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find my hand in the dark (and hold on tight)

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Regina is baking bread when the first body appears outside her door.

 

 

She is kneading with more force than strictly necessary, muscles burning and wrists aching from the minutes of non-stop abuse. But as she has reached a point in her life where razing villages is unacceptable, she takes out her stress by baking.

 

 

And feeling completely, utterly useless stresses her out. Not knowing what, exactly, has happened to-

 

 

Not knowing stresses her out.

 

 

The very real possibility of Emma being-

 

 

Of-

 

 

She grits her teeth and kneads harder, folding the dough in half, rotating, and pressing again, and she can feel a bead of sweat gathering at her nape. Her bones cry out in exhaustion, the constant activity reminding her body that she hasn’t slept through the night since that night. Since the night Emma plunged the dagger into the Darkness, saving her.

 

 

And then disappeared.

 

 

No one has heard a single thing from her since. The Darkness seems to have gone, and no spells, no curses, no amount of magic have been able to turn up a single shred of evidence that Emma might still be alive.

 

 

But she is. She must be. Emma is too stubborn to die like this.

 

 

Regina knows it, not only from her name etched on the dagger, but a feeling deep in her gut. Emma might be trapped in another realm or Merlin knows what, but she is alive. Regina can sense it.

 

 

(She would know.

 

 

Wouldn’t she?)

 

 

The fact that she can’t prove it, can’t do anything about it...

 

 

Well, there is a reason she is pushing herself to the point of physical exhaustion just so she can claim a few hours of sleep.

 

 

She is just placing the dough into the bowl for its first rise when the doorbell chimes. It takes half a second to process, her eyes jumping to the clock out of habit, confirming that it is nearly midnight.

 

 

Then she drops the bowl back onto the counter with a deep thunk and rushes to the entryway. She doesn’t even wipe off her hands before she yanks the door open.

 

 

A gasp catches in her throat, turning into a cough.

 

 

There, lying on her front porch, is Whale.

 

 

There is no blood, and if it weren’t for his eyes, wide open and lifeless, she would think he was just passed out after too much to drink.

 

 

But Regina has seen more than enough dead bodies to know one when she sees it. Regardless, she bends down to check for a pulse. There isn’t one, no surprise, though the body is only slightly cool to the touch. A fresh kill. She backs away, leaving a smear of flour on his pulse point, and mutters a spell and waves her hands, casting light in a twenty foot radius around her.

 

 

She spins in a slow circle, fist ready to draw a fireball at a moment’s notice. At any speck of something that looks like it doesn’t quite belong.

 

 

She sees nothing, even after she traipses to each side of the mansion. A stray cat startles and runs off into the treeline, but no clues as to where the body came from or who might have done it. Still, she has the strangest sensation that the killer is lurking. Watching.

 

Ignoring the feeling, Regina stalks back inside. washes her hands, grabs her phone, and calls the acting Sheriff. (She refuses to use the title without the qualifier.)

 

 

“David here.”

 

 

“You need to get over here. Now.”

 

 

##

 

 

There is no official cause of death, not days later after the coroner took the body and examined it under the most intense scrutiny.

 

 

Regina isn’t surprised. In fact, she would have been able to tell that the night she found the body.

 

 

It was clearly a magical death, and not an easy one, either.

 

 

His heart was still in his chest, and his neck had showed no signs of strangulation, magical or otherwise.

 

 

Regina thinks back, back to the Dark spells she had known and used once upon a time. Thinks of one in particular. It had been from a book Rumple had left lying about after one of their lessons. At the time, she had been too young, too naive enough to realize that he had left it out by design. She thought she had slipped the book into her bags without his notice, but it had likely been his aim all along. Nothing he had done in those years had been without purpose.

 

 

She had examined the tome out of morbid curiosity, her stomach churning at each spell darker than the next, and then quickly hidden it at the very bottom of her trunk. She had not made use of the book until years later, not until she had become the Evil Queen in both deed and name.

 

 

But the very last spell in it had been a single spell she had never been powerful enough to use, even at her darkest.

 

 

The Heartstop Spell did exactly what its name proclaimed. It stopped the living object’s heart instantaneously, leaving not a single shred of evidence behind. It could be accomplished over any distance, so long as you focused intently on the specific person or creature you desired to kill. Requiring no scroll, no sacrifices, and a mere one-word incantation, it relied purely on the power of the being casting it.

 

 

But the power one would have to wield it...she had regarded it as a kind of joke, back then. Perhaps some morbid humor on the part of whomever had authored the original text.

 

 

But now Regina is less convinced. Not only because it fits Whale’s murder so perfectly, but because the only record of the spell is locked in her vault, sealed away with all the other magical things that should never be touched.

 

 

Her vault where Emma knows not only how to get in, but is always welcome – quite literally, due to a blood ward the two of them had set up. Regardless of any curses or seals any other magic user might attempt, she and Emma will both always be able to access it.

 

 

Her vault. A safe, secluded place steeped in magic, where she has been begging Emma to appear for days, to no avail.

 

 

But where she might be now.

 

 

Regina magicks herself to the vault for the fifth time since Whale’s appearance on her porch, and it is empty as ever. Either her instinct is wrong, or she is right and just has faulty timing.

 

 

Or.

 

 

Regina stands up straighter as the thought occurs to her for the first time, and she nearly smacks herself in the head.

 

 

Or Emma has set up a magical alarm that goes off when someone is about to teleport to her location.

 

 

Well, two can play at that game.

 

 

Regina does’t know that spell by heart, hasn’t done it in far too long. She rifles through two trunks before she finds the book she needs, leaving the rest a jumbled mess on the floor as she turns and begins to measures her potions precisely.

 

 

And if her hands aren’t as steady as they usually are, well, she hasn’t had much sleep lately.

 

 

##

 

 

The Charmings are leading the rest of the town on a witch hunt, convinced that their precious daughter would not do such a thing, not even under the influence of the Darkness. They would prefer to think of her dead.

 

 

They don’t seem to remember how thin the line between not killing and killing can be. Regina will never have that luxury.

 

 

Neither should they, given their history. Snow White killed her mother, and sometimes she is grateful and sometimes she buries it and sometimes she seethes.

 

 

But that is neither here nor there.

 

 

The relevant fact is that Regina is the only one who is even considering that Emma might be behind this.

 

 

And she is. Regina knows it with a surety that makes her ill. She just wants to find her, to talk to her. See if there is a way to resolve this that doesn’t end in either of them dying.

 

 

There has to be. And she will find it.

 

 

##

 

 

One hour later, the spell is complete. She carefully removes all evidence, hoping that Emma does not have any spying measures around the vault, or her trap will be completely ruined. She will be alerted to the presence of foreign magic - any magic other than her own - instantaneously. But it will take a few minutes for the user to be analyzed and the results concluded and sent to her. If it is destroyed before that, or the user leaves too quickly, she will be without answers.

 

 

Regina wakes with a start just before three the next morning, the magical alarm blaring in her head. It takes everything she has not to transport herself to her vault immediately.

 

 

Instead, she flings off the covers and tosses on the first outfit she sees in her closet, waiting for the next part of the alarm. It could be anyone. It could be some new warlock come to destroy their town.

 

 

But she knows, she knows it has to be Emma.

 

 

So she waits, pacing back and forth along her bedroom floor, until finally it comes to her in a wave. The feel of the intruder’s magic washes through her, and it does not feel at all like Emma’s magic. Emma’s had felt like light and heat, sometimes a comforting warmth, sometimes a burn that could scorch right through you.

 

 

This feels...cold. This is ice and sharp, cold steel, yet not unwieldy. Slippery like oil. Like if you tried to manage it, you would be left with nothing in your hands as it slithered away from you quick as lightning.

 

 

But the image in her head, the person appearing in her vault.

 

 

It is unmistakably Emma.

 

 

Regina can’t help herself. She transports to the vault immediately, leaving the list of reasons why she shouldn’t behind. (There was never a chance she would listen to them anyway.)

 

 

She knows Emma could be dangerous – is dangerous, really, one murder to her name already - but Regina can protect herself. She has to see Emma. She has to.

 

 

But she doesn’t.

 

 

When she appears in her vault, it is completely empty. She turns in a complete circle, and...nothing. Not even a hint of dissipating smoke from a sudden teleportation.

 

 

“Emma?” she asks hesitantly, addressing what appears to be an empty room. “I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to make sure you’re alright. If you’re here, show yourself. Please.” She hates her voice for cracking slightly on the last word, but even she has a breaking point. And it turns out that breaking point might be Emma.

 

 

But calm or not, nothing happens. No invisible Emma popping into existence, no movement, no signs.

 

 

Nothing. Just emptiness.

 

 

“Dammit!” Regina shouts, and she longs to kick something. Instead, she conjures three fireballs in quick succession, hurling them at the stone steps where they hit and fizzle into nothing.

 

 

But she knows Emma was here. And this time, not only in a gut feeling. She knows, for sure.

 

 

She debates for a few minutes, deciding whether or not to keep the information to herself, but she has to tell the Charmings, if only so they can reroute their ridiculous crusade.

 

 

##

 

 

She goes back to bed and manages to nab and hour or two of sleep before the sun rises. She sends Henry off to school and immediately teleports herself to the Charmings’ apartment.

 

 

She knocks, and Snow hollers, “Come in!” through the closed door.

 

 

Regina does, cautiously, and the first thing she sees is Snow walking by with Baby Neal in arms, a startled expression on her face when she sees Regina.

 

 

The second is the fact that there are no fewer than eight people gathered in the living room. Clearly, she has interrupted some sort of meeting.

 

 

“Regina. Hi. I’m sorry, I thought you were Granny,” Snow says awkwardly, positioning herself so that Regina would have to look away from the living room to see her.

 

 

Regina ignores her, looking at the assembly instead.

 

 

She turns back. “So, what is this? The Save Emma committee? I thought you’d decided she was-”

 

 

“I know what I said. I hadn’t slept in two days, Regina. I didn’t know what to think. But she’s alive. I know it. She must be trapped somewhere-”

 

 

“She’s not trapped anywhere. She’s free enough to kill a man and drop him on my doorstep.”

 

 

Snow recoils. “I know that’s what you think, but I know Emma. She would never do that, not under the worst influence. She’s too strong.”

 

 

Regina grits her teeth, knowing that this argument will always hit too close to home.

 

 

“I just dropped by to let you know that I’ve seen her.”

 

 

Snow’s jaw drops, and David hops up from where he has been pretending not to listen in the living room.

 

 

“Where? When? How?” David asks, with Snow throwing similar words at her in different order.

 

 

“Well, I technically didn’t see her. Not exactly. But I set a magical alarm on my vault, something that will alert me if someone enters it, and give me a feel for their magic as well as an image, if they stay long enough. And she did. In the middle of the night last night.”

 

 

“But you didn’t actually see her?” Snow frowns.

 

 

“Not exactly, no. I teleported, but she left before I arrived.”

 

 

“You’re sure it was her?” David asks.

 

 

“Without a doubt.”

 

 

She stays only long enough to watch as Snow conveys the message to the rest of the group, then leaves. She’s only a few feet down the sidewalk when a voice cries out behind her.

 

 

“Hey!”

 

 

Regina turns around and finds Leroy stumbling down the stairs after her, an intense expression on his face.

 

 

“You need to stop,” he growls.

 

 

“Excuse me?”

 

 

“Emma is innocent. She is a product of True Love, the daughter of the best two people I know. And I’m not going to let some former Evil Queen with a guilty conscience come in and mess it all up.”

 

 

He’s close enough that she can smell his rank breath, heavily laced with alcohol, despite the early hour. It makes sense, as she knows Emma has picked him up numerous times at all hours of the day for public drunkenness. Plus, though he has never made his dislike of her a secret, he certainly would not be so audacious as to threaten her to her face while sober. Not when they are nothing close to an even match. She could squish him like a bug if she chose to.

 

 

But she won’t.

 

 

Though the urge is there, like it always is, just a smallest niggle. Instead, she opts for pacifying, something that still will likely never stop grating her nerves.

 

 

“Listen. We’re on the same side here. I want to find Emma and save her from the Darkness, too. But staying in denial isn’t going to help her or anyone else.”

 

 

She tries to move forward, but he jumps in front of her again, sneering in her face.

 

 

“You need. To back off. Or there will be consequences.”

 

 

“Go home. Sleep it off. Talk to me again when you’re sober.”

 

 

This time, when she moves to walk on, he stands aside.

 

 

“I’m serious!” he shouts behind her back, but she does not turn toward him again. Instead, she walks all the way to Town Hall and buries herself in her work, both Storybrooke and Emma related.

 

 

Just because she had owed the Charmings the revelation that Emma is here in Storybrooke, she certainly does not need to be teamed up with them. Not when they have half the town on their side, and most of them are too enamored with some pretty blonde hair to be realistic.

 

 

She has a lot of planning to do.

 

 

First, she just has to figure out what Emma, or the Darkness inside of her, wants.

 

 

##

 

 

What, exactly, Emma wants remains a mystery, but what she does in her spare time is becoming less of one when Regina opens the door early the next morning to find another corpse on her doorstep.

 

 

It is Leroy this time, and she calls David immediately, her mind whirring.

 

 

Henry is shuffled off to school, and David appears only moments after.

 

 

A quick inspection of the body tells him what she had already known - dead, no apparent cause, just like the body before.

 

 

Only this time, she knows why.

 

 

“It’s me.”

 

 

David frowns at her.

 

 

“Obviously we knew Emma - the Darkness, whatever - was targeting me for some reason. And now I think I know why. I think she’s...protecting me. In a strange way. Maybe wooing me, I’m not sure.”

 

 

David’s eyebrows shoot up toward his hairline. “What do you mean?”

 

 

“I think the Darkness likes me. It went after me first, remember? And even though it now inhabits Emma instead, it’s still focused on me. Leroy threatened me yesterday.”

 

 

David’s starts to break in, but she holds up a hand. “And Whale almost backed into me in that stupid convertible of his at the grocery store the day before he died. It didn’t seem relevant before. But now it seems like the Darkness is definitely focused on me. Now all I need to know is why. Why does it want me? What does it need? I need to find out how much say Emma has in her own actions, or if she is merely a puppet for the Darkness.”

 

She paces as she rambles, and it’s only when he lets out a huge sigh that she really even remembers he’s there.

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“Precisely.”

 

 

##

 

 

She doesn’t go to the office that day.

 

 

Instead, she sends some of Henry’s important things over to the Charmings, phones the school to let them know he will need to be dropped there in the afternoon, and then she gets to work.

 

 

She spends half a day putting an extremely powerful warding spell in place around her home office. No one will be able to see or hear any of the goings on therein, nor will they be able to enter it without the password. She fortifies it with every element she knows, weaving the strongest spell she is capable of. She only hopes it’s enough.

 

 

As she works, the guilt weighs heavier and heavier, two more souls to add to the piles of demons she faces when she lies down to go to bed at night. She may not have been fond of these men, and she may not have taken a knife or fireball to them herself. But she had caused their deaths as surely as if she had raised vines from the earth and choked the life out of them herself.

 

 

And Regina cannot allow that to happen again.

 

 

So if she can’t find Emma to confront her, she will merely stay hidden.

 

 

She pauses briefly to make herself dinner and call the Charmings, asks them to tell her anything that could possibly indicate another attack. And then she gets back to work.

 

 

Another mystery is how Emma continues to evade the Summons.

 

 

She had muttered the Summons a dozen times over in those first few days, clenching the dagger bearing Emma’s name in her fist until her knuckles turned white. All to no avail.

 

 

Maybe magic this strong truly has no weakness, but surely that cannot be the case. Surely there must be some sort of weakness.

 

 

And she will find it. For Emma’s sake, she will try again and again until she can’t try anymore.

 

 

“Dark One, I summon thee.” She says it just outside of her office door, able to step inside if she should need to.

 

 

Not that she thinks she would.

 

 

But just as a precautionary measure.

 

 

This is not Emma, after all. Not entirely, at least. And until she knows what exactly she is dealing with, after two murders - that she knows of - she is not going to take any chances.

 

Well, perhaps summoning the Ultimate Dark One up while alone in a house is not exactly a risk-free endeavor, but at least she has a contingency plan. Which is more than she could say for Emma had Emma been the one in this mess.

 

 

If Emma…

 

 

Emma does not appear, not that she was really expecting her to, but Regina almost doesn’t even notice as the idea slams into her. So obvious. So clear.

 

 

That’s it.

 

 

She needs to switch places with Emma. To take the Darkness on herself. Or at least pretend to.

 

 

Regina is the one the Darkness wants, the one it has wanted from the beginning. She has been going about this all the wrong way.

 

 

Now she knows.

 

 

If the Darkness wants to be inside her, she will just have to trick it into thinking she will allow it. And find a way to kill it while it is in that vulnerable, bodiless state.

 

 

Of course, if she fails, she will become the Dark One. The thought of that icy, oily Darkness living inside her body makes her shudder, but she steels herself. She won’t fail.

 

 

She walks to her office and gets to work.

 

 

##

 

 

“Why are you hiding from me?”

 

 

Regina freezes, eyes focused on the text in front of her but unable to take in a single letter. It’s the middle of the night - she never sleeps anymore, apparently, preparing for her life as the Dark One before it even begins. Perhaps she fell asleep for a moment and hallucinated-

 

 

“Regina. I know you’re in there. Please talk to me?”

 

 

But this is real. This is Emma’s voice, in reality, for the first time since that night.

 

 

She shoves away so quickly that her chair careens back into the wall, hits her thigh on the edge of the desk in her haste to get to the door.

 

 

She flings it open, and there.

 

 

There is Emma.

 

 

She is turned in profile, her those blonde princess curls tumbling down her back, a black leather jacket around her shoulders, black jeans instead of her usual blue.

 

 

But she looks like Emma.

 

 

Until she turns.

 

 

Regina half expects some dark eyeliner to complete the look, wants to make a snarky comment about 90s grunge having a comeback, but the line stops in her throat when she meets Emma’s eyes.

 

 

Because they aren’t Emma’s, not truly.

 

 

They are a scaly, flat gold. The eyes of a Dark One. And somehow, she just wasn’t prepared for that.

 

 

“Emma.”

 

 

“Why are you hiding from me?”

 

 

“Do you really need to ask that?”

 

 

She cocks her head to the side, almost cat-like. “Yes. I would never hurt you.”

 

 

“Perhaps not, but you don’t seem to have the same compunction when it comes to others.”

 

 

Emma shrugs, and that’s when Regina knows that she needs to stop thinking of this Thing as Emma. Emma would never brush off the murder of another person. Punching them, maybe. But never killing them, with a justifiable reason or not.

 

 

“I’m protecting you. Call me your guardian angel, if you will.”

 

 

“I will do no such thing. And you need to learn the difference between a threat and an annoyance. I was in no danger from either of those men.”

 

 

The eyes are impassive.

 

 

Regina steps forward and speaks on a hunch. “And I think you know it.”

 

 

Still nothing from the eyes, but one side of her mouth curls up just the tiniest bit.

 

 

And Regina’s stomach roils.

 

 

“Where’s Emma?”

 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

 

“I mean, you’re not Emma. You may be in her body, but her soul, her self...it isn’t there. Did you kill her?”

 

 

“No, she’s...in here. Somewhere.” The tiny grin grows into a full-fledged smirk. “Let’s just say she isn’t exactly the one holding the reins.”

 

 

Good. Then Emma will still be alive when she is able to coax the Darkness out. But she doesn’t want to let onto her plan, and she still has more questions.

 

 

“Where were you? Those first days. Before Whale. Why couldn’t I summon you?”

 

 

Emma sighs dramatically. “Aren’t you going to invite me in? I’ve had such a hard time of it. I would kill for a glass of cider.”

 

 

“We can go down to the study. If you agree to answer my question.”

 

 

“Deal.”

 

 

Regina steps out of the room and leads the way, the Dark One following lazily behind her. The dagger is still safely in her study, and despite the fact that Emma seems to be able to ignore its summons, she still has to believe it must have some power.

 

 

Without it, she has almost no hope of freeing Emma. And that is a thought she simple cannot stomach.

 

 

She hands Emma a glass of cider when they reach the study, carefully sits down on the couch while Emma takes the chair across from her.

 

 

It occurs to Regina suddenly that this is the room where it all started. That very first night when they met. Emma in her red leather jacket and her cautious, cautious eyes.

 

 

She has to swallow a lump of emotion.

 

 

Who would have known she would grow to care so much for this woman. That she would become the most important thing in Regina’s life after Henry.

 

 

She spares a brief, slightly painful, thought for Robin, and the fact that he is far away now. She never cared for him quite the way she thought she should have, but she had loved their potential. What she thought she could have built with him. In a way she could never build with Emma, who was bound to another.

 

 

She shakes away the thought. Now is not the time for regrets, for could-have-beens involving the three of them as a family. Of fingers in blonde curls and Friday night movies and hands grasped together, always.

 

 

No, it was time to focus on freeing Emma from this monster to end all monsters. And she had to believe she could do it.

 

 

“So, here we are.”

 

 

“Mmm.” Emma hums low in her throat, her legs splayed wide and her arms on the chair on either side of her, and Regina hates herself a little bit for the thrum of attraction that winds through her watching the other woman.

 

 

She sits up straighter, easily ignoring it. It isn’t as though being attracted to Emma is anything new, and it certainly is not at the top of her list of things to address right now. “You owe me an answer.”

 

 

“I don’t know.”

 

 

Regina purses her lips. “That’s the big answer you made me wait for?”

 

 

Emma shrugs one shoulder. “It’s the truth. I’m pretty powerful now, so I guess that would probably account for it.”

 

 

“And the rest?”

 

 

“You’ll have to remind me.”

 

 

“Where were you?”

 

 

“Ah.” She pauses to take a sip of her cider. “Around.”

 

 

“Emma, I swear-” Regina growls, and Emma interrupts her.

 

 

“Alright. At first, I’m not really sure. It took some time to...adjust. And then I went to New York.”

 

 

Regina sets her tumblr down, and it hits the coaster with a clink.

 

 

“Tell me you didn’t.”

 

 

“Oh, I did. First, I was only going to warn him away from you. To make sure he never came back to Storybrooke. But do you know what I found?”

 

 

Regina doesn’t want to ask, but she has to. “What?”

 

 

She smiles, and it’s cold, so cold.

 

 

“I found a man who hurt you, and who deserved exactly what I gave him.”

 

 

“But...Roland.”

 

 

For the first time, a flash of blue swirls through the gold in her eyes. It is startling, and she tries not to let it show on her face, but it is gone in an instant, almost as though she had imagined it. Instead, Emma adopts an air of nonchalance that is not quite convincing. “Oh, don’t worry. I wouldn’t leave him an orphan.”

 

 

“But he wouldn’t be.”

 

 

“Oh, he would be.”

 

 

Regina grimaces. “Don’t tell me you murdered Marian, too. Not after you’re the one who brought her back to begin with. She did nothing.”

 

 

Emma laughs in a way that completely mystifies Regina. “Let’s just say that this Marian has been gone a long time, and it isn’t my fault.”

 

 

Regina frowns. “What do you mean?”

 

 

“I mean that you can trust me when I say that Roland was better off away from her. She ran off anyway, without even trying to protect him. I made sure he was asleep, so he didn’t see what happened to his father. And then I took him to another realm and left him with the Marian there. She was overjoyed to have two Rolands. Especially since she didn’t have a Robin anymore.” Emma pauses and cocks her head. “Did you know, he was a worthless ass in that realm too. What’s that saying? Once a worthless ass, in every realm a worthless ass?” She chuckles at her own joke, while Regina reels at the fact that Emma talks about realm jumping like it’s as easy as preparing her morning cocoa.

 

 

And how would another realm have another Marian?

 

 

Her confusion must be showing on her face, because Emma smirks at her.

 

 

“There are things even you don’t understand, Regina.”

 

 

“Apparently there are many.”

 

 

“And I’m sorry to say you won’t be learning all of them tonight.”

 

 

She says nothing. They drink their cider in silence for several minutes. Emma meets her gaze across the room, those disconcerting dandelion eyes giving her a twisting feeling low in her gut. There is something she hasn’t put together yet, and she can’t figure out what it is.

 

 

But she will.

 

 

Emma drains the last of her cider and stands.

 

 

“Good night, Regina. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

 

Before Regina can even respond, she has blinked out of sight. No smoke, no movement, nothing. She simply disappears as though she was never there in the first place.

 

 

Regina looks to the glass of cider beside the chair. She runs a finger through it. Empty, but still damp. Emma had been very much corporeal, not a mere figment or apparition.

 

 

But what she is now...that’s not so easy to determine.

 

 

##

 

 

True to her word, she shows up at ten o’clock the next night. Regina had caught a few short hours of sleep the night before, then fallen asleep at her desk just before dinner.

 

 

She is groggy but prepared to wait the entire night. She even called Snow and had her buy a pack of those hideous energy drinks Emma was always chugging.

 

 

But then Emma appears at ten, and she needn’t have bothered.

 

 

Now, Regina is prepared. She has questions. She has things to say. In fact, she has a list, so she won’t forget a single one.

 

 

“Why?”

 

 

“Everything I did was for you, so we can be together and be a family.”

 

 

“Family?”

 

 

“I love you, Regina.” Regina starts at the flash of blue in the other woman’s eyes when she says the words, gone again as quickly as it had appeared. Almost as though Regina had imagined it. “Since the first time I saw you. Fate brought us together.”

 

 

Regina frowns. “Your way of showing me your love is strange, Miss Swan. Especially when you are murdering people.”

 

 

“And you’re still here.”

 

 

“That’s because as much as I try to walk away, you always show up again.”

 

 

“That is why, Regina, I will always find you.”

 

 

Regina scoffs. “Turning into your parents, are you?”

 

 

“Never.” She eyes Regina, eyes dropping to her lips. “No, my parents wouldn’t have had the strength to do what I did. I kept my eyes on what I wanted. And I wanted you. I always have.”

 

 

Emma approaches, and Regina can’t breathe, reading the intent in the other woman’s eyes. She knows she’s conversing with the Darkness, not really Emma, and she has so many questions.

 

She has also imagined kissing Emma many times, and she hates that if this Thing kisses her, it won’t truly be Emma.

 

 

Emma stops, peers into her eyes, and cocks her head to the side. “You want this, too.”

 

 

Excuse me?”

 

 

Look at your breathing. Your eyes. You weren’t just going to let this happen because I’m the Dark One. You want Emma, too.” She licks her lips. “Interesting.”

 

 

And what of it?”

 

 

I never anticipated this. I know Emma wants you. I can feel her feelings and emotions, and it is...helpful that they’re so in tune with mine. She wants to hurt anyone who hurts you. She wants you nearly as much as I do. Of course, I wanted to possess you. But I’m finding that,” she pauses, drawing even closer. “Perhaps this is the better way. I am so powerful in this body, and we both want to be next to you all the time. Imagine what we could do, together. Think of the power.”

 

 

She breathes that last word and moves forward even more, her breath now a puff of air against Regina’s lips. It is surprisingly cool, almost like a slightly metallic peppermint.

 

 

Regina awaits what she knows is coming, and she is a swirl of anticipation and excitement and dread. She prays to every deity from worlds both old and new that this will work. Emma is the product of True Love, and Regina has known for a very long time that she loves Emma. And this new revelation might mean that it will actually work. She hopes against hope that it will work, because if the Darkness has decided it doesn’t want to migrate to Regina, she doesn’t know how to kill it without killing Emma.

 

 

And that thought...that thought is something she cannot even fathom.

 

 

Instead, she leans forward and lets Emma sway even closer, and her breath heightens. And then they’re kissing.

 

 

Three things happen simultaneously as their lips touch.

 

 

It occurs to Regina that Emma’s lips feel just as she had always imagined them.

 

 

A rainbow of light bursts out around them, showering the room in sparks.

 

 

And lastly, Emma lets loose a blood-curdling scream and falls to the ground.

 

 

She convulses as the Darkness winds through her, swirling across her skin like tiny snakes tattooed just beneath her skin, writhing and looking for a way out.

 

 

“Emma!” Regina shouts, crouching to the ground next to her.

 

 

Emma doesn’t answer but opens her eyes, and that is almost worse. They are blank and unseeing, but they radiate a pale light as she lies on the floor, shaking violently.

 

 

Regina doesn’t know any incantations for this, doesn’t know what words to utter. Instead, she takes the arm of Emma’s discarded leather jacket and carefully places it between her teeth. She keeps a comforting hand on Emma’s shoulder and thinks of calling an ambulance, but what are they going to do with her?

 

 

Just as she is thinking of running for it anyway, the convulsions stop and Emma’s eyes close.

 

 

“Emma?”

 

 

“It’s gone.” Her voice is weak and thready, but she’s alive and herself, and Regina feels tears in her eyes. She moves forward, rubs her hands along Emma’s arms as she shivers.

 

 

“Regina. Oh god. I’m so sorry.”

 

 

Shudders wrack her spine every so often, and Regina can feel them.

 

 

“It’s okay. It wasn’t you.”

 

 

“I would never-”

 

 

“Shh. I know. I know.” Regina wipes a hand across Emma’s forehead, moving her hair out of her eyes.

 

 

“The things I said...at the end.”

 

 

“I was talking to the Darkness. Not you. They don’t have to mean anything.”

 

 

Emma is silent for so long that Regina thinks she is not going to respond. But she does, finally, her voice barely above a whisper. “It meant everything.”

 

 

And she is so vulnerable, there on the floor, shivering under Regina’s ministrations. Regina lies down on the floor behind her, pressing her front to Emma’s back, curling around her, and Emma shifts closer into her embrace.

 

 

After a few minutes of silence, Regina summons her phone from across the room and calls the Charmings. They will call anyone else who needs to be notified, or they will show up alone.

 

 

Regina doesn’t know, and at this point, she doesn’t particularly care, either.

 

 

Right now, she only knows that she’s holding Emma in her arms, finally. And Emma’s hand reaches out to grasp hers and squeezes.

 

 

They breathe together. This is going to be hell for Emma. She may not have been in control of her body’s actions, but Regina knows how Emma’s mind works, and she is going to take this hard.

 

 

But Regina will be there, for her and with her, every step of the way. And Henry will be, too.

 

 

Because that’s what it means to be a family. They have already been one for a long time, and they will continue to be, whatever that looks like, and whatever happens.

 

 

Regina keeps Emma’s hand in hers and holds on tight.