Roni has never really been a person who remembers her dreams, so she’s surprised when she finds the world dissolving around her and leaving her standing on a sidewalk in the middle of a town she doesn’t recognize.
Storybrooke, says a billboard across the street.
Roni shrugs, and starts walking. She’s heard of weirder things. For all she knows, she dreams in this much detail every night and forgets it all in the morning.
The street itself is oddly empty, like everyone who had lived here has either disappeared or evacuated, and on top of it there’s this weird sense of deja vu she can’t explain. It’s more than a little creepy, and in her thin Led Zeppelin t-shirt and silk scarf, Roni shivers against more than the cold.
She’s about to call out a tentative Hello? when somebody beats her to the punch.
“Regina!” calls a voice.
Roni turns, and finds a woman running to catch her up, and Roni unconsciously runs an appreciative eye over her: long blonde hair, knee high boots, and a bright red pleather jacket.
“This is crazy, right?” the woman says once she’s caught up to Roni like she thinks Roni actually knows what the hell is going on or who the hell she is. “You think magic’s going haywire or something?”
“Do I know you?” Roni asks, bewildered and trying to place her, because she’s getting a nagging sense of familiarity about her, too. Maybe this woman came through her bar a few times, and her mind has just repurposed her for whatever the purposes of this dream are.
“Uh, yeah,” the woman says, looking at her oddly. “Emma, mother of your son, friend of… seven years?”
“I don’t have a son,” Roni says, trying not to remember the sweet baby boy who had almost been hers.
“What?” the woman - Emma - says, and finally seems to focus on her. “Regina, seriously, what’s going on? Is this some sort of test or something, because look, I’m sorry for - “
“Look, Emma, is it?” Roni says firmly, and Emma stops, looking at her wide eyed. “I don’t know who you think I am, but I’ve never seen you in my life, and I definitely don’t have a son. Or any family, in fact. Not even a partner who I could hypothetically raise a son with.”
Emma’s looking at her with a strange mixture of hurt, confusion, and curiosity. “Not that you aren’t very beautiful,” Roni says, conceding to the part of that mix she can actually address.
It works - she thinks - or else Emma’s confusion grows enough to outweigh the hurt. “Uh, thanks,” she says warily. “I think. If you aren’t Regina - who are you, then?”
“Roni,” she says, and holds out her hand, which Emma gamely takes for a handshake.
“Roni,” Emma repeats slowly. “No offense, but this is one messed up dream. I’m not really sure what my subconscious is trying to tell me.”
“Same,” Roni says grimly. Emma looks at her strangely again. Roni resists the urge to remind her that she isn’t this Regina person. “I don’t even really dream, so that makes this… super weird.”
“We’ll probably forget all about this when we wake up,” Emma says, and Roni thinks she hears hopefulness underscoring her words. Well, she doesn’t blame her. Let her get back to her girlfriend and her son and her life in whatever the hell place this is.
Or alternatively, not, because this is Roni’s dream, and this woman isn’t even real.
“Yeah, probably,” Roni agrees.
She doesn’t - at least, not completely.
It’s easier to wrack her brain for memories of a gorgeous blonde in too-tight jeans and a jacket Roni would definitely steal right off her if they were dating when she’s awake and has full control over her consciousness, but Roni can’t dredge up a single memory of her. Not even someone she’d spent a little too much time admiring from behind her bar.
She dreams again two nights later, warily looking around when she finds herself outside of some diner in the same town, as abandoned and empty as everything else is.
“Why is it so cold,” she grumbles to herself, wishing her subconsciousness was at least not useful enough to dress her appropriately for the weather in her possibly not-fake dreams.
“Because you’re in Maine in the fall.”
Roni whirls around to find Emma standing behind her, looking equally warily at her. “Roni, right?” she asks.
Roni nods, and rubs her arms. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Emma says. “I’m still trying to figure out why I’m dreaming about someone who looks like Regina but doesn’t know me. If you’re not actually Regina in disguise, which I still haven’t ruled out. My mind has done crazier things with Regina.”
Roni doesn’t want to know. “Feel free not to share,” she says dryly.
Emma sputters. “What? No, I mean - magic - “
“Uh huh,” Roni says. God, this dream is weird. “Whatever. I guess technically since you’re in my dream, whatever fantasies you have are technically mine, so - “
“Whoa, whoa, wait,” Emma says. “I’m not in your dream. You’re in mine. So technically - “
“I’m not a figment of anyone’s imagination, thank you very much,” Roni says.
“What, and I am?” Emma demands, and Roni smirks.
“I wish you weren’t,” she says almost wistfully. “I’ve been trying to figure out where my brain got you from in real life. I mean, that’s how dreams work, right?”
“You know, it really almost doesn’t matter if you’re Regina. I’m clearly gonna have to slam all the doors on this shut so hard,” Emma’s muttering to herself, before she straightens and addresses Roni again. “I am not a dream person, okay?”
“Sounds like something a dream person would say,” Roni says, enjoying the frustration on Emma’s face. “Look, in this crazy dream world apparently magic is real, so why don’t you go ask your wife about it?”
“My wife?” Emma says, sputtering again. “What?”
“Whoever this Regina is. Your girlfriend?” Roni tries.
“She’s not my girlfriend, she’s my son’s mom,” Emma says, blustering, and Roni raises an eyebrow. “I’m his birthmother, she adopted him, and - it’s a long story, okay?”
“Okay,” Roni says, unconvinced. “I’m not judging you.”
“It wouldn’t matter if you were, because you’re not real. And besides, I’m married.” She must catch Roni’s unimpressed look, because she clarifies. “To a man.”
“Ugh,” says Roni, wrinkling her nose and looking Emma over again. What a waste. “Why?”
Emma’s blushing, which makes Roni smirk, just a little. So she was right about one thing, at least.
“Why do you even care if you don’t think I’m real?” Emma asks, crossing her arms defensively.
“Maybe I’m trying to figure out my own subconscious. Why would it feed me a beautiful woman who’s clearly in love with another woman who isn’t me but apparently looks like me and can possible also do magic, and who is also married to a man?” Roni says. She doesn’t think it’s an unreasonable question.
“In love?” Emma squeaks.
Roni smiles fondly. Can she be fond, if this is a figment of her imagination? What does that say about her? “I’m just saying,” Roni says, “it’s obvious there’s something I need to deal with, here. Might as well get all the information out of you I can.”
“Look, lady, whoever you are, I am not your existential crisis,” Emma says, almost sternly.
Roni laughs. “Sounds exactly like something my existential crisis would say. But hey - since we’re stuck here, mind showing a girl around town?”
It’s not a surprise the third time she finds herself in Storybrooke, but this time she’s on a dock overlooking the ocean. Living in Seattle, Roni isn’t unfamiliar with the ocean, but the differences between east and west coast are subtle in ways she can’t quite define. She’s never even been to Maine.
“Brought you a coat,” Emma’s voice comes cheerfully behind her, and Roni feels a coat being draped over her shoulders before she can even turn and take it. “Motley Crue? Really?”
“Don’t judge,” Roni snipes, and takes a closer look at her as she plops down next to her, legs swinging side by side over the edge of the dock. “You look like you’re in a good mood.”
“Talked to Regina,” Emma says. “She says sharing dreams isn’t common, but isn’t impossible, either.”
Roni pushes down the immediate and unreasonable jealousy that comes up at the sound of this other woman’s name. Emma is a figment of her imagination. This is ridiculous. She squints at her against the late afternoon sunlight, trying to parse her words despite herself. “So…. you think I’m a real person and you’re happy about it?”
“You’ve been telling me you’re a real person this whole time. Gonna change your story now?”
“No,” Roni says. “No offense, but I’m gonna go on believing you’re fake so that my mind doesn’t break.”
“Whatever you need to do,” Emma says. “So, Roni. Tell me about yourself.”
“Are we on a date?” Roni says, unable to help the question or the coy smile that turns up her lips.
“Sure, why not,” Emma says in a way that’s meant to placate her, but the effect is ruined a little by the way she’s smiling, too. “Favorite color?”
“Purple,” Roni says. “But I guess you’re after the life story stuff, right?”
“It’d help,” Emma agrees. “And hey, think about it this way - if I’m a fake person, what am I possibly gonna do with whatever you tell me?”
Emma has a point, and so Roni launches into sketching out her basics. Seattle, the bar, her troubles with Victoria Belfry. It’s a lonely life from an outsider’s perspective, so she talks a little about Kelly and her daughter when Emma asks about who she has, and even about some of the regulars at the bar - Rogers, Jacinda, Lucy, even that new guy Henry -
“Henry?” Emma asks sharply, and startled, Roni cuts herself off. “What’s - what’s Henry’s last name?”
“Uh,” Regina says, trying to picture the cover of his book and his name on it. “I don’t remember. We’ve only met a few times, but he’s a good kid. He’s a writer, Jacinda’s daughter is obsessed with this book he wrote…”
“A good kid?” Emma repeats, voice strained. “How old is he?”
“I don’t know. Thirties, I’d guess,” Roni says, and narrows her eyes suspiciously. “Why?”
Emma’s peering intently at her face now, and Roni makes a face and leans away, suddenly deeply conscious of the wrinkles she’d been accumulating over the past decade.
“How old are you?” Emma asks. “You can’t be… much more than forty.”
“Way to compliment a girl,” Roni says, annoyed despite herself.
“Stop it, you’re hot, okay? I just… need to know.”
“I’m forty one,” Roni says, only slightly mollified. “Emma, what’s the big deal? Do you know this guy? Henry?”
“Yeah,” Emma says. “Yeah, you could say that.”
“I don’t know what I should tell you,” Emma says defensively. “Let me talk to Regina and we’ll talk about it next time, okay?”
“I guess,” Roni says. Emma picks up on the whine in her voice, and grins at her.
“Don’t go start believing I’m a real person now,” she says.
“No worries there,” Roni assures her with a snort. “That would be ridiculous.”
“Henry’s last name is Mills,” Roni says the next time she dreams of Storybrooke, this time finding herself inside the empty diner and sitting at the bar.
Emma doesn’t look startled, and Roni doesn’t know if she’s disappointed. She takes a seat next to her and says, “That’s what I thought. I talked to Regina.”
“Of course you did,” Roni mutters.
“She thinks the situation is too fragile for me to tell you anything - “
“Of course she does.”
“ - especially if what she thinks is going on is going on.”
“So that’s just it?” Roni asks. “You get to know what’s going on, and I don’t?”
“Careful. I’m just a figment of your imagination, remember?” Emma says, but Roni thinks she detects some bitterness behind her steady tone. “Hey, what year is it?”
Roni stares at her dubiously. “Is one of us waking up from a coma?”
“Let me guess. Magic, right?” Roni asks.
“Uhhh,” Emma says, stalling.
“Between you and Lucy, I don’t even know what to believe anymore,” Roni says. “It’s 2017 and Trump is president, God help us. How did I do? Do I get to leave the hospital?”
“That’s…right,” Emma says, but her voice is hesitant, like it wasn’t the answer she was expecting. “Where exactly in Seattle are you?”
“A neighborhood called Hyperion Heights.” Roni rattles off the bar’s address, and Emma slows her down and makes her repeat it twice until Emma has it memorized. “You really think that’s going to work?” Roni asks skeptically.
“Worth a shot. There’s a reason we’ve ended up in the same dream four times now,” Emma says. “Why not to communicate?”
Roni laughs, the absurdity of the situation crashing over her. “Should I expect you to walk through the doors of my bar in the next few days?”
“If I can remember your address or find you online,” Emma says seriously. “Count on it.”
Days pass, and Emma doesn’t walk through the doors of Roni’s, and Roni doesn’t dream. She wonders idly if whatever magic drawing them together stopped - maybe that Regina woman had gotten involved after all. She seemed like the jealous type. Or maybe Roni’s mind had worked through whatever it needed to and jettisoned Emma out the door once she was no longer needed.
Or maybe she’s just going actually, certifiably insane.
Roni slumps and lets her head thump against the bar in the slow hour between 2:30 and 3:30 when Roni’s is empty except for a few people in the corners who aren’t paying her any attention.
“Whoa. You okay there?”
“Fine,” Roni groans, lifting her head and finding Henry Mills torn between sitting down and setting up shop at the bar and trying to offer her some kind of comfort. “Just a lot of weird stuff going around.”
“Tell me about it,” Henry says. “Here’s to being normal for a little while?”
“You got it.” Roni pours them both a drink, Henry’s much more substantial than hers. Roni imagines she can feel the tightness in her neck loosening with the first sip, and she sighs.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she tells Henry, who is looking a little disapproving of her drinking on the job. But she is a bartender, and this is her bar, and this is not her first rodeo.
Henry raises his hands in surrender. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Hey, how’s this for normal - you keep watching the door. You expecting somebody?”
Roni blushes and hates herself, because Henry catches it immediately. “Oh, whoa,” he says, intrigued. “I wasn’t expecting to be right. Who is he?”
“She,” grumbles Roni, gratified when Henry’s look of anticipation doesn’t change. “Her name is Emma.”
“Emma, huh? Better not tell Lucy, she’ll go all conspiracy theory on you,” Henry remarks, taking another sip of his drink. “So what’s the story? She must be new, right? I haven’t seen her around and missed her because heteronormativity or anything?”
“No,” Roni says, distracted. “Conspiracy theory? Why?”
“Oh you know. Like in my book. Emma Swan. I knew you were being polite about saying you’d read it,” he says, laughing. “It’s okay.”
“Oh. I must have forgot,” Roni says, but it’s unconvincing at best, and Henry just urges her to take another sip of her own drink and continue.
But Roni has a sudden feeling that maybe she shouldn’t - that describing a blonde woman with legs for miles and a red jacket who lives in Maine is something that will come back to haunt her. And so despite Henry’s open and eager expression, Roni smiles hesitantly and says, “You know, it’s new enough that I just don’t want to jinx it.”
Henry protests, but after a few well-placed details Regina half invented - it’s long distance, they’d been friends first, things are in that nebulous state when first moving into something romantic - she deftly manages to change the subject to his driving Swyft, which moves onto his next date with Jacinda with almost no prompting from her at all, and then the happy hour crowd is spilling into the bar and keeping her too busy to think.
She closes up shop, and discovers that Henry must have hustled himself behind the bar while she wasn’t looking, because a copy of his book is sitting there between the bottles. She opens it, finding it autographed and dedicated to her.
To Roni, who has her own Emma, it reads. I don’t care if you read it, I just wanted you to have a piece of me living on your shelf. HM.
Charmed despite herself, Roni flips through the pages, surprised to see illustrations along with the text. She’d already dimmed the lights in the bar, and so she brings the book closer to look at them aimlessly, imbued with a kind of magic of their own under her fingers.
Until her heart stops.
There, in a bright red pleather jacket, long blonde hair and all, is Emma. Her Emma.
Henry’s Emma too, she realizes distantly. Emma Swan. She remembers him talking about the book once. He’d said something about wanting a mother so badly he’d written himself two. Emma had said - she’d said she was her son’s birthmother, that the mysterious Regina had adopted him? The pieces don’t make sense they way they keep trying to slot themselves together in her mind. She sinks down to the floor behind the bar and cradles the open book against her legs, curled up against the back wall, suddenly desperate to know what’s in the pages.
She reads ravenously until she comes across the first illustration of Regina, and finds herself staring at her own face. A disbelieving laugh bubbles out of her, and she slams the book shut.
She’s going insane. It’s settled. An actual character from a book is appearing in her dreams - an actual character from a book Roni hasn’t even read - and Roni has had the horrible sense to fall in love with her when she was clearly involved with another fictional character on top of it. A fictional character that Roni looks just like.
Roni wants to scream. It’s past two in the morning and the world doesn’t feel like it could possibly real, headlights passing by through the windows in a blur. What is her brain even doing to her? She wants to dream of Storybrooke tonight, to find Emma and demand some answers. She wants to do literally anything but that. She ends up staying up all night, only grabbing a few hours of sleep once the sun has come up and she’s still, definitely, one hundred percent Roni, no sons, no girlfriends, just a wild imagination and a collection of band t-shirts and a bar in Seattle to her name.
“Where have you been?” is Emma’s first question the next time Roni dreams, and Roni does actually scream this time, because she’d been doing so well, dammit.
Emma looks spooked and perturbed when Roni turns back around to face her, fury on her face, to demand, “Is your last name Swan?”
It’s an expression that bleeds more into that goddamn hopefulness, and Emma says, “Regina?”
“I am not Regina!” Roni shouts, and Emma flinches.
“Okay, okay, sorry,” she says. “How did you know my last name?”
“It was in a book,” she says, and laughs, because she can’t help it. “It was in a book with your face and your stupid jacket - “
“Hey,” Emma objects.
“How is this happening?” Roni demands. “You’re just a character in a book. A book I hadn’t even read until four days ago. And meanwhile I’m actually expecting you show up in Seattle like you’re a flesh and blood person, and of course, you aren’t.”
For the first time, Emma looks disconcerted at Roni’s repeated insistence that she isn’t real. “What do you mean I’m a character in a book?”
“Henry, Henry Mills, who is your son, who wrote himself as a character in this book where you are his mother, left me his book as a gift,” Roni says. “How could you not tell me he was your son? You were afraid I’d put it together, and what? Not dream anymore? Wipe you out of existence?”
“If I’m not a person, then why would I be afraid?” Emma says logically, but Roni’s not wrong - there’s actual fear in her voice.
“You tell me!” she exclaims. “You’re a figment of my imagination. An elaborate figment, but still not real. I must be the one who’s afraid, so tell me so I can get on with dealing with it.”
“Roni,” Emma says, voice shaking, and she reaches out a questioning hand.
“Don’t,” Roni says. “Whatever your issues actually are with this Regina person, you don’t get to use me to deal with them. Ugh, this is so fucked up, I can’t even keep it straight.”
“Then don’t try,” Emma says. “Look, I want to come to Seattle right now, but Regina says - “
“Oh, spare me,” Roni snarls.
“Regina says it’s a bad idea,” Emma says determinedly. “And I trust her, and I don’t want to put either of you in danger.”
“Either of us,” scoffs Roni, but Emma doesn’t elaborate, raising her head and daring Roni to ask the damn question. She doesn’t.
“So until it’s safe, we’re stuck sharing these dreams,” Emma continues once Roni has backed down.
“And I’m the one stuck feeling like I’m going crazy,” Roni says.
Some of the fierceness on Emma’s face softens into sympathy, and when she steps forward this time, Roni doesn’t rebuff her. “I know it’s hard,” she says, “but can you just - have faith? For me?”
Roni wants to protest that she doesn’t know what she’s asking, but remembers her story pressed together in rows and rows of text in Henry’s book. Against her better judgment, she exhales heavily and says, “Fine.”
Emma’s smile is small but brilliant, and Roni thinks going crazy might just be worth it.
Everything changes when Ivy comes into her bar and spikes her drink and -
Mother - the King - Snow - Storybrooke - Henry - Emma -
Henry comes into Roni’s the day after, and Regina keeps her cry of Henry! to herself. Oh God - her baby boy -
He settles at the bar the same way he always does, and her eyes trace his face hungrily.
“So,” she says. “I read your book. Nice dedication, by the way.”
“Oh,” he says, looking sheepish. “I was feeling a little maudlin. I didn’t mean to force it on you.”
“You didn’t,” she assures him. Oh, her son, always the author, trying to correct things even when he wasn’t aware that things were wrong. She wants to tell him that Emma would be proud. She wants to tell him how much she loves him, She wants to gather all her family in this bar and revel in having enough family to fill it.
“So? What’d you think?” he asks, clearly not sheepish enough to not ask for feedback.
“I think… that it was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever read,” she says sincerely. “I also think that someday soon, I owe you a story.”
He’s blushing at her praise, and she delights in being able to give it without him saying it’s only because you’re my mom. “Emma, huh?” he asks. “I’m definitely waiting for that story.”
“Soon,” she promises, grinning. “Any day now.”
It’s a few days before Regina dreams of Storybrooke again, and when she does, she takes the opportunity to take in all the old familiar sights before Emma shows up. This Storybrooke is frozen a good fifteen years in her past, and it brings on a fit of nostalgia to see it again the way it had been when Henry had been in high school. She half expects him to barrel around a corner any moment now.
It’s Emma who comes around the corner instead, and when she does, she’s complaining.
“I know you’re all familiar with the town now and everything, but you’re making it really hard to find you,” she grumbles, and Regina can’t help the broad grin that overtakes her face.
It seems to unnerve Emma slightly. “Roni?” she asks, but there’s a suspicion behind her eyes that Regina is happy to stoke.
“No,” Regina drawls, and watches Emma as it hits her.
“Regina?” she says, but she already knows the answer and is moving before Regina nods, her arms tight around Regina’s shoulders by the time Regina’s confirmed it. “Oh my God, I’m so glad you remember. You have no idea how many times I just wanted to hop on a flight and come see you.”
“A bad idea,” Regina says. “I’m glad you actually listened to me about that. For once.”
“So what’s actually going on?” Emma asks, drawing back. “Can I hop on a flight now?”
“Actually… no,” Regina tells her. “This isn’t something you can fix. At least, not right now, considering I’m in your future.”
In the time it takes to briefly explain the situation to her, Emma grows visibly more upset.
“You honestly mean that now I know for sure that it’s you and I’m not crazy, I’m just supposed to just leave you there?” she asks. “Leave Henry there?”
“Say you do break the curse,” Regina says. “There wouldn’t be anywhere for me and Henry to go. We’d be living out of time forever. We wouldn’t be able to come home ever again if we didn’t want to change anything about our pasts.”
Regina watches the understanding break over Emma’s face along with the inevitable frustration, and sympathizes; but she’s spent long enough trying to think her way out of this one herself to know there isn’t an easy solution this time.
“And… you don’t?” Emma checks, and Regina is reminded of a nine year old Henry, looking up at her for reassurance or approval. Regina smiles a little. The last decade or so has been hard in its own ways, but it’s also given her a daughter in law and a granddaughter, a whole host of new friends, and a place and purpose outside of Storybrooke.
“No,” she confirms gently. “We’re all okay, Emma. I promise.”
“Except for you guys being under another curse, sure,” Emma says.
“Aside from that,” Regina agrees.
Emma stares at her silently for a moment, clearly struggling with something; and patiently, Regina waits her out. It doesn’t take long.
“You can come home, right?” she asks. “I get from all the stuff you’re not saying that we don’t live in the same place anymore in the future. Whatever curse this was hit you and Henry and not me, and I don’t get it, but future me has to know you’re missing, and I don’t want to just be always wondering for the rest of my life. Or stuck trying having missed a decade of yours and Henry’s lives when it’s finally “safe” to contact you, only Henry will be almost as old as me, probably with five kids in middle school, all of which I’ll have missed. You know?”
“Emma,” Regina says softly, thinking of the child Henry does have in middle school.
“Because I’ve already done that,” Emma continues. “And you don’t want me to change anything, I get it. But you’re asking me to miss out on my life when I made a decision years ago to stop doing that.”
“I’m not asking you to do that,” Regina says firmly, stepping forward and watching as Emma’s eyes snap up to meet her, relishing the return of a hint of that old magnetism that kept their eyes on each other in the old days. “I’m asking you to help me find a way home.”
Emma searches her eyes. “Really?”
“I think that’s the reason for these dreams,” Regina admits. “I need help - more help than I’ve got, anyway. I haven’t even figured out how to break the curse yet, let alone deal with time travel. The best I can figure is this is me, reaching out. Which technically speaking should be impossible.”
“It’s time travel… in your dreams,” Emma says, looking a little awed. “Regina, that’s insane.”
“But why me? This me, I mean.”
“You mean why grab you out of my past?” Regina clarifies, and Emma nods. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you need time to figure it out, and some part of me knows that. Maybe… maybe I just missed you.” Maybe I thought you would be the mostly likely version of you to help me, she doesn’t say.
It’s a good thing, because Emma’s looking uncomfortable enough. “So my job is to figure out time travel, wait fifteen years, and then come and get you?”
“Essentially.” At Emma’s look, Regina says defensively, “I never said it was a plan you’d like. Forgive me for not having control over things, here.”
Emma ignores her. “But how do you know that this won’t change the future? Or your past. Whatever,” she asks. “How do you know that all this hasn’t already changed it?”
At this, Regina laughed, and Emma looks startled at the reaction she wasn’t expecting. “Do you know, I remember all of this?” Regina says, gesturing towards her. “You kept talking for weeks about this woman named Roni you’d met in your dreams who looked exactly like me, except she was cool and sexy and a bartender, and I was so jealous.”
“Jealous?” Emma asks, but Regina purposely doesn’t clarify. Emma had also been married - is still married - and so her jealousy of some dream woman seemed particularly misplaced.
“And I wondered just what it said about both of us that you were having these dreams, until you came over one day and determinedly ran a Google search for Roni’s in front of me, and I came face to face with what could only be my future self.”
“What’s your point?” Emma says, still a little pink in the face.
“My point is - if something was going to change my past, I’m already a product of it,” Regina says. “Maybe this was always meant to happen.”
“What? You were always meant to yank a version of me fifteen years out the past into your dreams to bring you home?” Emma asks, eyebrows raised.
“Why not? What isn’t possible with us?” Regina says. She means to lighten the mood, but there’s that glimmer of awe again shining through Emma’s expression, and she concedes she might have miscalculated.
Nevertheless, it seems to have done the trick. Finally, quietly, Emma asks, “Was I right that you and me and Henry are separated in the future?”
“Yes,” Regina replies after a moment’s pause. “It wasn’t a bad parting, I promise.”
“So you mean - I just let you both go?” Emma asks, and when Regina doesn’t response, she scoffs. “That’s worse. How did I do that? How am I supposed to do that now, knowing what I know?”
“If I’m right, the question is how did you already do it?” Regina says. “I made a choice, and so did you, and it was right for both of us. It wasn’t this… inevitable, heart wrenching decision point, or whatever you’re envisioning.” Regina steps forward and takes Emma’s hand on impulse. It looks like the touch startles Emma, but she returns the pressure around Regina’s fingers. “Just… live your life. Be happy. They’re good lives.”
“You promise?” Emma asks, and Regina smiles, brushes a hand over her cheek.
“Yeah,” she says, and with a pang, she thinks of Hook, and the beautiful daughter Emma hasn’t even conceived yet. She thinks of Ella and Lucy, Henry with a family all of his own. She thinks of a fifteen years younger Regina, tucked away right this very moment on Mifflin Street while her best friend is dreaming all this. There is so much future in front of them both. “Do you?”
And wetly, Emma laughs, as if she knows exactly what Regina’s thinking of. “Yeah.”
With that out of the way, they both start planning in earnest, building out theories and avenues for Emma to research and pinning down the date they were cursed back in time. Regina has a sneaking suspicion that they’re not going to be missed by the people of Storybrooke anywhere near the full year and a half she’s calculated they’ve been in Hyperion Heights based on Roni’s records.
They talk for what seems like hours, until the world is lightening around them, sure sign that one of them is waking up. Impulsively, Regina hugs Emma, glad to feel Emma’s arms coming up around her and returning the pressure.
“Come find us, okay?” Regina says despite herself.
“There’s a joke in there, but I won’t say it,” Emma says, hugging her back.
It’s just as well. Unable to help herself, she leans over and presses her lips to the corner of Emma’s, but Emma surprises her and turns her head so that their lips meet again fully. Regina’s hands inevitably drift up to Emma’s cheeks, her thumbs stroking back and forth. It’s more of a comfort and a reassurance than anything else, and Emma’s eyes are wet and sparkling when they both draw back enough to look at each other.
“Sorry,” she says, wide-eyed.
Somewhere in her mind, Roni is cackling. “You’ll see me again,” Regina promises her.
“I’m seeing you at breakfast in the morning, but we both know it’s not the same,” Emma says.
“You’ll see me again,” Regina repeats firmly, and finally, finally, Emma nods.
“Do you think we’ll keep dreaming like this?” she asks, and Regina tightens her grip on her arms.
“I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out,” she says honestly. She has no idea what her mind is doing, or what it will do now that she and Emma have a plan. Regina doesn’t want to say goodbye to this much younger Emma, and so she doesn’t - she’ll see her soon, she will.
As if Emma’s reading her mind, she promises in turn, “I’m coming for you.” A half grin quirks her lips upward before Regina can’t see her anymore. “Keep an eye out for me.”
The next day, Regina cleans obsessively while trying not to look at the door every two minutes.
“Looking out for someone?” Henry asks knowingly. “Is this the day I finally get to meet her?”
“We’ll see,” Regina hazards.
“Careful, or I’m gonna start thinking you made her up,” Henry teases her, but it causes a knot to form in Regina’s stomach. He notices, because of course he does, and puts a steadying hand on hers. “Relax, I’m just teasing. I’m sure she’s great, and obviously I don’t have a right to meet her or anything, if you don’t want to introduce her.”
“You’re sweet,” Regina says distractedly, patting his hand in return, “but it’s not that.”
Regina has kept Henry’s book under the bar, thumbing through it hungrily when no one’s looking only to stop on Emma’s face. The cover of the book, inscribed with her son’s name, stares up at her now as if to mock her, and Regina finally acknowledges her greatest fear: What if, after everything, none if it was anything more than a product of Regina’s subconscious, stuck in a corner and longing for Emma? Regina has spent most of the morning and all of the afternoon trying not to let this thought paralyze her, wishing she had something she could do to prove Emma’s existence the way Emma had hers, and fighting against herself now that she’s already operating almost entirely on faith to let go and trust the rest of the way.
She’s real, she’s real, she’s real, Regina thinks at that cover. It doesn’t have to be today.
“Uh, Roni?” asks Henry.
She looks up to find that Henry has turned toward the door and gone a little white in the face, looking like he’s seen a ghost. “Henry? What is it?” she asks.
“I think your friend might have shown up,” he says, and nods to the door.
And there - blonde hair, red pleather jacket, legs and boots and jeans - is Emma Swan.
Emma Swan fifteen years older with new lines subtly marking the passage of time on her face, Emma Swan having waited fifteen years to find Regina and Henry; Emma Swan here, and real, and not even close to being a figment of Regina’s imagination.
Regina’s rounded the bar and met Emma halfway before she can think about it, and Emma catches her, nearly sobbing into her hair, “Regina.”
Regina clutches back at her, dimly aware that they’re making a spectacle of themselves, and Henry, Henry their son, is watching with only the smallest suspicion of what he’s actually witnessing, of how close he is to the two mothers he’d thought he had to settle for writing into existence. But here, in this moment, Regina is only capable of focusing on Emma’s hands shaking against her hair, and the solidness of her back under Regina’s hands.
Emma’s pressing a kiss to her temple before Regina can register it, and like it always it when she finds herself impossibly in the epicenter of this miracle, the wave that bursts outward from where Emma’s lips touch her skin leaves Regina stunned and breathless and so, so grateful.
“Holy shit,” says Henry behind them.
Regina laughs, still stunned, but Emma’s already grabbed her cheeks and is pressing a proper kiss to her lips. Regina squeaks a little but tilts her head and responds once she’s gotten over the initial surprise of it (“Holy shit!” Henry’s yelping again somewhere in the background), almost unable to believe that this is anything more than a dream, either. Emma is fifteen years older, almost a stranger to her in the same way Regina must have been a stranger to the Emma who’s been haunting her dreams, but she feels the same, and Regina’s not able to do anything for a long moment other than finally, finally let go and lean into it.
One week later, Regina dreams, finding herself in her own bar. It’s empty, except for one woman sitting at one of the low tables, feet up on the chair next to her.
Entertainingly, she almost falls out of both chairs when she catches sight of Regina.
“Hi,” Emma says, startled. Regina steps forward and lets her eyes trace her face - younger and subtly different from the woman whose arms she’d fallen asleep in, but still so, so familiar. Emma, Regina wants to groan, wants to wake up and hit her until she wakes up and explains herself, because in all her filling in Regina on the hows and whats and whys of how she’d come to show up at Roni’s, all the conversations about their lives and now what and where do we go from here, she apparently hadn’t thought to mention this.
Emma’s looking at her nervously now, and Regina lets a slow smile spread across her face.
“Hi,” she replies. “I guess we aren’t going to stop dreaming like this, after all.”