And darkness will be rewritten
Into a work of fiction, you’ll see
As you pull on every ribbon
You’ll find every secret it keeps
The sound of the branches breaking under your feet
The smell of the falling and burning leaves
The bitterness of winter or the sweetness of spring
You are an artist
And your heart is your masterpiece
And I’ll keep it safe
–I’ll Keep You Safe, Sleeping At Last
Emma doesn’t think much of it when she’s late. A certain level of unexpected villain-related physical and magical workouts means that she’s often irregular, and being late isn’t uncommon enough for her to stress about it. She puts the vague concern niggling at her mind behind her and focuses instead on the current Disney-related product they’re fighting. Focuses on her wife, her son, her job, and all the other things about Storybrooke that make her so impossibly content.
She doesn’t focus on the other things that she begins to notice– suddenly, she’s gasping when she runs for too long, suddenly, she’s crying at the most ridiculous things (Neal’s fourth birthday might have made sense, but crying over Regina being out by the time she gets home after that running fiasco does not), and suddenly, she’s gagging when she smells salmon. She doesn’t put the pieces together, though, not until one morning when she rolls out of bed and is struck by a dozen ordinary smells heightened, and every single one of them combines until she can feel bile rising in her throat and–
She makes it to the bathroom just in time, vomiting the contents of her stomach into the toilet, and Regina pads after her and winds her fingers through Emma’s hair, pulling it out of her face and massaging her head as she does. “Two years my wife and you still can’t handle my cider?” she murmurs, kissing Emma’s temple as she rises again.
She returns with a plastic cup, and Emma takes it gratefully and sloshes the water through her mouth. “It’s been eight hours,” she says. “If I couldn’t hold my liquor, I’d have been in here a long time ago.”
“Mm.” Regina presses her lips to Emma’s forehead in a practiced maternal move. “You aren’t feverish,” she decides. “Must be a light stomach bug.” She tugs Emma to her feet. “Get into bed,” she orders. “I’ll bring you breakfast.”
Emma rinses out the taste of vomit with mouthwash and then climbs back into bed, eyes drifting shut as she basks in the comforting scent of home. It’s been three years since she and Regina had fallen in love– or at least admitted to it, because love had come much earlier– and two since they’d gotten married, and sometimes even now Emma pauses and is in quiet awe at how lucky she is. Ten years ago, if someone had told her that she’d be living in a town with her parents and her son, married to the love of her life and just sappy enough to think of her as that, she would have laughed and then gotten very drunk, probably. It’s hard to believe that this is where her story has gone. She hadn’t believed in fairytale endings even once she’d begun to believe in fairytales.
But here she is, and she exhales a happy sigh and then reels at another wave of nausea.
She nearly makes it to the toilet in time, and she waves a hand and magically cleans the floor before she goes back to bed. It’s weird. Her stomach doesn’t hurt at all, and she’s feeling surprisingly clear-headed for a stomach flu. Instead, it seems like every odor– every breath of stale air– is enough to set her off.
She hasn’t felt this way since she’d been–
Her brow creases. Maybe it’s hormones, acting up just in time for her period. Isn’t she due for one sometime soon? She checks her period log app absently, and she blinks at the date on it. That can’t be right . It’s been…over two months since her last period. She’s been late before, but never this late.
The alternative is absurd, impossible, and she rolls her eyes at the sudden doubt that worms its way into her thoughts, insidious. There’s an easy way to stay these concerns, especially when you’re not in prison.
It’s a small enough town that Emma knows better than to buy a test from the drugstore in Storybrooke. She makes up an excuse to be out of town– talks to Nate about finding him a safe place for his wife and kids in case Scar ever figures out who betrayed his gang of shifters. They’d been good friends during that particular crisis, and Regina takes the excuse without question, teasing her about her boyfriend for hours before Emma leaves.
Regina trusts her, and Emma can feel the pit in her stomach growing with every reinforcement of that fact.
She buys a test with cash at a seedy little gas station on the way to Bangor, and then she slips into a bathroom that smells enough of stale urine that she has to vomit again before she can take the test. It’s absurd, anyway. All of this is absurd. She’s going to see a single line on the test and then she’ll go home to Regina, tell her the truth, and endure the ceaseless mocking that will follow.
She balances the stick on the tiny sink in the room, pacing the three steps back and forth that she can manage, and she lifts the test after three minutes to examine it.
Two lines stare back at her.
“That can’t be right,” Emma mumbles, but they’re both dark and distinct, two blue lines across the results window. There’s a helpful guide on the stick itself, pregnant with two lines in a circle, and Emma shakes her head and says, “No. No way .”
She leaves the bathroom and buys a second brand of pregnancy tests under the pitying eye of the teenager at the register, and it returns with the same impossible result. “ No ,” Emma says again, shaking her head, and she hurls both tests at the garbage, sending them crashing into the wall and onto the floor instead.
She stomps out of the gas station shop, climbs into her Bug, and drives too quickly all the way home before she remembers that she’s supposed to be back later. “Safe place was a bust,” she says when she gets inside, draping her coat over the stairs. Regina gives her a reproving glare, and Emma hangs up the coat instead. “I got out of there as soon as I could.”
It’s the second lie of the day. Emma’s beginning to suspect that there are going to be many of those before she figures this out.
“No, you’re definitely pregnant,” Dr. Whale says briskly, shifting the ultrasound to point out something on the screen. “There’s the embryo– over there?” Emma can’t see it. “That rapidly blinking little spot is the heart.” That Emma can see, and she squints at it uncertainly. “Baby looks like it’s about nine, ten weeks along.”
Emma finds her voice. “So, it is a demon, or…” Her voice trails off. Dr. Whale is looking at her with the same pity that had been on the gas station teenager’s face. “Look, anything else is impossible . I’m– you know I’m married to–”
“It’s a perfectly healthy human embryo, as far as I can tell,” Dr. Whale says, raising an eyebrow. “I think you may have some things to discuss with Her Majesty.” He makes an exaggerated wince. “Just make sure she isn’t near anything flammable when you tell her about your little surprise.”
Asshole . “I didn’t– I can’t be–” Emma gulps in a suddenly unsteady breath. Another emotional fit at the worst of times, naturally. “Can’t this be one of your crazy fairytale twists?” she says pleadingly.
Dr. Whale shakes his head, then looks at her assessingly. “If you would prefer to…avoid this becoming a problem for you…you have other options.”
Emma considers it for a frozen, gripped moment. It’s the only option that makes sense right now, ending this and never letting Regina know about it. What if this is some magical tumor growing within her? What if it is a demon that’ll haunt them for eternity?
What if it isn’t? She stares at the blinking dot on the screen, remembers the last time she’d done this in a colder, greyer room with no future to look forward to, and she touches a hand to her abdomen and can’t give this up. “I don’t know,” she says. She can’t imagine Regina’s face when she finds out about this, can’t imagine Henry’s and her parents’ disappointment, can’t imagine what havoc that tiny blinking dot is about to wreak on her carefully constructed life.
And she’s just as certain that she can’t give up this chance, either, with all the horrifying implications that it arrives with. I don’t know is no , and Dr. Whale knows it, too, because he puts a hand on her arm with unexpected compassion before he exits the room.
She dresses in a daze, and it takes every last bit of herself not to sob until she’s back in her car.
At first, Regina assumes that Emma’s hiding something harmless. They don’t have secrets from each other, not anymore. Not ever, really. Hiding something usually means a surprise party or a gift or some ridiculously hopeless-in-love gesture, like the time that Emma had learned a spell to send flower petals floating through the air around the apple tree before a picnic date.
Regina doesn’t really question it until it begins to take a toll on Emma herself, until Emma is looking more pale and drawn by the day, until Emma is gagging every morning as though her nightmares themselves are triggering her nausea. “I have this wonderful herbal tea that I can enchant to help with your dreams,” she murmurs one evening when they’re curled up together in the study, Emma’s head on her lap as Regina reads.
“Can’t have tea,” Emma mumbles, her eyes drifting shut, and Regina gives up on the enchantment for the night and takes her upstairs instead.
When they’re together now, Emma squirms under the blanket and says breathlessly, “Keep the lights off. I want to– I need the dark.” Her breasts feel fuller than usual, her body filling out in a way that it never has before, but it’s the way she kisses Regina that stands out most. It’s desperate every time, raw and needy as though it’s their very last kiss, and she cries on two separate occasions after she comes.
Emma’s always a later riser than Regina is, and Regina is rarely in the room when she wakes up except on lazy Saturday mornings. They haven’t had many of those lately, and Regina luxuriates in bed on the first Saturday in a while that she doesn’t have early errands to attend to and rolls over, resting her head on Emma’s side. Emma’s eyes are open when she looks up, and she looks almost trapped. “Morning,” Regina murmurs, tilting her head in concern.
There’s a part of her– a ridiculous, insecure part– that’s always certain that this happiness can’t last. It’s been three years of being in love, of having her family, and she still can’t shake the specter of the Evil Queen and the knowledge that she’s never going to undo or redeem herself fully, not in a dozen lifetimes. Happiness is always going to feel fleeting, and she’s on guard now, already running through a dozen scenarios where the worst is realized. Emma is ending things, Emma is sick, Emma is running–
And when Emma opens her mouth to respond and instead flies out of bed, hurtling back to the bathroom, Regina is suddenly certain that this is going to go spectacularly wrong. “Another nightmare?” she says as she hurries after Emma, worried.
Emma shakes her head and vomits into the toilet, tears in her eyes at the force with which she’s throwing up, and Regina rubs her back and hopes desperately that this is nothing. “You haven’t even had my cider this time,” she says, struggling to keep her tone light and not scare Emma. “What else could it be?” She laughs. “Are you pregnant?”
Emma jerks. Twists up to stare at her, her eyes wide and miserable and terrified, and Regina doesn’t understand. She can’t comprehend this , what Emma’s face seems to be saying, and she says again, her brow furrowing, “What, are you pregnant?”
Emma shifts away from her, takes a tissue instead of the cup in Regina’s hand and wipes her lips. Emma huddles against the side of the bathtub as though she’s a child, curled around her stomach, and she whispers, “It doesn’t make sense . Regina, I swear I’d never–”
Regina stumbles backward, her heart in her throat, and her cup spilling onto the floor as she squeezes it and no. Emma wouldn’t. Emma is…
Emma gives her a weak smile. “Any chance you cast a spell you didn’t tell me about?” she says, and Regina can’t be in the room anymore, can’t live a farce , another happy ending snatched away from right under her nose.
She leaves under the pretense of getting Emma another cup of water. There are cups in the bathroom and neither of them believe it, but she needs…
She leans against the side of the fridge, buries her face in her hands, and sucks in a long, deep breath as a whirl of possibilities twists within her like a tornado, tearing her insides to pieces and flinging them beyond where she can reach. Water. She needs to get Emma water. Emma , the woman she’s in love with, the woman whose pregnancy has suddenly changed everything.
The most absurd part is that they’ve talked about having another child. They’d been looking into adopting again months ago, before they’d been distracted by Scar’s pride and their plans had been put on hold. Regina had wanted this so desperately that of course she’d gotten it in the last way she’d ever have chosen, because the world is exactly that cruel.
She hadn’t thought that Emma had been that cruel, though.
She returns upstairs. Emma has gotten dressed, red leather jacket hanging on her shoulders, and she looks pale and afraid again when she sees Regina. Regina hands her the water in silence, waits for her to drink before Emma says suddenly, helplessly, “I can stay at the station for now, but I don’t have– I have so much stuff that I don’t have a place for in my car anymore–”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Regina says immediately, and Emma looks at her with so much hope that Regina can’t meet her eyes. “I’m not–” She swallows. “I’m not going to leave you without a home when you’re in this…condition.” She hesitates. She needs to ask, even if just the question makes her nauseous. “Did...did someone...attack you?”
Emma shakes her head, slowly, from side to side. Regina ventures on. “A love spell? Did someone take away your ability to say–”
“I wasn't raped, Regina,” Emma says wearily. “I wasn't anything . There was never anyone else. I know it's...it's hard to believe when all the evidence is saying something else, but I love you .”
“You were ready to leave me a minute ago,” Regina says blankly. Emma shakes her head wordlessly again, and Regina remembers again nausea and sickness and secrets. “Tell me this. How long have you known about this and kept it from me?”
“A few weeks.”
“A few weeks!” Regina’s voice is too sharp, too loud, and Emma flinches away. They say you’re never really cured from an addiction, that you can't change completely, that it's always lurking in the shadows of your mind and waiting for an in again. Regina knows it. Emma knows it, too, and Regina forces her voice into something softer, more pleading than furious. “You’ve been lying to me for weeks? Did you think it’d just...go away if you hid it long enough?”
“I don't know what I thought,” Emma says desperately. “I just– Regina, I didn't want to lose you. I didn't want to lose us .”
“Then you shouldn’t have–!”
“I didn’t! I swear, I didn’t , Regina…” Emma says, hopeless. “You mean more to me than– than anything. This family means more to me than anything.”
“And you thought, what, that I’ve already raised enough children of your blood that I wouldn’t mind doing it again?” The words are caustic, and Regina regrets them the moment they emerge from her lips.
Emma wraps her arms around herself, head bowed. “I should go,” she whispers.
She’s giving up, and that makes Regina even more furious. “You’re not going anywhere,” she grinds out. “I am not letting you live out of your car again. You aren’t seventeen anymore, you have people who love you, and you’re staying right here .” And because she can’t bear to see hope in Emma’s eyes again, she stalks across the room to the closet and begins pulling down her own dresses instead.
“Regina,” Emma whispers. “I’m not chasing you out of your house.”
“ Our house. Our family, in case you were wondering what exactly you’re trying to destroy singlehandedly,” Regina bites out, and she empties a drawer, then two, putting everything into a suitcase. “I’m going to the guest room,” she clarifies, because Emma is just staring now, silent and empty-eyed. “I’m not going to abandon you when you’re…when you need me.” The words are cool, but they’re enough that Regina can see Emma’s eyes tearing up. “Lie down. Have you been taking your prenatals?”
Emma reaches into her night table drawer, fishing around in the very back of it until she pulls out a ziploc bag with unlabeled pills in it. The wave of anger at this– another active concealment from Regina, another lie between them– is overwhelming, and Regina needs a moment before she can clear her throat. “Dr. Whale?”
“He’s looked at the baby,” Emma sits gingerly on the edge of the bed– their bed, once, but never again. “It still could be a demon infestation, though. He can’t prove otherwise.” It’s almost hopeful, and another time, Regina might have laughed through the heartbreak.
This time, she says, “You need to tell Henry today. He’s going to see that we’re not sleeping in the same room anymore, and I will not be the villain again.”
“Okay,” Emma croaks, and she looks exhausted still, worn out from their talk and close to tears.
Regina doesn’t help her under the covers. That’s one step too far.
They say you’re never really cured from an addiction, that you can't change completely, that it's always lurking in the shadows of your mind and waiting for an in again. Regina waits until Emma tells Henry, until he’s staring at her in disbelief and she’s pleading, again, claiming a reality that isn’t physically possible, and she slips outside to the woods behind their house.
She screams when she’s alone, a full-bodied howl that echoes through the trees over the sound of fire crackling, and she hurls blow after blow of unrestrained magic at the trees around her. They wither to dust, they come crashing down around her, they burst into flames and burn and burn and burn. She cackles in a deep voice she hasn’t used since she’d been a queen, screams again, hisses curses and laughs wildly until she’s sobbing on the ground, surrounded by destruction that she’d wrought alone.
She swings her fist at a tree with a magic-powered strength behind the blow, watches the trunk of the tree crack and fall toward her, and she can only laugh and cry as it drops. What does it matter if it crushes her to the ground, makes her only a shattered shell of what she once had been? What difference would it make?
She’s still standing straight when a larger body plows into her, shoving her out of the way of the toppling tree just in time. “Mom,” Henry pants, and she stares at him sightlessly through blurry eyes, her hands still raised but the fireballs gone.
He wraps his arms around her and holds her tightly, and they’re both crying for what they’ve lost, the woods lonely desolation around their shaking bodies.
The second trimester is supposed to be the calm one, Emma reads online. The nausea is meant to abate and the worst of the symptoms fade for some time before they’re replaced with new ones. It’s supposed to be easy , but nothing about this is easy.
Easy would be waking up in the morning and rolling over to see Regina, to make love before the sun is fully up and then stumble downstairs for breakfast. Easy would be poking Henry when he drags his feet and plops down at the table with a grumbled thank you for whoever’s making breakfast that morning. Easy would be spending lunchtime with her wife and walking her home after work and settling down in the study together to chat until bedtime.
Easy isn’t this: When she wakes up now, it’s to the silence of a room that hasn’t been inhabited yet, without water running in the bathroom and Regina sliding back into bed to kiss her awake. Work is silent and drab, and there hasn’t been a good attack on the town in weeks to distract her. She’s been forbidden by Regina to climb trees anymore, to chase stray cats, to fight anyone who might injure her– and so she sits behind a desk doing paperwork and trapped with only intrusive thoughts as company.
Nighttime is the worst, because there’s no exhaustion to blame the tension on. Henry isn’t talking to her. Regina talks to her, but there’s so much reluctance in it– so much pain – that Emma can’t subject Regina to it for long. Every interaction they have now seems steeped in pain.
And regardless, Regina checks every morning that she’s taken her vitamins. Regina hovers over her when she’s having the nasty migraines that seem to have taken over the second trimester (“Stress-related,” Dr. Whale suggests when they go to her next appointment. Regina watches the ultrasound with her hands squeezing onto the side of the examining table and she doesn’t look back at Emma until Emma exhales a laugh. No, there’s no way she’s having stress-related symptoms). Regina is so present that Emma could pretend, if only they weren’t sleeping in different beds every night and if only her very presence seems to hurt Regina.
“Isn’t it possible, just maybe, that this could happen like this in a world where magic is real?” Emma pleads with her one day. She’s tiptoed down to the vault, Regina’s sanctuary, and Regina has closed the book she’s been reading to watch Emma blankly. “Aren’t there any instances of…”
“Immaculate conception?” Regina suggests. Emma bobs her head, her heart sinking at the mirthless smile on Regina’s face. “There is one mention of a witch who’d claimed it.”
“Oh,” Emma says, her heart pounding with hope. “And?”
Regina gazes at her for a long moment. “And two weeks after the baby was born, she ran off with the milkman.” She opens the book she’s been reading again. “Here, a potion meant for two women to have a child. I looked at the ingredients. It’s gibberish, the sort of potion meant for con artists and fools.” She slams the book onto the towering pile on the chair. “I’ve done nothing for weeks but read and read and try to find something , but there’s nothing. There’s nothing, Emma.” She stares up at her and Emma aches at the tears in her eyes that she tries to brush away, at more undisguised agony.
But there’s nothing, and Regina won’t believe her.
Emma racks her brain– runs through every instance in the past four months where she may have been knocked unconscious, where she hadn’t had control of herself, where she could have, somehow, been impregnated. Four months ago, they’d been working with Nate and the others to take down Scar’s pride of power-hungry shapeshifters, and there hadn’t been space for downtime at all.
It had been exhausting, the attempts at undercover espionage that had been sniffed out with shifter noses trained to sense magical energy, the physical brawling with men and women who could transform, in an instant, into vicious animals instead. The shifters had been unrelenting for a long time, right at an inconvenient time when Emma and Regina had been talking about adoption.
Adoption , if only it had been that simple. She remembers curling into Regina’s body one night when they’d been struggling to get in a little time for themselves, Regina pressing kisses to the back of her neck, and she’d wondered, “Is it fair to do this to a child?”
Regina had known exactly what she’d meant. “I don’t know,” she’d murmured. “Henry was…Henry was older before all this began.”
“We can’t take in a kid who needs a home and then subject her to this kind of danger,” Emma had whispered, staring at the ceiling. “It’s irresponsible.”
Regina had stroked her back, running her knuckles along Emma’s shoulders. “What would you have wanted when you were younger?” she’d asked, and Emma had closed her eyes and let Regina take the lead that night, lost in thought.
She’d known even then, late that night after they’d both collapsed on each other, that she would have wanted a parent like Regina– a parent like herself, too, if she beats back her own insecurities– over being alone, even if there’d been constant danger. She’d chosen it for herself, hadn’t she? Chosen this life, chosen Henry and Regina, and she’s never regretted it for a moment.
She can’t imagine any situation where she had gone from that night– from exhausted lovemaking and another affirmation of just how fortunate she is– to a baby they hadn’t planned for germinating within her.
When she’s alone and she isn’t focusing on her wife, on her son, when she dares to think about whatever had jump-started this, she wants to sob. It’s a violation she can’t remember that had begotten another violation. She hadn’t chosen any of this. She’s afraid to think too deeply about what it means that there’s a child growing within her, or she’s sure she’d give up on everything she’s still fighting for. With Henry, she’d been afraid of what would come next. With this child, she can only think about the past.
She lies in bed at night and she doesn’t sleep, can’t rest when she’s alone in a bed that should be theirs, and she tugs the blanket onto the floor and curls up there instead. No one comes in in the morning anymore. There’s no water running and morning kisses. No one will enter and see her curled up on the ground, shivering and holding Regina’s pillow to her.
The first complications begin when Emma discovers, quite suddenly, that her jeans no longer fit. She yanks at them with too much force and the zipper tears, and she stares at her reflection in the mirror, noticing with dread that her stomach has grown considerably since she’d last dared look at herself in the mirror.
Her shirts stretch enough that she only looks like she’s put on a bit of weight. Her pants are more of a problem, so she’s going to have to wear some highly impractical dresses to the station if she wants to go to work today. She peers around Regina’s side of the closet at the dresses she’d left behind, tugging some of the ones that are high-waisted or stretchy. The first one stretches around her stomach, skintight, and she looks like she’s three months further along than she is in it. The second has a zipper that starts at her ass and won’t go any higher than that, and she yanks it off in frustration and sinks to the ground instead in defeat.
There’s a knock at her door, a businesslike, “Emma, breakfast is getting cold,” and Emma buries her face in her jeans. “Emma,” Regina says again, sounding annoyed, and she pushes open the door. “Oh,” she says. Her voice gets...quiet, somehow, while she says the word. Oh like an exhale, not meant for anyone beyond her heart to hear. Oh like she can feel Emma’s pain so acutely still, when she’s bearing enough pain of her own.
“It’s fine. I’ve…I’ve got this under control,” Emma says. She can feel the tears threatening to return, another hormonal gift that had lasted through the change in trimester, and she wipes them away desperately. “Just…you know. I don’t think I kept any of the maternity jumpsuits from prison.”
“Emma,” Regina breathes, and god , Emma doesn’t know how she can do this, can live in the same house with Emma when it seems as though Emma’s name itself is poison at her lips. Emma thinks that, in her situation, she would have run, would have left town and never returned to see her wife birth someone else’s child.
But Regina loves so hard and doesn’t fear it as Emma always has. Regina gathers up all the love that wells up within her and lets it flow unconditionally, even if it might tear her apart. Regina had done it with Henry when Henry had wanted nothing to do with her, and she does it with Emma now when she must want nothing to do with Emma. She doesn’t smile, she doesn’t look at Emma with naked love in her eyes, but she goes to the closet and emerges with a pair of jeans on a hanger. “I ordered these last week,” she says, and her voice is gentle, if pained. “I know how you wait until the last minute. I just wanted you to…” She turns away.
“Thank you,” Emma murmurs, and she loves this baby and hates everything else sometimes, its timing and herself and whatever had impregnated her, but she can’t hate Regina.
She’d never envisioned them fighting like this. Their fights run hot, silly and loud and angry until Regina’s hair is flying at the edges and her face is flushed and Emma wants only to flatten her against the closest surface and hoist Regina onto her waist. The coldest fights they have still burst into flames in mere hours. They’re wrought of straw and sticks and gasoline, and they blaze stronger than ever when they’re both aflame.
This kind of fighting is hopeless and static, is Regina looking at her with loss in her eyes and still making sure that her every bruise on the job is attended to. This kind of fighting has Emma sleeping on the floor every night and waking up with neck and back pain and sleeping there all over again the next night anyway. This kind of fighting is one night when Regina drinks too much in her study and pushes the wrong door open at bedtime, and Emma scrambles up onto the bed only to be pushed as well.
Regina kisses her neck, kisses her cheeks and her lips, and Emma sighs and lets her for a protracted moment, losing herself in Regina’s touch and still too sleepy for it to register that they shouldn’t be doing this. Regina has her flat on the bed, crawling over her and kissing a trail down her breasts to her navel, and Emma writhes under her touch until Regina freezes, lips on the little bulge that is her baby bump.
Oh , and Emma remembers suddenly that this is all wrong. Regina sits back up, sliding off the bed with her hands up defensively, and Emma pulls her knees to her chin in an automatic attempt to shield her stomach and stares back at the very tipsy Regina.
“I’m sorry,” Regina whispers.
“You don’t have to be,” Emma whispers back, and Regina shakes her head and lets out a sob and another I’m sorry, I’m sorry , and she backs out of the room and flees to her own before Emma can say another word.
The worst part about the fourth month is that this private thing that they’ve all been dealing with– this pain and hope and resentment that Regina and Emma and Henry are grappling with– becomes very public, very quickly.
It begins with whispers at Granny’s while Emma goes to the counter to order her lunch on a rare day that Regina had neglected to pack one. There are furtive glances her way, eyes fixed on her growing belly, and Emma ignores them and leaves as quickly as she can.
She can’t storm out when it’s her parents, though. Mary Margaret corners them all at a family dinner. Regina is sandwiched in between David and Henry, who’d taken the seat before Emma could try, and Emma sits opposite her wife and son and feels the chasm between them widening. And Mary Margaret says pointedly, bouncing little Ruthie on her lap, “Isn’t there something you’d like to tell us?”
She doesn’t say it accusingly. She isn’t glaring at Emma like Henry is, and she only sounds expectant and a little excited. Emma freezes, petrified of seeing the enthusiasm fade from her mother’s face and be replaced by judgment, and Henry’s stare bores through her as Regina stares at her plate.
Regina picks at her asparagus and says, “I suppose it’s time.” And when she looks up, there’s only a dazzling smile on her face, no sign of any of the pain that she’s been living with for weeks. “Emma and I are having a baby.”
Mary Margaret jumps up and hugs her. David has his arms around Emma a moment later, and a bewildered Neal hugs Henry, who does not hug him back. Emma stares at Regina, dazed, as Regina explains with such detail how they’d selected a donor, how implantation works, how this is their baby, that Emma can almost believe it herself. “We thought about adoption and it’s still on the table, but isn’t it amazing how these things work out?” She’s a little too chipper to be entirely believable as happy Regina , and Emma sees David eye her curiously.
Mary Margaret doesn’t pick up on it, too ecstatic, too thrilled to compare notes with Emma. “Did your nausea ever stop? I spent nine months straight vomiting with Neal, and let me tell you, you do not want to spend a pregnancy surrounded by horses and farms in the Enchanted Forest. Have you seen Dr. Whale?” she says, changing tacks without a pause to catch her breath. Emma sucks in a breath for both of them, dazed and fighting the sensation of drowning. Regina’s questions have been careful and sparse, her concern restrained. Mary Margaret is a hurricane of baby, baby, baby , and Emma flounders. “Have you felt any kicking yet? Oh, I have the most adorable maternity sweater that you have to–”
“Snow,” Regina says shortly. For the first time since she’d begun to explain her charade, she looks unhappy. “Maybe overwhelm Emma a little bit less? You’re the first person we’ve told. It’s still a bit much.” She wraps an arm around Emma, protective, and Emma squeezes her eyes shut and imagines a world where this is happening exactly as Regina’s fiction depicts it.
Not this world, where Henry is still glowering at her and David is looking between them now, brow furrowing. Not this world, where she knows that every moment of pretending is killing Regina, and she can’t bear all their stares anymore. She opens her eyes again and sees Henry’s jaw clenched tightly as he turns away from her, sees Mary Margaret beaming, sees the bulge of her belly in her peripheral vision.
They manage to escape with only a half dozen hideous-looking sweaters, and Henry storms ahead of them to the house. “Thank you,” Emma ventures.
Regina shrugs and doesn’t meet her eye. “We were going to need a story eventually,” she says, distant.
“You had that one prepared.” Regina had known much too much for it to be a sudden invention, and Emma watches her and doesn’t understand why, why does Regina care enough to protect her, why would Regina hide the truth when it’s more than she deserves. Why isn’t Regina like Henry, furious with her and unyielding, and–
“Thank you,” she whispers again, and Regina touches her hand with a tenderness that makes her want to sob. Instead, she quickens her pace back home, feeling Regina’s eyes protective on her back as they return to their private house of misery.
Every morning, she’s so furious that she can hardly move. Regina wakes up in her own guest room and remembers what Emma had done, and she’s frozen in a state of disbelief and horror, frozen with fire curling into her veins and threatening to escape.
Then she brushes her teeth in the bathroom she shares with her son, selects an outfit from the closet, and by the time she knocks on Emma’s door in the morning, she’s breathing normally again and the fire has quieted. The mornings are interminable now without Emma and even more interminable with her; and Regina loathes her own tendency to love so deeply instead.
She remembers a morning just months ago, right after they’d closed Scar’s portal that had threatened to break all the barriers of reality. There had been some complications that they’d never quite figured out that had left Emma without her magic, and she’d gotten it back only once they’d managed to lock Scar up and burn the area where the portal had been. Emma and Regina had slept in the nude that night, bodies pressed together and limbs tight around each other, and just hours later, Emma had roused her.
It had been a short while before sunrise, and Regina had grumbled but followed her from the house into the woods. Emma had brought along towels for them to stretch out on, and Regina had joined her on the ground and said, you’d better have a good reason for this.
Emma had laughed and said look , and Regina had looked up at the sky as Emma had flicked a finger, drawing a pale blue starburst with magic in the canvas of the night. A second flick and there’d been a magenta one beside it, and Regina had joined Emma after a few moments of confusion, tugging new colors out of the ones that Emma had drawn. Blue and yellow become green; red and white become pink. The sky had been a kaleidoscope of magical lights once they’d been done, and they’d walked under it together, hand in hand, until dawn had come and turned their artwork into pale blue.
She never wonders now if it had all been worth it, if this new pain in their relationship erases the good. She doesn’t think about divorce, about separation; that isn’t an option for them, not even with Emma’s infidelity flaunting itself in front of her. They’d lost that option the first time they’d kissed, three years ago, and she finds that even the thought of it fills her with dread.
She knows instinctively that their relationship as it is now is untenable– that they’re going to have to talk this out sometime instead of avoiding each other and focusing only on Emma’s condition, but Regina isn’t willing to venture into that conversation yet.
“It can’t be worse than what you already know,” Henry says stubbornly. “What’s she going to tell you, that she fell in love with some guy ?” He spits it out with distaste. “There’s no way.” Even Henry, who’s hurt and betrayed and won’t even look at Emma anymore, doesn’t believe that, and Regina forces the revulsion at the thought of it from her face.
“I don’t think Emma’s going to run off with the milkman,” she says dryly. “But there’s– if there’s a–” She sighs. “Henry, I’m not talking to my sixteen-year-old son about my marital problems.” They’d spent too many years alone, just the two of them, and sometimes now that he’s older, they fall into the rhythm of before, of friendship instead of motherhood.
“Well, you’re not talking to Ma about it,” Henry points out.
Emma would have given him a shove and called him a smartass for that crack. Regina just gives him a look that has him muttering something half-apologetic and heading to the dining room to set the table for dinner.
Maybe it would be easier if she and Emma actually sat down and talked about this, if Regina pushes Emma to cut through the bullshit and admit that yes , something had happened with someone. Emma clings to denial stubbornly, so stubbornly that Regina sometimes doubts the laws of nature themselves– because they’ve moved the moon together, and why should they have limits after that?
But the truth will also mean the inevitable discussion of what had gone wrong– of what Regina had done to push Emma away, even for a single day, of what critical error they’d made in their relationship that this could happen. And Regina can look after her pregnant wife, can pretend for her sake that this is an ideal and a blessing, can burn up inside without burning the people around her…but she can’t have that discussion. Not yet. Not ever, if she only had that option.
So they dance around each other, making polite comments in the hallway and avoiding each other’s gazes. Emma’s beginning to show, the bump on her stomach more visible by the day, and Regina wants–
–she wishes desperately that she’d been there, that she’d mapped out the curves of Emma’s skin and watched as they’d begun to change. This was supposed to be something that they’d share, that they could have together where they hadn’t Henry’s pregnancy. They were supposed to be a team before it had all gone wrong. They were supposed–
It’s one evening late in Emma’s fourth month when they’ve managed some semblance of normalcy, for Snow and David’s sake. Emma’s parents had come over for dinner with Neal and Ruthie, and they’re all settled in the living room afterward, watching a movie about dinosaurs that has Neal riveted. It's the kind of evening where Regina misses her sister, who's been on holiday finding herself or some garbage for months now. Zelena would never have allowed this kind of peaceful night, where they have no buffers and no distractions.
Regina has no idea what’s happening onscreen, though her eyes are fixed on the television. In their continuing facade of happy family, she’s squashed on the armchair where she always sits with Emma, Emma’s arm casual around her shoulders. “You don’t have to do this,” Emma murmurs in her ear, and Regina has to stifle the shiver of want that crawls through her at Emma’s proximity. “I can just…go to bed.” She sounds a little too wistful not to be genuinely tired, and Regina hates the fondness that washes through her at Emma’s tone.
She responds only by curling around Emma more tightly, resting her head on Emma’s shoulder as Emma strokes her back, and it feels good to get to do this again, even if it’s a sham. Even if they’re going to have to stop pretending when Snow White exits the house.
Emma seems just as content to keep up this fiction, pressing a kiss to the top of Regina’s head when Snow glances over at them. “You know,” Snow remarks, beaming at them, “There’s something about pregnancy that really enhances…” She gestures, turning to offer David a look of sappy adoration. “I don’t think we’ve ever been more in love than we are when I’m expecting.”
Regina forces a smile. “I know what you mean,” she says, reaching to interlace her hand with Emma’s free hand. They rest on Emma’s abdomen together, and Emma murmurs an apology that goes unheard by anyone else in the room. Regina doesn’t respond to it.
Henry stands abruptly. “I have homework,” he announces, and he stomps up the stairs. Emma tenses beneath Regina’s touch, and Regina schools her features carefully into indifference. Henry has the luxury of being angry, but she’s holding this family together.
“Henry having some trouble adjusting?” David says, frowning. “Isn’t he a little old for sibling rivalry?”
Regina presses her lips together. Emma squeezes her hand and Regina clears her throat. “Your firstborn tried leaving town when you were expecting Neal, so–”
Snow’s eyes widen. Regina smiles smugly. Emma elbows her, hard . “Henry will be fine,” Emma says, and then looks to Regina, anxious as though even that statement has been overstepping. Emma’s been quiet all night, even when they’d fallen back into artificial couplehood, and Regina doesn’t know if she’s relieved or dismayed about that.
They watch a little longer in silence, Neal growling along with the dinosaurs and Ruthie happily chewing on the dinosaur Neal had brought along, and Regina feels it before she hears it when Emma gasps. “Emma,” she says, twisting worriedly, but Emma is moving their entwined hands to her, pulling Regina back into place.
“I just–” She guides their hands down to the lower curve of her stomach, eyes shining and breathless as she looks up at Regina. “Do you feel that?”
Regina doesn’t feel anything but Emma’s hands soft on hers, but the rounded skin that houses a child that will someday be– be Emma’s , but for the first time, their hands together over the spot where Emma insists that she’s feeling little taps, Regina thinks of that child.
A child . A tiny little girl or boy who will look just like Henry, an infant she’s going to see born and she might even raise, depending on what Emma is planning. What is Emma planning? Is this child going to be– are they having a baby? Is Regina going to be this child’s mother, too?
Snow is crowding them, demanding a turn to feel the baby kicking, and Regina moves aside as though in a daze, murmuring something about telling Henry. Instead, she stops in the foyer, staring at her reflection in the mirror, wide-eyed. A baby. There’s a baby growing within Emma, a person who will someday have its own hopes and dreams and fears, a person outside of the devastation that had accompanied its conception and growth.
She startles at the warm hand on her shoulder, noticing in her reflection that David is standing behind her. “You okay?” he says. It’s baffling how their roles have shifted, how easily he’d slipped into some faux-big brotherly relationship with her after she and Emma had fallen in love, but she’s come to find it comforting instead of obnoxious. It’s in his marked similarities to Emma that she’s found his value, and today, he’s as close to Emma as she can get.
“It’s…it’s really a baby,” she breathes, and when she blinks away tears, he must think only that she’s overcome with emotion at their new child. No . Maybe not. There’s a caution in how he touches her, a lingering suspicion in his eyes. “Our baby,” she says quickly, to allay his suspicions.
There’s no way that David, who’s admittedly far from the sharpest tool in the shed, can see right through it. It’s impossible, and Regina forces herself to smile through the wetness burning at her eyes..
But even so, he pulls her into an embrace, and she lets the tears spill at last.
It’s really a baby. Emma is having a baby. Regina has spent so long absorbed in the dread of infidelity, of the distance between them and the new vulnerabilities that come with pregnancy, and she hasn’t thought at all about the tiny human person growing inside of Emma. She’s thought of this as an incident , as a situation , never as a child , and she’s finding that this new realization is shifting everything.
She smiles sometimes, brief and hopeful, and she cries sometimes as well. When she wakes up in the morning, the rage never makes it past the awareness, Emma’s having a baby , and the thought of another tiny, round-faced child who gurgles at her like she’s everything it’ll ever need.
She’d seen the heartbeat in the ultrasound at four months, watching it blink with blank eyes and thinking little about what it had meant aside from Emma’s betrayal. Today’s appointment is different, and when Emma says uncertainly, “It’s okay if you don’t want to come,” Regina can’t imagine taking her up on that.
The anatomy scan happens at twenty weeks, halfway through the pregnancy, and Dr. Whale takes them into a different room for this ultrasound. “We’re just checking to be sure that the baby’s organs and size look about right,” he explains. “This is when we find out whether or not you’re having that demon pregnancy you keep insisting on.” He snickers at an unsmiling Emma. Regina flicks a finger and a needle on the counter unspools, its packaging splitting open, and it flies through the air and sticks directly into Whale’s rear end.
He lets out a curse and Emma hisses, “ Regina . We need him.”
“Right.” Regina waves her hand. “So odd how that happens sometimes,” she says politely to a glowering Dr. Whale. “The baby?”
He nods to the sonogram technician. “She’ll be doing the scans,” he says. “I’ll be back in in a few minutes.” He can’t leave fast enough, and Emma rolls her eyes and leans back on the examining table while Regina scowls at the door.
The technician works quietly, Emma and Regina just as silent in their respective seats in the room. Regina finds that she can’t tear her eyes away from Emma’s exposed stomach, from the skin she knows as well as her own now transformed. The old silver stretch marks from Henry are purplish now, more defined, tracing paths to the center of the bulge.
When she shifts, it’s to Emma’s eyes on her, and her mouth goes dry at the bare longing within Emma’s gaze. Emma blinks, looking away, but she’s right back to staring at Regina a moment later, and Regina wishes – if they could only get past this, if she could only believe Emma that this has happened entirely through some magical twist– Regina wishes–
“What is that?” she asks, turning abruptly to the screen above them on the wall. There’s something blotchy on the sonogram, white lines that shape a little circle.
“That’s a heel,” the technician says, sliding the probe another inch down Emma’s stomach. “Here’s the whole foot. See the toes?” Regina does see them, tiny little circles that wiggle as they watch.
Emma is counting under her breath– counting toes– and Regina loves her, loves her so deeply that she doesn’t know how she’s going to continue in her life with this distance between them.
The little foot on the screen draws back and then pushes forward again, and Emma lets out a little sigh. “I felt that,” she says, staring up at the screen. “That’s– that’s the baby.”
“That’s the baby,” Regina echoes softly, and Emma turns back to her with shining, hopeful eyes.
“Oh,” the technician exclaims, and they jerk away from each other and back to her. “Baby’s shifting. If you want, I can give you the gender.”
Emma hesitates, glancing over to Regina. “Do you want to…?” she says, as though they’re having this baby together. As though Regina should have any say in this.
But they’re keeping up appearances, of course. Regina refuses to make any decisions regarding this farce beyond those that protect Emma, and she says, “What did you do with Henry?”
Emma shakes her head, and she’s always a little teary these days, not least when it comes to memories of her last pregnancy. “I didn’t want to know anything then. At that point in the pregnancy, I knew that– I knew there was no way I could keep the baby. I didn’t want to get attached.” Her voice is small, her face drawn, and Regina expects the tears a moment before they come. “I’m sorry,” Emma whispers. “I’m– I’m sorry.”
She could be apologizing for anything– for her tears, for this pregnancy, for returning to Storybrooke and getting attached to Henry anyway, and Regina is afraid to ask which. Instead, she turns to the technician and says, because it’s what Emma wants, “We’d like to know the gender.”
Their hands are tangled together, and Regina doesn’t remember when that had happened but she doesn’t pull away. The technician gives them a smile– the kind they get from strangers on the street sometimes, the kind that Regina’s always grumbled about but secretly basked in– and says, “You’re having a girl.”
“A girl,” Emma says faintly.
A girl. Regina remembers drinking a potion in a castle, her mother standing over her, and the certainty that she’d never have a child at all. Not a girl. Not like her. But it’s been decades and now Mother is gone, and Emma is having a baby girl in under five months. A girl .
“As far as I can tell,” the technician says briskly. “Dr. Whale will give you the rest of the rundown once he’s back.” She moves the probe again, this time lower on Emma’s stomach to what’s distinctively a profile. “Let’s get you some pictures,” she says, hitting a button on her computer, and the machine starts churning out papers.
It isn’t until after Whale comes in that they get them. “Everything looks perfect,” he assures them, pausing between sentences to watch Regina warily. “That is definitely a human in there, and she’s growing beautifully.” He’s out of the room in moments, and Emma carefully wipes off the sonogram goo from her stomach and pulls her jeans back on.
“The pictures,” she remembers, and Regina retrieves the photos from where the technician had left them on top of the machine. There are three, all of the baby’s profile, and Regina traces it hungrily with her eyes as Emma looks at them. The earlier ultrasound had been on a smaller machine, the features difficult to see and undefined, and it hadn’t quite looked like a baby then.
This– this is a little girl, ten ounces of little person, and Regina can feel the words she wants to say sticking in her throat. “Your baby is beautiful,” she manages.
Emma stares at her from her seat on the examining table, her legs dangling over the side and her eyes still swimming with tears, and she says, “Ours. Our baby. Regina–” She lurches forward in her seat and her lips are on Regina’s in an instant, the sonograms still in her hand as she wraps an arm around Regina’s waist and tugs her closer. Regina loses herself in the kiss, puts aside the doubt and resentment and humiliation and dread, and holds onto Emma desperately instead.
“I can’t do this alone,” Emma gasps into her mouth. “Not again. Please don’t– please don’t make me do this alone, Regina, please –” Regina kisses her lips, kisses the corner of her mouth and her eyelids, gently, tasting saltwater beneath them. It’s been six weeks since she’d found out about the baby, six interminable weeks of separation, of feeling uneasy in her own house with her own family. Six weeks since she’d slept in the same bed as her wife.
You won't be alone , she almost promises, because hasn't Emma figured that one out by now? Regina is helpless when it comes to the web of love that surrounds her, and there's no recourse but to be hopelessly, helplessly entangled. Emma is in her arms and she’d say anything to keep her within them.
“Please,” Emma begs. It's the first time she's asked for anything in six weeks. She lurks in the house like a ghost, bearing Henry’s hurt silently and only taking what Regina offers. She sleeps on the floor in the bedroom, curled around her stomach like a child huddled out of sight, and Regina has to check in every night to wrap a blanket around her once she's asleep.
And none of this surprises her, really. It's...it’s how Regina imagines Emma had been in foster homes where she’d felt unwanted, where she’d spend all her time awaiting rejection. Emma rarely asks for anything even when they aren't torn apart like this.
But the one thing Emma asks of her is too much– too much , when it’s all she’s ever wanted, when she’d never thought she’d say no. Too much , when this little girl is only ten ounces heavy and nine inches long and Regina’s heart is already expanding to include her. Too much , because our baby is suddenly a weight beneath the girl that Regina can’t carry. “Dr. Whale will want the room,” Regina says, the words hollow to her ears, and Emma shrinks away from her, eyes downcast and sonograms tight in her hand.
She can’t blame Regina, really. Regina’s been unflinchingly supportive, done everything in her power to make Emma comfortable in their shared home. Regina has never once made her believe that she’d be raising this child alone. If Regina recoils at the idea of motherhood itself when it comes to her, to a baby who represents a betrayal that Emma still can’t believe of herself, that’s perfectly reasonable.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel reasonable. Sometimes she thinks about the baby’s conception and what horrifying event must have preceded it– she can’t remember , she’s never once felt the effects of a violation, she’d never once gotten drunk enough to do something really stupid, she couldn’t have–
Sometimes, she thinks about the fact that there had been no betrayal, and how dare Regina reject their family when Emma had done nothing wrong. How dare Regina act as the victim here when Emma is the one cracking under this strain, the one bearing this eternal reminder of an impossible event, the one whose son won’t even look at her?
But, well, she isn’t entirely sure that she’s being rational. She’d fucked up, somehow, even if she’d blocked it out. She deserves to be a pariah in her own home, as much as a childish, self-centered part of her wants to rail at the unfairness of all of this.
So she drifts around the house and pretends that it’s fine when Henry won’t talk to her, when Regina has already rejected an offer of motherhood. They’ll work this out someday. They have to.
Regina texts late one afternoon, when Emma’s already home and Henry has stormed past her into the house and up the stairs, Working late tonight. Eat something with protein. Emma makes a face at the text. She isn’t a child , and she can keep track of her nutrition perfectly well.
A pause, then another text. Will you be okay with Henry?
She stabs out a thumbs-up emoji and sticks her phone into her pocket, wandering into the pantry and peering around. Protein. Protein . Pizza has cheese on it. Maybe that counts. Protein . Her hand pauses on a can of tuna, and she sighs and decides to be responsible.
She whips up a tuna casserole and takes a picture of it, about to text it smugly to Regina, when she remembers that they aren’t the kind of couple who have long texting conversations anymore. Instead, she sucks in a breath and then exhales, and she calls out, “Henry! Dinner! Henry!”
There’s no response, and she waits at the bottom of the stairs, pacing and debating what her next move is going to be. Both Emma and Regina have cut Henry a lot of slack lately, all too aware of how valid his reasons for being angry are, and she’s tempted to let it be, to eat on her own and then vanish into her room so Henry will feel comfortable coming downstairs.
One more try. “Henry!” she calls again, and this time, he appears at the top of the stairs. She freezes, startled.
He looks tired, almost as tired as she is, and when he snaps, “ What ?” she flinches back. He looks away.
She clears her throat. “Regina’s going to be late tonight. I made dinner.”
“I’m not hungry,” he says immediately, turning around. His fingers are folding into fists, his shoulders hunched, and this isn’t their Henry. Henry has sailed through his teenage years thus far, a kid so good that Emma can’t believe that they’d raised him, and she longs desperately for that Henry instead of this hard, angry boy.
She’d been a hard, angry girl, and she can’t help but see herself in his eyes.
He’s halfway through the hallway, nearly out of her sight, when she finally says pleadingly, “What do you want from me? When are you going to forgive me?”
He shrugs, shifting only partially toward her before he answers dully. “I guess when you say the right thing.”
Emma blinks at him. “What am I supposed to say?” If there are magic words to save her family, she hasn’t been gifted with them; and try as she might, she can’t come up with the ones that work.
“I don’t know,” Henry mutters, and he retreats into his room without any more interference.
Emma will not cry. She’s cried enough, hormone-induced tears of frustration that change nothing, and she’s tired of crying, too.
She returns to the kitchen and spoons out some tuna casserole for herself, her only company the little flutters in her abdomen that remind her that she isn't alone. “Hey,” she whispers, resting a hand on her stomach. “You okay in there, little girl?”
There's another kick in response, and Emma almost smiles, almost forgets everything that has torn her life to shreds these past six weeks.
She eats the rest of her food in silence, and she's nearly done when there's a movement in the doorway.
It's Henry, his head down and his eyes red around the edges, and Emma waits patiently as he gets a plate and spoons out some casserole for himself. She half expects him to retreat back upstairs with his dinner, but he sits down in his seat next to her and digs into the food without a word.
Emma pushes the last few bits of casserole around her plate, suddenly reluctant to finish and leave the kitchen, and Henry finishes his first plate and goes back for seconds. They don't talk, but they eat in silence together, and it's a start. Maybe.
The baby kicks again, and Emma lets out a gasp she doesn't stifle in time. It's harder than before, more like a slap than a gentle tap, and she can feel it against the hand she has resting absently on her stomach.
“What is it?” Henry says, his head up for the first time since he’d entered the room. He stares at her, his eyes wide and anxious. “Are you okay? Should I call an ambulance?”
“No. No, it's fine,” Emma says, a little breathless. She's lifting his hand before she can think it through, pressing it to the top of her stomach, and Henry gets very quiet.
There's no kicking at first, and Henry’s face falls. “I should go do homework,” he mumbles. At least he's talking. “Thanks for dinn–”
The baby kicks again, and Henry looks up, his eyes wide and his gaze on hers as though he’s forgotten his anger for a moment. “Was that–?”
There's a childlike wonder on his face, like he's still ten instead of moody sixteen, and Emma fights to hide the smile that threatens to spread across her face. “It definitely was,” she says, and Henry begins to cry.
“Henry–” She reaches for him and he pulls away, wiping angrily at his tears as he squeezes his hand closed. “Henry, it's okay–”
“It’s not ,” Henry shoots back, shoulders shaking as he blinks away tears until they stop again. “It’s– it's–” He gulps in a breath. “Mom has to be– can't be angry with you because– because– I don't even know why!” he chokes out, and Emma watches him with dawning understanding.
“And you have to be angry for her,” she says, her heart twisting in her chest. Henry shrugs, eyes on the table, face set and jaw clenched. “Henry, my relationship with your mom is between us, not you and her. Let her make her own decisions. You don’t have to be angry–”
“I am angry!” Henry grinds out, glaring up at her again. “I’m angry that you would– that we– we were a family , Ma! We were happy! Why would you fuck that up like this? What could we possibly have done wrong to make you want to–”
I didn’t , Emma wants to say. She wants to explain the unexplainable again, to make this make sense and let everyone else exist in this place of non-answers that she is. But there isn’t any use to it, and she whispers instead, “I’m sorry, Henry. I’m so, so sorry.” He stares at her, his jaw still clenched and his eyes red, and she chokes back a sob of her own and says, “I love you. I love your mom. I love this…this family.”
“And her,” Henry says, his eyes shifting down to her stomach, and Emma blinks back tears and nods.
“Okay,” Henry says, and it isn’t forgiveness but it isn’t rejection, either. “Okay.”
It gets better. It isn’t fixed– it won’t be fixed for a long time, if ever– but it gets better. Emma has so many false memories of Henry growing up with her that she’d forgotten entirely what kind of loyalty the real version of that childhood would engender with him, what kind of protectiveness a son has for the mother who’d raised him. But she’s his mother, too, and they’re still a family. None of them are letting go of that.
If Regina is disappointed or pleased that Emma and Henry are mending their relationship, she doesn’t say so. She comes in on the first night to find them fighting over the ice cream (and how dare Henry steal the mint chocolate chip from a pregnant woman with cravings ) and only raises an eyebrow, heading to the counter for casserole instead.
That night, Emma is bold enough to head to the study after dinner, curling up on the couch in there with What To Expect While You’re Expecting . Regina doesn’t come to work on the couch, like she used to, but she looks up and gives Emma a small smile when she sees Emma watching her.
“I was just…thinking about the first time I was ever in here,” Emma says, gesturing at the opposite couch. The old golden couches have since been replaced with softer, comfortable ones, but the room is still decorated in the same way, homey brown tones and dim lighting. “It was a hell of a night, but I’m pretty sure that most of my thoughts were about your legs.”
“My legs? In that grey dress?” Regina looks dubious. “I’ve done better.”
“Much better,” Emma agrees lightly. “But I didn’t know that was possible back then. What were you thinking that night?” It had to have been about Henry, about the curse, about Emma as her newest enemy to destroy. Emma knows Regina better than anyone, knows how much of them both had fought in the early years, and she can’t imagine that the response will reflect anything else.
But Regina looks at Emma with a distant sort of gaze, her eyes unreadable, and she says, “I thought, ‘This woman is going to break me.’”
The night is quieter after that.
She sleeps on the floor, same as always, and she thinks our baby, our baby of a child whom Regina won’t claim. Tonight, though, sleep takes its time coming, and Emma shuts her eyes and waits, too many thoughts overwhelming her mind. Henry. Regina. The baby. Her parents, and what if they learn the truth. What is the truth?
She’s scanning back through her memories again, through the time when Scar had pretty much consumed their every waking moment, and she draws a blank, yet again. Regina has been her only lover in years, and she’s never even thought to be attracted to anyone else, let alone act on it.
There must be precedence for this beyond a sketchy story of a woman and her milkman. There must be something beyond the books that Regina has pored through. This baby is impossible, and that makes more sense than any possible explanation.
Emma betraying her family is a greater impossibility.
The door to the master bedroom creaks open before she can scramble into bed, and Emma freezes. Someone’s here. A member of her family has seen her like this now, curled up on the floor. Regina . It’s Regina, stealing into the room with bare feet and crouching beside her, and Emma holds her breath and waits.
The blanket tangled between Emma’s feet is slowly removed, and Emma is chilly for a brief moment before Regina sets it back down around her. “Sweet dreams,” Regina murmurs, brushing the backs of her fingers against Emma’s cheek. Emma can’t stop the way her breathing stutters, can’t keep up the facade of being fast asleep, and she feels the way that Regina freezes at that.
She forces her breath to stabilize, a little snore emerging from her lips, and Regina exhales and rises again, the moment of wariness gone. She leaves the room as quietly as she’d come, and Emma digs her hands into the blanket and thinks again, ours, ours, ours .
In the morning, Regina doesn’t mention where she’d found Emma– or that she’d found her at all. Which means this must not have been the first time, right? Emma fries bacon for the three of them and sits silently at the table, lost in thought, until Henry says, “Have a good day,” and lets them each hug him good-naturedly before he dashes out the door.
“I’d better head to work,” Emma says, jolting out of her reverie.
Regina doesn’t offer to join her. “Just paperwork,” she reminds firmly. “No chasing cats up trees.”
“Yeah, yeah. No fights, no calls, no touching the coffee machine if it’s too hot, I got it.” She swings her red jacket on in a fluid movement and then winces, feeling it straining at her armpits. “Oh– damn–”
“Winter coat,” Regina reminds her. “You have to stay warm, and you won’t be outgrowing that anytime soon.”
“ Fine .” She yanks on a winter coat, zipping it over her baby bump, and leaves for the station in a huff.
And it’s not like there’s much opportunity to put herself in danger at the station, anyway. Mulan is a capable deputy who does more efficient work than a dozen Davids could handle, and she takes care of all the calls before Emma can even request it of her. There’s a report of a ruckus near the school that morning, a missing child and a mountain of paperwork, and predictably, Emma gets saddled only with the latter.
She’s picked up the habit of filling out false crime reports and sending them up to the mayor’s office. Some of them had been incredibly dorky , Henry had claimed, particularly the one she’d thought had been clever about her own stolen heart (there had been wordplay!), and some had been pettier. Today, Emma files a complaint about a cruel and unusual punishment from the mayoral office (details: excessive paperwork and no outdoor time ) and she’s almost done when there’s a knock at the door.
“Come in,” she calls absently, signing her name at the bottom and starting an expense report for a pie of pizza, to be delivered to Mifflin Street tonight. “Here to report a crime?”
“Here to report police brutality,” a voice corrects her, and Emma looks up in surprise at the woman standing in front of her. There are two men flanking her, one with a wild look in his eye, and Emma opens her phone, her fingers hovering over Mulan’s name in her contacts. “We’re here about Scar.”
“Scar,” Emma repeats. “He’s…not here. He’s serving a sentence in the asylum until we figure out what to do with him.” These are his three top cronies, the hyena shifters. They’re the rare few who’d shown their human forms as well as their animal ones. They’d insisted that they’d been forced into Scar’s pride against their will, just as the others had, but Emma’s had her doubts. “He can’t hurt you here,” she says, smiling as encouragingly as she can manage.
“We aren’t here to ask you about him,” the first man says, tilting his head. “We have a message from him.”
“A message?” Emma repeats warily, and now she does hit Mulan’s name, just in time.
The woman is the first to change, the two men right behind her. There’s a ripple across their features and they extend, becoming more doglike, becoming more fierce. The man with the wild look throws back his head as it elongates and cackles, a spine-chilling laugh, and Emma throws out her hand to ward them off with magic.
She’s too late. The first hyena has already leaped, dodging her blow, and the others are swift enough to avoid it. It barely singes one and he howls, hurtling across the room, and then they’re all upon her. “No,” she hisses, pushing them back, but it’s like throwing a hundred pounds of muscle, a jaw snapping just beside her ear.
“Mulan!” she shouts, hoping desperately that her call had gone through. The hyenas are upon her as though she’s nothing more than an animal carcass, and she flails, pushing them from her side, from her stomach, from her stomach . All she can think of is her stomach, is shielding it from their attack, and when a jaw snaps shut on her side, she screams.
Magic. Magic. Shifters can sniff it out, can absorb enough it, but it’s all she has. It erupts from within her with more force than she’d meant, and shapeshifters can absorb some of her magic, but not enough that she doesn’t hurt them when a wave of energy spirals away from her to throw them off. They slam against the walls of the station, hissing, and Emma crouches against the wall behind her desk, yanking her gun out and pointing it at the singed hyena.
She can feel the baby kicking frantically, can feel its distress from somewhere deep within her, and she bites back a sob of pain and fear and fires her gun. She hits the hyena in the leg, and it drops again, howling in pain as she swings her gun to the next. With her magic, she reaches out to the baby inside her, struggling to convey warmth and healing and god , she can’t feel anything anymore.
Another hyena attacks boldly, leaping at the side where her body is on fire, and it opens its massive jaws and clamps them around Emma’s shoulder. Emma curses, scooting to the side in an attempt to slam it against the desk, her shoulder in agony as the teeth dig in deeper. “Fuck. Fuck. Mulan!”
Mulan still doesn’t come. Emma thinks. Her vision is starting to blur from the pain, and her next shot goes wide and misses the third hyena. She can hear movements around her, the growling of the hyena she keeps slamming against the desk, and her blows are getting weaker and weaker.
This is how it ends? she wonders, irritated at the banality of it and so, so frightened. She’s never been this frightened for her life, has never cared this much, but she can't feel the baby inside her anymore and she needs her to be fine , needs to escape this and save her and–
A cloud of purple, barely visible to her fading vision. Emma gapes with desperate, needy hope, and Regina’s fireballs hit with precision, one-two and then a red-hot burst of magic at the hyena locked on Emma’s shoulder. Emma can feel it singe her own face, barely a pinch compared to her shoulder and her side, and Regina pummels the hyena with another blow, then another, until it lies limp on the floor.
The other two hyenas transform back, Emma thinks, stumbling from the station as Regina strides to Emma, but Regina pays them no heed. “Mulan called me,” she says, her voice dry. “She heard you over the line and thought I’d get there faster. Emma–”
Outside, an ambulance siren is blaring. Emma hears it through a haze, hears only Regina’s voice clearly. “I'm going to heal the external wounds,” Regina says shakily. “I'm going to– don't touch her!” she barks out at someone Emma can't see. “She needs magic!”
“The baby,” Emma mumbles, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. “I can't feel– the baby–”
There's a cool touch at her shoulder, like a compress against her skin. She hadn't thought the hyena had left any skin there to begin with. “The baby,” she says again. “Our baby.”
Regina lets out a wet sob. “I know, love. I know. We have to– we need to focus on you first, all right? You have to be able to be moved.” The magic feels like life, like love, seeping back into her. “Can you breathe in for me? Now out. In. Out.”
In. Out. Emma keeps her eyes closed, her heart still beating a rhythmic reminder of alive .
And all she can think of is the baby she can't feel anymore.
The hospital room is alive with cacophony, the kind that Regina had once flourished on. Once, Regina had thrived in chaos, had reveled at the sort of panic that suffuses this room right now. Once, it hadn’t filled her with terror, and she had been able to let the doctors do their jobs. “What does that mean?” she barks out at Dr. Whale. “What are you doing to my wife? The baby. Is the baby…?”
No one answers her. For the first time in decades, no one in a room is swayed by her glare, and Regina can only gape at them in outrage and pain and fear before there’s a hand on her shoulder, moving her from the room. “You teleported Emma over here,” Whale says firmly. “You healed her worst wounds. Leave the baby to us.”
She can’t . But she lets him propel her out of the room, back into the waiting room in the ER. She paces, her fists clenched and panic rising within her, and she reaches out with her magic to feel for Emma’s, to feel for some semblance of consciousness in that room.
“Regina!” It’s Snow and David, both rising at once from their seats, and Regina swallows back bile and struggles to turn to them. “How is she?” Snow asks urgently. “Is she awake?”
“She’s fine. I stopped the internal bleeding before she got here.” Regina paces, paces, paces. “Our baby,” she says, her hands clenching at her sides. “They don’t know about–” Emma shaking, in agony, I can’t feel the baby . Regina’s magic touches Emma and arcs back to her, the flow of energy between them as healthy as it’s ever been, but when she struggles to feel for the baby, she can’t feel–
No . There’s a little surge of life within life, a thrashing spark of energy that she can touch. It flares and then wanes, and Regina presses her head against the wall, straining with all her magic to find it again.
It winks back into existence, reluctant, when she pushes, and there’s a corresponding exclamation from the other side of the double doors. Regina strains again, struggling to hold the spark, to let it grow, but it’s already fading out again.
She pushes back through the double doors, throwing aside a nurse with a burst of magic, and she storms into Emma’s hospital room again. There’s a flurry of movement around Emma, doctors and nurses flung to the side with a wave of her hand, and Regina crouches beside Emma and presses a hand to her stomach. “Come on,” she mutters. “Get back here.”
Her magic burns her insides, pulls every last bit of energy from within her, and she closes her eyes and sees , sees a heart pounding and a tinier heart blinking and vanishing more rapidly than it ever had on the ultrasound. She knows hearts, knows how to pluck them out and crush them, knows how they sound before they fail, knows how even the very strongest can be tamed.
Tamed, but not silenced . She pours healing power into Emma, into the tiny baby close to winking out of existence, into hearts and skin and muscle, and when the baby’s life force blooms, spreading through its body like magic has taken hold of it, Regina finally releases her hold and collapses.
She wakes up in a hospital bed of her own, an IV pumping fluid into her arm and the room dimly lit and quiet. She recognizes the room. It’s one of the rooms in the step down unit, and she’s never been more grateful to see Emma across her room.
Emma is awake. There’s a band strapped around her stomach, the steady heartbeat clip-clopping in the quiet room, and Regina exhales and croaks, “The baby?”
Emma turns her head, eyes glittering with tears, and whispers, “You saved her.” Regina doesn’t know what she can say, what can possibly explain the range of emotion she’s experienced today, and when Emma crooks her finger, Regina eases herself out of her bed and climbs into Emma’s.
It’s the first time they’ve been in bed together in months, and Regina can feel all the loneliness and frustration and exhaustion finally taking their toll, can feel the sob rising within her before she can fight it. “I love you,” she chokes out, and Emma’s tears fall, her head resting against the pillow and her eyes fixed on Regina’s. “I love you so much.”
“I love you,” Emma whispers, reaching out to graze fingers along Regina’s cheek. “I really did try to stay out of trouble.”
“Scar.” It comes out like a growl. “I have to–” She pulls herself up, ready to storm to the asylum, to wring the lion’s neck and flay him alive and make him pay for the hyenas he must have sent. Murder. She’s going to murder him. She’s going to–
“ No ,” Emma begs, pulling Regina back to her. “Please don’t leave me right now.”
Regina softens, her anger set aside for another day. “Of course not. I just…” She can feel her eyes stinging, can feel her magic still all but depleted within her. “I almost lost you,” she whispers, a sob distorting the words. “I almost lost…” She keeps her hand hovering over Emma’s stomach, afraid to touch, and Emma puts her hand over Regina’s and presses it down against the skin below the band.
There’s a little burst of energy that Regina can feel in her heart before she feels the kick; but the kick is what has her mouth falling open, her breathing faltering as another ragged sob tears from within her like a last breath. The baby kicks again, and Emma smiles through her tears and says, “She knows you now, doesn’t she? You were in there with her.”
Emma– Emma, her eyes bright and her cheeks wet and her face glowing as though she hadn’t been a mass of shattered limbs and broken skin hours before– Emma is so breathtakingly beautiful. “Emma,” Regina breathes, and she can’t dream of losing her again, of living in the tension of what had been before.
They haven’t fought like this since before they’d gotten married, since the days when the world had been coated with ice and Emma had stood with a hand on Regina’s office door, promising her the world. They haven’t fought like this since Regina had sat in her vault and tried to find her fire, but had only shivered and longed for someone she couldn’t name. And they aren’t fighting now, exactly, except for the part where Regina’s heart has been made into a dozen fault lines, each arcing out to the next and splitting her to pieces. “I can’t do this anymore,” she breathes.
Emma’s face falls. “I understand,” she says, sounding very much like she’d expected Regina to say it, and that’s Regina’s first clue that Emma doesn’t understand at all. “I know it’s– I know it’s been hell for you to live with me when I’ve been…”
“No,” Regina says, horrified. “No, I mean…” She swallows another sob, her hand trembling over Emma’s skin, and she reaches with her free hand to brush the hair from Emma’s eyes. “I don’t care anymore,” she whispers, her voice fierce. “I don’t care if it strains every single ounce of credulity I have in my entire body; I am going to believe you.”
“Regina?” Emma is a burst of frightened hope, glowing so bright with it that Regina is blinded. “What do you mean–”
Regina’s fingers tremble on Emma’s cheek. “I’ve been so afraid of talking to you about all of this,” she admits, and she can feel the rush of terror again, the fear of what it is that Emma might say to destroy her. But nothing can match the terror of this afternoon. Nothing is worth missing so much time . “About– however we weren’t enough that you had to–”
“ No ,” Emma says, her eyes wide and stricken. “No, Regina. We’ve always been enough. We’ve been… everything , and I know it kills us both that there’s this mystery behind the baby, but I swear, I never for a moment lost faith in us. Never . Not before…” She touches her stomach over Regina’s hand, lacing her fingers between Regina’s, and Regina gazes at her and wants desperately for Emma to be telling the truth.
“I believe you,” she repeats, and Emma softens; Emma brings Regina’s hand to her lips and kisses it, and Regina curls up against her and cries, cries, cries.
Believing is like breathing for the first time in months, even if there’s a nagging thought at the back of her mind that she’s only deluding herself. No , she believes in Emma and she believes in them, and she’s lost too much time to waste on fears that will no longer surface.
She smiles more easily when they’re discharged, after ten hours under observation where the baby is perfectly healthy. If Henry had been there yesterday, she hadn’t been awake for him, and she lights up when he tears into the room with wild eyes and throws his arms around them both.
“Mom. Ma. Mom. Ma.” He says their names breathlessly, over and over until it’s Momma, Momma , and he holds Emma so tightly that Emma starts crying again. It’s been a slow road with the two of them, but Regina is certain that she’s witnessed forgiveness at last, and Henry looks at her as though he’s seen the same on her face.
They’re discharged after hours of impatient waiting, Henry pacing and asking dozens of questions about the baby that he hasn’t dared ask before, and Emma answering as many as she can. “Your mom restarted the baby’s heart,” she explains. “Dr. Whale says that trauma can induce miscarriage more often than not, and we’re lucky that this little girl is far enough along that she was able to fight back. Until Regina fought for her,” she says, tossing Regina a swift, grateful look.
Regina presses her lips together, uncomfortable with the awe on both their faces. “I would have done the same for either of you,” she says grudgingly, and Emma nearly glows at that confirmation of family .
“You’re amazing, Mom,” Henry says earnestly.
Regina quirks an eyebrow. “Be that as it may,” she says, and they both grin at her. It’s odd, being in a room with her wife and son and not feeling as though the tension might smother them all. It’s a relief, and she never wants to leave this circle of safety and love. “I’m going to take a walk,” she says abruptly. “Move around a little.”
Emma leans back against her bed. “I am going to continue to sit here and eat your brownie from the lunch tray,” she declares, then shoots a tired, knowing look Regina’s way. “Be reasonable, okay? Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Regina says stiffly, sliding her feet into her heels and starting for the door. She can feel Emma’s eyes on her back, and she makes a left and walks toward the main desk in the unit pointedly.
After a minute, she turns on her heel and stalks back down the hall, past their room and to the elevators. She hits the button for the bottom floor, walks down the hall to the special elevator, and takes it down to the underground asylum.
The nurse on duty is one she knows by sight, and he nods without comment when Regina walks past him, her eyes growing darker and darker with each step. When she reaches the large room where she’s been headed, she’s furious again, and she throws the door open with a surge of magic. “You,” she growls out.
A lion roars and leaps at her, and she deflects him easily, a fireball lighting up her palm. He backs away, shifting rapidly back to human, and Regina stalks forward until her fireball is singing the tips of his long hair. “Listen to me,” she snarls. “And listen well. You send your cronies after Emma– after my son or daughter– you try anything with any of us ever again– and I’m going to burn this room to ash. Do you understand?”
Scar sneers at her, a denial already on his lips– and she knows , she knows he’s going to throw the hyenas under the bus and claim he knew nothing of this attack– and she presses the fireball into his chest, containing it within her hands so it’s one condensed ball of roiling flames. It burns into him, searing his skin, and he hisses in agony as she keeps it pressed against his heart. “ Do you understand ?”
“Yes,” Scar bites out, and the hatred in his eyes sends a chill down Regina’s spine.
She doesn’t show it. “Good,” she grinds out, and she turns around and stalks back to the door, feeling Scar’s eyes burning into hers. “Don’t let anyone visit him but me,” she barks out to the nurse.
"Yes, Mayor." He nods, his face blank as he returns to the paperwork on his desk. "Yes, Mayor," he repeats absently.
In the elevator, she takes deep breaths and stares at herself in her compact, forcing the hard lines of her face to relax and soften. She unclenches her fingers and leans against the wall, struggling to let the tension fade from her body; and by the time she returns to the Swan-Mills room, she can smile freely at Henry and Emma and take her seat beside them as they’re discharged at last.
Snow drives them home from the hospital, and Regina brightens when she sees the package on the porch. She’d ordered it over a week ago, and it’s a happy coincidence that it had finally arrived now, when it means so much more.
She scoops it up before they head inside, tucking it away in a drawer in her room for later. Henry is bouncing around the house, lively for the first time in months, and Regina concedes to pizza for dinner, if only to keep the grin on his face. “This is terrible for the baby,” she reminds them.
Emma waves her off. “I’ll get a salad with it.” She doesn’t. She gets fries, and Regina glares at her until she slices a cucumber and eats it obediently. Regina steals fries and leans against her wife and feels contentment washing over her like a salve, the angry red bruising beneath it soothed for now.
For now . She wonders how she’ll feel in a day from now, in a week; she wonders how she’ll feel when their baby is born with a face that looks like betrayal; she wonders.
But now isn’t the time to dwell on wonders. Now is the time to bid goodnight to Henry and tug Emma upstairs, moving her belongings back into her bedroom with the wave of her hand. “Finally, this bed is going to get some use,” she mutters. Emma looks at her guiltily, but Regina is busy again, pulling out the package she’d hidden away. “I got this before…everything,” she admits. “You have no idea how hard it was to find.”
Emma opens the package and gasps, pulling out the red faux-leather maternity jacket. “It has zippers on the sides so it’ll still fit snugly over your belly as it grows,” Regina says, pursing her lips. Emma is still staring at the jacket, and Regina’s suddenly self-conscious. Maybe it had been too much, especially since they hadn’t reconciled when she’d ordered it. “It’ll look ridiculous, of course, but when do you ever not look ridiculous in your jackets–”
Emma kisses her, pressing her flush against the door to their room, the jacket still in her grasp. “I have wanted to do this every time ,” Emma whispers, her breath hot against Regina’s ear as she presses a kiss to its shell. “ Every time you’ve done something so… fucking considerate this pregnancy.”
“I missed a lot of kissing,” Regina manages as Emma attacks her neck. “We should make that up right now.”
“So fucking self-sacrificing,” Emma murmurs against her skin. “I thought that was my gig.”
“I’ve spent far too much time with you, dearest wife of mine,” Regina says wryly. “You were bound to rub off on me eventu– ah! ” Emma’s hand moves downward to, in fact, rub a thumb against her panties. “Eventually,” she gasps out.
Emma grins, that dopey happy face nearly enough to conceal the hunger beneath it. “That’s the plan,” she says, and she isn’t foolish enough to try to lift Regina, but she pulls her by the hand across the room, Regina flying with her, and they land on the bed together, laughing breathlessly before they’re kissing again.
Emma’s read about anxiety about her appearance at this point in pregnancy, about staring in the mirror and being horrified at what she’s seeing. Some women swear off sex altogether, dress in bathrooms where their partners can’t see, bare themselves only in the dark and succumb to insecurities. And maybe she would have, if she hadn’t been feeling quite so insatiable after months apart from her wife.
They’re both insatiable. Regina can’t seem to keep her hands off of Emma, and Emma finds herself reaching for Regina the moment she’s in proximity, their kisses longer and their hands bolder. Henry grumbles about it and makes faces at them, and they try their best to control themselves around him with little success.
Regina is especially fascinated by Emma’s changing body, tracing the curve of her belly and palming larger breasts with glee. “You’re gorgeous ,” she whispers, draped around Emma. “Stunning.” Her fingers are driving into Emma, curling and uncurling as Emma hums in approval and presses back against her. “God, I missed that sound.”
“I missed making you scream,” Emma whispers, tilting her head to hear the intake of breath. Regina bites her shoulder, lighter than she might have before she’d literally remade it from scratch, and Emma wriggles against Regina’s hand, exhaling in relief when Regina finally presses her thumb against Emma’s clit. She flicks it, twisting her fingers within Emma, and Emma groans and grinds against her hand. “Fuck. More.”
Regina pumps for a moment, eliciting more moans and shifting so her center is wet against Emma’s skin, and then she freezes suddenly. “What?” Emma says, shifting a little to try to recapture the friction. “Why’d you stop?”
“The baby–” Regina sounds strained. “She’s awake ,” she says, horrified. “I just felt a kick.” She’s pulling her hand from Emma, and Emma is beginning to realize the rather terrifying possibility that she isn’t actually going to be getting any tonight.
“What? No,” Emma protests, grabbing Regina’s wrist before she can move it too far away from her. “She isn’t even awake. I would have felt it.” She hadn’t felt much of anything when Regina had been inside of her beyond raw need. “Movement rocks her to sleep, anyway. There’s no way that she’s up. Come back here.”
Regina is scooting away from her, her face a little green, and Emma crawls back across the bed to kiss her. “No kicks,” she promises. “ Please . Need you.”
She’s on her knees, each positioned on one side of Regina’s legs, and Regina leans back against the headboard in defeat. Her hands slide back up to massage Emma’s breasts, and Emma exhales in finally , close to satisfaction.
“I’ve never done this before,” Regina murmurs after, kissing Emma’s ear.
“Fucked me?” Emma says, quirking an eyebrow. “Did I wipe your memory with that last orgasm?”
“Cute.” Regina bites her earlobe. “ This . Pregnancy. The closest I have to actual experience with it is avoiding your mother in my castle walls while she was expecting Neal. So forgive me if I’m a little antsy.”
“Did you ever think about…instead of adoption…?” Emma fumbles for the words.
Regina shakes her head. “I can’t have children.” She shivers suddenly. “I had a personal nurse who would attend to me, when I was married the first time. The king wanted to be sure that no child I’d have would threaten his daughter’s claim to the throne. So I would have no child. And when I was queen, I took a potion that protected me from ever bearing a child.” She lies back against the bed, pulling away from Emma. “To protect any other children of my bloodline from my mother.”
Oh . There are times when Emma doesn’t understand how her wife could have ever been the scourge of worlds, could have ever lost herself so deeply for so long. And then there are times when Emma doesn’t understand how her wife could have ever resisted it. “I love you,” she murmurs, snuggling in beside Regina. Her stomach gets in the way too often these days, and she settles for laying her head across Regina’s flatter stomach, golden hair splaying out against bronzed skin. “I’m so sorry.”
Regina snorts. “If we compete on who has the worst past, I don’t think I win. I have plenty more to apologize for than you do.”
“That’s not how it works.” She’s acutely aware at times of her bloodline, of decades of pain and hostility on both ends. She thinks sometimes about what they now know about Cora and Leopold before, about the twisted sort of people who would take a girl and–
“It wasn’t all bad,” Regina murmurs. “For the first eight years of my life, I grew up in my grandfather’s palace. Mother kept me close, of course, but I had more freedom from her there, where I could step out of a room and find a cousin or a friend.” Her eyes are wistful, and Emma watches her in silence. They so rarely delve this far back into Regina’s past, and she’s afraid that one word will jolt Regina from what are fond memories.
“I loved my father’s family, even though they all despised and feared my mother. Maybe because of that. My grandmother– Queen Elena– she was the kind of queen I’d dreamed of being. Good and fair and so regal and beloved.” Regina snorts. “I think she’d have probably been appalled to see what I’d become.”
Emma finds her voice for that . “You’ve done a pretty great job with this town. And Storybrooke is bigger than your standard minor kingdom in the Enchanted Forest.”
Regina shakes her head, not quite melancholy but not quite content, either. “I was her favorite, and she was the only reason we were still accepted by the royal family. After her death, we were disgraced and banished, under heavy pressure from the White kingdom. I spent the next ten years…alone, mostly, with only my mother and father. And then there was Daniel, and then I was queen.” She says them simply, one after the other. One begets the other.
“Did you ever think about…” Having children with Daniel. Emma doesn’t want to ask it, doesn’t want to hear about another life with another Regina, off in some hut somewhere with a dozen children and a smile that bears no pain. An uncomplicated relationship, with uncomplicated pregnancies and uncomplicated family, nothing like what they’ve clawed for here.
“I thought about children,” Regina says, deftly cutting Daniel out of the conversation. “I thought about babies and little boys and families like the one I’d had at my grandfather’s castle. I don’t think there’d ever been a time before Henry when I hadn’t…when I hadn’t ached for a child.”
“You were always a mother.” There are some women who are made for motherhood, who spend a lifetime craving children to love. And there are some who shudder at the thought of ever being so inextricably tied to a child, about being so utterly responsible for another human being. “I don’t think I was a mother until…” Past true love’s kiss, past a dozen fights over their shared son, past heartbreak and desperation and loss. “Until we moved the moon,” Emma whispers.
Regina winds her fingers through Emma’s, their hands dangling onto the bed. “And look at us now,” she murmurs. “Family.”
“Look at us now,” Emma echoes, and she brings their hands to her stomach.
“We know that it can be difficult for older siblings to adjust when there’s a new baby on the way,” Regina says, setting the box down in front of Henry. Emma bobs her head, arranging her facial features into the most serious face she can manage. Regina is very determined about this, and Emma is very determined to…support her. Regardless of how ridiculous this is. “We want you to know that we love you, and we’re here for you if you want to talk.
Henry blinks up at them. “I was just...writing a paper,” he says uncertainly. “I wasn’t groaning about the baby.”
“I remember how your mother handled Neal’s birth,” Regina reminds him patiently. Emma coughs politely. “It wasn’t pretty.”
“Well, I’m not planning on leaving town,” Henry says, raising his eyebrows. “And I don’t think you’re replacing me or something. That’s kind of…one of the perks of your mom having an accidental, impossible pregnancy, I guess.”
“Our son, the smartass,” Emma says fondly. “See? He’s okay. You can stop worrying.” She lowers her voice. “Your mom has already put aside three hours every Sunday morning to go out with you for brunch once the baby is born. We don’t even get date nights that often.” Henry, who is now seventeen and rapidly outgrowing Mommy & Me time, looks vaguely alarmed. “I’m not invited.”
“You’ll make your own time for just Henry, won’t you?” Regina tosses Emma a pointed glare. “ Scheduled .”
Emma bobs her head. “Yes, dear.” She pokes the box on the table. “Anyway, here’s…Monopoly. To decompress about your feelings or something, I guess. Nothing says older child resentment like bankrupting your moms.”
Henry considers for a moment. “Yes, that does sound like fun.” He lowers his voice into a mock whisper. “Mom cheats .”
“I do not!” Regina protests. “I…coerce.” She flashes them both a Mayor Mills smile.
Emma eyes them both warily. She’s played Bananagrams with Regina and been the subject of wandering fingers at a pivotal moment. Regina had once won Scrabble solely by whispering something in her ear that had had her surrender a Triple Word Score. Neither of them are very good at losing, and Regina is particularly persuasive.
She can also be slightly terrifying. “Do not touch Park Place,” she warns Emma, her eyes flashing like she’s at Threat Level Fireball. She pulls out a stack of colorful bills. “I’ll pay you–”
“Nah,” Emma says, pushing the money over to Henry. He puts it into the bank, passing her the card, and she beams smugly at Regina. “Any questions?”
Regina steams, especially when she has to pick a card next turn and winds up giving everyone a hundred dollars. “You’re not looking too good, Regina,” Emma says, glancing at her slowly shrinking pile of bills. “Maybe you need some help? A little charity to stay in the game?” She rolls and promptly lands on Boardwalk.
Regina’s eyes narrow. “Touch that card and I don’t make dinner for a week.”
“Hm,” Emma drawls, dropping her hand onto her orange five hundred dollar bill.
Henry says warily, “Ma, please think about what you’re doing.”
“What I’m doing?” Emma says, her brow wrinkling in mock confusion. “You mean winning ?” Regina’s eyes are dark and burning, and Emma remembers for the first time in a long time that her wife does, in fact, have a history of vicious murder and conquest. It’s pretty hot. “Someone has to take this town back, Mayor Swan-Mills . And I plan to start with installing a hotel right…there.” She presses a finger to Boardwalk, very pleased with their rule modifications that allow it instantly.
Regina rolls the dice so hard that it flips off the table and onto the floor, where they can all see the number. Henry breathes, “Oh, shit ,” and neither of his mothers correct him, too caught up in where exactly Regina’s piece is about to land.
Emma glances at the card for Boardwalk. “Rent with one hotel is two thousand dollars,” she says cheerily. She peers over at Regina’s money. “Do you even have that?”
Regina flicks a finger– and doesn’t even try to hide it, the shamelessness – and the dice tips again as though it hadn’t stopped rolling a full thirty seconds beforehand. “Oh, look at that,” she says archly. “I land on Go. I’ll take four hundred dollars, thank you.”
Emma glances at Henry, who hands over the money without a word. “She really does cheat.”
Regina scoffs. “This isn’t cheating. It’s evening the odds. This game is about entrepreneurship, don’t tell me no entrepreneurs have ever–”
“Oh, my god ,” Emma says. “I can’t believe you’d do this to your son and your poor, pregnant wife. We’re so innocent. So young.” She sighs dramatically. Henry rolls and happily collects his fourth railroad. “You’re definitely making dinner for the next week.”
Emma rolls and makes it to another of Henry’s railroads. She pays the rent from the money she’d earned from passing Go, eyeing her own depleting cash in concern. Without the two thousand dollars Regina owes her, she’s running out of solid money. “I’m going to–” Her mouth stops moving. Actually, she stops moving entirely.
For an instant, she thinks about Scar and his minions, and then her eyes manage to catch a hand slipping toward her properties while Henry looks on in disapproval. “Oh, Emma, you don’t mind if I take these, do you? Please, say something if you have any objections,” Regina says, acid-sweet as she reaches for Park Place and Boardwalk.
Emma can’t respond or move at all , and she sits in furious immobilization as Regina picks up the cards. And then–
A flash of light sparks from her abdomen and frees her, striking Regina’s hand at the same time. “Ha!” Emma crows, snatching her cards back. “Baby’s on Team Emma!” Though that had been weird , whatever it was.
The next roll sends Regina directly to jail, which is absolutely where she belongs. Naturally, she rolls doubles on her next turn, the die glowing purple with magic. “Oh, that’s it ,” Emma decides. She’s landed on another one of Henry’s properties and she’s out of money, so she grabs the bank.
Emma jabs a finger gun at him. “Hands up. This is a robbery.”
“Ma,” Henry says, heaving a long-suffering sigh. “Don’t sink to her level.”
“Not that it’d help,” Regina says, snickering. “What’s in the bank, a couple of fifties? You’re out of cash.”
“I’ll take yours ,” Emma says, snatching Regina’s stack, and discovering with horror that Regina is even poorer than she is. “How is this possible?” Emma demands, passing over the last four fifties to Henry as Regina sulkily takes the dice. “Where is all the…”
Henry says, “Utility! I have both. And you’re both out of money,” and smiles winningly at them from behind almost all of the game money. “This is fun. I totally feel better about you two replacing me now.”
“ You’re making dinner,” Emma says, Regina scowling alongside her in unity.
It’s only later that Emma remembers the zap from her stomach. “Is that normal? Does that mean the baby has magic?”
“The baby can’t have magic,” Regina says, shaking her head. It’s after dinner– which was, courtesy of Henry, cereal and poptarts, but they’d both stubbornly eaten it– and they’re in the study, Emma’s feet on Regina’s lap as Regina massages them. “Your magic isn’t innate.”
“Excuse me,” Emma says, offended. “It does just fine for itself.”
“Of course it does.” Regina moves up to her legs and Emma promptly forgets that she’d been offended. “You have magic because you’re a unique sort of child of true love. True love might be a dime a dozen in the Enchanted Forest, but you also had a prophecy and your parents were…” She rolls her eyes. “ Special in their love. I guess they settled down a bit before Neal was conceived, so no magic for him.”
“What about your magic?” Emma asks curiously. Regina’s hands are doing something magical to her calves, and she can feel her legs turning to jelly when she tries to angle up and look at Regina. “Yours is innate?”
“Yes. My mother had it, my sister has it…the potential for it is in everyone of our bloodline. You’ve seen Robyn’s magic already. That isn’t true love, it’s genetics.” She nods to Emma’s baby bump. “The baby must be harnessing your magic now and… kicking , sort of.”
“Little magic kicks.” It’s kind of adorable. She feels a sudden kick now, followed by a tiny spark of energy at her stomach. “It doesn’t feel just like me, though. It feels like our magic.”
“I poured a lot of my magic into the baby at the hospital,” Regina says, shrugging. “It makes sense that she’s still running on it. I doubt it’ll last much longer. And she won’t be able to do this anymore at all once she’s born.” She rubs circles into the underside of Emma’s calves.
“She’ll be normal?” Emma asks, clasping a hand over her stomach.
Regina shakes her head, smiling up at her with soft eyes. “She’ll be extraordinary.”
“Regina. Regina, wake up.” Regina wakes up. Emma is shaking her, her eyes glowing in the dim light filtering in from the street. It looks as though she’s been crying, and Regina is suddenly wide awake.
“Emma? What’s wrong? What happened?”
“What if she has no friends?” Emma says, her voice heartbreakingly small. Regina stares. “What if…I don’t know, her class is cliquey and she has to grow up with them anyway? Storybrooke isn’t big enough to have multiple classes per grade.”
Regina squints at her, slumping back against her pillow. “Emma, are you talking about the baby? She’s still a fetus .”
“What if we don’t keep up with the latest trends and dress her wrong? Regina, I’m serious .” Emma huddles under the blanket, shivering, and Regina sighs and wraps her arms around Emma, pulling her back against her. Emma lays her head on Regina’s shoulder, her stomach bumping between them. “Don’t you worry about these things?”
Regina runs her fingers through Emma’s hair. “I think about her making it through the next ten weeks safely. I think about how slippery the porch stairs can be when it’s wet. I think about every single villain who comes to this town using her as– as–” She takes in a shuddering breath at the thought. “You’re hormonal. What’s my excuse?” she says, her laugh sounding strained and tearful. “I’m afraid all the time. But I don’t– I never went to school like that, Emma.”
“School was the only place where I got to escape my foster homes,” Emma says, her hand running in circles on Regina’s stomach. “I wasn’t good at making friends. Or being…accepted. And I can make sure this baby is surrounded by love at home, but I can’t– I can’t– for fuck’s sake,” she says disgustedly at herself as her voice begins to waver. “Not again . I’m so tired of mood swings, god .”
Regina squirms up, shifting so she’s leaning against the headboard and Emma can rest easily against her without her stomach getting in the way. “Come here.” She rubs Emma’s back, choosing her words carefully. “Our little girl is going to be the best-dressed child in her class, because I’m going to be the one dressing her.”
Emma laughs softly. “I know it sounds silly–”
“It doesn’t.” And Regina can imagine that Emma has never been the best-dressed girl in a class, had come to school with hand-me-downs stretched out by other children and had looked, from the start, like an outsider. “Her mother is the Evil Queen, so no one is going to want to cross her, and her other mother is the sheriff, so everyone is going to want to go to her birthday parties. She’s never going to be alone, and she’s never going to feel unloved. She’s going to be the luckiest little girl in the world.”
Emma closes her eyes, pressing her head to Regina’s heart. “I love you,” she says, the words so simple that they ache and shine. “What about…all the things you’re afraid of? What about bad guys and magic and–”
She doesn’t know. She lies awake at night thinking about it, craving some kind of reassurance that children aren’t fleeting and every moment can be one where her entire world shatters. “Didn’t you hear the part about the Evil Queen and the sheriff?” she says instead, and Emma reaches up and cups her cheek as though she’s heard her fear through her laugh, as though she knows that Regina needs comforting as well.
She holds it there, their eyes locked and solemn in the dark, and neither of them looks away for a long, long time.
There are more sleepless nights, Emma jerking awake in the middle of the night and attempting to steal away quietly before Regina is awakened as well. Regina sleeps through very few of them, but she falls back asleep easily, while Emma drifts in and out all night. By the time she’s deep into her third trimester, she’s sleeping double that during the day, falling asleep on the spot in the middle of work, meals, and family time.
“Should we wake her up?” Henry says dubiously, eyeing Emma where she’s faceplanted into the side of the couch, flung over Regina’s lap. “That can’t be comfortable.”
Regina pats Emma’s side. “Anything is comfortable to her right now,” she says fondly. The baby kicks happily against her palm, punctuating it with a little flash of magic that pushes up against Regina’s. That magic should really have worn off by now, but Regina doesn’t exactly have a meter to hold this pregnancy up against. The stories of children of true love are few and far between, and no one has ever researched how their pregnancies might go.
Henry lowers his voice, glancing warily at their slumbering companion. “Grandma’s still talking about throwing a baby shower. I tried talking her out of it, but she’s really into it.”
Regina sighs. “I thought she might be. At least make sure that it’s here, not at her apartment. I want to be able to escape.” Henry grins. “There aren’t going to be activities , are there?”
Henry looks a little shifty. “Just little things. Ma will like it.” And that’s the crux of the matter, and why Regina hadn’t immediately stormed into Snow’s classroom to call it off when Henry had admitted it was happening. Emma hadn’t gotten a baby shower in prison , and Snow most of all is determined to make up for lost time.
“Are you sure you’re all right with all this?” Regina murmurs, reaching for Henry.
He slides down to the floor next to them, his gangly legs bent beneath him, and doesn’t protest when she winds her fingers through his too-long hair in an attempt to smooth it down. She’s mentioned a dozen times that it needs a cut, and he’d just rolled his eyes and run his hands through it so it’d be untidy. “Yeah, Mom,” he says. He bites his lip. “I’m not saying I don’t– I do think it’d be kind of cool to have spent the first ten years of my life with both of you, but I like where we are now. And I like how we got here, too.” He shrugs. “I’m kind of looking forward to not being called kid anymore.”
“You’re always gonna be kid , kid,” Emma says drowsily, and she reaches out to ruffle his hair, undoing all of Regina’s hard work. Henry sighs, but he’s still smiling, and Regina is satisfied for the moment.
Somehow, between all of Emma’s naps, they manage to paint the guest room a faint purple. Henry had protested– “You have magic , why do we need to–” but Regina had been adamant that they do it right. They’d pulled out a box of Henry’s old baby things from the attic and Emma had taken one look at it and burst into tears.
“I’m sorry. I really hate these hormones, I just–” She runs her hands over the crib shakily, stares at every page in the baby book that Regina had painstakingly filled out, holds every receiving blanket as though it’s a precious treasure. Regina finds herself holding a blanket in her hands, too, lost in memories of a time when she’d been eased out of her own curse with the tiniest gleam of hope.
They purchase new linens for the baby, lavender sheets and a number of onesies in varying styles. They get a new car seat and a stroller and a baby monitor with a range that allows them to take it out into the backyard. The room looks more and more as though it’s ready for their newest family member, and Regina finds herself walking through it every night before bed, lost in thought and a sort of yearning that she doesn’t dare reveal to Emma or Henry.
There’s a part of her still, a part she refuses to acknowledge, that wishes desperately that this baby hadn’t come the way that it had. She’d liked the idea of adopting again. She hadn’t been opposed to in-vitro for Emma. It’s never been about a baby sharing her blood, and it never will be.
It’s the nagging reminder that this girl was created in some impossible way– impossible, like a pregnancy with only one parent; impossible , like Emma being with someone else– and the betrayal still lurks, no matter how many sheets Emma covers it with that match Regina’s magic. She doesn’t want to think of that– doesn’t want her daughter to ever be tainted with a moment that means only betrayal– and so she makes light jokes about immaculate conception and ignores the uncertainty in Emma’s eyes when she laughs.
They’re all right now. They’re finally at peace, and they’re about to celebrate something so precious that Regina can hardly believe that she might have this. And if it’s a tiny bit bittersweet, she shows it only at night, alone in the room that will someday be their child’s.
“Everything is a side effect of pregnancy,” Emma scoffs on a regular basis. “You could Google ‘too much belly button lint pregnant’ and you’ll find a baby forum where they swear up and down that it’s a totally natural symptom. Every single behavior is not about the baby inside you.”
But as much as she insists it, there’s very little that seems to be independent of it anymore. She sleeps constantly, cries often, and as she enters the ninth month of pregnancy, a new symptom appears.
Regina is startled when there’s a knock at her office door at ten in the morning, long before any meetings are scheduled, and she’s even more startled when it’s her wife behind the door. “Are you in labor?”
“God, no.” Emma laughs, then turns and locks the door. Odd. Even odder is the paper bag in her hand. “I brought lunch.”
Regina blinks at her. “It’s a little early for lunch, isn’t it?” She hadn’t expected Emma for hours, and there’s something about the way she’s walking, eyes glittering, that’s… “What’s going on, Emma?”
“Lunch,” Emma insists, her eyes shifty. “I just came to say hi.” She sets the bag down on Regina’s desk, slipping around to the other end to kiss her. “Hi,” she says, kissing Regina again. Regina kisses her back, bemused when Emma’s kiss grows more desperate, her tongue slipping into Regina’s mouth and her hand on Regina’s thigh creeping upward.
Ah . Regina pulls away from her, fixing her with a suddenly understanding gaze. “Emma, did you come here to…”
“I need –” Emma’s hand is still on her thigh, and she’s looking at Regina as though she’s the last bear claw at the diner. Regina shivers, swallowing. “I need you to fuck me. Now.”
Regina stands up slowly, walking to the door to confirm that it is, in fact, locked, and when she turns around, Emma’s right there . “Em–” Emma kisses her, flattens her against the door and leans over her own stomach to grope Regina’s breasts over her shirt. “Wait,” Regina says breathlessly. “Wait, wait–” She pushes Emma back, taking her hand and pulling her back across the room to her desk.
Emma climbs onto it obligingly, tugging Regina close and slipping a hand into her pants to cup her center. “Admit it,” she says, breathing hard. “You’re into this, too.”
“Of course I am, we haven’t done this in here in years –” And Regina yanks at Emma’s jeans, leaving them trapping her ankles in place as she ducks and pulls Emma forward. Emma hooks her knees onto Regina’s shoulders, her head planted on whatever the feeble excuse in the diner bag had been. “ Fuck , you’re wet.” She pulls down panties, spreading Emma in front of her and licking her in one long swipe.
Emma groans and tremors and Regina flicks her clit with her tongue, fingers buried in Emma’s hips hard enough to bruise. “How’s that?” Regina breathes, lifting her head to find Emma’s gaze.
“I love you,” Emma gasps in response, her fingers digging into the desk. “Don’t you dare stop or I’ll murder you.”
“Isn’t that my line?” Regina retreats, kissing the inside of Emma’s thigh instead, and Emma chokes out a curse and surges forward again, legs closing on either side of Regina’s head to trap it into place.
“Mur–der–” Emma repeats, and Regina nicks Emma’s clit with her teeth, twists a finger into Emma speculatively, and then replaces it with her tongue, working rapidly until Emma’s quaking on the desk, a ragged moan escaping her as she comes.
“Oh, god, I’m already horny again,” she says dismally a moment later, and this time, Regina is the one spread across her own desk as Emma drives desperately into her.
It’s a long time before Emma’s sated, and the next afternoon, she gets another strained call. “Help.”
As of yet, this is Regina’s favorite symptom of pregnancy, as exhausting as it is. “You’re beautiful,” she murmurs when they’re done, awkwardly pressed together on Emma’s chair. “You did lock the door, didn’t you?”
“Damn right I did.” Emma laughs weakly. “I may be the most inconsiderate sheriff out there.”
“Your father is on duty today, too. I’m sure he could take any calls,” Regina reminds her. “And the day is almost over.”
Right on cue, there’s a banging at the station door, and Emma squeaks and yanks her pants back on. Regina adjusts Emma’s hair while Emma zips up Regina’s dress, and they’re both perfectly smiling and presentable when Emma finally opens the door for Nate.
“I called you twice in the past half hour. Where have you been ?” he demands, glancing at their sheepish faces before realization dawns. “Oh.” He wiggles his eyebrows at Emma, and Emma snorts in response.
He’s one of the few shifters who’d worked with them in secret to take down Scar. Emma had spent hours in secret rendezvous with her team, coming home exhausted but satisfied, and Regina had resented them all on principle. Of the group, Nate had been the rare shifter she’d actually liked.
Nate is his curse name, and she gets no small amount of delight at calling him by his pre-curse name, Tramp . He’d been pivotal at distracting the hyenas when the final showdown had come, but there are still enough shapeshifters who have denied allegiance to Scar after the fact that Nate has had to lie low. It’s a risk for him to be here at all.
“They know,” he says urgently now. “And they’ve been in contact with Scar.”
Regina shakes her head. “That’s impossible. I have staff monitoring all the comings and goings around the asylum. No one gets in.”
“Well, somehow they have, and they’re planning something.” Nate paces, antsy. “I want my family moved somewhere safe. Lady and the kids aren’t involved in this. You promised me they’d never be involved in this.”
Emma nods, the sheepish smile gone and replaced. Now she’s all business. “I’ve had some people keeping an eye on them since you first mentioned it, but I think it’s time to get them out of town until this blows over. There’s a safe house set up for them in Bangor. They won’t be able to shift once they pass over the town line, but we’ll keep them secure there.”
It’s as though the mood from earlier is gone, the world returning from the peaceful haze that the last months had been, and reality has set in. There’s still a threat out there– a threat that they’re going to be expected to face, a vengeful army of shapeshifters still out for blood. And they’re going to have a baby in a month, in this climate.
“We’re going to be okay,” she says when Nate leaves and Emma starts packing up for the day, her face set and tired. “It’s us. We’ve gotten good at winning.”
“Yeah.” But Emma squeezes her hand as they walk out and doesn’t let go. The setting sun is orange over their heads, and it’s getting dark earlier now. The weather is still temperate enough that Regina hadn’t thought to drive into work today, and now she’s regretting it. Dusk had been the time for Scar’s shapeshifters, lurking in the shadows as they’d walked by, heedless.
There had been dozens of them, or maybe just a few. It had been impossible to tell when they’d been shifters and all of them had refused to identify their compatriots. After the final battle with Scar, there had been interrogation after interrogation, but there had been no conclusive evidence to arrest any of them. “I’m not that hyena,” one had insisted, and then bitten open Emma’s side months later. “I’m not that lion. I’m not that snake.”
The few that had been willing to help Regina and Emma had been just as shadowy, and only Emma knows all of their identities. Nate had been one of the few who’d worked on occasion with Regina, too. And if he thinks that there are new plans afoot, Regina doesn’t doubt it. The shifters had worked together once to nearly conquer the town. All they need to do it again is a charismatic leader.
And all Regina can think about is how very fragile her wife and the baby she carries are. “Hey,” Emma says, her thumb brushing against the back of Regina’s hand. “Stay with me, okay?”
“Okay,” Regina echoes. This is what they do, loan each other strength and hope desperately that it’s enough to grow. She searches for another topic, one that won’t belie her eyes scanning alleys and bushes and dim corners as they move. “I had an idea for this weekend.”
“A spa day for the two of us. There’s a place about an hour away that says it specializes in pregnant women.” It’s away from Storybrooke, too, which relieves her more now than it ever has before.
Emma smiles. “That sounds nice. Can they do something about my ankles?”
“So they claim.” Their hands swing together, Regina shivering as they catch a breeze from the water.
Emma shrugs off her jacket. “Here. My body temperature is about a billion degrees right now. I don’t need it.”
Regina pulls on the jacket, letting it hang down where the stretchy parts are unzipped. “This is warmer than I’d thought it’d be. I don’t know how you wore it all summer.”
“I liked it.” Emma’s eyes are soft when Regina finds them. “It was important to me.” She reaches for Regina’s hand again. “Are you sure you’re all right with…everything? I know it hasn’t been easy for you.”
“It hasn’t been easy for anyone,” Regina points out. Emma had been alone and miserable for weeks while Regina had processed, and Regina doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to forgive herself for it.
Emma rolls her eyes at her. “I’m not asking about anyone. I’m asking about you.” They turn onto Mifflin Street, and the air gets colder. Or maybe that’s only Regina’s imagination.
“I’m fine,” Regina assures her, pulling the jacket tighter around herself. “I…I told you I was going to try to believe you.” Their front door is open a crack, and she frowns up at it as they climb the stairs onto the porch. Henry has picked up the habit of leaving it open when he comes inside, which had been particularly terrible in the summer when they’d been drowning in mosquitoes. Regina’s thinking about installing a screen door once the baby is old enough to spend time crawling around on the lawn. “I’m not going to lie and say that I…that I really do believe that you conceived this baby through some kind of immaculate conception.” She swallows. “But I…I can be okay with it now. For your sake. For hers.”
“Regina, I’m sorry .” Emma catches her other hand before she can push the door all the way open. The house is dark, and Regina’s brow furrows at that, something niggling at the back of her mind. “I’m so, so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you.”
“I believe you,” Regina murmurs, and Emma lets her hand drop again, pushing the door open just as Regina remembers.
Henry had been acting oddly all morning, and he hadn’t mentioned the baby shower all week. Snow had stopped by her office to ask her when she’d be finished today because she’d claimed she’d wanted to drop something off at the house. It had been supremely suspicious, but Regina had been too distracted to register that until this instant. “Oh, no,” she says, almost a moan, and she steps into the house and flicks the lights on.
There are several dozen of their friends and family waiting in doorways, on the stairs, all around the foyer with their eyes wide and narrowed and shocked. Henry is at the bottom of the stairs, and he looks trapped and sick like he hasn’t in months. Snow, her hand on the door to the study, says faintly, “Emma, what did you do?” Emma is already flinching back, back to the porch where they’d had their whole incriminating conversation.
Regina says weakly, “Surprise?”
It’s been a long time since Emma has felt the brunt of her parents’ disappointment, and it’s just as stifling now. Maybe it’s because she’d never quite gotten teenage years with them, never had the opportunity to shrug it off until it had mattered less, but she can hardly look either of them in the eye. She’d hidden upstairs ten minutes into her own baby shower, leaving Regina to ooh and aah over gifts for a baby that isn’t hers and pretend desperately that nothing horrific had been revealed.
She can imagine the reactions of the town must range from pity to glee at Regina’s misfortune, and she wants to punch something just thinking about how Regina must feel.
Henry is glum again, and he hasn’t cut her off this time but their conversation is still awkward now. He doesn’t talk about his feelings anymore– he’s too old for that, and if Regina is getting through to him, she doesn’t say anything about it.
“You have more important things to worry about right now than my honor,” Regina reminds her that weekend. It’s the first time Emma’s left the house since the baby shower, and she’d only agreed to go to the spa with Regina because being an hour away from Storybrooke sounds pretty tempting right now. “You’re having a baby in three weeks. Focus on her, not on how judgmental Sneezy is.”
Emma winces. “Is he very judgmental?”
“Yes,” Regina says flatly. “He’s also an ass. Anyone getting involved in our relationship is. We don’t need their input, and the next person to stop me in the street and wish me condolences is going to get a fireball to the throat.”
“Do you have a lot of people doing that?”
Regina looks at her. “You don’t want to hear about this.”
“I need to.” Somehow it feels as though it’s a way to atone for this new humiliation she’d put Regina through. Why hadn’t they thought to check the door , to see why it was open and why they’d…
She stops herself. There’s no use in regrets. “Tell me. Please.”
Regina sighs. “Yes, I get some condolences. A lot of pitying looks. Granny sent a free order of fries in my last lunch, which might have been considerate. A few people have told me I’ve gotten exactly what I deserve. One of the store owners on Main Street asked me out. He’d heard we weren’t together anymore.”
“I’ll kick his ass,” Emma says automatically, her chest tight as she imagines it. Regina’s always been intensely personal about their relationship. When they’d first gotten together, they’d been in public. They’d just managed to defeat the Black Fairy and life had finally begun to return to normal, and they’d been seeing Henry off to school one morning. They’d each said goodbye and then–
Emma doesn’t know how it had happened, exactly. They’d both turned at the same moment, smiles still bright on their faces as their gazes had caught, and something had clicked irrevocably in her mind. She’d blurted out I love you , there, in the middle of a crowded street with Henry still on line to get onto the bus, and there had been an audible hush in the street.
Regina’s face had gone tight and she’d grabbed Emma’s hand, dragging her by the arm back to the station. Out , she’d ordered David, and Emma had waited with trepidation for Regina to…yell, or demand answers, or tell her to stay away from her.
Instead, Regina had said, I love you, too, and her smile had been bright enough to chase away every last shadow within Emma. Took you long enough.
They hadn’t had the luxury of figuring things out in private after that, and Regina had loathed it, had slammed doors on everyone but Henry and fired her secretary three times for smiling too much when Emma had shown up at the door. And that had all been for something that had made Regina pretty happy. This news had been devastating, and it must be killing Regina to be out there without her, head held high and eyes like fire.
“I’m going back to work,” Emma decides flatly. “I’m not hiding anymore.” It isn’t fair to make Regina bear this alone. Even if the thought of seeing people– of seeing her parents –
But she goes back on Monday morning, links her hand with Regina’s as they walk to work and smiles tightly at anyone who stares at them. There’s a lot of staring, most of it open and shameless. And there are whispers, prickling at her sides and her neck and every inch of her that’s exposed to the world. “I don’t know how she lasted this long,” someone mumbles.
“Have you seen the mayor?” says another, and they both snort. Emma’s fist balls up and Regina squeezes her hand.
“It’s all right,” she murmurs. “We’re all right. They don’t matter.”
Emma grits her teeth. “I want to fight them.”
“I know you do,” Regina says fondly. “But let’s just get to work.”
Walking through the town begins to feel like an ordeal in itself, like an unbreachable wall of whispers and rumors and disdain. Emma sees the glares pointed at her more than Regina, at the disappointment and disapproving looks on their faces, and it takes all her willpower to ignore the comments as they filter to her.
“–thought the savior was better than this–”
“Do you think she’ll go evil now?” The last comes from a little girl, not older than seven or eight, who’s staring wide-eyed at the two of them from the tables outside the ice cream store. Regina stiffens for barely an instant before she moves on, and Emma catches the child’s gaze until she turns away.
At Town Hall, there are even more stares, and Regina’s secretary gives Emma a dirty look as she walks past them into the building. Emma clears her throat. “I…” It’s the same thing they do every morning, walk each other to work and then kiss goodbye, and it’s absurd that it feels different today. Nothing is different. They’ve been publicly in love for three years, and there’s no reason to do anything else, regardless of the stares.
She leans forward jerkily and kisses Regina on the cheek, hearing the rumble of disapproval that follows. It’s awkward and sloppy and Regina sighs and holds her chin, pulling Emma away from her cheek. Emma bites her lip, uncertain, and Regina holds her face in place and plants a carefree kiss on her lips instead. “I don’t give a damn about them,” Regina mutters into her mouth. “We have each other. We don’t need them.”
Emma kisses her back, and the rumble of criticism fades to a dull, dull noise, like the thump of a heartbeat. “I’ll see you later,” she says when she’s done, and she only sees Regina in front of her, smiling at her and so full of love that she can’t help but smile back. The townspeople might be staring; but if they are, Emma doesn’t see it. “Love you.”
“Stay off your feet!” Regina calls after her, and Emma holds up a hand in acknowledgement, heading down the road to the station and pausing only to scratch Pongo behind his ears.
“You’re looking well,” Archie says, smiling at her. “Both of you.” And it occurs to Emma for the first time that there may still be a few people in this town rooting for them.
She tosses him a grateful smile and heads into the station, pushing the door open and forcing a smile at David. “Hey, Dad.”
“Emma!” David hurries around the desk and wraps her into a hug. She closes her eyes, leaning against his shoulder as he squeezes her in his embrace, and it’s comforting, even knowing the disappointment that’s going to follow. “I thought you were going to go on leave early. You still can,” he reminds her. “There’s very little you can do right now when you’re about to pop.”
“Pop?” she repeats, glowering at him, but he just smiles at her in response, giving her nothing. “I–” She swallows, remembering that this is a grim conversation she’s meant to be having today. Better David than Mary Margaret, at least. “I know this all probably came as a surprise,” she says finally.
“I did suspect it,” David admits, and Emma looks at him in surprise. “Regina didn’t seem…I would have thought she’d be deliriously happy. In a Regina kind of way. But everything she said sounded like it was coming from a script.” He winces. “I wasn’t about to risk my life asking her about it, though.”
Emma stares at him, baffled at this turn of events. She hadn’t expected David to see what everyone else had missed. “How did Mom miss that?”
“Your mother isn’t always the best at realizing that Regina is suffering when she isn’t,” David says carefully. “It’s not that she doesn’t care–”
“I know she cares about Regina.” There had been a period early in their relationship where Mary Margaret had been blatantly jealous of her, which is warped no matter how much psychology is behind it. “She must be furious with me.”
“She’s…confused,” David says finally. “She doesn’t understand how you could…”
“Cheat on Regina?” Emma finishes. Even the words spoken aloud sound vile, like an incomprehensible act of evil. “I can say that I didn’t for the next fifty years and no one’s going to buy it. But it’s true . I didn’t. I wouldn’t. Is that so hard to believe?”
David is silent for a long moment, and Emma waits in tense silence. “Both are hard to believe,” he admits. “After the baby is born, you can test her DNA and try to figure out, at least, where she came from. I do think that there are more likely possibilities. Like…you being catapulted into an alternate dimension where a dozen years had passed and then losing all memory of it.” He laughs wryly. “I think that’s probably more likely than you and Regina ever…”
“Yeah.” Emma feels a spark, a little kick of magic that accompanies a physical kick at her stomach. It still feels like Regina, regardless of Regina’s insistence that her own magic should have faded from the baby by now. “You think Mom will buy that?”
“I think that’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself,” David says gently, and he returns to his desk with a squeeze of her shoulder.
She tries working, even with her brain more and more muddled by the day. It’s some combination of pregnancy hormones, exhaustion, and public humiliation that leaves her fuzzy-brained and fighting migraines when she tries too hard to focus. Mulan and David come and go, flit through the station and ask nothing of her, and she does busy work and answers phones until she falls asleep at her desk at lunchtime.
“Regina was here,” Mulan says when she wakes up, looking around wildly to figure out when the couch had become an office. “She wanted to let you sleep. Want to take a lunch break now?”
“Didn’t I just…nap through that?”
Mulan grins at her. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“Yeah, okay.” She gets up, walking out of the station and heading toward Town Hall when she suddenly rethinks it. She twists around, heading instead back past the station and off Main Street, walking for a long twenty minutes until she finally finds herself in front of Storybrooke Elementary.
The last few stragglers are leaving the school building, running to parents down the stairs and across the lawn, and Emma remembers Henry being this young, waiting near the stairs with a big book of fairytales clutched to his chest. He’d brighten when he’d see her, running like he hadn’t run to Regina back then, and Emma would be overwhelmed with an emotion that had been something like happiness, something like longing, something like this boy could have been mine .
For a moment, she imagines Henry striding up to these stairs in a decade, a full-fledged adult who’s probably breaking his other mother’s heart with a terrible beard or a terrible girlfriend, and a little girl who looks just like Regina running to greet her big brother.
No . Not just like Regina . She swallows, the reminder thudding painfully against her ribs, and she wraps her arms around herself, resting on the upper curve of her abdomen, and wishes again that this had come about some different way. “Not that I’m ever going to give you up, baby,” she murmurs to herself, and she’s so lost in her thoughts that she doesn’t see Mary Margaret coming until she’s right in front of her.
“Emma,” Mary Margaret says, her voice frigid.
And Emma knows , knows her mom was bound to have more trouble coping with this reveal than David had, but it’s still a heart-wrenching discovery that she does. “I thought,” she says, her voice shaky. “We haven’t really gotten to talk about everything.”
“Oh, now you want to talk,” Mary Margaret says, and she turns around and walks back inside. Emma follows her to her classroom, unsure if she’d been invited but certain that they have to have this conversation, and Mary Margaret spins around. “Why didn’t you tell me, Emma? Why did I have to find out nine months in that this baby isn’t…wasn’t planned?”
Mary Margaret’s disappointment, as always, hits all of Emma’s insecurities like a finely tuned missile. “I wasn’t exactly broadcasting it,” she says defensively. “I was…I was kind of hoping that no one would ever find that out.”
“Including me?” Mary Margaret says incredulously. “I’m your mother . I’m supposed to be here to support you at a time like this!” she says tearfully. “I’m supposed to be the one to talk to when you can’t talk to Regina! And clearly you weren’t talking to Regina about this for a long time!”
“I couldn’t,” Emma says, her voice strained, and she doesn’t know how to explain it to Mary Margaret, who’s only ever known love and acceptance and the joy of each. But Mary Margaret is looking at her with hurt, betrayed eyes, and Emma is incapable of hurting her mother for long. She takes a deep breath and tries for the truth. “I don’t…I don’t know how it happened, Mom. I didn’t –”
Mary Margaret gazes at her, her lip trembling. “And you’re still lying to me. Why won’t you talk to me?”
“I’m trying,” Emma says pleadingly, and she can feel it all threatening to return, the despair of those early days when she’d felt entirely alone in her own house. The knowledge that this is something she can never force to forgiveness, and she can only remain in limbo, waiting for someone she loves to put that love first. “I’m trying to explain this to you, Mom, please .”
Mary Margaret’s face tightens. “Then tell me the truth,” she demands. “Tell me who the father is. I can keep it from your father, from Regina– trust me,” she says, her voice just as pleading. “Why can’t you treat me like your mother? Why won’t you trust me?”
They’re both too emotional, too prone to getting hurt and reacting badly, and Emma can only shake her head. “It’s not about trust. It’s about the truth . I don’t have answers. I didn’t do this to Regina. I just…woke up one morning and discovered there was an impossible baby growing inside of me. I wish I knew why. I wish she was Regina’s or–” She freezes.
It’s too far. There are lines she doesn’t cross when she talks about this baby, this baby who can only ever be a gift because Emma Swan-Mills is not going to reject another baby. “I don’t know,” she says lamely. “Planned somehow. I wish we’d gotten to adopt a kid together and found her and loved her at the same time.” She’d wanted to adopt so desperately , had wanted so fiercely to give a little girl like her a home. She’d wanted to meet a child with dark, lost eyes, and to watch Regina fall in love as she had with Henry. She’d wanted them to be a team , not these jagged pieces where they have to pretend as often as they’re honest.
She’s crying now, and she’s saying things she doesn’t want to, things she isn’t supposed to tell anyone. Things she shouldn’t think , because she’s so lucky that she has this little girl and she’d never forgive herself if she’d lost her. Mothers aren’t supposed to wish that they’d had some other child. Mothers aren’t supposed to regret babies. “I didn’t want her like this. We were supposed to be happy about having another kid.” She can’t look up, can’t see Mary Margaret’s horror. There must be horror, which is a damned irony, considering what her parents had done to her .
She was never supposed to do that to a child of hers. Not again.
“It wasn’t supposed to feel like this,” she says desperately, tears spilling down her cheeks. “She wasn’t supposed to be like this. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She reaches out unconsciously with her magic, prodding the baby within her, and the baby kicks back with a little spurt of magic that is only a reflex, that is unknowing of Emma’s tearful admissions. “I’m sorry,” she says, and she can’t watch Mary Margaret’s somber face anymore, can’t cry in front of her mother when her mother doesn’t understand.
Regina doesn’t want her using her magic to teleport ( What if you leave part of the baby behind, Emma, we can’t take that risk– ) and so she stumbles out the door, down the road, crying as she lurches toward home with her whole body weighed down by a baby she wants as desperately as she regrets. “I’m sorry,” she chokes out in a sob. “I’m sorry, baby, I’m sorry. I love you. I–”
She unlocks the door in three tries, leans heavily on the staircase as she pulls herself upstairs and into their bed. She curls around the baby, knees up against her belly and head curved to face it, and she sobs and sobs and sobs. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
It feels like hours before there’s a voice from the stairs, coming ever closer. “I don’t see her, Snow,” Regina is saying sharply. “If you’ve driven her out of town again, I swear, I will– Emma,” she breathes in relief.
Emma stays silent but for her gasping breathes, alone, hidden beneath the comforter, and she hears rather than sees Regina kick off her heels. “I’ve got you,” Regina murmurs, sliding under the covers. “It’s all right. I’ve got you.” Arms curl around Emma, and Emma trembles and trembles and sobs as Regina pulls her tight against her. She kisses the nape of Emma’s neck, over and over again, until the warmth from it spreads outward to Emma’s lungs and heart. “I’ve got you.”
There are even more rumors now, stories of Emma waddling through Storybrooke in tears after what must have been a fight between them, and Regina scoffs at the rumors and declares, in no uncertain terms, that everyone involved is an idiot . “We’ll go out for dinner tonight,” she decides the next morning. “Show a united front.”
“I don’t want to go out,” Emma says dully from her place on the couch. “I don’t care what they think anymore.”
Regina looks hard at her. “Since when do you not care what people think of you?” It’s always been a source of gentle teasing from Regina, the knowledge that Emma is desperate for approval from just about everyone. They don’t even know you , Regina had reminded her. They just know the savior and the sheriff .
“I never cared when it came to you,” Emma reminds her. She’d fought half the town to include Regina in her life at first, and they’d taken a bumpy route here but Emma had always been willing to defend Regina to angry mobs with pitchforks. Regina had been her one rebellion against her family and her destiny, and she’s never regretted that.
“Mmhm,” Regina agrees, wiping a smudge from Emma’s nose. “And that’s why I love with you. But you’re nine months pregnant and I won’t have this causing you any extra stress. Sitting inside feeling miserable is easy, but it isn’t going to help you in the long run.” She drags a finger along Emma’s hair, tucking it behind her ears. “I had this friend who used to force me out of my shell whenever I would retreat. Terrible woman.”
“I bet she was really hot, though,” Emma says, brightening enough to wiggle her eyebrows at Regina. “I bet you fell madly in love with her.”
“Stop that. You look ridiculous,” Regina says, pressing her thumb to Emma’s eyebrows to smooth them down. “That was indeed my misfortune.” She leans forward to kiss the tip of Emma’s nose. “Let’s both skip work today. There’s a spot by the park where Peg takes the shelter dogs after ten. I can bring my laptop out so I’ll get something done, and you can be outside without anyone staring.”
“That sounds…not terrible,” Emma admits grudgingly.
Henry pipes up from the dining room, “Can I take off, too?”
“ No ,” they both say flatly.
Henry groans. “What’s the point of having the mayor as your mom if you can’t even play hooky every now and then?”
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Regina calls back to him. “I can attest to that. Grab your bag and get going.”
Henry gets a ride to the high school with a friend most days, which is a nice almost heart attack every time they see Ava Tillman careening around their corner, and he waves goodbye as they depart the house as well. Today they drive, even though the weather’s beautiful, and Emma can see the glances bounce off the Mercedes. They don’t know she’s inside, though they must be wondering.
It’s early autumn, and the park is quiet during the day. Emma stretches out on the ground, preemptively half asleep, and Regina sees her eyes drifting closed and laughs softly. “This is just another place for you to nap, isn’t it?”
Emma keeps her eyes closed. “Maybe,” she drawls, yawning. “I’m sleeping for two now.”
“You certainly are.” The fondness in Regina’s tone is enough to lull her to sleep, and she drifts off for a few minutes before she awakens again. Regina is on a conference call, her work voice on as she battles the district attorney, and Emma listens peacefully to it as Regina’s fingers run through her hair.
“Sorry about that,” Regina says when she hangs up. “No more meetings today.” She types a strongly worded email and then promises, “And I’ll only work until my laptop dies.”
“It’s okay. It’s nice here,” Emma says, staring up at the red-orange leaves of the tree above her. “I haven’t spent much time here since that time Henry had curse amnesia and we had to keep him busy all day, every day, in case he figured us out.”
“I got him ice cream out here,” Regina remembers, smiling at the memory. There’s still a melancholy to her smile when she talks about that year, and Emma aches for her, for a year of loneliness that Emma can only imagine.
She entwines her fingers with Regina’s, both of them in silence for a long moment. “Most of my fake memories are gone now,” she says thoughtfully. “I don’t know how strong they were even when I didn’t have my real ones, but it’s like…wading through molasses when I try to remember most of them.”
“Most of them?” Regina repeats.
Emma shrugs. “All, I guess. There’s just one that I…” She lays a hand on her belly. If she lies still on her back and waits, invariably, she can feel a kick or two. “I guess because part of it is true. I remember keeping Henry.” Regina’s hand tightens on hers. “I also remember…not keeping him,” she admits. “But it’s weird. You’re there, no matter which one I think of.”
Regina shakes her head. “Emma, I wasn’t there in either version.”
“I know. Maybe I hallucinated it as a coping mechanism, or it was some holdover from you giving me those memories, but I remember…a woman.” She’d looked like an angel in those moments before Emma had delivered, standing beside her bed with dark eyes fixed on Emma and a phantom hand in hers. Emma had focused on her, had cried at the pain and heard it’s okay, it’s okay , and she’d breathed and pushed and pushed.
“I’ll be there this time,” Regina promises. “For real.” She leans down to kiss Emma, smiling against her lips and keeping their hands entwined. “Henry, I think, will stay out of the room this time.”
“Good call,” Emma agrees. “Though it would be educational. And he does seem very interested in skipping school.”
“This should make sure he never considers that again,” Regina says dryly. “Though we do want him to be able to look you in the eye again once his darling baby sister is born.” She shuts her laptop, gazing out at the other side of the park, where Peg from the shelter is walking the dogs. One of the puppies breaks free and bounds around the water, heading straight toward Emma and Regina, and Regina tosses out a ring of magic that loops around his collar and keeps him in place. “We should talk about names, shouldn’t we?”
The puppy scampers toward them, tongue out and panting as it waits expectantly for attention. Regina rubs the underside of its neck, and the dog drops to lay its head on her lap. Emma watches them with marked fondness. “I was thinking about your grandmother, actually.”
“Elena?” Regina repeats, brow creasing. “Emma, we don’t have to name our children after every single person in my life. You can pick a name that’s important to you, or that you like.”
“I like Elena,” Emma says, shrugging. “And I want– I don’t want there to be any doubt that this baby is yours, too. Two birds, one stone. Elena Mills.”
“Swan-Mills,” Regina corrects her, watching her with an odd sort of worry that has Emma looking away. “Elena Swan-Mills. Emma, you don’t have to…to do penance for this. Whatever the town may think, I’m with you on this and I trust you. We’re a team, Emma.”
“I know,” Emma whispers, staring up at the trees. Peg has come to reclaim the puppy, and Regina lets it go with reluctance. “I know we are. I just…” There’s a little kick of magic from her stomach, flashing out to poke Regina and her at once, and Peg stares at her stomach as though she can see it, too, nostrils flaring, and then turns quickly and claps her hand so the puppy follows. “You’ve been taking care of me for the past six months. I want to take care of you, too.”
It’s stupid, really, when she feels as though she can hardly stay awake half the time and everything’s filtered through a haze. But they’ve been on equal footing for years, and now, suddenly, it all feels unequal instead. She feels like a child, like she’s been needy and helpless and Regina is nurturing her instead of leaning on her, and she hates it. “As soon as the baby’s born,” Emma declares, and it sounds ridiculous but she doesn’t care. “I’m going to save your life.”
“I’ll write you an IOU,” Regina says easily, setting her laptop down to lie beside Emma. “You can get rid of Scar’s cronies.”
“You got it.” Regina’s presence beside her is an immediate soporific, just like…pretty much everything these days, and Emma tugs Regina against her side and drifts off again.
They’ve packed food for a little picnic at the park, and curious passersby stop to watch them and keep going when Emma trains her gaze on them. Mary Margaret has called six times and left three voicemails. Apparently she’s finally moved past her hurt and decided to apologize, but Emma doesn’t listen to the messages.
Not now. Now she’s out with her wife.
They leave the park after lunch, browsing the few baby-related stores that Storybrooke has to offer. There’s a tiny romper that’s designed to look like a business suit, and another one emblazoned with hatched by two chicks . “No,” Regina says immediately.
“How about this one?” It reads I have the best moms ever , and Regina reluctantly concedes to it. The next one says Keep Calm, My Mom’s The Mayor . “That’s pretty specific.”
“It’s a small town,” the shopkeeper says, shrugging her shoulders. “We only get a couple dozen babies a year. I try to appeal to our audience. Sure you don’t want the chicks one?” she says hopefully. “I’ve also got this.” She brandishes a onesie that reads There’s a new sheriff in town within a star, and Emma snatches it up before Regina can say anything to object.
“They have tiny crocs!” she says at the register.
Regina scowls at her. “My daughter is not wearing crocs.”
The shopkeeper says helpfully, “Snow bought the purple ones for Ruthie.”
“No crocs,” Regina says again. “This is an autumn baby .”
Emma finds something more interesting behind the crocs. “Flip-flops?” she suggests.
Somehow, she wins that argument, and they leave the shop with more clothes than any baby will ever wear before outgrowing them. Along with a pair of adorable tiny flip-flops. “We can always cause a heat wave. We moved the moon once,” Emma reminds Regina.
“That was to save our son’s life, not so our daughter can wear some very trendy flip-flops,” Regina reminds her.
Emma hears the unspoken subtext and brightens. “You’re totally going to do it, aren’t you?” Regina refuses to answer.
They pick up a few new items at the next store, too– a mirror to strap onto a car seat, a third bouncer just for when the baby is at the sheriff’s station, and a pack of diapers one size up, just in case. Emma can remember being three weeks from delivering Henry and wondering, not for the first time, if she’d be able to make it with him. Ten years ago, seventeen and soon to be out of prison, she can’t imagine that she could have promised a baby this kind of stability.
The truest fairytale in her life has always been the one where she’d come to Storybrooke and found a family she’d never believed she could have waiting for her.
Laden with bags, they make their way back to Granny’s. They’d left the car all the way back at the park, and it’s easier to text Henry to meet them there after school for a light dinner. “You two were busy,” he observes when he joins them. “If you need me to go get the Merc and drive it back here–”
“Nice try, kid.” Emma stands as soon as he sits and musses his hair. “I’ll go order for us.” She heads to the counter, still grinning, and says, “I’ll have a–”
“We don’t serve cheaters,” Granny says coolly.
Emma stares at her, flabbergasted. Somehow, in the quiet day with just Regina and no one who’d stared, she’d forgotten exactly how unpopular she’d become in this time. “Granny, it’s me,” she says, shaking her head. “Are you seriously going to–”
“We don’t serve cheaters,” Granny repeats. Emma knows that she’s developed a soft spot for Regina over the years, has delivered her lunches on days when they’d been fighting threats to the town and had catered the buffet before their wedding free of charge. But she hadn’t thought that that–
“Good thing she isn’t a cheater, then,” Regina says, laying an arm around Emma’s shoulders possessively. She clears her voice. “And I think we’d both prefer our business to stay our own, not everyone in this town’s.”
Granny shakes her head. “What, did you make that baby out of true love?” she asks sarcastically.
“Maybe,” Emma says defensively. “I don’t know. We could have.” Regina is looking close to murderous, and they’re running out of time before Regina does something she can’t take back and they’re permanently ejected from Granny’s. “Granny, please. If she doesn’t believe that, why should you?”
“She’s in love with you. Not exactly impartial,” Granny grumbles, but she takes out her pen again. “What’s your order?”
Emma opens her mouth to respond when they’re distracted by the door to the diner slamming open and Nate rushing in. “Emma,” he says, his voice too loud and not subtle at all. “Emma, we need to talk.”
“Do you really think that’s wise?” Emma says, frowning. They’ve already caught the eye of everyone in the diner, and after nine months of carefully hiding any connection between them, this is…ill-advised. “Can’t this wait until we’re somewhere…quieter?”
Nate shakes his head, his eyes miserable. “It really can’t. I heard about your baby not being Regina’s– or I guess it was never that, but you know what I mean–”
“Why is this relevant to you?” Regina demands, her hackles still raised and ready for a fight.
Nate shakes his head again, and now he looks ill. And Emma suddenly knows exactly what he’s going to say, dread pooling in her stomach. “Because it’s mine. Emma, that’s my kid.”
She calls Snow and David, and she doesn’t know why except that she isn’t ready to be alone with the other two people in the study otherwise. Nate is pacing, looking absolutely devastated at all of this, and Emma sits in the armchair with her arms folded and her head shaking from side to side. She doesn’t look at her parents. “You’re lying,” she says.
“I wish I were,” Nate says, grinding his teeth together. He’s attractive enough, Regina supposes. He has a certain kind of charm that has half the town drooling after him, though she hadn’t thought that Emma would have fallen for that. “I have a wife, you know. I have kids of my own. I didn’t sign up for this, either.”
Emma snorts. “Right. Your wife still safe out of town? Far enough away that she can’t hear this ridiculous story. How convenient.”
Regina can’t listen to this anymore, to Emma bullish and angry and in denial. “Emma,” Regina says finally, her voice pained. “He has no reason to lie to us. He’s your friend.”
“My friend,” Emma says darkly. “My friend who insists I got blackout drunk and had a baby with him and don’t remember any of it.”
Nate squeezes his hands into fists, then releases them. “I thought you remembered,” he says glumly. “I thought we were just…pretending not to have done it because it was a stupid thing to do. I was hoping you’d at least be on some sort of contraceptive–”
“I’m fucking married to a woman!” Emma snarls out, and Snow crosses the room, crouches down beside Emma as though they hadn’t had a fight of their own yesterday. Her presence is still enough to calm Emma down to a quiet seethe, and Emma sucks in a ragged breath. “He’s lying, Regina,” she says, twisting to face her with pleading eyes. “I swear, he’s lying.”
She doesn’t know what to say. She can believe that Emma loves her and believe that she’d never betray her like this, but the evidence is staring her in the face, claiming something that might be possible, after all. “What’s done is done,” she says carefully. “I don’t…I don’t see the point of dwelling on it.”
“I want to have a part in its life,” Nate says stubbornly. “I won’t abandon my child and pretend I don’t know it. What if it’s a shifter? What if it finds out about me–”
“You made that pretty damned likely when you shouted it to half the town at Granny’s,” Emma says coldly.
Snow squeezes her hand, and Emma stares down at her as though she’s in pain. Regina aches for them, aches for herself, wishes desperately for time to be alone and process all of this. She’s never been so envious of her son, who can storm upstairs and refuse to be a part of this mess while he copes with this new development.
“Emma,” Snow says gently. “It isn’t fair to him to cut him out of this. Not when he’s a part of this, too.” Regina almost recoils at that, at the sudden, horrifying reminder that this isn’t just what’s done is done . This is their future , unraveling before them.
“Like hell he is,” Emma says fiercely, and Regina wants her certainty, her hot anger at this instead of the whirling mass of doubts that have infected her. “You’re not going anywhere near my baby– you’re not leaving custody until you give me answers. What are you trying to accomplish by lying about this?”
“I’m not lying,” Nate says, and he sounds helpless now, desperate to explain. “Emma, you have to believe me.”
“I am never going to believe that I did that to Regina,” Emma bites out. “I don’t care how drunk you say I am. We drank together plenty of times. At no point did I ever consider that . I don’t even think I like men at all,” Emma declares, which raises Snow’s eyebrows and no one else’s.
“Well, it happened,” Nate says tiredly. “And I’m not going to pretend it didn’t just because you say so.” He straightens. “I’m going home. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
“You’re not going home,” Emma says, glaring up at him. “You’re going into custody until i find out why you’re lying about–”
“ Emma ,” Snow says warningly, and Emma slumps, staring blankly at the wall of the study. Nate slouches out of the room, looking just as unhappy as Emma is, and Regina says, “It’s getting late.”
David stands, and Snow looks to Regina instead. “Do you want us to stay?” she asks, quietly sympathetic. Emma shifts to stare down at her hands instead, blinking rapidly between glares and looking very lost. Regina can only shake her head, even though her whole heart is screaming out a yes and she doesn’t know what she’s going to say when they’re gone.
Snow looks disappointed. “Okay,” she says, deflated. “Have a good night.” She kisses Regina on the cheek before she goes, and spares Emma a hand on her shoulder. And when they’re gone, that last piece of Regina that can keep up a brave face to spite Snow White fails.
She sinks to the floor in front of the coffee table, taking in slow, unsteady breaths. She’s having a baby with Emma and there’s still someone out there with more of a claim to the child, still someone out there who could take both Emma and the baby from her. Someone who’s taken Emma from her before, he says. And she doesn’t know what she can do but silently accept it. What say does she have in any of this?
A tentative hand lands on her shoulder, and Emma sinks down to the ground, sliding her arms around Regina. “He’s lying,” she says again. “I wouldn’t have.” She lays her head against Regina’s shoulder, as though desperate for contact, for something concrete. “Please don’t push me away.”
“I’m not pushing you away,” Regina murmurs, and there’s a dull pounding in her ears, a new trepidation as biting as the one that had subsumed her when she’d first found out that Emma had been expecting.
“Good,” Emma says, and her laugh is wet. “Because I don’t think I can get up from the floor on my own.” They both laugh then, little breaths that might be more like sobs. “It’s not true.”
“Are there any…holes in your memory?” Regina asks carefully. “Any times when you might have…”
Emma closes her eyes. “No. I just…” She pinches the bridge of her nose. “Henry. I have to talk to Henry.” Her breath is shorter, suddenly, more afraid. “If he’ll even talk to me,” she whispers.
“He will,” Regina says firmly. “He’s your son. He loves you.”
Emma looks so tired, so small under her swollen stomach, and Regina wants to sob and doesn’t know which of them it’d be for. “That didn’t stop him last time,” Emma says hoarsely, and Regina presses her lips to Emma’s shoulder, at a loss for words that can make any of this better.
Emma leads the way upstairs, and they’re walking slowly past Henry’s room when he says, “Mom?”
Regina nudges Emma. Emma walks ahead of her, tentative as she pokes her head through the door. “Hi, Henry.”
He looks as though he doesn’t know what to do with Emma, presented right in front of him. Regina imagines it’s how she looks in the mirror right now. “Ma,” he says, eyes flickering from Emma to Regina.
“Hey, kid.” She takes another step forward, uncertain, and then it all seems to erupt at once. “He’s lying , I didn’t– look, it makes no sense , I never– I wouldn’t– I couldn’t –” She gulps in a ragged breath. “I know that no one’s going to believe me, I get it, it’s ridiculous, but–”
“But you know it’s true,” Henry finishes, and for the first time since Nate had burst into Granny’s, his eyes aren’t lost. They’re still unfocused, as though he’s remembering something he doesn’t share aloud. With a pang of regret, Regina understands, though Emma is still staring at Henry in bewilderment.
Of course Henry would grasp what it would be like to know the impossible and have no one around him believe it. Sometimes Regina is certain that she’s still doing penance by fire, that every good thing she has is only there to be taken from her. The punishment has to fit the crime, and she lives with the burden of hundreds of crimes to be punished. Just leave Emma out of it . Just leave Henry out of it. Just leave Elena–
She backs out of the room, her hands flat at her sides, and she hears only Emma’s hushed “Henry,” before she changes desperately. She strips off the clothes she’d worn today– clothes she’s never going to be able to wear again, not without remembering – and steps into the shower, raising her face and shutting her eyes so the water beats down onto her.
It’s a few minutes before Emma enters their bedroom, and Regina hears her moving around, stepping into the bathroom and then stepping out, and she waits and waits and waits until there’s no waiting anymore, until she washes her hair and wraps a towel around herself and leaves the bathroom. “Why didn’t you–?” She stops, hating how small her voice is.
Emma stares at her, red-eyed and uncertain in her pajamas. “I didn’t know if you’d want–” she ducks her head. “I thought you might want to be alone, anyway.”
“Emma,” she says in a strangled tone, and Emma doesn’t move until Regina’s dropped her towel, leaving it carelessly on the floor, and climbed into the bed behind her. She holds out her arms silently, and only then does Emma twist to crawl over to her, to pull Regina tight against her side and kiss the top of her head. Regina closes her eyes, feels herself enveloped in Emma’s certainty, in Emma’s furious denials.
Emma strokes her hair, her back, her cheek; and Regina drifts off, wrapped securely in Emma’s arms.
Snow is nothing less than persistent, and Regina isn’t surprised to see her at the station the next day during her lunch break. “I just think it’s worth discussing,” Snow is saying. “He isn’t malicious. He isn’t trying to break you and Regina up. He just wants to get to know his daughter.”
“She isn’t his daughter,” Emma bites out, head in her hands. “At least when you did this with Neal, I knew you were trying to set us up. I don’t know what you want from me here.”
Snow’s brow creases. “Emma…” She bites her lip. “You don’t want your daughter to start asking you questions in years from now about why you never let her meet her father. Especially now that half the town knows about this. You won’t be able to keep it a secret for long.” She glances up, catching Regina’s eye. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear. But someone has to be thinking rationally, and I don’t think that’s going to be either of you right now.”
“Snow,” Regina says warningly. With time and a lot of exhausting redemption, she’s developed a soft spot for the other woman that Snow never fails to capitalize on when it comes to their personal lives. And Emma’s long been incapable of telling her mother no, regardless of how stubborn she might be. “This isn’t about you.”
“No,” Snow agrees, just as determined. “This is about your daughter. And I know you don’t want her growing up resenting you for keeping her away from her other parent.”
Regina reels at it, phrased so simply instead of as her worst nightmare, but Emma’s face is hard. “That’s a low blow, Mom.”
“I’m being honest.” Snow sighs heavily. “It’s up to you, of course. I spent all last night just…staring at the ceiling, imagining every worst case scenario for the two of you, and it’s not because I’m secretly Nate’s most adoring fan.” She looks pleadingly at them. “I’m yours . Both of yours. And I want you to be happy.”
“The baby doesn’t need a father.” It had been her worst nightmare, when Henry had been a toddler and Gold had made a number of snide comments about it. It had been even worse when Emma had first come to town and Henry had run from Regina altogether. It’s still her worst nightmare, and she can feel a lump in her throat, obstructing her breathing as she thinks about reliving that again with this little girl.
“We’ll invite him to dinner tonight to discuss this,” she says when Snow is gone. Well-meaning as Snow might be, she doesn’t want her to invite herself over for this . Emma is already shaking her head. “Emma, she’s right. We have to.”
Emma’s fingers squeeze against her desk in frustration. “ He isn’t her father .”
“He thinks he is! The town thinks he is! And that means that Elena will, too.” Talking about her like this– with a name and motivations and a dozen resentments built in– makes her feel real, solid and human in a way that she never has seemed in black-and-white ultrasounds. “Emma, I can’t go through that again.”
“Yeah,” Emma says, and her voice is dull with resignation. “I know.” Her fingers tap against her phone anxiously, and Regina takes that for what she knows it must be.
“I’ll take care of it,” she promises. “I’ll talk to him. You don’t even have to talk to him at dinner. Not so much as a ‘pass the peas’.”
Emma grimaces. “I hate peas. And I hate this.” But she doesn’t protest when Regina kisses her goodbye, leaving the lunch she’d brought behind.
Nate lives deep on the other side of town, where there had been abandoned houses before Curse Number…Three or Four, Regina can’t keep track anymore…had brought on a population boom. It’s still quiet and foreboding out there, ramshackle little cottages and a few broken-down cars parked on the street. But Nate and his wife’s house is cleaner, brighter, with a garden in front and a little doghouse on the side of the porch.
“We don’t sleep in there,” he observes from beside it. “The kids like to play with it when they’re in puppy form.”
Regina tenses. “I didn’t ask, Tramp .”
“I didn’t think you did.” He leans on the porch railing, not quite meeting her eyes. At least he seems guilty about the whole thing. She doesn’t think she’d be able to tolerate smugness from him right now. “So.”
“We’re not friends,” Regina says immediately. “You and Emma aren’t friends. I want you to stay the hell away from us in…in any kind of social capacity.”
Nate nods curtly. “I figured.”
She clenches her jaw. “I want the exact date that this happened. I want to know all the details of that night– or at least enough that I can help Emma extract the memory.”
Nate looks trapped for a moment. “You want to watch that?” he says dubiously, and she wants to pull back her fist and slam it into his face, to set him on fire, to twist her wrist and watch his neck crack.
She isn’t this person anymore, but oh , how she wants. “I want to make sure it was consensual,” she bites out. Nate flinches, his head already shaking in denial, and she turns away. “You’ll tell us tonight at dinner.”
His brow wrinkles. “What happened to…any kind of social capacity?”
“Dinner is to discuss custody.” She leans forward, close enough to him that she can see the way his pupils dilate in fear, to see the way his throat moves when he swallows, to see the slightest shiver when she approaches. “I am doing this because I don’t want my daughter to hate me. But overstep for one instant – forget for a single moment that you’re in her life only by my grace– and I will reach into your chest–” She plunges her hand in in a single graceful move, seizing Nate’s heart as he gasps, squeezing it in his chest. “And I will turn it to dust in front of everyone you love.”
She almost says do you understand? , the adrenaline coursing through her with the threat. There’s something empowering still, decades after she’d been rendered helpless by scheming others, about being able to terrify someone into submission. There’s something addictive about it. She’s buzzing with want , and it’s why she pulls away abruptly, leaves Nate on his knees on his porch and stalking to her car.
She drives away as quickly as she can, calls Emma and gets no answer, and pulls over on a quiet street to close her eyes and press her hands to her knees, waiting, distraught, until the rush fades away.
Emma still isn’t answering when she gets back to work, and she shrugs it off and sends her wife a brief text before she heads home to prepare for the most awkward dinner ever. She gets a response– following a lead, I’ll be back before dinner – and she frowns and shoots back another text. You’re not supposed to be in the field at all.
The response– relax, I’ve got it under control – does not relax her. She sends Mulan a text instead, a quick query about what Emma’s up to, and then she focuses on cooking something that really says you get too tight with my daughter and I’ll kill you . A stir fry, maybe.
She’s tossing in an excessive number of chili peppers as Henry bursts through the door. “Hi, Mom. Where’s Ma?”
“Doing something idiotic, I’m sure. Oh!” She remembers too late that message she’d sent to Mulan. There’s a response on her phone screen, and it makes her blood run cold. She said she was going home early today, Mulan has answered.
Regina dials Emma’s number, then dials it again, then again. “Emma Swan-Mills, I don’t know what you’re doing but you had better answer your phone,” she bites out, hanging up and dropping the phone to the counter. “You call,” she orders Henry.
“No answer,” he says, frowning. “Does she still have GPS tracking for all of us on her laptop?” He vanishes into the study, and returns a few minutes later with Emma’s computer. “It says she’s out of Storybrooke,” he says, pointing at the dot on the map. “Bangor?”
“Nate’s family is in Bangor,” Regina says slowly, the pieces beginning to come together at last, and she pulls out her phone again, makes one final call.
Nate doesn’t pick up.
Aladdin hadn’t been answering his phone, which had been Emma’s second sign that something had gone terribly wrong in Bangor. The first, of course, had been Nate showing up with outrageous lies in the first place. She might be woozy and exhausted ninety-five percent of the time, but her internal lie detector is as acute as her knowledge that she’d never done anything with Nate.
She’ll be damned if she sits by and lets him drive this wedge between their family, and her determination only multiplies when Aladdin goes missing in action. She makes up an excuse to Mulan and heads out the door, driving out of town and to Bangor without a word to Regina.
Regina’s going to be pissed , but in the long run, this is going to pay off. Nate is a good guy, and if he’s lying about this, then he’s doing it for a good reason. He’d just looked tired and uncomfortable yesterday, which would have made sense if they’d actually–
–but they hadn’t. Betraying her family is a greater impossibility , she repeats to herself, not for the first time. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this, kiddo,” she murmurs, resting a hand on her stomach as her other goes for her gun. “Trust your Ma on that.”
The safe house in Bangor is in a quiet, well-to-do neighborhood. They’ve used it in the past for targets of whichever villain is after them, and even Henry had stayed there once with Mary Margaret and David. The neighbors keep to themselves and don’t ask questions, and Emma shrugs her jacket around her gun so no one opens a door and sees it.
“Dee?” she calls in a low voice, knocking on the safehouse door. “Al?” No answer. “Dee?” she repeats.
The door opens, Aladdin behind it, and Emma relaxes and lifts her hand from her gun. “Oh, thank god,” she says, and then she sees his black eye and the terror in his gaze.
“ Run ,” he croaks, and Emma sees the tiger lounging behind him in the hallway of the apartment. She turns– there’s a snake coiled in the mail slot. And right behind her, staring up with beady, calculating eyes, is a crocodile.
She reaches for her gun but it’s gone. Abu, perched on Aladdin’s shoulder, looks regretful as he drops it to the ground, her phone following shortly after.
“Glad you came!” says a perky, odd voice from above. She stares up at the light fixture where it’s coming from, a protective hand on her stomach. “Glad you came! Glad you came!” A parrot flutters out from the light, poking its head down to stare at her.
She can’t run. Not faster than a crocodile or a tiger shifter. Not without hurting– the baby, oh god, Regina –
The light fixture bursts, shattered glass exploding all over the parrot, and whatever tiny magic she can use outside of Storybrooke withers and dies within her. Then– an orange paw behind her, moving swiftly– and the last thing she sees is the parrot, cursing creatively as he blinks in and out of her greying eyesight.
She awakens in the dark and immediately reaches for her magic, dangerous as it might be for the baby. There might not be a baby at all if she doesn’t escape…whatever trap the shifters have set for her. But her magic won’t come, and her wrists are bound securely to what looks like a radiator.
“Stop moving so much,” someone murmurs from beside her. “They threatened to turn it on when I tried pulling free.”
She knows that voice. “Tramp?”
“I’m sorry,” Nate says, leaning back against the radiator. “I had no choice. They had my family–”
“Yeah. I know.” She wants to be angry, but she’s just tired instead. “So we didn’t sleep together.”
He barks out a low laugh. “Are you kidding? As if you’d ever look at anyone else when Regina exists.”
“Oh, god.” She laughs herself, a little wild, a little hysterical, and far too relieved for someone tied up without anyone coming to rescue her. “Regina’s going to kill you.” Regina’s going to destroy him if he isn’t careful. And then they’re going to have a very long, very passionate embrace, and someone is going to buy her a bear claw. Two, even.
If she ever gets out of here.
Nate shakes his head. “I didn’t expect to make it out of here alive.” His tone is light, but his eyes are dark and somber in the dim light trickling in through closed windows. “I don’t know what they’re going to do with either of us,” he whispers. “They want your baby. I don’t know if it’s because of revenge or just because…you know.” He waves vaguely at her stomach.
She doesn’t know. Her mind is getting hazier by the moment. “Where are we?” she manages.
“I think this is the cabin where Scar used to have us swear loyalty pledges. It’s about half a mile from Storybrooke. We can’t shift back and forth out here. You go as a human, you’re stuck as a human. You go as a crocodile…” He nods across the room.
Emma jumps, as much as she can without the ropes pulling her back. There are eyes across the room, glinting in the dark with the lifeless malice of a crocodile– no, two crocodiles. They watch her silently, and she begins to despair.
Regina is…somewhere far away. Even if she’s figured out about Bangor by now, she’ll never find a cabin just out of the range of her magic. Gold’s magic globe had vanished with him, and there’s nothing else with the unique ability to pinpoint a location outside of Storybrooke.
The crocodiles watch her in silence, and she glares at them, fear prickling at her heart. The baby. They’re after the baby. Her stomach turns at the thought of it, and she shivers, pulling her shoulders together to draw her jacket in closer to her.
Regina’s never going to find her. She’s on her own.
She asks to use the bathroom and the crocodile leaves, returning with the parrot. “Iago,” Nate says dully. “She needs the bathroom.”
Iago caws loudly as he flutters down to eyeball her. “That’s convenient. That’s convenient.”
“I’m nine months pregnant. My baby has a foot permanently jammed onto my bladder,” Emma snaps. “If you don’t want me to pee all over this cabin floor– hey, how good are your senses of smell when you’re shifted?”
Iago grudgingly flutters back out, calling, “Shenzi! Shenzi! Shenzi!” until a woman appears in the doorway. She’d been one of the hyenas who’d attacked Emma months ago, and Emma can feel her fingers tensing, her stomach tying itself into knots at the sight of her.
“Well, I have nothing to hide,” she says, rolling her eyes as she unties Emma. “So I’m the opposable thumbs and they’re the muscle. Bathroom’s down this way.”
She ties Emma’s hands together again, shoving her to her feet and down the hall. Emma walks slowly, eyes flickering from side to side as they walk. The whole cabin is dimly lit, but there’s enough moonlight filtering through it that she can see the barest shapes of walls and doors and windows.
There’s a window in the bathroom that’s been nailed shut, and Emma twists at a nail until her fingers are bloody and Shenzi is banging on the door again. “You’ve had long enough!” she orders.
“My stomach is killing me!” Emma calls back. It isn’t even a lie. Maybe it’s stress, or maybe something had been unhinged when she’d been knocked unconscious. The baby isn’t kicking much, and she can feel her stomach twisting, threatening to vomit up lunch all over the bathroom.
It doesn’t take much to feed that need when she’s pregnant. She inhales, just enough to take in the foul odor of the room, and she’s retching into the toilet an instant later, loud enough that Shenzi doesn’t press her. She keeps mimicking the retching noises as she catches sight of a nail on the ground, forgotten when the window had been sealed. “Okay,” she says, straightening. “I’m coming ou–”
Very abruptly her legs are soaking wet. “No,” she whispers in horror, and her stomach clenches in response. No. Not clenches. This stomach pain isn’t from missing dinner.
It’s time , and she’s trapped in the middle of nowhere with shifters who are far too interested in her.
The contraction hits, this time more painful than the vague discomfort of the last few, and Emma stands and struggles to remain calm as the contraction spikes through her, leaving her in agony.
Shenzi glares at her. “ Now are you done?” she grinds out, and Emma bobs her head silently and presses the nail into her palm, stumbling as she follows Shenzi back to the room where Nate is being held.
“My water just broke,” she mutters when Shenzi’s gone, and Nate stares at her in disbelief. “I’ve got to get out of here. Now .”
It doesn’t take much to twist the nail in her palm, scraping the point against the ropes to break each individual thread. It’s something to focus on that isn’t they want your baby and periodic contractions. She counts– one they want Elena, two they want Elena, three they want Elena– three hundred they want Elena– and another contraction tears through her, almost thirty seconds long.
The next one only takes until two seventy they want Elena and she works as quickly as she can without attracting the attention of the crocodiles. Her hands move behind her, barely visible past her body, and she waits until Nate coughs hard and attracts the attention of the crocodiles before she tosses the nail across the floor to him. Her own rope is hanging by a few threads, and she waits tensely for her moment.
Nate gives it to her. He unties himself in record time, and then he leaps up before they can formulate a plan together, barrelling at one of the crocodiles like he thinks he has a chance. The crocodile roars in warning and the door flies open as Nate grabs a chair and hurtles it at the other crocodile. Emma jumps up, shoving the table with more power than she should feasibly have right now, and it slams into the tiger just as it bounds into the room. It glances off six hundred pounds of sheer muscle and bounces back at her, and Nate shouts, “Go! Don’t worry about me! Get out of here!”
The snake emerges from behind the radiator, its eyes hypnotic, and only another contraction jerks Emma back into consciousness. She grabs a second chair and hurls it at an uncovered window, leaping onto the table as the second crocodile races beneath it and jerks up. The table breaks under her, her foot escaping the snapping jaw by a millimeter, and she runs across the falling pieces, jumping toward the exposed window.
“Brutus!” Shenzi snaps. “Forget the mutt, get the bitch!” The other crocodile approaches as Emma punches a fist frantically through the screen on the window. They’re upon her in an instant, another contraction leaving her helpless beneath them, and she focuses on the pain, screams through it, and magic explodes from her and throws them back.
Before they can get back on their feet, she climbs out the window, running desperately from the cabin and hoping with all her might that she’s running in the right direction.
They drive to Bangor and find Emma’s phone on the floor and Aladdin and Nate’s family locked up and gagged in the apartment. “I don’t know where they went,” Aladdin says when Regina yanks off his gag. “They just took Emma and left.”
They don’t even stay to untie the rest of the former hostages before they’re driving back toward town. “I need my magic,” Regina says, eyes fixed on the road. “We need to–” Her hands tremble on the steering wheel. “I can’t feel her anywhere.”
“We’ll find a way.” Henry says it with all the certainty of a boy who’s never seen his mothers fail before. “We always do.”
“Where do we go?” Regina says helplessly, speeding down a twisty road and nearly driving off the edge of a mountain. “Where do we– how do we–” She keeps her eyes trained on the road, the vista ahead of them blurring. “Emma,” she says finally, more of a command than a reminder. “Emma.”
She drives on frantically, Henry silent as he slides in his seat from her twisty maneuvering. It’s only when they’re back on the road toward Storybrooke that he ventures, “Does this mean that Nate was lying?”
“I don’t know.” They drive over the town line, and Regina bites so hard on her lip that it bleeds. She can’t feel Emma’s presence anywhere in the town, no magic she’s so intimately acquainted with that she can sense it from a distance. Henry looks at her expectantly and she can only shake her head in silent response.
Unbidden, her thoughts return to a time– it must have been a little over nine months ago, irony of ironies. Back when they’d first fought Scar with only a few shifters on their side, Abu and Kovu and Nate and even Ruby dropping by to lend them a hand. There hadn’t been an easy guide for who to trust. An ordinary walk down the lawn to get the newspaper had once nearly ended with Regina being bitten by a snake, and a trip to Granny’s had ended with a pack of wolves surrounding them, the diner totalled.
Snow had sent Ruthie to her daycare when Emma had wanted them all out of town, and a shifter had swept into the room and taken the baby away. They’d only found out a half hour later, when someone else had heard the crying from the room and found the babysitter bound and gagged.
It had been terrifying, heartstopping, but a part of Regina still treasures the memory of Emma hurling magic at a pack of wolves with a baby tight against her. It had felt natural in a way that she’d never thought it would, passing Ruthie back and forth as they’d taken turns diving into the danger zone and fighting their way out of that trap. And after, before Snow had gotten there to tearfully reclaim her daughter, they’d taken a moment to inspect the baby themselves, Regina rocking with her to soothe her and Emma deftly checking for bruises or cuts.
There had been a moment of we could do this before she’d thought about how absurd the thought had been. That night, she’d kissed the back of Emma’s neck as they’d burrowed together in bed and Emma had said, Is it fair to do this to a child?
Regina hadn’t known. They’d made love that night, a child still on their minds, and Regina has been thinking back to that night for months without ever understanding why. Tonight, she can only remember it with rising dread. It isn’t fair to do this to a child. It isn’t fair to do this to Emma.
And she can’t feel Emma anywhere.
“Can we call the cops?” Henry says, and then answers his own question. “Of course not. How do we explain…any of this.”
“Ruby,” Regina says suddenly. “Ruby can track her. Call Granny and see if she can get in touch with her. We’re going to find Kovu.” Kovu had been their final trump card, the fourth shifter they’d gotten to work for them. He’s in with the shifters who’d always been opposed to Scar, and he hadn’t had to live in fear as the others had.
If anyone knows where Emma is, Kovu can certainly lead them to her.
She hasn’t felt this kind of thrumming adrenaline since Neverland, since the night after Emma had become the Dark One. There’s no time for tears or anguish, no time for recriminations– there’s only family and the aching need to find it. She drives with purpose, Henry holding up the phone on speaker so she can snap into it, and she pulls into the Pride Estates cul-de-sac near the wealthiest area in town just as Mulan’s patrol car parks behind them.
“Thanks for coming so quickly,” Henry says when Regina doesn’t speak. Mulan gives them a brisk nod, walking in tandem with Regina. She raps on the door while Regina paces on the porch, reaching out again and again with magic that touches nothing, and the door finally opens.
“They have Emma,” Mulan says. Kovu blinks out at them, half-dressed and bleary-eyed. Regina remembers as though from a distance that it’s the middle of the night. “Where are they holding her?”
“There’s a cabin,” Kovu says immediately, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Not too far from town, but far enough that she won’t be able to teleport away. It’s where Scar was hiding out during the coup.” He grabs a jacket from behind the door, yanking it on. “I remember that it was–”
A burst of magic– bright and urgent and glowing within her like a thousand shimmering colors– arcs through the town and reaches Regina like a homing beacon. Emma . Emma’s magic fills the town like the lightest of mists, enveloping Regina with blessed relief, and she nearly staggers within it. “She’s here,” she whispers, and Henry seizes her hand. She squeezes it tightly. “Emma’s crossed into town.”
“Kovu and I will go to the cabin,” Mulan decides. “Cover our bases. If Emma’s just at the town line, she shouldn’t be hard to find.”
Regina’s already moving to the car, and she presses the keys into Henry’s hand. He stares at her, wide-eyed, a grin starting to form on his face. “Drive safely ,” she warns him. “Meet us at the town line. Slowly .”
Henry gapes. “Holy shi– ” He falters at her fierce glare and bobs his head, arranging his features into something attentive and somber. “I’m on it. Defensive driving, right? And no one’s on the street, anyway–”
“Stay at twenty miles an hour,” Regina says darkly. “And turn on the headlights!” She’s already teleporting away, her final words swallowed as she disappears and reappears at the road out of town.
Emma isn’t there, but she hadn’t expected her to be. She can still feel her magic somewhere nearby, though it’s impossible to pin down. “Emma?” she calls, and there’s a cacophony of howls in response. She lights a fireball. “Emma!”
The border of the town is marked with a shimmering line that moves through the woods, and Regina walks quickly along it, keeping a wary eye out for snake shifters. “Emma!” she calls again. “Emma?”
There’s a groan in response, and then a growl. The wolves are just beyond the border, approaching slowly, and Regina raises her fireball. “Emma,” she says again. “Please tell me that’s you.”
“R’gina,” comes the strained response, and Regina waits for the wolves to approach, counting hulking bodies and calculating how quickly she’ll be able to dispatch them when they cross into the town. She’ll have…a split second at most, and she stands warily, curbing the relief at Emma just behind her. This isn’t over yet.
The wolves run, and then, a howl. A much larger wolf tears past her– a familiar wolf– and Ruby leaps at the wolves, tears at them, sends them flying back and past Regina, suddenly easy targets. There’s a blur of white and brown, mingled howls and growls of pain in the night, and Regina sends magic blindly at any wolves that dare come too close.
And then there’s a crossbow bolt sticking out of one of them, Granny approaching with a grim look on her face, and the wolves finally flee, overwhelmed.
“Call an ambulance,” Regina orders, kneeling over Emma. There are a few bruises and scrapes that she can see in the dark, and Emma keeps convulsing. “I’m getting really tired of seeing you like this,” she murmurs. “But it’s good to see you at all.”
Emma blinks up at her, her eyes woozy. “Nate was lying,” she says.
“We figured that one out.” Regina strokes her hair, touches her face, and none of this quite feels real yet. She’d been so afraid, so certain that Emma would be impossible to find.
Emma coughs, convulsing again. “He’s still in the cabin. You have to…someone has to save him.”
“Mulan is going there right now,” Regina reassures her. “Stop talking. Save your strength.”
Emma leans back against a tree root. “I’m in labor,” she manages, frowning, and Regina stares at her, uncomprehending. “We’re having a baby,” she tries again.
The words sink in, slowly but undeniably, and Regina can feel the adrenaline surge again. “You couldn’t have mentioned that a little earlier?” she demands. Emma convulses again and Regina twists her hands, suddenly in a panic. “What do we do? Can I move you? If you stand up, will the baby…fall out? I’m being ridiculous. We have to get you to the road.”
Emma staggers to her feet, Regina’s hands on her back, and she nearly falls over from the effort of keeping Emma upright. “You know,” Emma says, pausing to let out another groan. “I had my shoulder ripped open a few months ago and I’d still take that over this.”
“How far apart are your contractions?” Regina says, pulling out her phone to find the app they’d both downloaded to time them. They’ve been preparing for this for weeks, and not once had Regina imagined that it would happen like this, stumbling through the woods with an ambulance still too far away. “Has your water broken?”
“All over that cabin floor. I hope it doesn’t come out of the wood grain,” Emma says savagely. They’re nearly at the car, which appears to be in one piece, and Henry bolts from the driver’s seat. “Did you let Henry drive the Mercedes? You really do love me. Ow ,” she moans as another contraction hits. “These keep getting worse.”
“Lie down.” Regina guides her into the back seat, laying her across it while Henry hovers. “Breathe. Remember the breathing exercises? Breathe with me.”
They’re still breathing together when the ambulance rolls up silently, Emma’s hand clenched in Regina’s and her eyes bright, a sheen of sweat on her forehead.
Her eyes aren’t nearly as bright when she’s screaming, lying on a hospital bed as Dr. Whale reminds her to push, push – “You push, you fucking piece of shit!” she snarls, clutching Regina’s hand. “I hate men! All men are scum. Except Henry, who’s a coward.” They’d been allowed one more person in the delivery room. Henry had taken one look into the room and opted to stay outside and wait for Snow and David to arrive. “Coward!” Emma shouts, but she cuts herself off with another agonized scream.
“Breathe,” Regina urges her. “I’m here.” Emma turned glazed eyes to her. “Remember? I’m really here this time. And you do have to push.”
“This is your fault somehow,” Emma bites out, glaring at her, but she clenches her teeth together and squeezes her eyes shut, grip tightening on Regina.
“Push,” Whale says again. “Push. Push . The baby’s almost crowning. One more push and you can stop.”
Emma’s face is screwed up, the lights in the room flickering forcefully, and then– “ AUGH !” and Whale is instructing someone else in the room, they’re waiting, Emma lets out a dry sob and then Whale says, “Two more pushes. You’re doing great.”
“Shut up, you literal motherfucker!” And then a strangled little cry, and then another. Emma lifts her head, then drops it again, soaked in sweat and tears. “Is that…”
Regina can only stare as Whale lifts the baby, red and wrinkled and filthy, her heart frozen in place. One of the nurses nudges her, murmuring something about cutting the umbilical cord, and Regina reacts automatically, following instructions and then watching as the baby is taken away from them. Another nurse takes her as Whale attends to Emma, and Regina feels the tears coursing down her cheeks before she knows consciously that she’s crying.
The baby is cleaned and returned to them, the nurse opening the snaps of Emma’s hospital gown so she can lie against Emma’s skin, and Emma is sobbing silently, tears sliding down her cheeks as she reaches up with their still joined hands to press them to the baby’s skin.
“Hi,” she whispers. “Hi.” Her face is glowing like she’s just run a marathon, her eyes fixed on the baby as she cries, and Regina leans against her and stares at their baby, tiny and letting out little whimpers as they stroke her back.
“Hello, Elena,” Regina murmurs, and her heart feels so full, bubbling and bubbling until she feels as though she might float away and never touch the ground again.
Snow and David enter as soon as they’re allowed in, peering around the corner of the doorway with Henry trailing behind them. Emma holds up a hand. “Henry first,” she says, and Henry bounds in, staring at the baby in fascination. Elena’s been wrapped now, swaddled in hospital blankets with only her face visible between her hat and her blanket, and he sits in the armchair in the corner of the room and holds her carefully. David snaps pictures for them, Snow has a lengthy list of questions about the delivery, and Regina carefully heals the bruises on Emma’s skin that she hadn’t been able to while Emma had been in labor.
Snow and David don’t stay in the room long. Emma’s exhausted, and much as Regina insists that she’s fine, she’s close to falling asleep, too. The nurses bring in a trundle bed for her to lie in beside Emma, and Henry sits in the corner with the baby while Emma dozes off, her hand still in Regina’s.
Regina doesn’t sleep, not yet. She lies in bed and listens to Henry, who’s back on the armchair with the baby. “Hey, kid,” he murmurs, then laughs. “Finally, I get to call someone kid. About time my moms had a baby.” A pause, then, “It can get kind of crazy around here sometimes. You might get kidnapped a few times, or have some bad guy try to use you, or maybe wind up with superpowers of your own. But our moms are tough, you know?” Our moms. It’s a phrase she’s never heard before, and she closes her eyes at the new wealth of emotion that threatens to overwhelm her.
Henry keeps rocking the baby, his voice soothing. “Don’t worry, Elena. You pretty much hit the jackpot here, bad guys and all.” He yawns. “I think I’m gonna go see if Grandma and Gramps are waiting downstairs. I’ll be back in the morning, okay?” He presses a kiss to her little forehead, lifting her and placing her carefully into the hospital bassinet. Emma gets a kiss, too, and then their son’s lips are on Regina’s forehead as she lies still.
“Night, Mom,” he whispers, and he puts a hand on Elena’s belly one more time before he leaves the room.
Regina lies in silence once he’s gone, staring at the ceiling. It seems as though every fear she’d had for the baby has been magnified by a thousand after seeing her. She’s so small, so fragile, and even walking with her in the room is accompanied by the acute awareness that she might fall, Elena flying from her arms. How is she supposed to go out into the rest of the world with this tiny, breakable infant?
Elena begins to fuss, and Regina rouses Emma quietly, helping her sit up to nurse the baby. Elena roots while she does, nuzzling at her clothed breast blindly, and Regina eases her into Emma’s arms and leans against them, an odd sort of contentment allowing her to drift off again.
She wakes up again an hour later, Elena asleep again in her bassinet and Emma asleep again in her bed. Any sign of her brief captivity is gone now, and when Regina fishes out Emma’s phone and checks it, there’s a note from Mulan that they’d saved Nate and arrested a number of shifters. The danger is over as quickly as it had come, its only shadow on them a single lie.
And with that lie come the same questions again. Elena is human– unmistakably so, seven pounds one ounce and an Apgar nine. The last reasonable possibility– that Emma had somehow been dragged into someone else’s story and been forced to birth a demon baby– has passed, and there remains no explanation for how Elena had come into being.
It doesn’t matter that Elena shares no genetic connection with her. That’s never mattered to Regina, not with Henry, not with the mother she’s had. But she finds that even now, she can’t quite push the questions from her mind.
“It doesn’t matter,” she says firmly, standing up. She’s so restless, enough so that she slides her bare feet into her heels and takes hold of the back of the bassinet stand. “We have you, and it doesn’t matter.”
Elena opens one sleepy eye, then closes it again. Regina pushes the bassinet, rolling it out of the room and up the hall. It’s past one in the morning, and no one is in the halls except nurses, and if they notice that she’s a little misty-eyed, they don’t comment on it.
“What a beautiful girl,” a nurse she doesn’t know murmurs, beaming at her. “She looks just like you.”
“Oh,” Regina says, and she means to explain: Elena isn’t her baby, at least not in that sense of the word; Elena can’t look like her, even if there is a firmness at her chin and the point of her nose that Regina could imagine belongs to her, if she imagined such things; Elena is hers as much as Henry is, but the similarities will come only in time.
The nurse is still smiling at her, and Regina swallows back her objections and says, “Thank you,” instead.
It’s late, and there’s a baby crying in her bedroom, a tinny sound filtering through a baby monitor. For a dazed moment she thinks she’s back at her parents’ apartment and it’s years ago, Neal’s cries filtering up to the loft, and she groans and covers her ears with a pillow.
There’s a muffled grunt in response– Regina – and Emma blinks and remembers herself. “Hey,” she coos, rolling out of bed and yawning as she stumbles to the crib in the next room. “Hungry, baby?”
Elena cries in response, shaky and strident, and Emma lifts her up carefully, unswaddling her so she can press her against her own bare skin. Elena quiets, rooting for her breast, and Emma curls onto the rocking chair they’ve moved into the room and lifts her to it.
She rocks absently, staring down at the tiny child with nothing less than wonder. We did that , she thinks for a moment, giddy with disbelief. She’d been in a daze since they’d gotten home, still unable to quite comprehend that this is real. Their baby is real , and she’s in Emma’s arms right now.
She remembers Henry’s birth again, as she’s remembered it again and again over the past few days. There’s no comparison between what had gone on all those years ago and what she’s experiencing now. Henry had been a stolen gift, a boy at her doorstep ten years later who’d given her a chance to unmake her greatest regret.
She doesn’t regret it anymore. Yes, she mourns the years she’d lost with him, but she can’t see the events that had brought him to Storybrooke and to Regina as a reason to regret. They’d all followed paths in life that had brought them together, and Emma wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Elena is something else entirely, and Emma wonders again if Henry truly is content with how things had gone, with his mothers having another child who will never have to choose between family and regrets.
Emma hums, an old song that a group mother had sang to them when they’d have nightmares. Emma had never admitted to her nightmares– she’d been too proud, too angry, too disdainful of weakness– but she’d curl up in bed and listen to the woman as she’d rock the younger kids, singing them back to sleep. Elena’s eyes open for a moment, then close, retreating back to sleep for now.
Emma sets her down again, heading back to her bed, when she hears a movement downstairs. She pads down the steps, not nearly as tired as she’d been when she’d been awakened, and she rubs her eyes as she slips into the kitchen.
Henry blinks at her. “Oh, hey, Ma. Can’t sleep either?”
“I was sleeping just fine,” Emma says, peering into the freezer. “Elena objected.”
Henry grins. “Yeah. Seems like she’s gonna do that a lot.”
Emma turns back to the freezer. “Well, while we’re up, want some ice–” She stops, ice cream container still in hand as she arches an eyebrow. “Or that?”
Henry raises a second beer sheepishly. “Don’t tell Mom. She likes to pretend I’m still ten.”
“You are . Ten years old and chubby-cheeked and cute and you like milkshakes and cocoa, not alcohol.” Emma bats his offering away from her as she sits down. “I’m still nursing, kid. I shouldn’t have any.”
“Man.” Henry makes a face. “How are you going to get through your blowout fights with Mom now, then?”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Emma informs him, scooping out some ice cream for each of them. This feels unsettlingly familiar, like a scene from several months ago, and she can see from the strain on Henry’s face that he’s thinking the same. “Hey,” she says, as gently as she can manage at four in the morning. “It’s okay.”
“You almost died , Ma.” Henry stares into his beer. “It’s not okay. It wasn’t okay that I…I put you through so much crap when we first found out. And you could have died .”
“Everyone dies,” Emma says, smiling mirthlessly. “Is this why you’re up this late, drinking beer like you’re the hero of some terrible literary novel?” Henry shrugs. “It’s okay,” Emma says again.
Henry swallows. “Ma,” he says, and he looks up with sudden intensity, with sudden determination. “Ma, if you do know who the father is–”
“There is no father,” Emma says, and she can feel the tension in her tone, the sharpness of it. It hurts , having this brought up time and again, leaving her helpless to answer and tainted by something she knows she hadn’t done. “Henry, please. Not this again.”
“Okay,” he says, his eyes still on her. “It’s just– that question isn’t going to go away, you know? I believed you when you said it wasn’t Nate, but I was the only one who did; what happens if someone else comes forward? What happens if there are paternity tests? How is Elena going to grow up–”
He’s concerned for Elena , she finally understands. Elena’s big brother is sitting in the kitchen and brooding because he’s worried about protecting her from the inevitable whispers. “I don’t know,” Emma murmurs, and the hurt fades a little bit, replaced by quiet relief. “I don’t know what we’re going to do about that. I won’t lie and say that I– that there’s a father, but we’ll– somehow, we’ll keep her safe from that.”
“Yeah,” Henry says, his chin jutting out and his eyes dark and stubborn. “Yeah, we’ll keep her safe.”
Their days are long and quiet now, peaceful in a way that they so rarely have been before. Regina takes a maternity leave that fizzles out after a week, both of them too focused on ending the threat that Scar’s shifters still pose to the town. Emma’s recovery has been quick, but the baby can’t leave the house for another month or so until she gets her shots. They trade off work days, calling in a babysitter on a few occasions when they both need to be present.
Today is one of them. They’re in the interrogation room, a single shifter at the table. Shenzi, the only one who’d conceded to be seen in human form. “We want asylum,” she says. “We want to live our lives here without being locked up down where Scar is.” Her lip curls at the thought of it.
“Cool. Here’s what we’re offering,” Emma says, leaning over the table. She can feel Regina from the other side of the one-way mirror, watching with her hands clenched and David holding her back. “You’re all leaving Storybrooke, one way or another. You can go in human form and try to make a life outside of it without shifting, or you can go in animal form and we scatter you all across the country in assorted zoos, where you live out the rest of your lives in cages, being gawked at by local toddlers. Sound good?”
Shenzi sneers at her, the fear in her eyes as evident as the determination. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with. We can make your lives hell, no matter what you do with us. No one is going to tell you who we are.”
Emma raises an eyebrow. “Then say goodbye to freedom and hello to toddlers dropping cheez-its into your enclosure. Up to you.”
“You have a week,” Mulan says. “And then we decide.” She nods to the mirror. “Until then, you’ll all remain in the asylum.”
Regina emerges then, waving a hand and disappearing with Shenzi. The asylum is full to the brim now with the number of animals occupying cells, and even the normally unfazed staff down there is beginning to complain. “We still haven’t found Iago,” Mulan says when Shenzi’s gone. “The two crocodiles, the snake, the wolves we captured with no problem. But Iago is still missing.”
“Which means he’s somewhere around in human form,” Emma says grimly. “The shifters have nothing to lose right now. There’s no reason for them to be so cagey still, unless they’ve got an ace up their sleeve.”
“Iago,” Mulan says again, sitting on the interrogation table and huffing out a sigh. “Are you patrolling today?”
“Casually,” Emma says, and Mulan smiles.
Emma does enjoy. Casually means retrieving Elena from the sitter and wandering down Main Street, greeting people and letting them coo over the baby. David is tagging along, both of them making a halfhearted attempt at searching the skies for a missing parrot, but there’s no sign of Iago and at least three baby stores to be distracted by instead.
There’s a package at the front door when Emma gets home, glowing slightly green, and she opens it to find a onesie and a note from Zelena. Robyn can’t wait to meet her new cousin, will be by to visit in a few weeks. The onesie is emblazoned with the words MY MOMS ARE TAKEN BUT MY AUNT IS SINGLE AND HOT , and Emma laughs and puts it on Elena before Regina gets home from work that night.
She’s asleep on the couch, hands over Elena’s back as Elena naps on top of her, when there’s a flash and she jerks up, pulling the baby close protectively and holding out a hand to summon her magic. “Relax,” Regina murmurs, laughing softly. “I was taking a picture. What is that onesie? Please tell me it’s from Zelena, not Ruthie.”
Emma shrugs, passing the baby to Regina. “It didn’t have a signature, so could be either, really.” Regina laughs again, sliding down next to her. Emma curls up beside her, resting her head on Regina’s shoulder as she watches Elena squirm. “She’s so cute.”
“It’s cute drool,” Emma says stubbornly.
Regina says, “You clean it off, then.” Emma wipes at it obligingly, watching as Elena’s lips part and–
“She smiled! That was definitely a smile.”
“It was gas.”
“ You’re gas,” Emma mutters obstinately, and Regina twists to raise an eyebrow at her. “Has it ever occurred to you that we might just have an incredibly advanced baby? A genius, even?”
Regina rubs Elena’s belly in slow, circular motions. “Of course she is. I never doubted it for an instant.”
“But she didn’t purposely roll over yesterday, either.”
Emma scowls at Regina, who’s supposed to be on her team. “I’m telling you. After I put her back on her stomach, she picked up her left leg like she was trying to do it again. She knows .”
Regina sighs expansively. “If you say so, dear.”
“I knew there was a reason I married you,” Emma says, satisfied, and Regina gives her a long look. “Aside from your incredible ass, I mean.” The look intensifies. “And the way you subjugated thousands of hapless peasants with your cleavage alone?” Emma says hopefully.
“Mm. It was some impressive cleavage,” Regina concedes as the front door slides open in the next room. “You know, we haven’t gotten out my old dresses and your Enchanted Forest knight getup in months now. I do miss making you kneel.”
Emma smirks. “I miss making you beg,” she echoes, and Regina sucks in a breath.
“Oh, my god,” Henry says from behind them. His backpack hits the ground with a thump. “Stop. Please, stop– in front of Elena ?” he says in outrage as he catches sight of her. He scoops her up from Regina’s arms, glaring at them as he presses her to his chest and puts a hand over her other ear. “You monsters.”
“I think Elena will be relieved someday to know that her parents have a healthy sex life,” Emma says, nodding her head authoritatively. Henry backs away from her, his eyes wide in horror, and she says, “Aren’t you relieved, Henry?”
“I’m going to vomit,” Henry says, retreating from the room with Elena safely in his arms.
“Take a burp cloth with you,” Regina calls after him, tossing one at the back of his head before she slumps down against the arm of the couch, shaking her head. “We’re terrible.”
“We’re amazing,” Emma declares, sliding down to rest on top of Regina. “Henry’s seventeen now. It’s time for him to find out some of the truths of this world. Santa isn’t real, you were the tooth fairy all along, his moms are having sex–”
“Mm,” Regina says. “Not now, though. The doctor said four weeks.”
“The doctor said four weeks for me ,” Emma reminds her. “There were no rules about you.” She nuzzles Regina’s neck, feeling her wife’s hands trail up to her sides. “And I miss you.”
Regina shakes her head. “Nothing too strenuous.”
“I can take it slow.” Emma presses hot kisses to the side of Regina’s neck, and Regina sighs, leaning back to give her better access. “Come on. We have time before dinner, and Henry went upstairs. Your study?”
She sucks at Regina’s skin, leaving a little purpled mark that earns her a dirty look from Regina, and Regina twists her wrist and they disappear and reappear in the study. Emma waves a hand at the door, locking it, and Regina says, “Nothing inside of you, right? That’s what they said?” Emma nods, and they disappear again.
When they reappear, they’re still on the couch in the study, but Emma is lying flat on her back and Regina is perched on her legs, a smug smirk quirking one side of her lips. “Let’s see if I can make you come without breaking doctor’s orders,” she breathes, licking her lips, and Emma gulps as her mouth goes very, very dry.
The only downside to having a baby in the house, it’s beginning to seem like, is the fact that Emma hasn’t slept through the night since the night Elena had been born. She’s napping nearly as much as she had when she’d been pregnant, and she’s taking to sleepwalking into the kitchen in the morning, dropping her chin on the table, and hoping that Regina takes pity on her and brings her some coffee.
Regina is just as exhausted. “You don’t have to warm your bottles in the middle of the night,” she reminds her when they’re lying in bed, squabbling about who’s going to be stuck with the graveyard shift. “It’s much more work for me–”
“You summon the bottle and warm it magically,” Emma says, rolling her eyes. “And you’re working from home tomorrow, so I think it’s only fair that–” She stops, heaving a long sigh. Regina’s already asleep, her breathing even and her face peaceful. “Ass,” she grumbles, leaning over to kiss Regina’s cheek, and she wraps an arm around her wife and shuts her eyes.
When she wakes up, it’s to the cries of the baby again, and she says sleepily, “Your turn.”
“I did last night,” Regina mumbles back to her. “You.”
“I did it twice two nights ago,” Emma argues, burrowing deeper into Regina’s back. Regina grumbles into her pillow, unconvinced. “Come on, Regina. I’ll do that thing with my tongue that you like. In the morning. Just go.”
“Or,” Regina says, yawning. “I’ll let you do me on my desk again if you go.”
“No deal.” There are very few things in the universe that she’d pass up on that for, but getting out of bed right now is one of them. “Nothing you can say is going to change my mind. Your turn.”
“Hm,” Regina says, rolling over to face her, and she tilts up Emma’s chin with her thumb, her eyes half open as she breathes, “I’ll let you fuck me in one of the cells at the station. With the door unlocked.”
Emma opens her eyes, squinting suspiciously at Regina. “The door being unlocked is your kink, not mine.”
“I know.” Regina smiles slowly, dangerously. “Imagine how good that’s going to be for both of us.”
Emma stares at her for a moment. Regina stares back. “Suddenly, I’m wide awake,” Emma says, sitting up with a groan. “You are going to regret this tomorrow night when it’s your turn again.”
“I regret this already,” Regina says, flopping back onto the bed without a semblance of regality. “I’m too awake now and you’re not even going to be here to…” She makes a face.
“Snuggle you to sleep?” Emma suggests, grinning. Snuggle and cuddle are two words Regina thinks she’s too good to say and two things she enjoys doing more than she’ll ever admit. “If you’re still up when I get back,” she tosses over her shoulder, and Regina folds her arms primly, glaring after her.
Oh, yeah, she’ll be waiting.
Emma’s still smiling when she heads into Elena’s room, pushing the door open as she coos, “Hiya, kiddo. Mama’s here.” The baby still wails, little choked noises, and Emma freezes as she sees–
There, slithering across the floor, is the snake from the cabin in the woods. It stops when it sees her, and Emma says, her eyes glued to it, “Regina? You still up? We have a situation here.”
The snake reacts, whipping forward with alarming speed, and Emma throws out a hand on instinct. A bolt of electricity fires from her hand, throwing the snake back and off-course, and Regina appears behind her in a cloud of purple smoke. “What is it? What’s–” She sees the snake, too. It’s uncoiling now, hissing threateningly, and its eyes are doing that whirly thing that had nearly stopped Emma cold when she’d been in the cabin.
“That’s the snake we put in the asylum,” Emma says in a low voice.
She can see Regina nod in her peripheral vision. “How the hell did it get out?” She clears her throat. “Get Elena and check on Henry. I’ll get the snake.”
Emma hesitates. “It has some kind of hypnosis–”
“Elena first, Emma,” Regina says urgently. “Go!”
Emma goes, springs forward as the snake does and ducks a superheated wave of energy that catches on the carpet and sets it on fire. The snake’s hissing is reaching a higher pitch, nearly a scream, and Elena wails and wails as they dart into Henry’s room, as they dart back to her room to see Regina slamming the snake against the wall, again and again, until she’s in Emma’s arms, ensconced in bed in the master bedroom and feeding at last.
“Emma,” Regina says over the baby monitor. “Emma, I’m going to kill it.” Her voice is pained and Emma almost says good , almost doesn’t move and lets Regina maul the snake who’d targeted their daughter.
But it’s not about the snake. It’s never about the snake as much as it’s about Regina, who can’t be responsible for another life out of pure rage. And Emma can’t do that to her. “I’m calling David,” she says, loudly enough that she can hear her own voice echoing in the baby monitor. “He’s on night shift tonight.”
“Okay,” Regina agrees, breathing heavily. “Okay.”
She doesn’t come back into the room until after David has come and gone, locking the snake in a secure glass enclosure and bringing it to the car. “He’s going to drive it out of town,” Regina says evenly. “In snake form. Bring it to some local reptile house thirty miles from here. See if Shenzi considers our offer now.”
She climbs into bed, her eyes dull. “In our house , Emma,” she says, curling up beside Elena. They lie opposite each other, heads on the pillows as their eyes lock over the baby. “In our house, in our baby’s room. I have no idea how that snake didn’t get to her before we did.”
“I don’t understand. The asylum is supposed to be secure,” Emma says helplessly. “If Scar has this channel to the outside, then why the hell isn’t he out by now? How is the snake able to get out but not the rest of them?”
“I don’t know,” Regina says, her face dark and tense. “But I don’t think we’ve been asking the right questions.”
“No,” Emma murmurs, a sudden suspicion occurring to her. “I don’t think we’ve been asking them to the right person.”
They lie in silence, one hand each laid on Elena’s stomach, and Elena slumbers peacefully, safe and warm between the bodies and the watchful eyes of her two mothers.
Regina’s grown to hate the asylum. There had been a time when she’d been sure that she’d have a room down there someday– near the end of the curse, when Emma had come to town and Regina had known deep down that she’d been fighting a losing battle. She’d arranged for one room to be set up more comfortably then, had upgraded the menu and talked to the nurses about more regular cleaning. It had all felt very grim, and had only added to the frustration of defeat.
If her past self had known where she’d be today– Regina, walking side by side with Emma just after the birth of their daughter– she wonders how she’d have taken it. She’d have been in denial, probably, certain that she’d have never – but there’d be a creeping uncertainty, a creeping wistfulness. Even when Regina had been at her worst in this realm, she’d craved this kind of love with all her heart.
And maybe she hadn’t deserved it. Maybe that’s why every moment with Elena feels as though it’s on the verge of slipping away, and not only because of snakes and the forever dread in the back of her mind concerning Elena’s parentage. Old habits die hard, and the looming knowledge that this kind of happiness doesn’t belong to her will never quite go away.
Emma squeezes her hand. Somehow, Emma always seems to know.
She’s the one to speak when they reach the front desk of the asylum. “Has anyone entered or left here since we brought in the shifters?” Emma asks.
The male nurse shakes his head. The woman– who’s in charge of the asylum, gifted by the curse with the unfortunate name of Nurse Ratched– says, “Well, aside from you.”
“Me?” Emma looks confused. “No, Mulan brought them in.”
Nurse Ratched raises an eyebrow at her. “You were here last night. You called me into that snake’s room?” she says, frowning. “I came to help you and that’s when I discovered that the snake was gone.”
“I spent the entire night at home,” Emma says, glancing over to Regina. Regina nods in confirmation. They’d been together from the moment Emma had left work yesterday afternoon. Regina had taken a break from paperwork and packed Elena into her stroller, meeting Emma just outside the station to walk home together. There had been no time in between that and bedtime for Emma to have lost time, even if that is what’s been going on with her. “What time was this?”
“Around midnight. Do you sleepwalk, Sheriff?” Nurse Ratched asks dryly.
Regina clears her throat. “Let’s just– we’ll figure this out later. Is Scar still in the far room down there?”
The male nurse nods. “Down the hall,” he says, gesturing to the hall ahead of them. “Down the hall.”
“Thank you.” He meets her gaze unflinchingly, and she feels a prickle of discomfort at it. She’s tired of stares, of people whispering when she walks down the street with a stroller or with Emma beside her. There’s an entire town of people who know her business now, and none are inclined to judge the Swan-Mills family favorably.
Emma reaches for her hand again, brushing her knuckles against the back of Regina’s hand in quiet comfort. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m not sure yet. Let’s see what Scar has to say.” She pulls out the keys– Nurse Ratched is the only other one with a copy of each– and unlocks the door to Scar’s room.
He’s reclining on the bed in there, and he brightens when he sees them. “Mayor Mills,” he drawls. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“You know why you’re here,” Regina hisses. “I warned you– if you tried to touch them again–”
Emma cuts her off gracefully. “We want to know how you got message out to your cronies. And how the snake escaped the asylum,” she says, her face set and grim. “What the hell are you planning?”
“I?” Scar says, raising a hand to his chest in exaggerated outrage. “Planning something? You must be mistaken.” He smiles widely. “I would never cross you, my dear Regina. Particularly not now that you’re so busy with your…charming baby girl–” Emma’s hand is on her wrist before she can launch herself forward and start a fistfight with a lion.
“Tell us the truth,” Regina bites out, fury burning hot within her. “Tell us the truth or I wring your neck and parade your headless corpse around this asylum until your friends give it to us instead.”
Emma mutters, “I should not find that as hot as I do.”
Scar says, “Or maybe you might entertain the thought that I am telling the truth, and you’re looking for the wrong shifter.” He sits up, long legs stretched out in front of him and hanging over the bed as his smirk fades. “Do you think I’m the only shifter with…aspirations?” he says delicately. “Every moment leading that crew was a power struggle. Has it ever occurred to you that when you put me here, you just unleashed a far less…discerning…leader on the shifters?”
“Discerning,” Regina repeats. “Discerning how?”
Scar spreads his hands. “I certainly wouldn’t have gone after your daughter,” he says easily. “Not with–” he pauses, eyeing them oddly. “But you don’t know about that, do you?”
“What are you talking about now?” Regina demands.
Scar shakes his head. “I’m not fool enough to sell them out,” he says, yawning. He has tiny fangs on his canines, the barest hint of the start of a shift. “He could make life very, very difficult for me if I did. Why do you think they’re all afraid to speak?” He waves grandly toward the hall outside his room. “Better bolt the nursery windows, Madam Mayor–”
Regina charges forward, and this time, Emma doesn’t hold her back. Emma is in front of her, eyes blazing as she throws Scar up against the wall, and her hand is at his neck as his muscles begin to lengthen and shift, his body growing heavier above them until Emma is forced back. Regina hurls one fireball, singeing his underbelly, and Emma says, “Let’s go. He was telling the truth. Let’s go .”
She yanks Regina by the arm and pulls her from the room, slamming the door as a lion’s roar reverberates around them. Regina’s still shaking, her fingernails drawing blood from her palms, and Emma puts an arm around her waist and shakes with her.
“There is something,” Emma says later, stretched out on the ground in the living room. Elena is propped up on a pillow beside her, making little noises of exertion as she struggles to lift her head up. Regina lies opposite her on her stomach, chin down nearly to the ground to make eye contact with the baby. “I don’t know what it is. Something about the asylum felt– I don’t know.”
“I’ve known Nurse Ratched since the old world,” Regina says absently. “She’s not overly chatty, but she was my personal nurse when I was a young queen, and I’ve never had reason not to trust her.”
“Do you have reason not to trust me?” Emma says, and the question is light but Regina can hear the desolation lurking beyond it.
Regina rolls over and onto her knees, crawling across the floor in a stiff skirt to cup Emma’s cheek and jaw. “No,” she says firmly, and Emma touches her cheek, too, coaxes her down so they can kiss, Regina’s chin bumping Emma’s nose. “Iago,” she says. “I hate to use– I hate to base a criminal investigation on a Disney movie–”
“Don’t we all,” Emma says dryly.
Regina gives her a look. “But the Internet tells me that his fairytale counterpart is capable of mimicking voices.”
Emma is satisfied by the answer, but her brow creases. “How did he get down there in the first place, then?”
Elena lets out a single cry, and they both shift back to her. She quiets immediately when they’re back, her eyes focusing on Regina’s face, and Regina leans forward to kiss the tip of her nose. “Sorry, kiddo,” Emma says, rubbing her back. “Mama and Mommy got a little distracted by the evil parrot. That happens sometimes.” She lifts Elena up, suspending her over her with her thumbs supporting her neck so they’re eye to eye. “Welcome to our world. It’s pretty weird.”
Regina sits up beside her, retrieving Elena from Emma’s grasp so Emma can lay her head on Regina’s lap, eyes locked with a gurgling Elena. “Don’t listen to her,” she whispers conspiratorially to the baby. “She thinks that the world where she won a hot dog eating contest last year is legitimate.”
“Okay, first of all, that fair was in Storybrooke. So you have no leg to stand on. Second of all, better to win the contest than lose it on thirty hot dogs,” Emma points out haughtily, and Regina shakes her head and laughs silently.
She closes her eyes when Elena does, feeling Emma’s head shifting on her lap. “You should probably know some things about your moms,” Emma decides, sliding her thumb into Elena’s little fist. “Once upon a time, there was a hot queen and a sexy savior–”
“Try again,” Regina says, tilting her head back so it rests against the side of the couch.
She can almost imagine Emma’s pout at that. “I’m sorry, are you not incredibly hot? Am I not incredibly sexy? Are we not Storybrooke’s official power couple?”
“Not anymore,” Regina says, running her fingers through Emma’s hair to soften that blow. “Now they think that you’re a cheater and I’m a coward.”
Emma stills for a moment, then scoffs. “What do they know? If they had half a brain between all of them, at least someone would have snatched you up before I seduced you with my–”
“ Emma –”
“–charming smile and unflinching devotion,” Emma finishes innocently. “And if they had even a quarter of a brain between all of them, they’d know that I’d never, ever give that up.” Regina opens her eyes. Emma is staring up at her, eyes solemn. “You know that, don’t you?” she says. She hasn’t mentioned the mystery surrounding Elena since the baby had been born, and Regina had thought…that it had been forgotten, dismissed by everyone but Regina herself.
“I know you,” Regina murmurs in response, and Emma reaches up to her, runs gentle fingers over Regina’s skin, smiles.
At night, they sleep on either side of Elena, the baby tucked in between them as they cast wary glances at the shifting shadows of the trees outside the house. Regina has put up a protection spell, but she doesn’t trust it anymore– doesn’t trust anything or anyone but Emma and herself.
No one is touching their baby. No one is hurting her family, and she’d rather die than see them suffer because she isn’t meant for happiness.
“Stop it,” Emma whispers, tracing the skin below her open eyes. “Stop thinking that. This is ours. We’re not giving it up, okay?” Regina nods dully. “And I’m not giving you up, so if you try something stupidly self-sacrificing–”
“I’m not the one who became the Dark One to save me,” Regina points out.
Emma snorts. “Regina, I could list a dozen times off the bat when you tried to die out of some kind of weird obligation to Henry or me or Storybrooke.” She picks up a finger. “The well when Mom and I were coming through that portal. The mines with the trigger. That time you brawled with Zelena and got thrown into the clock tower? The Chernabog. Under–”
“Do you ever stop talking?” Regina asks, narrowing her eyes at Emma.
Emma blows her a kiss over Elena’s head. “You love it.”
“I love you ,” Regina corrects her. “This is an unfortunate symptom of that.” But she closes her eyes, the creeping self-doubt assuaged for now by her wife. “Goodnight, darling.”
Emma exhales, slow and dissatisfied, but she murmurs, “Love you, beautiful,” and curls a lock of hair between her fingers, letting it go as Regina drifts off at last.
Protection spell or not, Regina isn’t going to leave Elena at home with a non-magical sitter even on days when they both have to go into work. She packs her up with a half-dozen changes of clothing and a full pack of diapers before Emma sees what she’s doing and unpacks the whole diaper bag. “Let me do this,” Emma orders. “I’m the queen of traveling light.”
“As my wife, you’re actually the queen of several kingdoms in the Enchanted Forest,” Regina says, and she gets a look for it. “Well, you are. And why are you taking out all the burp cloths? What if she spits up on one?”
Emma sighs dramatically. “That’s the point of it, Regina. She spits up, you wipe off her face, she spits up two hours later and you wipe off her face again. She doesn’t need a freshly laundered burp cloth for every drooling episode.”
“Says you,” Regina shoots back, and they compromise with three that Regina folds into a still-weighty diaper bag. Elena gurgles happily, accidentally slapping herself in the face several times as they make their way out the door.
She’s howling again by the time they reach Town Hall, and Regina pulls her out of her stroller and holds her against her, cooing as she rocks from side to side. At least three town officials she’s reamed in the past month gape at her from the other side of the room, and she gives them a cold glare.
“It’s take your daughter to work day!” she coos, and Elena gives her a gummy smile that may or may not be gas. “Want to scream through some meetings while I terrorize the populace? Yes, you do! Yes, you do!”
Elena sleeps through the first three meetings instead, and Regina rocks her absently in her stroller, shifting Elena’s head to face the other way as she fills out some accompanying paperwork. She has one Town Hall meeting in the afternoon, and then they can finally go back home for the rest of the day.
The phone rings, and she lifts it absently, catching the sheriff’s station’s caller ID on the screen. “Mayoral Childcare Division, Regina Mills speaking,” she says, leaning back against her chair.
Emma’s voice isn’t amused. “Regina,” she says urgently. “Iago’s here. They’re all here.” She sucks in an agonized, shaky breath over the phone. “I need you now. They got Mulan.”
Regina’s hand tightens on the phone. “We’ll be right over,” she says, her jaw clenching. She’d expected Iago to make an attempt soon, but not during the day, when they’re both surrounded by allies and on alert.
Not when others are in the line of fire, too.
“We?” Emma echoes. “Have you lost your mind? Don’t bring the baby to this…don’t bring the baby to this.”
Something changes. Regina says, her voice far more subdued, “Yes, of course. I’ll leave her with my secretary,” and she hangs up at once, her heart pounding.
She wheels Elena out to the empty little office in the hall and hurries downstairs and out the door, hands twisting in uncertainty at what she’s about to do. If she’s wrong–
–but no, she sees the telltale flash of something above her, and she doesn’t look up until it’s passed. Only then does she flick her wrist and send herself right back to the hall outside her office, standing silently behind a flag in the corner and waiting.
Iago flutters into the room through an open window and Regina waits, breathless, until he lands, his body shifting and elongating in front of her. His red feathers become dull and grey, his wings cylindrical into arms, and when he stands, it’s in familiar scrubs.
“You,” Regina says, taking a step beyond the cloud.
The male nurse from the asylum turns, his eyes narrowing at her. “You’re supposed to be at the station,” he says. He’s too close to Elena, too dangerously near, and Regina calls her magic to her hands. “At the station.”
“Yes, well,” Regina says, pursing her lips. “Turns out I’m not fool enough to believe that Emma’s calling me and telling me to leave our daughter alone when you’re still out there.”
Iago sneers at her. “You should have gone,” he says coolly. “There might still be something to salvage.”
Something to salvage . Emma’s supposed to be at the station right now, and there’s no way that she’d have let Iago make that phone call if she could. Emma has been hurt too many times over the past year by shifters, and Regina can feel fury bubbling up within her, uncontrollable–
She slams a palm out and fires an electrical bolt of energy toward Iago.
He dodges it easily, and she fires again, again and again until Iago leaps into the air, a parrot again, and flutters over to settle on the handlebar of the stroller. “Still want to try that? Still want to try that?” he demands.
Regina stops, and the fury is bowled over by grief that threatens to erupt, to leave her desolate and lost and helpless. “One step and I’ll gouge out her eyes. Out her eyes,” Iago threatens. “Like I did to your wife,” and he squawks before he repeats himself. “She never saw me coming.”
“I saw her bloody corpse on the ground,” he says, sneering even in a bird’s body. “On the ground . She fought me until the end. Do you know how strong my beak is? What I can do to a human who doesn’t expect it? What I can do to a human who doesn’t expect me?”
Regina hurls herself forward, fists clenched, and Iago snaps his beak just above Elena’s nose. Regina freezes. “What do you want with her?” she says finally, her voice hoarse. Emma isn’t bleeding out somewhere. She can’t believe that. There’s a connection between them, and she knows– she knows – that she would sense it if she’d lost Emma. Emma has to be safe. She has to focus on Elena. She has to– “How the hell is an infant going to help you conquer any of Storybrooke?”
Iago turns back to her, his eyes gleaming. “ Well. You don’t know, do you?” He caws suddenly, loud and caustic, and Regina jumps. “Don’t move,” Iago orders, and there’s a low rattling sound, almost like a car being started, from behind her. “Don’t move.”
She doesn’t move, even when she feels something leathery and rough brush past her legs. The crocodile ambles forward, twisting in front of her and raising its head to give her a reptilian smile. She can sense the second one behind her without looking, her skin crawling at the first’s dead-eyed stare.
Iago transforms back, now that Regina can’t strike at him as he does so without being bitten. “You really don’t know,” he says wonderingly. “Fools. Fools,” he repeats, sneering, and he reaches into the stroller, unbuckling it as Regina’s eyes burn into him.
“You touch her and I turn you into parrot barbecue,” Regina bites out, teeth bared. Iago smirks mirthlessly and lifts Elena, holding her up under her arms– “Support her head , for god’s sake,” Regina says desperately as Elena begins to cry, fury and fear mingling into something dangerously close to despair. She wants to spit out threats, to antagonize and strike out and destroy this whole building with the ferocity of her rage. But Iago holds all she is in his hands, so fragile and delicate that a single wrong move might end her world. “Please,” she whispers, her pride forgotten.
The crocodiles are still circling, their eyes cold and hungry. There is no magic that is instant– nothing she can do without enough buildup that they won’t jump for her– or worse, Elena. She’s trapped, and she can only watch in horror as Iago walks leisurely across the room, past her to the staircase with Elena wailing in his arms, and there’s nothing she can do about it as he opens the door–
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Emma says, pointing her gun directly at Iago’s eyes, and Regina nearly weeps in relief. She’s standing in the landing at the top of the stairs, her eyes hard and cold. “Sorry about the delay,” she says. “I went to the asylum as soon as I figured out who Iago was, and I was waylaid by a tiger– you know what? It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later.” She keeps her gun trained on Iago. “One more step and I fire.”
Iago scoffs. “You wouldn’t risk your child.”
“Try me.” Emma’s hand is steady, and the crocodiles have their eyes trained on her, distracted. Regina waits, watching as they stop moving altogether– “Now, why don’t you tell us why you’re after our kid? Is there a prophecy we’ve missed? Some kind of destiny?”
Iago’s lips twist. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he says. “No prophecy,” he bites out. “No destiny.” He misses two quiet sighs of relief in the room when he repeats it. “Just sheer, unadulterated power .” He says it with a groan, and Regina’s eyes narrow. Emma cocks her gun. The crocodiles tense, eyes fixed on Emma–
Regina hurls fireballs at both of them at once, pressing forward every last bit of fire she has within her. Iago whirls around– “Shenzi!” he shouts, and the door to Regina’s office bursts open. A pack of wolves emerges, hyenas on their tails, and they’re everywhere , everything’s moving too fast and Iago has taken advantage of Emma’s distraction to jump back, out of the gun’s range–
They’re surrounded in moments, angry crocodiles roaring as the wolves and hyenas bear down on them. Emma is only a few feet away from her, and it feels like miles, like they aren’t even going to die together– one gun isn’t enough, their magic isn’t enough, and Iago still has their crying daughter.
Iago still has–
“Elena,” Regina says desperately, and Elena’s wails grow and grow as Iago swings around, holding her carelessly in front of his body like she’s a shield. She’s never been this loud before, this frantic, feeding off her mothers, and Regina’s heart breaks and break and shatters–
No , the lightbulbs in the room are shattering, glass raining down on them. “Emma?” Regina says breathlessly.
Emma says, her voice low and wondering, “No.”
The magic starts as a low, bright light, blinding as the sun as it begins to envelop Iago. He snaps out a curse, looking suddenly frightened, and it grows and grows and grows , emanating outward at impossible speed until wolves are howling and hyenas are shrieking, until Iago is screaming and the room is burning with light, with power , with a magic so bright it’s nearly white and lavender energy racing through it.
It grows in intensity, the sound accompanying it building up to a roar, to a deafening boom , to utter, complete silence–
And then a happy gurgle from Regina’s arms. Elena is comfortably resting within them, her little eyes focused on Regina’s face, and there are men and women around them where the animals had been, unconscious on the ground.
Emma says, her eyes very wide, “El– Elena ?”
Eight of the shifters agree to monitored probation. The other four choose to leave town in their human forms instead, and Iago is among them. Mulan and David take point in the cleanup, leaving Emma to sit at Granny’s with Regina and Elena, surrounded by a dozen fascinated townspeople. “She doesn’t do it on cue,” Regina says, looking both displeased and gratified at the attention. “Back up before you infect her with whooping cough,” she barks out at Archie, who sits back obligingly and clears his throat again.
Elena coos, and a little burst of magic appears in the air, falling over her like fireworks. Their audience gasps in unison. “She’s so cute ,” Ariel says.
“She’s perfect,” Mary Margaret agrees, beaming at them both. “Does she do this often?”
Emma shakes her head. “Never before today. Or– maybe once,” she amends, remembering again how odd it had been that the snake hadn’t gotten any closer to Elena’s crib when she’d come in. “She used to do these little magic kicks when she was in utero, but we thought she was piggybacking on my magic then.”
Everyone oohs. There’s a lot of oohing, and Regina isn’t the only one who’s beginning to feel claustrophobic. “We’d better take her out of here now,” Emma says hastily. “Until we figure out what exactly triggers her magic, we should…keep her out of public buildings.”
The crowd dissipates reluctantly, and Regina stalks ahead of them, holding Elena tightly and looking for all the world as though she isn’t glowing with pride right now. Emma laughs to herself, heading after her, and a hand on her shoulder stops her.
“Here,” Granny says, passing her a bag. “It’s on the house. Enjoy your little one.” It’s an apology, and one that comes complete with bear claws. Emma flashes her a tentative smile and flees the diner, dodging her mother to catch up with Regina.
“Look at that. A little explosion at Town Hall, and we’re back to town power couple,” she says, grinning. “I could have done that months ago.” She swallows, daring to ask at last. “Mary Margaret told me that they were all sure– that they thought it looked like true love magic. Is it true? You said– you said it was impossible that she’d have my magic–”
“She has both of ours,” Regina says, and her eyes are glowing. “Can’t you feel it? She’s a daughter of true love, just like you. No prophecies, no destiny to explain it away.” She tilts her head upward to the sun. “Emma, somehow, we made a baby.”
“Oh,” Emma says. It’s somehow all she can say in this moment. This is vindication, irrefutable proof that she’d never– that there is no father, no demon, no spell. It’s been the better part of a year living with this uncertainty, and watching it dissipate with five words– somehow, we made a baby – is like breathing after drowning, like standing straight after months on the ground.
Regina locks down the stroller for a moment, turning to stare at Emma with undisguised awe. “I don’t know how to apologize–”
“Please don’t.” Her voice is unsteady, and she doesn’t know if she wants to laugh or cry. “I don’t know how you stayed with me through this, not knowing this, so–”
Regina moves to her, kisses her swiftly, pulls Emma’s head down so she can kiss her forehead. “I love you,” she says, her eyes shining.
“I love you ,” Emma whispers, and they stand together in front of the stroller for a long time, hands resting in each other’s and eyes bright with unshed tears.
Henry keeps trying to make her food. Emma doesn’t know why it is that every person who wants to apologize does so with food, but she doesn’t question her favorite dinner from Regina and the dozen desserts that Henry’s wrecked the kitchen making. “You don’t need to apologize,” Emma says again. “You’re the last people who need to say anything . But, you know, if you want to…” She licks her lips. “You know how your mom makes those peanut butter cups from scratch?”
“No more,” Regina decides. “Apologies are over. You’re going to give Elena diabetes the next time you feed her.” She gives Henry a quelling look, and he shrugs sheepishly and slips rice krispie treats to Emma behind his back.
He does homework in the living room. They’ve all been spending more time in the living room since Elena was born, where there’s lots of carpeted open space and light. Henry is on the floor, tickling Elena’s belly absently as he reads aloud from Crime and Punishment , Regina is curled up on the couch and reading over his shoulder, and Emma sprawls across the other end of the couch, her head resting against Regina’s knees and her hand reaching down to Elena.
It feels like family, whole and content, and Emma sometimes thinks back to the hardened woman she’d become after she’d given Henry up– about putting on armor every day and hunting down the bad guys to feel even the tiniest bit like she’d belonged on the side of good–
That woman would never have envisioned this. She doesn’t even know if the woman who’d seen two lines on a pregnancy test seven and a half months ago would have envisioned contentment in her future, ever again.
Elena, who has not yet been clued in to the rareness of contentment in this family, spits up all over herself and Henry’s jeans. “Oh, come on, kiddo,” he groans, dabbing at it with a burp cloth as Emma retrieves the baby. “That’s it. We’re sending you back.”
It jolts something in Emma– something scared and ugly and lonely– but Henry’s kidding, she remembers. Henry’s kidding and he’s kidding with Elena, to whom that’ll always be a joke as well. Henry and Elena will never once believe that they’re unwanted, and they’ll never, in any future, believe anything but the truth about how much their mothers love them.
“She needs a bath,” Emma says. She can feel Regina’s eyes on her, watchful at the hitch in her voice, but Henry just nods fervently and returns to his book.
She sets up the baby bath in the sink and Regina comes up next to her, kissing her ear as Emma rubs a washcloth along Elena’s shoulders. “Are you all right?”
“Just happy,” Emma says honestly.
Regina says, “Good,” and sticks her fingers in the water, flicking water at Emma’s face and then sidling off.
Emma says, “Asshole,” but she’s grinning, bundling Elena up in a towel and carrying her upstairs to be dressed. Elena’s eyes are dropping, drowsy in the warmth from a very long day, and Emma feeds her with her own eyes drifting shut.
It’s almost ten pm by the time Elena’s ready for bed, and Regina joins her upstairs for what’s becoming a nighttime ritual. They take turns reading a book to her most nights, something with faces on the pages that Elena’s eyes can latch onto, and then they each kiss her goodnight.
Tonight, Emma says suddenly, “Hey. How about a fairytale?”
Regina raises her eyebrows at her. “If you’re talking about Henry’s book–”
“No.” She’d just done it to get a rise out of Regina the day before, but it had stuck with her, like a little fragment of a thought that she couldn’t quite express. She tries it now. “Once upon a time,” she says, and Regina watches her, amused. “There was a lonely little girl who no one wanted.” She swallows, rocking Elena in the glider. “She was all alone, and she was angry, and she was scared. And there were people who wanted to keep her in the place where she was alone, but one day, she ran away.”
“At which point she became a miscreant,” Regina informs Elena. “If you ever even think of stealing a car, your other mother is going to be in deep…trouble.” She picks up the thread of the story, perching on the arm of the glider and sliding an arm around Emma’s shoulders. “The lonely little girl becomes less of a little girl at this point, doesn’t she?”
“She gives up a little boy for his best chance,” Emma says, her voice rough. “And he gets it. A queen takes him to be her son, and the little prince grows up brave and happy and loved.”
“Not forever,” Regina says softly.
“Not forever,” Emma agrees. Elena is dozing in her lap, eyes closing and then opening again. “And one day, the little prince brings the lonely woman home.”
Regina laughs, rueful. “It takes some time before the queen admits that that’s where this is for all of them,” she concedes. “It takes the prince being in danger more than once.”
“There’s a lot of fighting,” Emma murmurs. “A lot of anger. And for a long time, the lonely woman fights the queen because, well…” She strokes Elena’s fine hair, soft and thin. “She doesn’t feel quite as lonely when she’s with the prince and the queen, even when they kind of want each other dead.”
“I never wanted you dead,” Regina objects. “Just…you know. Eternal sleep.” She gazes down at Elena. “The queen saw that the lonely woman was good– that she was kind and fierce and had a strong heart and was a bit of an idiot– and she wasn’t a lonely woman. She was a knight.” Emma leans back, her eyes glistening. “And I…and the queen had so much love in her heart and no one to gift it to. And there was the knight, just looking for someone to love her.”
Elena is awake again, staring at Emma’s face, and Emma whispers, “They loved her. Both of them: the prince and the queen. And the knight loved them back so much, with all her heart.”
“That’s the thing about hearts,” Regina says quietly. “There’s never all your heart. Somehow, there’s always space for someone more. And one day, through magic that we still can’t quite comprehend…” She’s the one tearing up now, shaking her head with disbelief still at how this all has gone. “One day, there was someone more.”
Elena’s eyes flutter closed. Regina lifts her from Emma’s lap, rocking her from side to side as she takes small steps toward the crib. “For a long time, the queen and the knight and the prince had broken hearts, hearts that were only completed by each other. But you –” She touches Elena’s nose. Elena gurgles drowsily in response. “You’re never going to have a broken heart, sweetheart. You have three hearts who are going to keep you whole forever.” She presses a kiss to Elena’s forehead. “We’re going to be your happily ever after, baby.”
Emma rises, joining her to kiss Elena’s forehead as well, and she murmurs, “Good night, Elena,” as Regina lowers her into her crib. They stand together over her as the mobile begins to spin, unicorns and horses dancing together as Elena watches, wide-eyed.
“Hey,” Emma says suddenly, the dates lining up. They’re two days short of one month into Elena’s life, but that means– “It’s been four weeks.”
Regina tilts her head. “Yes, it has been.”
“No, I mean–” Emma wiggles her eyebrows. “ Four weeks .”
Regina says, an air of patience around her that can’t disguise the humor in her eyes, “Yes, Emma. I know. Why do you think I’ve been sitting on the couch all night tonight, reading banal literature and waiting?”
There’s a glittering desire in her eyes, so seductive that Emma could get addicted in moments, and Emma takes an involuntary step toward her. “Let’s go to bed,” Regina purrs, slipping an arm around Emma’s waist, and they walk from the room together, leaning into each other as they close Elena’s door.
There’s a telltale thumping on the stairs as they lean in for a slow kiss, and Henry gapes at them for a moment before he shakes his head. “I know those faces. Nope . Get those smirks off your–” He shakes his head again, this time more violently.
“Go to bed, Henry,” Emma says agreeably, swatting him away as Regina rests her head on Emma’s shoulder.
“No way,” Henry says, shaking his head again. “You had Elena out of true love . That’s the story and I’m sticking to it. You have never– you two definitely aren’t–”
Regina says, staring hard at him, “We love you, Henry. Go to bed.”
Henry looks vaguely ill and more than a little spiteful as he disappears into his room. “You two had better soundproof your room.” Emma waves a hand and his door slams closed. “And use protection!” he yells through the door. “I’m not sharing my room!”
Emma laughs, tugging Regina into their room and then backing her against the wall. She’s kissing Regina’s neck, listening to the breathy moans she’s eliciting, when Henry’s final words sink in. “Wait,” she says. “Wait a second.”
“Wait? Is this some kind of joke?” Regina demands, yanking her closer. Their legs are tangled together, their bodies pressed to each other, and Regina looks none too pleased with Emma right now.
“We need–” Emma shakes her head disbelievingly. “We need protection , oh my god.” Her leg presses a little too close to Regina’s center, and Regina hisses with need and scrabbles at Emma’s shirt. “What kind of magical protection do you use to stop true love babies? How in the world are we going to research this? Do we ask–”
“Emma Swan-Mills,” Regina grits out, giving her a shove that sends Emma falling backward onto the bed. “I don’t give a damn if we have another dozen babies. I’m fucking you right now .” She hovers over Emma, eyes narrowed, and Emma tugs her down for another long kiss that turns needy, both of them rocking against each other desperately.
“If you insist,” Emma says breathlessly, biting Regina’s lip, running her hands over Regina’s skin, raising her knees so Regina fits neatly between them. The odds of her getting pregnant this early postpartum are pretty low, anyway. “But in the morning–”
“In the morning, we can do whatever you want,” Regina assures her, licking the hollow of her neck. “Right now ,” she says, her voice hard and determined in a stunningly irresistible way, “I am fucking my wife.”
“Ditto,” Emma says, and she lurches up and catches Regina’s mouth into a deep, languid kiss.
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