The Proeliate championship is always a packed affair, but to Regina’s eyes, it seems more crowded than usual. Maybe it’s the thrum of tension through her own team, after four successful years in the Proeliate and three finals under their belt. Maybe it’s the other team.
Right now, the first Duo is about to begin, and Regina reaches for her partner’s hand, holds her loosely by the wrist, and leads Mal to the arena. They choose their circles warily, watching the blondes across the room, and Regina reaches out with her mind and feels nothing but an echoing distance, a blackness between them that feels as damning as nothing at all.
“First Duos begins with a one-nothing lead for Team Storybrooke,” the announcer says, and Regina straightens, waiting as their opponents enter the arena. “Elsa and Swan are going to have to bring their best to tie Storybrooke–”
In the circle opposite Regina’s, Emma watches her with a blank face that gives nothing away. The place that had once held their bond feels like a chasm that might suck Regina in, and she wants to throw up.
But she doesn’t. She fights with Mal and feels the vicious satisfaction that comes when she’s astride a dragon, the two of them together setting fire to Elsa’s ice. Elsa has constructed a series of bridges that rise in the air, and Emma leaps from ice bridge to ice bridge with perfect balance, blasting Mal with magic that makes her rear back and nearly drop Regina.
When she does drop Regina, it’s calculated, and Regina is positive it won’t work– that it relies too much on something that isn’t real anymore, that it’s a gambit of her own imagination instead of something real. But Regina falls to the ground in slow motion, acutely aware of Mal’s scream that comes with fire and Elsa’s ice shattering from the heat of it, of Emma sliding down the ice bridge toward her with something else in her eyes–
And then, arms catch Regina on the ground, Emma slipping to the floor as she rescues her from at least a few broken limbs, and Regina takes her heart as Emma holds her. Oh , Emma whispers in the hollow space between them, and something trickles through.
The next battle will be the one that decides the championship, but Regina misses it, finds Emma waiting for her in the hallway behind Team Storybrooke’s bench and launches herself into Emma’s arms. It’s like the first sip of water after a drought, like breathing after being underwater too long. They make it to a couch in the Storybrooke prep room, lost in each other’s embrace, Emma kissing Regina breathless and Regina clinging to her, yanking down her zipper and touching her everywhere, and the two of them entwined and helpless in the rush of their need.
When they are done, Emma pulls on her sapphire-white jumpsuit and Regina tugs on her green-gold one, and they walk away in opposite directions without a goodbye.
Regina wakes up to an empty bed, shaking from the vividness of the dream, and she looks around wildly for a moment before she accepts that Emma hadn’t returned last night. She isn’t surprised, exactly, and it’s too soon to be devastated. Emma, she’s beginning to notice, has never quite surrendered her old pre-Regina habit of running when things get too real.
Regina had never seen it before, only heard about it from Emma. When they’d been younger, she’d been too good at taunting Emma into staying. Now, she doesn’t have the heart for it.
She emerges from her quiet room to the early-morning bustle in the kitchen. Jacinda is already here with a suitcase for Lucy to pack. Mulan is frying eggs for everyone, and Henry is playing a video game on a couch while Lucy and Roland sit on the back of the couch, watching his screen. Ursula is painting Cruella’s toenails on a second couch, and Zelena and Marian are attempting smoothies with a suspicious glow to them.
They all look up when Regina emerges from the room, expectation in their eyes, and Regina shakes her head. “She didn’t come back last night. She’ll be there for the ceremony, though.” She knows this about Emma, too. “She doesn’t let her team down.”
“If we’re even her team anymore,” grumbles Zelena, who earns a few side eyes for that.
Marian slaps her arm. “You’re not her team, remember? You decided to be the captain of your own fate and all that.” She shakes her head, turning back to Regina. “I don’t know what you told her in that dressing room, but it must’ve been something to scare her off this badly.”
There’s no resentment in her voice, just amusement, and Regina looks around at this room of women who are utterly hers, and admits weakly, “I told her I was in love with her.”
Henry perks up. Mulan snorts. Ursula laughs. Cruella says, “Well, it’s about time, isn’t it?”
Marian eyes Regina speculatively. “Please tell me that you didn’t also start talking about a long-distance relationship, because if you aren’t packaging that with her staying –”
“I also told her to stay,” Regina says swiftly. She probably could have led with that and skipped over the feelings part altogether, but there is something reassuring about the way that the team rallies around her now.
“When did you realize you were in love?” Lucy asks, her eyes shining. “Like, I’ve seen the old videos of the two of you, so I know that you were totally in love back then, but–”
Henry smacks Lucy’s side. “What about my dad?” he demands, and Regina is tense for a moment at this unforeseen wrinkle. Henry says, “I bet he’d be happy for you now,” thoughtfully. “Did he know you were in love with Emma?”
“Yes,” Jacinda says immediately. “God, you should have heard the way he’d talk about it when you weren’t around.” She grins at Regina, her face smug as Regina gapes at her. “A lot of my wife and her girlfriend when I’d ask him about the Proeliate days. He was very fond of Emma, though.”
“I know.” Regina feels a little shaky on her feet, leaning back against a counter. Back then, before Daniel’s death, nothing else would have been acceptable. She would never have tolerated anyone who didn’t think as highly of Emma as she did. She’d been afraid to search too deeply for records of Emma and the Proeliate that year, but they’d talked about one day, years in the future, sneaking into the Proeliate realm to watch her fight again, and Daniel had been as enthusiastic as Regina. “I…Henry,” she says finally, because she should have started with him. “Are you okay with this?”
Henry regards her somberly, as though he is measuring his words. “If she stays, I promised her the middle seat on movie nights,” he says finally, and Regina looks at him in alarm. What has he said to Emma? “If she stays.”
“Right.” Regina presses her fingers into her other palm, her heartbeat accelerating. “I don’t know if she’ll…Arendelle means a lot to her.”
“So do we,” Mulan says fiercely. “I’m not ready to let go yet.” She flips the eggs again and tips them onto a big plate. “And she’d be an idiot if she gave up Storybrooke and you for some half-baked dream.”
There is a murmur of agreement, and Jacinda lays a hand on Regina’s back, a comforting reminder of the family she’s built here. Emma won’t give this up. Emma can’t .
But she’s been operating under the assumption that Regina’s confession might mean something good and real to Emma– that Emma might return because of it. There is always the very realistic possibility that it is what will drive Emma away. That it has been too long, and Emma has been too scarred from years of loving Regina to ever imagine loving her again.
She takes a breath and sits down for breakfast, absentmindedly checking her phone. Tentatively, she looks back through her messages to find her conversation with Emma, but it gives her very little. There is some phone service in the Proeliate realm, a nod to the visitors from more modern realms, but they rarely communicate by phone. Not when they’ve been together for most of the past few weeks, and the few messages that have been sent are pieces of conversations, messages answered in person. One from yesterday, from Regina to Emma: Coming over soon, Snow has ideas. Another from Emma on the morning of their fight with Broken Kingdom. Where are you? We’re running out of time. There is little edification there, little clarification of what Emma might feel, and Regina contemplates sending a message right now.
No. They do better when they can speak. She closes her eyes and tries to sense Emma, but she isn’t close enough. There is the faint presence of her– so she hasn’t run to the Land Without Magic again– but little more. She is keeping herself distant and guarded, off on her own while Regina can feel the stress and dread rising up within her.
The eggs are too sweet, but no one complains, and no one opts to leave to the common house instead. There are too many reporters there, and even Cruella is tired of the media by now. Regina is the first to rise, and she gets a few sidelong glances but no one stops her when she slips outside.
She hates where she has to go now, but the thought won’t leave her, and she grits her teeth and follows the path around the common house, past a number of cabins until she reaches the Arendelle cabin. Olaf and Sven are on the porch, and Olaf’s eyes widen when he sees her. “Uh, hi,” he says. “Wow. You’re just as scary outside the arena.” He laughs nervously. “Can I…help you with something?”
“I’m looking for Elsa,” Regina says tersely, and he disappears and returns a minute later with Elsa. She sweeps out, eyes wary as she takes in Regina.
“Hello,” she says. “Is everything okay?”
Regina snaps, before she can think it through, “Everything is not okay.”
Elsa’s eyes widen. “Emma,” she says, understanding immediately. “Where is Emma?”
Something inside of Regina relaxes. “She isn’t here?”
Elsa shakes her head. “I haven’t seen her since we bumped into each other at the arena.” She bites her lip. “I was hoping to talk to her today before the ceremony, actually.”
“Maybe she’ll come back for you .” Regina mutters it, but Elsa hears it and frowns.
“Look,” she says, and her voice isn’t quite as timid. Elsa, Regina is discovering, is not nearly as meek as she seems at first encounter. “I’m sorry if I caused…I’m sure my offer is making things tense between you. But Emma deserves the best. She spent twelve years on a team that barely ever made it to the Proeliate. How can you ask her to give up a team like Arendelle after one lucky win? I know what this team means.” Elsa’s voice is strong now, her eyes flashing. “Arendelle isn’t some underdog narrative. In Arendelle, she can be the Proeliate, like she wants to.”
Regina’s voice is the one wavering now. “She’ll– she’ll decide what she wants for herself,” she says unsteadily. “Not you.”
She turns on her heel, refusing to dwell on her nightmare or on the possibilities opening up for Emma, endless and perhaps everything she’s ever craved. And Elsa says, her voice soft behind Regina, “Would you follow her?”
Regina pauses. “What?”
“If she came to us. Would you follow her?” Elsa presses. It isn’t the first time she’s asked it, but there is something knowing in her gaze this time when Regina turns, something so certain that she grasps Regina’s uncertainty perfectly. Regina stares at her, at a loss, and Elsa waits.
She knows that what she says can be used in Arendelle’s favor. That if Emma is hesitant tonight, Elsa will bring it up as the ultimate trump card. “You don’t have a place for me,” she says, her voice tight.
“We’d make space.” Elsa puts her hands together at her waist. “We have plenty of fighters who would be happy to take a fight or two off. And you’d be worth it.”
She waits, expectant, and Regina’s chest feels tight. She has a responsibility to Storybrooke, doesn’t she? But no contracts have been signed, and the others would grudgingly understand if she’d leave. They’d be annoyed, but they’d understand. She has no interest in Arendelle and no feelings of fondness toward any of its fighters, not like the team she’s grown to care for, and it would be absurd to choose Arendelle over Storybrooke.
But there is no battle worth fighting without Emma, and maybe it’s her turn to follow Emma to the ends of the realms. “Yes,” she whispers. “If she wants me, I would follow her to you.”
Elsa’s eyes glow like an exhalation of victory. Regina feels sick with what she’s just committed to, words she can’t take back. She doesn’t want to go to Arendelle. She has never wanted that, even when Mother had seen it as her big chance to be a star. And now, if it’s what Emma wants, she will have no choice but to follow.
She sweeps off, determined to find Emma– to talk this out with her, to figure out where her mind is– but Emma remains elusive. “I think we’re best off checking Storybrooke,” Regina decides after a fruitless search of the village. Henry had found her at the common house, and he stays close now, watching her grow increasingly frazzled with every moment. “She clearly isn’t here. She feels…far. I don’t know how to describe it.”
Henry shrugs. “She’ll come back,” he says simply. “She always does.” He grins. “Besides, you told her that you love her. She wouldn’t run away from that. She’s, like, totally crazy about you.” He looks up at her, tentative and bright-eyed, and it soothes the part of her that can’t stop buzzing with fears. “It’s good, right? That we could…that we could have her?” That they could have family , the stirrings of something as encompassing as it. They’ve always had Jacinda and Sabine and Lucy, but that has been different, roommates who had become part of the extended family instead of a missing piece in their tiny unit of mother and son.
“Yes,” Regina agrees, a lump in her throat. She doesn’t want to imagine it, except that she does: Emma waking up beside her in the mornings in her big bed, wandering downstairs early to make breakfast and get Henry ready for school while they both laugh at Regina’s sleepy-eyed exhaustion. Dinners together every night and movie nights and vacations and ordinary afternoons spent on jigsaw puzzles and video games and nothing at all– just the three of them lazily sprawled out in the living room, talking about inane stupidity and laughing as a trio. Family , elusive as it’s been for a lifetime, and Regina craves it with Emma and Henry together.
Henry puts his hand in hers. “Tía Jacinda was talking about starting to pack up and move everything back to Storybrooke today,” he says, and, wise beyond his years, he leads Regina back to the cabin.
“That’s a…that’s a good idea,” she manages, though she still feels the urgency of find Emma, find Emma like a murmur in her mind. Henry’s clothes are a mess under the bed and in the drawers of his room, and he’d never bothered to fully unpack his bag. It takes all of Regina’s willpower not to flick her wrist and use magic to neatly fold and organize his things, but it’s for the best. The robotic folding of laundry soothes her, lets her breathe and think without getting worked up.
“Wow,” Jacinda says when she enters the room a half hour later, armed with an extra suitcase and her own packed one beside it. “Did you fold all of Lucy’s things, too?”
She takes over, her chatter a comforting background noise as she organizes their children’s clothes. “Sabine’s been so busy with the restaurant that she didn’t fully move over here with us. She’d just pack clothes for the next day and pop in that night. I think it’s probably easier to fully commit to staying here and commute– especially because our room is gorgeous – but Sab is tired of moving around. I get that. It’s nice to have a stable place in Storybrooke, even if it’s only been a few months.”
Regina nods absentmindedly, and Jacinda nudges her. “So, what prompted you to start packing so early? You’re usually a last-minute kind of traveler.” She shakes her head, mock-resignedly. “So impulsive .”
“I’m not impulsive ,” Regina says, offended. “I’m very organized.”
“You’d organize your entire yearly calendar in triplicate,” Jacinda agrees. “And then Henry would blink wrong once and you’d reschedule everything on it and take him on a sudden three-week trip to the mountains.” She gives Regina a sidelong glance. “I’ve never met someone more prone to abrupt emotional decisions.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Regina says stiffly. Jacinda knows her, which has always been the very worst thing about her. Regina prefers not to be known, to be a passing thought in no one’s mind except the people she selects at particular times.
Jacinda snorts. “ Regina ,” she says. She lowers her voice, though Henry is the only one in the cabin, and he’s reading a book on the couch down the hall. “Is Emma in Storybrooke?”
“I don’t know,” Regina says. Her eyes sting suddenly. “I don’t know where she is. I don’t know what I’ll do if…if this is–” If this is the end , Emma rejecting her wholesale and heading off to Arendelle. Without her, without the team, without any of the things that have held her back until now.
Jacinda shakes her head. “Regina, linda,” she says, and she stops folding clothes, sits back against Roland’s little toddler bed and gazes at her. “It’s going to be okay.”
“You don’t know that,” Regina whispers, her voice hoarse. It doesn’t feel like it’ll ever be okay again.
Jacinda laughs a little huff of air. “I know plenty. I remember…I used to think that you just weren’t a people person, back in Hyperion Heights. Antisocial and awkward and…I guess I figured it was just your personality. You took months to warm to Sabine, and you never quite trusted me with everything.” Regina leans back beside her, breathing hard through her mouth with little success. “You’re a different person here. You have friends . You hang out with the team every night. I know…I know there was a time when Emma was your entire world,” she says carefully.
Regina nods jerkily. When they’d been teens together, there hadn’t been anything else. Emma had made one friend on the team and it had made Regina desolate and resentful and jealous. She’d never wanted anyone else but Emma, and Daniel had been a happy accident along the way.
Now, she might never have Emma again.
“Forget Emma for a minute,” Jacinda says, and Regina gives her a disbelieving look. “I mean it! Look at Zelena. At Marian. At Cru and Ursula and all the people who care about you. You have people now. And whatever happens with Emma, you’re going to be okay.” She considers, and then she says, almost an afterthought, “And Emma is obviously head-over-heels for you, so I don’t know why you’re so worried.”
She folds a shirt placidly and sets it on Henry’s pile, humming to herself.
Regina finds Emma in Storybrooke. Well, not exactly, but she knows she’s there . She can sense her, the bond between them rippling at their proximity, and Regina has to restrain some of the sense of urgency she feels before she alarms Emma into running again.
Instead, she finds someone she doesn’t particularly want to spend time around.
“Yeah, I know where she is,” Lily says, eyeing Regina warily. There’s a brief shift of Lily’s gaze to the room behind her, which speaks volumes. “She just needs some space right now. She’ll be there tonight.”
Regina eyes her just as warily. Whatever Emma has said about Lily’s place in her life, Regina is beginning to discover that she is absolutely that petty person who isn’t going to move on from the fact that Emma has been with Lily. That Lily had provided Emma with something that Regina couldn’t, and that she’s still here, as much of a threat as she’s always been.
And she knows where Emma is.
Lily stares at her, looking very uneasy. “Look,” she says. “She came here because we’re friends. Not because of…” She chews on her lip. “She spent most of the night talking about you ,” she adds, and then says hastily, “From the couch . Nothing happened here.” She tilts her head, regarding Regina again. “And for the record, we really don’t look that alike.”
“I agree,” Regina says stiffly, straining to see behind Lily into the room. If she reaches out through the bond, she can sense Emma, close and still tired and uncertain. She pulls back, uncertain of what she should do.
“So it wouldn’t be weird if I hooked up with your sister tonight,” Lily says thoughtfully.
Regina blinks, taken aback, and collects herself a moment later. “It would be extraordinarily weird ,” she says, and she thinks– for a moment, she thinks she hears a whisper of laughter in her mind, close enough that it burns through her. She clears her throat. “But she’s an adult, and her bad decisions are her right.”
Lily snorts. “Good enough,” she says.
Regina clears her throat. “And…I hope to see Emma tonight,” she says, as loudly as she can without sounding odd. “Regardless of what she decides. I…we all want the best for her.” She can’t help herself when she tacks on, the quiet frustration still overwhelming, “And I might not be the best person to say this, but she is too old to go running whenever things get difficult.”
Lily rolls her eyes. There’s another flicker of amusement in the bond, this one sheepish. Regina says, “And if you’ll excuse me, my son is waiting for me at home.” She turns on her heel and escapes, returning to her house as she feels Emma reach out, tentative, and let a few thoughts leak into the bond.
I’m not running , Emma thinks in the silence. I always come back.
I know , Regina thinks back grudgingly, but her heart is fuller now, is more still and calm, and she can feel her breathing even out for the first time since Emma had disappeared yesterday.
Emma doesn’t respond again, doesn’t give her anything else through the bond, but Regina has collected herself enough to prepare for the ceremony in peace. It is always hosted in the winning region, and Snow is atwitter with the preparations when they make it to her castle that afternoon. “We’ve invited all the teams in our regionals, too, of course,” she says, hurrying from one Proeliate official to another and then back to the team. “They want to set up the stage in the gardens, but I’ve been trying to show them the backdrop by the lake– oh, here’s Nova–”
“This is the part of the Proeliate she likes best,” Marian says dryly. They are clustered together for now, the seven of them dressed for the reception a half hour in advance. There is still no sign of Emma, but Regina is sure now that she’ll be there. “That, and those five minutes at the beginning of each match when they make us all shake hands.”
“She’s actually a very skilled archer,” Mulan says, elbowing Marian. “And took her kingdom by force from interlopers. She just…really seems to enjoy this sort of thing, too.”
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Nova says, her eyes bright. She has a tablet with her, and she taps at it busily. “Oh! We need something from each of you. The champions are usually each named, and our emcee likes to add some tidbits. So where you’re going from here, any awards, anything else of note that we can mention–”
She takes notes carefully, and Regina doesn’t know if she’s lying or not when she says, “I’ll be on Team Storybrooke next year. Most likely.”
Zelena twists around, always one to pounce at the first sign of weakness. “Why did you say that like you weren’t sure? Are you going to let me poach you?”
The others shift, eyeing Regina with sudden uncertainty, and Marian says slowly, “No, it’s not that. Are you going to go to Arendelle, too ? I thought you were going to make yourself and Storybrooke a package deal–”
“Oh, come now, that’s unreasonable,” Zelena says briskly, at once Regina’s defender. “No one will ever win another championship, but let the lovebirds have each other. The Proeliate will be in shambles, but at least my sister and her lover will get to warm each other on those cold, icy nights–”
Regina lifts a hand, regretting every fond thought she’s ever had about Zelena. “Stop. I don’t– I’m staying. If Emma goes– and if she wants me there…” Her voice trails off, and she twists her wrist helplessly, out of words to explain it.
Marian exhales. “Let’s just hope Emma doesn’t go, then,” she says at last, and she wraps a hand around Regina’s arm and leads her through the castle halls, turning the conversation to the decorations and the people finally beginning to enter.
They mingle with the visitors, many of them familiar faces. “I heard your sister bought Misthaven,” Agrabah’s Jasmine says cheerfully. “It’ll be a three-way fight for the regionals. But the winning team’s region always gets a second entry the following year, so I think our chances are good.”
“No hard feelings?” Regina says, quirking her eyebrows.
Jasmine laughs. “Listen,” she says, shrugging. “Everyone hates being beaten, but no one really minds it when it’s the champions who do it. We got taken down by the best of the best. Next time, we’ll be ready for you,” she says, and she shakes Regina’s hand and disappears back into the crowd.
Mother isn’t here, a single kindness of the location. Gold is here, but he is shaking hands and making deals and coldly ignoring them all, which is how Regina likes it. She spots, across the room, Wonderland’s team, and she feels her stomach twist when she remembers what they’d done to Emma. Zelena is down there, speaking to the blonde girl whom Mother had destroyed, and she is motioning eagerly as the girl looks at her with unfettered hope on her face.
All teams from the Proeliate are invited, of course, and when Regina looks around, she can find her other teammates mingling. Lucy and Henry and Camelot’s Violet are getting on famously, and Poseidon has found Ursula and Cruella. Mulan walks with Athena, the two of them lost in conversation, and Marian is chatting with Ruby and a group of Ozians. And Emma is…
For a moment, Regina thinks that she’s seen Emma, and her heart leaps. There is no mistaking that rush of blonde hair, that delicate profile, the way she walks– but then she sees the woman beside her and realizes her error. No, that isn’t Emma at all, though it absolutely is her.
Wish Emma catches sight of her, and she murmurs something to Wish Regina. The two of them head to Regina together, and Regina feels sick, watches the way that their hands swing together and how easily they communicate with just a glance.
“We’ve been watching the Proeliate,” Wish Emma says with something like triumph. “It’s been a wild ride. Henry and Hope keep trying to get some of the merch to ship to our realm, but no dice so far.”
“We got those Team Storybrooke pajamas,” Wish Regina reminds her. “I wanted an Emma plushie, though.”
Wish Emma snorts. “I’ll bet you did.” She leans against Wish Regina’s shoulder, as comfortable there as Emma had once been against Regina’s, and Regina’s heart aches. “So?” she says expectantly. “Looks like you two got your act together, huh?”
Wish Regina says, “So impatient . Give them time, darling. You know how long it took us to find each other.” She presses a kiss to Wish Emma’s hair, and she smiles knowingly at Regina. “You’ll get there.”
“I didn’t ask,” Regina shoots back. Something about these Wishverse versions of Emma and Regina leave Regina unmoored, irritable and yearning for things that are not yet to be.
But Wish Emma just laughs. “Same Regina,” she says, and she leans over and presses a kiss to Regina’s cheek. Regina flushes– she can’t help it, it’s Emma – and Wish Emma floats off, her wife’s hand in hers as they head to the buffet.
“I think I might hate her,” says a voice from beside Regina, and Regina feels Emma’s presence a moment later. It’s been here for a while, she realizes, and she’d missed Emma’s arrival in her distraction. Emma glowers after their Wishverse selves, and she says, “I mean it. If I ever have to fight her again, I’m just going to take a page out of your book and set her on fire. I’ll never get the heart, but it’ll be worth it.”
“Emma,” Regina breathes. Emma is wearing the dress they’d picked, beautiful even with her hair perhaps more haphazard than is expected for a champion, and Regina reaches out to run her fingers through Emma’s hair. “You made it.”
Emma shrugs, rolling her eyes a little, but she can’t hide the reddish tint to her cheeks. “I told you I would,” she says, and she shrugs. “Anyway, I’m never going to say no to a buffet like this one.”
“Save your appetite,” Regina reminds her, which earns her a disbelieving look from Emma, who has never once saved her appetite. “There’s a whole reception after with a meal.”
“Will there be those mini potato puffs at the meal?” Emma says reasonably. “Will there be Agraban rice dough?” She lists more food as she leads the way to the buffet, Regina trailing behind her, and Regina wants to interrupt– to ask about Arendelle, about them, about whatever Emma has decided– but she doesn’t dare. She doesn’t want to hear the answers, not now, when Emma is back with her and they’re about to get their trophies. She wants to be happy for just a few more minutes.
The buffet stretches on for another half hour before the time comes for the award ceremony, an outdoor affair that has the crowd milling into the gardens and Nova hustling Team Storybrooke to a sectioned-off area. “Arendelle will go up to the podium first, but that’ll be quick,” she says, wings fluttering nervously. “Then you’ll be called up, one by one. Each of you will receive a wreath and a trophy. If you choose to speak, try to make it brief. Most fighters just wave.”
Emma says, “Yeah. No more interviews, please .” She earns a few sighs of agreement and a few sidelong glances from the rest of the team, who don’t seem to know what to do with her. None of them have asked the question burning at Regina, either, and Regina suspects that it’s for the same reason.
Emma is different today, the tension gone and her movements easy and free. She’s made a decision, Regina is sure of it. And it’s one she’s happy with. Has she already spoken to Elsa? Has Elsa told her that Regina had agreed to–?
She turns, impatient, and says, “Emma, did you–”
And, of course, at that fucking moment , the ceremony begins.
There are awards before the champions are crowned, individual ones that summon different fighters from various teams. Lucy gets the Junior MVP, to no one’s surprise, and Yelana gets a lifetime achievement award. The MVP goes to Mulan, which startles Mulan and has them all shouting themselves hoarse when she goes up to receive it, stunned. The rankings are revealed, and Elsa has managed to top it again for Solos after efficiently winning all of her Solo matches this Proeliate, but Emma and Regina hold the top Duos ranking in both yearly and lifetime, Artemis and Apollo in second position behind them. Regina has made it to second in the Solo rankings because of a technicality– Proeliate losses are weighted more than regional ones. It’s all just names and numbers, and it all feels so very irrelevant, minor facts that mean little compared to the grand finale.
“Our second-place champions, Arendelle!” the emcee announces, and Arendelle walks up to wild cheering, though nothing compared to the sounds of the arena. This is a smaller event, televised and aired anywhere where technology can run. Regina prefers it, the fresh air of the Enchanted Forest and the audible murmurs of her teammates, and she watches as Elsa’s eyes drift to them.
She sees nothing in her gaze that helps explain what’s next, and she grits her teeth, frustrated, as Arendelle receives their medals and Elsa speaks briefly. “We’ve lost before,” she says. “But rarely do we lose at the finals. Storybrooke isn’t just lucky– they’re good , the kind of energy that is going to breathe life into the Proeliate for years to come.” She shifts the conversation to Arendelle and its hardworking members after that, but nothing gets applause like her first remarks, and Regina could almost forgive her for tempting Emma away–
Almost, if Emma hasn’t gone.
Emma is beside her, unreadable through the bond, and Regina longs to reach out and find out more. To have answers , if they’re the ones she craves. She doesn’t dare.
The emcee continues once Arendelle has moved from the podium. “This year has been unlike anything we’ve seen in years,” he says, his voice carrying to the audience. There are maybe a thousand people in attendance, spread throughout the gardens and spilling back into the castle, and magic projects his voice. “Two minor teams from the Enchanted Forest rose up from nothing and united, defeating the top three teams in the Proeliate and capturing the whole United Realms’s attention. Our champions: Team Storybrooke!”
The cheering is as loud as it’s ever been, and they cluster together, the eight of them huddled together as they’re each called. “Lucía Vidrio, the youngest competitor of the year and our junior MVP!” Lucy beams, running past Nova to the podium, where she is given a crown of flowers and a golden medal. “Vidrio will be taking a hiatus from the Proeliate, but she is already signed up for the Spring Junior Invitational in the Sunken Land and plans to compete independently.”
Lucy backs away from the emcee when he offers her a microphone, looking alarmed, and the crowd laughs as he goes on. Cruella is called next, then Ursula, then Marian, then Mulan. One by one, they walk past Nova to the podium, each of them wreathed in a different blend of flowers and handed the smooth gold Proeliate trophy.
Zelena is next, and she saunters up to the podium to ringing applause. “Zelena Mills has purchased her old team, Misthaven, and will captain it next year,” the emcee says. “While there have been rumors that she’s snagged her sister, second-ranked in the Proeliate–”
“ What ,” Emma says in a low voice.
“That’s nonsense,” Regina says, matching her tone. “Zelena never even tried.”
Emma exhales. “Good,” she murmurs. “You’re getting offers from everywhere , aren’t you?” Regina looks at her sharply– then she has spoken to Elsa, hasn’t she, and then what?
Emma bites her lip. “Oh,” she says, hearing Regina’s thoughts. “That.” She looks up again, her eyes beseeching, and she’s going to tell Regina now , it’s going to be a nightmare or perfect or–
“Regina Mills, second ranked in the League!” the emcee calls, and Regina grimaces and walks up to the podium. Her flowers are the purple of her magic, and she knows that they’d been specially selected. “Mills has signed on to Team Storybrooke next year, and plans to compete in the showcase this summer as well. She hasn’t signed up for any individual competitions at this time.”
The microphone is thrust in her face, and Regina blinks at it and says, “This one’s for Henry,” into it before she steps back, taking her spot beside Zelena. Henry waves madly from the crowd, perched on the back of a seat for a better view.
“Finally, the captain of Team Storybrooke, Emma Swan!” Their eyes all turn to Emma, who walks slowly up to the podium. “Long the top fighter in her region, now ranked third in Solos and first in Duos.” Emma is given blue flowers in her wreath, and Regina knows at once: it’s blue for Arendelle. Emma has decided–
“Swan plans to continue with Team Storybrooke despite other offers,” the emcee says, and he drones on, talking about competitions Emma has done in prior years, but Regina isn’t paying attention. No one is. Emma stands beside Regina on the far end of the podium, her smile genuine as she thanks the fans and the fighters and their supporters, and they are all silent, watching her with a medley of emotions. Lucy is beaming. Mulan’s eyes are hard but glistening. Ursula is shaking her head, rolling her eyes, in silent disbelief.
Regina’s heart is thumping in her chest, her breathing coming in little spurts that aren’t enough. She feels lightheaded, disbelieving, and there is Emma, beside her, maybe beside her forever– like maybe, just maybe, this is their eternity, not something ephemeral but the rest of their lives.
If Emma doesn’t hate her by now–
Regina , Emma says in her mind, and there is nothing in her voice but fond exasperation. Really?
The ceremony ends with a proclamation of unity and music filtering in from the next room– because, of course, Snow would never have a ceremony without a ball– and the meals are set out at tables. There are well-wishers all around them, and Marian nudges Regina and murmurs in her ear, “The lakefront.”
Regina nods and keeps hold of Emma’s hand, pulling her forward as they smile and chat with people they don’t know, and they maneuver closer and closer to the far side of the castle, near the lake, until they finally break free and hurry out there.
The others are already waiting, Zelena with her hands on her hips. “You just couldn’t resist the big, dramatic announcement, could you?” she says, scowling at Emma as though Zelena is planning on staying on the team instead of being the first to jump ship.
Emma rubs her head. “Look, I didn’t officially make the decision until literally twenty minutes before the ceremony,” she says. “And I didn’t really know how to tell everyone without it getting–”
Abruptly, Lucy throws her arms around Emma, followed by Mulan and then the others, all of them clutching onto each other and holding Emma tight. Regina is somewhere near the outside of the huddle, but she’s close enough that she can hear Emma say, “...it getting like this ,” a little wetly.
“Poor, poor Emma,” Marian says fondly in the huddle. “All this love and no way to escape.”
“There’s always magic,” Cruella says helpfully. “You know, a little bit of energy and poof! You’re out of the huddle.”
But Emma doesn’t magic herself out. She buries her face in Mulan’s shoulder and doesn’t say anything for a long time, swaying in their circle of arms and flowers and trophies in hand. Regina is so far from the center that she can’t touch Emma, and it hurts even though it shouldn’t, this distance even within the team.
When they finally separate, Ursula gives the others a significant look. “I think we should go inside. There’s going to be good food for this meal and we’ll miss it all.”
“Yeah?” Emma says, interested. “What kind–”
“No,” Marian says severely. “Not for you.” The others exchange glances. “You stay here.”
“Both of you,” Lucy says, grinning from Emma to Regina. Regina blinks at her, taken aback.
Cruella drawls, “Work out your shit. Tell each other you’re in love or break up forever. I don’t care. But I refuse to fight on a team with this much sexual tension next year. I can’t afford the betting pools anymore.”
Emma laughs, realizes that Cruella is serious, and falls into bewildered silence. Zelena pinches her arm. “When my sister tells you that she’s in love with you, you don’t run away ,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “My sister is a prize .”
“I know,” Emma says, and Regina turns away, humiliated and far too emotional at the note of protectiveness in Zelena’s voice. She watches the lake instead, wanders away from the group and sits down on a log near the water, and watches as little waves lap against the rocks. The air here is cold, the night dark, and she feels Emma coming toward her before she hears her.
“Hey,” Emma says, and she sits down beside Regina. Then, quietly, “You were really going to join Arendelle for me?”
“For me,” Regina admits, staring out into the reflection of the moon and the stars in the lake. “I didn’t want to…I don’t care where I am, if I’m with you.”
“Shit,” Emma says, her breath coming out ragged. “That’s…fuck.”
“Is that a fuck, I have to let her down easily ?” Regina demands. “Because I don’t need that. Just say it.” She takes in a gulp of air. “I can handle it. I can fight Duos with you and pretend that we were never involved. Or stand by while you go fall in love with someone terrible and utterly unsuited –”
“Regina,” Emma says, and she puts a finger on Regina’s lips, very carefully. Regina falls silent. “Are you already judging my future imaginary relationships?”
Regina glowers at her. Emma shakes her head. “It’s just…I want to have a relationship. A real, meaningful, adult one instead of something that’s lost in the past,” she says distantly, and Regina’s heart sinks. This is the beginning of what she’s known would happen all along, of Emma moving on to someone who hadn’t vanished on her when Emma had needed her most. Of Emma finding a love without baggage, something fresh and new and beautiful.
Emma sits back on the log, kicking her shoes off and making her pantyhose disappear in a spark of magic. She walks down the smooth rocks into the water, the bottom of her dress soaked to dark green in the lake, and Regina follows her. She’d picked the matching gold dress in the end, and the velvety bottom of it grows heavy and uncomfortable in the water, but she pays it no mind. “A relationship,” she repeats, struggling to muster up some enthusiasm. “That’s…”
“The thing is,” Emma says, her eyes gleaming in the moonlight. “I know the relationship is supposed to be the point. But it’s really just you for me,” she says, and Regina doesn’t dare to speak, to interrupt the point that Emma is getting at. “I only want a relationship if it’s with you. I want to stop being held back by the past and I want everything with you.” She takes a step forward, splashing in the water, and she puts her hands on Regina’s waist. “I want to fight with you. I want to sleep in your bed and help you raise your son and god , I want us to have a home together. I’ve been in love with you for thirteen years, Regina,” she whispers, and Regina leans forward, their noses brushing as Regina’s fingers caress Emma’s dress. “I just want to be able to kiss you whenever I want. That’s all.”
Regina exhales, and Emma smiles against her breath. “I just want to be able to kiss you wherever I want, too,” Regina says, her breath ragged.
Emma breathes out a little laugh. “So do we have to file an official contract, or will you just–” Regina kisses her, pulls her close until Emma stumbles across the rocks to her and tightens her grip on Regina’s waist. They fall at some point– Regina doesn’t know when or how, except that she is suddenly on her back in the rocks, water rushing past her eyes and soaking her hair, and Emma’s hands are on her arms and Emma’s lips are on her lips, uncompromising and passionate and affectionate.
When she parts, it’s to stare at Regina, and she says silently, Do you want to skip the dinner here and go somewhere else? Maybe that new pizza place on Main Street.
You want to skip gourmet food for pizza?
Emma kisses the back of her ear. “There will be more closing ceremonies,” she says with absolute certainty. “We have the rest of our life to eat formal dinners here.” She stretches out in the rocks, her dress like a sea of green around her, a lost princess for the evening instead of the fierce fighter who had sprung from her. “And I heard that they have these amazing onion slices at the pizza place. And no reporters.”
You had me at no reporters , Regina thinks, and Emma kisses her again on the underside of her jaw until she’s letting out a little noise almost like a purr, her body vibrating with Emma’s touches and the thoughts that come with them.
I love you, Emma thinks. She pulls Regina to her feet, both of them soaked and clinging to each other and laughing breathless, exhilarated laughs. This feels like being young again, like being free and joyful and living, at last, the life they’ve always wanted. Like being partners in every sense of the word, and if Regina were a poet, she could spend a lifetime struggling to capture this moment, beautiful words running over the sensations of shivering, all-consuming love.
Emma does exactly that in three words. She murmurs, “Let’s dance, Molinero,” her gaze like the sun at dawn, and they vanish together in a haze of purple-white.