," Emma sighed. "Come on."

"I'm just saying," Regina muttered, hating herself for how bitter she sounded. "It's surprising how close you two have gotten."

"Because she's only talking to me to get nearer to you, right?" Emma said flatly.

"No," Regina said. "Because I don't know why you'd want to get close to someone who resembles me."

Emma didn't know how to respond to that, and so she let her gaze drop down into her lap once more.

After a few moments of silence, Regina cleared her throat.

"You understand why I want you to stay away from her, right?"

Emma swallowed. "Yeah."

"You do?"

"Of course," Emma said. "If I were you guys, I'd be screaming at me too. I know I look like an idiot."

Regina had been expecting some sort of defence to follow, and she waited with narrowed eyes and her fingers twisting around the hem of her shirt. But Emma's sentence had apparently finished, and she frowned.

"But…?"

Emma sighed again. "But… I don't know, Regina. You were there the other day, and you saw me telling her to leave me alone. Right?"

"Right…"

"It's not as easy as just telling her to go, and she walks out the door. The only person I know who's more stubborn than her is you, and that's because you were the same person up until two weeks ago. She's just you to me, except… I don't know. Different. And when I tell her to go away, she can tell I don't mean it, just like you would know I don't mean it if I said that to you."

"But she isn't me," Regina said gently. "She was the worst part of me, and a part that I wanted to get rid of for good reason."

"It was a good reason," Emma agreed, "but not necessarily the right reason. I have a dark side too, and true, it's never murdered an entire village, but it still did some pretty gruesome stuff while I was the Dark One."

"Emma, you were the tamest Dark One the world has ever seen," Regina said. "Turning one dwarf into stone does not a super villain make."

"The point is," Emma ignored her entirely, "whether that part of me is hiding inside or running around town with a machete, she's still me. And the queen is still you. She's a bit ruder, and she wears way more make up, but she's still Regina. Pushing her away is… it's kind of…"

Regina saw the realisation cross Emma's face when it dawned on her what she was saying and who she was saying it to. But Regina was curious, and she wasn't sure there was anything left that Emma could say that would offend her anymore. So she nodded.

"Go on."

Emma wetted her lips. "It's a bit cruel. She's alone now, Regina. She can't see Henry – she doesn't even remember him – and she has no friends, and she… she probably thought that you, at least, still believed in her. You were trying to supress her, sure, but you still needed her passion sometimes, and you made a good team. Then one day she was dragged out of you and turned into dust, and she's got nothing left now. Of course she's mad – but that doesn't mean she's a worse person because of it."

Regina narrowed her eyes. "Are you saying you feel sorry for her?"

There was a pause, and then Emma straightened her shoulders.

"Yeah," Emma said. "I know it doesn't make much sense, but yes. I am."

"You think I shouldn't have separated us?" Regina asked. She tried to keep her voice level, but Emma heard the twinge of uncertainty.

"I'm not saying that," she said as slowly as she could. "I understand why you did it. I probably would have done it too. I just think that maybe now the dust has settled, things aren't quite as clear-cut as you and my parents think they are."

She looked worriedly at Regina, waiting for her to hit back with a biting remark about how she didn't care what Emma would do or what she thought. But Regina was just watching her silently, her cheeks slightly flushed. It was a lacklustre response, and one that Regina would never have given before the queen had left her. It made Emma's heart hurt to realise it.

"I'm not trying to upset you," Emma said quietly. "I just want you to understand that I'm not deliberately ignoring your wishes whenever you tell me to leave her alone."

"No, I understand that," Regina sighed. "I can't say I agree, but…"

She looked lost, and it took every ounce of self-restraint Emma possessed to not throw her arms around her and hold her close.

"Can I be honest with you?" Regina suddenly asked. Emma felt herself jump.

"Sure."

"I'm worried about you."

"Regina, you've already made that perfectly clear—"

"No. I'm not worried about what the queen is planning, or what she might do to you. You're right – you can probably take care of yourself. And even if you can't, I trust that you would feel like you could ask me for help."

"Of course I would," Emma said, edging slightly closer to her. "So, what do you mean?"

The words tasted bitter as Regina rolled them around her mouth. "I'm worried about… us."

"You and me, us?"

"How many other us's are there?" Regina snapped before she had a chance to catch herself. She took a deep breath before she continued, "Yes. You and me, us."

"But why?"

Nerves were beginning to rise up in Regina's stomach like a trapped bird. She looked away from Emma.

"We have a strange relationship," she said slowly. "But whatever you want to call… this, it was working for us. We both love Henry and we are mostly capable of having a conversation without wanting to strangle one other. But since the queen came along, it's been different. I have less patience with you, and you… I feel like you have less time for me."

Emma couldn't help the soft smile that spread across her face.

"I'm not getting tired of you, Regina."

"I know you're not. And I know you probably don't want to hang out with me because I've been completely horrible to you for the last two weeks. But if she stays, and if you get closer to her – well, that's all just going to get worse. I can't help myself. I'm never going to be able to be civil to her, and if you keep hanging out with her then maybe I won't be able to be civil to you either."

Emma could hear the worry throbbing in Regina's throat, and it very nearly brought tears to her eyes.

"Regina," she said quietly, forcing Regina to look at her once again. "She isn't replacing you, if that's what you're worried about."

At once Regina's cheeks flushed, and she looked back down at her lap.

"I'm not some insecure schoolgirl who gets jealous any time someone else makes a new friend," she muttered, although her tone suggested that was exactly what she was. "There's just a line. I can't act normal around her, and the way she talks to you, it…"

Emma waited for her to finish. For some reason, she desperately needed to know how that sentenced ended.

Regina sighed. "It just makes me a bit crazy, and if she stays here, and if you get friendlier with her, I'll only get crazier. And Henry likes having two moms who can be in the same room as one another."

It was so typical of Regina to make it seem like this was all for Henry's benefit. Emma forced herself not to smile.

"Henry is still my priority," Emma said. "And so is the rest of my family. I'm not going to do anything that puts any of you in danger."

And though Regina tried to hide it, Emma saw the watery smile that flashed across her face at the word 'you'.

"But Emma – by carrying on with her, you already have. She's closer to you than she should be."

"Regina," Emma said as gently as she could. "What has she done that's evil? Or put any of our lives in danger?"

"You mean apart from killing an entire—"

"Not back then," Emma said. "Now. Here."

There was a long, weighty pause, and she watched as Regina's jaw hardened momentarily. Admitting that Emma was right was still something that didn't come easily to her.

Eventually she forced out, "Nothing. Yet."

"You've changed," Emma said. "It's been a long process for you, but you've changed your ways. Maybe she has too."

"You sound like your mother," Regina said. "Always trying to see the best in people."

"I don't see it in everyone," Emma said. "Just those who actually deserve it."

"That can't be true," Regina said, and Emma heard the glimmer of a laugh return her voice. "You're one of few people who sees some good in me, after all."

"I make an exception for you," Emma grinned. "You're obviously the worst person I know, but I do it for Henry."

"Of course," Regina replied.

They both fell quiet, still smirking at one another. Upstairs they could hear their son stomping around his bedroom, but otherwise the house was silent.

Regina noticed then that Emma's fingers had reached back up for her necklace. It was what she did when she was distracted, and it reminded Regina of what she'd been thinking earlier.

"The queen has told you something, hasn't she?"

Emma blinked. "About what?"

"I'm not sure," Regina said thoughtfully. "But she has, I can tell. You didn't want to tell everyone earlier."

"How could you possibly know that?" Emma scoffed. "I wasn't saying anything at all."

"You were lost in thought," Regina said, gesturing to Emma's fiddling fingers. At once Emma blushed, dropping the chain. "And we both know that doesn't happen very often."

"Ha ha," Emma rolled her eyes. "Look, of course the queen has said stuff to me. As you've been so quick to point out, she's been hanging around with me a lot. She's said plenty, most of which you wouldn't like very much."

Regina's cheeks turned hot. "I will take your word for that. But what has she said that's obviously kept you up all night worrying?"

She waited for Emma to just shrug her question off, or maybe make a joke about how Regina was, as usual, seeing drama where there wasn't any. But instead she fell quiet. She was watching Regina cautiously.

"Emma," Regina prompted as gently as she could. "You can tell me."

"Can I?" Emma asked. "All you've done this week is yell at me for talking to her. You'll do the same now."

"Probably. But you're a grown woman who is more than accustomed to my yelling by now, so I'd like for you to tell me."

When Emma's forehead furrowed and her teeth gently dug into her lower lip, Regina sighed.

"Please."

And Emma couldn't resist her when she spoke softly like that. She felt herself shiver.

"She's… said a lot of stuff. I don't think I can tell you some of it," Emma said slowly, thinking back to the day before, and the empty expression on the queen's face as she'd spilled the remains of her cold heart onto Emma's kitchen table. "But… she has said she's here to ruin your life."

"I could have guessed that much," Regina said. "But, as you've pointed out, she isn't doing much ruining so far. So what is her plan?"

Emma pressed her lips together, and at once Regina knew she wasn't going to get the whole truth. Something had passed between Emma and the queen that no one else would understand, and for some completely peculiar reason, Emma was planning on protecting that.

But Emma wanted to protect Regina too, and so, against her better judgement, she told her what little she could.

"She kind of has done some… ruining," Emma said slowly. At once, Regina's face turned dark.

"She's hurt someone, and you didn't think to tell me?"

"No, no – nothing like that," Emma sighed. The more she said, the more she realised this would be impossible to explain. "You know what she's done. You've been bitching about it since she arrived."

Regina paused, considering this. Then, "What – befriending you?"

"Yeah. Kind of," Emma muttered, deciding then and there that there were some details she should probably leave out. "She doesn't want to physically hurt you. She's trying to mess with your head."

"By doing what?"

"By making you feel…" Emma started, then sighed. She couldn't say it. "I don't know. By distracting you, I guess."

It took all of Regina's willpower not to laugh. That wasn't the queen's style – distracting people into tearing their own lives apart? No, that wasn't right at all.

The queen had a collection of small, sharp tools that she used in order to slowly pick apart the threads of someone's life. Every tool was delicate and silver, and designed to make people fall apart. She made them afraid and angry, and she made them doubt themselves. She took away people's family, and made them die of loneliness. She caught the hearts of people's loved ones, and she made them go mad with jealousy.

Regina blinked. That sounded more like her, but… no. Surely not.

Emma was watching her anxiously, still biting into her lip. Regina could see from the greenness of her eyes that she was waiting for something to click.

In that moment, it all came rushing back to Regina: the queen's hand on Emma's thigh; her lips pressed against Emma's ear. The hot, malicious envy that had spread through her extremities like fire.

A sour taste filled her mouth and, as she swallowed it back down, she felt one of those sharp tools unpick another thread in her heart.

"I see," Regina said, looking down at her hands. Emma's gaze followed, and she saw that Regina's fingers were trembling.

Emma's heart stopped with a sudden thunk. The shock of realisation reverberated through her, because it was then that she finally realised that the queen had been right all along.

Regina was jealous.

Emma blinked to herself, watching as a deep, disorderly blush rose in Regina's normally flawless complexion. She looked angry and heartbroken all at once, and Emma was overcome by a sudden desire to reach out and touch her hand – but she found herself completely unable to move. Instead, she released a shaky breath, her heart now pounding, and allowed herself a single moment of taking in the exact, delicious shape of Regina's mouth before she looked back up at her again.

"I should go," Emma said when she did. Regina blinked.

"Oh," she said. She looked like she was about to say something else entirely before she settled on, "Okay."

"Unless you want me to stay?"

Regina blinked like someone had sprayed water in her face. "Oh. I… no, that's quite alright. I have some errands I need to run."

"Are you going to check some more books?" Emma asked, thinking of Regina's face when she'd told Charming she would do this earlier. She'd seen the flicker of a lie at the corner of her mouth.

Now though, Regina's face remained impassive. "Perhaps. We need to nip this problem in the bud, before it gets any worse."

Emma bit at the inside of her cheek and nodded. "Sure. Okay."

She pushed herself off the sofa and began to walk to the door. As she reached the threshold, she paused, then turned to say goodbye – only to find that Regina was stood two feet away.

Emma jumped. "What are you doing?"

"I was… showing you out," Regina said uncertainly, like she couldn't remember how she'd got there either.

"Oh," Emma said, blinking. "That's nice of you. But I have been here before."

"I know," Regina said, and Emma had never heard her sound so unsure of herself before. "Sorry. It was a momentary lapse."

"Well, this is the first time in weeks that we've had a proper conversation without the queen bursting in on us," Emma smiled. "We've probably forgotten how to say goodbye."

Regina's laugh was full of relief. "That must be it."

Emma recommenced her journey to the front door, but this time she was all too aware of Regina slowly following her. When she turned back, Regina was still keeping a careful distance with a slight frown etched onto her face.

"Do you have enough food in the house?" Emma asked, reaching for the door handle.

"Mm," Regina mumbled distractedly. Emma frowned.

"Okay. And do you want me to take Henry to school tomorrow?"

"Please," Regina said. "If that's okay."

"Of course it's okay, Regina. Stop being so meek," Emma said, then frowned. Regina's eyes were skittering across the hall, and it was obvious that her thoughts were elsewhere. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Regina said. She made a decision. "Where will you go now?"

Emma blinked. "Home?"

"Nowhere else?"

"I might stop at Granny's for a coffee," Emma said slowly, and then she realised. "No, I'm not going to find the queen."

Regina considered her answer, then nodded, deciding she was telling the truth. "Okay. Thank you."

"No problem," Emma said, finally opening the front door. She could feel the warmth of the force field tickling against her elbow. "So I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yes. Of course."

"Great." Emma swallowed. This was… strange. "Bye, then."

"Goodbye, Emma."

There was an atmosphere around them that had never been there before, and Emma struggled to tear herself away from it. It was curious, and uncomfortable, but she wanted to bury herself in it and find out exactly what it meant.

But instead she turned away and walked down the path, not looking back even though she could feel Regina's eyes on her. She reached her car at the edge of the sidewalk and clambered in, releasing a long, unsteady breath before she drove away.

As soon as the clattering of Emma's bug had disappeared down the street, Regina grabbed her coat.


"It took you long enough, dear."

The voice came from around the corner and was spun like fresh silk. Regina rolled her eyes, flexing her hands as she approached the source.

The queen had certainly made herself at home. The inside of Regina's vault was strung with sheets of dark purple velvet, and it was littered with candles that were suspended from nothing at all. Most of Regina's boxes and bottles had been opened, rearranged or removed entirely, and in the far corner of the dark room the queen was reclining on a chaise lounge, her long dress draping onto the floor.

"What the hell have you done to this place?"

"Made it my own, of course," the queen said, gesturing grandly at her surroundings. "It's not like you're planning on using it anymore."

"According to whom?"

"Well, it's been weeks since you last came down here," the queen said, uncurling herself from the chair and pushing herself to her feet. "Surely you aren't scared of me?"

"No, I just find you incredibly antagonising and I have no interest in speaking with you," Regina snapped, taking another step into the small chamber.

"And yet you are here now."

"Yes, I am," Regina said. "Because we need to talk."

The queen shot her a cat-like smile and swept across the room. "About Miss Swan, I presume."

Regina automatically gritted her teeth. She'd only been there two minutes and the queen was already setting her temper just below boiling point – although, Regina forced herself to admit, something was different about her. She couldn't quite put her finger on what it was, but it was unnerving.

"About what you are doing here, and why you won't leave," Regina said after a beat.

"Oh, my dear," the queen said, reaching the far corner of the room. She reached down for a large bottle and conjured two glasses from the air. "You really have become weak."

"Excuse me?"

"What kind of queen asks people why they won't leave, rather than just forcing them to do so?"

"A benevolent one," Regina said. "Something you would know very little about."

"Benevolent," the queen laughed, shaking her head. She began to pour out two glasses of red wine. "Don't be so ridiculous. Pretending to be a simpering princess like Snow White or her lovely daughter does not make you so."

"I'm not pretending to be anything," Regina shot back at her. "I tried to get rid of you, remember? My evil side is gone."

"And yet look at how angry you are," the queen sneered. "It doesn't seem to have gone very far, does it?"

"Now, listen—"

"Oh, do hush, Regina," the queen sighed, picking up the two glasses and approaching her. "I've greatly enjoyed not having to listen to your bitter moaning all day long. Please don't bring it in here."

She extended a glass to Regina, and it was then, when the queen was stood only two feet away from her, that Regina realised what was different about her: the queen looked tired.

Regina faltered, taking in the dark circles under her eyes and the smile that had slightly less voltage behind it than normal. When she made no move to take the glass, the queen sighed, placing it on a nearby trunk.

"Very well," she said, turning away once more and taking a sip from her own glass.

"Is this your grand plan?" Regina asked, following her for a step. "To hang about down here with no real motive until eventually you get bored and move on?"

The queen's smile flickered. "Whoever said I don't have a motive?"

"The fact that you've done nothing other than stalk Miss Swan around town since you arrived would suggest that you don't."

"Yes, well," the queen replied, sipping her wine. "I suppose it would to anyone who is in as much denial as you."

"I am not in denial," Regina said.

"But you are defensive," the queen noted. "Odd that that only happens when I mention the saviour. She is a pretty little thing, isn't she?"

"Stop that," Regina snapped before she could stop herself. Instantly, the queen was smirking.

"I take it that's a yes, then?"

"You can take it as nothing. Now, I won't ask you again – what are you doing here? What is the point in all this?"

"Can't it just be that I've missed you?"

"Absolutely not."

The queen shrugged, placing her glass on a nearby shelf. "I suppose you're right. You are quite spectacularly unmissable."

Regina glared at her with so much venom that for a moment the queen almost flinched – then she laughed instead.

"I appear to have touched a nerve."

"Enough," Regina hissed, taking a step forwards. They could both see that she was itching to cast a fireball across the room. "Answer my question or so help me, I will end you in the way I should have done back in New York."

The queen raised her eyebrows. "There's that temper I was talking about."

At long last, a fireball appeared in Regina's hand. Rolling her eyes, the queen said, "Not in here, dear. You'll ruin my lovely new interior."

With a wave of her hand, the fire was gone.

Regina gritted her teeth together, forcing down the seething hatred that was beginning to burn in her throat, and said, "You need to stay away from Emma."

The queen's smirk was twisted and delectable. "Careful, Regina. It almost sounds like you care."

"Of course I care," Regina snapped. "She's the saviour, and the town's sheriff. And she's an idiot – if you're trying to lay some kind of trap, you can bet your life she'll fall into it."

The queen snorted, ignoring this explanation entirely. She took a step towards Regina with her hands on her swaying hips, moving slowly and leisurely. With Regina stood in the centre of the vault, she was free to pace around her.

"You are protective of her."

Regina scoffed. "I am not."

"Well, you're here, aren't you?"

"Yes, to find out—"

"Many things, I'm sure," the queen cut smoothly over the top of her. "But mainly to find out how deep my interest in her really lies."

Regina pressed her lips together, forcing herself not to respond. The queen seemed to find even this deliciously funny.

"Silence won't protect you here, Regina. And neither will your pathetic threats. If I want to get to know Miss Swan then that is exactly what I shall do – and she doesn't seem to be opposed to the idea either, as I'm sure you have noticed."

"I have, and I've told her my opinion on the matter plenty of times."

"Odd, then, that she chooses to listen to me, and not to you," the queen smirked, and immediately Regina's face darkened.

"She's not listening to you," she growled. "She's being trapped by you. You keep coming after her and she isn't as willing to tell you to drop dead as I am."

"Oh, you have no idea what she's willing to do to me." The flash of satisfaction in the queen's eye made the pit of Regina's stomach turn hard and cold.

She heard her jaw crack as she forced out, "She's taken pity on you."

"Tell yourself that if it helps you, my love. We both know she's found a friend in me where she couldn't in you."

"Why are you doing this?" Regina suddenly demanded. The queen was prowling around her in circles and she whipped around to face her, her voice higher and louder than she'd intended it to be. "Clearly you're seeking revenge on me – I get that. But leave Emma out of this – she's got nothing to do with it."

"She has everything to do with it."

"Why? Because she's the one who broke our curse?"

"Oh, dear, no," the queen chuckled, continuing in her circles. "I'm as over that as you are."

"Then why?"

"Because she's the one you care most about."

Regina stopped in her tracks. "She's what?"

"Well, except for your son, of course," the queen admitted. "But since you've done such a good job at keeping him away from me, I seem to have lost interest in him. Emma is far easier to access."

"She's—"

"And much nicer to look at."

"How could—"

"I'm sure you'd noticed. It's that hair, isn't it? We always did have a thing for blondes—"

Suddenly the queen was flying backwards, her words choking from her mouth. She collided with the wall of the vault with a startled cry, and Regina stepped towards her, her hand outstretched and crushing the air out of the queen's throat.

"If you say another word about her," Regina warned, her voice low and thick, "I promise you, it will be your last."

Even with her lungs failing her and her eyes beginning to bulge from her head, the queen found the energy to laugh.

"Defensive." She forced out the one word with a smirk on her reddening face, and Regina squeezed harder.

"Listen to me," Regina said, stepping closer. "Whatever game you are playing stops now. I've been lenient, but I've had enough. You will leave Emma alone, and you will leave this town. And if you don't, I will kill you."

She released the queen's throat and watched with some satisfaction as she thudded back to the floor, wheezing through her bruised windpipe.

"Do I make myself clear?"

The queen looked up at her then, and for a split second Regina saw that she was impressed. She had assumed that all the fight had gone out of her, and bringing her down would be all too easy. She hadn't counted on Regina's unfailing loyalty when it came to one of only two people in the world whom she truly, deeply cared about.

"Perfectly," the queen said, forcing herself to stand upright. It seemed to take more effort than it normally would have done. "You've 100 percent convinced me that you don't care about Miss Swan in the slightest."

Regina glared at her. "So what if I care about her? So what? That doesn't mean anything."

Raising her eyebrows pointedly, the queen said, "No, of course not. Nothing at all."

"What does it even matter? I'm allowed to care about some people."

The queen laughed. "Oh, you certainly are. Just as I'm allowed to take advantage of that."

Regina's stomach went tight. "What are you doing?"

"You tried to kill me, Regina," the queen reminded her, and yet again Regina saw the dark circles under her eyes. It was strange how she seemed smaller than normal. "I think you owe me a bit of fun."

"I wasn't expecting you to want fun," Regina said. "I was expecting you to want me dead."

"Oh, trust me," the queen said. She sounded gleeful, but if Regina had been paying closer attention, she might have noticed that the words were slightly hollow. "That would be nice – but I'm enjoying this far, far more."


It was starting to get dark when Regina was walking home. Storybrooke had a permanent dampness in its thin, grey air, but in the hour when the sun was setting, this always seemed to vanish, making way for a new crispness that never lasted. It was Regina's favourite time of day.

But she couldn't concentrate on it. The fact that the queen had let her leave the vault entirely unscathed was confusing enough, but the weight of every hateful word she'd said while Regina was down there was making her brain throb. She walked slower than normal, with her hands in her pockets. It was a Sunday evening and the town was quiet, but inside Regina's head there was a thick drumming sound that wouldn't go away.

"Regina?"

Maybe the queen really was just toying with her. Letting her walk away had to be just another part of her mysterious plan – the same plan that meant she hadn't picked a fight with anyone yet, and the same plan that had kept her in the vault day and night, holed up all alone.

"Regina."

Until she wanted to talk to Emma, of course – then she was more than happy to leave.

Regina frowned. What were they talking about?

"Regina."

Regina blinked, realising the voice she'd been hearing was coming from in front of her, not inside her own head as she'd been assuming. She looked up and found Snow waiting for her just a few metres away. She had been pushing a sleeping Neal down the street, but now she was standing still, watching the mayor anxiously.

"Oh," Regina said, shaking her head. "Sorry. I was somewhere else."

"Are you okay?" Snow asked, stepping closer. "You look a bit pale."

"I'm fine," Regina said, looking around them. She'd walked further than she'd realised. "I was just… lost in thought."

"Where have you been? Did you go for a walk?"

"Sort of," Regina said, and then she sighed. "I went to see her."

"The queen?"

"Mm."

"By yourself? Why would you do that?" Snow demanded. "Especially after all the times you've told Emma off for doing the same thing."

"For exactly that reason," Regina groaned, suddenly walking over to the nearest bench and collapsing onto it. "I had to find out what her plan is. Emma's right - she's clearly not up to her normal antics, and that was worrying me even more."

Snow slowly joined her on the bench, tucking Neal's blanket more tightly around him.

"And by that," she said, "you mean you were worried about what she wanted with Emma."

"Well. Yes. Aren't we all?"

"Of course," Snow shrugged. "But there's an obvious difference between you and the rest of us. We're all worried that Emma is going to get herself killed. You don't even seem remotely concerned about that."

"Of course I am," Regina protested. "Emma and I are on good terms now, and—"

"That's not what I meant," Snow interrupted gently. It struck Regina then just how much had changed between them – not too long ago, she would have incinerated her for cutting over the top of her like that. "I mean that you're worried about something else. And you're not telling anyone what it is but I know it's something serious."

Regina cursed her cheeks for blushing as she said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I think you might be jealous."

Regina scoffed, but her entire body had gone hot.

"That is ridiculous," she said. "I am not jealous. I just want that damned woman out of my town."

Snow laughed, shaking her head. "Sure. That's what this is – it definitely doesn't mean anything that you've barely been anywhere near the queen because you're too busy following Emma around and trying to keep them apart."

"Because she's an idiot!" Regina spluttered. "She has wandered straight into her trap and someone has to help her get back out again."

Snow didn't respond, because she was too busy taking in Regina's frantically darting eyes, her flushed cheeks, her lips that were chapped from how much she'd been biting them. She raised her eyebrows.

"I see the way you look at her," Snow said quietly, making Regina jump. "It's obvious that you care about her."

"What is everyone's obsession with telling me that I care too much about Emma today?" Regina demanded, and Snow laughed.

"Who else has said it?"

"…no one."

"Ah, sure," Snow said. "You won't even listen to your own alter ego?"

"She's an evil, manipulative dictator."

"But she does know you," Snow insisted. "I can understand why you might want to block her out, but maybe she has a point."

Regina opened her mouth to protest, but all of a sudden it seemed futile. She sighed.

"I'd never even realised."

Snow shrugged. "That's understandable. You and Emma have been at each other's throats for so long that it was probably hard for you to see exactly what that had turned into."

"But I don't know what this has turned into," Regina said quietly. "We're barely even friends, and I feel so unsure of myself around her. But I…"

She couldn't have finished that sentence even if her life had depended on it. The truth was that she had no idea what she felt about Emma – with everything else that had happened in that town, she'd barely had any time to consider it.

Snow offered her a small smile, telling her that, miraculously, she understood that.

"She cares about you too, you know."

Regina scoffed. "Please. No one cares about me like that."

"Regina," Snow said, raising her eyebrows. "Hook told her to choose between you and him today, and she chose you. She didn't even question it. She may pretend that she did it for Henry, or even for us, but she did it for you. She values you more than you know."

Regina's heart felt suddenly swollen

"Do you think I should talk to her?"

"I think you talk to her plenty," Snow said, checking on Neal before she wrapped her coat more tightly around her. "Maybe, for once, you should just listen."

She stood up then, and Regina blinked up at her, wondering whether she should be insulted. Something in Snow's smile told her that she didn't have to be.

Snow walked off without saying goodbye, and Regina was left on the bench staring out at the empty street. She thrust her hands into her pockets and let her feet rock back onto the heels of her boots.

Maybe Snow was right. She'd been talking at Emma for weeks, trying to get her to listen, trying to get her to understand. In all that time, she hadn't paid the slightest bit of attention to what Emma was actually saying back. She hadn't registered how Emma had constantly been checking up on her, making her food and taking care of her when she hadn't been taking care of herself. She hadn't considered how Emma hadn't ever chased after Hook – not even once. She had reluctantly followed him down the road, and she had let him walk out of Snow's apartment, and then out of Regina's house – and then out of her life.

But she'd followed Regina. She'd always followed Regina.

Regina had been blind to all of those things – or maybe she had seen them as clear as day. She just couldn't admit to herself that they could have meant anything.

She stood up, properly taking in the crisp air for the first time that evening, and made a decision: she didn't have to tell Emma anything. She didn't have to throw her heart out there when she wasn't even certain where it wanted to land. But she had to go and find her.

She gathered her coat around her and began to stride down the street, going in the direction of Emma's new house. It wasn't too far away from her own, and though she had no idea what she was planning to say once she got there, she suddenly couldn't walk fast enough. Her heels cracked against the sidewalk like a whip.

But she was only walking for a minute before she stopped in her tracks, her eyes fixed on the other side of the road. The sun had set and the sky was a darkening red, and she told herself that it was only the dimming light that was making her see it. But she knew that wasn't the case.

On a bench outside Granny's, she could see a flash of red leather perched next to dark, glossy velvet. She swallowed.

Emma was sitting cross-legged, a takeaway coffee cup clasped in her lap, facing away from Regina. She was looking directly at the queen, who was lounging back against the bench with one arm outstretched along the wooden backrest. Her posture was as straight and regal as ever, and her hair was piled on top of her head like a crown, but something was different about the picture. She looked… casual. Somewhere along the way, her guard had dropped.

She was sitting close to Emma, tilting her head towards her, and as they chatted Regina realised that all traces of her usual smirk had vanished. She was listening to Emma with genuine interest etched into her dark, beautiful features, and whenever Emma nodded, she nodded too.

Regina felt something stab at her chest when the queen suddenly laughed at something Emma had said, and Emma's face lit up like a thousand candles as a result.

Regina's stomach started to burn. She told herself it was from anger – she promised you, again and again and again, that she would stop this. But here she is again, unable to stay away. She doesn't listen to a damn word you say, you fool. But, god, the pain was too heavy to be rage. It was thick and suffocating and she was certain that she was going to drown in it. It was so much deeper than anger.

It was sadness.

Emma's left hand was gesticulating wildly as she talked, and the queen was watching her with the smallest smile of amusement on her face. Emma had never spoken to Regina like that before – because Regina had never given her the chance to. Whenever they talked, it was about Henry, or about Hook, or about the latest villain to come sweeping into town. It was always on their terms, or on Regina's. Emma didn't stop by Regina's house to talk about her day because Regina never gave her the impression that she would want to listen.

She pressed her hands over her burning stomach, willing the pain to go away.

It would have been so easy to stride across the road, to scream at the both of them, to grab Emma by her sleeve and drag her away. But what was the point? Emma was there by choice, and she was happy. And, against all odds, so was the queen.

And then there was Regina.

She pressed her lips together and kept walking, keeping her head down. She didn't know if the two women across the road had seen her as she hurried past. If they had, maybe they would have called out to her. But no one did, and Regina walked home alone.

Chapter Text

Regina could feel her fingernails digging into her palms as she waited for the door to open. The clock was slowly ticking towards 8:20am, and Emma had been due to collect Henry for school at 8:15.

Emma was always – without exception – late. It hadn't taken Regina long to know that about her. But the sheriff was also strangely prompt with her lateness, and now that five minutes had passed since she was supposed to have arrived, Regina knew she would knock on the door soon. Any second now.

Regina's nails were leaving moon-shaped grooves in her skin, but she never took her eyes off the clock.

She had spent most of the night brooding about what she'd seen outside Granny's the previous evening. At first her sadness had carried her home, right the way through dinner and straight into bed. She'd heard Henry hovering worriedly outside her door, wondering whether he should knock or whether her clouded look at the dining room table had been a sign that she'd rather be left alone. Eventually he'd decided on the latter, and it was then that Regina had finally let the first tear roll down her hot, embarrassed cheek.

But after an hour or two of tossing and turning in the dark, her melancholy had finally grown the teeth that she had been waiting for. And now she was just pissed.

How dare Emma do this to her? After a million requests that she should stay away from the queen, how could she just go right ahead and run after her again? And not even bothering to hide it, but meeting her out in the open, outside Granny's, where the entire town had probably seen them. She obviously didn't care about Regina's feelings, and that was just fine – Regina didn't care about hers either.

She had recited this angry monologue to herself a thousand times that morning, but it didn't make the hurt that was throbbing in her stomach go away. If anything, it only made it sharper.

Which was exactly why Regina had bullied Henry into asking Violet and her father to come and take him to school at 8:10 instead.

She swallowed, looking down at the book that was in front of her. Resting in its spine was the same syringe that she'd been fiddling with for weeks - but now, its insides sparkled with a rich, purple potion. She pressed her lips together, part of her wanting to pick it up and hurl it against the wall. Maybe the sight of its sweet, sticky contents dribbling down the paintwork would finally make her feel better.

But then she heard the sound of a key in the door, and at once she forced herself to sit upright, smoothing down her hair. She continued reading the book like she'd been doing nothing else all morning.

"Henry?"

Emma's voice reached her ears and Regina grimaced, gripping her fingers around the edges of the cover.

She heard Emma sigh and call their son's name a second time. When no response came from upstairs, heavy footsteps started to make their way across the hall.

Regina didn't look up when the door to her den swung open.

"Hey," Emma said, walking into the room in her normal, self-possessed manner. "Is Henry still asleep?"

Regina took a breath, making Emma wait before she deigned to answer.

"No," she said coolly, still pretending to read. "Why?"

"I thought I was meant to be collecting him for school, but he's not answering."

"He's already gone."

Emma blinked. "With who?"

"Violet, I believe," Regina said, like she couldn't quite remember. She still didn't look up.

"Oh," Emma said, and Regina could hear the frown in her voice. No matter how angry she was, the disappointment that clung at Emma's words made Regina's stomach twist. "You didn't think to call me?"

"No, I didn't," Regina said, turning the page. "My apologies."

Emma's frown deepened. It wasn't exactly unusual for Regina to refrain from welcoming her into the house with open arms, but this coldness was… unexpected.

She took a step into the room and let her eyes fall onto the object lying in front of Regina.

"What's that?"

"It's a book, Miss Swan," Regina said flatly. "You should try reading one some day."

"Funnily enough, I have," Emma said, taking another step forwards. "But that's not what I meant. What's that?"

Regina paused, and suddenly realised what she was referring to: the syringe. It was still sitting in front of her.

Damn. She'd meant to put it away.

She forced out an exaggerated sigh, like this was yet another of Emma's ludicrous questions, and picked up the needle with one hand. "It's the one I used to separate me and the queen."

"But it's full again."

"I'm aware of that," Regina said, opening the top drawer of her desk and throwing it inside. "I was trying new potions. It's nothing for you to worry about."

"Regina—"

"I said forget it."

Regina's voice was firm, verging on sharp, and Emma staggered backwards a step.

"Oh," she said. There was a long, terse pause before she added, "Okay. Sorry."

The sound of Emma's confused voice made Regina's heart thump painfully, but she didn't waver. Instead, she returned to her book like it was the most interesting thing she'd ever read before in her life.

Emma pressed her lips together, unsure what to do next. It was quite obvious that Regina didn't want her there, but for once she couldn't understand what she'd done to piss her off. When they'd last spoken at Regina's front door, just metres away from where they were now, things had seemed… nice. Normal. It was like for the first time ever Regina had really looked at her, and she'd realised that she liked what she saw. It had been the warmest that Emma had ever felt.

But overnight some coldness had come creeping in, and Emma didn't know why. Maybe Regina was having second thoughts. Maybe she'd seen the light, and realised what a waste of space Emma was after all.

Emma swallowed, looking down at her slightly scuffed boots, and waited for the twisting feeling in her heart to subside.

"I'm going to go," she said.

Regina still didn't look up. "Fine."

"Do you want… Shall I pick Henry up later?"

"If you like."

Emma gritted her teeth. Every inch of her skin felt prickly, like it was covered in frost.

"Fine," she said, turning for the door and half-hoping that Regina would stop her. She didn't. "Bye, then."

It wasn't until Emma was back in the hall with her hand reaching out for the front door and her cheeks stinging with embarrassment that a voice spoke out from behind her.

"I had no idea you were so selfish."

Emma spun around to find Regina leaning against the doorframe of her office, her arms folded over her chest. She was wearing the tight red dress that had always secretly been Emma's favourite, and Emma couldn't stop herself from letting her eyes drop down to take it in before her brain finally snapped to attention.

"Selfish?" she eventually stammered. Regina's face was expressionless, but Emma saw the flash of darkness in her eyes.

"Yes," Regina said, not moving from her position against the doorjamb. "Unbearably so."

"What are you talking about?"

"You sat in that room yesterday and you promised me we were your priority," Regina spat, jabbing one finger towards the living room. Her voice, suddenly loud and piercing, finally betrayed just how angry she was. "Were you just lying straight to my face, hoping I was too stupid to realise?"

"Regina," Emma blinked, taking a step towards her. "I don't know what you're talking about. I wasn't lying to you about anything."

"So you're telling me that if you had to choose between us and the queen, you'd choose us?"

"Of course I would," Emma said.

"And if there was a battle between the two, you'd be on our side?"

"Regina, I have no idea what—"

"I saw you," Regina thundered. "Last night, barely an hour after you'd left here telling me that I… that we are more important to you than she is. I saw you with her."

At least Emma had the good grace to look shocked.

"Outside Granny's?" she asked, her voice cracking.

"Yes," Regina snapped. "Why, was there another meeting elsewhere?"

"No," Emma said, wetting her lips. "I just… Regina, I didn't meet her there. I went for a coffee – I told you I was going to go get one – and she appeared, like she does. You know."

"Actually, yes, I do know," Regina said coolly, pushing herself off the doorframe. "Perhaps you remember my 50 previous warnings about it."

Emma paused. Then, with a groan that sounded like wood splintering, she said, "Oh, God. Please, can we not do this again?"

"I don't know – can you please not go running after her again as soon as we're finished talking? Apparently not."

"You're not my mother," Emma said. "In fact, even she's being less anal about this than you are. You need to get over yourself."

"I need to?" Regina laughed, taking a step into the hall. Her heels on the polished floorboards sounded like branches snapping. "You're the one with the ego problem here, Miss Swan. You appear to think you are so important that you can do whatever you want, and hurt whoever you like, and yet we'll all still rally around you and help you save the day, as always. Is that why you keep running off to her even though you know I'd rather you didn't? Because you want to see how far you can push me before I finally have enough of you?"

"Or maybe I just do it because she is capable of speaking to me for more than 30 seconds without insulting me," Emma snapped back at her. "It's a novel concept, but some people are actually civil to one another. You should try it sometime."

"Just as you should try actually listening to the family that you spent so long searching for," Regina hissed. "Otherwise they might start to regret the day that you found them."

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Regina wished she hadn't said them. She watched as Emma staggered back half a step, her face going pale.

"Go to hell," Emma said, her lips thin. "This is what I get for giving a shit about you, obviously. Well, here we are – I officially don't care anymore. Let's see who will listen to your whiny little problems now."

"I do not have whiny little problems."

"Oh, please. All you do is bitch and moan, and I listen to you without complaint. But I've had enough now. It's pretty obvious that you don't appreciate me in the slightest."

"Would I be having this argument with you in the first place if I didn't appreciate you?"

"Of course you would!" Emma shrieked, and it was a noise so unlike her that Regina felt herself take a step backwards. "I'm just some worthless little pet to you, and you didn't even want me around until you saw someone else giving me attention. You keep roaring and shouting about how evil she is and how she's going to destroy everything, but if you saw us together last night, then you would have seen that we were having a nice, normal conversation. And that's what you're mad about. You're mad that she's my friend."

The silence that followed was so heavy it seemed to crackle, and Emma assessed Regina with a triumphant glare, because it was so obvious she was right.

Eventually Regina forced out, "I'm mad because—"

"You're mad because you're always mad," Emma said flatly. "And right now, you're mad because you're jealous."

Regina snorted. She could feel her cheeks getting hot.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

"Yeah, that's what I thought too," Emma said, carefully taking in Regina's flushed face. "The queen said it a while ago, and I thought she was crazy. But she's right. She really does know you well."

"You've been discussing this with her?" Regina snapped.

"Almost exclusively," Emma smirked. "You're a very interesting topic of conversation."

Regina's fists were already clenched by her sides, and Emma knew that she was seconds away from snapping. The question was whether it was magic she was going to use as her weapon, or a slap to Emma's self-satisfied face.

"I see," Regina said through gritted teeth. "And do tell me what insightful points she's been making."

"Stuff I probably should have noticed myself," Emma shrugged. She was still standing several feet away from Regina, but she could feel the heat burning from her. "Like how you never actually hated Hook until I started dating him. How you never want to be in the same room as us both anymore. How you didn't trust August when he showed up in town, sure, but once he'd taken an interest in me, you despised him. Christ, you didn't even like Lily. That whole ride back from Boston you didn't say one word to either of us."

"The queen wasn't even there for most of that," Regina snapped. "She doesn't have my Madam Mayor memories – I highly doubt she was the one making those astute observations."

"No, but she asked me about them," Emma countered, sticking her chin out. "She wanted to know who else in town you have a particular disliking for. She connected the dots pretty quickly."

"Because you have twisted it so wonderfully, dear," Regina said, taking another step towards her. "I didn't like August because he showed too much interest in Henry, and because he was trying to undo my curse, and I didn't like that dragon-baby friend of yours because she was trying to kill us all. And as for Hook – quite honestly, there aren't enough hours in the day for me to explain all the things that are wrong with him. The fact that I have higher standards than you doesn't prove anything."

For a split second Emma was quiet, and Regina thought that she had won. Then a gurgle of laughter came from Emma's throat.

"You hate everyone," she said. "That much, I'll give you. But the truth is that as soon as they get close to me, suddenly they become public enemy number one. Why was it that when the queen first showed up in town, you spent day after day holed up in here, refusing to leave the house – but then as soon as you knew she'd taken an interest in me, suddenly you couldn't bring yourself to stay here? You've been following me around ever since, refusing to let me out of your sight, because you know that as soon as I'm alone, she'll come and find me. And you know I can't do anything about that. You keep demanding that I stay away from her, but deep down you know she won't let that happen. No wonder you're so pissed off – for once, this isn't actually my fault. She just likes me, and that's even worse."

The pure, bitter truth felt like salt being rubbed against Regina's raw skin, and she flinched away from Emma's words.

"That's bullshit."

"It isn't, and you know it," Emma threw back at her.

"So, according to you, the reason I hate the Evil Queen isn't because she is a wicked, manipulative witch who maimed and murdered and did all sorts of unspeakable things, but because we're children in the playground and she's stolen my favourite tricycle? For crying out loud, Emma, don't you think you're grasping at straws here?"

Emma blinked, and for a moment she looked genuinely confused. Then she asked softly, "Don't you find it incredibly fucked up how you refer to her as a completely different person?"

"She is a—"

"No, she isn't!" Emma suddenly shouted, shocking Regina into silence. "She's you. Every wicked thing she ever did, you were there too. The good side of you was always buried in there, and it could have stopped her, but it didn't. And now you're free to blame her for every single problem you have because you don't have to look at her like she's a part of yourself – she's just someone else now, someone else's problem, and you can look down on her and judge her and wish she never existed. But she's you, Regina. You can't just keep pushing her further and further away in the hope that eventually you'll forget she existed. You can't brush her under the carpet, or expect me to do it for you. She deserves better than that, and you have to face her."

"What have I been doing for the last few weeks, if not facing her?"

"You've been bickering with her," Emma said flatly. "Not once have you actually spoken to her."

"Well, sorry to disappoint you, Miss Swan, but I actually went to speak to her last night," Regina said. "And about 30 seconds after I left her, she came to find you again."

Emma faltered. "You… did?"

"She didn't tell you that?" Regina asked, tilting her head. "How peculiar. Maybe you're not quite the confidant you've decided to label yourself as, saviour."

She said the name like it was an insult, and it was then that Emma finally realised just how angry Regina was. She wanted to hurt Emma more than she had done in months – possibly years. But it was different this time: she wanted to hurt her because she was hurt herself.

Emma flinched, taking a step backwards. "What's going on with you? This isn't like you."

"How would you know?" Regina shouted back at her, and god, before she could do anything to stop them, there were tears in her eyes. As soon as she felt them she turned her head, blinking hard, but she wasn't fast enough. Emma had seen.

She swallowed, reaching out a hand. "Regina."

"Don't," Regina said. She squeezed her eyes shut, her hands on her hips, and waited for the sudden, stupid sadness to leave her again.

As Emma watched her, wrestling with a million different emotions that she'd never felt all at once before, she felt every last trace of anger ebbing from her. Her hand was still outstretched like she was still planning on taking three steps forward and curling her fingers around Regina's shoulder, but she didn't. There was a distance between them, and it wasn't simply made of empty space.

"Regina," Emma repeated, more softly this time. She saw Regina's shoulders shudder.

"Why do you like her?" Regina asked, a crack running through her voice. She tried to swallow it down. "The queen. Why do you want to be her friend?"

It was something they'd already discussed a hundred times, but they both knew Emma hadn't given her a completely honest answer yet. But now the gloves were off, and the air was still crackling with the remains of their anger and their hate and their hurt. Regina closed her eyes, because she knew Emma wouldn't lie to her again, and yet she wasn't quite ready for the truth.

Emma wetted her lips, wishing that Regina would turn back around.

"Because she's… you," Emma said quietly. She paused. "I thought you and I were becoming friends, but there was always this… this distance between us. It's like no matter how much I trust you, you won't ever feel the same way. And then the queen showed up, and from day one she was brutally honest with me, and she looked at me with some weird kind of respect. With interest. She's just you to me, Regina, and everything she's ever done or said, it's…"

Her sentence trailed off. Regina continued staring into her office, waiting with a tight chest for Emma to summon the bravery it would take to finish what she'd started.

"It was what I always wanted from you," Emma admitted, her gaze falling to the ground. "I wanted you to like me. And you don't. But she does, and I can't help it if she's made me like her too."

Until then, Regina had been certain that her heart couldn't be broken yet another time. But she'd been wrong. She felt that tiny, familiar shattering sensation and rested one hand on her stomach, like the warmth of her palm could possibly help hold her together.

"She's fun," Emma sighed when Regina didn't comment. "But she's not... right. She's not everything."

Regina sighed, finally turning back to look at her. "But you do like her."

"Of course I do," Emma said. "Because she's a part of you, a part that I always liked. She's the piece of you that made sarcastic jokes and put me in my place and made me more determined to prove you wrong. She's half of you and I like all of you. She just makes me miss the times when you were one person, not two."

Regina blinked. "You miss how I used to be?"

"Of course."

"Why?"

Emma frowned. "Because you're amazing, usually. Why do you think I'm always coming round here and trying to talk to you?"

She felt her entire body burn with some distant humiliation as soon as she'd said it. But Regina didn't seem to be laughing – instead, it almost looked like she was about to cry.

"Why couldn't you have just told me this at the beginning?" Regina asked, her voice wavering. She knew Emma's eyebrows were going to shoot upwards as soon as she'd said it.

"Because you wouldn't have listened to me," Emma said quietly. "Ever since you split from her, you've been sad and stressed and angry at me all the time. Whatever I would have said to you, you wouldn't have believed me."

Regina longed to scoff and protest this, but she couldn't do it. Emma was probably right.

"Is that why you don't push her away?" Regina asked, stepping closer.

"I guess," Emma said. "I mean, there are other reasons. Reasons I can't get into with you. But… part of me just feels like if I told her to leave, I would be destroying whatever I had with you too."

"How?"

Emma's cheeks turned bright pink.

"I think you know why."

"I don't," Regina said, although she hoped she did. Her heart had longed for it for months without ever letting her know. "Please tell me."

Emma groaned, and a huge, awkward part of her yearned to turn to the front door and run to freedom. But she'd come this far – she might as well make the jump.

"She… speaks to me the way I wish you would," Emma said slowly, her voice low and somehow apologetic. "The way she talks to me, the way she… looks at me. If I pushed her away and told her to stop coming near me, I would lose all of that too. I like her, I'm not going to deny that, and I enjoy being near her. But under it all, beneath all the jokes and the bullying and the stupid, seductive looks, something is missing, and I just... I really wish it was you."

Emma glanced down at the floor, gritting her teeth against the pathetic wobble in her jaw. When Regina didn't say anything, she forced a laugh. "But I know that's ridiculous. I'm just hoping for something that's never going to happen."

Then she paused, forcing herself to look back up with squinted eyes.

"Right?"

She realised then that Regina was still gaping at her, the power of speech completely beyond her.

Eventually she managed to choke out, "You mean, you like like me?"

Emma rolled her eyes. "Seriously, are you 10 years old?"

"Answer the question."

She watched as Emma adopted her most defensive stance, crossing her arms over her chest and pressing her lips together.

"Well," she said, standing a little straighter. "Yeah, I do. I guess. So what?"

"What do you mean, so what?"

"It's not like it matters," Emma muttered. "You're just going to use this as another thing to insult me with when we argue."

Regina ignored this comment, instead taking a step forwards. "How long have you known?"

Emma blinked, and she suddenly looked so young.

"I… Not long. The queen told me." She tried to laugh. "I guess she knows both of us better than we thought."

At once Regina's mind flashed back to the night before, and the way Emma and the queen had been talking on the bench. The queen's eyes had been kinder than normal, and they had rested on Emma's lips as they moved. Regina's heart had plummeted at the time, seeing how close Emma had been sitting to her – but maybe she had been focusing on the wrong thing. Maybe Regina should have been thinking about how, by wanting to be close to the queen, Emma surely must have wanted to be close to her too.

Without thinking, Regina took another step forward. Emma froze, watching her approach with wide eyes and a sudden dryness in her mouth. Regina was walking carefully, quietly, closing the gap between them like she was trying not to startle her.

Close up, the differences between Regina and the queen were more apparent than ever. Regina's eyes were a gentler brown, and her lips looked somehow softer. The natural olive colour of her skin wasn't buried under pale powder and a glimmering smirk, and Emma could look clearly into her face without a hundred distractions – cutting words, a twist of a smile, a mountain of dark hair that never seemed to fall out of place. Regina was just Regina, and it was Regina she'd always wanted. She just hadn't realised it until she'd been handed a watered-down version of her.

"She didn't try to talk you out of liking me?" Regina asked from a foot away. Emma smiled without meaning to.

"She tried," she said. "But there's nothing she could have told me that would have stopped me."

Regina frowned at her like she was speaking a foreign language. "But why?"

"Seriously? Why?" Emma sighed. "Because it's been years since you and I met, when you were satan incarnate and you were doing everything in your power to make my life miserable. I know what you were like then, and I know who you were even before that, and I don't care about it. I like it. I like everything, even the parts of you that you hate so much you tried to forcibly remove them. Anything she said to try and talk me away from you just reminded me of all the stuff I miss."

Regina swallowed. "But I'm…"

"Powerful," Emma finished for her, and the firmness of her voice was surprising to both of them. "Beautiful. You're Regina – I can't explain why I like you, but I do. I always have."

Regina wanted to explode with questions. It had taken so long, so damn long, for her to actually stop and listen to what her own body was trying to tell her, and even now she was filled with conflicting desires – the need to push Emma away and pull her close all at once. The sheer uncertainty of it made her skull crackle.

But, Christ, Regina was so tired of ignoring her own feelings; of pretending that what she was feeling was something else entirely because it was easier than admitting she'd been hurt again. She was tired of watching Emma laughing with the queen and pretending that her heart was only aching from annoyance, and she was tired of looking at Emma's lips like she wasn't longing to bury her own against them. Her body was exhausted from the strain of resisting for so long, and it was only now that Emma was right in front of her, looking into her eyes with the cracks of her nearly-broken heart already showing, that she realised what she'd been afraid of for so long.

"I think I might like you too."

She clapped her hand over her own mouth as soon as she'd said it, and Emma – stupid, sweet Emma in all of her awkwardness – just laughed.

"That is the reaction I normally get."

Peeling her fingers away from her burning hot face, Regina muttered, "I mean… I don't think."

"You don't?" Emma asked quietly. Regina bristled, hating her for making her articulate this, even though she knew that she owed her this and so much more.

"No," Regina admitted, looking down at the floor. She could barely hear herself speak over the sound of her frantically pounding heart. "I do. I... like you. I'm sure of it."

Emma paused before she asked, "You mean, you like like me?"

And Regina couldn't help but laugh. She wanted to reach out and playfully punch Emma's shoulder, but she wasn't sure she could trust herself to touch her without the sparks between them finally killing her.

"Yes, Miss Swan," Regina said, her voice dropping an octave. "I like like you."

When Emma's face lit up in a beaming grin, Regina felt herself go warm. She had never seen someone look so relieved before, and god, she wanted to kiss that stupid smile off of her face.

Emma had been expecting Regina to say something then, but instead she reached forwards, lifting her hand to cup Emma's face like it hand been yearning to do so since the day they'd met. Emma felt her whole body tingle at the unfamiliar sensation of Regina's cautious fingers skittering across her skin.

It was impossible that someone as sharp as Regina could have a touch that was that soft – but, as Emma was slowly starting to realise, Regina wasn't that sharp at all. She had a thousand jagged edges, each a scar from all the times she'd been broken and put half-heartedly back together. But if you laid all those pieces side-by-side, you had something beautifully smooth and almost entirely whole.

Regina stood a breath away from her, her dark eyes looking uncertainly down at Emma's lips. She could just see the slightly crooked jut of Emma's bottom teeth, and an unexpected urge to know what it would feel like to have them digging into her lower lip filled her up.

She could have leaned forwards. They both wanted her to. A thousand sparks danced on the air between their bodies and, beneath her palm, Regina could feel Emma's skin glimmering with them.

Emma just watched her, unblinking and unmoving, waiting for her to lean in. Part of her knew that she wouldn't, but the knowledge didn't stop her heart from shattering a tiny bit when Regina just sighed.

"I can't."

Emma swallowed, waiting. She didn't trust herself to speak.

"Emma, I…. I need to take care of this."

"Take care of what?" Emma asked.

"This whole mess," Regina said, grazing her thumb over Emma's cheekbone. At once Emma's eyes fluttered closed, and the movement was so soft and graceful that Regina's whole body ached with the desire to lean towards it. "This is all my fault. I let her loose, and… I need to take care of her."

Emma looked back up at her, her face going pale. "You're not going to kill her?"

There was a pause before Regina replied, "No."

"Then what?"

"I'm not sure," Regina said, her mind going back to the rich, purple potion in the top drawer of her desk. "But things can't stay as they are. Whatever we have… it's not the same with her here. You shouldn't be forced to mediate between the two of us, trying to keep us both happy – it's not how this is meant to be. I mean… it's not just me, is it?"

Emma smiled gently. Regina's hand was still pressed against her cheek and the feeling of it was unfamiliar, but it was something that she desperately wanted to get to know better. "No, it's not."

She saw Regina's eyes flick down to watch her lips as they moved.

"Then I need to go and do this."

As much as Emma wished it wouldn't, she felt her heart clench. She thought of the queen – her friend, alone and annoyed and, against all odds, probably already prepared for this – waiting for Regina to arrive, and her breath caught in her chest.

"You won't...?" she blurted out, then stopped herself. Regina smiled at the sudden blush in her cheeks.

"I don't plan to hurt her," Regina sighed. "I don't want to. I just... I need to fix this."

"Do you want me to come?" Emma asked.

And Regina did – desperately – but she shook her head. She took her hand away from Emma's cheek, leaving it feeling warm.

"I should go alone."

Emma nodded. "Will you be okay?"

"Probably," Regina said, trying to smile.

"Regina, I think I should come with you," Emma said. "I'd like to."

"I'd like that too. But you can't."

"Why not?"

"Because she's my problem. She always has been. I need to deal with this once and for all."

Emma swallowed. There were a million things she wanted to ask – what are you going to do to her? Would you kill her if you had to?

Will you tell her I said goodbye?

But she knew Regina, and from the complete absence of fire in her eyes, she knew that the queen was safe.

But Regina, on the other hand…

"What if she hurts you?"

Emma asked the question in a tight voice that neither of them recognised. Regina considered it.

"I don't think she will. Do you?"

Emma's mind flashed back to two days before at her kitchen table, when the queen had heard Regina knock on the door and, instead of sticking around for another argument, she had disappeared with a sad smile on her face. Emma had seen the exhaustion creeping over her during the past few days, and she had watched the will to fight leave her. Neither of them had mentioned it, not even on Granny's bench several hours later – but Emma knew things weren't the same anymore.

She swallowed, her stomach feeling suddenly cold.

"No," she admitted. "I don't."

She knew Regina was right. This couldn't continue – the two women were both little more than slightly cracked reflections of one another, and Emma knew this wasn't what Regina had intended when she'd pulled them apart. They couldn't keep wandering around like this, lost and desperately un-whole – they were two half-people now, both confused and not quite themselves, and it wasn't fair to anyone to leave them like that. Emma knew it, and Regina did too.

But whether the queen would see it that way was another matter altogether.

Regina smiled, then reached out for Emma's hand. She had done it once or twice before, and every single time Emma had had to catch her breath. Now, with Regina's fingers laced more firmly through her own than ever before, Emma felt like she was being filled with more air than she could contain. As always, the only thing that was stopping her from floating away with it was Regina, and the cool, slightly shaky hand holding onto hers.

"I'm sorry for the things I said," Regina suddenly blurted out.

Emma squeezed on her fingers, half smiling. "Me too. I was being a dick."

When Regina laughed, the sound warmed Emma's poor, besotted soul. "That's your permanent state of being, isn't it?"

"Shut up," Emma laughed, pushing her away. It had been so long, so painfully long, since Regina had made a joke like that, and a small part of Emma thought she might cry with the joy of being on the receiving end of it again.

Regina laughed with her, and when they were both quiet again, she asked, "Can I come and see you after?"

Emma squeezed her hand once more, harder this time. "I'll be pretty pissed with you if you don't."

Chapter Text

A/N: Sorry for the delay with this chapter - with Christmas and New Year and work and everything things have been a bit busy, but I hope you guys enjoy :) x


Chapter eight

As she had expected, the queen was waiting for her when she arrived at the vault.

Regina reached the bottom of the staircase and found her stood silently in the centre of the chamber, her hands folded in front of her and her posture straighter than ever. She raised her eyebrows, but her face remained otherwise impassive. Regina couldn't help but notice the inky smudges under her eyes.

"Regina," the queen said, not smiling. "To what do I owe the pleasure this time?"

"We need to have a talk," Regina said, tugging her leather gloves from her hands and pushing them into her coat pocket. Her knuckle grazed against the heavy glass syringe. "A serious talk."

Without waiting for the queen to respond, Regina walked past her and approached the chaise lounge in the corner. She sat down without asking permission.

The queen turned to look at her, her eyes narrowed. "Well. Something's changed, it would seem."

"It has," Regina said, clasping her hands together and forcing herself to lift her chin. "Why did you come to Storybrooke?"

She asked the question bluntly and without preamble, because she'd finally had enough of skirting around the truth. The queen blinked at her.

"Haven't we covered this?"

"Many times," Regina confirmed. "But aside from a dozen sarcastic responses and endless threats to ruin my life, you've never given me a proper answer. So, I ask again: why did you come here?"

Quite unexpectedly, the queen fell silent. She looked down at Regina with narrowed eyes and tightly gritted teeth.

"Was it just a reflex?" Regina prompted. "Did you even think about it? Or did you just know that I would be here, and so you decided to follow me and end my life without really considering the details of how you would do that?"

"What point are you trying to make, Regina?" the queen asked, taking a step towards the couch.

"You came here without a proper plan," Regina said, looking pointedly at her slightly trembling fingers. "We both know how unlike you that is. And since you've been here, you haven't hurt a single person – we definitely know how unlike you that is."

"So?" the queen demanded, but her cheeks had turned pink.

"So," Regina parried. "Something isn't right. You've been drifting around not doing anything, not attacking anyone, not even making your presence known – apart from when you've been sinking your claws into Emma. But even that was wrong. You attached yourself to her rather than trying to hurt her and I haven't been able to understand a minute of it. Something is different about you."

"Of course something is different about me," the queen snapped, gesturing down at herself with venomous hatred. "I'm only half a person, remember? Things have changed a bit since we last crossed paths."

"Do you even want to be here?"

The queen looked around her pointedly. "Well, I can't say it's the most spectacular place in the world, Regina. You could have done much better."

There was a pause before Regina sighed, leaning back against the couch.

"For one second," she said, her voice suddenly softer than either of them were expecting it to be. "Can you drop this attitude and just have a conversation with me?"

The queen laughed. "Unlikely."

"Try," Regina said flatly. "It won't kill you."

"Like you tried to, you mean."

"Yes, precisely. Tried, and failed, because you can't just remove a part of yourself and make it disappear. I learned that the hard way. Whether I like it or not, you are half of me, and I can't kill you any more than you can kill me."

"To clarify, dear, I could kill you if I wanted to," the queen pointed out.

Regina sighed. "Yes, and if you did so then you would probably die too. We both know that, and neither of us wants it."

"I'm not so sure about that," the queen muttered. "Ridding the world of you would be the good deed to end all good deeds."

"And given your complete aversion to doing anything remotely good, I can rest easy," Regina shot back. She sighed, trying to pull back. "Please. I want to talk."

"We are talking."

"I want to actually talk. We can scream at each other all day long but nothing will be achieved unless one of us listens for a moment."

The queen squinted at her, and for a moment Regina was certain that she was going to continue shouting just to spite her. Then, with a deeply resigned sigh, she approached the couch.

"You really have gotten dull," she said, sitting down as far away from Regina as possible.

"I have," Regina admitted. "But actually, a lot of that only happened after you and I got separated."

"You mean you weren't this mind-numbingly boring before?"

Regina shot her a closed-lipped smile. "No."

"I find that hard to believe," the queen said. "But go on."

Leaning back, Regina sighed. She took in the queen's rigid posture, her dark make up, her crown-like hair.

"I shouldn't have done it."

The queen narrowed her puffy eyes. "Done what?"

"Separated us," Regina said slowly. "I thought I knew what I was doing, but since I got rid of you, nothing has seemed quite a clear as before. Things don't feel right. I don't have the same confidence I used to, and I think maybe you were the reason for all my... my determination, and my fortitude. Now that you're gone I just feel… angry. I feel confused. I haven't stopped snapping at Emma in weeks and half the time I don't even realise I'm doing it. I was never like this before."

She watched the surprise crossing over the queen's face like a cloud.

"You're being very forthright, Regina," she said.

"I know," Regina sighed. "And I will probably live to regret it. But we weren't getting anywhere, and this needed to be said at some point."

When the queen didn't respond, Regina took a deep breath, clasping her hands more tightly together.

"Why did you come to Storybrooke?"

The Evil Queen groaned. "Could you please stop asking that?"

"I will as soon as you've actually answered me," Regina said, crossing her legs over. "I have nowhere to be. I can wait for an answer for as long as it takes."

The queen glared at her, but all of a sudden she looked inexplicably small. The halo of rage that permanently hovered around her didn't seem as bright as normal.

She pushed her jaw forwards and muttered, "I came here because I wanted revenge."

"Okay," Regina said, not moving. "That's understandable. Did you know what that revenge would be?"

There was a pause, and then the queen said, "No."

"Isn't that unusual?" Regina asked, leaning forwards. "Even in our heyday we never steamed into something without some kind of plan, but you came here without even thinking about it. And since then, it's been weeks, and the best you've managed to do is redecorate my vault and distract my sheriff."

The queen smirked. "She wasn't difficult to distract."

"I don't doubt that for a second," Regina rolled her eyes. "She has the attention span of a flea."

For a split second, they shared a faint smile. Then Regina sighed once more.

"Why haven't you tried to attack me?"

The queen snorted. "I don't know why you sound so disappointed."

"Not disappointed," Regina replied. "Just surprised. You can't kill me, granted, but there's plenty of other ways you could hurt me. You know I have a son, but you haven't gone after him. You know I have friends, but you've left them well alone. The only thing you've done is follow Emma around, claiming that you were doing it to make me jealous. But given that I didn't even recognise my own jealousy until yesterday, I don't think that could have been the reason. I think you were doing it because of something else."

Again, the queen's flickering rage dimmed slightly. She swallowed.

"And what is that?" she asked.

"I think it's because she was kind to you," Regina said, watching as the colour drained from the queen's face. "You were cut away from me and you must have been furious, but you were probably also quite lonely. Everyone in this town was avoiding you and it's obvious that whatever fire used to drive us both has faded slightly. But Emma didn't seem to mind – she let you tag along. She actually spoke to you like a normal person. That must have been… nice."

The queen blinked, repeating that single, insipid word. "Nice."

"You don't have to pretend otherwise," Regina said. "You do realise that we once shared a head."

"I remember it vividly," the queen sniffed.

When Regina just stared at her, her eyebrows raised as high as they would go, the queen rolled her eyes.

"There is a chance," she admitted as slowly as she could, "that I appreciated it, yes."

"You love her."

The queen recoiled at the bluntness of Regina's words, blinking furiously. She opened her mouth, a dozen protests waiting on her tongue, but she found it suddenly impossible to sort them apart. Eventually she settled for the most pathetic response she could muster.

"I do not."

Regina scoffed. "That was not especially convincing."

"How can you—"

"I love her too," Regina said, her voice soft, and at once the queen fell quiet once more. "You were right. Everything you two did together was driving me mad and I didn't even realise why. But it's true, and it turns out that, for some ridiculous reason, I love her. And you do too."

The queen snorted. "Well, of course I do, you fool. We're the same person."

"How long have you known?"

To Regina's immense pleasure, the queen actually blushed. "Longer than you. I knew she was special from the moment we met in the cemetery."

Regina pressed her lips together. "I knew she was special when I first met her too. I just… didn't appreciate that fact for a very long time."

"Until I showed you what you were missing, you mean."

Regina rolled her eyes. "Fine. You made me jealous and it made me realise how I felt about her. Congratulations. You've managed to screw both of us over."

"And how exactly have I done that?"

"Well, look at us," Regina sighed, gesturing between them. "Emma clearly likes both of us, for whatever reason, but how can she have a relationship with two half-people? This can never work."

The queen swallowed. "I suppose not."

"We're two sides of the same coin," Regina said. "And Emma likes both of them. But she can't love half a coin – she deserves better than that."

"She… does," the queen said reluctantly.

"You know what I want."

The queen narrowed her eyes at her. "You tried to get rid of me, and now that things aren't going to plan, you want me back again?"

"Yes," Regina said simply. "I shouldn't have separated us. That was wrong, and I'm sorry. But I think you know that coming back together is the best thing for us, and not just because of Emma."

"Why would this be beneficial to me?" the queen snorted. "I'm free of you now. Why would I want to confine myself to your bland little head again?"

"Because we don't work separately," Regina said simply. "You know it as well as I do. I thought your rage and your maliciousness were holding me back all this time, but it turns out I'm really nothing special without it."

She could see the queen itching to make a scathing comment about how she was nothing special anyway, and so Regina pre-emptively cut over the top of her.

"Don't say it," she said, watching as the queen snapped her mouth shut. "I won't believe you. Everything you've done since you arrived has been all bluster and sarcasm but there's been absolutely no weight behind it. I'm not afraid of you, just like you're not afraid of me."

"I've never been afraid of you," the queen muttered, and Regina rolled her eyes.

"Shut up," she snapped. "I'm trying to build a bridge here. I apologised, and I actually meant it. Can't you at least meet me halfway?"

To her surprise, the queen didn't respond. Instead she sat very still, her hands clenched in her lap, and continued to look resentfully at the woman sat across from her.

With a slightly softer voice, Regina added, "Are you even happy like this?"

When the queen still didn't say anything, Regina had her answer. She saw the dark circles under her eyes and the slightly bitten lower lip for what they really were – they were sadness. The queen was just as lost as she was.

Regina sighed.

"I can't focus without you in my head, shouting at me to do better," she said quietly. "I don't have any drive anymore. It took me nearly three weeks to think of a solution to the problem I was having with you when it was in front of me all along."

She pulled the full needle from her pocket as she spoke, and the queen glared down at it.

"And what was the solution?"

"An antidote," Regina said flatly. "I never even thought about it. I was looking for old magic, dark magic, hidden loopholes in our story, and somehow I didn't even think about creating a corrective potion to counter this one. It was so obvious, and I never considered it."

"You're losing your touch," the queen said, laughing. But her heart wasn't in it.

"I am," Regina admitted. "And so are you."

"How, exactly?"

"Because you have no idea what you're doing," Regina said simply. "You still don't know why you're here. You can't plot, you can't scheme – you were marvellous at getting me to be jealous of you and Emma, but anyone could have done that if they had the same knowledge about me that you have. You came to Storybrooke because you didn't know where else to go, and you've been wandering around aimlessly ever since. You don't have a purpose without me."

She watched as the queen gritted her teeth. When she spoke, the bad taste of her own words was evident on her face.

"I suppose there's a chance that I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to function without someone… grounding me," she admitted, closing her eyes. "Half of me is missing. And it may be the annoying, boring part that I never thought I'd miss – but it seems that I can't be myself properly without it."

"You need me in order to be you."

It wasn't a question. The queen's nostrils flared.

"Yes."

"That's it?" Regina prompted. "Just 'yes'?"

"That's all you're getting," the queen snapped back at her. Her eyes were still fixed on the purple potion in Regina's hands. "Does Emma know about this?"

"No," Regina sighed. "She knows I'm here but I didn't tell her what I was going to do. Just in case I couldn't convince you."

The queen snorted. "You haven't yet."

"Look," Regina said. "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have used this potion – I shouldn't have done that to you. You're a part of me and just trying to cut you off was stupid and selfish and lazy, but I'm trying to make it right now, and if we come back together I promise we will work together more. The good part of me will stop us from going down the evil path again – that, I'm afraid, I will not compromise on – but your part will give us the determination and passion we need again. Because I do need you, and if you come back we… we can work together. Okay?"

The queen was watching her curiously, her slightly raw bottom lip jutting out like she was trying to stop herself from crying.

"You're not the Evil Queen anymore," she said slowly, and it hurt Regina's heart to realise just how sad she sounded. "You don't want me there. You just need me."

"Isn't that even better?" Regina asked, reaching out and gently touching her arm. She felt the queen flinch beneath her fingertips. "You'll be back in my head, tormenting me all day long, and there will be nothing I can do about it. I'll have to listen to you. I will probably even carry on your tradition of zapping Hook out into the woods whenever I see him, because that did sound like fun."

The queen smiled in spite of herself. "I really did enjoy that."

"I haven't even considered doing something like that in a while," Regina sighed. "I have become boring. I don't like being this way, and I don't think Emma really likes me like this either. She's waiting for the mayor she knows to come back, but I can't give her that without you."

The queen pursed her lips, looking wistfully at the serum in Regina's hands. "Did you… kiss her?"

"No," Regina said, her heart fluttering. "Not yet."

"Not yet," the queen repeated softly. A sudden flash of longing glinted at the corner of her eye. "So if I come back… I'll get to be there when you do?"

Regina rolled her eyes. "Yes, I suppose so."

And apparently that was all the convincing the queen needed, because she nodded, her tongue darting out to wet her lips.

"Fine. Let's do this."

Regina blinked. "Really?"

"What, you're going to try and talk me out of it again now?" the queen snapped before she could stop herself. When Regina just raised her eyebrows, she forced herself to take a deep breath. "Yes. It's going to be painful in so many ways, but… you're right. It's time to do this."

Regina felt a skip of excitement inside her stomach. "Okay. Okay, let's do it."

For a moment they both just looked down at the needle in her lap, at the thousands of glittering stars that skittered across the potion's surface. Then Regina said in a quiet voice that neither of them recognised, "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For… everything," Regina said, her shame seeping from her. "Out of the two of us, you've always had it worst. I of all people should have given you a chance, rather than kicking you out into the cold."

"I survived," the queen said flatly. After a beat, she added, "I suppose I'm sorry too."

"For what?"

"For nearly destroying your relationship with Emma," she muttered. "Although, to be honest, I'm not sure there's anything I could have done to fully come between you. She really is devoted to you."

Regina felt her face go warm and soft. The queen noticed too and immediately rolled her eyes.

"Please don't be such a sap, dear. Just take the apology without crying about it."

And Regina couldn't help but laugh.

"Okay," she said, swallowing back the grateful tears because she knew they would be more likely than anything to make the queen change her mind. She held up the syringe between them. "Are you ready?"

The queen took a breath and held out one shaky arm. As Regina rolled up her long, velvet sleeve, the queen said, "I'm ready for anything."

"Excellent," Regina said, guiding the needle towards her. She paused, looking her twin dead in the eye for one last time, before she added, "Don't you dare mess this up for us."

The queen smirked, watching as the needle hovered over her skin. "Oh, my dear. I wouldn't dream of it."


Regina stayed sitting in her car for some time after she arrived at the sheriff station. She took a deep breath, her hands gripped around the wheel. When she closed her eyes, she could hear a crackling noise that she hadn't realised had ever gone away.

She felt heavier somehow. More solid. She knew that she must be imagining it, but it was a comforting sensation and she held onto it for a moment.

She sat back in her chair with her eyes closed and realised that her heart felt different too. It felt sadder, if that was possible – like she could feel the blackness ebbing back through it like ink. All the pain that she'd managed to cut away from herself weeks before had come flooding back in, and it sat densely in her chest.

But she breathed a sigh of relief. Her numbness had gone, and she wanted to submerge herself in this familiar fury.

The moment the queen had vanished in front of her eyes, she had heard the rattle of a thousand more thoughts making their way through her brain. It was harder to keep them quiet than she'd remembered. While Regina was certain she would get tired of them very, very soon, their presence was – for now, at least – inexplicably soothing.

She took a moment to settle back into herself, like her body was a new coat that needed wearing in, and leaned her head back. There was something unnerving about this new fullness, and it took her a moment to realise why.

There were new memories ricocheting around her head. When she closed her eyes, she could hear the whisper of the queen's voice muttering to herself as she strode around the vault, and she could feel the swish of an unfamiliar skirt against her ankles. Regina swallowed, trying not to think too hard, somehow knowing that if she grasped onto the feelings too tightly they would escape her. Instead she tried to hold them loosely in her mind like a bird between her fingers, and she waited to remember the things that her brain was telling her she'd simply forgotten.

"You think you know her better than you actually do."

Emma had smirked at her from across the kitchen table. Regina recognised the morning, and she recognised Emma's clothes it had been moments before she had walked into the house, and Regina had ended up sitting exactly where the queen was now.

"Not possible," Emma said. "I know her better than I know anyone."

"Including me?" Regina heard herself say, her heart suddenly pounding. She tried to offer Emma a mischievous smile, but Emma didn't laugh.

"No I know you exactly the same. You're still the same person to me."

The queen's heart squeezed. "Well, then you're even stupider than I thought. She's made it pretty evident that we are two very different people now."

"Maybe physically," Emma said, not backing down. "But you're just a side to her, and it's a side I knew very well. I liked it. It's a side I miss."

Shock reverberated through the queen's extremities as she demanded, "You liked her when she was like this? When she was bitter and cruel to you?"

"I could have done without it sometimes," Emma shrugged. "But yeah, I liked her. And I still do. She's just... different now."

Her voice was so soft, and it made the queen ache all over.

"You really do care about her," she murmured.

"I do," Emma said. "I always have."

"Even now, when she's snapping at you and chastising you and?"

"Yes," Emma said simply. "No matter what she's like, the answer is yes."

Regina could see Emma saying those words, her lips twisted with an amused smile and her green eyes crinkling at the corners. As she watched her, she felt the memory of her own heart skipping. The queen's hands had been bunched nervously in her lap and at the time, she'd pushed past the feeling, pushed past the warmth in her chest and the faint bubble of happiness that she knew was just tempting her into another fall.

Regina groaned, her entire body locking onto that smile. Oh, god... Emma hadn't smiled at her like that in so long.

The queen's heart was pounding in her ears – Regina's ears – and Regina recognised the urge the reach across the table and grab Emma by the sides of her stupid, beautiful face all too vividly. The queen hadn't been able to drag her eyes away from Emma's lips as she spoke. Regina could hear the thought clattering around in her brain: how the hell has Regina managed to resist her all this time? If the queen had been in this town for that many years, the first thing she would have done would have been to seduce the sheriff.

In fact, it had been the first thing she'd done when she'd arrived.

Regina shook her head, hoping she could force the two voices inside her brain to crash back into one before this drove her completely mad. But in her memory – her delicious new memory that she wanted to bottle up and keep by the side of her bed – Emma just smiled again, and she felt herself melt.

It reminded her of another time. She hadn't been there either, and yet now she had.


Emma was sitting cross-legged on the bench, her hands clasped around a takeaway coffee cup from Granny's. The queen sat next to her. Behind them, the fluorescent sign that hung outside the diner was crackling, and the orange-red light from it was dancing off the side of Emma's face. The queen's stomach had melted then too, watching the softness on Emma's face and the completely unguarded, unconcerned smile on her lips. The queen looked down at them, a sudden, tight longing gripping at her chest.

"You won't tell anyone this, will you?"

Emma's voice startled her, and the queen tore her gaze away from her lips.

"Who exactly do you expect me to tell?" the queen drawled. "It may have escaped your attention, but I'm not exactly on pleasant enough terms with anyone in this town to let your secrets spill out over afternoon tea."

"I didn't think you'd say it to be pleasant," Emma said, smirking. "I wouldn't put it past you to tell someone just to be annoying."

The queen opened her mouth to protest this – she even felt slightly hurt by the insinuation – but then she remembered every single one of her actions up until that very moment. She sighed.

"Yes, well," she said, turning away from Emma and looking back out at the road that ran past them. "Maybe once I would have done."

She could feel Emma smiling without looking around.

"You've gone soft on me," she murmured.

The queen rolled her eyes back towards her as slowly as she could, and Emma laughed at her expression.

"I mean that in the nicest possible way," she clarified. The queen snorted.

"Even in the nicest way, that cannot be a compliment," she said, watching as Emma took a sip of her coffee. "Besides – why don't you want anyone to know? Surely you're not ashamed?"

Emma shrugged. "Not really. The only people whose opinions I care about are my family's, and I'm not sure they will be as freaked out as they should be. Henry, for one, will be over the moon."

"It's a shame I haven't had the chance to meet him," the queen said before she could stop herself, and the wistfulness in her voice was painfully obvious. Emma smiled.

"I know," she said. "I just think that would be a step too far."

"I realise that," the queen sighed. "He's not my son. It's not my place."

She could tell that Emma wanted to say something reassuring then, but for once nothing came to her. When it came down to it, Emma was happy putting herself at risk, but if there was even the slightest danger of Henry getting hurt, she would back off. He was not part of this game.

"Anyway," the queen said to save Emma the aggravation of having to come up with a lie. "You were telling me how completely unashamed you are."

Emma grinned at her. "Those weren't my exact words."

"Close enough," the queen waved a hand. "The question stills stands as to why you are so reluctant for Regina to find out about this."

Emma looked flatly back at her. "You're serious?"

"I'm always serious."

"My parents might not freak, but she would," Emma said. "Just because you like teasing me and flirting with me doesn't mean she does. She would never feel the same way."

"Oh, Emma. You really are a naïve idiot," the queen said, making Emma blink. "When are you going to see what's right in front of you?"

"Look, I know she's acting jealous, and maybe for a second I let myself believe that it meant something more than it does, but—"

"But nothing," the queen cut her off impatiently. "Any fool can see how she feels about you. Besides, I shared the same brain as her for long enough to be able to read her reaction to how you and I act around one another. If you won't listen to your own common sense, listen to me. Don't be so dense."

Emma glared at her. "I'm not being dense."

"You're being denser than a brick, princess," the queen said, and for a moment Emma looked like she was going to snap back at her. Then she deflated slightly, her spine curling forwards.

"How do I know I can trust what you say?"

"You're only worrying about that now?" the queen asked. When Emma just looked pleadingly at her, she sighed, "You don't. In fact, you're quite stupid to even consider listening to me. But I'm glad you are, because I'm actually telling the truth for once in my life. You've been blessed with a rare gift, so you might as well use it."

Emma snorted. "You have such a high opinion of yourself."

The queen smiled weakly. "Well. Someone has to."

She watched the concern flicker across Emma's face. After a moment she reached out, resting her hand on the queen's wrist. Her fingers were warm from the coffee cup. "You know, just because I like Regina doesn't mean I don't like you."

The queen's response was all ready – she was going to laugh and ask Emma why she thought her adolescent feelings were so important to her anyway. But a wave of tiredness hit her, and suddenly there was no point in saying any such thing.

"You should tell her how you feel."

Emma blinked, her fingers twitching. "I should?"

"Yes," the queen said, her voice flat. "I don't know why I'm encouraging this – it certainly won't work out very well for me – but god, I can't take this any longer. If you love her, just damn well tell her. If I have to watch you pussyfooting around for another second I will end up strangling you myself."

Emma's eyes had gone wide and somehow watery. "But… what if—"

"If she doesn't return your feelings," the queen interrupted wearily, "which she will, but if she doesn't, then that's her loss. It won't be you who's an idiot for telling her how you feel; it'll be her who's an idiot for not feeling the same way back. Either way, right now you are both being morons. It's very irritating."

As she spoke, the queen pictured Regina's face in the vault only an hour before. She had nearly choked the life out of the queen trying to convince her that she didn't care about Emma, and while it had been laughable, it had also been deeply sad.

"She probably hasn't admitted it to herself yet," the queen said quietly. "But the feeling is there. It might just need someone to drag it out of her."

When she looked up, Emma's lower lip was trembling. "Why are you doing this? You don't owe me anything, and you sure as hell don't owe Regina anything either."

The queen pressed her lips together. "But maybe I do."

"What?" Emma asked. "Her, or me?"

"Both of you," the queen said thoughtfully. "Truth be told, I did make Regina's life quite difficult for a long time. I suppose I could do her this one minor courtesy."

She looked like she was going to say something else, but she stopped herself just in time. Emma watched her patiently for a moment, before she prompted her to continue.

"And me…?"

The queen shrugged, her gaze dropping once more. "And you… I don't know, Miss Swan. You've been kind to me. That's a rarity. Maybe I just want to be kind back."

Emma didn't respond, just like the queen knew she wouldn't, and after a few moments she looked cautiously back up. Emma wasn't smiling, but god, the expression on her face was just as blinding.

"I knew that it was bullshit," she said softly, squeezing the queen's hand. The queen felt her own fingers tremble.

"What was?"

"The name," Emma said softly, tilting her head. "'The Evil Queen'. I never bought it for a second."

There was a pause, and Emma wouldn't have been entirely surprised if the queen had gotten up and stormed off just to prove her wrong. But instead she offered her a weak, watery smile – one that hurt Emma to her core because she knew the queen was sacrificing herself, her own happiness, yet again. But she was doing it anyway, because she cared about Emma and – against all odds – she cared about Regina too.


Regina let her head fall back against the headrest, swallowing down the sharp, sudden pain in her throat. It was a memory so vivid that it felt like it had been with her all her life, and yet it had just knocked the breath out of her.

She wished she had a television so she could replay that scene over and over again, taking in Emma's beautiful words and beautiful smile and her stupid, soft uncertainty. And the queen…

Regina closed her eyes, lifting up one hand and resting it over her pounding, freshly blackened heart.

"Thank you," she muttered. Part of her waited for an answer. The silence that followed made her feel strangely homesick.

And suddenly she couldn't wait anymore. She owed it to Emma, she owed it to herself, and Jesus, she owed it to the queen too. She was desperate to make it up to her, to make all of this stupid pain worth it, and at that moment nothing in that world could have stopped her from clambering out of the car and steaming across the empty parking lot.

She strode towards the sheriff station with a roaring sound in her ears and a newfound confidence beneath her feet. She hadn't felt like this for too long, and a small, glittering part of her wanted to run, actually run, into the building because walking was too slow, too damn boring for her. There was a power burning beneath her fingertips and it didn't matter that her heart was hurting and Emma still might say no to her – she felt miraculously complete, and comfortable, and she knew that whatever happened now, she could handle it after all.

She pushed open the door to the station and marched inside, her heels clacking against the tiled floor. Emma's office door was visible at the end of the hall and Regina let herself be drawn to it like there was a rope wrapped around her waist pulling her there.

She reached the door and threw it open, expecting Emma to look up at once, to fall into her arms and give her the kisses that she'd been waiting for years.

Instead, she opened the door to find Emma sitting alone at her desk with her headphones planted firmly over her ears. Her head was bobbing in time to whatever music she was listening to, and she didn't notice the door opening.

Regina sighed, her heartbeat thundering, and took a step into the room. She wanted to throw something at Emma to get her attention, but she faltered. Emma was totally in a world of her own, her head down and her foot bouncing up and down under the desk. Her long hair had fallen forwards and was shielding most of her face from view, but the mere sight of her was making Regina's palms tingle.

Emma was mesmerising, and in that moment when she didn't know she was being watched, Regina allowed herself a second to just stare at her, taking in all the tiny, messy details that up until very recently she had managed to convince herself that she hated.

So Regina stood for a moment, her hands hanging by her sides, and watched with an amused smile as Emma started to mouth along to the song that was playing in her ears. She couldn't have been watching for more than a few seconds, but in that brief slip of time she felt a unexpected rush of love for the completely idiotic woman sitting in front of her, so oblivious to what was going on around her.

Then the moment was over, and Emma finally felt the weight of a pair of eyes on her. She paused, her pen freezing in mid-air, and looked up. When she spotted Regina, she pulled her headphones off and placed them on the desk.

Regina took another step into the room, and she couldn't stop herself from smiling. Emma was examining her like she wasn't sure they'd met before, her teeth digging into her bottom lip.

She let her eyes run unapologetically from Regina's face all the way down to her dangerously high shoes. Her posture had changed – she was standing taller, her shoulders pulled back, and for the first time in weeks her fingers weren't anxiously tapping against her sides. Her lips were pursed, ready to speak, ready for a fight, and as Emma looked at her she caught a glimpse of those perfectly white teeth hiding behind them.

But the biggest difference of all was in her eyes. They were slightly narrowed, assessing her, and they weren't blinking as often as they had been recently. They looked darker than when Emma had been staring into them that morning, and when Regina lifted her chin, Emma saw a flash of fire sparking through her pupils that she hadn't seen in a very, very long time.

For a split second Emma merely looked hopeful. Then her face split into a grin, one that was all teeth and crinkles around her eyes, and she said, "Welcome back, Madam Mayor."

Without hesitating, Regina took four, strong steps across the room. Emma rose from her chair and stepped forward to meet her, and they collided in the middle of her office, their arms automatically finding their way around one another and their lips meeting like they had done it a hundred times before.

Emma could feel Regina's fingers threading through her hair and she sank into the kiss, letting her body curl forwards against Regina's with her inhibitions entirely gone. Emma looped her arms around her waist, pressing her fingertips into Regina's back. She could feel the delicate nodules of her spine, the rise and fall of her ribcage. When she slid her hands upwards she felt the bar of her bra strap and gasped, actually gasped, into Regina's mouth. She felt Regina grin against her lips, but she didn't say anything. She just nudged Emma back a step, and then another, until the backs of her thighs collided with the edge of the desk.

Emma felt herself being dipped backwards as Regina kissed her harder, her hands cupped around the base of her skull to keep her from falling. Her tongue, which was so wickedly sharp when she was talking, was unexpectedly soft as it curled through Emma's mouth, sending electricity shooting down her spine and through her fingers. Emma moaned, letting her nails scratch against the small of Regina's back as she dug her teeth into the beautifully pouty bottom lip that had been driving her crazy for months. Regina's groan of pleasure was almost a purr, and she pushed Emma harder, ignoring her gasp of surprise as the desk began to cut into her thighs. It didn't matter, because Emma didn't really mind – her entire body had become nothing more than a frazzled ball of sensation, and the biting pain of a wooden ledge digging into her legs hardly made a difference in the grand scheme of all the other wonderful things she was feeling.

Kissing Regina, she was certain she'd never felt properly alive before. Now every single one of her senses had come to life and the sparks of excitement that ran through her were delicious, almost terrifying. When she felt Regina's nails raking through her hair, somehow perfectly matching the motion of her tongue grazing across Emma's lower lip, she almost came undone. With a groan, Emma felt her head fall back of its own accord, and in an instant a pair of warm, smirking lips were on her throat.

Emma threw an arm around Regina's neck, using her other hand to support herself against the desk, and let herself fall entirely under the spell that was Regina's tongue flicking against her pulse point.

"God," Emma heard herself sigh as Regina buried herself in the hollow space beneath her jaw. Her toes curled somewhere within her boots and there was a furious pounding in her chest that couldn't possibly be her heart, not when it felt more like a jet engine.

And apparently Regina must have thought the same thing, because she pulled back from Emma's pulse point, looking momentarily concerned.

"Is this… okay?" she asked, rubbing one thumb along the edge of Emma's swollen bottom lip. When Emma immediately smiled, she felt her heart fill with light.

"This is so much more than okay," Emma said, snatching out one hand so that she could pull Regina's face back towards her for another kiss, and then another. "God, Regina. I've… I've wanted this for a really long time."

"You have?" Regina asked, trying hard to catch her breath. The vanilla smell of Emma's hair was filling her nose and it was getting increasingly hard to think straight.

"Yeah. Although I can't say I realised it until someone came along and started prying around," Emma said, tapping her index finger against Regina's temple.

She was still worried that Regina would have forgotten how to take a joke, and she waited to be snapped at, but Regina simply smirked back at her. It was an utterly dizzying sight – when Emma had been sat in her office earlier that day, looking up at the door every 10 seconds as she waited for Regina to finally come back from the vault and find her, there had been a fizz of panic in her stomach. A small part of her worried that this was the wrong thing, and when Regina came back – if she came back – things still wouldn't be right. Maybe Emma wouldn't see the mayor that she'd fallen so desperately and obliviously in love with all those months ago. Maybe she'd just see the same sad, angry Regina, only this time the queen would be trapped somewhere deep inside her again.

But the second Regina had appeared in the doorway, she'd realised that would never be the case. Regina was Regina again, and it was obvious in every wicked flash of light in her dark eyes. The queen was inside her, sure, but she was only below the surface, and Regina wasn't pushing her back anymore. The cool smile on her face had told Emma that right away.

Regina, her Regina was back. The only difference was that Emma suddenly knew her so much better now.

"Can you remember everything?" she heard herself ask, and she felt Regina's arms tense up around her.

"Yes," she said, then paused. "Is that weird for you?"

"A little," Emma admitted. "It feels like some crazy confidentiality agreement has been broken. But I guess it's probably much weirder for you than it is for me."

Again, Regina smiled. Every time she did Emma felt herself grow taller, brighter, seeing the smile that had been missing from Regina's worried face for the last few weeks.

"That's true," Regina said. "But, for what it's worth… Thank you for all the lovely things you said. I know you didn't say them to me, so I'm sorry that I got to hear them without your permission, but…"

When her sentence trailed off, Emma picked it up for her.

"But I'm glad you know," she said, rubbing her thumb over Regina's cheek. Her fingers were tingling, and she was all too aware of her own awe over the fact that she was suddenly allowed to touch Regina like this. That Regina wasn't just allowing it, but actually leaning into her touch and grazing her cheek against Emma's palm. "Besides, I was really telling you all along. I was just using a messenger."

Regina smiled once more before she leaned forwards and gently pressed her forehead against Emma's.

For a moment they simply stood there, not saying a word. Emma felt warm all over, although the worry that had been niggling at her stomach all day long still hadn't quite gone away. She squeezed Regina's arms, so painfully grateful that she was there, that she hadn't lost her after all the trouble they'd gone through. Something pricked at her eyes.

"I'm so glad you're okay," Emma murmured, causing Regina to pull away in alarm.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

Emma swallowed hard.

"I was so scared," she said. "I didn't know whether you'd come back, and I didn't know what would happen to her, and… I'm so glad you're okay. All of you."

She pressed her hand lightly over Regina's chest as she said this, and Regina felt her heart flutter.

"All of me," she agreed. "Whether I like it or not."

Emma looked up at her. "You didn't just do this for me, did you?"

"No," Regina said, then hesitated. "Well, only about 40 percent. The truth is that you were right all along – I never should have separated us in the first place. The second she left me, I didn't feel right anymore. I didn't feel like me. So yes, I did this partially for you, but I also did it for me."

She paused before asking, "Does that make me selfish?"

"Selfish for choosing to actually accept yourself for once?" Emma laughed gently, tucking a strand of Regina's hair behind her ear. "Definitely not, Regina. You did the right thing, and I'm proud of you."

Regina felt her face burn with pleasure, and to try and hide it she leaned forwards, pressing her lips firmly against Emma's. Emma sunk back into the kiss immediately, sliding her arms around Regina's neck, and for a second Regina was so untroubled, so utterly complete, that it felt like Emma's grip was the only thing stopping her from floating away.

With her lips still pressed against the corner of Emma's mouth, Regina murmured, "Let's get out of here."

She felt Emma's face break into a grin. "Where are we going?"

"I don't know," Regina said, pulling back. She lifted one hand and cupped it against the side of Emma's overjoyed face. "We could go for a walk, or for a coffee. Or we could go back to my place. I just want to spend some time with you, and I want to actually listen to you for once. Would that be okay?"

Regina thought it wasn't possible for Emma to look any more delighted, but now she was positively beaming.

"That would be great," she said, leaning into Regina's hand. "I'd like that."

They stayed like that for a moment more, and then Emma reached over her desk and retrieved her jacket from the back of her chair. It was her red one – of course it was – and Regina couldn't help but raise her eyebrows.

"You're wearing that?"

Emma just smirked at her. "I am, and in all the world's I've been to, there isn't a place where you could convince me that you don't secretly like it a little bit."

Her smile broadened when Regina's cheeks turned pink. "You're as deluded as ever, Miss Swan."

"And you're as antagonistic as ever, Madam Mayor," Emma shot back, shrugging on the jacket. Regina's gaze automatically dropped to take her in, and Emma saw in the softness of her eyes that she met her approval. "Luckily I like you anyway."

Regina's cheeks blazed at that, and Emma couldn't help but grin at her.

"So, where are we going?" Emma asked. Regina paused, considering it.

"How about Granny's?" she suggested.

"Perfect," Emma nodded, following her out the door. After a beat she added, "We're getting grilled cheeses and tequila shots, right?"

Regina stopped in her tracks, turning to glare back at her. Emma managed to hold her stare for less than two seconds before she burst out laughing, watching as Regina's expression flickered too.

"I'm joking," she said, stumbling after Regina as she began to walk down the corridor, rolling her eyes.

"Your jokes aren't funny, Emma."

"I can see you laughing," Emma said, because it was true – Regina's face was blank, but Emma could see the tiny indent in her cheek where she was biting down on the inside of her mouth.

"I am not."

"You are, Regina. I can see you trying to hide it."

Regina's not-smile only deepened as she said, "I do not laugh. You're seeing things."

Emma snorted as they approached the door to the parking lot.

"You really expect me to believe that?" she asked, falling into step beside Regina. She hesitated for a moment, then she reached out and slipped her hand into Regina's, automatically waiting to be shrugged off again.

But Regina just squeezed back, like this was the most natural thing she'd ever done.

"Not really," she admitted, nudging the door open and waiting for Emma to walk through before following immediately behind. Their fingers never separated. "You may have made me laugh once or twice before."

She could feel Emma beaming without looking round at her.

"Maybe I can go for gold and aim for a third time today."

And just like that, Regina laughed out loud. She squeezed hard on Emma's fingers.

"Damn," Emma said, squeezing back. "Now what will we talk about?"

And Regina looked round at her, her eyes soft and amused, and she shrugged.

"I'm sure we'll think of something."


THE END

A/N:  As always, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for reading and come say hello on tumblr if you want to! I'm  starsthatburn over there too xxxx