Chapter 1: A new curse
The first thing she sees is a mass of blonde hair. A warm body is pressed tightly against hers, arms around her waist, her own arms around shoulders, almost clingy, definitely needy.
She feels magic in the air, tears streaming down her face, but when she tries to furrow her brow, Regina notices she’s detached from her body and she realizes, it’s a memory.
A memory, she ironically doesn't remember.
“I promise”, a familiar voice whispers against her ear. While she mentally freezes, her other self nuzzles against soft skin, not at all irritated by the tickling blonde hair but pressing closer to the other woman.
With the motion comes a surge of happiness, immediately drowned out by bittersweet sadness, encompassing all her senses.
“I don’t...” she hears herself protest, voice breaking. She knows who she’ll see before the blonde moves away. Still, she is shocked when the Savior gives her a sheepish smile, laced with way too many emotions.
“But I do.”
“You will. I promise, we will see each other again.”
Emma leans forward and presses an almost chaste kiss against her lips, winking at her as she breaks away, self-confidence embodied, and Regina feels herself release a trembling sigh.
Emma nods at her in acceptance and steps back, her hand traveling down Regina’s arm, to squeeze her hand one last time.
“I never make a promise unless I plan to keep it.”
Regina gives Emma one last smile, trying to be brave. She takes a deep breath as Emma waves the wand, glancing at her one last time before she jumps into a bright orange portal.
Regina mentally pauses, trying to understand the strange scene. She was in her own castle, dressed in a black dress that she won’t ever forget, brimming with a magic that feels strange and familiar at the same time.
That same voice, frantically calling her name, pulls her back into the present. A present filled with curses and danger, and the knowledge of a brightly gleaming Faerie Wand capable of saving them.
A gleaming wand that she recognizes, that had been in the hands of a Savior who looked at her like…
She breathes the name in wonder, before she can catch herself. She knows they’re somehow connected, has suspected it ever since Emma kickstarted her magic with the hat, dissuaded when she found out that Emma has her own magic; only to have the connection confirmed by the trigger, the eclipse in Neverland.. But what she just saw doesn’t make sense.
Unless Emma is capable of the impossible.
Blinking, Regina stands up, trying to arrange her thoughts. She believed the Faerie Wand to be lost. Apparently she was wrong.
“What happened? Are you okay?”
She brushes the concern off distractedly, but of course the Charmings don’t give her a minute to breathe. This time it’s Snow, asking for an explanation.
Regina’s thoughts are still whirling, but she’s beginning to understand.
So she answers.
“I saw what needed to be done.”
There’s more certainty in her voice than she actually feels when she looks up at Emma. Before she can say anything Henry speaks up. She tries to reassure him, but Pan appears, threatening, freezing all of them in some kind of conscious but immobile state. Her magic tries to free her while Pan is flaunting his superiority, but it is futile.
So, like all the rest of them, Regina watches him strut around, that playful grin on his face, deliberating who to kill first.
And Regina wonders, how, when she finally had the chance, she never actually physically harmed Snow or Charming. Part of her calls Pan weak and unimaginative for wanting to kill instead of making them suffer, but she knows that it will make Rumple suffer more than anything else.
Then Rumple is there and everything happens so fast. Before she knows it, Rumple and Pan are gone, Belle is crumbling to the ground, heaving sobs, and she pauses, only a moment, not ready to believe that Rumple is simply dead, just like that. Then she moves, like she is being called, to the scroll on the ground, hoping it will give her another clue, explain what it showed her.
Snow is concerned about Regina’s well being while Neal begs her to honor Rumple’s sacrifice.
Rumple, who has orchestrated all of this from the very beginning. Rumple who created this stupid curse to be reunited with his son, only to die.
She’s exasperated by everyone waiting for her to present the perfect solution. She doesn’t have any, just a strange scene in her mind, and an indistinct sliver of hope.
That’s what she tells Hook after he prods again. He looks concerned, but strangely enough, he is the only one in the group losing faith after her words. When he proclaims they should run to his ship, no one takes him up on the offer to follow behind, although Tink seems to hesitate.
Regina briefly considers sending Henry with him but it is Hook, a pirate, not really material to take care of her son. She has to make sure that they’ll save themselves.
It’s Emma now, her voice no less demanding than the others but surprisingly gentle. So Regina does her best to smile at her, even if it might look forced. Of course Emma smiles back.
“So, what’s the plan?”
“You are,” she breathes out, keeping an eye on Emma as she freezes. The Savior isn’t remotely happy with another task. She has to give her credit when Emma nods and straightens herself, accepting it in only a few seconds.
Three pairs of similarly green eyes are on Regina, begging her for an easy solution.
Unfortunately she doesn’t have one.
“There’s a Faerie Wand, forged from light magic, the magic of true love. Whoever wields it will be able to break this curse.”
“Good. Where is it?”
Emma is the perfect picture of resolve, only faltering when Regina meets her eyes.
“The last time I saw it, it was safely in my vault.”
Determined, Emma turns around, breathing through her mouth to avoid what Regina is sure Emma has already read in her eyes.
“The cemetery then…”
“Not here, Emma.”
It’s almost painful to watch Emma’s shoulders slump.
“How? I mean, that’s…” The Savior visibly deflates. “We’re trapped, aren’t we?”
Snow moves in, ready to hug Emma, Charming not far behind, hands twitching, desperate to help. Henry leans into Neal, no doubt comforting himself as much as his father.
But Regina has to focus, so she blocks out everything but Emma. Emma who looks so lost, nothing like that confident version that Regina just watched earnestly promising to come back to her. Emma, who meets her eyes, so ready to trust whatever solution Regina comes up with.
So Regina takes a deep breath and leads with the truth.
“You are the Savior, you were created to break the curse and once again, you can escape it.”
Emma shakes her head.
Regina shivers, reminded of her own voice, breaking in the same way Emma’s does now. It’s so hard to have hope, so hard to put her trust into someone other than herself.
“You have to. You are the only one who can go. You will find the wand, come back, and save us.”
“It’s in my vault. You were a thief; it shouldn’t be too hard for you to get it.”
Her quip receives the right reaction. Emma rolls her eyes, a broken smile in her eyes.
“But you will be cursed.”
Regina nods, not able to argue that away, refusing to look at Henry. She never wanted any of this for him.
“Until you come back and break the curse.”
“Why do I have to go? Can’t we work it out together? I broke the last curse here as well…”
Now she does glance at Henry, both of them do, but Regina shakes her head.
“I’m afraid that it won’t work this time.”
There is a minimal whine in Emma’s voice, so subtle Regina almost misses it. Her eyes are wide, reminding Regina of the offhand tone Emma first protested her fate with, when it was all about saving Henry, when Emma wasn’t even asking about her parents, or fairytales, solely focused on cursed apples and Regina’s magic, ways to save Henry.
It’s different now. There’s no way around that.
“Because Pan has no compassion, no love. You need the wand. I’m sure we can dive into the theoretical discussion once you’re back, but now I believe we’re short on time.”
When Emma is still shaking her head, eyes begging Regina to change her words, Snow steps forward.
“Emma, you have to go.”
Emma hesitates and falters, tears in her eyes, as she embraces her mother, looking back at Regina, doubt in her features. Regina meets her eyes without wavering. She doesn’t know what she did, but in the next moment the Savior is standing in front of her, trying to breathe.
So she does.
During her instructions the entire group, sans Hook, moves toward the edge of the town. At the sight of the green magic coming up from the well, everyone gasps, but it soon becomes clear that the smoke divides itself to run around the town line, surrounding everything before swallowing them up.
Regina instructs the others to stay at the foot of the hill because she and Emma are the only ones that can go up now.
Henry barrels into Emma and for once Regina doesn’t feel jealous because he blinks up at her, trusting her to prepare Emma.
“So, how are we gonna get up there?”
Emma suspiciously squints at the green smoke like she’s expecting it to hurt her. Regina almost chuckles. She might, if it weren’t for the strange memory.
“We just go, the smoke won’t be able to touch us because you’re the Savior and I’m still holding the scroll.”
Without another word Emma trudges onward, flinching at the smoke but nodding satisfied, when it avoids her.
“So, how does this work? Time Travel? Do you really think I can do this or was this just some farce to leave them with a little bit of hope?”
Finally shocked out of her haze, Regina stumbles. She barely catches herself, and grabs out for Emma, whirling her around by her arm.
“This is not some kind of Hail Mary play, but a perfectly reasonable chance, even if it is our only chance. So get yourself together and be ready, because the curse requires you to believe in yourself or it will never work.”
Regina fixes Emma with a hard gaze, until she can feel the familiar tingle of Emma’s magic under her hand and she lets go. Emma opens her mouth once without saying a word, shaking her head, until she blurts out.
“How can I believe in myself? I never…”
“Your mother does,” Regina sneers, but when Emma flinches, she knows it’s the wrong thing to say. The curse is unraveling around them, ready to swallow them whole, and Emma needs to be gone before then.
“I never managed to do anything around here, Regina. It’s always you that does the saving, the trigger, Neverland.”
It’s so ridiculous that Regina foregoes whatever argument she is trying to find and just scoffs.
“Need I remind you that I was usually the one who caused the catastrophes in the first place?”
Still, Emma just shrugs. “I can’t Regina. I don’t know how.”
Desperate, Regina tries to come up with something, anything, but she’s really not the one for a pep talk. They should have taken Snow with them for that. Snow, who is always talking about fate and destiny and hope and goodness, while Emma frowns and heedlessly does what she thinks is the right thing to do.
Like saving Regina from the wraith, pushing her away from the portal, putting her hands around the trigger, allowing her to guide her magic in Neverland.
And that smile right before she jumps into a curiously bright orange portal.
It takes all Regina has not to dwell on that scene, whatever it truly was.
“I believe in you,” is all her frantic thoughts produce and Regina is too busy being shocked by the earnestness in her own voice that she barely has time to conceive Emma’s body losing its tension, the shoulders falling, a tiny smile on her lips.
And Regina finds herself fascinated by how much impact her words have on the Savior, who gets the trust and belief of the townspeople for nothing, who is loved and praised for kissing their son on his forehead.
But maybe that’s what makes the difference.
So Regina nods, placing all her confidence in her affirmation, surprised by how true it rings.
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
She doesn’t know how much this moment has to do with the connection she feels toward Emma or the scene the scroll showed her, but when Emma breathes out, finally breathes out, Regina is relieved.
“Okay, so find that stupid wand, come back, break the curse, and take a long vacation?”
“There’s paperwork before the Sheriff can go on vacation.”
Emma rolls her eyes, but it’s familiar and relaxing.
At least until they are up at the well and Emma is shuffling her feet.
“You jump in.”
With a nod, Regina hands her the scroll.
“Concentrate on the curse; it will take you to the time before it was enacted, after the scroll was first used.”
“It was used before?”
“The first time I tried to do the curse I failed.”
Emma’s eyes look at her questioningly, but Regina shakes her head and Emma nods, accepting that they don’t have time.
“You have to hold on to the scroll and find the wand. I know this will be difficult, but I also know that this stupid wand disappeared out of my vault one day and the only explanation is that you were there and stole it.”
“I was there?”
“Time travel, remember?”
“Right,” Emma breathes, not looking right at all. In fact she looks a little green and Regina has to force herself to believe in a chance. Emma has a chance to succeed, however slight it may be.
“So I know that you can do this. Just…”
Regina hesitates, until the other woman meets her eyes.
“Don’t engage with anyone, at all. Try to stay invisible. If anyone recognizes you…”
She is glad when Emma nods, understanding washing over her.
“No changing the past. Got it.”
The flippant tone, however, does not make her happy.
The hint of teasing in Emma’s eyes is calming. Somehow, as weird as it is, her pep talk worked.
“Okay, then,” Regina swallows, hesitating before placing her hand on Emma’s shoulder.
Emma nods, a bright smile on her lips. It’s strange how she can go from being completely overwhelmed to absolute confidence in only a couple of moments. Her magic is brimming beneath her skin, ready to be victorious, and Regina has to pull her hand away when her own, dark, magic reaches out for Emma’s light. Luckily, Emma stays oblivious to it.
“Let’s hope you don’t guard your vault too well.”
Shocked that she forgot it until now, Regina blurts out.
“Don’t use magic in my castle. It will alert every guard to your presence, and do not use magic in my vicinity, I will feel it.”
“I never used magic to steal things before.”
Emma winks, full of confidence, and turns around, her shoulders tense but her smile determined, her left hand clasping the scroll, ready to jump in.
“Come back,” Regina whispers, her desperation, her need, clear in her voice. She doesn’t expect Emma to hear her, but, her free hand already on the well, the blonde turns her head, curls swinging, expression resolute.
With that the Savior jumps into the well, a bright light, silver and orange, divides the green one for a moment, flashing into the sky, and Regina stops shivering, certain that Emma has made it.
Not wasting a second she transports herself back to the waiting group. Before she’s fully there, Henry is in her arms. She pulls him close, and smiles at the rest, Snow and David hands clasped together, Tink shivering, Belle heavily leaning on Neal, Ruby with a comforting hand on Belle’s arm, while she’s grasping on to Granny’s with the other.
“She made it,” Regina announces, marveling at the certainty in her own voice, but Snow nods.
“We know. We saw the light.”
Satisfied, she nods at Snow, before she bows down to Henry, who clings to her, desperate.
“She will make it, Henry. Emma... she will come back to break the curse.”
But he just shakes his head, tears brimming in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”
“What do you mean?”
“If I had never gone to get Emma, if I just lived under the curse with you, none of this would have ever happened. I thought I was alone. I-I thought you didn't love me, but I was wrong.”
His wavering voice, the deep regret he should be too young to feel, cuts right through her. So she leans forward, trying to breathe, and pushes his bangs out of his face.
“Henry, I was wrong too. It isn't your fault, it's mine. I cast a curse out of vengeance and I'm...,” her voice breaks and she swallows. “I'm a villain. You heard Mr. Gold. Villains don't get Happy Endings.”
But she has just built their fate on the fact that Saviors do. That the Savior’s Happy Ending includes the happiness of their son, that they do get their happy endings.
Still, Henry shakes his head with determination.
“You're not a villain. You're my mom.”
He throws himself back into her arms, mumbling against her.
“And Emma will come back and break this curse. She will bring back the happy endings, yours too.”
Dazed, Regina just holds on to him, shaking her head about his unwavering belief in her. She hasn’t earned it. She knows that. But she will do her best to prove him right in the future, even if she doesn’t believe that a Happy Ending is in her cards.
He is enough of a Happy Ending, more than she ever deserved.
So she holds on to him tightly while the green smoke swallows them up.
Chapter 2: A journey to the past
After Regina failed to enact the curse, she storms into the castle, visibly quivering with rage. Her knights scutter out of her way, instantly recognizing her destructive mood.
Only when she gets to her own quarters and sees her father standing there, waiting for her, trusting, helpful, ready to listen to her, does she crumble and tell him.
“I have to cut out the heart of the thing I love most.”
There’s recognition and fear in his answer, but also a strange kind of resignation, like he thinks he might deserve it. Regina shakes her head and turns around.
“Daddy, I don’t know what to do.”
He holds out his hand placatingly, shaking his head.
“My dear, please, you don’t have to do this.”
“I have to do something.”
And she does, she knows she has to. So she walks past him, no longer able to look at him.
“You can move past this. I know this may sound self-serving, but you don’t need to enact the curse.”
It does sound self-serving and it makes her feel so many things she can’t name right now. Anger, resentment, disappointment. It’s all too much on top of everything.
“But I can’t keep living like this. What Snow did to me, what she took from me. It’s eating me alive, Daddy. Her very existence mocks me, she must be punished.”
She sees him falter in fear, so she turns away from him again, barely listening to him.
“But, if the price is a hole that can never be filled. Why do it? Stop worrying about Snow White and start over. We can have a new life.”
“What kind of life? All I’ve worked for will be gone, my power will disappear. They already think I’m nothing.”
She is convinced now, she knows what needs to be done, but then he is still looking at her, still not turning away, even though there are tears running down his face.
“Power is seductive. But so is love, you can have that again.”
Finally she sees something in his eyes, something that reminds her of the love he is supposed to have for her and she leans into his embrace, whispering.
“I just want to be happy.”
“You can be. Of this I am sure. You just have to try. To find your happiness.”
He sighs, looking at her again.
“I don’t know. I believe, given the chance, everyone can find happiness. You can start over. Concentrate on yourself, on your subjects. Make this realm a happy one. It’s within you, it’s your choice.”
“I don’t know if I can do this, especially here.”
“You can try. For yourself. You can try before giving yourself over to that terrible void they are talking about. Regina, I care for you. I wouldn’t want that for you.”
Regina blinks and looks at her father, really looks at him.
He is afraid.
And suddenly she understand his fear.
It’s not for himself, but for her.
She swallows and nods, a tingle of something warmer making its way through her body. She blinks and whispers, repeating his words to herself.
“I can try.”
Emma stumbles out of the warm portal into cold forest air, breaking her fall with her hands and knees. Immediately she checks on the scroll, breathing out in relief when it’s intact.
She puts it in her jacket, glad that it fits into one of the many small inner pockets, and looks around.
It’s definitely a forest, but she can only hope that it’s the right forest in the right time.
Shivering in the harsh wind, Emma rubs her hands together and looks up at the sky, trying to determine the cardinal points and failing because she can’t even pinpoint the sun through the thick clouds.
She has a closer look at the trees, happy that it seems that the moss grows only on one side.
Even though she has no idea in which direction she has to go, it won’t hurt to make sure that she isn’t walking in circles.
And maybe, if she gets lucky, stubbornly walking into one direction will lead her to a road. The road will lead her to a village, where she can get information.
Magic is normal in the Enchanted Forest, so if she tells everyone that she dropped out of a portal, they will accept her clothing, right?
Emma sighs and runs a hand through her hair. That’s something Regina should have told her instead of all this ‘Do not engage, do not change the past’ crap, that is kind of obvious on its own.
Not having to do anything else, she tries to focus on imagining what the castle might look like.
It shouldn’t be more difficult than breaking into a museum, right?
Not that she has ever done that.
Not technically at least.
There was that one foster sister who was kind of, okay very, weird and for some reason she took Emma with her to steal a high priced piece of art. They had been in a group of kids that their older foster brother had put together to steal cars and somehow Emma and that girl had worked best together. The only girls, silent, walls up, somehow connecting.
Emma still remembered how she had dropped her ice cream cone when the girl told her that she had given the painting to the mob, for a lifelong supply of ice cream at her favorite ice cream parlor. Weird, indeed.
Still, that one had been a thief, while Emma had just been a lonely teenager, desperate for money. They had stolen quite a lot of cars, until that asshat Kelly set the them up to take the fall for him, probably afraid that they had gotten better than him. Only by chance, Emma hadn’t been there that day. The other girl had ended up in Juvie for six months and Emma had never seen her again.
Stealing cars had been the only thing Emma had been really good at. She had no talent for museums, especially since she felt caught in buildings, but this time there really isn’t a choice.
Never too late to broaden one’s horizon…
Emma’s aware that she’s internally babbling, but there isn’t really anything to do, except look at trees, walk, listen to the sounds of anyone else coming, and go crazy.
She’s really trying her best to avoid the latter.
Unfortunately she is so focused on the ice cream story that she kind of forgets to take care of the third point, the listening part.
By the time she realizes that a horse is approaching, she can almost see the rider, so she jumps into the underbrush, hoping she’s not visible, and watches.
She’s lucky that the rider decided to go slow today, the horse is just at a walk, the woman riding obviously in no need to go faster, her hands holding the reins almost loosely, seeming to direct the horse solely with her body.
It takes Emma a moment to connect the long, dark braid, the unassuming brown and green riding clothes, the almost far-away gaze, to the imposing brunette who sent her here.
“Regina,” she breathes, disbelief overwhelming her.
Regina twitches and Emma holds her breath, cursing herself, but it doesn’t seem like Regina heard her.
She also doesn’t look like she’d particularly care if someone was following her.
Emma is so concerned with Regina noticing her that she almost lets her get away. As soon as Regina is out of her field of vision, she struggles upwards and follows behind, trying to apply what she knows about following someone in the city to the forest, staying behind trees, just out of sight.
Only, in cities, you usually don’t have to worry about the kind of ruckus your feet are making, because you’re walking on smooth pavement, instead of leaves and twigs that rustle and break once you step on them. Not to mention that it throws her off balance.
Still, she tries, knowing that following Regina is the best way toward the castle. After a while Emma starts to wonder what the Queen is doing out in the forest, on her own.
At another bend Regina and the horse are suddenly gone.
Emma curses under her breath and stealthily moves forward, almost expecting magic to seize her from behind.
She’s immensely relieved when she sees the horse, wearing a halter, tied to a tree, calmly looking at her.
If Regina had seen her, she wouldn’t have left her horse, right?
So she creeps into the woods, keeping a respectful distance to the horse, seeking any sign of Regina.
She must have moved very slow, because when Emma does make out a shape ahead of her, Regina is already standing in the middle of the clearing, head held high, eyes proud, her entire demeanor screaming of coldness. That is until dozens of tiny golden blotches of glowing light swirl into the clearing.
They surround the Evil Queen with ever smaller circles, until the first one reaches her, bravely setting down on her shoulder.
Regina doesn’t even flinch.
And that’s when Emma realizes that her eyes are closed.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Regina’s shoulders lose some of their tension. It is like watching her breathe after holding her breath for a very long while.
One of the tiny blotches flutters demandingly in front of Regina until she holds out a hand for it to land on. There’s undoubtedly the beginning of a smile tugging on Regina’s mouth and then there is a high-pitched chatter as more and more of them settle on Regina, the exuberance slowly dying down as they start glowing in a more moderate way.
Emma just stares, open-mouthed, not believing that what she is seeing is true. Snow had talked about wood faeries, but she had dismissed it as one of her mother’s strange stories… Now she sees that they are true, at least partially.
She drops to the grass only when Regina sits down, barely remembering to conceal herself behind a low bush, too preoccupied watching the tiny glowing faeries starting to slowly but surely undo the tight braid.
Because with each freed strand, Regina seems to change.
Emma is stunned while she literally watches Regina's mask disappear, her frown changing into a hesitant smile as dark eyes follow the tiny glowing faeries as they dance for her around the clearing. Because there’s no doubt that this is all for Regina.
Some of them are swirling wider around the clearing, one of them so close, Emma shies away, but it keeps coming closer, revealing itself indeed as a tiny kind of faerie, looking like a miniature five-year-old with wings, grinning mischievously as it lands on her offered palm.
Emma flinches when her hand feels suddenly warm, gleaming with her magic, and she is embraced by a warm wave of contentment.
Panicking, despite the feeling, she looks to Regina, but she has her eyes closed again.
She is stunned speechless when the little faerie grins wider and nods, motioning her hand over her mouth and making a motion of throwing away the key, before she flies off to join the others.
They disperse with high chatter until they surround Regina again.
Slowly but surely Emma watches Regina starting to radiate. There is still a shadow around her, an aura of enmity, but it is fainter now. Her magic starts to glow, first in a dark violet, but then more brightly, silver emerging from the darkness and Emma is seized with a wave of compassion when she notices silent tears glinting in all the shining lights, running down Regina’s face.
The faerie stood on Emma’s hand only for a few seconds, but Emma felt the warmth like a welcoming embrace, like being accepted.
This, in front of her, is supposed to be the Evil Queen.
No, judging by her earlier stance there is no doubt about the fact that this is the Evil Queen, but all that Emma can see now is a woman who is so entirely lost, who is so drowning, that she cries at the gift the little faeries are giving her instead of being able to appreciate the warmth and acceptance.
It is almost painful how much Emma can relate to that.
She feels like a voyeur but she can’t stop watching when Regina starts to smile through her tears, the faeries still fluttering around her, now braiding tiny tresses into the flowing dark curls, keeping it out of Regina’s face but still loose.
When Regina gets up, her motions are all fluid, despite her shoulders being tense. She has just worked something out, something major.
Emma barely remembers to scramble out of her way when Regina walks in her direction, unties the horse, and with a hand gesture magically changes the horse’s halter back to a bridle, and mounts in a graceful motion. She smiles as she directs the horse back to the path.
While Emma hopes that she can follow her back to the castle, she suspects it will be in vain. Sure enough, it takes only a couple of minutes until Regina prods the horse into a steady trot.
All that Emma can do is follow the hoof prints, which, fortunately, isn’t too hard in the muddy forest ground.
It takes Emma all day to reach the castle. A castle that’s behind high walls, surrounded by heavily armed guards who patrol with stern expressions, their faces unyielding, all business-like.
Still, she does think about climbing the walls and hiding herself somewhere, ready to sneak in at night.
That idea crumbles into ashes when she’s three feet away from the wall. She stops, just barely, before running into the brimming barrier, heavily filled with magic.
A wry smile on her face, Emma turns around to trudge to the village she just passed.
When Regina warned her about using magic in her castle, she could have elaborated a tiny bit more about that heavy protective barrier that does, god only knows what, to people who simply try to walk through it.
By now the sky is growing dark, announcing night with a blue twilight so deep Emma has never seen before. She supposes it has to do with there being no electricity, nothing to artificially illuminate the sky.
On the downside there are no cars to sleep in, she doesn’t have anything to build animal traps with and really, those camping trips with that particular foster family are long gone. She does remember how to build a trap, but they’ve never made a pure survival trip, so while building stuff from nothing seems easy in the movies it’s not that likely in reality.
In the absence of cars to steal (or sleep in) Emma sidles from building to shed to a barn. The latter is situated behind what looks and sounds like a tavern and Emma manages to grab some bread and apples as she sneaks by the window before she climbs up to the first story of the barn.
It’s not that bad.
She can sleep above the horses’ stables instead of right next to them, even bedded by straw, that shouldn’t be too uncomfortable if she manages to ignore its pricking.
As soon as she sits down she realizes how lucky she got because the chatter from the tavern drifts upward, clearly audible.
So she learns that there has been an announcement of a ball in the castle for the next week. It’s not much, but it’s the only plan that she can think of.
Emma just hopes Regina won’t decide to cast the curse until then.
But then, inviting everyone for a ball seems kind of stupid if she’s planning on unleashing a curse on every one of them.
Also, after seeing Regina in that clearing, she doubts whether the Queen is anywhere close to cursing everyone right now.
It had looked too much like letting go…
It turns out that waiting for a week is a lot of time to spend preparing.
As early as the second morning Emma fails at hiding herself, detected by a stable boy. He drags her in front of the tavern’s owner.
Ridiculously enough, it’s Granny.
After Granny looked her over and scoffed about her being dirty, she puts a dress into her hands and tells her to work off whatever she stole in the last two days.
So Emma does. She cleans rooms, hands out beers, services meals, avoids both Red and Granny as much as she can, making a mental note to ask them, back in Storybrooke, how they came to live this close to Regina’s castle when they’re supposed to be Snow’s allies.
In turn Granny allows her to keep sleeping in the straw, provided that she does her ‘business’ in the pit latrine.
Both, Granny and Red, look more worn down that Emma has ever seen them. Several times she notices Red listening intently to news of war or peace arguments.
So it doesn’t attract any attention when Emma does the same. She takes in everything, how Regina’s guard is structured, what they are preparing for the big ball, how the magical barrier works and why the guards can pass it unharmed (apparently like always, it has to do with intent. It’s brilliant of course, but hugely annoying for Emma’s purposes).
It takes her a day to realize that there is no way to simply break in, search for the unfortunately hidden vault and hope she’ll get away with it.
So Emma forms another plan, happy that as a tavern girl she gets mostly ignored while she receives all the information.
That plan succeeds at bringing her into the ballroom, wearing a beautiful yet rather simple red dress, that she has stolen from no other than Kathryn, Princess Abigail, who she has left in the middle of the woods with her two guards after taking her carriage, horses, coachmen, invitation and baggage; leaving her with nothing but the ornate dress she had been wearing at the time.
Emma’s hair looks exactly like she has just used excessive force to acquire the coach, no matter how tight she has tried to knit the bun, there were still a couple of strands escaping.
She can only hope that it looks somewhat deliberate.
It’s extremely useful that Emma has learned how to hold herself to stay mostly invisible. She can only hope that it dissuades attention from anyone that might recognize her later and prevent people from asking her to dance.
Telling herself that it’s too late to worry about being recognized now, Emma sneaks off the first chance she gets. One corridor is left unprotected because the guard in there is too busy checking out a serving girl to notice Emma hurrying past him.
She has listened intently, trying to work out how the castle is built and she knows (hopes) that she is on the right way when she scampers down the stairs, passing the way to the dungeons until she’s standing in front of a gray wall, several symbols scratched onto it.
It is, at least according to rumors, the vault entrance.
Unlike the barrier surrounding the castle grounds, this one is very much active.
Emma has expected this, but it doesn’t make it any easier to know that she only has a very slight chance to make it inside without raising any alarms.
Silencing her fear, Emma bows down to squint at the symbols. She recognizes them, certain that Regina has taught her how to read them, just as certain that she does not, in fact, remember the mechanics at all.
Her own magic is brimming at being close to such potent magic and she has a hard time tuning it out.
It helps when she decides to work on instinct, jazzing herself up by comparing it to a very intricate alarm system.
In theory it’s nothing more.
So she leans forward, following a sixth sense that directs her to touch a symbol here, pat one there, feeling them shift under her fingers, allowing her to rearrange them.
In actuality she can feel the barrier give everytime she does something right, just like a lock clicks when you’re close to cracking it.
She realizes that she hasn’t fully trusted her own abilities when she is surprised at the wall actually sliding open, allowing her to trespass.
Emma stumbles into the vault, looking around the ornate walls, the shining objects on shelves, trying to find something that looks like a wand, when the guards swarm in, catching her red-handed.
They grab her and drag her right back into the ballroom, shoving her into the center of the room. No amount of wishing to be invisible can get her out of this. All that Emma can do is put her head down, resisting the urge to look up for familiar faces.
It doesn’t take long for Regina to make an entrance after that.
Emma learned that Regina is always fashionably late, even to her own balls, but she usually makes an even bigger entrance, expecting everyone to bow at her appearance.
Now, she’s solely focused on Emma, sweeping into the room with a rigid stance, owning the room, eyes full of disdain and contempt, like…
Well, like an Evil Queen.
She moves like she’s gliding on ice, and Emma doesn’t know whether it’s magic that’s supporting her grace or whether it’s just her aura. Her aura of intimidation that’s making everyone else in the room shiver and look away.
It’s no surprise that Regina is completely dressed in black, although the ridiculously high ponytail in some strange construction on her head is.
Even though her entire posture screams of the Evil Queen, it’s still Regina in the dark eyes that cloud over in doubt as she takes in Emma. However, Emma hopes that it’s the Evil Queen persona who raises her eyebrows as they travel over Emma’s body, making her feel naked under her scrutiny.
It’s like their first stare-offs in Storybrooke, only more intense.
And Emma is scared, some part of her has never been this scared in her entire live.
It’s nothing but contradictory to be scared of someone who has been her ally in the last year, who has saved her life, who has…
“Regina,” Emma flinches at her own stupidity, at the stupid familiarity she places in her plea.
“That’s a bit informal, wouldn’t you say? Show some respect. It’s…” Regina makes a meaningful pause, clearly savouring it, before almost purring. “Your Majesty.”
Emma struggles against the guards, but Regina just leans in.
“Ah, ah, ah. You’re not going anywhere.”
Her eyes look down Emma’s front.
“You might have wanted to leave the party early, but I suspect your night has just begun.”
Emma feels her mouth drop open. Until now she has believed she’d understood people using their sexuality as a weapon. Now, lips dry and heart hammering in her chest, she finally feels it for herself. She fails to swallows and looks down, belatedly remembering herself to stop staring at the impressive figure Regina makes.
“Take her away.”
The threat in Regina’s voice makes Emma’s heart skip a beat, only to increase again when they carry her away.
She is truly and utterly screwed.
The guards drag her back the way they’ve come, only now they take the stairs down to the dungeons. Only when they gloat at her, does Emma realize how screwed she is.
It’s not about her attempted theft at all, but the fact that she attended the ball, which classifies her as a spy. It seems to be a much worse transgression than simply failing to take anything from the vault she has successfully broken into.
At least it makes them pass the crowded and dank cells that have only a little bit of straw on the ground in favor for a larger room that’s actually a cell, with a mattress, a tiny barred window and a latrine.
She observes that there are far less captives than she would have thought, more than you’d hope, but less than you’d expect from someone who’s called the Evil Queen.
“They’re scheduled for execution tomorrow; it’s a regular event,” one guard chuckles, clearly satisfied at her look of horror as he shoves her into her cell.
“You, on the other hand, will only wish that you were with them.”
Now all six of them laugh as they shut her door. She hears them slide the bolt shut and knows she’s trapped.
As soon as she’s sure they’re out of earshot she moves toward the little window and tugs on the bars. Unfortunately it seems like they won’t give in, not in the little time she has.
So she inspects the door, letting her fingers glide over the cold smooth metal. She realizes too late that she hasn’t much on her, certainly nothing to open this door.
On instinct her hand moves toward her hair. There are a couple of pins, suitable for lockpicking, but nothing that helps with a door that doesn’t have a lock.
Only a deadbolt on the other side of it.
That term has never sounded truer to her than right now.
Emma slides to the ground and sighs.
The door is out, the window’s out as well. Even if she miraculously found a way to remove one or even two bars, she might not even fit with all of them gone.
It takes her two minutes to get up and walk around the room, examining every one of the big stones of her cell.
While Emma’s not sure that she actually wants to end up in a cell next to hers, she’s sure she wants to escape whatever torture they have planned for her tomorrow.
She collapses on the bed when she realizes that, for now, there’s no way out.
So she tries to come up with a plan to possibly overpower the six soldiers who will come to get her out of her cell again.
Unfortunately it’s not much.
Her growling stomach doesn’t improve her mood. Neither does thinking about her red leather jacket that she left in a bag in the carriage. It’s not because it has sentimental value, it’s… okay, it’s partially because of sentimental value, but mostly it’s that she has better tools in the jacket. One of them might even reach through the crack of the door, might even help her with the deadbolt.
However, it’s not like fantasizing about that actually helps her.
Emma knows it’s vain, but while she might get out of here, (she has to, there’s no way around that, if not for herself for Henry, for her parents, for Regina, for everyone,) her leather jacket is most certainly lost. By now they probably discovered the bag with her favorite boots and that warm and comfy white turtleneck, not to mention her favorite dark jeans…
For just a moment Emma closes her eyes. Worrying about her clothes rather than her life helps her calm herself down.
At least she had the good sense to tie the scroll into her dress.
Just like the knife in her boot, that she knew was foolish to use in front of the Queen.
Tomorrow she’ll get her chance to use it.
Emma doesn’t get her chance, of course.
She can only scowl at the sneering guard that is still laughing at her about finding a knife in her boot, even as she is now tied to a chair with shackles at her wrists.
She’s been searched now. The hidden scroll and her clothes are all that is left, her hair hanging in sad waves down into her face, emptied of all her spiky pins.
Cries are filtering through from the outside, people screaming, begging for their life, until they are suddenly cut off, from the sounds of it, literally.
So, this room?
Chosen perfectly to imbue her with fear.
Still, she is kind of thrown about how they’ve handled her so far. Her welcome in the Phoenix prison was more degrading that this. They patted her down and laughingly removed her hair pins, scowled at her when they found the knife, but other than that they left her alone.
Alone and to the sounds of people getting their heads removed just outside of her room.
Emma’s at the end of her nerves when Regina strides in. She’s wearing a dress that looks almost as if it’s the same as last night, the sleeves of that damned thing trailing behind her arms instead of being raised dramatically, her eyes red, exhaustion all over her features.
“Is she talking?”
The guard shrugs his shoulders and in the next moment Emma finds herself under the Evil Queen’s gaze.
“I’m not a spy.”
Judging by the tired smile, the Queen seems to be amused.
“What then, if I may ask?”
“I can’t say.”
It’s bad enough that Regina has seen her now, might recognize her, she can’t…
But Regina nods at Emma in acceptance.
“It’s not worth the torture. She looks like just another cousin thrice removed from Snow, it’s really not worth hearing what she has to say.”
Regina waves her hand at her and Emma can see that this isn’t a play. Whatever made Regina this tired has worn out her patience.
“Just get her outside to the others.”
Emma screams before she can control herself, violently shaking her head.
“You can’t! It’s… Don’t…”
When Regina turns fully to her, the steely expression is back on her face and Emma swallows.
“Are you actually telling me, your Queen, what to do?”
“No, your Majesty. I’m sorry, but…”
“Why are you still speaking?”
The coldness in Regina’s voice makes Emma close her mouth. She feels her eyes burn with unshed tears and she tries to swallow them away.
Regina turns away from her and Emma can’t believe how stupid she was.
There’s still a chance. They will take her outside. She will escape. No matter how.
“I will keep my promise. I will save you. I will save you and our son. I promise,” she murmurs the words to herself, affirming that she will make it, in a broken voice that’s hardly over a whisper, and yet…
And yet Regina shifts back to her, a curious note in her eyes despite her otherwise expressionless face, as if, on some level, she has not only heard the words but understood that they were meant for her.
“Maybe you still have to talk.”
With that she leans forward, putting her superiority in every carefully directed movement, the way she places one hand at her hip, leana forward to get into Emma’s personal space, and slowly moves her hand to Emma’s chin, propping it up between a squeezing thumb and forefinger.
“You have something to say to me?”
Forced to meet her eyes Emma can’t help but look defiant. She’s aware that it’s probably the worst thing she can do, but she is holding on by the seams and that little bit of rebellion keeps her sane.
It also makes Regina smile, intrigued, which is so not what Emma wants.
“You do know I can make you talk...”
It’s a statement, not a question, so Emma doesn’t bother answering. Instead she keeps holding Regina’s gaze, refusing to falter first.
She’s made so many mistakes by now that it hardly seems to matter.
There’s a tension in the air that feels kind of new, but oh so familiar, reminding her so much of confrontations with a certain Mayor that Emma almost smiles.
Regina furrows her brow, but keeps staring at Emma like she is a puzzle that she will figure out. Emma feels her lips twitch at the familiarity, but she still holds back the smile.
It is lost in the haze that suddenly grips her and she realizes that Regina is trying to exert magic to get Emma to talk. Her own magic acts up, no longer tamed down, but spinning inside of her, striving to meet Regina’s magic, ready to be led, failing to actually see the mistake it’s making.
This isn’t her Regina, but obviously the magic is still similar enough and her magic partially escapes her tight control meeting Regina’s with unusual warmth.
Emma swallows, staring at Regina with fear now. For a single moment Regina raises the corners of her mouth in satisfaction.
Then she shrinks away, the menacing smile gone, replaced by incredulity, shock almost, their roles reversed.
“Who are you?”
Emma just shakes her head, too stunned. She doesn’t understand what just happened, but it can’t be good. Right?
Regina rises herself up to her full height. She squints at Emma for a long while before she turns to the guard.
The guards seems flustered, his eyes going between Emma and Regina.
“Need I repeat myself?”
“Of course not. I’ll wait outside until you are ready, Your Majesty.”
“You will wait at the end of the corridor and make sure no one else enters this room.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. As you wish, Your Majesty.”
Now, clearly nervous, the guard bows several times before he leaves.
Regina waits at the door until Emma can’t hear any footsteps anymore. Then she sweeps around, snaps her fingers and sits herself down on a newly conjured chair.
Interestingly enough it’s nothing plush, just a simple wooden chair. She crosses her legs and leans back against the backrest with a regal stance.
So much for an ordinary chair.
Emma sighs before she meets Regina’s gaze, still directed at her, still disdainful.
Only, there is something new around her eyes, some kind of weird gentleness that doesn’t make any sense.
Until Emma realizes that Regina’s mask is entirely gone. Emma’s hesitant to even put it into words, but right now? She looks less like the Evil Queen and more like Regina.
“Who are you?” Regina breathes, angling her head slightly forward. Emma falters at the emotion behind the words, the curiosity coupled with something that Emma can’t name.
“I’m no one.”
“You’re clearly not one of Snow’s spies. She doesn’t have any more lords or ladies she can send that I don’t recognize and either way, that entire family is completely devoid of magic. How do you have it?”
The question seems important to Regina on a level that Emma can’t even begin to understand, so she just shakes her head.
“Just let me go. I mean you no harm. I swear, I’m no spy.”
Genuine amusement colors Regina’s features before she chuckles.
“No, you’re a thief, and not even a very good one. But why didn’t you use your magic? You could have been in my vault and away with no time lost. Why this elaborate get-up of leaving Princess Abigail in the middle of the forest when you could have just magicked yourself in?”
Despite herself Emma snorts.
“Through that barrier? I’d have been dead in a minute.”
“The barrier was down the entire day and don’t insult me by pretending you didn’t feel that. Your magic… What is your magic?”
And there is that expression again, intrigue. Regina is intrigued by her and Emma has no idea how to handle it.
It takes Regina only a second to lean back again.
“Who was that you were talking to earlier? Your husband? Your child? Are you trying to steal something from me in the misconception that you could help someone with it?”
Emma closes her eyes. Regina is unnervingly accurate.
“You can talk or not. I can still send you to the gallows as a thief and a spy, but I’d rather know why.”
When Emma stares at Regina, the Queen winks, in a very badly executed way, her other eye snapping shut with it.
“I’m curious like that.”
Emma bites her lip to hide the grin that’s forming on her lip.
“You know, you probably shouldn’t do that.”
“Try to wink. It fails to look intimidating.”
The way Regina’s lips part in incredulity is almost funny, at least until she closes her mouth and glares.
“Tell me, why you are here.”
Regina has already guessed the central idea so Emma sees no harm in confirming it.
“I came here to steal something from your vault that would help me save my family.”
Emma is pretty satisfied with herself, keeping up the conversation without revealing something new when Regina leans forward, focusing on her.
“And how do I figure into that?”
“How do you know me?”
Furrowing her brow, Emma is ready to shake her head when Regina waves her forefinger.
“Ah, ah, ah. No lying. Your magic knows me. How?”
Chapter 3: Some changes
Emma tries to swallow, but her throat is too dry. So she just stares.
Unfortunately the Evil Queen returns the look, smiling cruelly when she sees her suspicion confirmed. Regina gets up and saunters back to the door.
“Guard! I’m done here. I’m taking the prisoner to a more detailed interrogation.”
When their eyes meet this time, Emma does swallow.
Regina flicks her fingers and Emma, complete with shackles and chair, is transported to another room.
Panicking, Emma looks around, but she seems to be in something like a dining room. There’s a large table, the chairs around it look just like the one Regina conjured downstairs a few minutes ago and… there’s food on the table. Fruits and bread and vegetables and milk and Emma’s mouth waters.
Now this, this is torture.
A moment later she feels something flicker at the door and Regina appears. She waves her hand and the shackles falls away.
“Take a seat. You must be hungry.”
Emma massages her wrists and looks warily between the table and Regina, who simply sighs and takes a seat across from Emma.
“I’ve put a barrier around the room. You won’t be able to get out and I’m rather sure your magic is incapable of hurting me. I’d simply like to know why.”
Emma stops on her way to the table and stares. Her magic is incapable of hurting Regina? Did Regina do that herself during one of her lessons? Or is it herself? Could she hurt Regina?
“I don’t know,” Emma breathes before she sits down, hesitantly taking up a loaf of bread and tearing a piece off. It’s the truth and she suspects by the receding tension in Regina’s shoulders that she believes her, but that doesn’t say anything about whether the truth is beneficial or not.
So she concentrates on the surprisingly good bread, trying to ignore the piercing gaze directed at her.
Until Regina starts theorizing out loud.
“There are no memory spells on me. I broke them a long time ago.”
Now that is something Emma definitely doesn’t want to focus on because it leads to Cora and Regina’s childhood and she has gotten enough of an impression of Cora to make an educated guess.
“I’m also pretty good with faces. I usually don’t forget anyone.”
Emma feels that there is another story behind that, but she focuses on grapes instead. They are perfectly sweet and match the cheese that she detected on another plate. Regina just crinkles her nose in evident disgust but doesn’t allow Emma’s antics to distract her.
“I’m sure I wouldn’t forget people who have magic, especially not since we have obviously wielded magic together.”
Disliking the direction Regina turns to, Emma slurps while drinking the milk from the jug. Regina glowers but is not deterred.
“There is only one, no matter how improbable, explanation for your magic acting this way.”
Emma isn’t aware that her magic acted in any way, especially not in any way that deserves such an extensive analysis. She’s about to point that out when Regina leans back, a satisfied smile on her lips.
“You are from the future.”
Predictably, Emma chokes on the milk, coughing half of it up. She lets the jug fall to the table and tries to concentrate on breathing, but the irritation in her throat gets only worse, so she coughs and coughs until Regina sighs.
“For heaven’s sake.”
There is magic in her throat, easing the milk down warmly, and Emma blinks at Regina, ignoring the unusual way the magic feels, to croak out an irritated, “That’s ridiculous.”
Needless to say, she doesn’t even believe herself. No one warned her against Regina’s intelligence, but then, she should have known what to expect.
Regina simply rolls her eyes.
“If I do teach you magic in the future, remind me to be better, would you?”
Emma just stares, dumbfounded, which, judging by the twinkle in Regina’s eyes, amuses her to no end.
“Now, do tell me, who you are.”
It’s not a question but an order, and Emma can’t. She’s shaking her head, nervous and afraid.
“I can’t change the future.”
Regina simply tilts her head, eyebrows raised, mouth twitching with thinly veiled amusement.
“Oh, but, dear, you already have. Should I ever see you again, I will most certainly recognize you.”
“No, but you didn’t. I can only hope that all of this has already happened and you didn’t know me.”
The way Regina smirks at her should be forbidden.
“I can’t say what’ll happen between now and then, but I can guarantee that I will not forget your exquisite presence.”
Emma swallows, battling for control, lest she’d blurt out anything stupid.
The word ‘exquisite’ is obviously meant as an insult, judging by the way Regina’s eyes drift to the spilled milk for a moment. But then Regina’s eyes are back on her and Emma doesn’t doubt that Regina is able to read her way better than she’d like to.
She knows the effect Regina can have on her. She knows that she’s reacted to the Mayor’s little games in the past and so she can safely assume that flirting like that is a tool for the Evil Queen as well.
It’s just… Regina gets her flustered a little bit too easily.
The tight dress isn’t exactly helping, neither is the way Regina is looking at her right now.
Emma closes her eyes and puts her hand over her eyelids for good measure.
She desperately tries to focus on something other than Regina looking at her that way or the way she chuckles right now.
“So, does that mean you will talk to me?”
Actually, without looking, Emma does focus a lot better.
“Does that mean you believe me and will allow me to leave?”
“Do I seem like an idiot to you?”, Regina asks, strangely only minimally annoyed.
“No, that’s usually what you call me.”
“Oh, what an affectionate relationship we do seem to have.”
Emma flinches and, deciding that it apparently doesn't make a difference, she looks at Regina again.
Regina’s mouth is twitching, while her eyes gleam.
She is having far too much fun with this.
Even while she clearly enjoys getting Emma flustered, there’s still firm calculation in her eyes.
She is just waiting for Emma to tell her what she was doing in her castle.
And Emma does know enough about people in general, and Regina in particular, to be pretty sure that Regina won’t let her go otherwise. Now that she knows about Emma’s magic, she has even had her last avenue of escape taken away from her.
Plus, her magic has made a lasting impression. There’s no arguing that away.
So, Emma takes a deep breath and makes herself comfortable in the chair.
“Yes, we do know each other. My name is Emma Swan. I’m from a different world. We have a problem there, with a curse. Someone is trying to doom our entire town and I need something from your vault to stop it.”
Like suspected, Regina stops smiling the moment Emma starts talking. She’s taking in every word Emma says, clearly trying to make sense of it, tapping a finger on the table.
“Given that I believe you, and I’m not saying that I do, how is time travel even possible?”
Emma shakes her head.
“I can’t tell you that, that would definitely change the past.”
“We know each other already.”
Regina seems blasé on the outside, but Emma notices the way she draws her eyebrows up, a little bit worried.
“What kind of curse are we talking about and what item?”
When Emma just shrugs, Regina sighs.
“Look, I’m trying to believe you, but for now this could all be a very weird sham.”
“Can’t you just believe me? For once not be stubborn and take a leap?”
Only when the sentence is already out, does Emma realize how incredibly familiar it sounds. She opens her mouth to apologize, but the intrigue in Regina’s eyes stops her.
Regina might be purposefully intimidating and annoying, but she’s also genuinely curious.
“If I told you that you sent me to steal from you, would you believe me?”
To her surprise, Regina gives her an honest smile and nods.
The open belief stuns Emma.
“You, dear, are entirely clueless.”
Emma simply frowns, waiting for an explanation while Regina’s smile grows larger, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less unnerving.
“I assume I told you not to use magic.”
Emma confirms that with a nod and a frown. Her suspicion gets a sigh in response.
“Do you want to know why I believe you?”
Internally Emma screams for a yes, but she forces herself to shrug. She doesn't know how to respond to this version of Regina, she truly doesn’t. She’s intrigued and flustered and confused and attracted and it’s that last one that makes it just a little bit more complicated than it should be.
Regina just shakes her head.
“It tells me more than it should. For example I know that we’ve spent time together, that I tried to help you with your sloppy control on your magic, tried to give you a sense of direction, because as soon as I tried to influence you with my magic, it reached out to me, ready to be told what to do.”
“Hm,” is all Emma can say to that. Regina, well her Regina, never made it sound like that, like their magic was establishing a connection. She’d only smiled at Emma and told her that she was finally doing something right, when she was following more quickly.
It’s weird and disconcerting and so very fitting to their relationship that their magic would connect without hesitation when they themselves still can’t entirely let go of their differences.
“So what is our relationship?”
Emma shrugs, going with the most obvious and easiest answer.
“You teach me magic.”
But Regina smiles in satisfaction.
“And I, knowing myself pretty well, wouldn’t do that, if I didn’t trust you, so I’m inclined to rely on my own judgement.”
It makes Emma’s head hurt, but since Regina sounds confident, she just shrugs.
“Sure, that sounds reasonable.”
It’s just that instead of doing something, like, preferably, tell her that she’ll help her, Regina is still staring at Emma, as if she’s a complicated art piece.
“Does that mean you’re going to help me?”
But Regina just ignores her question. She stands up and gestures toward the door.
“When you’re finished eating, there are guest quarters down the hall to the left. I will make sure that they are ready for you and you make sure to take a bath.”
She crinkles her nose.
“Hey! I washed yesterday.” It’s insulting, really. “Plus, I used perfume.”
It doesn’t change Regina’s expression.
“Where? In a tavern?”
When Emma looks caught, Regina releases a chuckle, not a menacing chuckle, but a deeply amused one, before she walks to the door.
Emma doesn’t know what to make of this conundrum that is called the Evil Queen, who just shakes her head in amusement about herself before she turns back to Emma at the door.
“You know, it’s curious.”
Holding her gaze Emma waits for something that she is pretty sure she doesn’t want to hear.
“Here you are, a living, breathing proof of the fact that I’ll enact the curse, with the way you’re so clearly unfamiliar with my world, our customs, and yet I’ve decided not to use the scroll.”
Emma was right, she doesn’t want to hear about that.
“I cast the curse, condemned everyone to live without their happy ending and yet you look at me like you trust me.”
Stunned at the wistfulness, Emma’s response is hardly over a whisper.
“I trust her with my life.”
For a moment their eyes meet, a good deal of emotions pass over Regina’s face, astonishment, disbelief, acceptance, intrigue, until she nods.
“Well, if that’s true, you might trust me as well.”
With that she is out of the door, leaving Emma to stare at the door and think.
It turns out that, after their little breakfast, Regina has to hold court throughout the day, entertain the guests that stayed for longer than just the night of the ball, and do whatever a Queen has to do in her day to day life.
Also, Emma isn’t as free as she thought she’d be.
There aren’t that many guards in the corridor, but she has seen them at the stairs, blocking any sensible exit. She could try to make her way through a window, but judging by the height, she’d really rather not have to do that.
Besides, she still doesn’t have the wand.
Meanwhile, the maidservants that help her into a bath and scrub her hair, are just a little bit too observant of her answers while they chatter about castle gossip. About Princess Abigail being left in the woods, Lady Grant sending a peace emissary, and Knight So-and-so hooking up with a kitchen maid. Emma is pretty sure half of their chatter is deliberate to draw a reaction out of her.
The intelligence that’s shining in every one of their eyes pretty much confirms it.
Someone brings her cheese and bread for lunch and she’s aware that cheese means she’s getting treated above station.
Lady So-and-so down the hall only receives grapes.
There’s a mock tournament between some knights in the afternoon that Emma can only see half of from her window.
By now she feels the nearly indistinct barrier around the corridor, preventing her from using any kind of magic at all.
She tries devising plans for getting into the vault again - sneaks a knife off her plate, listens attentively, but she can’t help but feel like she’s betraying Regina even thinking about it.
So she waits, until one of the Queen’s personal guards stands in front of her to invite her to dinner in the Queen’s quarters.
Emma is surprised, but at the same time she is not. She has seen the carriages leave all day, but she wasn’t sure that Regina would remember her.
No, that’s wrong.
She wasn’t sure whether Regina would put up with her tonight, after what surely has been a trying day.
Of course Emma can’t be certain, but a lot of what Regina does looks to her like the Evil Queen is, if not trying to get rid of her title, at least trying to get rid of her reputation.
She has told Emma that she’s decided not to enact the curse, so she’s obviously trying to find a place in her kingdom, whatever her kingdom is nowadays.
No one has ever talked to Emma about this time, but then she has never really asked.
It doesn’t change that she now wishes she had.
All that she can do is let the maids dress her (and that’s also something she wishes she never had to experience, but it’s physically impossible to put on these dresses without help) and let herself be directed to a surprisingly small room.
The dinner table is set in a little alcove, large windows on three sides, burning candles on the walls and the chandelier above. There’s a heap of food, but Regina isn’t there yet.
Unsure, Emma slowly moves toward the place setting that’s not at the head of the table. She has a feeling that that’s for Regina.
It smells delicious. There’s some kind of meat that thankfully doesn’t look anything like chimera. Next to it are different kind of sauces, potatoes and vegetables. The servings are big enough to seem grand, but at second glance it seems to be just enough for two people.
Emma just sat down when Regina strides in.
“Sorry, I’m late.”
She smiles gently and it’s an entirely different kind of unnerving.
The first half an hour Regina explains to Emma what she’s eating and how she spent her day with several annoying royals. The Queen seems to be delighted by Abigail’s discomfort and she promises that she’s not surrendering Emma to her.
It’s a bit disconcerting when Regina explains that Abigail believes Emma to be executed, but then there’s less chance she’ll remember her in Storybrooke, if she believes her to be dead.
Only when Regina leans back, all comfortable and easy, to fix Emma with an alert gaze, does Emma realize that the setting for a casual mood was deliberate.
“Now, what exactly do you need to break this mysterious curse?”
Emma sighs and moves a hand through her hair. She’s out of options. Mostly, because of her stupid conscience that won’t allow her to betray Regina now, especially after she’s shown her so much kindness, but also because she doesn’t see a way she could overpower her guards and the magic barriers. So, she answers.
“It’s a faerie wand, supposedly woven from true love and imbued with its magic. It should be glimmering white; one shouldn’t be able to overlook it.”
Emma expects Regina to tilt her head attentively, to think about her words, to take them in. She doesn’t really expect to Regina scowl, lean back, and cross her arms.
“Who are you? Really?”
Confused, Emma just shrugs helplessly.
“Emma. I’m just Emma.”
Something flickers in Regina’s face as she fixes her eyes on Emma, all friendliness gone.
“What’s your connection to Snow White?”
And now Emma decides to flat out lie.
Regina just raises an eyebrow, clearly not buying it.
“You don’t really believe that I’d help you break my curse before I’ve even wielded it, do you?”
Her sudden enmity makes Emma realize that she has to say something, that it’s her job to convince Regina now. She set out to hide herself, to keep herself away from anyone, but that plan had been gone the moment Regina looked at her.
So Emma leans forward, bravely withstanding Regina’s scorching gaze.
“Yes, I do, because you sent me here to retrieve it. You told me it would be in your vault and it is not to break your curse. This is about an enemy using this stupid scroll to enact a second curse, to make us his puppets, to curse you .”
Regina narrows her eyes slightly and Emma is sure she is listening intently, and maybe, hopefully, believing her.
“If you don’t want to end up being cursed by having your own curse used against you, you’d better help me.”
Emma has leaned forward unconsciously and Regina has, too, a familiar and at the same time new fire crackling between them, until Regina quirks an eyebrow.
“Fine,” Regina presses out curtly, shifting to concentrate on her piece of cake again.
“Fine?” Emma echoes, dumbfounded, not believing that she won that argument so easily.
“Fine,” Regina confirms, a tiny smidge of amusement already finding its way into her voice again while Emma just stares.
“So, you’ll give me the wand?”
“I’ll give you access to my library, my bookworm, and the research I’ve done so far on that wand. I tried to obtain it because I don’t want anyone using it against me, but as of yet I haven’t acquired it.”
“Huh,” Emma makes and leans back.
So Regina was wrong.
The wand isn’t in her vault at all.
It turns out the bookworm is Belle.
It takes Emma three days to find what she’s looking for.
It takes her maybe an hour and a half to convince Belle that she’s a complete idiot.
Emma can’t help herself. Of all the people that should not remember seeing her in the Enchanted Forest at this time, Belle is probably the worst, okay, second worst. Rumple could hear about time travel and try to get little Baelfire back instead of grown Neal.
Or something like that.
So Emma jumps when Belle enters the room, trying to hide herself, making herself look like a complete weirdo in the process, forcing Emma to always have a curtain of blonde hair between them.
She breathes out in relief when she finds the location of the wand and immediately sends a guard to Regina. Regina answers by telling her about it over what has become their daily dinner together.
Somehow she is not terribly enthusiastic when Emma talks about a castle in the moors and True Love and just outside of Aurora’s kingdom. In explanation, Regina tells her something about history repeating itself and faeries fighting with humans, sleeping curses without apples, solely powered by faerie magic itself, a spindle, and things Emma has never dreamed of.
Still, Emma is sure of her discovery and Regina sighs.
“I’ll tell them to ready two horses for the day after tomorrow.”
“We can’t just teleport into the moors, that would break several customs and faeries are not to be trifled with.”
It’s not exactly what Emma asked about.
Now Regina gets it. She cocks her head.
“You do know how to ride, don’t you?”
It sounds like Emma should know unless…
But Emma shakes her head.
“I’ve never been near a horse in my entire life.”
“How do you get around in that land of yours?”
Emma shrugs, not ready to explain cars.
“Why don’t I believe you?”
But Emma’s grin is forced, because...
Only then does she understand what Regina implied.
“You’re coming with me?”
“I can’t very well allow you to stumble around the forest on your own.”
It’s almost insulting, but Regina laughs and smiles and teases and two days later Emma finds herself dressed in riding leathers, blouse, vest, and a short coat, her hair tied into a braid, riding behind Regina on a horse, that is supposedly very calm and trained to walk alongside Regina’s horse, all her complaints repelled by reason.
They can’t possibly ride a carriage into the moors, no matter how unfortunate Emma thinks this is.
So Emma does something she has rebelled against her entire life and resigns herself to her fate. Regina tells her how to sit on the horse to give the gelding the best range of motion and Emma complies while she wonders whether her horse’s comfort is more important than hers.
Fortunately, Regina is holding the lead line tied to Emma’s horse’s halter, giving Emma some sense of security.
Regina patiently explained the technique called ‘ponying’ that has their horses trained to walk closely together and her confidence actually reassures Emma. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t feel out of control, her hands searching for something to hold on to, settling on the saddle.
She knows that, should something happen, Regina has to let go of the lead line, but Regina has trust in their horses, and, strangely enough, it is sufficient for Emma.
It is curious how Regina just has to leave the security of the stables and her mask slips on. There’s no more teasing, only coldness as they ride out of the castle, guards saluting, people behaving just as they’re ordered.
Only once they’re out of sight does Regina start talking, calmly at first, telling Emma about the nearby village. Then she points out the name of the forest, the nearest border, how you can almost see a neighboring castle from the top of the hill.
After two hours Emma has almost gotten used to the swaying of her beast. She wouldn’t call it comfortable, but it’s… okay.
Somehow Regina is still talking, has been on and off for the last two hours, regaling Emma on the history of the realms, of human wars and faerie wars and wars between the two of them. She isn’t too specific and, although her tone is mostly lecturing, every now and then she throws a look toward Emma, no doubt checking whether Emma is still afraid.
Emma is because there are tons of muscles underneath her, thinking, feeling muscles that can spook, throw her off, and trample her to death.
She’s also kind of in awe of being carried around by this conscient being.
Also, the worst thing her horse does is flick its ears, nothing more, even at weird sounds in the woods like other riders in the distance or branches breaking in the wind.
It’s not like the horse spooks at them. Emma does.
In turn the horse flicks its ears, like it’s annoyed at her stupidity.
So, yes, after two hours she has completely resigned to her fate, might even find the motion dulling, not soothing, never soothing, but dulling.
Emma’s spacing out every now and then, so she doesn’t notice the glowing until it’s upon them; a dozen of tiny faeries again, this time descending upon both of them.
Fortunately Regina’s horse simply stops, and Emma’s only flicks its ears, standing still as well, so she’s safe.
As soon as the first faerie lands on her open palm, Emma feels safe. She thinks it’s the same little faerie girl that winks at her, smiling mischievously, nodding towards Regina.
Emma just rolls her eyes.
Then another faerie lands on her shoulder, another one on her arm, one even dares to situate itself between the flicking ears of her horse, but he just lowers his head, seeming content to stop for a while, clearly used to the faeries.
Emma just keeps staring and feeling because those tiny creatures do something to her that makes her feel safe and accepted and home .
She hasn’t felt home in a very long time.
There had been some semblance of home with Mary Margaret, but she doesn’t remember ever feeling that much at home; and it hurts, but at the same time it makes her face break out into a huge grin.
She looks to Regina then, who is moving her hands in simple circles, pure white magic filtering out into the air until the faeries giggle and move toward it. Before Emma understands what she is seeing, they are dancing with Regina’s magic. They are swirling and giggling, and some of them look a bit hazy, but that might be a tear in Emma’s eye because Regina is radiant. She smiles indulgently as she waves her hands, but underneath that, shimmers pure happiness.
Emma blinks away her tears and just watches.
Watches how widely Regina smiles, how her eyes crinkle, how gracefully she moves her hands directing the magic.
She only takes her eyes away when she feels her own hands grow warm. There are no fireworks coming out of her hands, but they’re wam nonetheless. She wonders whether what Regina has repeatedly told Emma about her light magic being pure, being ‘sickeningly’ sweet feels anything like this.
If her magic is just a step toward feeling like this, she’s not sure she ever wants it to stop, but then Regina’s whistles and the faeries disperse. She sends a swirl of silver magic after them and they keep playing with it a bit further away. Emma watches Regina, who shakes her head and seems to sit even more upright than before. She clicks with her tongue and both horses slowly start up again.
“What was that?”
But Regina just stares straight ahead, shoulders rigid.
“I know about wood faeries, Regina. My… I know about them. But how did they bond with you that way? That was incredible.”
“Why shouldn’t they? They don’t know anything about my title or how I’ve come to earn it.”
Emma wishes she’d know how to move her horse toward Regina so that she could look her in the eye, but when she puts pressure on her knees, the stupid animal stops entirely.
It makes Regina scowl at her, which is a start.
“I meant your magic. Wood faeries are supposed to only bond with…”
“Light magic? You think that because I’ve used so much dark magic, I shouldn’t be able to wield light magic? Is that what you’re doing? Pretending otherwise, but only seeing the Evil Queen that I am supposed to be? If that’s the case, you don’t know me at all.”
“No, I’m not…”
Unsure, Emma shifts in the saddle, as Regina turns around again, both horses resuming their walk.
“I’ve always just seen you as Regina,” Emma murmurs to herself, with more emphasis than she’d planned.
Under Emma’s gaze, Regina’s shoulders relax.
What the books described as 'moors' turns out to be an endless stretch of blooming, vibrant nature. Regina insists that they have to leave the horses behind, so after Regina exchanges her horse’s bridle for a simple halter like Emma’s horse's, and takes off the saddles, she murmurs slowly to her horse before she steps back and sends them off.
Emma stares incredulously.
“How are we going to get back?”
Regina shrugs like the answer should be obvious.
“But.. I thought that would break customs?”, Emma asks, not without the accusatory note in her voice. If they can get back by magic, she didn’t need to travel by horse.
“While it’s rude to just barge in unannounced, I assume we can easily leave via magic."
"And the horses?"
"They know the way back better than you do."
With that Regina turns around and guides them along the gurgling stream, telling her it will bring them close enough to the castle. Emma just nods and stares at the cacophony of flowers that come in all possible colors. Additional to that, the air is positively brimming with magic.
While Emma has noticed that magic is very much present in the Enchanted Forest, this is an entirely new level. Compared to Storybrooke any magic is more, but this seems like its opposite.
The moors are slowly making Emma heady with power.
Still, she follows behind Regina, mindful of where she puts her feet, guided by some kind of magic that Emma doesn’t think she can ever understand. She tries anyway.
“What is this?“
“The moors,“ is Regina's very unhelpful answer.
“These aren't moors,“ Emma protests. “Moors are wet, dank places, that no one cares about. This is... unbelievable.”
Finally, Regina turns around and looks at her. There's a smile on her face and she nods.
“Well, they are called the moors. I don't know why. It's inhabitants aren't very good with delivering written facts. Mostly they tell their history in fables and similes. You never really know what's true and what's fiction.”
“It's not really different with us, though, is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Someone writes a story, but they've only heard one side of it. So unless you read stories from both sides, and maybe one from a somewhat objective observer, you just never know, do you?”
Emma stops talking when she notices Regina staring at her.
“Is that what you would do if someone placed a compilation of the Evil Queen's misdeeds in front of you?”
“Try to look at other reports before you judge?”
Emma shrugs. It's something she doesn't like to think about. They'd decreed, shortly after the curse broke, that any acts that happened in another realm wouldn’t be punished in Storybrooke, so she tried to leave it at that and mostly, succeeded.
“I would hope to think that I would. I don't simply judge people by what others say.”
“No, that is obvious.”
“I am the Evil Queen, dear, there's no talking around that. I did unspeakable things.”
Emma sighs, unsure why Regina feels the need to antagonize her now.
“So did others. One time Snow stormed your castle to free David and they nearly killed two thirds of your guards.”
There's a flicker in Regina's eyes before she turns around.
“So the fact that they committed crimes as well absolves me from mine?”
Exasperated, Emma pushes a hand through her hair, sighing at the tangle that her locks are in.
“Only you can absolve yourself from them, but then, they might always stay with you.”
It's what Regina had told her, on their way back from Neverland. Emma hadn't asked for an explanation, but they had been sitting next to Henry, watching him breathe while he slept and Regina had simply started talking, explaining that having no regret doesn't mean having no remorse.
Emma had understood.
“I suppose they will,” Regina sighs, looking straight ahead and finally Emma understands.
“You are trying. You want to get your kingdom back. You really don't want to enact the curse.”
“Not that it's any of your business, but yes, I plan to decide my own fate. I can try to be happy, even here.”
Emma blinks in confusion. She has done nothing to change the past this drastically.
So either she ended up in an entirely different universe, where the curse has never been cast, or everyone left out a really important part of the story. She’s leaning toward the latter and becoming more and more curious.
Before she can think of a way to get Regina to talk, she spots the ruins of a castle in front of them. Regina hums in approval and points to what seems to have been the front entrance, a long time ago.
They climb over the remnants of collapsed walls inside, Regina shooting questions at Emma regarding the books she went through in the library. Emma is pretty sure that Regina knows all the answers, but she stays patient.
That is until Regina shoves her into a crevice, almost making Emma stumble down barely visible steps.
“Silence! Use your magic to see.”
Trying to do as she’s told, Emma lifts her hands, trying to use her magic. Nothing happens.
Only when Regina sighs does Emma notice that the other woman is still standing atop of the stairs. Her heart accelerates in fear and she tries to keep herself calm.
There’d been easier ways to kill her.
A lot of easier ways.
“Concentrate on the warmth. Remember the faeries? They were light and warmth. Think about the light. Picture it in your mind.”
Finally, Emma’s hands flicker.
“Okay, do it again.”
Emma has no idea why she trusts Regina to do this, but she does.
Finally she manages to make her hands glow faintly.
“Well, this is better than nothing.”
Annoyed, Emma squints at the shadow atop the stairs.
“Well, if you’re so good at it, why don’t you come here and do it yourself?”
There’s a moment of silence and Emma falters.
Regina never hesitates. No matter which version.
“The wand should be hidden in the room you’re in. Only someone possessing light magic and a pure heart can take it.”
Incredulous, Emma raises her eyebrows.
“I’m hardly pure hearted.”
“You have good intentions. You want that wand to save everyone from a curse. That should be enough.”
Sighing, Emma turns around, taking in what she can make out in the faint light. It’s not much.
“If you’re not lying about your intentions, of course,” Regina adds.
Emma chooses to ignore her, hoping this won’t be a repetition of the Gold-Dragon incident. She cringes at the title her mind just supplied and stares at the walls.
“How will I know where to look?”
“Magic, of course.”
“Great,” Emma mutters, slowly moving in a circle. She’s feeling very stupid, waiting for some magical sign or whatever.
“Don’t overthink it,” Regina cautions. Emma throws a useless glare at her, finally noticing a strange warmth to her left. She carefully walks in that direction, balancing over the debris of what seems to be a collapsed stone pillar.
“What are you doing?” Regina demands to know when some stones roll away from her, making noise. Emma grins at the tension in Regina’s voice. The Queen is definitely concerned.
“Finding that wand!”
Emma answers, climbing down even further, following the magic.
She finds a crevice in the wall, but it is too small to search, so she tries to open it, flinching when the big brick gives in and almost falls on her feet.
“Wait a second!”
At last, she actually sees the wand in the wall. It’s faintly glowing in a beautiful silver color, responding to her magic.
“Found it!” She informs Regina before she picks it up and puts in safely away in a pocket of her coat.
“I’m coming out now!”
Regina mumbles something, but Emma is too far away to catch it. She’s busy climbing over the broken stones, making sure she doesn’t slip.
She’s almost at the door when, for no apparent reason, the floor gives out under her. Too surprised to scream for help, Emma only yelps as she falls into an even deeper level, her head colliding with something hard.
Chapter 4: A magical journey
Emma comes to with Regina shaking her awake.
“Who else? Now, get up. We need to get out of here, before this entire building collapses on us.”
“Right,” Emma grunts, allowing Regina to pull her up. Her entire back is stinging from the impact.
“How long was I out?”
“I don’t now. Maybe a moment or two.”
“Hm,” Emma answers, merely to show that she heard Regina - mostly she is busy trying to keep herself upright. She doesn’t really see where she’s placing her feet, but she follows Regina to a wide staircase nevertheless.
Of course she stumbles after only a couple of steps. When she nearly falls down just two steps later, she feels a surprisingly strong arm around her waist.
“Lean on me,” Regina orders, closer than Emma expected. Emma freezes when she feels Regina’s breath on her cheek. Regina is too close. Emma has spent too long avoiding what that closeness does to her to cope with the contact right now.
Fortunately, Regina reads her wrong, taking her flinching for pain instead of a sudden bout of nervousness.
“Are you hurt?”
Letting out a rattled breath, Emma shakes her head.
“I don’t know.”
It’s the truth - Emma has no idea. She is warm and cold and there is that weird tingly feeling all over her body. It’s becoming increasingly harder to breathe in a steady rhythm, because she might very well be on the verge of panicking.
Somehow Regina seems to notice, because she is holding her even closer, steering them toward the stairs.
“It’s not that far, I promise.”
Emma is increasingly glad that they are in the dark, where Regina isn’t able to see how pale and sweaty her face must look like right now.
Dazed, she allows Regina to lead her up the stairs. They emerge from an entirely different side of the castle, but Regina doesn’t seem perturbed by it.
Instead she turns around to look Emma up and down.
Emma just focuses on Regina’s face, trying to ignore the warm feeling in her gut.
Maybe she hit her head too hard down there.
“Are you fine?”
Regina’s holds her hand up to Emma’s cheek, making it worse.
Emma swallows and nods.
“Yeah, I think I am.”
She steps away from Regina and stretches her arms to prove it. Her muscles feel raw, especially in her back and legs, but she isn’t sure how much of that comes from the fall and how much is due to spending almost the entire day on the horse.
Emma squints at Regina, finally registering the concern.
“Are you worried about me?”
Immediately the expression on Regina’s face changes.
“The only thing I’m worried about is whether my horses get home safely.”
Emma raises her eyebrows at the sudden topic change, “Sure you are. And were you concerned about the horses when you got me out of there?”
Regina turns around, shoulders rigid, and walks ahead. Emma stumbles after her, shaking her head. Of course she shouldn’t call Regina out on worrying about her. Emma heaves a sigh and squints ahead, not exactly thrilled about the distance they have to cover.
“Can we teleport now?”
“Not before we have left the Moors.”
Emma suppresses another sigh, she doubts whether they’ll get back to the border before it gets dark. For a moment she only watches Regina’s rigid back.
“Can you walk or does something hurt?”
It’s not exactly friendly, but the harshness is laced with worry that is strangely easy to read.
“Sure,” Emma nods. “Just a bit sore.”
When Regina turns around to look at her, there is a tiny smile on her face.
Only when Regina faces forward again, does Emma notice the strange tension in Regina’s shoulders.
“Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
That isn’t an answer and they both know it.
Emma sighs but keeps walking. She doesn’t comment on Regina’s gait, how she stumbles over roots that she carefully avoided on their way there.
“Why did you throw me in first?”
When Regina doesn’t answer Emma knows that they have a problem.
Something happened to Regina when she got Emma out.
“Did you fall when you climbed down to me?”
That seems to be the easiest explanation, but Regina just turns her head to glare at her.
“Of course not.”
Sure. Evil Queens don’t stumble and fall, even when they climb into a partially collapsed castle.
A moment later Emma jumps forward to steady Regina on her elbow.
Apparently Evil Queens do stumble over…
Looking down, Emma frowns.
There’s nothing. Just soft grass.
“Regina, you’re not okay.”
“You’re surely taking liberties, dear,” Regina says, but the snark is missing. She is actively leaning on Emma for support. Trying to diffuse the tension, Emma points out.
“You can’t faint on me. How will I get back to the castle without you?”
When Emma winks at Regina she receives an eye roll in return.
“How far away is the border?”
“Why? Tired of walking?” Emma asks teasingly, hoping to distract Regina from whatever is weighing her down. “I think you need to rest. First you should eat, maybe drink something.”
Regina hums in assent but continues to stumbles along, her eyes barely focusing on their surroundings. A moment later Emma has to catch Regina when her legs give out. Emma carefully helps her down, securing her head with a hand. She gently brushes soft dark hair out of Regina’s face.
“Hey,” she murmurs as Regina blinks up at her.
Quickly, Emma shrugs off her coat and folds it together to place under Regina’s head.
“Stay here. I’m going back to the stream to get some water.”
Maybe Regina’s dehydrated. She’s only dehydrated. It can’t be anything worse.
Emma tries to calm herself as she scrambles to the stream, unfastening the leather strap that secured her bottle to her belt, before she dips the empty bottle into the clean water.
She notices that it is still getting darker; the sun is almost gone on the horizon.
As soon as she’s back she splashes some water on Regina’s gray-ish face, but she barely blinks.
With growing worry, Emma helps her to sit up, and forces her to drink some water.
After only two gulps Regina’s hand reaches out for the bottle and she seems steadier as she empties it. Emma’s hands are still on her back and Regina leans back into Emma’s embrace, resting her head against Emma’s shoulder.
She sighs and closes her eyes again.
But Regina doesn’t react. On the contrary, she seems to be slipping into unconsciousness, her eyes glowing strangely, making Emma worry even more.
Immediately Emma places her on the ground again, lightly shaking her.
“Regina, come on!”
“I have no fucking clue what is wrong and I don’t know what to do!”
Still no reaction.
Emma carefully taps Regina’s face. She is only mildly reassured by Regina’s regular breathing. She has never seen Regina lose control, certainly not over her own body.
Feeling incredibly helpless, Emma strokes the hair out of Regina’s face, her voice breaking in fear.
“Stay with me?”
Finally Regina blinks, slowly focusing on Emma, and Emma feels like she can breathe again.
Emma holds her up and pats her back, concentrating on her own relieved breathing.
“You’re okay. You’re going to be fine.”
As soon as she’s calmer, Regina glowers at her.
“How would you know?”
Emma just returns her look.
It’s stupid, but she does know. Maybe it’s this surreal scenery that makes her certain, maybe it’s Henry’s stubbornness to believe in positive outcomes rubbing off on her, or maybe it’s just because she knows the future version of the woman that she’s holding in her arms.
A woman who would never lean on her, even after being hurt, would assure her that she’s fine instead of taking even an ounce of support.
“What happened?” Emma asks, knowing it has to be something major.
Regina just shakes her head before she leans back against Emma. Her hair is tickling Emma’s neck, but Emma just holds on, feeling incredibly overwhelmed.
It is strange how right this feels, how perfectly Regina fits into her arms, how easily she melds against Emma.
Then she feels bad at having such feelings while she’s comforting Regina.
Regina asks, her voice sleepy.
“It’s okay,” Emma confirms, feeling her words to be true. Regina sags against her, giving in to sleep.
Sleep is marginally better than unconsciousness, Emma decides.
For a moment she thinks about looking around, maybe find her way back to the saddles they left behind. Emma is sure she saw Regina put some food in the saddle bags, so maybe she could find some dinner and wake Regina to eat something. But then she focuses on Regina and she knows she can’t leave her alone.
So she watches over her as the night surrounds them.
It’s strange. Emma knows she is in the same realm as the Enchanted Forest, though, if she’s understood Regina correctly, the Moors are entirely independent, but that doesn’t mean they’ve changed into another realm. She is aware that the Evil Queen is practically sleeping in her arms, that they are situated on the softest grass Emma has ever felt, and in a place whose name is still kind of weird.
Yet she isn’t prepared for what the night brings.
Instead of night’s darkness taking over, slowly but surely silver lights appear everywhere. Just like the colorful flowers of the day, the night comes in shades of light, in dark and light blue, in saturated greens, and silver, lots of silver - blinking, shining steadily, flickering on and off, changing its color, approaching.
Before Emma believes her eyes, a being of maybe fifteen inches is standing in front of her, silver hair, midnight blue eyes and almost translucent skin.
“Hello,” the voice is high, childlike.
Emma gulps and shifts Regina in her arms to sit up straighter.
“You don’t have permission to enter the Moors after dark.”
“We entered at day,” Emma tries to defend them.
“We know,” the voice is bell-like, clear, ringing through Emma.
The creature bows before placing something in front of Emma.
“The Queen sends her regards.”
Emma’s eyes flicker to Regina, but the creature just laughs, the sound tickling in Emma’s consciousness.
“Not a human one. The only Queen there is. She sends her regards.”
“Okay, thank you,” Emma answers, only to cause a fit of ringing laughter.
“Don’t thank me. Thank the Queen.”
Swallowing dry air, Emma nods.
“Thank the Queen for me.”
The creature nods before squinting at Regina.
“She’ll be fine tomorrow.”
Emma eyes the creature in suspicion without answering.
“You will have to leave tomorrow, you know?”
Emma nods silently. They would have left today, if they’d been able to.
“Good.” The creature nods.
“The Queen would like you to return her property once you’ve finished your task.”
Trying to keep her calm, Emma studies the creature.
“You know about my task?”
“No, the Queen knows. Will you give back what you took when you’re finished with it?”
Stunned, Emma can only nod and the creature bows again.
“The Queen thanks you for that. You have until tomorrow at nightfall to leave the moors.”
There is a brighter glow and in the blink of an eye they are alone again. Emma sighs.
This is getting weirder and weirder.
She stretches her arms to pull the package closer. It feels strange and it takes her a moment to realize that the wrapping is leaves from a gum tree. Apprehensive, Emma cautiously pulls them away.
Inside are grapes, tiny apples, strawberries, and two sorts of other red berries carefully placed in separate leaves.
Emma eyes the contents suspiciously.
What is it books always say about fae? Don’t dance with them - don’t eat or drink their food or something like that. She certainly won’t trust them. No matter how her stomach grumbles.
“It’s just food.”
Emma flinches and throws Regina a look.
“I thought you were sleeping.”
Regina shrugs before she sits up, leaving Emma’s side feeling cold.
“It’s a little difficult with all this blinking going on.”
“I think it’s beautiful,” Emma says before she can stop herself. Regina hums noncommittally instead of mocking her.
“How come we haven’t been thrown out yet?”
That gets Emma’s attention. She squints at Regina, not concentrating on Regina’s knee still touching her leg, but at the strange tension that emanates from Regina.
“You know that we aren’t allowed to stay here?”
Regina rolls her eyes before she flinches.
“Did you just roll your eyes so hard that it hurt?”
Smiling, Emma stares back at the little stream and the lights above it.
“We had a visitor, but it seems that the Queen is allowing us to stay until nightfall tomorrow.”
“How did you manage that?”
Curious, Emma looks back at Regina.
“Humans aren’t allowed to stay here at night.”
Finally Emma nods in understanding.
“So, that’s why you hurried along even though you obviously weren’t well.”
Regina just shrugs and Emma rolls her eyes.
“That was stupid, you know? Nothing happened to us.”
“Because of you,” Regina protests and Emma frowns at her.
Regina sighs and leans forward to collect some fruits.
“Your magic shines out of you. I don’t know how to describe it other than ‘good’.”
Still frowning, Emma nods at Regina to continue, ignoring the audible quotation marks.
“I have never seen magic like yours.”
“What’s so unusual about it?”
Regina meets her eyes.
“It’s all light.”
Confused, Emma cocks her head, but Regina just makes a wide gesture.
“Look around you. This entire land is powered by an ancient version of light magic. It’s goodness incorporated. Yes, it can protect itself if threatened, but it won’t kill if it doesn’t have to.”
“You talk about a land like it has its own opinion.”
“It has its own soul.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
Instead of lecturing her, Regina smiles.
“You still don’t quite believe in the potential of magic, and yet you possess this raw power. It’s very intriguing.”
Emma just scowls and watches Regina nip at the strawberries.
“They’re quite good, you should try one.”
“Will you be able to go to the horses after that?”
But Regina just shrugs, almost unconcerned.
“No. Neither will you. Night looks different here. We should count ourselves lucky that she allowed us to stay.”
When Regina meets her gaze, Emma shivers at the darkness in her eyes.
“She’d strip us of our magic before she’d throw us back to the humans.”
Emma swallows and reaches out for the fruits herself. If Regina thinks it’s okay to eat them, she can as well.
Of course the little red one she chooses tastes sour.
Emma makes a face.
For a moment they just eat in an unusually familiar silence. Emma is happy to see Regina move with her usual grace and precision, only a peculiar slowness left to her motions.
She takes a deep breath, knowing Regina probably won’t want to answer her.
“So… What happened to you?”
Regina gives her a blank look, feigning ignorance, but Emma wants an answer.
“Down in the ruins.”
Regina holds her gaze but doesn’t answer, so Emma presses on.
“I’m not blind, Regina. You went in when you implied you couldn’t and are clearly sick because of it. What happened?”
Now Regina avoids her eyes, focusing on some glowing faeries flying in circles in the distance. Emma sighs, ready to give up, when Regina slowly starts talking.
“There is a barrier around the castle, still intact from the old days.”
Impatient, Emma starts to fidget with her fingers, forcing herself to stay calm and listen instead of pestering Regina.
“It is made to keep out anyone not from this land.”
“The moors,” Regina clarifies quickly.
“The fae from this land have very distinct magic.”
“Light magic,” Emma repeats Regina’s earlier statement, suddenly understanding.
“Yes,” Regina nods, still staring out onto the river bank. “Unfortunately my magic isn’t that peaceful anymore.”
Emma tries, really tries, to keep herself from asking. This is a private matter, something her Regina certainly wouldn’t appreciate disclosing. And yet…
“How does that work? Having both light and dark magic?”
Regina blinks slowly, eyes flickering to Emma’s for a second.
Emma shakes her head.
She surprises even herself with her wistful tone. Emma didn’t even know Regina had light magic. She wonders whether it’s possible to lose it.
Regina sighs and looks out at the river again.
“Light and dark magic can be used for the same horrible or good deeds.”
So far Emma agrees; she has seen Regina use her magic to save them, to fight with them.
“There’s a difference in how you use it.”
Regina turns her hand, palm facing upward and a shimmering bright flame flickers white in between red.
“This is conjured from within me. It is my magic that powers it.”
She closes her hand, the white flame flickering out, before she opens it again, a tiny red fire flickering in her palm now, seemingly darker. It flickers out immediately and Regina scowls at her hand.
“That was powered by the energy around us, not me.”
Slowly, Emma begins to understand.
Her own powers only came from within her. Regina had repeatedly told her to use her own core, to free what was within her.
No one has ever told her that it could be done differently.
“If you take from your surroundings, you pay the price for violating nature in that way. Your soul blackens, your emotions grow fainter.”
It slips out before Emma can stop herself, but Regina hardly seems to notice. She is still avoiding her eyes, seeming deep in thought.
“Because you don’t use your own magic, you don’t allow your emotions to power your magic, but you suppress them so that you can take your magic from elsewhere.”
Curiosity keeps Emma asking.
“What about people that only use dark magic?”
She needs to know.
“They have used so much dark magic, that they’ve lost their light magic, have lost their connection to their emotions.”
Emma swallows hard, a sudden knot in her stomach making her feel sick.
Regina shrugs, almost not-caring.
“I’ve heard rumours of some magic users being able to reverse it. Not, of course, the Dark One.”
“He has emotions,” Emma murmurs, more to herself. She had seen Gold after they met Neal. There had been something.
“Skewed ones. He’s lusting for power, maybe deep down clinging to the last pure emotion he had, but I imagine it’s long gone now.”
For the first time Regina looks back to Emma, eyes scarily alert.
“But you weren’t asking about the Dark One, were you?”
Unfortunately Emma hesitates just one second too long before she says.
“No, of course I was asking about him.”
Regina throws her a look.
“Yes, of course we were talking about him. I mean, how could I be teaching you light magic, if I lost mine?”
Her tone is rhetoric, but Emma has no doubt that the question is real.
Finally Emma realizes what her presence must be doing to Regina. Emma is the living breathing proof that Regina enacted the curse. Something she has just decided against. Regina has said it before, but Emma hadn’t thought about it.
“You can teach me light magic because you know about it. You know how it works. You have emotions.”
“What kind of emotions would that be? A survival instinct? Is that why you don’t seem to know that much about me, although we did magic together?”
Having had enough, Emma sits up straight.
“Love. You’re feeling love.”
“I don’t have anything left to love,” Regina points out, voice now completely devoid of emotions.
“You have a son,” she says, noticing how Regina blinks in confusion.
“But…” Regina’s hand flitters to her abdomen, confirming a suspicion Emma has had for some time, but she continues talking, undeterred.
“He is twelve now. He is very smart and handsome. Well educated, polite. He loves you and you love him. You would give your life for him.”
Something flickers in Regina’s eyes and Emma thinks she said the right thing.
She doesn’t know what will happen between now and then. She doesn’t know how Regina will lose her light magic, that side of her that seems to know how to smile more easily. She can’t let Regina think that she will have nothing because Regina has told her that Henry taught her how to love again.
The bright flame flickers up in Regina’s open palm once more and Regina stares at it, like looking at an old picture of something once loved, before she meets Emma’s eyes again.
“So, with the curse I’ll lose my light magic, but gain a son?”
Oh, hell. Of course, Emma thinks to herself before she swallows and she nods.
“It seems so.”
“My fate is already written, isn’t it?”
Emma wants nothing more than to just reach out and take some of Regina’s pain away. It’s not the first time she feels this way. There were instances in which she had found herself compelled to reach out to Regina.
Dark reproaching eyes have always prevented her from doing that.
Now, those exact dark eyes are swimming with unshed tears, silently begging to be relieved of some of those emotions.
So Emma reaches out and puts her hand on Regina’s shoulder. Almost instantly Regina allows herself to be pulled into Emma’s embrace. Emma moves her hands soothingly back and forth over Regina’s shoulders.
After a moment Emma remembers the question that brought on their discussion, remembers her concern. She leans back to look at Regina, ready to demand an answer this time.
“So, what did stepping through the barrier do to you?”
“It stripped away my magic.”
Shocked, Emma’s hands stop moving, but Regina hardly seems fazed.
“My connection to Dark Magic. The more often you use it, the easier you can absorb power from your surroundings. It’s like leaving a pathway open that allows you to channel more magic the more often you do it.”
“So, that connection…?”
“Was forcefully shut down,” Regina confirms, only to lean back against Emma. There’s no reservation in the movement and Emma finds herself easily holding Regina, contemplating what Regina just said. She has been stripped of her dark magic, forcefully.
“Ouch,” Emma mumbles, as she imagines being divided from her magic. Since she’s become aware of it, it has started to feel like an integral part to her, working within her with or without her doing. She can’t imagine losing even a part of it.
Regina nods against her shoulder.
They stare at the moving, dancing , Emma suddenly realizes, faeries together. How they flurry over the stream, their lights reflected in the dark water.
Somewhere between their conversation and dawn, Emma leans back against the tree behind her. She falls asleep with Regina in her arms.
Emma wakes to a slight buzzing sound. There’s something glowing at the edge of her sight, but, as soon as she blinks, it disappears.
A pinching pain in her back reminds her where she is.
The tingling feeling in her leg slowly waking, makes her aware of who is draped across her lap.
Regina is out cold, head snuggled against Emma’s stomach, placed more over Emma’s legs than next to her, stopping the blood supply in her leg.
Emma doesn’t know why she feels compelled to whisper, but it must be something about the softness in Regina’s face, the way her lips slowly move into a pout before she buries her head into Emma’s stomach.
Stifling a chuckle, Emma finds herself brushing dark hair out of Regina’s face, smiling when Regina crinkles her nose.
“What’re you doing?”
She’s never heard Regina’s voice so muddled, so sleepy. Emma would say it’s adorable, if that idea weren’t so ridiculous.
Regina groans, shifting her weight, freezing the moment she seems to realize where she’s trying to hide in. Slowly Regina lets go of Emma blouse. She tilts her head to look up at Emma.
It comes out as a question and Emma isn’t sure whether that’s just the sleep talking or intentional.
Regina blinks a couple of times, before she focuses on Emma and beams at her. If Emma didn’t know better, she might accuse Regina of being cheeky.
Now that Regina looks around, only slowly extracting herself from Emma, she’s kind of sure Regina is being cheeky. Especially when she innocently smiles and tries to divert her attention.
To Emma’s dismay, it works. Her stomach does grumble and so Emma looks at the bundle of leaves, but all the fruit is gone. She doesn’t remember eating all of it, but they must have.
Right next to it is a new one.
Regina pulls it toward them, still sitting too close, their sides touching everywhere.
Suddenly noticing it, Emma shifts a little, giving Regina more room.
Emma notices Regina’s eyebrow lifting when she Regina examines the bundle.
This time Regina’s ignorance is genuine.
“You don’t like apples?”
Emma just shakes her head.
“No, I do.”
She choses a particularly red one and takes a bite. It’s surprisingly sweet.
Regina still looks at her.
“What do you have against apples?”
But Regina keeps glaring at her.
“Honestly, I like them enough. There was a time I lived on fruits.”
Now Regina frowns as she looks through the fruits herself, of course touching each and every one of them before she decides.
“That’s hardly healthy.”
“Well, I grew up mostly without most fruits because they’re expensive. So, when I started earning my own money, I compensated.”
Regina shakes her head.
“Your world sounds strange.”
“So did yours when I first heard about it,” Emma points out with a shrug and Regina smiles.
“Tell me about it.”
Instead of shaking her head and avoiding it, Emma tilts her head and tries to think about inconsequential details, facts that don’t reveal anything about their lives.
Regina listens attentively as Emma starts talking about big cities and huge buildings, planes and cars, about every child going to school to learn about the world, math, history, and languages, not just royals. About how, technically, in her country, everyone being capable of shaping their own destinies. She finds herself talking about politics, about presidents and senators, and small town mayors.
Regina doesn’t ask much about the details, about where exactly Emma lives. She seems to sense that Emma won’t answer questions like those. So she asks about elections and prisons and taxes - about the fine print, the how’s and why’s and Emma starts seeing how Regina became such a dedicated mayor when she seems genuinely interested in the workings. They spent their breakfast in the most relaxed way Emma has ever been around Regina.
It’s weird and, at the same time, strangely right.
Emma is almost sorry when she helps Regina up, knowing that they have to go back. She has the wand in her pocket, her way home, her way to save Storybrooke.
Yet, she knows she will miss this Regina, this ironically freer, more open version of her.
For a moment she forgets how good Regina is at reading people and the smile she gives her is regretful. Of course Regina picks up on it immediately, stumbling as Emma helps her up, steadying herself with a hand on Emma’s shoulder.
All mirth is gone when their eyes meet now.
“You have to go when we get back to the castle, don’t you?”
Emma just nods.
She knows that she’ll have to go back, but she’s also aware that it has to be timed right. She came through a loophole, while a curse was raging over the lands, so she has to leave while Regina casts it.
Unfortunately, Regina doesn’t seem particularly ready to do it.
Emma is so focused on her own thoughts that she doesn’t notice Regina until she is right in front of her face, brown eyes searching, waiting for Emma to pull back.
Stunned, she doesn’t.
Instead she holds her breath before she melts into the kiss without ever making a conscious decision to do so. Regina’s lips are soft, pliant. She tastes like the apples they just had for breakfast and Emma smiles into the kiss, just as Regina’s hands slide up, her arms interlacing behind Emma’s neck.
Emma stumbles backwards and loses the contact of Regina’s mouth just before her hands find purchase on Regina’s waist. And Emma doesn’t stop to think, doesn’t allow herself to hesitate; she just draws Regina close again until their lips are connected once more. This time their kiss is less hesitant, their lips moving more sure, more passionately, their bodies melting into each other.
Regina foregoes Emma’s lips in favor of ghosting little kisses along Emma’s jaw to her throat, softly nibbling at the sensitive skin, while Emma lets her hands travel over Regina’s back, discovering the feel of her lean body, the outline of her shoulder blades, her lower back, and sides.
As Emma trails her hands along Regina’s sides, teasing the blouse out of her pants, Regina lets out a tiny sigh, urging Emma on. She feels the need to discover more, to learn the sighs and moans Regina can produce, to…
Teeth on Emma’s neck make her sigh and she pulls Regina closer, complying with the sudden longing to have her as close as possible.
It is so encompassing, so huge that Emma releases a breathy sigh.
The sound coming deeply out of Emma’s throat, the sheer neediness she has never before encountered, makes Emma stop short.
Regina’s kisses on her throat turn into open-mouthed caresses in response to Emma’s sudden tension, but Emma takes a deep breath and shifts backward.
She isn’t ready to look Regina in the eye, so she rests her forehead against Regina’s, searching for the right words, knowing they don’t exist.
“I can’t,” Emma whispers, searching for something else to say.
“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, knowing those words are actually worse.
But Regina’s breathing only hitches shortly, before she releases a deep sigh that sounds strangely understanding.
“Because of her,” Regina exhales - it’s not a question but Emma nods anyway.
Because of her.
Because it wouldn’t be fair to her Regina.
Chapter 5: But all journeys come to an end
Emma looks at Regina’s shoulders as they walk back to the border.
The atmosphere between them is tense, but not as tense as Emma would have expected.
Regina’s shoulders seem almost relaxed, even as she stares straight ahead, deep in thought.
For the last hour Emma has been contemplating how it is possible for Regina to be so calm, when Emma is anything but.
Maybe it’s because Regina knows that Emma will be in her future?
That thought makes Emma’s head hurt worse.
She can’t ignore her obvious attraction to Regina anymore.
That doesn’t mean that Regina, her Regina, reciprocates her feelings.
If anything, the Mayor barely tolerates her, contrary to the Evil Queen.
Who would’ve thought.
Emma barely reins in the desire to laugh. She has no interest in going into hysterics.
Instead she takes a deep breath and tries to get a grip on herself.
She sighs when she notices the omnipresence of magic receding. The grass under her feet is changing, the landscape losing its colors, slowly reverting to the usual green and brown of a forest.
Shortly before they reach what looks like a brighter patch of grass, probably signifying the border, Regina turns around, a determined expression on her face. Her sudden move makes Emma stop dead in her tracks.
“Regina?” she asks, unsure what to make of the determination shining from Regina’s entire body.
Before Emma can decide how to react Regina is in her personal space, leaning in as closely as possible without actually touching. Despite trying not to, Emma can feel herself reacting to Regina’s presence. She takes a deep breath to ground herself and Regina smirks.
And then Regina’s lips are on her, hungry, possessive.
Emma only hesitates a second before responding to the kiss, eagerly, selfishly. Her hands move out to find Regina’s waist, pull her in, pull her closer, keep her close.
Emma surrenders with a sigh to unrelenting hands against her scalp, to passionate lips covering hers, to a fire inside her and all around them that is like something she has never experienced before.
This time it is Regina who breaks away first. She looks at Emma with wide eyes and parted lips, and it takes everything Emma has not to lean in again, to remind herself that she can’t… That it’s stupid and unfair for so many reasons.
“Stay,” Regina whispers, the silent plea almost lost in the wind.
Shocked, Emma sways away, her hands falling from Regina’s waist, but Regina steps up to her, undeterred.
“Stay,” she repeats, her voice stronger this time, unwavering. Her gaze is so full of confidence that Emma doesn’t know how to oppose anymore, leaving Regina the opportunity to form a tiny smile.
“Stay. I won’t enact the curse. I will destroy the scroll, it will never endanger your family. We will find your family here. They will never be cursed and can protect them against everything with our magic. We can…”
Regina swallows, her glinting eyes looking away for a second before finding Emma’s again, with an expression full of hope.
“We can be something here... we can try to be something here. We can be happy and there won’t be any need for a curse. My kingdom will thrive and I’ll ignore Snow and her husband in theirs. They want a peace treaty. I can give them one.”
The longer Regina goes on, the more it feels like Emma’s heart is tearing in two. So she holds up a hand to stop her.
She can see her future laid out like this, she could tell Regina to stop the curse.
Emma doesn’t know what might happen to her, but she assumes she will blink out of existence when Snow gives birth.
She could make sure that Regina tries . She could make sure that the curse won’t be cast. She could…
Grow up with her parents.
“Your son,” she utters, the words fighting their way out of her throat, before she lifts her eyes to face Regina again.
“Your son would never be born.”
But Regina just shakes her head.
“I assume I take him in, don’t I? We will locate him and he will grow up with us and we will make sure he’s happy. You can tell me where he is and…”
She trails off, her sudden bout of enthusiasm dying down as she watches Emma’s face fall. Emma keeps shaking her head, knowing her answer.
“His name is Henry.”
Regina flinches, but Emma continues.
“He has your sass, your wit, your intellect. He has a good heart, the heart of a believer. He has dark shaggy hair and green eyes. When he’s annoyed he stares people down just like you.”
Now it is Regina who holds up her hand, brow furrowed in confusion.
But Emma keeps going.
“He will be born almost eighteen years from from now. His father isn’t currently in this world.”
Regina blinks and Emma swallows.
“So, you see? I need to go back and save my family, and you need to cast the curse that lays the groundwork for Henry to be born. You can’t sign a peace treaty with Snow, because that would result in him never being born.”
It’s almost painful to watch the light fade out of Regina’s eyes. Emma leans forward, lifting her hand without knowing what she wants to do. It doesn’t matter anyway.
Regina sways away from her, eyes suspiciously empty, her mask crumbled but about to be built back up.
But Regina holds a hand up, stopping her immediately.
So Emma doesn’t.
Regina turns around to walk away from her and, at first Emma looks away, not prepared to watch the vibrant hope slip away, but when she does look up, only a moment later, Regina’s shoulders straighten, her gait gradually changes from defeat into confidence as she passes the border.
Emma swallows when she notices the first slivers of dark violet encompassing Regina’s outline, her dark magic returning.
Predictably their rest of their walk is a quiet one.
Emma tries to start a conversation a couple of times, but Regina silences her with a glare befitting her title.
So Emma watches her silently, as one by one, the pieces of her mask return, chipping away the hope, the happiness.
She feels for her, deeply, even while she knows she did the right thing.
Regina would never, in a million years, ever consider exchanging Henry for anything.
Her stomach drops when she realizes it.
But Emma had.
She stopped and considered it.
Even if it had only been for a fleeting moment.
Emma swallows the rising bile in her throat.
She spends the remainder of their ride doubting herself until she understands.
It wasn’t about Henry.
She allowed herself to imagine it for a moment, a life with her parents.
It hadn’t been about him at all.
Emma doesn’t want to give him up. She knows she can’t, not now that she knows him, now that she loves him.
Now that she knows for a fact that she would give her life for him.
He is her son.
She wouldn’t give him up for the world.
She can still feel regret for herself, the way she grew up, the way she missed him growing into the person he is today.
The thought of Henry is what Emma holds on to when Regina holds out her hand, signifying that she’s ready to teleport.
It is what helps her ignore Regina magically changing her riding gear into a dark, threatening dress, between one stride and the next as they arrive at the castle.
She is at the same time surprised and not as Regina orders Emma to be sent off to her room immediately.
Regina struts through her castle, demanding a compilation of what happened during the last couple of days, while Emma sidles after her, led by a knight who seems just as nervous as Emma herself.
‘Her room’ just happens to be in the same wing as Regina’s, so there’s really nothing to do about that.
Once one of Regina’s advisers starts rattling of his reports, Emma begins to relax, happy to be ignored.
That is, until they reach the top of the staircase and all the mirrors along the corridor blaze up with a hazy light. Regina motions for her adviser to stop babbling.
Emma stumbles at the sight of Sidney’s face in the mirror. That’s an image she certainly didn’t need.
Regina throws her a look but concentrates on Sidney.
“What is it that can’t wait until I am in my chambers?”
“Your Majesty, Snow White is giving birth.”
Emma freezes. She isn’t ready. Regina knows her, she knows about her; she still needs to make Regina understand why she has to go. She still needs to find a way to deal with Regina’s memories, she…
Not until Emma looks up does she realize that Regina is tense as well, her entire posture rigid as she focuses on the mirror
“She’s just gone into labor. With the first child it can take hours, Your Majesty.”
“Your Majesty, Snow White sent a new peace emissary…”, her adviser starts but Regina holds up her hand to stop him.
The knights and the adviser blink simultaneously with Emma.
Regina turns around to glare.
“Need I repeat myself?”
It is enough to make everyone scramble away; everyone but a stumped Emma and an annoyingly curious Sidney.
Regina looks at him sharply.
It is an immense relief to Emma to see Sidney’s face fade away.
As soon as everyone is out of sight Regina, slumps against the wall behind her. She waves for Emma to start talking, but Emma just blinks, puzzled.
“Tell me about the timing. Rumple said their unborn child can stop the curse. If I want to enact it, would I have to do it now?”
Stunned, Emma nods.
“Yes,” it is a whisper, a concession.
She is pretty sure that her birth doesn’t have an effect on Regina’s casting, but she knows that she needs to be gone before Snow does give birth.
Snow barely even got to hold her, Emma knows that much. It just hits her how little time that ‘barely’ actually was.
Emma feels herself shiver. She works through her fear, keeps her emotions that are threatening to overwhelm her in check.
“I need to be gone by then,” she says, facing Regina, hoping desperately that she manages to display determination and not fear.
Regina just nods and makes a gesture with her hand, leaving Emma dressed in her jeans and leather jacket.
Panicking, Emma feels for the scroll, finding it in her side pocket. Somehow the magic transported it from her riding gear into her clothes.
Apparently Regina had recovered her clothes from Abigail’s carriage. It is too much to think about, especially when Regina turns away from her and starts walking, resignation on her face.
“I figured it would be that way. Let’s get going then.”
Confused, Emma follows after Regina.
“The vault. It will be easier to contain whatever magic you’re going to release with your time travel.”
Emma runs after her in a daze. She opens her mouth several times, without finding any words.
Too soon they reach the vault, Regina opening the protective barrier too fast, and then they’re standing within, Regina’s back to her.
Slowly Regina turns around and Emma takes a sharp breath.
The mask is gone, there is a deep desperation on Regina’s features.
She isn’t sure she has ever felt more out of sorts, more helpless.
“Tell me that I will find happiness. Tell me that she will suffer. Tell me that it’ll be worth it.”
Put on the spot, Emma freezes. She forces herself to nod, to agree.
Henry is Regina’s happiness.
Yet Emma knows that he isn’t enough. He is important, but he can’t carry the burden of being Regina’s sole happiness. Regina still needs to find that for herself.
Snow suffered, but she is happy, probably already pregnant again, ready to start over like the last twenty-eight years hadn’t happened.
And Emma knows that she has to work through the resentment that she feels at the thought.
Judging by Regina’s standards, Snow’s suffering can’t be enough.
Meanwhile, Emma knows the price that Regina will have to pay.
There are no words to encourage her to do that.
So, out of instinct, Emma leans forward. She cradles Regina’s head and kisses her, laying everything she can’t say in the gesture.
The promise that it will be okay, that she will be able to be happy, if she chooses so.
That this is all that truly counts.
Regina can be happy.
It feels suspiciously like a promise that includes Emma and Emma knows she will have to deal with that as soon as she gets back.
She also knows that Regina needs that right now. She can feel it in every fiber of her being. So she pours everything into the kiss, her own hope, her passion, her tenderness.
At first Regina doesn’t respond, just lets herself be kissed, still keeping her rigid posture, but soon she gives herself over to Emma, returning the kiss with just as much passion, just as much hope, maybe even more.
There are tears dropping onto Emma’s cheeks, Regina’s tears, and Emma holds her even closer.
After what could be seconds or minutes, they slow down until Regina relaxes into Emma’s embrace, her face nuzzling into her hair.
“You will be happy,” Emma hears herself say with vigour. It’s a promise she will do her best to keep.
She’s never hated destiny as much as she does right in this moment.
“I promise,” she says, meaning it. Regina sighs into her hair.
“I don’t…” Regina’s voice breaks and Emma’s heart falters.
Slowly, carefully, Emma disentangles herself.
This is it.
She can’t stay any longer. She needs to leave.
“But I do,” she claims with a new certainty that comes from somewhere else, somewhere new. She smiles at Regina, who shakes her head.
“You will. I promise. We will see each other again.”
It hurts, to reassure her, to push her, but Emma knows that it needs to be done. She knows her Regina would tell her to get on with it, to stop prolonging the inevitable.
So she leans forward and presses a short kiss against Regina’s lips.
She doesn’t know how her Regina would react to that, but the sudden knowledge that she would approve of Emma getting this Regina to cast the curse makes her confident. No matter how wrong today, this is the right thing to do in the great scheme of things.
It gives them Henry.
So she forces herself to step back, allowing her hand to travel down Regina’s arm, squeezing her hand one last time in reassurance, giving her one last thing to hold on to.
“I never make a promise unless I plan to keep it.”
Regina nods and gives Emma one last smile. Emma can see her forcing her mask back in place, straightening her shoulders, starting to close herself off again, getting herself ready for what she has to do.
Before she has to watch the entire process, Emma takes out the wand out of her coat. She can feel the raw power brimming inside of it.
The only thing she can do now is hope and believe.
Believe that this is the right time, that it will bring her back now, that it…
A deep orange portal jumps out into existence right in front of her and Emma takes the plunge without looking back.
Regina takes a few deep breaths to calm herself, to convince herself that it needs to be done. She forces her tears to stop, regains her regal posture and walks out of the room, welcoming the dark magic that occupies her castle, inviting it back in, reveling in its support.
Knowing what she has to do does not make it easier.
She leaves the vault behind her, not bothering to close it again, only conjuring one dark wooden box into her hand as she makes her way upstairs, back to her quarters, where he will be waiting.
He is waiting, with a gentle smile on his lips and a curtsy despite his old, pained back.
But the words won’t come out.
He sees it immediately, that it didn’t work out; that she has tried and failed to find her happiness here, that the decision is made.
There are no words to say that the decision doesn’t seem to be hers anymore.
No. It is hers, entirely hers.
She wants her happiness.
And she knows where it is waiting for her.
It’s not here.
She has to pay the price.
So she faces him when she tells him what he already knows.
“I tried to find happiness. I tried to find it here.”
He swallows and nods, motioning for her to go on.
She gives him a small smile.
“I found happiness.”
He smiles genuinely.
Regina frowns at him. It can’t have been that obvious. She doesn’t even know what that with Emma was. She knows she felt safe, protected, accepted, but she is aware that the abundance of light magic in the moors heightens feelings.
And she doesn’t, she can’t…
“It’s not letting go of Daniel. It’s not tarnishing his memory. He’d want you to be happy, Regina. Just like I do.”
“She says I have a son there.”
Regina doesn’t know what she expected, but she certainly doesn’t anticipate Henry to nod and smile. Doesn’t he understand?
“Over there, where the curse will take me. She went back there to save her family. if I want to meet that boy, if I want to take care of him, I have to make sure I meet him.”
Henry simply nods somberly as he comes closer. He reaches out to put his hand on Regina’s cheek.
“I know the price that you have to pay. Let’s hope that it matters that I give it to you freely. Let’s hope that the void won’t be as terrible as they say.”
Her eyes widen in shock, and she can feel tears collecting, close to spilling.
But he just nods at her.
“I want you to be happy. After all the chances to ensure your happiness, this is the price that I have to pay, this is the way I can do something for you. Finally.”
She’s crying as he guides her hand to his chest and nods.
“I love you, Regina.”
He leans into her and her hand slips in, grasping his heart between her fingers.
Their eyes meet and she trembles as he smiles.
“I love you, Daddy.”
He nods at her, starting to feel the pain of her fingers around his heart, silently begging her to make it fast.
As he crumbles to the ground, she feels her shaking dissipate, an eerie calm settling over her.
She gently places his heart into the box and transports to the site where she accumulated the other ingredients.
A motion with her hand makes the fire burn again and she stares at it for a while, slowly opening the box.
It is his sacrifice.
For her happiness.
Part of her feels vindicated at that. Part of her knows that he was right; he never truly did anything for her.
But the other part, the larger part, feels just so horrified at what she had to do. She knows that she never had to forgive him, because he was always there, because he always tried.
Because he was the last bit of family and love that was left to her.
Feeling numb she bows down, picking up the heart almost reverently before she lets it glide out of her hand and into the fire.
Immediately the dark smoke starts to rise, higher and higher, keeps rising.
This time it is done right.
Why then does her heart feel so empty?
Regina thinks of Emma’s promise.
She will have a son. She will be happy.
But as the curse continues evolving, she feels cold, the dark magic drawing off of hers, demanding another sacrifice.
It is done.
There is nothing to stop it now.
So Regina stands still and lets the curse take its toll. She grits her teeth as more and more magic is taken from her, her connection to the light magic cut off as the price.
Rumple never said anything about that. But then, he doesn’t believe light magic to be useful at all.
Regina feels the emptiness growing, things disappearing that she doesn’t remember, memories, knowledge.
She shakes her head, ignorant to the price that she has just paid before she settles into her carriage that will take her to Snow to gloat.
Chapter 6: Some endings are just a beginning
The orange glow surrounds Emma and it seems like it’s catching her mid-fall. She’s hovering in the bright, warm portal, unsure of what is going on, clutching the wand with her hand.
Has Regina decided against enacting the curse?
Was Emma too late? Has Snow already given birth?
Does that mean she is stuck somewhere in limbo?
That thought makes her breath catch and she starts to panic, but having nowhere to look, nothing to sit on, no normal, real air to breathe, Emma gasps, desperate to keep going.
She knows she has to believe.
Regina said so.
Maybe she just needs to wait until Regina actually enacts the curse. Maybe it’s just her waiting period.
Believing turns out to be incredibly hard, considering she just convinced a woman who, by all intents and purposes, had looked and behaved nothing like the Evil Queen from the stories, to sacrifice her father for the curse.
Still, Emma knows that it had been the right thing to do.
She knows that their son as well as Regina will agree to that.
Her mother might protest, but in the end, Henry is what counts.
It’s worth it because of Henry.
Henry, who believes in her, who believes her to be his Savior, who looked at Regina in wonder when they had come to save him on Neverland, who has finally gone back to lean into his mother’s embrace like he is supposed to.
Emma knows that he trusted Regina implicitly, until he started to see that he was the only one growing up, until he got the book, until he started accsing Regina of letting him believe he was crazy.
It is a lot to process, but Emma is certain that both, mother and son, will work through it.
She has seen the love in their eyes.
Just like she has seen the love in Henry’s eyes when he looks at her; the acceptance, even respect, in Regina’s.
The love in Snow’s eyes, the care in her father’s eyes.
She is loved by people who believe in her.
Suddenly, there is a semblance of a familiar violet darkness and then she is falling again. Falling and stumbling out of the well.
She barely catches herself, desperately holding on to the wand.
One look tells her that she’s alone.
Another affirms that the green smoke is gone - she can’t even feel any magic in the air.
Whatever Pan’s curse was supposed to do, it’s already done.
Trembling, she fumbles with her jacket until she has the scroll in her free hand and she drops down on her knees.
She avoids looking into the direction of the town.
It’s not like she can see much from here anyway, but she is afraid of what Pan’s curse might have done to it.
Emma places the scroll carefully in front of her and takes a deep breath. She concentrates on the warm feeling of magic, trying to conjure up magic she isn’t sure she’s capable of, before she guides the wand to the scroll, willing her magic to destroy it, to take the curse away from Storybrooke.
For a moment Emma just stares at the scroll in disbelief.
She has all the ingredients. She managed to get this stupid wand, she held on to the scroll, she found her way back to Storybrooke.
It has to work.
So she scrunches her face up in concentration and jabs the wand at the scroll.
There isn’t even a residual feeling of her magic.
Emma closes her eyes. She sways back to land on her behind and bends one knee, pulling it up to her chest.
This is not happening.
She can’t fail now.
She is supposed to be the Savior, destined to break the curse, not a failure.
Anger roils up in her and she stabs the scroll again.
Of course it makes her lose her connection to her magic completely.
She sighs and takes a deep breath, willing herself to concentrate.
Magic is all about emotions.
So she tries to recall the warmth of the faeries, hoping the memory of light magic might power her own.
Indeed, there is a warm flicker in her consciousness.
Emma clings to it almost desperately.
She thinks about Henry, about his bright smile, his hugs, his fervent belief in her.
If he can have trust in her powers, she can as well.
She smiles in satisfaction when the wand starts to glow again.
So she continues conjuring up happy memories, hugging Henry after Neverland, finally having him back - not just him, but Regina as well, holding him just as close as Emma does, without trying to push her away, finally acknowledging Emma’s role in Henry’s life now, her love for him.
She let him go once; she knows she will never be able to do it again.
Emma watches in awe as the scroll is surrounded by shining light.
She wills it to break.
It’s still not enough.
She pushes the wave of frustration away, focusing on Henry again.
With Henry there’s Regina - giving her small smiles, helping her in Neverland, constantly being at her side, almost protectively.
Emma feels herself starting to smile and she allows it, concentrating on the scroll. It’s moving, slowly hovering over the ground.
Emma almost feels victorious, trying to give it its final nudge to break.
Instead it falls to the ground, the bright light of the wand flickering out.
She lets out a shout of frustration.
Clearly, she is doing something wrong.
Unfortunately, she can’t remember Regina telling her anything to solve this particular problem.
There’s only one solution.
She has to try to find her way to the library and hope against all odds that she will find a solution there.
Emma hates research. She much prefers doing something but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know the fundamentals. Some fugitives required extensive research before she could find them.
However, hacking computer histories won’t help her now.
She has to face the town, has to face whatever Pan’s curse did to her family.
Yet, she hesitates.
Because she has no doubt that whatever Pan’s curse did to them has probably screwed with their memories.
She’d rather not see them.
She doesn’t want to meet a Henry who doesn't recognize her, her parents, Regina…
No, Emma decides to make her way to the library as quickly as possible.
The first sight of Storybrooke confuses Emma immensely because everything looks the same, the streets, the houses, all is intimately familiar to her from several patrol routes.
Still, she covertly moves through the streets, eyes wide open, ready to react to whatever might jump out in front of her.
As it happens, the first being she encounters is Pongo, actually jumping around her in circles, clearly happy to see her.
She grudgingly takes him by his leash and pats him on the head.
Whatever happened, it apparently doesn’t prevent Archie from losing his dog.
Emma desperately hopes she isn’t caught in some kind of groundhog day.
She sees Archie a couple of steps later. He is standing in the middle of the street, unmoving.
Emma approaches him cautiously, reminding herself that this might not be the Archie she knows; the curse could have done anything to him.
Turns out, it did do something, but she can’t say what.
Even as she is standing right in front of him, Archie doesn’t react.
She waves a hand in front of his eyes, but he just blinks without focusing on her.
Pongo whines and not even that gets a reaction.
Emma swallows, unsure how to proceed.
She flinches at the high voice uncomfortably near. Emma turns around to find a girl with light brown hair and kind eyes standing next to her. Grace.
“I prefer Sheriff,” she hears answers, but Grace doesn’t seem to be deterred.
At least the girl seems to be herself; at least Emma hopes so.
“Grace, what is going on here?”
“Oh,” Grace shrugs and simply takes Pongo’s leash and puts it in Archie’s hand.
“Archie, I told you not to let Pongo go. Go back to the school okay? Granny will bring lunch later in the day.”
Archie simply nods and walks off, mechanically, strangely reminding Emma of certain horror movies. He is moving like a…
“What happened, Grace? What did the curse do? Henry?”
Grace winces and looks around nervously.
“Not so loud.”
She reaches out to take Emma by her hand, but Emma steps back and fixes her with a stern gaze.
“Henry is fine. I promise.”
Emma keeps staring and Grace falters, moving her hand through her hair in a clearly exasperated gesture she should be too young for.
“Short version? Pan’s curse turned all the adults into mindless zombies. They do everything the kids tell them to. We’ve somehow managed. The first three days were chaos, but everyone’s okay now.”
At the word chaos Emma feels something like cold panic inside of her. It explains the dark shadows under Grace’s eyes.
Only kids in charge. Where was the line between kid and adult? Were uncontrolled teenagers capable of mob mentality?
“Regina?” she blurts out, not able to control her fear any longer.
Grace gives her a long glance while she fumbles in her jeans pocket for something.
“She’s fine. I promise. Your parents are fine as well.”
Emma has no idea how a twelve year old manages such a reproachful look, but Grace somehow does. Emma doesn’t feel bad. Her parents are beloved by the entire town, Regina isn’t.
But then, she also knows that while she should have tried focusing on them to get the wand working, it wouldn’t have worked with all the resentment she still feels.
Although considering that Grace and all the other children have probably spent the last couple of days taking care of their parents, it’s only natural for Grace to expect Emma to ask after Snow and David.
“Wait, how much time has passed?”
“About two weeks,” Grace says, shrugging, fumbling with the walkie talkie she just produced out of her pocket.
“Grace, where are you? You should have called in minutes ago!”
Emma lets out a sigh of relief. Even through the crackling static it’s a wonder to hear her son’s voice. He sounds good, normal. Just like Grace said.
So when the girl starts walking, Emma follows.
“Archie let go of Pongo again. He was standing in the middle of Main Street. I sent him back to the school.”
“Never mind. Can you meet me at the library in five minutes?”
Emma is surprised that Henry hasn’t even asked why. Then something else occurs to her.
“How did you know I want to go to the library?”
Grace rolls her eyes.
“I don’t. We always meet at the library.”
Then she eyes Emma in suspicion.
“Can you break the curse?”
Choosing not to answer directly, Emma only nods.
“I know what ingredients I have to use.”
That much is true.
Grace’s suspicion doesn’t waver, but they are almost at the library and Emma is anxious to see what is waiting for them in there.
Her gut tells her that it is okay to trust Grace. Whatever else might be going on, Grace is just a little girl that seems to have too much on her plate.
The door opens once Grace knocks three times short and three times longer apart. If she weren’t so nervous, Emma might grin about Henry’s resourcefulness, but it leads her to question why it is necessary.
Henry is standing right in the entrance and Emma smiles at him.
He barrels into her midsection and she holds him tight, hearing Grace lock up behind them.
“Are you okay?”
He nods against her and her heart leaps.
She might try to break the curse now. With him she might actually succeed.
When he moves back, Henry frowns at her.
“How come you haven’t broken it yet?”
Internally panicking at his doubt, Emma gives him what is, hopefully, a comforting smile.
“I found what Regina sent me to get. Now I just need to do some research on how to use it.”
Henry’s eyes twitch to a shelf behind him and Emma looks at him, starting to get suspicious.
“Why are you hiding in the library anyway? What’s been going on?”
But he doesn’t have to answer because in that moment Regina comes in from the other room.
“A lot. Now, what’s so difficult about using magic, Emma?”
Shocked, Emma just stares.
She almost levels an accusing glare at Grace.
Regina is evidently not fine, even though she curiously (fortunately) looks just like her usual self, an annoyed awareness in her eyes, her poised stance.
However, the entire left side of her face is covered in dark bruises and Regina seems to be favoring her left arm as well.
As soon as Regina comes closer, the bruises seeming even nastier in the light, Emma hisses and hurries forward.
She doesn’t stop when she moves into Regina’s space. Instead she simply puts a gentle finger on Regina’s chin, moving her head so that she can examine the damage.
Regina seems to be frozen by Emma’s action. She is clearly tense and for a moment Emma considers moving back, but something in Regina’s eyes makes her stay and hold Regina’s gaze.
“Seems like one hell of an accident,” Emma grumbles, but she decides to let it go for now. She moves her hand to Regina’s arm, squeezing once.
It’s not a hug - although the impulse is there, she doesn’t quite dare to invade Regina’s space like that - but it’s something. Judging by the small smile on Regina’s lips, it’s the right something.
“So, did you get it?”
Emma nods and pulls out the wand.
“Yep. I tried to use it once I came back, but it didn’t work.”
Regina hums noncommittally, her mind clearly whirling behind her neutral gaze.
When there’s no answer, Emma steps back and slumps into a nearby chair.
“Okay, if we have to do research on this, could someone tell me how Archie is all ‘zombie-like’ and you seem to be your usual self?”
Emma stops herself short.
“You are your usual self, aren’t you?”
Not only Henry and Regina but Grace as well simultaneously roll their eyes at that.
To her surprise, Regina chuckles before she sits next to Emma, her movements distractingly gingerly.
Regina notices Emma’s scrutiny and lets out a barely audible sigh.
“Henry, Grace, would you get us the books I collected upstairs?”
Grateful for the distraction, Emma gives Henry a wide smile.
“And maybe something to eat?”
Regina rolls her eyes amicably.
“There are sandwiches in the fridge.”
They are barely gone when Emma raises her eyebrows.
“You’re living here?”
“I’m hiding here.”
“Okay, what happened?”
Regina’s hand twitches upward, like she wants to touch her bruised face.
“I was cursed with the rest of them.”
“And?” Emma prompts when Regina stays silent. After another sigh Regina continues, looking faraway.
“A couple of teenagers took their parents’ actions as an example and decided to take their anger out on me.”
Emma flinches, regarding Regina’s injuries anew, but the other woman just shakes her head and points to her arm.
“Taking up with the American pastime, they used a baseball bat.”
Without stopping, Regina points to her face.
“Bannister when I passed out.”
“And then?” Emma asks hesitantly, afraid at the strange undertone in Regina’s voice. There has to be a reason why Regina is slowly fidgeting with her fingers.
“Henry came with some of the Lost Boys. Apparently they wanted to help, to make up for Pan’s actions. They chased the others off and put them in jail.”
Emma lets out a surprised whistle and Regina nods at her instead of admonishing her. Then Regina looks away, seeming almost… guilty.
“He was scared at finding me unconscious and… he woke me up.”
Emma just cocks her head, deciding to let Regina talk. The other woman seems surprised at that but gives her a short smile before she looks away.
“He kissed me and I woke up.”
That can only mean one thing.
“You said,” Emma clears her throat, trying to get a handle on her emotions.
“You said True Love’s kiss can’t break the curse.”
Regina just stares ahead, a frown chasing the hesitant smile the memory gave her.
“True,” she shrugs before looking at Emma again.
“But it was enough to give me my memories back, to get me out of that zombie-state.”
There are traces of a beautiful smile on Regina’s face and Emma can’t help but remember another Regina’s words.
‘ Will I be happy?’
Without thinking about it, Emma leans forward and squeezes Regina’s hand once.
“We should count ourselves lucky that our son has so much love to share.”
Regina blinks rapidly before hesitantly breaking out into a radiant smile.
She keeps staring at Emma’s hand, clearly wondering where Emma’s sudden need to touch her comes from.
Emma blushes and moves her hand back, cursing herself when Regina curiously scrutinizes her.
“So”, Emma clears her throat, pretending that she doesn’t notice the sudden tension in the air.
“True Love’s kiss couldn’t break Pan’s curse, but it got through to you. I used the faerie wand that literally carries True Love with it, but the scroll just quivered and turned away from me.”
Regina chuckles while Emma stares at her, ignoring her amusement.
“What did we do wrong?”
Clearly as ignorant as Emma, Regina shrugs.
“I’d propose a long research session. I’ve been going through Rumple’s books, but so far I haven’t found much about the curse.”
It clearly frustrates her.
They are so immersed in their discussion that they don’t notice Henry and Grace approaching.
“I might know,” Henry announces, setting down a plate with sandwiches, apparently having overheard the last bits of their conversation.
Both blink at him and he grimaces.
“I can have ideas as well.”
Emma nods, still stunned, while Regina agrees.
“Of course you can.”
Apparently Regina’s tone isn’t helping because Henry glares at her. He puts his hands on his waist and stares in true Regina fashion before he starts talking.
Again Emma nods, surprised and elated when Regina does the same.
“We shared True Love’s kiss.”
Again both women nod and Henry starts to grin almost victoriously.
“What if it needs the three of us? You’re both my parents, my family. Maybe love can’t be truer than that.”
Now it is Emma who frowns while Regina slowly nods in agreement. Emma protests.
“But Pan’s curse can’t be broken with True Love’s kiss. He wasn’t capable of that kind of love.”
“No,” Henry agrees immediately, growing impatient.“We shared True Love's kiss because we are family. That’s something Pan always wanted.”
Emma shakes her head, confused by the barely veiled hope in Regina’s eyes.
“Henry, Gold was his son and…”
“Not his son. Every Lost Boy wants his parents. And Pan didn’t start out any different. He wanted a family and he made himself one that he could control; the Lost Boys.”
Emma looks down at him, considering it.
It sounds strangely reasonable.
“It could be worth a try, don’t you think?”
Emma’s inclined to agree. She looks at Regina.
“It can’t hurt, right?”
There’s this smile again, tugging at the corners of Regina’s mouth, making her look incredibly beautiful. Emma takes a deep breath and Regina nods.
“Yes. We can try.”
She holds one hand out to Henry and motions for their son to take one of Emma’s.
Emma squeaks, nervously. She doesn’t know how to control her emotions around Regina. It feels like a whirlwind of contradictions inside of her and she isn’t sure she can concentrate with…
“Now,” Regina confirms, nodding to the wand.
Emma swallows and takes it up.
Regina moves forward and picks the scroll up. She holds it up to Emma in her open palm. As if Regina seems to sense Emma’s nervousness, she gives her a calm smile.
“Think about Henry. Concentrate on him.”
Emma nods. She can do that.
“Love, got it.”
He smiles, elatedly, bouncing on his feet.
“This is no game, Henry.”
“Of course not,” he says, straightening his shoulders under Regina’s gaze. Emma smiles at the display, feeling warm. He squeezes Emma’s hand and, for a moment, Emma feels her magic inside of her, warm, ready to be directed, but there is a new edge to it, a curious sliver of colder magic, Regina’s, working with Emma’s, straining for Emma’s, ready to be directed by her.
Emma smiles, feeling certain that it will work.
She looks at Regina shortly before she moves the wand to meet the scroll and what she sees makes her suck in a deep breath.
Regina’s lips have parted in awe. She is surrounded by her violet magic - it’s slowly mixing with Emma’s light, taking on a hue that’s more familiar with another version of Regina.
Their eyes meet and blindingly bright light, laced with violet, breaks out in a circle, destroying the scroll in its way.
Henry takes a sharp breath, Grace gasps behind them, the scroll falls to the ground, and Emma barely catches Regina as the woman passes out.
Regina feels strange, as soon as Emma closes her eyes and concentrates. It's like Emma's magic works to connect with Regina's in a way that's not possible. There is no....
Regina feels her hold on her magic fading. She has harvested tons of dark magic, she...
She can feel the warmth, signifying light magic coming from within her, working its way through the dark magic, meeting Emma's like it knows exactly what to do.
It's no surprise to Regina when, with Henry squeezing their hands and their combined magic, Emma manages to destroy the scroll with a bright blazing light.
Although it's wondrous, and Regina really should be focusing on how it is possible to beat a curse with familial True Love, she can't focus. There's a lot they don't know about True Love, and it's important to work out how Emma's magic works, to make sure that she retains control.
But there's something tugging at the edge of her memories, nudging her, just out of her grasp.
The first image is familiar now, she has spent the last two weeks trying to figure it out - Emma giving her a sheepish smile before jumping into a blinding orange light.
Curious, Regina allows the light magic to show her what else is waiting for her.
She gasps at the magnitude; the pictures suddenly invading her mind in no particular order, no rhyme no rhythm.
She is kissing Emma desperately, holding on to her, like she never ever wants to let her go again.
Light faeries are playing with her magic; Rumple tells her to give it up, to use the power of the dark magic. An even earlier moment of her mother frowning at the light haze that glows in her hands.
Panicked, she stumbles into a collapsed castle, sheer pain threatening to tear her apart, but she grits her teeth and puts her hands under the shoulders of an unconscious blonde.
Her father, sacrificing herself for her happiness.
Emma, promising her love and happiness. A son.
A hiss pulls Regina from the memories and she blinks. Emma is holding her upright and Regina's hands are clamped on her arm. Immediately Regina loosens her grip.
She's about to apologize when a next series of memories hit her. They are not new, but she finally understands.
Twenty-eight years after she cast the curse, Emma is standing in front of her mansion, waving with an awkward smile. Regina should send her away immediately, remind her of the rules a closed adoption has. Instead something tugs inside of her, prompting her to invite her in, despite herself, despite everything.
It's because she does know her.
She is intrigued, offering Emma apples in an open threat, that comes off more playfully than it should.
Emma responds with a chainsaw, and Regina feels herself torn between killing her and something else, something that would end up with Emma stripped bare in front of her, pleading.
The image shouldn't excite her as much as it does. It's unnerving how she can almost feel the blonde's lips against hers.
It's because she has kissed her.
The confusion, the threat Emma poses becomes too much and Regina decides to put her under a sleeping curse, feeling unsure about it, so unsure that she can't watch her eat it, but sends her away with it, knowing it's not...
Henry is at the hospital and Emma's all over the place, raging shortly, before silent determination takes over.
There is less blame than Regina anticipated.
Instead, Emma is standing in front of her, protecting her from an angry mob.
She helps her up after the wraith's attack, her contact immediately soothing - something about Emma replenishes the magic Regina can't find a connection to anymore and it's unnerving, not making any sense at all. Even less so when Emma's touch helps her open the portal, kickstarting her own magic.
Now it does, her magic recognized Emma's, reached out for hers and took the help it needed.
Still, there always was this strange connection that Regina was sure Emma had to feel as well.
At least until she fell into Cora's play.
What other reason would there be to invite her to the diner? To hesitate and unintentionally reveal her parents' plans when they met at the bench? To push her out of the wraith’s way in the first place? To come back for her into a burning building?
Stepping forward to help her at the mines?
Their magic had worked seamlessly together because Regina's had remembered Emma's, even when she didn't.
And that connection made Regina trust Emma even more. She had stopped questioning it in Neverland, getting fed up with Emma suddenly doubting it.
But they had worked together, gotten Henry back together, known instinctively how to hug him together when they got him back in Neverland, when he returned to them after the body-swap.
Because Emma is the reason she's here at all.
She didn't just go back to the past to steal a wand, she...
The worried whisper is much too close to Regina's ear, making her flinch. Emma holds on to her undeterred, only letting go once Regina stands steadily.
Regina blinks a couple of times, getting rid of the haze in her mind.
Emma gives her a hesitant smile, the question clear in her eyes, but Regina looks away. She is all too aware that what she just saw, has happened to Emma hours ago, but Regina doesn't think she can begin to process what she just learned.
Being who she is, Emma's trust and faith should be endless, but Regina knows it isn't.
Yet, Emma had given her trust to the Evil Queen, which doesn't make any sense at all.
Emma is close again, right in front of her, gently brushing a strand of hair out of Regina's face and smiling, so calm, so reassuring.
“Are you okay?“
It is all too much.
“I will be,“ she says because Henry is standing right next to her, looking up with worry in his eyes and she can't lie.
He smiles and hugs her.
“Can we go outside? See if everyone's okay again?“
Glad about the sensible distraction, Regina nods.
The next two hours are a myriad of “Hello’s”, “How are you’s”, and “Regina, can we have a town meeting tomorrow? Maybe do a headcount. Have a look at what has been destroyed?”
Suddenly she's being called Madame Mayor again, the title reminding her to take care of the town. She is surprised yet anxious, but Emma nods and smiles and it is enough to appease her at first.
After all, she just held the town together for the last couple of weeks.
She doesn't even want to mention the simultaneous and tearful, “You found us”.
Even Henry can’t hide his eye roll at that.
But then Snow is pulling Emma in and they are hugging, David cradling Emma’s head, and Regina has to look away.
She meets Ruby’s eyes over the crowd, the girl looking strangely… grateful?
“Hey Regina,” Ruby says, her hand hovering over Regina’s arm before patting once.
“Thank you, for making me keep everyone alive.”
When Regina blinks confused, Ruby just winks amused, and, somehow, Regina understands.
“Well, someone had to keep the town nourished and your knowledge with the diner helped in cooking for an entire town.
“Yeah,” Ruby agrees. “That was quite a feat.”
Regina squints at her.
“So you do remember everything?”
Ruby nods and smirks.
“Like the fact that you made David and Snow take care of the smallest kids in the school and forced Neal to hand out food all day long?”
“Snow seemed very happy to be around the babies. She used to help out in the hospital, you know.”
“It’s okay,” Ruby says, surprisingly amiable. “You were the only one with a clear head after they made a mess of it for three days. It’s a wonder nothing too serious happened.”
“That we know of.”
Ruby nods in agreement.
“That we know of.”
The girl moves to greet Snow, but before she turns away entirely she smiles again.
“You know, with all that you did the last couple of days, and before, you should think about campaigning for Mayor again.”
It takes a moment for the meaning of those words to sink in. With all that you did. She is then reminded that not too long ago, Snow credited her with helping to get everyone back from Neverland.
Overwhelmed, Regina just nods at the remaining town officials that have gathered and decided to make a headcount, and she smiles at everyone that nods at her, completely perplexed.
Somehow, and Regina really has no clear idea how, she finds herself with Henry and Emma back in her mansion, on the couch, Henry having fallen asleep between them.
Strangely enough, Emma looks as displeased at the idea of carrying him upstairs as Regina suddenly feels.
She moves her hands in a strange gesture, making Regina lift her eyebrows in amusement.
“Teleport him upstairs?”
Regina rolls her eyes amiably instead of giving Emma a judging stare. Henry isn't opposed to magic anymore; he was glad when she found a way to help, but that doesn't mean he'd be happy to be subjected to magic. Shaking her head, Regina gives in and stands up to pick up her Prince that is neither little nor light anymore.
Henry simply grunts and snuggles his head into her shoulder as she carries him bridal style.
Regina barely stifles a shiver when she feels Emma’s voice at her neck.
Suppressing a snort, Regina shakes her head.
“Magic,” she clarifies.
She might be strong but not strong enough to carry a twelve year old up the stairs. While Henry would not like her using magic on him, she can, however, use it to enhance her own strength.
Somehow, she doesn’t question Emma coming after her.
Instead she smiles at the blonde who leans on the doorframe while Regina pulls the covers over Henry. Then she joins Emma, their shoulders almost touching as they both look at their sleeping son.
“So, how are you?”
Emma whispers, looking straight at Henry.
For a moment Regina considers lying, to avoid the question and just say fine. She is almost positive that Emma would let it go, at least for today.
Instead she finds herself holding out her hand to Emma, who, hesitantly, disbelief coloring her face, puts her hand in Regina’s.
Immediately their magical connection flares up, brighter and more intense than before because they are aware of it now and Regina can access her light magic again.
She doesn’t know what feelings her magic convey, but it’s not just Emma’s clumsy magic anymore that’s bright and warm and good , it’s Regina’s as well.
It’s light mixing with her darkness, warmer than the cold, familiar and strange at the same time.
Regina almost pulls back, overwhelmed, but Emma holds on.
Regina knows her own magic is more refined - she has an idea that it might feel even warmer to Emma, especially judging by the blissful look of innocent happiness on Emma’s face right now, her green eyes partially closed, her thin mouth turning into an adorable little half smile.
With that observation Regina, suddenly feels too warm, too close, so she averts her eyes, and pulls her hand back, stretching her fingers out and curling them in again.
It does nothing to get rid of the warm tingling that feels too good to be true.
Regina stops her motions, when she feels Emma’s eyes on her and becomes aware of how her reaction might appear. She freezes, closing her eyes. She has no idea how to react.
When Regina finally does dare to look, Emma doesn’t seem offended. On the contrary, she is still smiling at her, a little wistful now.
Emma has a freakish way of reading people and Regina is excellent at hiding her feelings.
With Emma she repeatedly fails, shows her the cracks behind the façade.
Right now, Emma cocks her head curiously and Regina knows that something important will follow.
“So…” Emma hesitates before she shrugs and looks intently at Regina. “Are you?”
Regina asks, giving herself time, controlling her breathing. She knows what will follow and yet she hasn’t got the slightest idea how to answer.
“Happy?” Emma clarifies. It sounds almost casual, offhand, but Regina swallows, and when she looks at Emma, the smile twitching uncertain at the corners of her mouth, she knows what kind of weight Emma puts on her answer.
“Tell me that I will find happiness. Tell me that it’ll be worth it.”
Regina shakes her head at the echoing voice in her thoughts, but she can’t get the husked answer out of her head.
“You will be happy.”
Emma had promised it, affirmed it with the declaration that she never gave promises. Unless she planned to keep them.
Regina has no idea how much of Emma’s promise was about Henry and how much was the chance of something else, if the latter was at all implied. Maybe she had been seeing things, wishing too much. She certainly remembers desperately clinging to Emma as a chance to get away.
She knows that there is potential for more, she felt it. And yet…
So Regina musters up enough courage to keep her face in check and simply look at Henry again.
Only as she actually says the words does she notice how much of a half truth they are. Emma breathes out of her nose in discontent and suddenly there’s a hand at Regina’s arm pulling her away.
She watches Emma throw one last glance at Henry before she leads her downstairs.
Curiously enough, Regina lets her.
She halfway expects Emma to direct them to the study and go through her drawers in search of alcohol, but Emma stops in the living room. She drops down unto the couch and tugs Regina down as well.
Emma folds one leg under herself before she faces Regina with determination.
“I call bullshit.”
It’s the confidence that makes Regina cross her arms and glare.
“It’s nice to know that you presume to know me better than I know myself.”
She expects Emma to glare, get in her face, to argue.
Instead, Emma just deflates.
“Look, obviously I don’t know you better than you know yourself. What I do know is that you can’t build your entire happiness on one person, especially not a kid.”
After a moment, in which Regina simply continues looking straight ahead, clenching and unclenching her fists, Emma sighs. She knows it was an unfair question. She doesn’t even know why she asked it so soon. No, she knows only too well why she asked it.
Suppressing that line of thought, Emma carefully moves forward and lightly touches Regina’s left arm. To her surprise Regina doesn’t even flinch. Instead some of the awkward tension actually disappears and Emma carefully allows her magic to flow freely.
Healing, they learned on Neverland, comes naturally to Emma’s magic. She feels the arm mending under her hand, her magic restoring what was broken.
Curiously, it’s almost like Emma can see the damage in her mind, which hasn’t happened before. She knows that there is a tiny fracture in the bone and a lot of bruising on the upper arm, just as she knows that her own magic has already started to fix it.
Without magic, Regina would have probably not been able to keep the town going, even with Henry and Grace.
“You carried Henry with that?”
Emma quips, getting them back to a safe topic, accepting that there won’t be an answer anytime soon.
“Of course. I’d do anything for Henry.”
Regina answers immediately, without thinking, and Emma is painfully reminded of the trigger and the mine, where Regina had been ready to kill herself to give them a little bit more time to keep Henry safe. It makes her simultaneously feel in awe and very afraid.
“You need to learn to do everything for Henry, within reason.”
That makes Regina’s eyes blaze up.
“Is that what you think? That I should stop saving my son’s life when it becomes a danger to me?”
Recognizing the antagonistic behavior as the defensive mechanism it is, Emma simply shakes her head, staying calm, while letting her magic work through Regina’s arm.
“I’m just saying that you don’t have to carry him up the stairs with a broken arm. He has two good legs.”
She feels Regina relax under her hand.
“He’s been through a lot.”
“So have you.”
Regina only hums and Emma stops, her hand still at Regina’s shoulder. She could, she probably should, continue to help with the bruises on Regina’s face, but she isn’t sure she can handle the intimacy of the gesture. Healing, after all, requires physical contact.
“He will always be my little Prince.”
It’s almost defensive, but Emma simply nods.
When Regina cocks her head and looks at Emma, for once Emma doesn’t know how to interpret the meaningful look in her dark eyes.
“Without you, he wouldn’t be here.”
The strange statement breaks through Emma’s tight self-control and she releases an involuntary chuckle.
“Yeah, it was real heroic of me to get pregnant and give birth in jail.”
“No,” Regina shakes her head and Emma’s stomach summersaults when Regina covers Emma’s hand with hers.
“I’m saying that you could have chosen differently.”
Emma swallows hard, but the lump in her throat stays.
“You could have had it all. I was ready for someone to convince me that I’d get another chance at happiness there. I would have signed that peace treaty. I would have given up my revenge.”
Emma shrugs self-consciously.
“You don’t know that. After all, I would’ve been gone as soon as Snow would have given birth.”
Regina frowns and Emma grimaces.
“Besides, how would you have reacted once you learned who my parents were, who I was?”
Regina gives her a wry smile as she leans back into the sofa cushions.
“I do think that that is a cruel joke of fate itself.”
Emma smiles wryly because the phrasing reminds her who Henry’s father turned out to be. She’s grown to hate fate a lot herself. Sometimes she just wishes for Neal to be gone because she doesn’t want him to be around Henry. It surprises her how indifferent she has become to the man himself. Shaking her head about herself, Emma keeps her eyes on Regina’s face.
“It was never a real choice for me,” Emma hears herself say. “Giving up Henry like that…”
“Is inconceivable,” Regina finishes her thought truthfully while fixing her gaze on Emma’s face. Feeling like she is allowed now, Emma leans forward and places her hand gingerly on Regina’s cheek, slowly but surely starting to reduce the bruising.
“Why didn’t you heal yourself?”
She had asked the same question in Neverland, but back then the answer had been a snort. Now Regina just shakes her head..
Emma pauses for a moment until it sets in. Of course, dark magic can’t…
Realization makes Emma break out into a wide smile, she diminishes her own magic as Regina’s flares up, replacing Emma’s in healing the remaining bruises. Regina’s lips part in wonder and Emma’s proud smile widens.
She was right. Regina hasn’t quite realized that she has light magic. Their eyes meet and Emma’s smile fades, when Regina’s eyes flicker to her lips, when she realizes that she can feel Regina’s breath on her face.
Emma whispers, breaking the moment, only to realize that she is disappointed when Regina leans back and Emma has no idea how to deal with that, just like she doesn’t know what she actually wants, how far…
“The curse,” Regina explains, voice strangely calm. It gets Emma’s attention.
“The curse,” Regina repeats and this time there is a forced lightness to her answer that warns Emma of the next line.
“It took my light magic.”
Regina moves her healed arm between them, palm facing upward and a bright flame flickers up. It’s familiar to Emma, so she simply smiles. Then the words register with her and she looks up to see Regina’s eyes swimming with unshed tears, and Emma understands the entire price.
She leans forward and places her fingers under Regina’s chin again, making her look at her.
“It took your memories.”
It’s not a question, but Regina nods anyway.
“I…”, Regina shrugs helplessly and Emma feels her heart go out to her.
Regina’s memories have only returned to her as they broke Pan’s curse, somehow taking the sacrifice Regina made to enact her curse away.
“You didn’t remember me when we first met in Storybrooke,” Emma says, and again, it’s not a question but a clarification. Part of her is really glad Regina didn’t, but then she had somehow already known that. Regina would have acted differently if she had remembered her.
“I didn’t,” Regina sighs. “But now I do.”
It seems as much of a concession as Regina seems ready to make, so Emma simply nods. However, Regina continues.
“Our magic recognized each other.”
Emma freezes, unsure of what this is supposed to mean.
“It was infuriating because I had no idea where it came from, where that connection came from and I wished it away, but…”
“You believed that I had changed, that I wasn’t…”
Emma sighs and shakes her head.
“From what I’ve seen, you never really were the Evil Queen, Regina. You just put on that mask because it kept you sane. It kept you alive.”
But Regina doesn’t meet Emma’s eyes anymore.
“I wasn’t always… When you met me, I was trying to get away from all of this, but you can’t forget that I did terrible things.”
“I know,” Emma agrees. “But that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to put it behind you.”
Emma squeezes Regina’s arm reassuringly.
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t be who you really are.”
“Who I am?”
It sounds so small and dejected that it tugs on Emma’s heartstrings, but she stays strong, makes her voice firm.
“You are Regina. You are whoever you want to be.”
It’s a strange concept, Emma realizes. She grew up on the fringe of a society that promises you that you can make your dreams come true, whatever they are. Regina never really had that.
She had fate.
An especially cruel one.
So the silent tears running down Regina’s cheeks? Emma gets that. She leans forward to stroke them away when she suddenly notices that Regina is looking at her with a mixture of disbelief and, something she now realizes, she has never seen on this Regina’s face, hope .
Transfixed, Emma gives her a small smile, and, before she can say anything, Regina leans forward and kisses her.
Emma freezes in shock. She knows she should have expected this, but she really didn’t. Which is why she has no idea how to react.
Only when Regina starts to pull back, does Emma realize that she doesn’t want that. Her hand finds Regina’s neck and Emma draws her back in.
This time there is only a slight hesitation on Regina’s part before they do kiss, slow, almost gentle.
It’s at the same time surprising as it really isn’t.
At first it is a little awkward and then it really isn’t, because they seem to be compatible in every way imaginable- their lips meeting in a soft caress, tongues stroking, tasting, teeth nibbling on a lower lip until lips find the soft skin of a throat - the kiss gradually turns into something else, something more passionate, something even more real .
Again it is Emma who pulls back, wide-eyed, staring, incredibly overwhelmed by how right it feels.
She can’t because it’s too complicated, because it has as much potential to be great as it has to completely wreck her. She can’t because of so many reasons and yet, and yet, she wants to, she needs to.
So she finds Regina’s neck again, trailing kisses along her jawline, feeling herself losing her reservations at every single sigh, every single sound of approval.
Until Regina slows down their kisses, her hand stroking Emma’s face almost reverently.
Emma has no choice but to meet her eyes again. They look somehow darker and her hair is completely tousled in an enticing way that makes it hard for Emma not to continue immediately. She doesn’t, because there is something in Regina’s eyes that makes Emma hold back.
“Archie says I can be happy.”
There it is. A cold panic fills Emma and she shakes her head, feeling the need to do something else, to go, to run, to…
Because Emma can’t . She can’t make Regina happy as much as Henry can’t. Regina has to find a way to let herself be happy first and Emma…
Emma doesn’t know how to show her because she hasn’t found that way yet herself. How can she make someone else happy when she isn’t herself? She’s breathing irregularly for an entirely different reason now, when Regina takes her hands in hers, smiling in a disconcertingly calm way.
“I know. He says I have to find my own way to happiness. But I… I do feel like you could be a part of it. Like I could be part of your happiness as well.”
And somehow Emma finds herself nodding before she allows her head to move, she feels herself moving toward Regina and melting into the opened arms, the exhaustion and pressure of the last couple of days finally coming out in a moment Emma knows she will be ashamed of later.
Emma doesn’t realize that she’s crying until she feels her tears on her cheeks and it forces her to take a deep breath and move back.
When she meets Regina’s eyes with a sheepish look, there is no judgement, no confusion, only understanding and Emma can feel a strangely, ridiculously, happy laugh bubble up from inside of her. It sounds like the teary bark it is, but she nods.
“I’d like to try that.”
Some endings are just a beginning...
Chapter 7: Being happy
Henry asks, wrinkling his nose as he comes out of his room, a big package in his hands.
“Yes, chili,” Emma confirms. Her chili is great and with the option of extra hot sauce even Henry and Regina will like it. Plus, it’s easy to make a lot of it, which makes it’s perfect for today.
“Bit empty, hm?” Henry remarks, his eyes sweeping over the room. Emma can’t help but try to shrug it off, feeling a bit hurt.
She knows that it’s spartan. Even with her books filling the shelves, she isn’t one for decorations.
“You’re just going to have to live with less decorative surroundings every second week.”
Henry sticks his tongue out and pushes the package over the counter.
“Open it, for you moving in.”
The ‘you’ hurts a bit, but Emma knows where Henry’s home is and it’s understandable. He agreed to divide his time equally between Regina and her, most likely because he doesn’t want to choose, which Emma can totally understand.
“What is it?”
He shrugs, nervously biting his lip. It’s a testament to how important this is for him that he doesn’t even ask to taste the chili, that he ignores his ever-present teenager appetite to watch Emma unpack his gift.
So Emma eyes the package wearily until he sighs and opens it himself. He picks up a small picture frame and looks at it, smiling cautiously before he hands it to her.
It is a snapshot of Regina, Henry, and her at Granny’s. They are smiling, Regina is eating the rest of Henry's sundae, while Emma is gesturing wildly with her hands, Henry nodding along. They look so happy and Emma doesn’t even remember the moment. It could be any of their dozen visits to Granny’s in the last months. It could also be their first one, after Pan’s curse was broken, when Emma told Henry about her trip to the past.
“Ruby took it,” he explains, offering another frame that shows them at the park, a selfie she remembers Henry taking. In the next one that Henry shot shortly after Regina is laughing, patting Pongo on the head, the dog trying to lick her face.
There’s another one, a little bit blurry, in which Regina and Emma are sitting at a candle-lit table in the little Italian restaurant Storybrooke has. Emma’s face is entirely red, but there is a shy smile on her face, answering to Regina’s radiant one.
“We’re never letting Ruby babysit you again,” she says softly, blinking tears away.
“I’m a teenager. I don’t need babysitting,” Henry protests quietly, pointedly looking at the pictures and not Emma’s response.
Emma looks at the next frames.
She is sitting at Granny’s with David and Snow, love shining out of her parents’ eyes. She is holding baby Alexandra, while Ruby coos at the little girl over Emma’s shoulder. Snow, teaching her how to hold a bow, just in case; David teaching Henry sword fighting in the background. Five-year-old Henry held by a grinning Regina. Eight-year-old Henry proudly standing next to a Christmas tree. Twelve-year-old Henry at the school play three weeks ago.
But then she reaches the last one and she takes a sharp breath.
It is shot from Regina’s foyer into the living room. Emma is lying on the couch, her head bedded on Regina’s lap. Regina is running her hands through Emma’s hair, her eyes filled with such love that it makes Emma gasp.
“I knew you were snuggling on the couch,” Henry points out quietly, and Emma rounds the counter to hug him closely.
“Thank you,” she breathes into his hair.
“So… you like it?”
He asks against her shoulder and she chuckles lightly, trying to get herself under control. Her tears would just scare him, so she gets a grip on herself and smiles and nods at him.
“I love it.”
It’s a compilation of happy moments, of something she never had before, and she can’t begin to tell him how much it means to her. He doesn’t know because he always had a home to go back to, but part of Emma thinks that he might understand better than he should.
Sure, there have been fights, small and big ones.
The last one about her need to have her own apartment.
Snow wanted her to stay at home, indefinitely, and even though David told her to do what was right for her, he had this look on his face that made Emma feel like she was doing something horrible.
Regina flat out refused to understand, offered Emma to move in with her, and although they have made up, Regina is still refusing to talk about the apartment. She might have accepted Emma’s decision, but she still doesn’t understand it.
Emma hopes she will get a chance to find better words than the last time.
She sighs and squeezes Henry a little bit tighter.
He is back to being embarrassed, all teenager, shrugging and avoiding eye contact.
“It’s nothing, really. Mom helped picking out the pictures and the frames.”
It makes Emma’s heart squeeze and grow at the same time. She nods again, blinking her tears away, and smiles at Henry.
They both breathe out in relief when there’s a knock at the door.
Ella and two-year-old Alexandra are early, but it’s good because Alex decides to help finding the right places for the pictures. She wants the one with herself and the one with Pongo placed on the coffee table, so that she can easily reach them. Emma humors her for today. She will have time to find the perfect places later.
Henry is on his second helping of chili, when there’s another knock at the door. He hugs Regina tightly with his free arm, and offers the chili with a mumbled “’s really good.”
Regina smiles at him, immediately straightening his hair, before she regards at Emma with a shy smile, taking in the way they’ve placed the pictures with an almost hungry look. Emma moves to welcome her with a short kiss. She hugs Regina and whispers into the soft black hair.
“Thank you for the pictures.”
“They’re from Henry.”
Emma winks at her. “He said you helped.”
Regina nods and then Alex is at Emma’s side, demanding attention.
Soon afterwards, it gets crowded. Snow and David arrive at the same time as Ruby and Granny do. Everyone either lies or really enjoys the chili, (Regina most certainly lied until Henry showed her the hot sauce).
Afterward everyone ends up carrying Alex around and Emma has to wonder whether it’s really that bad to use a child as a buffer if it works so well.
At least, until Snow makes a remark about how good Emma looks, carrying a child on her hip. It is said offhandedly and Emma doesn’t know whether her mother is even aware of what just sprouted out of her mouth, whether Snow knows about the longing in her green eyes as she says it, making Emma feel inadequate, like she is not enough.
Somehow, even though she was deep into a discussion with Tink, Regina hears and turns around, placing a hand on Emma’s shoulder and showing all her teeth as she smiles at Snow, telling her that talking about children is a bit too late into their relationship. After all, they have Henry.
It makes Emma snort, which makes Alex giggle, and leads to Snow going back to coo about Emma’s goddaughter.
In another life, Emma might have grown up with Alex, been friends with her, and Snow might have been Alex’s godmother not Emma because she’s the only reason that Rumple didn’t get to sell Alex away, that they didn’t have to find Ella’s daughter somewhere else after the curse was broken.
In another life, there would be no Henry and Emma wouldn’t have found her happiness with Regina.
Snow stops cooing at this moment and scrunches up her face.
“Do you smell that?”
“Yeah,” Emma nods. “Time for a diaper change.”
She reaches for Ella’s baby bag and takes Alex to her bedroom, ignoring Snow’s curious look. Ella, bless her, thanks Emma, and starts telling Snow in a conversational voice how Emma was the one that taught her how to change a diaper, how it was Emma that taught her that the rhythm they’d just developed with Alex was disrupted by nothing worse than Alex’s teeth coming in.
Emma smiles at that memory. Thomas and Ella had driven their car through Storybrooke in the middle of the night, the only thing that always used to calm Alex down, and it hadn’t worked until Emma had bought a teething ring.
She changes Alex’s diaper, successfully preventing Alex from getting a hold of the wet tissues, and talks to her throughout to keep her distracted. When Emma turns around, Regina is standing at the door, a peculiar expression on her face. Emma sets Alex down and sends her back to the living room, silently prompting Regina to explain that thoughtful look of hers.
“Where did you learn that?”
Uneasy, Emma stares at her feet. “Foster care,” she shrugs. “Some parents aren’t that great with changing diapers and stuff, you know?”
“So the older ones take over?”
Emma nods, still not looking up.
“When the little ones are lucky.”
Regina holds out her hand and Emma reaches for it, allows Regina to draw her into a hug.
“I’ve thought about what you said,” Regina murmurs while she lets her fingers soothingly run through Emma’s hair.
“Hm?” Emma makes, because she has no idea what Regina is talking about. She barely manages to get a grip on herself between Snow’s comment, the remembrance of her foster years, and Regina, holding her so understanding, so supportive.
“About needing to be yourself first, about us finding a balance in our relationship before we can talk about moving in. I think, as much as I hate that thought, you are right.”
Emma snorts, nuzzling Regina’s neck.
“You hate that I am right or you hate that we should have a more stable relationship before moving in together?”
“Both,” Regina admits with a sigh and Emma chuckles, drawing Regina even closer to her. They hold each other for a moment until Emma moves back, gives Regina a small kiss, and offers her hand.
“I believe I have a party to host.”
Regina scrunches up her face, but allows Emma to pull her back to the living room.
Snow smiles hesitantly at them, but Emma just nods at her, pretending it’s okay. After all, Snow knows about most of her issues. She shouldn’t need another explanation.
When she turns away from Snow Emma notices David standing by the book shelf, staring at the picture of the three of them together. Emma moves over to stand next to him, nudging him with her shoulder.
“That’s a beautiful picture,” he says and she chuckles.
“Well, we’re beautiful people.”
His smile widens and he shakes his head but he holds out his arm and she leans against him, her head on his shoulder, his arm around her waist and somehow, it just feels right. It feels like home.
She is surrounded by her family, her friends, and Regina who is her family and something even more, and sometimes, with someone holding her like David does, giving her just enough room to breathe, she feels happy and doesn’t panic at the thought.
Ella is the first one to leave with Alex getting tired early and she offers to drive Henry to his sleepover party. Regina agrees, but only because Ella promises to go in and check whether it’s really an all-boy-sleepover, even if Henry wrinkles his nose at the thought.
Soon after the rest of the party clears out, leaving Emma to her first night in her new apartment. Emma hugs Snow out of her own accord, only to see Snow’s lower lip tremble. They have talked, a lot, and yet, sometimes it still feels like Snow doesn’t entirely understand her, and that hurts, but as usual David smiles at her, silently reminding Emma that they have time. They don’t have to be the perfect family at once.
Emma blinks a couple of times and smiles back at him, remembering his reassurance, that all she, Emma, has to do is try, and that all they, Snow and he, have to do is love her. Which, he said then, they’ll always do, no matter what.
He had talked about accepting her relationship with Regina then, but he had shaken his head and applied it to their entire relationship. They are a family, and with time they will grow into understanding what it means for them.
After they are gone, it’s only Regina and her. Regina, who smiles hesitantly before moving to the door.
“I guess, I should go as well, then. This is part of what this is about, isn’t it?”
It is, and it so completely isn’t. Because finding a balance in their relationship, also means that Regina gets out of her comfort zone. It means that Regina makes concessions as well.
So Emma moves forward and kisses her. She kisses her until she can’t think anymore, until their lips are all that matter , until she can’t hear anything but her pulse in her ears, can’t feel anything but Regina’s skin under her searching fingers. She kisses her until she feels like she has to catch her breath because it’s still so much, still so very overwhelming. So Emma moves her arms around Regina to pull her into an embrace and rests her chin on Regina’s shoulder.
“Stay with me,” Emma whispers under her breath, vulnerable, hesitant. She is holding on to Regina loosely, not clinging, never clinging, and whispering the plea into her soft brown hair, knowing it’s too low to hear, too uncertain.
But Regina moves closer to her, kisses her cheek once before nuzzling her neck.
She feels Regina sigh against her skin before Regina moves back to look at her, hands still at Emma’s waist.
“That is, if you really want me to.”
Regina tilts her head, but Emma is insistent.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because just twenty minutes ago you were giving a speech about boundaries.”
“To Snow. Because she was about to organize my cutlery.”
“She should be lucky you have cutlery.”
Regina sighs and pulls back.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldn't.”
“No, you shouldn’t. But you wouldn’t be you if you didn’t.”
Regina shakes her head.
“I don’t know how you’re even putting up with me.”
“The same way you’re putting up with the fact that I never had my own cutlery.”
“So, those tiny swans on the cutlery must have cost a fortune.”
Regina just shrugs.
“It felt appropriate.”
“And the pictures…”
“Don’t mention it,” Regina says, but her eyes are glistening, saying ‘I know’, so Emma lets the door fall shut behind them and pulls Regina to her bedroom.
It already feels like home. Because being with Regina feels like home.