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Amor fati

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Henry is asleep already. It’s far too early for him, but it’s been an exhausting few weeks, and he’s passed out on a notebook in his bed, face pressed into its spirals. Regina eases him off the notebook, setting it onto his night table and prying a pen out of his hand.

 

His eyes drift open for a moment and he mumbles, “Mom?” blinking up at her.

 

“Go back to sleep, sweetheart,” Regina murmurs, and she slides a hand through his hair, breathing out as his eyes drift shut again. She sits with him for a long time, and she doesn’t tear her eyes away from him for a moment.

 

There’s a familiar knock at the door downstairs, followed by Emma’s call. “Regina? Regina, are you here?” She sounds desperate, her voice small as it echoes through the house, and Regina shudders and closes her eyes, leaning back against the wall by Henry’s bed.

 

She can’t talk to Emma yet. She doesn’t know when she’ll be able to talk to Emma, not with the memories of the past weeks still swimming through her mind and damning them both. She doesn’t know where to go, except that Emma’s voice is coming closer and she can’t– she can’t–

 

She vanishes just as Emma pushes Henry’s door open, eyes wild and searching out hers, and she reappears in the first place she’d thought of.

 

Zelena is drinking a tall glass of wine on her couch, and she glances up with so much hope in her gaze that it’s crushing when it fades away. “Oh,” she says. “You’re back. I’d recognize that scowl anywhere.” She swallows another gulp of wine. “Come to reprimand me for all that time with you?”

 

“No,” Regina says in a near-whisper. She should have gone to Snow. Snow would have…Snow would have made her talk about her feelings, and no , she doesn’t want to go to Snow at all. This is…somehow, she’d known the right way to be around Zelena when she’d been without her memories. She’s startled at how much she aches for it now. “No, I don’t want to…I know we have a lot of baggage,” she says finally. “I know it’s been…hard for us.”

 

Zelena shrugs. “I don’t give a damn,” she says, which might have made Regina angry if not for– Zelena with her eyes wet, beseeching. “She doesn’t want to be my sister. She doesn’t want to be my anything

 

“I never meant for you to think I didn’t care,” Regina manages at last, her voice hoarse. Maybe she had, sometimes. Maybe it had been easier than navigating the pitfalls between them. Zelena watches her like she knows it. “I don’t– I don’t know how you could be so good to me when I didn’t have my memories.” It’s an apology and an expression of gratitude at once, and she’s still too stilted to give either one properly.

 

Zelena shrugs, sullen and unconvinced. “It was nice to be the big sister for a change,” she says shortly. “Especially to a younger sister who actually wanted me.”

 

Regina shuts her eyes tightly, feels tears leak out unbidden, and her voice is shaky when she struggles to respond. “I don’t know,” she whispers. “I could…I could really use a big sister right now.”

 

Zelena is at her side in an instant, an arm wrapped around her, and Regina buries her face in her sister’s shoulder and tries desperately not to cry. “It’s all right,” Zelena murmurs. “You got your memories back. You don’t need to…” She pauses, comprehension dawning. “What did Emma do?”

 

“Nothing,” Regina whispers, quick to defend her. “She didn’t do anything. I haven’t– I haven’t let her talk to me yet.” She shivers, and the memories are too sharp, too clear. Emma backing away from her at the top of the ravine. Emma sobbing in her arms. Emma naked, skin gleaming in the dim light, her lips moving in tandem with Regina’s and her eyes glittering with so much love that even Regina’s very worst self had been moved.

 

Emma kissing her, I love you , and the torrent of memories that had followed.

 

“You can’t hide from her forever,” Zelena says, but her arm tightens around Regina and Regina wonders , if it really could have been as effortless as her amnesiac self had made it seem. If she hadn’t self-destructed and imploded and she’d have all of them, Emma and Henry and Zelena and Snow and–

 

“Finding people is kind of my specialty,” a voice agrees, and Regina’s head jerks up. Emma is standing in Zelena’s living room, rocking on her heels a bit as she watches them. Zelena’s embrace turns into a shove at her back, pushing her forward to stand. “Hey,” Emma says. “Can we talk?”

 

As tempting as it is to teleport away, that isn’t much of an option anymore, and Regina sighs to herself and says, “I suppose so.”

 

“Okay,” Emma says, biting her lip. “Uh…” She gestures to the door, waiting until Regina opens it before she steps outside.

 

They walk down the path together, sneaking glances at each other, and Regina says, “Where’s your car?”

 

“Back at your place. It was faster to just…poof,” Emma says, making a motion. “Evened the chase a little bit.” Regina looks at her askance. “I saw you in Henry’s room,” Emma reminds her. “I thought you’d have gone to my mom after that.”

 

“She would have made me talk,” Regina mutters, and Emma hears her and barks out a laugh of her own. It’s short but not unpleasant, rueful, and it relaxes Regina about a hair.

 

“No, that’s fair,” Emma concedes, and she takes in a deep breath. “Look, we don’t…we don’t have to talk about any of it if you want. We can just…pretend the last month never happened, if that’s easier.” She looks up at Regina with earnest eyes, and Regina smiles back her mouth dry as she remembers again– Emma in her arms, Emma kissing her desperately, Emma’s I love you and her eyes glittering with all the affection in the world.

 

Emma’s offering an out, and Regina would be cruel not to give it to her. “Yes,” she says, the words straining as they emerge. “We can do that.”

 

“Okay,” Emma says, though she doesn’t look okay. She looks uncertain, sad, and Regina never wants to bring back any of this again if it’ll hurt Emma like this. But Emma smiles through her unhappiness, and it’s still enough to leave Regina breathless. “I missed you,” she says, and she hugs Regina, arms tight around her and her hair tickling at Regina’s lips, both of them swaying a bit in their embrace.

 

Regina holds her back, clings to her and stiffens her arms in an attempt to force distance between them, and all she can think of is how this could have ended, days ago.

 

No , she reminds herself, and Emma inhales her scent almost imperceptibly. Pretend .

 


 

So they pretend. Regina wants to pretend, and she hadn’t had a choice in any of this, so Emma’s going to pretend for her. Emma had offered her a way out– had offered it to both of them, because she’s still terrified of what Regina must think of her right now– and Regina had taken it gracefully. They can go back to how things were.

 

“And this is really how you want it to be?” Mary Margaret says dubiously. “Just…acting as though you and Regina–”

 

“It’s what Regina wants,” Emma says, sipping cocoa that Mary Margaret can’t possibly know isn’t just cocoa. Granny had offered it to her with a sympathetic smile and a pat on the shoulder. “I want what Regina wants.” She glances across the diner to where Regina is at the counter with Henry, absorbed in studying for a test he’s having tomorrow. She smiles at their son, light and shadowed only slightly, and Emma can only think wistfully of the way that she’d smiled at Emma without her memories.

 

Fuck , they’d been good together, even if it had gone upside-down after a while. She doesn’t know how she’s supposed to go on with her life with these memories still swimming within her, teasing her with what could still be. She doesn’t know how she’s ever going to move on from Regina when she’ll never– “We don’t need to be dating to have a meaningful relationship,” she says, more to herself than to Mary Margaret. “You know we’ve always had more than that.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Mary Margaret says, glancing significantly over at Regina again. Regina feels eyes on her and turns, her face settling into a warm smile that sends heat blooming through Emma’s chest. Mary Margaret waves. Emma stares dumbly. Regina’s brow furrows. “I remember trying to be friends with your father,” Mary Margaret says conversationally. “And that was even without memories of seeing him naked.”

 

Emma gulps down a lot more cocoa. “Please don’t ever talk about Dad naked again.” Mary Margaret smirks. Emma drinks some more. “Look, it’s different. What you and Dad have is…you know, epic. The whole fairytale. What I have with Regina is…me being stupid enough to hook up with her past self and make things awkward for us. Not a single fairytale in there.”

 

“Maybe you’re just not looking closely enough,” Mary Margaret says thoughtfully.

 

Emma winces. Her drink is done, and Granny’s is beginning to feel a bit stifling. “I’d better get back to work,” she says, rising. “I have a late shift tonight.”

 

“Breathalyze before you get in the patrol car,” Mary Margaret says helpfully, and Emma winces again and ducks out of the diner, leaning against its outer wall and struggling to breathe. There’s something about being around Regina now that feels…heightened, somehow, like all her nerves are alive and the world is muted and dull except for the woman across the room from her. She’s trying to behave, struggling with all she is to be normal , but it’s too much. Regina’s too much.

 

This is why they’d never crossed any lines before now, and Emma will be damned if she ruins their friendship now just because she’s clinging to…

 

“You left quickly.” Regina is on the other side of the diner wall– no, the edge between them, close enough that Emma can only stare at her in breathless want.

 

She shuts her eyes and turns away, forcing her breathing to even out. “My mom started talking about her sex life. Always a sign that I’ve got to get back to the station.” There’s nothing casual about the conversation, not even Regina’s groan of solidarity. Sometime soon, Emma’s going to make it through a chat with Regina without imagining her naked. Sometime .

 

“Late shift tonight, right?” Regina says, and Emma envies how easy it is for her to cast all of their memories aside. Regina’s always been better at pretending, anyway. She nods, and Regina reaches out to squeeze her arm. Emma’s skin is set aflame. “Stop by the house if you get bored,” she murmurs, which is…something they’ve done dozens of times before, but somehow now–

 

–Now it’s different. Now, everything is different.

 

Pretend , Emma reminds herself, and she smiles and turns to Regina, shivering under her warm, warm eyes. “I always do,” she says, and Regina squeezes her arm again, gentle and affectionate and enough to leave Emma spiraling into an abyss.

 


 

Emma is jumpy around her now, quick to downplay it but still wide-eyed and silent at the most awkward of times. Regina does her best to act as though she doesn’t notice any of it, still too steeped in her own guilt to do anything more than pretend.

 

But that’s what Emma wants anyway, isn’t it? Regina stands at her window at eleven pm, waiting for the headlights of the patrol car to come down her block, and Emma pulls up in front and doesn’t come out for a long time. When she’s finally inside, Regina acts as though she hadn’t known that Emma had been there for twenty minutes, and Emma acts as though she’d only just arrived.

 

She doesn’t blame Emma for the tension. Emma hadn’t been the one to manipulate and take advantage of their relationship to– to take away a happy ending. Regina knows herself too well to think of her amnesiac self as anything less than her worst impulses, strutting about and maneuvering Emma into a position where her care for Regina would be twisted into seduction.

 

She’s furious at herself for doing this, for ruining them and all they’ve built. She’s envious and resentful and how is she supposed to pretend when she’s tasted a life with Emma? When Emma could have been hers ?

 

Emma doesn’t want to be hers. Emma only wants to love her, as she does anyone else in her family. And Regina had taken that away from them both in careless, selfish strokes. “Have a drink,” she offers, when she wants to say something different.

 

Emma shakes her head. “Patrolling, remember?” She pours a glass of wine for Regina anyway, passing it to her so their fingers brush slightly. Regina shivers, downing the wine in record time. It’s not her first glass of the night, or second. Or third.

 

“Please,” she scoffs. “You’re the sheriff of a quaint little town in Maine. My town. The worst you’ll find on a nighttime patrol is Leroy drunkenly stumbling into a manhole.”

 

“Yeah, well, last time he got stuck ,” Emma says, but she’s grinning at Regina, a quick kind of smile that lacks all of the tension of before. “Someone’s got to take care of him.”

 

“You’ve had a harrowing few weeks,” Regina says, swallowing more wine. “I don’t think you need to be taking care of anyone right now.” It’s an oblique reference to…the thing they’re not talking about, and Emma inhales and shrugs, silent again. Regina winces and drinks some more.

 

The conversation begins again, more halting now and more cautious, both of them dancing around the words that they’ve agreed not to say. Regina drinks and drinks until the room is fuzzy, until she can pretend that Emma’s looking at her and seeing something else entirely. “It’s late,” Emma says finally. “And you’re drunk.”

 

“I don’t get drunk,” Regina sniffs. “You should know that by now. We’ve been drinking–” She freezes, another night out drinking returning to her in stark color. Not her. Not something to remember.

 

A shadow crosses Emma’s face and she shrugs, rearranging her features into something lighter. “Yeah, yeah. I know you. You don’t get drunk, just mysteriously tired and chatty.”

 

“Ha,” Regina says triumphantly. “Told you.” She stands up, a bit unsteady, and weaves across her study to Emma.

 

Emma rises, holding out a hand. “Come on, Sleeping Beauty. I’ll bring you upstairs.”

 

“I’m not that insipid brat,” Regina says, indignant. “I’m the Evil Queen.”

 

“You’re definitely something,” Emma mutters, but her arm is steady on Regina’s, her hand strong at her back. Regina leans against her, eyes drifting shut as they exit the room, and she’s just sleepy enough not to second-guess their closeness. It’s just…nice, Emma as she should be, where she belongs. That’s what it is.

 

They make it up the stairs, Regina kicking off her heels halfway up, and Emma crouches down for a moment to retrieve them. Regina smiles at her, utterly charmed, and Emma mumbles, “What? I don’t want to trip on my way down.”

 

“Mm,” Regina says, and Emma is back with her a moment later, supporting her as she heads to her room. Regina scrabbles sightlessly at her nightgowns, finding something and ducking into the bathroom, and she’s afraid to return to her room and see Emma gone.

 

But Emma isn’t gone. She’s shifting around in the room, gazing at photos and throwing a glance at the door with reluctance. She takes a step toward it and then stops, twisting around and nearly jumping when she sees Regina watching her from the bathroom doorway. “Oh! I just…wanted to make sure you didn’t pass out in there and hit your head,” she says lamely. “I’d better get back to patrol now.” But she’s already crossing the room to put a hand on Regina’s back again, guiding her to her bed.

 

Regina closes her eyes as she descends onto it, bone-weary and ready for sleep. She hasn’t let go of Emma’s hand yet. “There’s your side,” she says sleepily, squinting at the empty side of the bed.

 

“Yeah. I mean…” Emma stops helplessly. “Maybe you are drunk.”

 

“I’m just so tired,” Regina whispers, feeling it dull in her bones. “I miss you sleeping next to me.” No. No, no, that’s the wrong thing to say, isn’t it? Emma is watching her with alarm, and Regina thinks– this isn’t her , this isn’t the her Emma’s thinking of right now, the Regina who’d taken advantage of Emma instead of being who she’d needed. The Regina who’d sabotaged all of Emma’s plans and left her alone.

 

She still remembers Emma beside her, though, Emma with her arms around Regina and Emma waking up beside her. She yearns for it again, craves it with all she has, and she’s just deep enough in a wine-induced haze that she can imagine wistfulness on Emma’s face. “Come here,” she whispers.

 

“Patrol–” Emma starts weakly.

 

“Can wait.” Regina says it with a firmness she doesn’t feel. “I want…”

 

Emma hesitates and then kicks off her boots, climbing into the bed to wrap Regina back into her embrace. Regina curls against her, savors the comfort of Emma’s touch, loves her so urgently that all she can do is think about a dozen times they’d slept like this before she’d gotten her memories back. She’d been terrified then, but she’d still needed every touch just as desperately.

 

Emma’s lips brush against the top of her head so lightly that Regina almost thinks she’s dreaming. “Go to sleep, Regina,” Emma breathes. “I’ll be here.”

 

Regina clutches onto Emma in return, eyes drifting shut, and she sleeps easier than she has since the day she’d first taken the failed potion.

 


 

Emma spends a night with her head propped up on Regina’s pillow, staring down at her sleeping companion with undisguised longing, and she barely stumbles out of there in time to end her shift. There’s nothing to say to Regina, not when pushing her any more would just be…the culmination of the past month of taking advantage of an amnesiac version to have what she’d wanted. And an awkward morning in which they both have to face that is…unfair to Regina.

 

She finds sometimes, in a rush of guilt, that she misses the old Regina, who might have been a disaster in the making but hadn’t quailed at pushing boundaries. This Regina is as much that Regina as she’s ever been, but she’s…careful, too, if only around Emma. She dances away from their tension and–

 

–But no, she’d never dodged their tough talks before, had pushed Emma into them even when Emma had been resistant. This Regina is different , different even than Regina had been before the memory loss, and Emma only has herself to blame for it.

 

She should have kept her distance. She should never have kissed Regina the first time, and she certainly shouldn’t have begun a relationship with her that she’d known deep down that Regina wouldn’t have wanted. She’d been happy to overstep when given the opportunity, happy to surrender to desires that she’d tamped down until then. And now, she’s paying the price with Regina’s friendship.

 

They’re getting better at pretending. Regina smiles at her the morning after the patrol gone awry, orders her coffee from Granny’s and has a waitress bring a bear claw to Emma without any explanation. No hard feelings , it must be supposed to convey, and Emma eats it with relish as Regina watches indulgently from the other side of the diner.

 

But there’s a new, frustrating distance between them, and Emma has to swallow back a hot bolt of jealousy every time she sees her mother or Zelena engaged in friendly chatter with Regina. Regina laughs with them, talks without the weight of the past pressing down on them, and Emma thinks, what’s the point . What’s the purpose of any of this if she can’t do for Regina what everyone else seems able to?

 

There’s a family dinner at the apartment one evening, which means a lot of silent simmering and an intolerably awkward moment where she gets there just as Regina does and they’re left standing in front of the door where they’d been caught kissing just weeks ago. “Hi,” Emma manages, glancing at the spot against the wall and then flushing.

 

Regina blinks at her, wide-eyed, as though she knows exactly why Emma’s red. “Hello,” she says, her voice a little hoarse. “Is Henry already here?”

 

When in doubt, they fall back to Henry. “I think so. He was supposed to come right after school.” She swallows and then tries to keep up the conversation before the awkward silence returns. “I’ve been looking at some of the apartments nearby,” she says. “I don’t think I want to go back to the house, but it’d be nice for Henry to have a little more space than the loft when he’s staying with me.”

 

“Not another house?” Regina says, brow furrowed in concern. Emma thinks she reads guilt in her expression and doesn’t understand it.

 

“I’m just one person,” Emma murmurs, shrugging. “I don’t need something so…permanent.” She’d meant to say big and something else had emerged instead, and she flushes deeper and stares at the ground, determined not to see pity in Regina’s gaze.

 

“There’s–” Regina begins and then stops, her mouth snapping shut. Emma doesn’t know what she’d been about to offer, except that her heart had soared and she’d thought, for an instant, of the guest room down the hall in the mansion. She’d thought, for an instant, of lazy mornings and quiet nights and Regina and Henry, family , in a home they could all share. “There are some beautiful apartments in this neighborhood,” Regina says instead. “Enough for the two of you and very homey.”

 

“Yeah.” Emma leans back against the wall and then springs away from it, remembering herself. When the door slides open this time, they’re standing three feet apart and avoiding each other’s eyes.

 

Mary Margaret looks disappointed. “I thought I heard some noise outside,” she says, her eyes flickering from Emma to Regina. Regina gives her a tight smile. Emma stares at the ground.

 

They’re given dinner assignments and Emma stirs the sauce at the fire, listening with half an ear as Henry sits on the kitchen island with a bowl on his knee and tells them about his day. “So we make it as far as the science lab when there’s a fire alarm out of nowhere and smoke starts pouring from the room. Turns out that there’s this…fire-breathing banshee in there. No one knows where she came from, either, but then she just drags off my teacher and starts doing stuff to her inside the lab.” He winces. “And my teacher was into it. Violet made me leave to give them some privacy.”

 

Regina says, rolling pastry dough at the island beside him, “Fire-breathing banshee? Did you catch her name?” She doesn’t sound surprised at the existence of a fire-breathing banshee who occasionally pounces on amiable women, and Emma gives her a suspicious look. Regina catches it and says swiftly, “I would think that law enforcement should have taken care of this situation by now.”

 

By now ?” Emma echoes.

 

“Gramps came. I think the banshee was hoping for Mom, though.” Henry tosses them both a sly look, returning to his mixing bowl with a smirk on his face at their frozen expressions. “So, you know, if you see her again–”

 

“I won’t .”

 

“She won’t .” They say it in tandem, glaring down at their respective chores instead of at their son or each other. Emma can feel ridiculous jealousy bubbling up again, the usual resentment toward every single person whom Regina interacts with who isn’t her. Even, it seems, fire-breathing banshees.

 

It’s a relief when David wanders over to the kitchen island, Neal draped over one shoulder as David sniffs the air. "Something here smells amazing ,” he pronounces, peering down into Henry’s bowl and then yelping. “Apples?” he says disbelievingly, twisting around to stare at Regina’s carefully formed pastry dough. “Apple turnovers ? Whose idea was this?”

 

Emma shifts, frowning as she turns to look at her son and his mother. They’re both staring at David, unintimidated, one eyebrow arched per Mills. “I wanted to see what all the fuss was about,” Mary Margaret says serenely, humor dancing in her eyes. “So I asked Regina for her recipe.”

 

“Oh, they are to die for,” Regina says, regaining her equanimity with surprising speed. Her voice is playful, only a hint of discomfort beneath uncertainty, but Emma still stares at her, aghast. “Even without my memories, I knew that.”

 

“I mean, if you’re going to poison me, I would take some good food over a pinprick,” David concedes. “Maybe not twice, though.”

 

They’re all laughing, eyes bright as though this is…ancient history, ignoring the fact that– “Hey!” Emma finally snaps. Her parents look at her, startled. “You’re out of line!”

 

“Emma–”

 

“No,” Emma says, holding up her wooden spoon threateningly. Mary Margaret falls silent. “What happened to forgiveness? You can’t– you can’t dredge up everything that makes Regina uncomfortable just for some kind of practical joke. She doesn’t need this, especially now.” She can feel her fist clenching, can feel the fury and displaced humiliation settling in. How dare they, when Regina is right here, her eyes flashing–

 

–with restrained fury, directed at Emma. “Excuse us for a moment, please,” Regina says tightly, and she yanks Emma with her to the hallway outside the apartment before she spins around to hiss at her, “What the hell are you doing?”

 

“They can’t treat you like that!” Emma hisses back. “Look, I know how you feel about–”

 

“You don’t know a damn thing,” Regina says furiously. Her eyes are still hard with anger, her face tight and Emma doesn’t understand how she’s the target of Regina’s fury right now when she’d only been– “I don’t need a white knight . Has it ever occurred to you that I want this? That I agreed to give Snow that recipe because I thought it was funny, too?”

 

Emma shakes her head wildly. “No! I know how you– you told me how you feel about this. You told me that you thought you were just…just playing along so they’d be okay with you.” Regina had been so resentful of it all without her memories, had been blatantly honest about what her motivations would have been, and it’s all seared into Emma’s mind by now. “I know .”

 

Regina’s face darkens. “You know what a crude facsimile of me thought when she had half the information and was just evil enough–”

 

“She didn’t want to be called that,” Emma cuts in, half automatic, half distressed. She can’t just…stand by and let anyone talk about Regina this way. Not even Regina, who looks as though smoke might start pouring from her ears sometime soon. She can feel her own anger rising, irrational and pointed and so frustrated at everything they’ve been doing since Regina’s memories had returned.

 

“I don’t give a damn what she wanted,” Regina bites out. “She didn’t give a damn what you wanted, so–”

 

It’s a baffling turn in a conversation that had already turned upside down, and Emma’s just close enough to rage that she lashes out instead of demanding answers. She isn’t here to be victimized by the one person she’d been trying to protect, and– “You know what?” she says coolly, her voice low. “I don’t need a white knight, either.”

 

Regina scoffs, shaking her head in disgust. “You’re full of it,” she grits out, and they’re left glaring at each other, hands shaking with restrained fury and Emma still at a loss as to how this has escalated so quickly. They’ve left too much unsaid when they never do that, and Emma doesn’t know how to cope with–

 

Regina throws up her hands. “You know what? It was ridiculous to think we could pretend . I’ll just…leave you to it.” She clenches her jaw and stalks past Emma, heading for the stairs as Emma’s mouth opens and closes wordlessly.

 

They’ve been loud enough that Mary Margaret opens the door a moment later, David and Henry behind her with identical looks of chagrin on their faces, and Emma shakes her head and closes the door again before she sinks to the floor, burying her face in her hands and struggling desperately not to sob in frustrated anger.

 


 

This fight is different from their usual, where they tend to squabble and solve little until one of them bends. And one of them always does , so Regina clenches her jaw and prepares to wait Emma out.

 

But Emma isn’t apologizing this time. She’s glaring at Regina from across the diner, stomping into the house when it’s time to pick up Henry, and altogether ignoring Regina as though she’s a child . In return, Regina makes snide comments and sends back half-completed paperwork and reacts like the asshole that her amnesiac self hadn’t believed she could be.

 

Because it had been Emma who’d started this, by acting as though she has some special insight into Regina’s life by believing a con artist seductress’s anger. Emma’s the one who can’t let anything lie without a fight, who always thinks she’s right, who’d held her one night just days ago and then disappeared by morning–

 

–And okay, maybe there are some other factors at play. Regina misses Emma desperately, misses being able to reach out and touch her and being able to speak to her with the candid honesty that she had without her memories. Not that Emma had been right about her supposed anger and where it had gone. Regina doesn’t have that anger anymore, that’s all.

 

If she did , she’d have to think about it, and that’s…not a place where she’s willing to go. She shuts her eyes, opens them again, sees Emma staring at her brazenly from across the diner, and glares right back.

 

“You two really need to fuck away all that tension,” Zelena observes from beside her, wiggling her fingers in a wave to Emma. Emma looks sheepish for a moment, waving back at Zelena, and then goes right back to burning a hole into Regina with her eyes.

 

Regina scoffs. “We’re not even talking . You don’t understand how people work at all.”

 

Zelena snickers. “Right. So this fight is about…”

 

“Emma making presumptions about me based on what I said without my memories.” Regina grimaces. “I’m tired, Zelena. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

 

Zelena, of course, dismisses that with a careless shrug. “So you told her the truth when you didn’t bother with hiding it, and you’re angry with her now because she listened?”

 

It sounds absurd from Zelena’s lips, to blame Emma for being one of the only people in her life who’d been a comfort to her when she’d lost her memories. Emma had been…so good to her when she’d been alone in the world, terrified and lashing out and with only Henry to hold onto. Regina had only known her as an enemy, but she’d been hopelessly in love with Emma, desperately afraid of her own emotions because they’d run so deep.

 

And you’re not desperately afraid now? The little voice niggling at the back of her mind is smug and condescending and sounds remarkably like Zelena. And you weren’t desperately afraid when you took that potion?

 

She’s gone self-destructive and she’s gone flat-out destructive, and she’s finally grown from both of those into some healthy, old-fashioned anger. This isn’t about feelings . This is about Emma glimpsing too much and refusing to let it go. This is about Emma glaring at her as though she’s the one who’d started this.

 

This is about craving Emma’s kisses still, with her longing tripled by the fact that she’d tasted them this time and knows what they can be.

 

She looks up, her gaze on fire anew as it settles on Emma, and Emma stares back at her with equal heat. “That’s certainly a look,” Zelena observes, and Regina’s eyes snap back down to her place, her breathing a little too rapid as she tackles her dinner again.

 

It’s easier to neglect unpacking all her emotions and to choose hostility instead. They’ve been through far too much for this, maybe, but Regina doesn’t know how else to cope anymore. She’d tried magic and she’d tried fleeing and she’d even tried being Emma’s maid of honor , and all that’s left is to…back away and let herself be angry instead.

 

Henry is growing exasperated with both of them. Snow says gently, “Don’t you think you’d both be better off talking about this?” Even David makes several muttered comments about emotionally stunted women that have both of them staring at him in outrage, then quickly glancing at each other and then away.

 

Regina can hold out for Emma’s apologies. This is easier than the tension of before, the almost-wanting that had never quite been sated. She’s perfectly content in this new limbo, feeding the fire of her own anger until something changes, and she’s definitely not thinking about Emma every waking moment.

 

Maybe every other , she thinks, snatching up her phone when it rings and cursing her own disappointment when it’s Henry on the line instead. “Henry?”

 

“Mom?” Henry’s voice sounds distant and small, and Regina snaps out of her funk and clutches her phone. “Mom, I’m at the vault. I think I’m in trouble. I need you–”

 

She’s vanishing in a puff of smoke before he can finish the request, her phone clattering to the floor behind her. “Henry? Henry!” she calls out, glancing wildly around the dim room. “Henry, where are you?”

 

There’s nothing but silence, and then another puff of smoke behind her. She whirls around just as Emma’s voice sounds in the dark. “Henry?” She sounds just as frantic, and Regina freezes as realization sets in. “Henry–? Regina,” Emma says, her voice taking on a distinct chill. “What’s going on?”

 

“Your son,” Regina says, her lips pursing together, “Is playing games with us.”

 

Emma holds up a hand. “Oh, no. You do not get to pin this on me. Your son is–”

 

“As charming as this is,” says a voice from behind them, and they twist around and gasp in mutual outrage. Zelena is in the mirror, framed with Henry and a grim-looking Snow and Charming. “We won’t stick around to watch.” Zelena covers Henry’s ears, mock-solicitous. “Your son shouldn’t have to watch his mothers fight.”

 

Snow frowns at them as Emma’s mouth opens in protest. “You’re both in time out,” she informs them. “Zelena did a spell. You’re trapped in there, and we’re not letting you out until you talk .”

 

“Actually, I set the spell to only release if they kiss,” Zelena says smugly, and Snow tosses her a startled, admiring glance. “For at least thirty seconds.” Henry winces. “We all know what you need.”

 

“For fuck’s sake,” Emma bursts out, and the mirror turns blank again. “I’m not–” She looks wildly at Regina. “Your sister’s insane.

 

“I’m well aware,” Regina says tightly.

 

“We can call their bluff,” Emma says, biting her lip. “They won’t let us starve to death, right? They’ll have to let us out eventually.”

 

Regina snorts. “Have you met my sister?” Emma sighs in acquiescence. Regina grits her teeth. “Let’s just…it’s not like we’ve never done it before. And I don’t think either of us wants to be down here for long.”

 

Emma stares at her, eyes wide and a little glassy as Regina reaches out to her, touching her cheek and taking a step forward. They’re close enough for their breaths to mingle, and Regina can feel a thrill of anticipation shudder through her as Emma wets her lips and leans forward–

 

–And then stumbles back, shaking her head. “I can’t,” Emma says. “I can’t– I can’t do that to–” She turns away, staring at the ground. “ Fuck Zelena,” she says under her breath.

 

Regina shrugs, hurt and determined not to show it. “Fine,” she says coolly. “So we’ll stay here until Zelena loses patience or that smoke beast comes back. I don’t care.”

 

“Smoke beast comes back?” Emma ventures, glancing around the room. The shards from the broken gemstone are still on the ground below them, and Regina stares at them with dread.

 

She shrugs again, avoiding Emma’s gaze. “I’ve been pushing off cleaning up that mess. I didn’t want to–” She doesn’t want to come face-to-face with the smoke-Regina again, this time with all its attention on her. She doesn’t want to think about that night in the vault at all , nor does she want to contemplate the last kiss that she and Emma had shared.

 

“I get it,” Emma says, her voice gentle, and dammit , they’re supposed to be fighting. “You think it’s still got some magic in it?” She crouches to sweep a handful of gemstone into her palm, wincing as it pricks and draws blood. “Ow.”

 

“Emma–” Regina begins, reaching for her automatically. A burst of black smoke emerges from the wound instead, blowing at her face, and she coughs and presses forward. “You’ve fed it, you idiot,” she says, her concern forgotten and replaced with irritation.

 

“Sorry! I’m sorry,” Emma says, staring with growing alarm at her hand. The blood is gleaming and vanishing, absorbed into the gemstones that sit above it, and she tosses them to the ground.

 

A new cloud of smoke appears at that, blooming from beneath them, and Regina yanks Emma back as it grows and grows. It doesn’t take shape this time, but seems to devour everything around them, building as though it’s been given new life with just a drop of Emma’s blood. “Crap,” Emma says, staring down at the smoke. It whirls around them, spreading lazily to encompass the vault, and Regina blasts it with magic that is swallowed up by it just as easily as the air around them. “Too late for that kiss?”

 

Idiot ,” Regina grunts again, and she extends her hands and sends more magic into the smoke. Emma sighs and raises her own hands, hurtling clumsy magic out to join Regina’s, and it’s barely a wisp compared to the billowing smoke.

 

“Together,” Emma reminds her– together , the only way they’ve ever managed to win when they’re fighting– and Regina nods shortly and reaches for Emma, their fingers twining together for a moment as they throw out their free hands.

 

The magic explodes from them with renewed force, thrumming through Regina like she’s on fire, and Regina gasps and feels Emma’s life-force soaring through her. They’re connected intimately, magic singing through their veins as though they’re one, and Emma’s hand squeezes Regina’s tighter and tighter, the magic exploding from within them with extra force.

 

Emma laces their free hands together, too, the magic flowing from their skin, from their pores, from all they are instead of only their palms. Regina can see Emma’s eyes bright and wild, her forehead gleaming with sweat, her heart pounding a pulse in time with Regina’s, and god . Regina’s missed this, missed the two of them channeling their connection into something powerful and unstoppable. There’s nothing like this, both of them drifting together, the smoke around them charred and falling to the ground as ash as they crunch the last remains of the gemstone beneath their feet.

 

They’re still holding onto each other, still trembling from the force of the magic, and the magic still echoes from within them as though it can’t be stopped. Emma’s never looked more beautiful, shining as though lit by something otherworldly, and Regina is breathing hard and can’t tear her eyes away. Can’t tear her hands away, either, and she doesn’t know which of them falls forward first when the kiss begins.

 

The magic glows brighter around them, and Regina can feel it like electricity beneath her skin, can feel Emma’s lips on hers and her nerves alive and little more. Emma whimpers her name and pulls her closer, Regina bites her lip and strokes her tongue with her own and nearly sobs into her mouth, and they’re alive , bursting with energy that can’t be explained only by magic. Emma’s kissing her, and Regina doesn’t remember how to breathe when it isn’t in tandem with Emma, when it isn’t in Emma’s arms.

 

When they finally tear apart from each other, gasping for breath and staring wildly, the magic has faded and Regina wants to sob again. “I– oh god,” Emma says in a strangled voice. “Regina, please– I’m sorry . I did it again. I never meant to–” She’s crying, tears slipping down her cheeks, and Regina can only gape in horror at what she’d done to Emma again. “I violated you,” Emma whispers. “ Again .”

 

“Violated?” Regina echoes, aghast at the wording. “Is that what you think happened before?” Emma looks away, scrubbing at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “I took advantage of you, Emma. I manipulated you away from your happy ending and then broke your heart. You can’t blame yourself for what I– what I–” She’s horrified. Of course Emma– her selfless, self-doubting Emma would blame herself for Regina’s– “Emma, no . The only person who violated was me. I used your…your care for me to–”

 

Care for you ?” Emma repeats, shaking her head in disbelief. “Is that what you’re calling me being in love with you?” Regina recoils at the sudden pain in Emma’s voice, lifts a hand to her and then drops it before it can reach her. “God, Regina, is this what you’ve been telling yourself? We had true love’s kiss .”

 

“We also have that with our son!” Regina says helplessly, wringing her hands. “We love each other. Of course we do. But you can’t tell me that you ever thought it was romantic until I propositioned you!”

 

Emma stares blankly at her, her eyes smooth and unseeing for a moment before she says, “Fine. Rewrite history, I don’t care.” She tangles a hand through her hair, her voice subdued, and Regina’s ready when she turns around again with her eyes fierce. “You might not feel that way about me, but I do. And I can– I can try to just…get over it, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I’m not ready yet.” She ducks her head, takes a step forward and takes Regina’s wavering hand. “I’m sorry. I’m…I’m going to need time.”

 

Regina’s mouth opens and closes and she wants to laugh , she wants to deny everything Emma’s saying because fuck , what if it’s all a lie? What if Emma’s just clinging to the closest life preserver after losing her engagement to a sham?

 

What if she isn’t?

 

Emma turns around, her steps careful as her shoulders slump, and she has one foot on the stairs out of the vault when Regina whispers, “I took the potion to stop loving you.”

 

Emma stops.

 

“It was…I talked to Snow about it. She’d taken one like it years ago that had backfired. I don’t think she realized why I was asking her those questions until I had lost half my memories,” Regina admits. “I just…I couldn’t do it anymore, Emma. I couldn’t watch you marry someone else when it felt as though every moment was tearing me apart.” Her voice is wet with unshed tears, and Emma turns around again, her eyes glinting but unreadable in the dim vault.

 

“You wanted to stop loving me?” Emma steps toward her, into the light, her voice fragile and her face very pale.

 

She’d wanted– she’d wanted the pain to stop. She’d wanted to give Emma the kind of friend she’d deserved, a friend who could be happy for her and mean it. She’d wanted Emma to have her happy ending and she hadn’t wanted to lose her. “I wanted to love you the way you needed,” Regina manages. “I was trying to give you the Regina you deserved.”

 

Emma takes another step forward, still pale, still with glittering eyes. “You haven’t changed a bit in three years,” she murmurs, and it falls like something precious upon Regina. Like not changing had been something good indeed, instead of a burden she’s been carrying with her. “Regina, I needed you . I always needed you.” Emma’s so close now, and Regina’s misty eyes have created a glow around her, a fuzziness that has Emma appear almost otherworldly as she approaches.

 

There’s a hand on her cheek, a soft touch that shakes but doesn’t budge, and Emma breathes, “I just…didn’t know that I could have you.”

 

“You always had me,” Regina chokes out. “Don’t you understand? That potion…it might’ve been corrupted, but it did what it was supposed to do. It wiped my memories beginning from the moment I fell in love with you, up on that ridiculous podium during that ridiculous special election with your ridiculous noble–”

 

Emma leans forward, presses her lips to Regina’s and Regina stops. The world stops for a moment, like a blip of silence before sound comes crashing back in, and Emma is still kissing her, is still moving too-soft fingertips along her cheeks, is still leaning in as Regina’s hands settle on her hips and hold her in place. “I love you,” Regina murmurs. “I loved you when I wanted to hate you and I loved you when you were going to marry someone else and I never thought– I never thought you might–”

 

“I do,” Emma whispers, and there are tears on her face again but she’s smiling, rubbing her nose against Regina’s before she dives in for another kiss. “I didn’t think you’d –”

 

“This is pathetic,” comes a voice from behind them, followed by a hushed “Zelena! ” Zelena ignores the reproof. “I thought they’d at least be naked by now,” she says, disgusted. “We made Henry leave for some kissing ?”

 

Emma shifts, slipping an arm around Regina as they turn back to the mirror to face Regina’s unimpressed sister and Emma’s beaming mother. “Please go away,” Regina says, her voice lacking any bite with Emma pressed against her.

 

“We’re really happy for you,” Snow says brightly. “We thought it’d take–” Regina flicks her fingers and the mirror fades from sight as they reappear in the mansion foyer.

 

Emma tucks her chin onto Regina’s shoulder. “Home, sweet home,” Regina says wryly, the gentlest of invitations in her voice, and Emma blinks at her and smiles.

 


 

The ravine seems deeper now, the drop to the bottom longer than it had ever been when she’d been in freefall there. She’s fallen down here twice now, and pushed a woman down it a third time. She still doesn’t even know how Storybrooke has a cliff this high that the ravine can exist at all, but somehow, the impossible is always possible in Storybrooke.

 

It’s a nicer descent this time, though maybe that’s just because of Regina floating down beside her. “There’s probably a faster way to do this,” Emma says sheepishly. “I didn’t really…I didn’t really think it through. This is the only way I’ve ever gotten down here.”

 

“It’s peaceful,” Regina says, and her hand slides into Emma’s and it really is, kind of. They’re on old pieces of wood that had been a part of the rope bridge, at one point, and Regina is sitting on hers, legs crossed and dangling over the edge as though this is a ski lift. Emma’s standing, her own raft slightly below Regina’s, and she casts an eye down to the underbrush deep below them and slides to a sitting position as well.

 

Their rafts lock and stay, held in place by glowing purple energy, and Regina drops a kiss on the top of Emma’s head and shifts over to lay her head against Emma’s shoulder. “How was your day? Aside from this…event.”

 

“It’s a date,” Emma insists. “If we can have magic dates and coffee dates, we can definitely have ravine dates.” She wiggles her eyebrows. “And this makes three, by the way, so you have to sleep with me tonight.”

 

“Mm,” Regina says agreeably. “Because we’ve never done that before.”

 

“Not third date sleeping together. It’s a milestone,” Emma informs her.

 

Regina bobs her head. “Anytime we can make it through three dates without poisoning each other is something to celebrate.” She laughs lightly, the pain in her eyes all but gone at the mention of their last time here, and Emma slips a hand up her thigh, daringly high. “Not in midair, darling,” Regina says warningly. Emma pouts. “Splinters.”

 

“Okay, fair. And my day was fine. Pretty quiet. I found a bridal magazine in my drawer and set it on fire,” Emma says, grinning at the memory of it. “I think– if I ever did get married, I would like to elope.”

 

“No, you wouldn’t,” Regina says fondly. “There’s no way your mother would ever forgive us. And Henry would have to have a part.” Us , she’d said, a given as though–

 

–but yeah, of course it’s us . Emma can’t think of it any other way. “A quiet ceremony, then,” she concedes. “Somewhere outside, with just our closest friends and family around.”

 

Regina lifts her legs up onto the raft, snuggling into Emma’s side. Her eyes are distant, and Emma knows that she’s thinking of her own wedding, the cold and impersonal party to a king she’d never chosen.

 

Emma’s never thought much about marriage– even to Regina, even after her own failed engagements, the extent of it had been daydreaming about waking up in the morning beside Regina with a good morning, Mrs. Swan-Mills – but she thinks now that it might be…cleansing. For both of them. “How does that sound?” she wonders.

 

Regina snorts. “Like you’re speeding past the third date to the thirtieth,” she says, but she kisses Emma’s neck and says, “If a single one of your mother’s birds comes anywhere near the ceremony, I’m setting it on fire.”

 

They’re just about at the ground now, and they slide off the raft together, squinting around at the bottom of the ravine. “Maybe look for unconscious animals,” Emma offers. “Think you could kiss a frog awake?”

 

“Only if it had a terrible red leather jacket on,” Regina shoots back, and Emma pokes her and kneels down, brushing aside a mass of branches and grass to reveal a plastic container.

 

“Here,” she says, relieved. The apple turnover is still inside the plastic, untouched by human or animal, and she sets it onto a slab of rock and steps back as Regina sets it on fire. The plastic collapses into itself, the turnover burning brown, then black, and Emma sinks to the ground to watch it go up in smoke.

 

Regina joins her, watching the turnover with intensity, and when it’s finally nothing but ashes under melted plastic, she waves her hand and makes it all disappear. “Not my usual apple flambé,” she says, making a face.

 

“It probably was delicious,” Emma says, a little wistfully.

 

Regina kisses the shell of her ear. “I will make you a dozen more,” she promises. Emma turns to look at her and sees that Regina’s staring at her with the same intense gaze with which she’d watched the turnover burn.

 

“What?”

 

Regina shakes her head. “It’s nothing. Just…something you said, back when I…” She gestures at the rock. “You said that a few weeks ago, you might’ve eaten the turnover. I’ve never understood.”

 

“Oh.” Emma swallows, unwilling to return to that night. “It’s nothing, really.” But Regina is still watching her expectantly, and she stares into the sunset as it dips into the ravine and confesses, “I don’t know. I think I spent so long tied up in what other people thought my happy ending was that I stopped…for a while there, I stopped trying to figure out what it meant for me.”

 

Regina’s hand slips into hers. “Oh, Emma.”

 

Emma shrugs, self-conscious. “It’s not a big deal. I just…I guess I might’ve been relieved to fall into an eternal sleep for a while there. It would have been easier than figuring out if I was really happy, or what my future looked like.” She leans into Regina. “I know it was kind of fucked up for a while there, but I’m glad that…that Madam Mayor came back when we were all so busy trying to be noble that we gave up on ourselves instead.”

 

She peeks over at Regina, still wary of upsetting her with mentions of the past. But Regina’s face shows no turmoil, and when she shifts, it’s to graze Emma’s ear with her teeth again and murmur, “You know, Madam Mayor can make a reappearance whenever you might need her, Miss Swan .” She smiles at Emma, that shallow, dismissive smile that had always made Emma want to–

 

–Want to make Regina shut up and listen – and goosebumps break out over Emma’s skin with just a look. “Third date,” she says, a little breathless.

 

“Third date,” Regina agrees, pouncing on her. It’s a hard kiss, fast and rough until Emma topples back into the underbrush, and Emma twists them around until Regina’s lying on her back beneath her, eyes dilated and hungry. “Shall we?”

 

They fade out of the ravine and onto their bedroom floor, Regina attempting to shift their position with the distraction, but Emma holds steady. “Nice try,” she gasps out, lifting Regina to pull her onto her lap. “Madam Mayor.” Regina bites her shoulder and yanks at her jacket, grinding down onto her.

 

Emma shrugs it off and sticks her hand back up Regina’s dress, exhaling as Regina lets out a groan of delight. And oh, yes, Sheriff Swan might have some tricks up her sleeve, too.