“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Emma asks for the thirtieth time since they’d started this walk. She darts a glance at Regina, suddenly certain that this is the time that she’s going to get a yes or a no .
But again, for the thirtieth time, Regina laughs lightly and says, “Well, who else do you have?” She’s barely looked Emma in the eye since Emma had popped the question, and she continues to look ahead of them now, her gloved hands in her coat and her step businesslike as Emma hurries to catch up.
“I have friends,” Emma protests. “Belle said she’d be a bridesmaid. And…do you think that Zelena is over that whole thing where I sped up her pregnancy and tried to kill her?”
Regina rolls her eyes. “She thinks you did that for me. Now she’s decided it’s sweet .” She grimaces. Emma squints at her. Yeah, it…kind of had been for Regina, and when she’d been the Dark One, she’d thought it had been sweet, too. Regina, it seems, does not share that notion. “She’ll like being a bridesmaid. She’s so isolated out in that farmhouse.” She grimaces again, a shadow of guilt on her face. “Who else have you got?”
Emma ponders. “Lily. I think she’s over that time I tried to kill her by now, too.” She hasn’t seen her in months, but it’s something . “I have other friends! Who aren’t my mother’s friends,” she adds hastily as Regina opens her mouth. “Look, this was a lot easier to plan when the Queen was still split from you.”
“You were going to ask the Queen to be your bridesmaid,” Regina says slowly.
Emma shrugs self-consciously. “Well, she’s still you , isn’t she? And she toned down a lot after the snake episode. She reminded me a little of you when you were screwing us all over during the curse. I was...fond.” Regina is staring at her, her eyes wide and open for the first time since Emma had asked her her question. Emma twitches uncomfortably. “Anyway, my point is that I’m sure I could find someone else to be my maid of honor if you don’t want to do it.” She brightens. “Hey, remember Elsa? We were friends for…a full two weeks, even! Maybe she’d come back for–”
“I’m doing it,” Regina says swiftly.
Emma laughs, then grows serious again. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” she repeats. She doesn’t know why she can’t drop it, why she’s so certain that Regina won’t be, but for a niggling emotion in a shadowed place in her thoughts where she doesn’t visit anymore. “I know…I know you aren’t Killian’s biggest fan.”
“No,” Regina agrees flatly. “But I am yours.” Her eyes soften and she reaches for Emma’s hand, enclosing it in warmth. “If this makes you happy…” Her voice trails off.
Her gaze is finally on Emma’s, dark and somber and aching, and Emma can’t tear her eyes away. “You make me happy,” Emma manages. “I don’t…I don’t want to do any of this without you.” They’ve stopped in the middle of Main Street, their hands loosely entwined, and they’re staring at each other with that shadowed place in Emma’s mind growing brighter and brighter.
“Then you won’t,” Regina says. Her voice is soft, her eyes still striking somewhere deep within Emma, and she doesn’t look away. Emma swallows, pressed with a sudden urgency to do something , something stupid that would be– stupid, stupid – and Regina takes a step forward and wraps her in an embrace instead.
Emma sucks in a ragged breath and hugs her tight to her, feels Regina’s shaky breaths against her chest and their curves molding to each other. They’re holding on to each other as though magnets locked together, caught forever until they’d be pulled apart, and Regina buries her face in Emma’s neck and trembles against her.
Something’s wrong. They’ve never hugged like this, never gotten so close. There had always been a caution in how they’d touched each other, a fear of what might happen if they’d so much as let their defenses down for long enough to luxuriate in the other’s embrace. They communicate in light touches and long gazes, never this , never Regina quaking against her and holding on as though Emma’s her lifeline.
Emma never wants to let her go, but concern makes her finally loosen her grip on Regina and take a step back. “You’re not okay,” she says, her eyes scanning Regina’s face. Her hands are still, somehow, resting against Regina’s side, and Regina’s arms are laid across hers so her hands can settle on Emma’s shoulders. “Something’s wrong. Regina…”
“Nothing is wrong,” Regina says calmly, and her eyes are unreadable now. There’s a smile on her lips, sad but resigned, and Emma struggles to understand any of it. “We’ll talk more about the…the wedding later, all right? We have a lot of planning to do.”
“Regina,” Emma says weakly, but Regina’s already turning around, her hands falling from Emma’s shoulders and her back straight and determined as she walks away. Emma can only watch her go in gripped, miserable silence.
She’s still dwelling on it later, pacing through her living room as Killian watches impatiently. “She just hugged me and walked away,” she says, shaking her head. “Like it was goodbye. It felt like a goodbye. And then she still responded to my texts as though everything was fine, but I know it isn’t. Something’s wrong.”
“Could that something be that you’re more concerned with your maid of honor’s tantrums than you are the actual wedding?” Killian suggests archly. She shoots him a dark look and he shrugs. “The Regina obsession gets a bit tiresome, love.” He puts on a mock-high voice. “‘How will I ask her? Will she say yes? Should I bring flowers? Chocolate? A speech about our friendship ? Should I get down on my knees?’” he finishes, an atrocious American accent on.
She rolls her eyes at him. “Okay, I didn’t suggest getting down on my knees. Or…I was kidding about that one,” she amends, remembering the offhand suggestion one night while she’d agonized over it. “I brought her a single red rose in the end and just...popped the question.”
“ I brought you one of those on our first date,” Killian says, his voice on the edge of a whine. “I don’t see why your proposal to Regina had to be more elaborate than my proposal to you.”
“Regina’s a queen ,” Emma says, feeling suddenly defensive. “I wasn’t just going to… casually ask. She’d expect more. And I know she isn’t thrilled about any of this–”
“Can’t imagine why,” Killian mutters, and Emma determinedly ignores him.
“I want her to be okay with it. I’m not losing my best friend over some–” She catches herself just in time, horrified at what she’d been about to say. Killian watches her, eyes narrowed. “I just…” she says weakly, and she goes to kiss him instead. It distracts him from what she’d been about to say. It distracts her , too, which is a blessed reprieve from the uncertainty of…whatever had gone on earlier. That hug , god.
And yet, she’s still thinking about it when she’s lying in bed hours later, dwelling on Regina’s arms wrapped around her, on the way she’d trembled and Emma had only wanted to hold her close and steady. Emma had launched into her planned speech about their friendship, had handed Regina the rose, and Regina’s eyes had gone soft, uncertain, as though she’d expected…
We’ve been through so much together, Emma had said, shifting from foot to foot. I’m closer to you than…pretty much anyone but Henry. And I can’t imagine getting married without you there with me , and Regina’s face had hardened again.
She’d done it wrong. She doesn’t know how she could have done it right– how this is ever going to be right , with them– but she knows she’d done it wrong.
She rolls away from a lightly snoring Killian and hits the first name on her phone’s contact list, chewing on her lip as she listens to the ringing. “Emma?” comes the breathless voice a minute later.
Regina sounds distracted, caught by surprise, and Emma swallows the dread that comes with an immediate dozen worst-case scenarios and says, “Sorry, did I interrupt anything?”
“No, no,” Regina hurries to reassure her. “I was just in the shower when I heard your ringtone. Is everything all right?”
Emma’s mouth is suddenly dry, and she can hear the movements on the other line, can picture Regina in her room, water still dripping from the smooth planes of her back down the curves of her hips and–
She swallows again, a little louder, and Regina says in concern, “Emma?”
There’s a towel now, Emma thinks, warm and fluffy as Regina wraps herself into it and dries her hair. “Sorry,” she says, her voice strangled, and she edges closer to the edge of the bed, clamping her thighs together and refusing to think about why. “I…no, everything’s okay. I was just worried about you.”
“I didn’t slip on the soap,” Regina says dryly, and Emma shuts her eyes and struggles to laugh in response. Regina’s voice softens. “I’m fine, Emma,” she murmurs. “I’m...honored that you gave me this privilege. I’m truly happy for you.”
“You keep saying that,” Emma says, bold for a moment. “More than anyone who’d actually be truly happy would.”
Regina hesitates on the other line. “You know I think you deserve better,” she says, and Emma can hear the creak as she settles back into bed. “You’re too good for Hook. But…” She exhales, long and slow. “You’re too good for most people,” she says, and there’s a quiet hopelessness to it that makes Emma’s throat close up with grief she can’t name.
“So are you,” she whispers, stricken. “You know that, right? You keep…telling me that I’m good or that I deserve all these things, but you are, too. You do, too. And I want…” It’s nighttime, and it feels as though anything is possible, as though the whispers in the shadowy place where she doesn’t think can finally be spoken aloud. She can hear Regina on the other end, holding her breath. “I want…” She’s unable to finish, frozen in a corner on her bed, and Killian chooses that moment to let out a loud snore from the other end of it.
There’s silence on the other end of the phone, and then a stiff, “Are you in bed?”
The panicky feeling that bubbles up in response to that is utterly unwarranted and ridiculous. “I didn’t realize this was that kind of call.” Emma laughs shakily, desperate to distract. “What are you wearing?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Regina says, but there’s no playfulness in her tone. “Emma, go back to your fiancé. We’re fine. We’ll both be fine.”
“Regina,” Emma says weakly.
Regina’s voice gentles. “I know you’re just trying to help,” she murmurs, and Emma still aches. “But there’s nothing to worry about. This is a happy occasion, and it’s not about me.” Another pause, as though she’s restraining herself from saying any more.
Emma inhales, thinks of a dozen things to say and rejects each more vigorously than the last. “I’m here,” she finally manages. “Okay? I’m here.” It’s not about me , as though Regina agrees with Killian. As though anything in either of their lives can be not about each other, at this point.
Regina is quiet, and Emma can hear nothing but her breathing for a minute. “I know,” she says, her voice barely an exhale, and Emma shivers as the phone clicks off, suddenly cold in her bed with her fiancé a foot away.
Regina isn’t at work in the morning, and Emma drives past her house and sees the Mercedes in the driveway. Maybe she’s just taking a day off. She knocks on the door, rings the doorbell, waits impatiently and finally shoots Regina a text.
Late start today , comes the response. Doing a run before work . Emma blinks at her phone, startled. She hadn’t known that Regina ran, and she struggles to imagine it, Regina in skintight clothes with rivulets of sweat beading down her neck. She leans against the door for a moment, a stray hope that Regina might be coming back now, but she doesn’t return.
She isn’t in her office at lunch, either, though she replies to texts with cool explanations. Meeting. Business lunch. Every one of them is starting to ping as a lie, and Emma finally gives up and calls her.
Her phone goes straight to voicemail. She gets another text. Terrible service here at the docks. I’ll call you later. Almost done with this meeting.
What the hell is she doing? Emma closes her eyes and concentrates, teleporting to the docks and peering into restaurant windows to no avail. She walks back and forth along the docks until she hears a familiar voice and Killian pops out of the Jolly Roger, beaming as though she’d come to visit him.
She plasters on a smile and texts Regina one last time before she heads to him. I’m worried about you. Can you swing by later?
There’s no response.
She spends too much of her work time with Killian, leafing through a bridal magazine he swears he hadn’t stolen and trying to pretend to take some interest in floral arrangements. “Regina and my mom will have all of this under control,” she protests finally. “I don’t really have strong opinions on flowers?”
Killian scoffs. “I know women. You must have had this all planned out since you were a child.”
“Yeah, sure. Right in between trying to stay warm and dodge handsy foster brothers, I was definitely thinking about my future wedding.” Emma rolls her eyes. Killian looks blankly at her. “I’ll let Regina pick, okay?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t let Regina pick the groom, too,” he grumbles, and Emma rolls her eyes at him and stabs randomly at a purple arrangement.
“Fine. These are nice. Happy?” Her phone rings, and she’s snatching it up before she even thinks to check the number. “Regina?”
“Mom?” It isn’t Regina. It’s Henry, and he sounds worried. “I got home and Mom wasn’t there. She isn’t in her office, either. And she isn’t answering her phone. Are you with her?”
Emma’s heartbeat quickens. “No,” she says, ducking out of the captain’s quarters. She motions a goodbye to an unhappy Killian and steps off the ship, onto the dock. Phone service is completely fine here, and she curses herself for buying Regina’s bluff. “Look, don’t worry about it, okay? I’ll track her down. She said she had some late meetings today.”
She can almost hear Henry’s brow furrowing over the phone. “She told me she thought she’d be home early tonight.”
A chill runs down Emma’s spine. “I’ll find her,” she says, keeping her voice steady. “Okay? You head over to Grandma’s house and stay with them. Just in case.” She hangs up with him and jogs away from the docks, through the woods where she knows Regina goes sometimes to practice magic. A quick call to Mary Margaret yields no results, and a quick call to Zelena yields only a cool reminder that Zelena doesn’t particularly care for any of them, and she doesn’t make a habit of spending time with Regina.
She’d thought they’d been getting along better now, but this is yet another reminder that Regina’s been keeping things from them. Emma comes to a halt in the cemetery, breathing hard, and makes a break for Regina’s mausoleum.
The secret entrance to the vault is open, and Emma exhales in relief. “You asshole,” she calls down teasingly, climbing down the stairs. “You’ve had me panicked all– Regina !”
Regina is sprawled out on the floor, unconscious. Emma races to her, heart pounding and boots crunching against shattered glass, and kneels beside her, feeling for a heartbeat. “Regina. Regina!” She dials on her phone before she realizes she has no service, dashes to the stairs again to call 911 before she returns to Regina. Her knees are bleeding, her jeans ripped, and Regina hasn’t moved. “Regina, please,” she pleads. “Wake up. What happened? Who attacked you?”
The last time she’d seen Regina unconscious in her vault, it had been right before Regina had sent her and Henry away for a year. She can feel the old dread returning, the terror that Regina might not be so readily okay this time. “Regina,” she whispers. “Regina, please.”
She’s still crouched on the floor beside Regina when the ambulance arrives, her forehead pressed to Regina’s side as she begs her to awaken.
Killian keeps trying to put an arm around her. She’s leaning against Henry instead, their hands locked together as they wait, and Mary Margaret is beside them, curled against David in their waiting room chairs. “She looks fine,” she says, over and over again. “I saw her. She looks fine. She just has to wake up.”
“She will,” Mary Margaret says firmly.
Henry says, not for the first time, “If it’s a sleeping curse–”
“Dr. Whale says that there are signs of minor neurological damage,” Emma reminds him. “Not a sleeping curse. Something natural.” It’d be easier if it were a sleeping curse, if it could be solved by any of the people in this room who love Regina. But no, whatever had happened, it won’t be solved with magic. “Maybe it’s just a concussion. Your mom is going to be fine,” she says vehemently, and Henry bobs his head and squeezes her hand in his.
They’re finally allowed to see her an hour later, after Killian has fallen asleep in his chair and the rest of them have fallen into a huddle, David’s arm around Emma and Mary Margaret’s around Henry and all of them sitting tensely together. They can only go in two at a time, and Emma bites her lip and lets David and Mary Margaret go first. She’s not planning on leaving.
Henry has the same determination on his face, and they watch through a window as Mary Margaret brushes a kiss to Regina’s forehead and David squeezes her hand, murmuring something into their onetime enemy’s ear. There’s no reaction to either of them, and Mary Margaret steps out of the room with tears in her eyes.
Henry ducks into the room next, Emma lingering in the doorway to give him some privacy. He tries for a true love’s kiss, same as Mary Margaret, but again there’s no response. “Mom,” he whispers, and Emma steps back, listening with her head turned away. Henry’s murmuring promises to a mother who can’t hear, everything from I’ll keep to curfew, I’ll stop chasing every demon in town, I swear, just wake up, to I’m always going to protect you, even if you’re the one with the big scary magic –
She’s blinking back tears by the time he’s done, Regina still lying silent in the bed, and he says quietly, “Mom’s here to see you, too. If you won’t wake up for me, then maybe– maybe–” His voice shakes.
“You know it doesn’t work like that,” Emma murmurs, and Henry buries himself in her arms, wrapped around her and both of them trembling beside Regina’s bedside. “She’ll wake up soon. We have to believe that she’ll–” Her voice cracks.
Henry stares at her for a moment, his eyes searching, and Emma struggles to exude confidence instead of despair. She smiles wanly at him. “I want you to go downstairs to the cafeteria and get something to eat,” she says finally. “Your mom won’t forgive me if I let you miss dinner.” She squeezes his shoulder as he shakes his head. “Go,” she says. “I’ll watch over her.”
He hesitates, kissing his mother on the cheek again and waiting, waiting– and then he sucks in a sob and flees the room. Regina lies still, her face still glowing and her eyes closed; peaceful. Emma settles down on the chair beside her, putting a hand on the limp one in front of her. “Hey,” she says hoarsely. “I can’t…I can’t help but feel like this is my fault. I knew something was wrong, and I…I don’t know if I was making it all about me when you were being stalked or something, or if you did something with magic that backfired, or…” She bites her lip. “I should have been there. I don’t know what to do, Regina. I don’t know how to wake you up.”
She swallows. “I’m sorry about this, but I have to…” It’s stupid, and she’s already told Henry that it won’t work , but she leans over anyway, pressing her lips to Regina’s forehead. Regina’s skin is soft, even in the stark air of the hospital room, and still warm. And still very, very still.
“Okay,” Emma says, and she feels as though she might sob, too, and give up now. Regina looks small in a hospital bed as she’s never looked when awake. She’s imposing in reality, so much of a presence that it’s hard to see her tiny and vulnerable and exposed. Regina without her vitality is Regina without so much of herself , and Emma summons magic she doesn’t know how to use this way and thinks, wake up. Wake up. Wake up .
Nothing happens, and Emma drops her head, resting it against Regina’s side. “Please,” she whispers, and her voice catches on a sob. “I can’t do this without you.”
She’s asleep before Henry returns to the room, her cheeks cool against the tears tracking down them.
Regina opens her eyes. Her head is pounding, and she can smell the distinct odor of hospital when she inhales. What the hell had happened? She struggles to remember through a thick haze, trying to recall when she’d blacked out. The last thing she remembers is…
The fire . No, not the fire, Emma Swan charging through the flames to carry her out like some damned superhero. The debate for the sheriff’s office following the fire when Emma had pointed a finger at Gold and called the fire a setup. Yes. She’d been there, grudgingly impressed and irritated with the woman, and then…
Someone is holding her hand, and for a moment, her heartbeat quickens and she thinks, Henry ? But no, the hand is too large, too soft and feminine. Regina struggles to sit up, to shift under a weight on her side, and she sees finally who it is and shoves .
“Deputy Swan!” she barks out, slapping her hand away and pushing her from where her head had been resting against Regina’s side. “Get off of me!”
Emma tumbles to the ground beside the hospital bed, and Regina sits up, gathering her strength and her skin still crawling from the touch. Emma is awake now, if she’d been asleep before, and she’s staring up at Regina with a wide-eyed look. “Regina?” she says shakily. “You’re awake.”
“Did you think you’d take advantage of me in my unconsciousness ?” Regina barks out, horrified and furious. “Did you think I would tolerate that, Deputy? I could have you dismissed right now, vote or not.” She bites out the words with savage fury, watching Emma flinch back from them with satisfaction, and then zeroing in on the most important matter to deal with. “Now, where is my son ?”
Emma doesn’t immediately respond, looking dazed. “Why…why do you keep calling me Deputy?” she says finally, and then the door slams open and a boy tears in.
“Mom!” he cries out in a voice too deep to be– and he’s wrapping her in an embrace before she can move– before she can–
She hugs him back, uncertain and confused and how long has she been asleep ? “Henry?” she guesses, and she sees Emma’s face settle with comprehension.
“Oh, my god,” she whispers, very pale. “Oh, my god. Doctor Whale? Doctor Whale!” she shouts, and Henry pulls back at last.
He’s Henry. Regina is certain of that. He’s Henry, but he’s tall enough to be the one holding her, and his face is so different that he might as well be a stranger. She reels back, suddenly terrified and suspicious of the woman still crouched on the floor. “What the hell is going on here?” she demands. “What have you done to me? What–what–?” She falters at the sight of the concern blazing in Henry’s eyes, of the way he reaches to touch her shoulder with so much familiarity and love.
It’s impossible. It’s a trick. Henry was never going to look at her like this again, she’d been sure of it. It’s– it’s–
She flattens herself against the back of the bed, knees drawn up and arms around them, and she doesn’t feel like a formidable mayor anymore. She doesn’t feel like an unstoppable queen anymore. In the face of this impossibility, she feels small and terrified and powerless and so, so alone.
And Henry and Emma gather around her, protective as though this is natural , and Regina squeezes her eyes shut and tries desperately through sheer force of will to wake up from this nightmare before it swallows her whole.