Seeing the dust literally settle around them, Emma took a quick stock check of the inevitable damage to the town following this latest battle.
Satisfied that no irreparable destruction had occurred to either property or fairy tale character, she took to surveying those remaining scattered up and down Main Street in its wake. Unsurprisingly, this consisted entirely of her family, and people she had come to consider so. At one end, still armed with her trademark bow and arrow, her mother was ushering some of the more reticent townsfolk out of the library, assuring them the danger had once again passed. Her father meanwhile was beginning the tedious, and kind of gross, process of collecting stray ogre body parts, an unpleasant side effect of the heavy blast of the combined magic of Queen and Saviour, which had finally felled their surprise guest on an otherwise peaceful summer afternoon.
The other magical practitioner in question was currently standing a few feet away attempting, Emma realised with surprisingly little success, to piece together the damned clock, which she swore spent more time shattered on the street than it did in its rightful place atop the tower. Watching the pieces idly swirl around in a haze of purple smoke, she strolled over, casually placing a hand on Regina’s arm and smiling as their magic intertwined and the clock was masterfully restored. Poised to make a cocky remark at their success, she glanced at her companion, who she was concerned to see sway precariously, the colour draining from her face. Slightly panicked, she gripped the other woman’s arm with one hand, the other sliding quickly around a slim waist, alarmed when neither movement drew a reaction.
“Woah, Regina. Just sit down a minute, okay?”
Emma was monumentally relieved to see the mayor come back to herself, shaking her head slightly but doing nothing to free herself from her grip.
“I’m fine, dear.” She attempted a smile. “I simply over-exerted myself with that last spell.”
Emma eyed her sceptically, guiding the pair over to a nearby bench, thankfully unscathed by the attack, dropping onto it and pulling Regina down with her. When Regina still failed to object, she turned toward her to properly appraise her. Although some colour seemed to have returned to her cheeks, the older woman looked more tired than she could recall seeing, and her normally sharp eyes were glazed and distant.
Emma dropped her arm from around the other woman, instead reaching for her hand, squeezing gently. “When did you last eat something?”
Regina seemed to consider the question carefully, but when no response other than a barely contained grimace was immediately forthcoming, Emma had her answer. Without thinking further, the Saviour tightened her grip on the hands in her own, closing her eyes and letting the sudden rush of protectiveness take over her emotions. When she opened her eyes, she was relieved to see the air around them reform to reveal they were still seated in their previous position but now instead of the bench on Main Street they were now on the sofa in Regina’s stylish den. Steeling herself for the verbal barrage from the mayor for “poofing” her against her wishes, she was again concerned to see that the only reaction from the other woman was a relieved sigh. Not wanting to push her luck by opening her mouth, Emma instead stood, pulling Regina up with her and ushering her in the direction of the hallway. Again receiving no objection, she took a chance, once again squeezing the hand in her own.
“Go get changed, ok. Ogre blood kinda stinks, y’know. And I’ll find us something edible in the health food store you call your kitchen.”
Her unease growing, the sheriff watched as Regina traipsed silently up the stairs as instructed, before turning her attention to the most important mission of finding something to eat in the mayor’s house which contained the energy the other woman so desperately seemed to need.
It was only when she had the ingredients set out for a superior grilled cheese sandwich that Emma realised Regina had not yet returned. Her concern winning out over her desire to not come face to face with a fireball, she quietly made her way up the stairs and down the expansive upper landing to the door which she knew to be the master bedroom. Peering into the room, Emma felt an unexpected jolt of affection at the sight of the mayor clad in yoga pants, still wearing her shirt from the day, soundly asleep atop her luxurious queen size bed. Unable to stop herself she crept quietly into the room, grabbing a throw from a chair in the corner of the room and carefully draping it over the sleeping form. Holding her breath, she waited for a moment to check that this action had not awoken the clearly exhausted woman. When the only sound in the room remained that of Regina’s slow steady breathing, she watched as her hand, of its own accord reached out gently sweeping dark hair from over a still notably pale face. Suddenly aware of the strange intimacy of the action, she inhaled, relaxing only when Regina emitted a contented sigh before shuffling further into her pillow. Pulling herself somewhat reluctantly away, she let her gaze settle on the figure before her for a moment longer before quietly backing out the door.
“Regina? You in here?”
It had been two days since the unexpected ogre attack, and Emma had finally finished the last of the paperwork which such an event invariably seemed to produce for the Sheriff’s department. Determined to finally get the damn reports of her desk, at some time after three in the afternoon, she had made her way to the Town Hall to get final sign off from the mayor, only to be told by her secretary that Regina had already left for the day. Her instincts prickling at the unexpected early finish for the workaholic mayor, she had found herself pulling the Bug to a stop outside 108 Mifflin Street, knocking somewhat anxiously on the front door. Regina’s Mercedes was parked in the driveway and the light from the grand entrance was visible. However, no response was forthcoming.
Concern taking precedence over annoyance, instead of banging harder, she slipped the key, which Henry had given her “in case of an emergency”, or more usually a forgotten school book or permission slip that he didn’t wish for his stricter parent to uncover, into the lock swinging the door quietly open.
The house was silent, but the light which Emma had thought to have been coming from the foyer was in fact glowing from the open door of the study. Heading toward its source, a small frown furrowing her brow, Emma peeked through the doorway. Her eyes rested momentarily on the empty chair behind the desk, pushed back from the laptop still whirring in front of it, before her attention was caught by the sound of slow, steady breathing coming from the opposite side of the room. Stepping fully into the space, the sheriff was unable to contain her surprise at the sight of the mayor curled up in a plush arm chair, her head resting uncomfortably in her hand, seemingly fast asleep. Her initial amusement quickly turning to concern at the unusual sight, Emma crouched down in front of the older woman placing one hand on her knee, and shaking it gently.
“Regina.” The woman stirred slightly. “Are you ok?”
Several moments later, she was relieved to see brown eyes drift open as Regina looked around the room in apparent confusion before her eyes rested on her.
“Hey.” The sheriff was surprised at the gentleness in her voice. “Are you feeling ok?”
Regina blinked rapidly a couple of times. “I apologise, I must have fallen asleep.” Clearly unsettled by either her impromptu afternoon nap, or the fact she had been caught at it, she self-consciously tucked some stray hair behind her ear before rising quickly to her feet. On doing so, as Emma watched with growing alarm, she seemed to sway slightly before quickly sitting back down the colour again seeping from her face.
Acting on instinct, Emma reached out supporting her until she was again safely seated. Once satisfied that the other woman would remain upright, she extended a hand placing it carefully against a pale forehead, noting with relief that the unexplained unsteadiness was not the result of a fever.
When Regina once again failed to react to the intrusion of her personal space, beyond taking a deep but slightly shaky breath her anxiety kicked up another notch. “Regina?”
At the lack of response, Emma again observed the woman before her. Despite her flawless make-up, the dark circles under her eyes were evident, and on closer inspection it appeared she had lost some weight. When the sheriff thought about it, over the last few weeks, the usually sharp mayor had seemed slower, almost sluggish at times, as if she lacked the energy for anything else. Initially Emma had put the change down to the unexpected departure of her supposed soulmate and his… wife, and not wishing to reopen old wounds had somehow managed to keep her mouth shut on the subject, wanting to give the mayor space to deal. As such for the first week following the Hood family’s one-way trip over the town line the paperwork from the Sheriff’s office had never been delivered to the Mayor in such a timely manner, and as much as Emma was trying to be inconspicuous by the second week, Regina had automatically begun to set an additional place at the table alongside herself and their son.
With another deep breath, Regina seemed to find her equilibrium. However, her attempt to respond was halted by stifled yawn. Emma waited a moment before cautiously reaching out taking the other woman’s hand in her own and squeezing it gently.
“Talk to me…. Please.”
Regina’s features shifted into their usual mask. Yet her voice was genuinely warm.
“Honestly, Emma. I am fine.” She swallowed another yawn, allowing just for a moment a hint of droll vulnerability to peek through. “As you are fully aware, it has not been the best few weeks, and I suppose that may be starting to catch up with me.”
The response was convincing enough, but for some reason Emma’s gut was damn near screaming at her. Realising that she was rarely capable of doing the easy, or sensible thing, she sighed, painfully aware that she was idiotically about to poke an open wound of the former Evil Queen with a sharp stick.
“Of course you are. That’s why you’re tired all the time and I know you’re not eating right.” Emma paused, absently chewing at her lip. “Would you like me to, I mean, should I….” She swallowed. “I can call Archie if you’d like.”
She didn’t realise she’d been holding her breath until a weary, but genuine smile, graced Regina’s face, as she felt her watching her curiously.
“Emma, I can assure you that I am not depressed, or anything of that nature, if that is what you are not so subtly alluding to.” She sighed. “I am conscious of the fact I have been feeling rather fatigued of late. However, I am confident that this is nothing a few more nights of sufficient sleep cannot cure, and it is certainly no matter of concern.” This time it was Regina’s turn to pause, as if she realised the inference of an assumption that the Saviour was indeed concerned for her wellbeing.
Another wave of affection for the other woman, and her ridiculously low self-worth, washing over her, Emma grinned easily.
“Well in that case, there’s no time like the present.” At Regina’s apparent confusion, her smile grew, as she nodded her head earnestly in the direction of the stairs.
On realising her meaning, Regina huffed almost petulantly, causing Emma to snort slightly.
“Miss Swan, whilst napping in the middle of the day may be normal behaviour for you, I am not a child and I refuse to….”
The rant was interrupted by the air once again dissolving around them, as Emma silently congratulated herself for another successful relocation. Pulling back the covers, she pushed the older woman gently onto the huge bed, keeping her voice firm despite the warmth within it.
“Well then if you are not a baby, you will listen for once in your damn life and get some rest when you so obviously need it.” She paused, waiting for Regina to argue, or possibly magically throw her against the bedroom wall. When all she got was an irritated sigh, she smiled cockily. “Ok, then, Madam Mayor. Here’s the deal. You are going to lie here, and you can either sulk, or try to get some sleep. Either way, Henry’s staying at my parents’, so I am going to Granny’s to pick us up some dinner, and I expect you to be right here when I get back. We will then have a civilised dinner, possibly watch some crap on TV, so you can complain about my terrible taste and pretend that you don’t care about the lives of those ridiculous fictional characters. And then you are going to get an early night whilst I crash in your guestroom as we both know I’ll be too lazy to drive, or poof home.” She took a breath, again anticipating the other woman’s objections to what in her mind was a damn good plan. When as before, none was forthcoming, Emma bit back the worry she could feel rising, instead plastering on a broad grin. “That’s settled then.” Crouching gracelessly by the side of the bed, she made a point of seeking out dark eyes. Expecting to see at the very least a sense of ire, her breath hitched as she realised Regina simply looked grateful. Rising to her feet, she carefully pulled the covers over the older woman, patting her shoulder awkwardly as she stood.
“Just rest ok. I’ll be right back.”
This time letting herself into the mansion without hesitation, her arms full of takeout bags, Emma listened for the expected tell-tale signs that Regina had ignored her earlier instructions. When met only with silence, Emma realised she was both pleased and concerned in equal measure. Dumping the food on the kitchen counter, she as quietly as she was capable of, made her way up the stairs. The door of the master bedroom was ajar as she had left it, and she peaked in, half expecting to see Regina working on her laptop, or possibly reading papers from the previous week’s Town Council meeting. Instead she was met with the sight of the older woman, still largely in the same position as she had been in when Emma had left a little over an hour ago, except she was now cocooned more heavily in the covers, the only movement being the steady rise and fall of a deep sleep. Suddenly exponentially more concerned at the level of exhaustion the mayor was seemingly experiencing, Emma slipped further into the room, gently sitting on the edge of the bed. At the movement, Regina mumbled slightly but did not awake. With the niggling worry that there was something more physical going on than the fallout of a bad breakup, or loss of a soulmate, whatever, Emma once again swept a hand over the other woman’s brow. Whilst her face was pale and drawn, she was relieved that her temperature still seemed normal and she appeared to be resting peacefully. Deciding to let Regina sleep for a little while longer, the sheriff pulled herself somewhat reluctantly to her feet. Absently smoothing the covers back over the older woman she slipped back out the door and down the stairs.
Grateful for the Netflix account Henry had set up on the TV in the den, it was the growling of her stomach which alerted Emma to the fact it was now almost seven and Regina was yet to emerge from her impromptu nap. The distraction of binge watching episodes of questionable 90s comedies wearing thin, she could feel her concern again spike and before she knew it she was heading back up the stairs and into the mayor’s bedroom. Regina was once again in the same position except that the covers were now pushed back slightly and her face was largely hidden by the thick dark hair falling across it. Now officially worried, Emma crouched down once more by the bed, reaching out and gently brushing the loose hair from her face.
Placing her hand softly on an exposed shoulder, and squeezing lightly, Emma was relieved to see brown eyes struggle open, an endearing confusion in them. Giving her a moment to come round, she casually rose perching on the edge of the bed, her hand, she belatedly realised was trailing comfortingly up and down the older woman’s arm. “You’re ok.”
With alertness returning to Regina’s features, awareness was soon replaced with anxiety.
“What time is it?”
“After seven.” Emma mumbled slightly in the hope it would somehow detract from the fact that she had let the other woman sleep for over three hours. The tactic was clearly never going to work.
“Seven?” Regina impressively sounded both shocked and annoyed.
She shrugged. “It seemed like you needed the sleep.”
Any disagreement the mayor was about to voice was rudely interrupted by a deep yawn, and despite her best efforts, Emma could not help but grin.
When she looked at Regina, she was amazed to see the other woman’s expression mirrored her own and they shared a soft smile.
“How do you feel?”
The only response was a sigh.
Feeling an intense wave of empathy wash over her, Emma moved her hand down until it once again grasped Regina’s.
“Come on, sleepy. There’s some lasagne and a piece of pie with your name on it downstairs, and if you don’t move your ass soon there’s a very real danger that I’ll starve here.”
Seeing the gratitude again shining in Regina’s eyes, she tugged gently on her hand until the older woman was in a seated position next to her on the edge of the bed before pulling her to her feet. Hovering not so subtly next to her, she waited for a moment to check she was steady on her feet. If Regina saw the intent behind this action, she kept her mouth uncharacteristically shut. But nor did she, Emma noticed, let go of her hand. Satisfied that Regina was steady, Emma released her hold, throwing a final comment over her shoulder as she left the room.
“And I know you own something more comfortable than a pant suit.”
Emma was busy nuking a second plate of lasagne when she sensed rather than heard Regina enter the kitchen. As she turned around she smiled to see that the mayor had changed once more into elasticated yoga pants and a thick fleecy sweater. Deftly placing a steaming plate of pasta on the island, she pulled out a chair and motioned for Regina to sit. Removing her own plate from the beeping microwave she set it beside the other woman before pouring two glasses of ice cold water. Foregoing any further social niceties, Emma finally dropped onto her stool shovelling a forkful of food desperately into her mouth. After repeating the motion several times, she finally paused, looking over at the other woman who was tentatively pushing the food round her plate.
“Look, I know this pales in comparison with your version, your majesty, but it’s still edible.” Putting her fork down to focus on Regina, Emma’s smile faded as she realised her dinner companion was beginning to look slightly green. Not sure what to do, but feeling an overwhelming urge to offer comfort, she stood moving behind the other woman gently rubbing her back. “Hey, you ok?”
Regina inhaled through her mouth, clearly trying to gather herself, and to Emma’s surprise leaning into her touch.
Keeping her voice calm and hopefully soothing, she maintained the rhythmic pressure on the mayor’s back. “Do you need to throw up?”
Regina seemed to think about the question for several moments before swallowing convulsively a couple of times and shaking her head in the negative. She remained silent, the only sound being the deep breaths she was forcing herself to take.
Still unsure as to what she should do, Emma left one hand on Regina’s back whilst moving to the side and crouching slightly until she was eye level with her. On doing so she realised that the older woman was unnaturally pale with beads of sweat breaking out across her brow. Fighting back panic, Emma smiled. “You’re ok.”
A couple of breaths later, Regina nodded, attempting to smile, but it still looked slightly like a grimace.
Emma rubbed her back softly for another moment before grabbing the offending plate, along with her own half empty one, and shoving them to the back of the kitchen counter, out of sight. “And we’re done with food.”
Without consulting the other woman, she took hold of her arm, gently pulling her upright and off the stool. When Regina again did not object, the sheriff was acutely aware of her growing feeling of protectiveness as she steered the pair of them to the den and onto the comfortable couch. Once seated, Emma again turned to face her unable to hide the worry that she knew was clearly written across her features.
“Ok, so I’m guessing this isn’t the first time that’s happened.” It was a statement, not a question.
Once more greeted with silence, Emma again reached for Regina’s hands which were fidgeting uncharacteristically in her lap. Stilling them with her own, she idly marvelled that in the last few days she had probably had more physical contact with the mayor, unless she counted that time they got into a fist fight, than in the last four years. And whereas in theory they should both have been uncomfortable with this sudden change, every instinct of Emma’s was screaming at her to initiate such contact, and more bizarrely, Regina seemed to welcome it. As if to prove her point, she took that moment to grip Emma’s hand again sighing heavily. Emma smiled encouragingly, making an effort to meet her eyes in the hopes of communicating her very genuine concern.
“You are correct. That was not the first occasion.”
The admission came out as a mumble, causing Emma, despite her worry, to bite back a grin at the un-queenliness of the tone. Instead, she nodded reassuringly. “How often?”
Regina emitted another resigned sigh. “Most days.” As if realising that any hope of not disclosing the information was long gone, she paused for a moment before adding, “hence eating the required amount for my good health has proven a challenge lately.”
Trying, but probably failing to emulate the mayor’s mask, Emma realised that as she spoke, her thumb was tracing gentle patterns across the other woman’s hand. “And how long has this been happening?”
Regina’s eyes drifted closed, as if unable to look at Emma whilst disclosing such a perceived weakness. “Three weeks.” She paused again. “Maybe a little longer.”
Seeing her eyes remained closed, Emma gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “And being tired all the time? The dizzy spells?”
Regina opened her eyes, this time looking at her with a vulnerability that took Emma’s breath away. “The fatigue… about a month ago. The dizziness, I believe you were witness to the first occasion, however their frequency has unfortunately increased over the last day or so.”
For a moment, Emma had the urge to simply pull Regina into her arms and hold her there. Instead she squeezed the hands in hers tighter, keeping her voice gentle but firm.
“I know it’s been a shitty few weeks.” She paused waiting for the inevitable eyebrow raise at her choice of language. When it passed, she grinned knowingly before her expression shifted back to understanding. “But we should get you checked out just in case.” Regina looked slightly confused but Emma pressed on regardless. “So, tomorrow, we’re gonna call Whale,” she shuddered slightly, “and make you an appointment for whenever he can fit you in. David can cover me if I’m on duty.” She grinned again. “Or if not, I’m sure my boss won’t mind me taking some personal time to take care of my family.” At the lack of response, she sought out Regina’s eyes, her heart clenching slightly as she realised they were blinking back tears. Again fighting the strange impulse to hug the other woman tightly, she forced her features into a wide smile squeezing her hands one last time before placing them back in her lap and reaching for the remote. Clicking on the TV, she scrolled through the channels in silence before finally settling on a re-run of a familiar looking comedy, the name of which she knew would come back to her. Waiting for complaint from the other woman, she was amazed instead to feel the sensation of a warm body leaning into her, and a head resting softly on her shoulder. Hiding her surprise she shifted slightly reaching her arm around Regina’s back holding her gently in place. At some point during the second episode, of whatever show it was that Emma was paying little attention to, she felt the weight against her side increase. Turning down the volume so the TV was playing quietly in the background, the only sound she was aware of was the slow and steady breathing of the exhausted woman sleeping peacefully against her.
Cracking eggs into a pan ready to cook and humming tunelessly to herself, Emma took a moment to bathe in the early morning sunlight streaming into the airy kitchen of 108 Mifflin Street – so different from the cramped apartment she shared with her parents and baby brother. It idly occurred to her that she really should get her own place. But between the time she spent at the station, the seemingly frequent rescue missions to other realms, and the growing amount of hours she spent right here with her son and his other mother, finding somewhere of her own seemed a pretty big waste of time. Her mind drifting, her thoughts went, as they so often seemed to lately, to the woman who appeared to still be sleeping upstairs. After atypically falling asleep on her shoulder in the den the previous evening, Emma had let the other woman sleep undisturbed until ten before gently waking her and ushering her upstairs to bed. Regina, on being awakened, had been groggy and cute – a word choice she was not going to dwell on – letting Emma essentially tuck her into bed as she would Henry in his pre-teen days. The older woman had fallen back into unconsciousness almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, although for some reason this had not stopped Emma from loitering for a few moments watching the reassuring rise and fall of her chest before retreating somewhat reluctantly to her usual spot in the mansion’s main guest room.
Hearing movement upstairs, Emma listened for a moment debating whether to start their makeshift breakfast, or wait until Regina came down. The clock on the wall showed it was almost eight, and whilst this was disproportionately early for her on a day like today when she was not expected at the Sheriff’s office until the afternoon, for the mayor it was more like midday. Whilst Emma was fully aware of her reason to rise early – to make sure she could get an appointment with Storybrook’s curse qualified doctor that same day, whether it be through luck, coercion or outright threat – Regina’s lack of a morning appearance only served to strengthen her worry from the previous day. Feeling the usual need for action, she quickly found herself outside the master bedroom peering in. Regina was not in her bed and the door of the en-suite was half open. Unsure where they stood on the whole invasion of personal space thing after the previous day, she stuck her head into the room. About to call Regina’s name, she was alarmed to hear the unmistakeable sound of retching coming from the bathroom. Her feet working faster than her brain, she crossed the room decisively dropping down beside the mayor who was on her knees over the toilet bowl clinging on as if for dear life. Pulling the elastic out of her own hair, Emma quickly tied it around Regina’s, marvelling for a moment, as to how much it had grown. As the heaving began to thankfully decrease, she rubbed steady circles on her back, vaguely aware she was making gentle shushing noises as she did so. When the older woman was finally able to move, Emma felt her instincts again take over as she slipped one arm around her waist the other flushing the toilet and shutting the lid to hide the incriminating evidence. She briefly considered lowering Regina to sit on the side of the huge bathtub, but seeing how shaky she still looked, she instead pushed her gently onto the closed lid. Once she was sure the other woman was steady, she passed her the glass of water conspicuously prepared next to her, and encouraged her to rinse her mouth in the sink beside her. Once this task was completed, unable to contain her need for an interrogation much longer, but also not wishing to hold the conversation in the discomfort of a bathroom, Emma once more swept an arm around Regina’s shoulders, escorting her decisively to her bed and sitting them both on the edge of it.
The sheriff opened her mouth to start what she suspected would be the first of many questions, but one look at the guilt, or possibly shame on the other woman’s face, made her snap it shut. Turning so she could maintain eye contact, she placed a hand on Regina’s, the other pulling her cell phone from her pocket and scrolling through her contacts until she found the number she was looking for.
“Hi. This is Emma Swan. I need to make an appointment with Dr Whale. This morning.”
Thank you for the comments and kudos on the first chapter - always appreciated. Updates will not normally be this frequent. However, I'm trying to keep myself under pressure to keep writing on this one. I do have the full story mapped out and things will not necessarily be entirely as they first seem... Thanks again for reading.
“Will you stop it.” Emma clamped a firm hand on the jiggling knee of the woman next to her. “I’m getting motion sickness here.”
The two women sat alone in the waiting area of Storybrook’s sole medical facility, their only company being the receptionist sporadically peering over her desk unable to contain the curious looks she was shooting at them. Her hand remaining securely on Regina’s knee, Emma kept her voice low so they could not be overheard, no matter how hard their observer seemed to be trying.
“I know you’re uncomfortable.” She pulled a face at the thought of who they were there to see. “But it’s not like we have a whole lot of medical options in this town. So, let’s just get in there and get this done, right?” Feeling the tension now radiating off Regina, the Saviour softened her voice further. “The only thing that matters is you feel better, ok?”
At the lack of response, Emma chanced a sideways glance at the older woman who swallowed heavily, nodding tightly. Torn between the desire to offer comfort to the clearly on-edge woman and reluctance to make the mayor the fodder of anymore town gossip than would inevitably occur, she settled on discreetly tracing smooth circles with her fingertips on a pant-suited knee. “You’re ok.”
The wait was cut short as the doctor in question stuck his head out of his office, surprise crossing his face as he saw his patient’s companion. “Madame Mayor… and Miss Swan. Please come in.”
Rising to her feet a moment before Regina, Emma waited until she was standing before subconsciously resting her hand on the other woman’s lower back and following her into the room. As they entered, Whale was pulling an extra seat from the corner of the room, clearly not having anticipated his additional guest. Nudging Regina into the nearest chair, she took the second chair off the now bemused doctor, sitting it so close to the other woman that the arms touched and ignoring the smirk that briefly crossed Whale’s face at her actions.
The doctor’s expression finally turned to one of practiced professionalism. “Regina, not that this isn’t a pleasure as always, but what can I do for you today?”
For a moment Regina looked like she would either flatly refuse to answer, or possibly blast the doctor through his second storey window. However, she instead drew herself up in her seat letting out a breath that sounded to Emma suspiciously like a snarl. She looked at Whale in a predatory manner, and the blonde swore she saw for a second a flash of the Evil Queen.
“I have been experiencing some fatigue of late, and in a momentary lapse of sound judgement, I agreed to let the Saviour here convince me that this was an appropriate course of action.”
Admirably ignoring the commentary that went along with the complaint, Whale watched Regina evenly, scribbling notes on a pad in front of him. “Any other symptoms aside from fatigue?”
At Emma’s pointed look, Regina sighed edgily. “There has been some nausea and light-headedness also, but nothing with which I cannot cope.”
Whale kept his expression measured, and for a moment Emma forgot that they were in fact seeking medical advice from a story book character. “Whilst I have no doubt that you can cope with it, Regina, I have to say that I agree with Miss Swan, and it would be prudent to find out the cause of your current difficulties.”
As if suddenly remembering who he was speaking to, Whale let some reticence creep into his otherwise assured tone.
“Alright, well I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, but I need to ask you a few routine questions and then I shall call a nurse to take a blood sample so we can run some tests.”
Regina’s intake of breath was noticed by Emma, but not it appeared by Whale.
“When did you first start to notice your symptoms?”
“Around three weeks ago.”
“Have you been experiencing headaches or any blurred vision?”
“No”, Regina ground out.
“And how has your magic been? Any fluctuation in strength? Any unusual side effects?”
Unable to hold in her amusement at the fact that she lived in world where that was a routine question, Emma’s mirth broke free in the form of an unladylike snort, earning a stern glare alongside the response.
“Nothing too unusual. Even with your limited knowledge, Victor, you are aware that magic is controlled by emotion. And as I understand is also commonly known, I have recently gone through a degree of emotional upheaval in my personal life. Therefore, I would expect that my magic be a little unpredictable at times.”
At this Emma looked at her curiously but kept quiet.
Whale continued to scrawl his notes, not looking up from his paper. “And finally, how long has it been since you were last sexually active?”
Emma’s snort turned into startled cough causing both Regina and Whale to look across at her. The former queen’s expression changed quickly from startled to menacing, whilst the doctor simply looked grateful for the distraction caused by the Sheriff.
With as much dignity as she could muster, Regina’s voice verged on icy but remained civil. “About two months ago.” She pointedly ignored the surprised eyebrow raised in her direction from Emma, instead fixing a warning glare on Whale. “Although I fail to see how that particular piece of information is pertinent for anything other than your vicarious titillation… Doctor.”
Whale now looked distinctly nervous but remarkably kept his cool. “It’s just a standard question Madame Mayor.” He paused. “And you will be relieved to know that all that is now left to do is for the nurse to take a sample of your blood, and we should have the results for you in a day or so.”
Now safely out of Regina’s eye line, Emma smiled to herself at the realisation that it was more likely Whale and not the mayor who was most relieved that the extremely short appointment was over and was probably simply thankful that he survived it. Once the pair were alone in the room, she glanced over at the other woman who was staring blankly at the wall opposite them. Without thinking Emma reached for her hand and was alarmed to see Regina flinch in response. Fighting the impulse to pull her hand away, she instead held on tighter, and was inordinately relieved when Regina turned toward her. The feeling was however short-lived as the older woman appeared to visibly deflate before her, her shoulders slumping, letting out a weary sigh. Emma squeezed her hand encouragingly. “See that wasn’t so bad.” The comment earned her another raised eyebrow, and she shrugged casually. “Just one little blood test to go and then we can blow this joint.” She smiled more nonchalantly than she felt. “It’s a gorgeous summer day, my dad is covering my shift tonight and then bar any natural… or supernatural disaster… I have two whole glorious days off before I return to my dangerous sheriff duties of rescuing stray kittens from trees or chasing Pongo through the woods.” She nudged Regina’s shoulder with her own. “What do you say, me, you, Henry, picnics in the park, predictable superhero movies on DVD?”
Regina seemed to observe her carefully. When she spoke, her voice was surprisingly gentle. “Emma. I appreciate the gesture. But I’m sure you have something you would rather be doing on your well-deserved days off.” She paused for a moment, her expression kind, but otherwise unreadable. “And you know you don’t need to babysit me, right?”
Emma was torn between letting it spill out of her mouth that there was, somewhat to her amazement, nothing she wished to do more than spend time with Regina, and of course Henry – even if that time was spent watching crappy TV re-runs with her son’s other mom sleeping on her shoulder – and making a joke about babysitting the former queen being part of the Saviour job description. However, she was fortuitously interrupted by a young blonde nurse who Emma didn’t recognise, hesitantly nudging open the door, syringe in hand.
At the interruption, Regina again tensed. Emma was suddenly conscious that to all intents and purposes the mayor and the sheriff were sitting in a doctor’s office holding hands. Waiting for Regina to pull her hand away, Emma loosened her grip but was surprised to feel the pressure on her own fingers increase. Leaving her hand where it was, she smiled self-consciously at the young nurse, whose gaze flicked briefly toward their joined hands before she smiled kindly at her patient. “Ok, Ms Mills, this will only take a minute.”
Regina nodded tensely as the nurse expertly slipped the needle into her lower arm, maintaining eye contact with her patient and keeping up a steady stream of chatter that Emma forced herself to listen to as she was unsure how much its’ intended recipient was taking in.
“Doctor Whale asked me to remind you that we will call you once we have your blood results in. It’s pretty quiet so we could have them back tomorrow. Although he’s sure it’s nothing to be too concerned about he does advise that you take it easy for a few days until we know more. That means plenty of rest and fluids, and bland food if the nausea persists. If the light-headedness continues you should avoid driving, and use of magic unless absolutely necessary, and try to avoid any significant stress or physical exertion.” She patted Regina’s arm and Emma realised the syringe was now out. “Excellent.” She reached behind her to the table grabbing a cuff behind her. At Regina’s undisguised alarm, she smiled apologetically. “Sorry, I’m just going to check your blood pressure before we let you go. It’s just a precaution.”
Emma squeezed Regina’s hand as the nurse fixed the cuff tightly around her upper arm watching the machine until it bleeped. She frowned slightly before her features rearranged themselves back into a reassuring smile. Taking a stethoscope from around her neck, she lifted one end to the bare skin in the V of the mayor’s shirt, listening carefully. This time the frown was briefer, but Emma still caught it.
Returning her instrument to her neck, the nurse eyed Regina gently. “Ok, so your blood pressure is a little high and your heart rate is increased more than we would expect.”
Regina’s expression remained impassive, but Emma again felt the pressure on her fingers increase.
“There’s nothing from your annual exam that suggests any underlying physical health issues, so can I ask…” she paused, for the first time hesitant, “… have you ever been diagnosed with any other condition that would lead to these symptoms.”
The woman’s gaze was fixed firmly on the wall ahead. Her tone was mostly that of the impenetrable Mayor Mills, yet Emma could hear painful undertones of the Regina she had come to care about.
“Whilst this is no excuse for my past actions, you may not be aware from the stories you have no doubt heard about me that I have experienced some difficult situations in my lifetime both in this realm and the last.” Regina paused as if weighing her next words carefully. “According to Doctor Hopper, the term for it in this world I believe is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a tendency toward anxiety in situations where I feel events are outside of my control, which I can only assume is what is causing my elevated heart rate at this particular moment.”
Hoping she was succeeding at hiding her surprise, not so much that Regina was clearly affected by her crappy life experiences, but more that she had admitted as such to Archie and was now doing so to both herself and a complete stranger, Emma glanced across. Part of her felt she should offer to give Regina her privacy given the personal turn the conversation had taken, but the death grip on her hand suggested otherwise, as Regina continued.
“There have also been periods in my life where this has led to my having difficulty in sleeping and as such, I have made use of treatments of both this world and the Enchanted Forrest. However, it would seem that at present my problem is quite the opposite.”
If the young nurse was perturbed by the confessions of the former Evil Queen, she hid it well. “I’m sorry Ms Mills, if you would like to end this conversation, I fully understand.”
Now completely alert, Emma openly watched Regina for signs of distress. Berating herself, she was concerned to notice, now that it had been pointed out to her, that her breathing had become noticeably faster, her face pinched. Suddenly unable to sit still, Emma rose standing to the side of the other woman, her hand drifting over her back. Unsure whether it was wishful thinking the mayor’s breath seemed to slow fractionally at the contact, some of the tension Emma could feel in her shoulders relaxing.
“Regina, if you want to leave, just say the word and we’ll go.”
Regina sighed, leaning imperceptibly into the touch, her tone shifting to that which Emma was gratefully familiar with from time spent with Regina and Henry. “Emma, it’s fine. It was you who encouraged me to get to the bottom of whatever is affecting my health, so if this information is required for that process, I should provide it.” She turned her attention back to the nurse who was now looking at much at her as she was Regina.
“It’s ok, this won’t take much longer.” She focussed her attention back on the mayor. “Did Dr Hopper prescribe any medication to help you?”
Emma felt Regina tense momentarily, as she answered, her voice monotone. “When things were particularly difficult, I made some use of a particular drug that he recommended, I don’t recall its name. However, where possible I avoid the use of such treatments.”
The nurse smiled again. “Great. Thank you. I’ll be sure to add a note to your file.” Again, shifting her gaze between Emma and Regina, she paused tentatively. “Ok, well that’s it for today Ms Mills.” She stopped for a moment. “Do you still have any medication at home?” At the mayor’s curt nod, she added gently. “I understand that you prefer not to be reliant on it, but should you feel you need it at any point, don’t discount it completely.” With a final glance directed at Emma, the young nurse slipped quietly out of the room leaving the two women once again alone.
The journey back to Mifflin Street had been made in silence, and as unusual as that state was for Emma, she put aside her own need for banal small talk for Regina’s obvious desire for time to collect herself before returning to her home and their son. After the nurse had left, the two had remained in the room for several minutes. Regina was obviously trying to regulate her breathing with a determination that gave Emma the distinct impression of a well-practised routine, whilst she hovered behind her distractedly rubbing the older woman’s back her mind running in overdrive. Neither spoke of the revelations that the visit had brought about, and when the mayor was ready to leave, she simply nodded to the Saviour before sweeping out of the room leaving Emma trotting behind her to keep up. Once they reached the car, having obviously taken on board Whale’s instructions, Regina dropped the keys to her beloved Mercedes in Emma’s hand and without a word slid into the passenger seat. The silence was surprisingly companionable. However as they pulled up outside the mansion, Emma allowed herself a moment to freak out over whether she should insist, in the face of what she assumed would be Regina’s assertion that she wished to be alone, that she again spend the evening and possibly the night with the Mills family, or whether she simply hop into her bug, wish Regina a good day and tell her to call if she needed anything. Her brain quickly discarding the latter option, knowing that in the case of Regina it was always better to air on the side of potential fireball and impose her unwanted presence rather than have the other woman convince herself that Emma didn’t genuinely care. However, her quandary was no clearer as she found herself following the mayor to her front door. Emma’s brain was still debating her various options when she realised that an expectant look was being sent in her direction. Slightly startled she glanced down to see that Regina was motioning at the door keys in her hand. Once again feeling slightly foolish, she gave an embarrassed grin before opening the front door. Without a backward glance, Regina slipped off her pumps crossing the foyer and disappearing into the den, clearly expecting Emma to follow.
By the time her overloaded mind caught up and led her to the room into which Regina had disappeared, she was already on the couch. Any pretence by the mayor of being at ease was belied by her stiff posture and the tension in her features. Dropping down beside her, foregoing any personal space, Emma nudged the older woman affectionately with her shoulder. “Stupid question, but are you ok?”
At the enquiry, all remnants of the mask that had been maintained, for the most part successfully, throughout their hospital visit, seemed to shatter and when she turned to face her, Emma’s heart clenched at the lost and overwhelmed look on her face. Unsure what she could say that would help, she settled for what now felt like their default position, reaching for the older woman’s hand and grasping it firmly. At this action, Regina sighed, and Emma felt the pressure against her side increase, as she held on tighter, somehow feeling that this action conveyed more than her words would be capable of. Remaining in that position for several minutes, she shifted only when she felt Regina stifling a yawn. Adjusting them slightly but maintaining her grip on the older woman’s hand, Emma turned to meet Regina’s eyes.
The mayor flinched slightly, as if this was a moment, she had been steeling herself for since they returned to the safety of the mansion.
Attuned to the reaction, Emma rubbed her thumb gently over the hand in hers.
“Look, you know I wanna talk about what you said today.” Regina stiffened against her, and she did her best to keep her voice soft and understanding. “And I know that you know that, otherwise you wouldn’t have said what you did in front of me.” She paused for a moment hoping to get a read on the reaction, which eventually came in the form of a measured breath. Focusing on the movement of her thumb on their conjoined hands, Emma took her own breath before continuing. “But I also know that this is probably not the best time for that conversation. You’ve had a rough morning, Henry will be home from school in a few hours, and I’m guessing you could do with some rest before the whirlwind that is our son descends for the evening.” She smiled affectionately at Regina and was relieved when the expression was returned, her body again relaxing slightly. “I know it’s probably not what you want to hear but you might feel better if you go lie down upstairs for an hour or two.”
For a moment she thought Regina was going to object, and it was clear from the irritation that flitted across her features that she thought about it, however instead she nodded resignedly, a sign Emma realised of just how worn out she was feeling. Seeing her obvious reluctance to retreat to bed in the afternoon for the second day running, and desperate to do anything to make Regina’s current predicament easier for her, Emma grinned, grabbing a cushion from the end of the couch and shuffling over to place it across her lap. “Or, compromise, ok? I’ve been told that I make a mean pillow, so how about you get comfy whilst we watch some TV until Henry’s home, and if you happen to fall asleep down here, then there’s nothing we can do about it.” She nodded encouragingly. “But first we need to get you into some appropriate TV watching wear, which you’re lucky that I can just about handle.” When the mayor didn’t argue, Emma concentrated, realising with more than a little wonder, just how easy it seemed to be to focus her emotion and thus her magic when it came to helping Regina.
A beat later, Regina looked down, her expression shifting from sceptical to impressed realising she was now wearing the pants and sweater from the previous evening. Her eyes rose to face a wildly grinning Emma who was practically bouncing in her seat.
“Someone’s showing off.” She paused, noticing the outfit “and unusually observant.”
Emma shrugged, suddenly awkward, although she wasn’t sure why. “I had a great teacher.”
Regina smiled genuinely for a moment before it quickly turned into a yawn. Before Emma could speak, the other woman gave her a curious look before lowering herself down on her side until her head rested on the impromptu pillow in Emma’s lap. Taken aback as to how strangely natural the scenario felt, Emma clicked the TV on turning the volume to its lowest setting and letting one arm rest on Regina’s side. It was only when Regina emitted a contented sigh that Emma realised her other hand was combing soothingly through dark hair. After only a few minutes, she watched as the older woman’s breathing evened out, her body finally relaxing. At the sight, a wave of tenderness for the woman sleeping so trustingly against her washed over Emma with such ferocity that she struggled for a moment to comprehend it. Suddenly more determined than ever to do whatever it took to help Regina find her much deserved happiness; Emma let her own eyes drift close as she focused all her thoughts on sending calming energy to the woman resting peacefully on her lap.
Waking with a start, Emma looked at the flashing clock on the DVD player, amazed to see that over three hours had passed since Regina had fallen asleep and the noise that woke her was Henry returning from school after spending the previous night at his grandparents’. Looking down she saw that her sudden movement had caused Regina to stir slightly, but not fortunately to wake. Not wanting to disturb the refuge that the older woman seemed to find in her sleep of late, Emma let her hand drift through Regina’s hair, watching in awe as she sighed gently and settled almost immediately. As she did so, the door to the den nudged open and Henry peeked round, unable to hide the look of confusion on his face at seeing his adopted mom and biological mom snuggling on the sofa in the middle of the day. Grinning awkwardly at her son, Emma raised a finger to her lips and motioned him into the room. The initial confusion turning to concern, Henry hovered apprehensively a few feet from the pair before mouthing to Emma, “is mom ok?” Absently running her other hand up and down Regina’s arm, she adopted the most motherly tone she could get away with without Henry thinking that something was indeed badly wrong. Keeping her voice low but audible, she smiled reassuringly. “Everything’s ok, kid. Your mom’s just not been feeling too good the last few days”, or weeks her brain unhelpfully supplied. “It’s probably just a bug but I’m gonna hang around until she feels better.”
The explanation appeared to alleviate some of the teenager’s worry, but he still looked pensive. “Is there anything I can do?”
Emma smiled feeling a flash of pride, mostly for Regina, in the mature young adult that their son had become. Reading her expression, Henry smirked, and the pride became a mock glare, before again softening as she glanced at his mother.
“We just need to make sure that she gets lots of rest for the next couple of days and takes really good care of herself.” At Henry’s dubious look she shrugged. “Ok, so maybe that bit will be more on us but it’s worth a shot.”
Seemingly satisfied, the teenager cast a long look at his sleeping mother smiling ruefully. “So, um, my homework isn’t going to finish itself. I’m gonna leave you two to um…” he gestured at their current position with his hand… “this. And if mom’s still sleeping when I’m done and you need me to order us pizza or something, just text me, ‘kay?” With that Henry quietly made his escape from his parents but not before, Emma noticed, throwing a thoughtful look over his shoulder at the hand that had, throughout the conversation, continued to comb affectionately through thick dark hair.
“What time is it?”
The question was buried in a yawn, but Emma just about made it out. As she looked at the clock to answer, Regina rolled onto her back, and drowsy brown eyes met her own. Smiling gently, she smoothed a stray lock of hair from the older woman’s face before answering softly. “Almost six thirty.”
In sharp contrast to the previous day, Regina simply sighed, her eyes starting to drift closed once again. Her hand still in place, Emma scratched short nails lightly over Regina’s scalp, again awed to feel her relax further as she took Emma’s free hand from her side, intertwining their fingers. Although the older woman’s eyes were closed, she could tell that she was not asleep. Feeling the now familiar swell of protectiveness overwhelm her, her focus narrowed to a specific and almost desperate need for Regina to know that in that moment she was safe and cared for. Consciously slowing her own breathing, she watched as Regina appeared to copy her, her features relaxing further until she looked simply content.
Emma was unsure how long they had remained in that position but to her surprise realised that she must have drifted off herself when she opened her eyes to once again see Regina awake and looking at her curiously. Seeing it was now after seven, she smiled guiltily. “Sorry. You obviously weren’t the only one who needed a nap.” Realising their hands were still joined, her thumb again smoothed over Regina’s. “How are you feeling?”
At the question, the pensive look remained on the mayor’s face as she considered the answer. “Actually, much better.” She paused. “Both physically and otherwise.”
Emma made no attempt to disguise the grin that lit up her face at the response, despite the sudden loss of contact as Regina pulled herself tentatively to a sitting position. Watching the other woman closely, she could see the exact moment when reality seemed to kick back in, and she smiled softly.
“Don’t worry, Henry’s upstairs doing his homework.” Her hand found its way back to the knee next to her, squeezing gently. “He knows you’re not feeling great and you need to take it easy for a few days.” She grinned. “And whilst he’s obviously worried about you because he loves you and wants you to feel better, he knows it’s no big deal because I’ll be sticking around to make sure you do as you’re told until you’re back to full scary mayor strength.” She gave the knee another squeeze for good measure. “So, if you want to tell our stubborn kid that you’re fine and that you couldn’t use my help around here for a couple of day, be my guest.” At Regina’s silence she raised an eyebrow in mock challenge. “Well, that’s settled then.” Finally pulling her hand away as she got to her feet, Emma smiled warmly. “So anyway, being the responsible co-parent that I am, I’m gonna go check that Henry’s actually finished his homework and isn’t upstairs texting whatever girl he likes this week, ok.” She nodded in the direction of the kitchen. “And after that, the kid and I are gonna order a ridiculously unhealthy yet delicious pizza which you are welcome to share if you feel up to it.” She paused. “And if you don’t, I already checked and you have crackers and rice, so I’m sure we’ll be able to find you something that your stomach can handle before the three of us sit down to watch Henry’s choice of cartoon violence for the night whilst you two continue to argue over your, I believe unfounded, conviction that Black Widow really is just a fictional character, and unlikely to show up in Storybrook anytime soon.” Casting one last look at the older woman before she made her exit, Emma was confused to see that the thoughtful look from earlier followed her out of the room.
At the voice from the doorway, both the Saviour and the teenager froze mid-bite. The table in front of them was littered with empty pizza boxes, with a healthy smattering of stray sauce and glistening cheese. As she looked up Emma casually reached for a napkin in a vague attempt to wipe any remnants from her person, whilst Henry looked apprehensively down at his shirt to check for damage.
Feeling fairly assured that if nothing else she had removed the evidence from her face, she looked up to see Regina leaning against the door frame taking in the sight of her kitchen. Her hair still damp from the shower, she was now dressed in yet another pair of yoga pants and a robe tied securely around her. Watching her closely, Emma was relieved to see that whilst her movements still lacked their usual sense of purpose some of the colour had returned to her face and the smile on her face, as she watched her son and his biological mother, looked genuine. As she made her way into the room, Emma casually closed the lid on the last remaining pizza box receiving a puzzled look from Henry and an imperceptible but definitely present nod of thanks from his other mother.
Taking this as a sign that whilst the older woman may be feeling a little better, she did not completely trust herself with that fact, she turned to the counter retrieving a plate of lightly buttered toast, a packet of crackers and a bowl of rice. At Regina’s surprised expression she shrugged, her embarrassment showing.
“I wasn’t sure what you’d feel like eating.” At the lack of response, Emma continued ramblingly. “But if you want something else, I can make it for you… as long as it’s like boiling water or nuking in the microwave, or something.” She shrugged again.
She watched confused as a myriad of emotions appeared to flash over the other woman’s face, before it settled in another gentle smile.
“Emma… Thank you.”
Without thought, but earning another pensive look from their son, Emma stood, ushering Regina onto the stool she had vacated next to Henry. With a surprising fluidity she quickly swept up the empty boxes for the trash, placing the menu options in front of her and stashing the remnants of pizza out of sight, and more importantly smell. The tasks completed she dropped clumsily down into the stool the other side of Regina, her hand absently brushing the other woman’s back as she did so. As she sat, she could see Henry watching his mom, who was yet to take a bite, closely, clearly with something on his mind that was perilously close to coming out of his mouth. Not wanting to put Regina to be put in a difficult position by the teenager, who had all the subtlety of, well… her, Emma grinned casually.
“So, Henry. How’s it going with Ava?”
At the question, the teenager choked slightly, on nothing, again reminding Emma that despite Regina’s welcomed interventions, the kid was definitely her son. Seeing out of the corner of her eye that with the distraction, the other woman had taken a tentative mouthful of rice and was reaching for the toast, she smirked at Henry who was stuttering slightly.
“How did you… I mean… she’s just a friend… how did you?”
Grinning cockily, Emma raised an eyebrow as Regina, she noted, had now moved onto the crackers. “Hey, kid. I’m Sheriff of this town remember. I get paid to be like super observant.”
Henry paused for a moment, an expression crossing his face, that Emma noted with more than a small degree of affection, was all Regina.
“Wait. Did gramps talk to you?”
Faking offence, Emma glared across the table. However, before she could respond Regina carefully swallowing the last forkful of rice arched an eyebrow of her own in the direction of their son.
“Henry dear, whilst you know that I am not the biggest fan of your largely inaccurate story book, please do not tell me that the information held within taught you absolutely nothing.” She paused, her own smirk spreading almost gleefully across her face. “If you entrust, it would appear, either of your grandparents on the White side of your family with any form of secret, you do so entirely at your own risk.”
At Emma’s snort of laughter, Regina turned to her and the two shared an amused smile. As she did so, any witty comeback in mock defence of her parents died on Emma’s lips, as an overwhelming sense of… belonging washed over her. The unexpected sense of family was so strong that for an odd moment she found herself blinking back tears. Quickly forcing a grin, she looked over to see the gentle but clearly concerned expression flash across the other woman’s face as she watched her, and feel a soft hand squeeze her knee reassuringly under the table.
Their son, thankfully too busy sulking at the dual parental attack to notice anything amiss, simply huffed noisily, but not before having taken the now empty dishes from the table in front of his mom and placing them somewhat haphazardly in the sink. Pointedly looking at the clock, he glared again at the two women.
“Ok, so if you’ve both finished having your fun, I just remembered some more homework that I need to finish so I will see you both in the morning.”
Unable to maintain his irritation, he paused for a moment next to Regina before leaning in and hugging her gently. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling good, mom. But I’m glad Emma’s here.” He nodded pointedly at his other mom who returned the gesture solemnly.
As the teenager’s heavy footfalls on the stairs faded, Emma glanced at the older woman who was sitting quietly.
“How are you feeling?”
At the query, Regina looked over at her, her expression telling more of a story than words could. The pallor on her face seemed to have returned as her head rested wearily in her hand.
Moving behind her, Emma rubbed her shoulder gently, “not much better, huh?”
Regina sighed. “I felt a little more like myself when I first awoke, but I am afraid the feeling has not lasted.”
Feeling a knot under her thumb, Emma increased the pressure of her touch slightly working it loose, only to find another one above it. At the sensation, Regina gave an involuntary moan, her face flushing in embarrassment. Ignoring both her own and the other woman’s sudden self-consciousness if it meant providing some relief for Regina, Emma continued her ministrations on the tense muscles. Feeling the sinews start to relax, Emma trailed her fingers gently down Regina’s neck. As the older woman sighed contentedly at the touch, she gently gripped her shoulders.
“Hey, if you think it would help to try and sleep, you don’t need to stay up on my account.”
Receiving no more than a weak nod, Emma moved around to face her. “Ok, so I know I’ve poofed you without asking a couple of times lately, which I know I shouldn’t, but I’m going to do the same thing again now unless you tell me you really don’t want me to.” she waited for a moment for a response. Regina’s eyes flickered closed for a moment and when they reopened the trust in them was once again breath-taking. Feeling the protectiveness wash over her, Emma’s own eyes closed, reopening to find them standing by Regina’s bed. Pulling back the covers for her, Emma waited as Regina wearily untied her robe revealing a thin shirt underneath, before crawling into bed. Hovering, awkwardly, she looked down to see the older woman watching her hesitantly. About to take it as her cue to leave she was surprised to hear a soft plea hang in the air.
“Emma, will you…. Sorry, please can you…”
Seeing the tension already retaking hold of the other woman, Emma smiled softly, sitting carefully on the bed, and nudging the other woman to lie on her stomach. Gently running a hand down Regina’s back and feeling some of the tension lessen, her hands moved to again carefully massage the tense muscles beneath them. At the contact Regina exhaled slowly and having held her tongue since they left the doctor’s office earlier that day, Emma could suddenly feel the words bubbling up inside of her, unable to contain them any longer.
“Look Regina, what you said earlier…” She paused, suddenly unsure herself where this was going. “You don’t need to answer me or anything, but I just want you to know that, ok so you don’t have to talk to me about anything, but if you want to, I mean, if you think it will help, you know that I’ll always listen to you right?” She concentrated for a moment on a particularly tense patch on the older woman’s shoulder. “Or if you ever just need someone to be here, cos I don’t think, like me, you’ve ever really had that, then you know I’ll be that person, right?” The knot loosened and she absently trailed her fingers soothingly over where it had been. “I guess I just want you to know that I’ll be here for you ok.”
Caught somewhere between affection, mild embarrassment and abject humiliation, Emma trailed off, one hand rubbing gentle but reassuring patterns on the older woman’s back whilst the fingers of the other traced softly through her hair and down her neck. The only response was a relaxed sigh as tired limbs sank heavily into the mattress. Her breathing once again becoming slow and steady, Emma was almost relieved that Regina appeared to have fallen asleep and was therefore unlikely even to remember she had spoken let alone what she had so ineloquently attempted to say. Deciding to leave the woman to her rest, Emma stood slowly, carefully pulling the covers over the sleeping woman and smoothing them across. As she reached the door, she was surprised to see the figure in the bed shift slightly, brown eyes tiredly forcing themselves open and smiling softly.
“Emma… you already are here.”
Thank you again for everyone taking the time to read, leave kudos or comment. It is appreciated.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Mom?” Henry paused groggily in the kitchen doorway. “Oh, umm, it’s you.”
“And good morning to you too, kid.”
Coming round slowly, Henry grinned guiltily at his blonde mother who for some reason was wide awake and fully dressed at six thirty in the morning, happily making coffee in his other mom’s kitchen. Shaking his head slightly, he looked at Emma suspiciously.
“Still sleeping.” Emma supplied before the teenager could finish his question.
What she failed to add was that the reason Regina was sleeping, whilst she herself was ready for the day and on her third cup of coffee, was the small detail that both women had been up since a little after 5am when Emma had awoken to the sound of the retching coming from the master bedroom next door to the guestroom. Arriving swiftly at the scene she had once again found Regina leaning wearily over the toilet, dry heaving painfully and unpleasantly. This scenario had continued on and off for almost forty-five minutes when Emma had at last persuaded the other woman to go back to bed and try and get some more rest. It had taken another ten minutes of argument to get Regina to drink some water in the hope that liquid would at least stay down, before she finally gave into her evident tiredness and allowed Emma to help her settle back down to try and sleep. Once back under the covers, Emma had been concerned to see the older woman shaking slightly, and although unsure whether it was through cold, or the tension that seemed to be radiating from her, she had grabbed another blanket tucking it securely around her and gently running a hand up and down a covered arm. Not too long after, Emma had been relieved to see Regina’s features relax and her breathing slow in the now familiar sign that she had given in to sleep. With every intention of making sure the woman remained so, at least until it was time for Henry to leave for school, Emma had quickly showered and dressed, in some of the growing pile of her clothing that seemed to have taken up permanent residence at the mansion, and made her way to the kitchen to hunt for caffeine and wait for their son to emerge.
Henry looked worried for a minute. “Is she still sick?”
Emma smiled, again hoping the expression was reassuring. “Just give her a few days to rest, Hen, and I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
Accepting the answer, at least for the moment, he smiled. “Ok, well I’m just gonna have cereal for breakfast, and then I wanna get to school early, and after I promised I’d help gramps put some play- thing together for Neal.” He pulled a face, Emma assumed, at the fact he was helping his grandad, who was the same age as his mom, build furniture for his baby uncle. “So, I guess grams will make dinner and I won’t be back ‘til pretty late.”
“Got it, kid. But please call your mom or me when you get to the apartment, or you know she’ll worry.”
Henry smiled knowingly. “Cos of course, you don’t.”
Emma shrugged indignantly. “Hey. Did you forget I’m the cool mom?”
The teenager’s expression grew serious for a moment. “But you’re staying with her right.” He paused awkwardly. “I mean, I know you said she’ll feel better in a few days, but I’m not a little kid anymore and I know things have been crappy for her lately… I mean, crappier than normal.” He stopped again, his eyes seeking out Emma’s. “I just don’t want her to be alone.”
Both feeling her heart break a little and completely ill-prepared for any form of deep and meaningful conversation before midday, particularly with her teenage son about the complex woman who had raised him, Emma sighed.
“I know kid.” Desperately hoping at least part of the filter in her brain would be working, she inhaled slightly before continuing. “Look, I’m not gonna tell you your mom’s fine, because we both know that would be a lie. But I can tell you that she will be, ‘cos you and me, are gonna make sure of it.” She shrugged again, embarrassed by the fierceness she could detect in her own voice. “But you also have to respect that your mom is still your mom and there are gonna be things that she can’t talk to you about. And not because she’s lying to you, or because you’re a kid, but because she’s your mom and it’s her job… and mine, to protect you.” She smiled awkwardly. “So, there’s some things you’re just gonna have to trust me with, ok?”
Emma watched as the same thoughtful look from the previous day, played across the teenager’s features as he nodded slowly, grabbing his cereal. As he sat down to eat his breakfast, he cast one last look over his shoulder at his biological parent.
“You really do care about her, don’t you?”
With Henry having left for school about thirty minutes previously, Emma was somewhere around coffee number five when she sensed she had company in the kitchen. Turning around she was pleased to see Regina in the doorway dressed in what for her constituted casual non-work attire. Some of the colour had again returned to her cheeks and the dark circles under her eyes, although undoubtedly expertly covered, looked less prominent. Taking a seat next to Emma at the counter, she smiled apologetically as Emma chugged the last of her coffee.
Not bothering to hide the action, Emma appraised her carefully once more before speaking. “You look a damn sight better than earlier.”
Regina paused for a moment before a smile played across her features. “Considering you looked like you for once thought about what you were going to say on that occasion, I dread to think what would have come out of your mouth if that had not been the case.”
Emma smiled in relief at the familiar banter. “Doesn’t make it any less true.”
Regina’s expression suddenly became more serious, as she shifted on the stool, so she was looking directly at the other woman.
Fully aware of the deer in headlights expression written across her face, but too tired to do anything about it, Emma started to interrupt in the hope of derailing her second serious conversation with a member of the Mills family before eight in the morning. However, her interruption was unfortunately cut off swiftly by the mayoral tone of the woman next to her.
“Emma, just let me say this ok.”
Emma swallowed reflexively.
“Thank you.” At the younger woman’s silence, Regina continued. “I understand that over the last couple of days you have gone out of your way to help me and offer me…” She paused uneasily, “comfort. And I am aware that I have sought from you an uncharacteristic amount of…” This time her speech was broken by an awkward cough, “physical comfort. Therefore, I just wanted to apologise if I have made you feel uncomfortable at any time, and reiterate once more that whilst I appreciate your actions and your…” She appeared to be searching for her next word, “friendship, please do not feel obligated to let me take advantage of those things, when I am unconvinced, I have as yet done enough to earn them.”
Still trying to work out whether this was better or worse than the conversation she had found herself in with her son earlier, it took Emma’s brain a couple of moments to catch up with Regina’s stilted and slightly confusing diatribe. By the time her mind computed the information she had been silent for a sufficient amount of time that the other woman’s expression had shifted from tense to anxious to full on mayoral mask. Realising she needed to say something, but still trying to work out what, Emma reached out grabbing one of the older woman’s hands and again holding on tightly.
“Hey, we’re friends right. I mean this time you even said it yourself.” She grinned brightly. “And as I think I said last night, ‘cos I admit even I’m not exactly sure what was coming out of big mouth at that point, I want to be here for you Regina, and not just because Henry asked me to, before you say it.” She looked up challengingly. “And I hate to break it to you, but even hard ass mayors need a hug once in a while, so don’t sweat it, ok.” Suddenly struggling to get the memory of her hands trailing down the older woman’s neck, and the feel of taut muscles under her fingers out of her head, Emma shook herself, genuinely confused. Seeing Regina again looking at her strangely, she forced a smile. “Look, the sun is shining, I’m off work and you’re on doctor’s orders to take it easy, so what do you say, you and I take a stroll down main street, you know now there’s no ogre tearing through it, maybe take a walk through the park…”
Regina arched a carefully sculpted eyebrow. “If your next words are feed the birds, so help me…”
Looking casually over at the woman next to her, Emma could see that she was flagging. Having run into Snow, with baby Neal the minute they had arrived in town, they had subsequently spent almost an hour standing outside the grocery store making awkward small talk as it became increasingly obvious that Snow not only missed her daughter but was more than a little curious as to why she had spent the last two nights at Regina’s for no apparent crisis or Henry related issue. Having finally made their excuses they had escaped inside the store to pick up dinner for that evening before Emma finally got her way and they headed to the park. Finding a suitable spot to enjoy the late August mid-day sun, Emma had ensured a steady stream of idle chatter, surprisingly content just to be in Regina’s company, until her stomach began growling angrily. Conscious of the fact that the last place Regina needed to be whilst her stomach was evidently still unsettled, was a diner surrounded by nosy townsfolk, Emma found herself back in the driver’s seat of the Mercedes next to a slightly weary but otherwise relaxed mayor.
Ready to pull out into the perennially traffic free street, both women jumped slightly as a shrill ring emitted from Regina’s bag. Recovering quickly, she smoothly retrieved the device, and not recognising the number answering it absently.
Turning off the ignition for a moment, Emma could just about make out the tinny voice on the other end.
“Oh, hello. This is Alice from Storybrook General, we spoke yesterday.”
At the recognition, Emma watched as Regina sat up a little straighter. When she failed to speak the voice on the line continued.
“Dr Whale asked me to call you to let you know that we have the results of your blood test in and to make an appointment for you to come in and discuss these with him.”
Regina stuttered for a moment, a sound that was picked up not only by the woman next to her but also the nurse, who continued apologetically and somewhat nervously.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you worry, Ms Mills. If you are thinking the worst, I can assure you there is no need. However, the doctor will need to speak with you at a time convenient for you.”
Still shaky but clearly somewhat reassured, Emma looked over as the mayoral façade slipped easily over Regina’s features and tone.
“Thank you, Alice. You can tell Doctor Whale I will see him in fifteen minutes.”
As she ended the call, Emma realised that she already had the engine revving in preparation, as she steered the vehicle in the direction of the hospital.
It was a couple of minutes into the journey before Regina spoke haltingly. “I apologise.” Her hands fidgeted in her lap. “I didn’t even ask you whether you would be willing to accompany me.”
Shaking her head, and smiling gently, Emma took her eyes off the road long enough to make contact with Regina’s, her free hand reaching over to still the other woman’s. “I’m pretty sure we covered this not only last night but also again this morning.” She squeezed the hands in her own gently. “We’ve kinda established you’re stuck with me. So, whatever it is that Whale wants to talk to you about, that as nurse what’s-her-name basically told you was nothing to worry about, we’ll deal with it ok, you, me and Henry.” Emma paused, once again surprised at how easily she now included herself right alongside Regina and their shared son. At the lack of response, suddenly unsure whether she had assumed a role she had no right to, she chanced another look at the older woman, who offered her a watery but genuine smile. Feeling the pressure on her hand increase, the Sheriff found herself pressing the accelerator a little harder than she should as they sped toward their destination.
Pulling the car into the parking lot, Emma was mildly alarmed as the passenger door swung open before she had managed to bring the vehicle to a halt. As she scrambled to unfasten her seatbelt she could only watch as Regina swept across the lot to the main entrance of the large concrete structure, before ungracefully trotting after her. By the time she reached the automatic doors, she could already see her heading toward the elevators and Whale’s office. Quickly giving up any hope of catching up with her before the doors closed, she huffed resignedly and headed for the stairs hoping to at least head off the suddenly determined woman before she reached the doctor himself. Taking the steps two at a time, by the time she reached the second floor, her heart was pumping, as the thoughts flitted through her mind that it was a damn good job she was already in a hospital, and she really needed to start getting some exercise that didn’t involve sword fighting misguided teenage boys. Hurriedly pushing open the stair doorway, she looked up to see the elevator in front of her ding mockingly and the mayor step out looking no more flustered than if she were here on official town business to open a new hospital wing, or whatever the hell a mayor would do in a normal town where duties did not include sealing portal rifts in the space time continuum and helping fairy tale characters find long lost relatives. Seeing the dishevelled and panting sheriff emerge into the hallway, Regina at least had the good grace to look guilty for a moment before the regal mask slipped back firmly into place and she stalked over to the receptionist who had eyed them with such interest the previous day.
“Mayor Mills, here to see Dr Whale.”
Decidedly less confident than the day before, the receptionist swallowed heavily before pressing the call button on the out-dated intercom beside her. Moments later, the door to Whale’s office was pushed open and Emma again found herself scurrying after her. Suddenly unsure as to whether she was actually needed, given the older woman’s sudden rediscovery of her self-assurance, she paused for a moment at the door. Only when dark eyes turned momentarily to seek out hers did Emma see the almost pleading request in them. Without further thought, she followed the other woman into the room, noting that this time Whale, or more probably the nurse, had arranged two seats pushed together opposite the doctor’s plush office chair, which the man in question was currently lounging in, swinging around as he saw the two women enter. The nurse, Alice, Emma suddenly remembered, was hovering in the corner, carefully placing several pill bottles, some of which looked vaguely familiar, in a brown paper bag.
“Regina, Miss Swan, it’s good to see you both again.” Victor smiled in a way that made the skin on the back of Emma’s neck crawl, and she found herself shifting even closer Regina as his eyes seem to scan her up and down. “How are you feeling today?”
Keeping her icy façade tightly in place, the mayor smiled civilly. “Thank you, doctor.” Although Whale seemed unable to feel it, the tension emanating from Regina was palpable and Emma felt like her own senses were in overdrive. “Whilst I am still fatigued and nauseous, I have followed your advice and taken some more rest, and I feel a little better.”
Whale smiled congenially. “That’s good to hear.” He paused, nodding at the nurse. “Well, Regina, as I am aware Alice told you when she called, we have the results of your tests back, and I am pleased to say that for once I get to deliver some good news.”
The mask cracked for a second and Emma could see the flash of confusion on the other woman’s face.
Again, failing to notice, Whale continued. “Or I suppose, what I should really say is congratulations.” Emma wasn’t sure if the sharp gasp came from her or Regina, but before she had time to wonder further, Whale’s disconcerting smile grew. “You’re pregnant.”
The silence in the room was overpowering and Emma thought that in any other situation it would have been almost comical. Whale’s shit-eating grin remained plastered across his face, waiting for a response from the mayor who seemed frozen in place. What little colour she had drained from her face the moment the words spurted from the doctor’s mouth and if not for the vain pulsing noticeably in her forehead, Emma thought she may have actually stopped breathing. Genuinely unsure how to respond to this turn of events herself, or more confusingly, how she felt about it, she instinctively reached out to take Regina’s hand, only to feel the other woman shoot to her feet until she was towering somewhat menacingly over Whale, whose smile was fading by the second.
“Well then you need to run the test again.” Her tone brooked no disobedience and for a moment Emma could see the version of the woman that she had encountered during her last, fateful it would now seem, trip back to the Enchanted Forrest. However, her confidence was belied, to Emma at least, by the shaking of her clenched hands and trail of sweat running down the back of her neck. Still uncertain how to help, she reached forward, this time successfully grabbing one of Regina’s hands. Despite her clenched fists, the action seemed to have the desired effect, and the older woman, although breathing heavily and somewhat ferociously, dropped back into her seat allowing Emma to rub her thumb gently over the hand curled tightly in her own.
Inhaling slowly, Regina turned her attention back to the doctor who had now wheeled his chair further toward the nurse to create some distance for himself. “What I meant Victor, is that there must be some mistake as I can assure you that I am unable to bear a child and have been this way since a young age.” Emma felt Regina’s eyes dart almost nervously to her, before she added “by my own hand.”
Whale sighed, relaxing slightly as he sensed the immediate danger had now passed. “I am afraid I have no answers for you in that regard, Regina, as you reminded me yesterday, my knowledge of magic is obviously less advanced than your own. However, from a medical perspective, in this realm, I can assure you that you are indeed with child.”
Emma felt rather than saw Regina deflate as she realised cold fingers were now gripping her own.
Whale again lacked the perceptiveness to pick up on the brittle edge of fragility surrounding the former queen, instead looking relieved that he was no longer in danger of execution. However, Emma could see in the subtle way she was controlling her breathing and the tension in her features that maintaining her mask was becoming an increasingly more difficult feat.
“Ok, so we just need to work out your due date and go through the normal advice that we give to new expectant mothers.” He edged his seat further to the exit at the back of the room. “Alice here is going to go through all that with you, so if you will excuse me, I have patients to attend to.” Giving a final nod in their direction he scrambled out of the door leaving the three women alone in the office.
Approaching Regina slowly, the nurse pushed Whale’s vacated chair back into the centre of the room until it was only a couple of feet from where the mayor and sheriff were seated. Keeping her voice gentle, she nodded encouragingly at Regina.
“Can you tell me when you last had your period, Ms Mills?”
At the lack of response, and more comfortable now Whale was no longer in the room, Emma turned her chair, so she was almost facing the other woman. Leaving one hand grasped in Regina’s she rested the other one on her shoulder, squeezing it softly.
With a slight start, Regina blinked, as if suddenly processing the question. “Sorry, maybe three months ago.” Again, she sounded oddly apologetic as she turned to Emma. “With everything that’s been going on…”
“S’ok”. Emma’s hand moved down to rub her back reassuringly.
The nurse smiled softly. “Well from the symptoms you’ve been experiencing it would suggest that you are maybe anywhere up to eight weeks or so along and given the history that you gave to Doctor Whale yesterday, that would fit.”
Regina inhaled sharply as if, Emma thought, the news of pregnancy had come as such a shock she had not even considered the event that must have preceded it. The mask again falling into place, her voice was unusually monotone. “So, the lack of energy, the light-headedness, the nausea…”
The nurse nodded, “all common within the first trimester.” She smiled again. “I would hope that in a few more weeks the dizziness and nausea should subside.”
“And the fatigue?” Emma asked when it became clear that Regina wouldn’t.
Alice looked at the woman sitting mutely for a moment before answering Emma directly.
“In many cases exhaustion is prevalent in the first trimester and again towards the end of pregnancy. In some women it can unfortunately occur throughout the pregnancy with little reprieve. In such cases the only advice we can give is early nights, frequent rest breaks throughout the day and try to take some light exercise daily. The nausea whilst less common in the later stages, if this persists, I’m afraid can also be draining.” She glanced briefly again at Regina, her face showing what appeared to be genuine concern. “And it’s not unusual for expectant mothers to experience a degree of anxiety which can impact how they feel physically, particularly if this is something they have experienced in the past.”
Feeling her own anxiety rise as a result of the information overload, Emma smiled awkwardly. “Geez, I’m glad no-one bothered to tell me all that when I was pregnant with Henry, otherwise I really would have been worried.”
Sharing a quick glance with Emma, the nurse smiled gently, trying to catch Regina’s eyes.
“Ms Mills.” Nothing. “Ms Mills?” When dark eyes finally focused on her, Alice continued softly. “I know this has been a lot to take in, and I’m sure you will have more questions in time.” As Regina swallowed, the nurse continued. “I have some vitamins ready for you that I would advise you start taking daily.” She glanced quickly at Emma making sure she was paying attention. “We will need to keep any eye on your blood pressure, and the doctor still recommends that at least until you are in your second trimester you try to take things easy and get plenty of rest.” She paused again, shooting the sheriff another look. “And if you start to experience any increase in your anxiety levels,” she smiled again, “I mean beyond those you might expect, it might help to talk to someone about it.”
Getting no response from the mayor beyond a tight nod of the head, the nurse once again turned her attention to Emma.
“Ok, so I’ll leave you two to take some time, and we’ll see you back here for your first scan in a few weeks’ time. Just make an appointment whenever is convenient for you both.”
As she left the room, Emma could again feel curious eyes considering her, as she continued to absently run her hand over the tense back of a shaken and speechless Regina.
The journey back to the mansion was this time made in complete silence. Emma’s brain definitely needed the time to process the curve ball that had been thrown at them, so she could only imagine, though she guessed in a pretty accurate way from her own shitty experience of receiving such news, what Regina was feeling. As she pulled the vehicle into the drive, Regina reached over mechanically releasing her seatbelt before slowly pushing open the door. Grabbing the bag of vitamins left abandoned on the back seat, Emma jumped out of the vehicle striding to the front door to open it before Regina had to wait. Once safely inside, she watched as the older woman sank back against the doorframe staring blankly at the wall in front of her. The pallor in her face was clearly evident and her skin looked clammy and cold. Realising that she had absolutely no clue what to say to help in this unexpected turn of events, she found herself standing in front of Regina running her hands up and down tense arms.
“Just tell me what I can do.”
The contact seemed to break whatever trance she had been in as terrified eyes sought out Emma, who felt her heart clench painfully. “Whatever you need, just tell me, ok?”
Regina’s response was flat and quiet. “I don’t feel particularly well. I’m afraid I may need to lie down.”
Springing into action, whilst still concerned, Emma was relieved to have something practical to focus on. Without effort her thoughts focused and moments later they were standing by Regina’s bed. It briefly flitted through her mind that the other woman’s clothes would not be comfortable for resting in and when she opened her eyes, Regina was wearing a pair of soft flannel pyjamas that Emma could barely recall having even noticed there before. More worryingly, Regina barely even blinked at her unplanned wardrobe change, simply pulling back the sheets and climbing blankly into bed and turning onto her side facing her. Still unsure as to the new boundaries they seemed to be establishing, Emma perched on the edge of the bed, gently rubbing the arm clamped tightly over the covers.
“Can I get you anything?”
Regina shook her head slowly, her voice still dull and expressionless. “I just need to rest for a while.”
Not wanting to leave the other woman alone, but also not sure if she was welcome to stay, Emma remained balanced on the bed, her hand still absently soothing up and down Regina’s arm, as brown eyes drifted closed. Although concerned that the older woman was hiding in sleep, Emma had no doubt from her complexion that aside from whatever mental torture Regina was currently putting herself through, she physically must feel pretty crappy. And whilst the need to talk about the obvious elephant in the room bubbled to the surface, she knew that there would be plenty of time for that later. Vowing that at least for now she would let Regina find some refuge in unconsciousness, the other woman’s breathing was already beginning to slow as Emma stood, carefully pulling the covers over her and leaving her to rest.
Emma managed an impressive ninety minutes before she found herself standing outside the master bedroom. In truth this was the fifth time in the last thirty of those minutes that she had started the trek upstairs only to convince herself that Regina needed some space if she had any hope of digesting the news she had been delivered, and forced herself back into the exile of the kitchen. However, this time the pull was too great as she pushed the door open to see her sitting up in bed, looking thankfully more like herself, if she didn’t count the slightly shell-shocked expression on her face. Suddenly unable to give the other woman space, even if she wanted to, Emma circled the bed before clambering onto the empty side and sitting down next to Regina so closely that their shoulders were touching. Unsure how long they sat in that position she hoped, if nothing else, Regina was taking some comfort in her silent support.
“I can’t be a mother.”
The forlorn comment came from nowhere.
For a moment Emma was genuinely confused and the response was out of her mouth before she could stop it. “Um, ok. I hate to break it to you but it’s about fifteen years too late for that one. You remember Henry right, brown hair, kind of lanky, likes comic books, your teenage son.”
She felt the older woman stiffen against her.
“Oh god, Henry. How am I… I mean how can I……”
At the sudden distress in the other woman’s voice, Emma felt her heart yet again ache, as she silently cursed her inability to shut the hell up.
“Henry’s a good kid, Regina.” She smiled; this time determined to choose her words more carefully. “And that, as I believe you have reminded me once or twice in the past, is pretty much all down to you.” Ignoring the guilt which seemed to flit across Regina’s face, Emma nudged her shoulder, “which is basically true by the way.” The gratitude in the dark eyes staring back at her was palpable. “He’ll be ok.” Her shoulder bumped Regina’s again. “But right now, I’m more concerned about you.”
This time it was Regina’s turn to look confused.
Emma’s smile grew softer, oddly juxtaposed with the nervous laugh she tried but failed to contain.
“Look, we both know I suck when it comes to saying the right thing, but I’m gonna give it a go anyway.” She tried to hold Regina’s gaze, but her eyes seemed drawn to the hands fidgeting in her lap. “I know it’s been a weird ass day for you. Geez, it has for me, so I can only imagine… Ok, I don’t completely need to imagine… Not that I’m comparing your situation to a dumb teenager… in prison.” She let out a frustrated grunt. “Dammit.”
She paused for a moment unable to look at the woman, to whom she was trying, evidently extremely badly, to offer reassurance.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that I get that right now, you’re probably pretty shocked, and confused, and I wish I could do something to help with that but we both know this is something you’re gonna need to work through in time.” She smiled finally daring to lift her head to find curiously attentive eyes watching her. “And if I can help with that, I want to.” She paused again. “But you’re also tired and probably feeling pretty shitty, which sucks when all you’re gonna hear over the next few months is people telling you how to look after yourself.” Emma stopped again, silently chiding herself for the automatic assumption that Regina would go through with the pregnancy, but instinctively knowing it was the correct one. “So right now, I’ve decided that that part is gonna be my job. Because if there’s one thing I’m good at”, she grinned, “apart from being unable to shut my mouth, it’s eating regularly and doing very little.”
She waited a moment, her eyes now fixed on Regina’s.
“And don’t think that means we are not going to discuss this little mom freak out of yours again later.” Emma prayed that the genuine worry she knew was clearly written on her face, made up for the assertiveness of her tone and the implication behind her words. “Or any of the other things that you know I’m gonna wanna talk about.” She paused. “But for now I’m just going to focus on the stuff that I can actually do to try and help which means, Madam Mayor, that you are getting out of this bed, and we are going to go downstairs and find you something to eat that isn’t gonna make you feel like puking.” Her shoulder was again now nudging Regina’s. “And then we are going to watch something so mindless and distracting on TV that if you can’t actually relax, we can at least numb some of those brain cells of yours for an hour or two.”
Swinging off the bed and to her feet, before her sudden rush of false bravado faded, Emma held out her hand to the other woman, suddenly wondering what exactly it was she planned to do next should this strategy backfire the way it probably, by all rights, should.
She was relieved, seconds later, to feel cool fingers grasp her own, but instead of letting the younger woman pull her to her feet, they appeared to hold on tightly.
“Emma.” Regina’s expression became strangely earnest, as she swallowed nervously. “You don’t…. suck at this.”
Unable to stop the grin that she could feel spreading ear to ear, Emma sauntered casually out of the room, knowing for certain that Regina would follow.
Things are not always quite as they seem. Please stick with me on this one....
Thank you as always for the kudos and comments - it is giving me a little more confidence that this is worth persevering with. Updates will be slightly slower from this point I'm afraid, as from this chapter onward I am writing as I go and trying to stay a couple of updates ahead. And whilst I'm home-working and thanks to lock down, have little else to do, my work is in healthcare and is subsequently fairly busy at present! This story is becoming a nice distraction and I hope is bringing some entertainment to people during this weird time, so thank you for sticking with it this far.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Regina sighed as she tentatively cracked open an eye. As had become customary over the last few days, feeling her senses flooding back she undertook a rapid assessment of both where she had fallen asleep and the level of punishment her body appeared to have in store for her. Relieved to note that she was at least on this occasion laid down and covered with a blanket that she recognised as her own, a marked improvement on being awakened by the squawk of her secretary through the office intercom the previous day, she was equally pleased to realise that aside from the ever present weariness of late, she felt surprisingly well. Letting her eyes drift closed once again, she became peripherally aware of a gentle movement beneath her head and a strange warmth enveloping her. Her brain cleared for a moment. Emma. A further thought tried to form in her mind, but it was hazy, and her limbs felt heavy and slow. The steady thrum of light magic she could feel pulsating in her veins was calming and hypnotic, its whispered assurances telling her that she was safe and cared for. Accepting this as truth, her eyes once again slipped closed.
Another flash of purple and people were screaming, rushing toward her. No not toward her, passed her. Henry. More screaming, and another flash of magic, darker still. Wait, Henry, wait…
“Hey, hey. Wake up. Regina.”
The crowd faded. She was alone. Except she wasn’t.
“It’s just a dream.”
Her heart pounding in her chest, Regina’s eyes flew open attempting to focus on something, anything to claw her way back to consciousness. It was a dream. Just a dream. A dream she was used to. A dream she could handle.
A familiar flare of panic pushed to the surface. Emma. Emma had seen. She tried to move. She needed to show Emma she was fine. But there was a hand in her hair, and a gentle voice floating above her, and it would be so easy to give into the tranquillity and sanctuary she could feel. But the dream was still lurking into the dark corners of her subconscious, and while she could feel her breathing begin to slow, she knew she wanted to fight it. Needed to fight it.
“It’s ok. I’m right here.”
A cool hand smoothed the hair stuck to her now clammy forehead.
Regina attempted to focus but could again feel the pulse of the magic weaving back into her, slowing her breathing and making her eyelids grow heavy. She slept.
A gentle pressure on her arm roused Regina from her slumber. She looked up blearily to see Emma smiling down at her softly.
“You’ve been out for a few hours and Henry’s due home in a few minutes, so I thought you might wanna try and wake up a bit before he gets here.”
Attempting to clear her head, she blinked a few times at the world swam into focus. Emma’s fingers trailed an absent rhythm on her arm and her eyes began to slip closed once more.
“Hey. You ok?” Emma’s hand drifted back to her hair.
Despite her evident three-hour afternoon nap, it took all Regina’s concentration to focus her mind. It had been almost a week since the delivery of her “news”, as they had taken to referring to it as. And whilst she still hadn’t summoned the courage to speak to her son about it, she had seemingly found the time to develop quite a routine. For the last few days, her morning had started with a ritual five o’clock wake-up call that would result in a half asleep Emma stumbling into her bathroom, rubbing her back, giving her water and keeping her company until she would begrudgingly accept the support to get back into bed. Once returned to her bed, she had grown accustomed to the presence of the other woman who would sit with her until she eventually fell back to sleep. The next section of her day seemed to begin around nine when she would drag herself downstairs to find that Emma had got Henry to school and prepared her some kind of fruit for her to take to the office for breakfast. Several hours later, on the veiled pretence of town business, Emma would show up with lunch, and spend the next hour fending off townsfolk whilst Regina took some much-needed rest on her office couch. However, today, Regina had felt, and obviously looked particularly exhausted by the time of Emma’s arrival and it had taken barely any persuasion to convince her to come home and attempt to sleep. None of which was doing anything to convince their inquisitive son that nothing out of the ordinary was occurring.
Just thinking about the prospect of talking to Henry about this, made Regina shudder, her body tensing and her chest tightening. Before she could react, she felt a hand spread over her abdomen, the other teasing through her hair. The warmth was again spreading over her, and it took Regina several seconds to realise that it was in fact magic. Emma’s magic. Forcing herself to fight its welcoming pull, Regina compelled herself to block it. Looking at Emma, who was still watching her gently, it struck her that whatever the Saviour was doing, she appeared, typically, Regina thought, to have absolutely no idea that she was doing it. And whilst it felt wonderful and soothing and a million other things that Regina could not put words to, it also felt inherently wrong to let it continue when Emma was clearly not making an informed choice about her unsurprisingly natural inclination toward healing magic.
Pushing herself forward, she felt Emma startle at the abrupt movement before a warm hand on her back supported her upright. Fighting the unfamiliar urge to apologise, Regina instead turned to the other woman whose expression was strangely unreadable. Suddenly unsure what to say, she was relieved to hear the momentary tension broken by the slam of the front door and the familiar thump of a backpack being thrown unceremoniously onto the kitchen table. Their eyes meeting, Regina couldn’t help but smile as Emma smirked and nodded.
“Ready? 5, 4, 3, 2…”
Despite the initial noise of the arrival, Regina felt her heart twinge, as the door to the den was pushed hesitantly open and her son’s face peered cautiously around it. Whilst they had all three, by some tacit agreement, been ignoring it over the past week, she knew that it was clear to her son that something was being kept from him, and history did not suggest that this was a wise course of action to continue indefinitely. Yet despite her own guilt, and Emma’s gentle nagging and offers of support, she was still at an utter loss at to how to even begin to broach the subject.
“Hello, Henry”. She smiled, hoping it was sufficiently bright to at least delay the questions she could see bubbling on her son’s face. “How did your math test go?”
Henry faltered for a moment before narrowing his eyes. “Fine.” There was a pause. “You’re home early.”
Regina felt a hand move subtly under the blanket which she belatedly realised was still tucked around her, squeezing her knee gently. Her breath hitched under the keen appraisal of her son and she subconsciously smoothed the stray hairs betraying her clandestine afternoon nap.
“It was a quiet day.”
The slight cringe that accompanied Emma’s response did nothing to wipe the scepticism from the teenager’s face, though she at least had the grace to look sheepish when met with two identical raised eyebrows.
“Ok, moms.” Henry eyed them both in an accusatory fashion before shaking his head and sighing. “I’ll be upstairs doing homework, so if either of you feel like, you know, actually not treating me like I’m ten… or stupid, you know where to find me.”
Watching the back of her son’s head disappear out of view, Regina felt the rest of her already depleted energy evaporate. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, trying to ignore the pounding in her chest and the pressure point she could already feel forming in her right temple. The image of Henry’s parting expression, the juvenile mixture of anger and betrayal she had fervently hoped to never see again, was back and seemingly seared into her eyelids, pulsing in time with her racing heart. Unable to look at it any longer she opened her eyes. Emma was watching her with a concern she’d already grown overly accustomed to, and through the haze of tension she felt the familiar heat of anger flaring.
“We need to tell him.” Emma’s voice was full of compassion.
The anger flashed hot and white.
“We, really.” Regina’s voice sounded both foreign and entirely too familiar. As she turned to face the other woman, she welcomed the icy calmness, like slipping into a pair of well-worn shoes. “I wasn’t aware you were also with child, Miss Swan.”
The look that crossed Emma’s face was initially one of surprise before it morphed into something that Regina couldn’t put a name to but caused the flame inside her to flicker and die in an instant leaving only a mortification so potent that her breath stuttered in her chest.
“Oh my gods, Emma. I’m so sorry.”
She tried to catch her eye, but Emma looked down, her fingers pulling idly at a loose thread on the blanket now hanging between them. Not allowing herself to think, Regina reached out until her own cold fingers covered Emma’s, holding them loosely. When Emma did finally lift her head, she did it so cautiously that Regina felt an ache so deep that she almost flinched herself.
“I didn’t mean that.” Emotion clogged her throat, her voice straining in frightening sincerity. “I don’t even know where that came from.”
Emma was now viewing her carefully; the way prey might observe a distant predator. Regina closed her eyes, blinking back the tears she could feel forcing their way to the surface. It took several moments to realise that warm fingers were squeezing her own. As she dared to open them again, the empathy she saw was overwhelming.
“I know.” Emma’s voice was warm and reassuring but there was a sudden skittishness about her that made Regina cling to the hand in hers.
“I really don’t know why I said that.” The desperation in her tone surprised even her.
“I do.” Emma shrugged. To the casual observer, she might have looked unaffected. “You’re scared.” She paused. “And hormonal.” A smirk flashed, almost reaching her eyes. “It’s probably not your best combination.” Her voice grew serious again. “But you do need to talk to Henry. He’s not that precocious little kid anymore.” Fingers squeezed Regina’s once more. “He will understand.”
“I just…” The pressure on Regina’s fingers increased and she felt the coiled tension subside another notch. “I’ve caused so much damage already.” The words again slipped out unchecked and Regina realised she has little energy to stop them. This time she felt a tug on her hand.
“Hey.” Emma’s voice was sharp. “I get it, ok.” Regina felt the standard response bubbling but was stopped short by the strange emotion in the other woman’s voice as she continued. “And yeah, you’ve done some terrible things in your past, and blah, blah, evil queen.” She shook her head absently. “We get it.” She paused for a moment; her gaze so intense that Regina had to fight not to look away. “But you’ve also done so many good things. And if people can’t get past all this heroes and villains crap, then that’s on them.” Regina bit her lip cursing the seemingly ever-present tears ready to surface, but Emma did not appear ready to offer respite. “And if anyone tries to make you believe that you deserve anything other than a happy ending of your own, then screw’em. Because you have to know…” Emma swallowed and looked down for a minute before lifting her head with an expression almost fierce. “You are worth so much more than that, and anyone who truly cares about you knows that.” She paused again and Regina thought she could see the sheen of tears before they were quickly blinked away. “And if you’re having a kid, then you know what, they’re the lucky one. Because any kid who ends up with you as a mom hit the jackpot, ok.” An understanding smile spread across her face. “And we already have one kid upstairs who is living proof of that.” Regina felt another tug on her hand. “So, maybe it’s about time you let him show that to you.”
Regina attempted to respond but told herself that Emma surely must’ve unwittingly cast some sort of spell that has left her speechless, or she must have something stuck in her throat, because all she could seem to do was nod mutely through her swirling emotions. Her free hand reached up to swipe at the moisture on her cheeks but was apparently beaten to the act as a soft thumb swept across her face before its owner looked away. Suddenly needing the tether more than ever, Regina gripped the hand still in hers as the sound of heavy footsteps on the floor above made themselves known, to be met with a reassuring smile.
“You’ve got this.”
An anxious silence hung in the air as Henry eyed the room cautiously from his perch on the armchair across from them, his glance flitting from one to the other. Despite her efforts to breathe, Regina could feel her spine ramrod straight and from the constant shuffling next to her, Emma was doing no better. In fact, the other woman looked poised to flee at any minute, and for the first time since this began, Regina had the sinking sensation that indeed she may. The flicker of doubt she could feel growing was not being helped by the reaction of Emma just moments earlier as they heard Henry approaching the den and Emma stood hovering uncertainly by the door. Only a sharp tug on her hand, that had clearly not gone unnoticed by their son, had kept her in the room and by Regina’s side. Her synapses firing too quickly to fully appraise the situation, it was all she could do to tamp down the panic that erupted in her at the thought of Emma not being there when she delivered the news to Henry. She felt for a second like her heart might actually beat out of her chest, momentarily wondering if that could actually happen, until a squeeze of her fingers snapped her back to reality as she realised that their son’s gaze was now fixed on their still linked hands.
“Ok, what the hell’s going on?”
“Henry!” The response was instinctive, and she felt more than saw Emma smirk.
In rejoinder, the teenager simply raised an eyebrow and Emma let out a strange snorting sound, which Regina put down to tension, but did nothing to appease their son’s irritation.
“Mom, seriously.” His voice dropped a little and Regina felt the familiar rush of guilt. “You guys are scaring me. What’s wrong? Are you really sick?”
Regina’s expression morphed into what Emma once described as her “mom face”, as she took a shaky breath, the grip on her hand tightening reassuringly.
“Oh, Henry.” She swallowed. His face was pale, and he looked more like her lost little prince than she’d seen in years. Part of her wanted to go to him, but her limbs were frozen both in anxiety and the rising dread that after the news was shared, this could quite possibly be the last thing he would accept. “I’m not sick. “I’m so sorry for scaring you.” Relief rushed over his features, but it did nothing to alleviate the fear rising in her chest. “But I do need to tell you something.”
“Mom?” His eyes again drifted to Emma and their still entwined hands. Through her racing pulse, Regina felt the other woman shift uncomfortably next to her, but she was too focussed on Henry to think of it further.
“You see… Before…” Henry’s expression now held a hint of confusion, she surmised if nothing else at her uncharacteristic lack of eloquence. Regina closed her eyes determined to get through this whilst she still had the breath to do so. “Well…” She felt Emma’s hand release her own causing her to stiffen, before she felt a warm squeeze of her knee, focussing her. Opening her eyes, she looked directly at her son. “I’m pregnant.”
“You did it.”
Regina looked up to see Emma grinning at her almost wildly. Fearing some kind of fist pump was imminent, she reached up, pulling the other woman back down beside her on the sofa. Unsure whether it was relief, or possibly the onset of hysteria, she found herself smiling back.
“See, I told you.”
Emma’s beam grew wider still, and Regina indulged herself with an eye roll.
“Indeed, you did.”
Feeling her heart finally beat with something other than fear, Regina allowed herself a brief minute to take pride in the child she had raised since an infant. On hearing the news, after a momentary pause of surprise, Henry had been on his feet and crouching in front of her, hugging her gently. It was only when she felt Emma’s hand on her back that she realised how tightly she was clinging to him and she reluctantly released him shunting closer to Emma so he could squeeze into the space beside her. Not trusting herself to speak, she tried to smile, as Henry watched her appraisingly.
“You were scared of what I would say.”
Henry’s voice was low again and Regina flinched unsure what to say. Fortunately, she didn’t have to as she heard Emma turn and address their son.
" It’s not that simple, kid.” Emma’s other hand found her knee, squeezing gently as she twisted to face him. “Finding out you’re going to be a mom can be pretty terrifying, especially when you’re going it alone.”
Turning to Emma in silent thanks, Regina was interrupted by an incredulous sigh from her side.
“But she isn’t on her own. She’s got us.” It sounded like the most obvious thing in the world.
“Regina?” The voice next to her snapped her back to the present. Emma was looking at her expectantly, still almost giddy.
“Sorry Emma, what did you say?” Regina rubbed her forehead, the earlier adrenaline now well and truly faded.
Emma however, still seemed caught in the moment. “Just that we have an amazing kid and you know the next one will be just as cool.”
If she hadn’t been watching so closely, Regina might have missed the flinch that followed the words as Emma’s face seemed to fall for a second before she stood quickly, her eyes everywhere but on the other woman. However, before she could think on it further, Regina felt her remaining energy drain, her head swimming momentarily, forcing herself to close her eyes in a vague attempt to retain her equilibrium.
“Regina?” She felt Emma back beside her in a flash, the hand on her back both a comforting presence and quite possibly keeping her upright. “Ok, let’s get you lying down for a minute.”
Unable to do anything except welcome the intervention, Regina let Emma guide her backward, lifting her legs carefully until she was prone. The world starting to right itself, she tentatively opened an eye to see Emma perched next to her, a worried look on her face.
“Sorry, I don’t know what happened. I felt quite unwell for a moment.”
Emma’s expression shifted from one of concern, to something much more overwhelming, as she reached out a hand her thumb brushing the stray hair from Regina’s face before smoothing over her brow.
“Any better now?” The hand continued its soothing motion and Regina found herself nodding as the blanket was draped back over her. “You should get some more rest.”
Without further thought, Regina felt her eyes drift closed. And then nothing.
There’s light, and movement, but she’s comfortable, and warm. She tries to open her eyes but the pull of sleep tugs gently at the frayed edges of her consciousness. A soothing pulse of energy flows through her and there’s a calming hand on her arm and in her hair, and… Emma.
For a moment Regina was unsure who was more surprised as she launched upright, her head missing a direct collision with the other woman’s by only a matter of inches. Emma in turn scrambled clumsily to her feet almost throwing herself across the room in the process. Blinking away the last remnants of sleep, Regina felt a tug of guilt as her faculties returned to her and she took in the expression of confusion and panic painted so clearly on Emma’s face. As she noticed Regina watching her, she seemed to shrink into herself, biting her lower lip.
“Emma, I’m sorry.” Regina rubbed at her eyes, hoping to clear the haze of magic she could still sense swirling idly through her veins, seeking out her own. “I didn’t mean to alarm you.”
“What happened?” There was a tremor to her voice that made Regina shuffle, as elegantly as she could manage, to the side, patting the empty space beside her on the sofa. After a moment, Emma relented, seeming to relax a fraction, sliding hesitantly into the seat and looking at Regina questioningly.
The look was so like Henry that Regina couldn’t help but smile as Emma’s confusion only seemed to grow. “You really don’t know you’re doing it, do you?” The blank expression was response enough. “Magic.”
Shaking her head, Regina sighed but was unable to keep the amusement out of her tone. “If you had even a basic understanding of what you were doing, you really would be quite dangerous, dear.” Nothing. “Your magic.” The woman was truly impossible. “That you’ve been using on me, for most of the week if I’m correct.”
The incredulity forced Regina to hold back a rather undignified snicker. But the blank stare she was still receiving caused a prod of sympathy and she instead found herself smiling gently. Blaming her hormonal state, she shook her head once more, holding the other woman’s gaze.
“It was only to be expected with your gene pool, I suppose.” Still nothing. “I suspect healing magic is how one might best describe it.”
“Seriously?! I did that?”
The spell was apparently finally broken. Emma looked endearingly confounded, but the flash of pride as she spoke caused an indescribable warmth to spread in Regina’s chest.
“I mean Mary Margaret had a papercut last week and that sucker really wasn’t budging, no matter how hard I tried to focus.”
“Well dear, that your magic is indeed instinctive is something we have established time and time again.” She smirked. “And is of course, absolutely no indication whatsoever of what you really think about your mother.”
The returning glare contained a degree of mirth that made the warmth coil itself deep into Regina’s stomach.
Emma’s expression changed to look thoughtful again. “I guess I was just thinking about how much I wanted to do something to help you and…” she trailed off seeming oddly embarrassed.
Feeling a strange sense of urgency, Regina found herself reaching for the other woman’s hand, pulling on it until Emma looked up, meeting her eyes.
“You did.” Emma was watching her closely now, almost as if she was looking for something. “I truly mean that.” It suddenly seemed important to Regina that, whatever was being sought, she provide it and she squeezed the hand in hers. “And although if you ever repeat this, I may have no option but to forgo my redemption in favour of murdering you in your sleep, I would honestly go so far as to say that I am unsure how I would have made it through the last week if not for you.”
At this, Emma finally seemed to relax, and she smiled wryly. “Magic – better than Xanax. How’s that for an advertising campaign?”
The light tone was belied by the clasp Regina could feel on her fingers, which she realised she was returning with interest, and the slight sheen of the eyes that still held hers. Allowing them both the moment they seemed to need, she returned the smile until Emma sniffed slightly, looking down and releasing her grip.
The pang of empathy Regina felt was so intense that for a second, she felt breathless. Forcing herself to her feet, she moved behind Emma, trailing a hand on her shoulder as she passed.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, dear. I think I have taken enough rest for today, and I should probably go and prepare dinner.” She cast one last look as she exited the room. “Now that I have three children to feed.”
The smile she received felt more soothing than any magic.
Please stay with me on this. Things should start to become clearer over the next couple of chapters, and the story actually move along...
Thank you as always for the kudos and kind comments. Writing this story is most definitely providing me with a much needed escape from reality right now, so I hope reading it can do the same for others, if only briefly.
Regina sighed, glancing at her wristwatch and then back at the open refrigerator that she was fairly confident she’d now been staring into for the better part of a minute. Closing the door, she felt the loss of the welcome cool it had provided with the late afternoon sun streaming in through the window. It felt like somewhat of a personal attack. As the seconds continued to tick by, she began to regret the decision to let Henry to spend the evening at Nick’s. Since she had broken the news of her pregnancy to him a little under three weeks previously, her sweet, precious little prince, other than to go to school, had barely left her side. Video games and comics had been largely replaced by a rather too graphic book, which she could only assume Emma had acquired for him, about the finer details of pregnancy and casual conversation had been side-lined in favour of queries about how she was feeling and what she’d eaten that day. It was kind and caring, and she loved him. But by gods, she needed a damn break. A break which she was now getting thanks to a minor incident that had occurred before Henry had left for school that morning in which she had idly picked up some soft cheese, to spread on a bagel for Emma to take to work, only for it to be ripped by force from her hand accompanied by a panicked lecture on the dangers of unpasteurised dairy products. Before she knew it, the issue was resolved by a small explosion leaving the entire kitchen and its two occupants coated in a thin film of Philadelphia and purple smoke, which is where Emma had subsequently found a tearful former Evil Queen and slightly shell-shocked son several moments later. After a flurry of apologies, it was quickly agreed that, although a school night, maybe Henry would enjoy spending some time with his friends – a suggestion of Emma’s that both parties quickly agreed to – but now, home from the office with little to occupy her, the house felt strangely empty and not a little too quiet.
Without thinking, she picked up her cell, absently scrolling to her second speed dial and hitting the call button. The phone had barely cycled to its second ring before a slightly breathless voice appeared at the other end.
“Are you ok? What’s wrong?”
Fighting the urge scream, Regina instead merely rolled her eyes. To be entirely fair to Emma, something which she seemed to have a strange compulsion for at present, it was possibly reasonable for her to experience a modicum of concern upon receipt of an unexpected call during the workday from the mayor’s personal cell. Whilst a constant flow of text messages throughout Emma’s shifts had become oddly habitual, phone calls other than on the pretence of official town business were rarer; the last one being a day or so after they had spoken with Henry about her ‘situation’, and Emma had taken it upon herself to “give the two of them some space”, heading back to the loft to see her idiot parents. It was some sick sense of karma, Regina had thought, that barely an hour after Emma had left, her stomach began turning somersaults on her and she experienced a wave of dizziness so intense that she had to shout for Henry to help her to the sofa. After an hour of a pounding headache and no reprieve from the nausea, she had given in and called Emma who had appeared in the den in a puff of panic and white mist, a badly packed holdall clutched in her hand, no more than two minutes later. She was yet to leave.
Shaking away, a peculiar prickling at her consciousness, Regina forced her tone to be calm, if not slightly clipped.
“Nothing’s wrong. I was just wondering what time you were going to be home for dinner.”
There was a mumbling in the background, or possibly laughter, followed by an irritated huff, from which she could just about make out a muffled snap of “Dad, give it a break”, before Emma’s voice came back clearly through the speaker.
“Sorry about that. Um, yeah, it’s pretty slow, so David’s going to cover the rest of the afternoon.” There was another pause and the peripheral echo of a faint crash followed by a stifled whisper that sounded like “I said quit it”, before the sheriff was back on the line. “You sure you’re ok?”
“I’m fine, dear.”
This time there was a longer gap and the tell-tale swoosh of doors that let her know Emma had gone outside to continue their conversation. Regina allowed the guilt to bubble up for a moment, as although Emma had never said anything to her, and undoubtedly never would, she knew this situation was causing at least some tension between the Saviour and her parents. History aside, Snow and Charming were understandably confused as to why their daughter had suddenly, and for no obviously discernible reason, moved in with their former nemesis. Whilst relations were on the whole comparatively stable, and dare she say congenial, even they must have had questions. Over the last week there had been a couple of occasions where Emma had returned looking fraught, and a little sad, after a phone conversation with her mother; a reaction seemingly caused by more than the inherent irritation that one experienced after a discussion with Snow. The thought of this upset Regina more than she cared to consider. Yet whenever she would try to talk to Emma about it, she was met with a forced smile and clumsy change of subject, that had the bizarre effect of making her want to just pull the other woman into a hug. Putting that train of thought aside, she made a mental note to broach the subject once more when the opportunity next presented itself, and when there was less of an opening for an evasive manoeuvre.
Pulling herself back into the conversation at hand, Emma was now on the line once more. “I said, the house is quiet without Henry, right?”
Regina sighed. “Indeed, it is. However, I believe it evident from this morning that maybe we were both in need of a short break.”
At this, Emma let out a genuine laugh. Regina found herself picturing the expression which surely accompanied it.
“Yeah. I think you’ve given the kid a life-long phobia of cream cheese.” Eliciting no response, Emma’s tone gained an air of seriousness. “Hey, you know that he knows it was an accident, right?” Regina swallowed audibly. The other woman’s words became more rushed. “And he’s not going to think any differently of you for a minor blow-up…” There was another break and Regina didn’t have to guess the physical cringe that Emma had just given at her poor linguistic choice. “Or like, literal blow-up.” She hurried on. “You’re gonna be a bit more sensitive for the next few months, he knows that.”
“So, what you’re saying Miss Swan, is that you have been preparing our son for an emotional roller coaster to be inflicted upon him by his mother for the imminent future.”
Despite its nature, the sentiment held no sting and Emma simply chuckled lightly.
“What I’m saying your majesty, is that Henry and I get that there’ll be times over the next few months when it’s gonna be tough for you.” Her tone softened perceptibly. “And we’re gonna be here for you to try and make that easier on you.” Regina hoped that the sniffle which had accompanied Emma’s last sentiment had gone unnoticed, but the gentleness with which she next spoke made that seem unlikely. “So, why don’t you go put your feet up, and I’ll pick us up some takeout and we can chill for a few hours without a noisy teenage boy stomping around the house.” At the continued lack of response, Emma continued easily, the kindness in her words unmissable. “I’ll be home in fifteen minutes, ok.”
It was the clattering of dishes that greeted Regina as she gingerly entered the kitchen to find a scene of semi-destruction as Emma was attempting, shockingly badly it seemed, to load up the dishwasher. The plates from the previous night’s takeout were still on the counter, where Emma had convinced her, they could happily stay until morning, in favour of more mindless television watching. And it was a testament to how tired she must have felt that she allowed such behaviour in her house. Having fallen asleep on Emma’s shoulder, or rested her eyes, as she asserted, a little after nine, it had taken meagre convincing to retire to bed before ten. However, shortly before two am, she had awoken to the multitude of thoughts that seemed to swirl in her head given the opportunity and subsequently sleep had remained out of reach for the rest of her night. As a consequence of this, her senses now felt both sharpened yet foggy, her eye lids were sandpaper, and to top it all, she had an appointment in an hour with the town’s sole OB-GYN, a woman whom she sincerely hoped bore no grudge, either past or present, against her.
No, scratch that, to top it all, there was Emma Swan, looking infuriatingly bright and breezy for the early hour and smiling at her warmly.
“Oh, thank god. You’re up.” She stopped wrestling with the plate rack, blowing a strand of hair out of her face, and rising from her crouched position to face Regina. “I thought I was gonna have to actually go up there and wake you up myself.” She smirked, grabbing another plate and shoving it in. “I was just about to hide any innocent dairy produce just in case.”
With no response forthcoming, Emma stood again. Regina knew she was now being observed but accepted there was little she could do to deter it.
“We have like thirty minutes before we need to leave for the appointment.” She attempted to catch Regina’s eye. “I can make you breakfast if you think you can stomach anything?”
It was the damn lack of sleep, Regina thought. It had to be. There was absolutely no other reason for her throat to tighten as it did upon Emma’s casual use of the word “we”. It’s not like she’d even asked Emma to attend this first appointment with her. She’d have been fine on her own. It was just the natural adjustment to their current living arrangements that saw Regina slip the hospital letter to the sheriff as she was complaining over putting together this week’s roster for herself and her deputies. And of course, just an added bonus that Charming would now be pulling his third double shift in a row, so his daughter could attend to a “personal matter.”
“Regina?” The concern in Emma’s tone made her wince. “You feeling ok?”
Regina groaned, internally or possibly out loud, she was no longer certain, as the automatic response of “fine” withered under the disbelieving stare of the self-proclaimed human lie detector. Dropping onto the stool in front of her, she let her elbows rest on the island, closing her eyes. The action marginally relieved the burning sensation in her pupils, if only for a precious moment. When she forced them back open, Emma had come to stand beside her, a hand resting on her shoulder, and she briefly wondered whether she’d actually fallen asleep for a second or two.
“You’ve not slept.”
It wasn’t a question. Which was probably advantageous, Regina considered, as she genuinely had no answers. Whilst she’d had no physical discomfort that night, the tendrils of thought that had begun during her phone conversation with Emma that day had continued to lap against her subconscious, present but never quite making purchase; drifting just out of reach when she attempted to give them form. As such she was both drained and eerily perturbed, yet frustratingly unable to articulate why.
“Are you worried about seeing the doctor?” Emma looked concerned. “Because, it really won’t be that bad. I promise.” She attempted brevity. “Living proof right here. And mine was a prison doctor, so you know, that bar’s pretty high.”
At the lack of reaction, she let her hand drop from Regina’s shoulder, moving around the island to sit opposite and taking Regina’s hands in her own, pulling them until they rested between the two women.
“Talk to me.”
Regina blinked heavily, vaguely hoping it would help her focus. It didn’t. Instead she squeezed the hands holding hers and sighed.
“I don’t know. I just have a bad feeling about this. I can’t describe it.”
At this, Emma appeared to relax a little, rubbing her thumb over Regina’s wrist and looking at her with undeniable care.
“It’s pretty normal to feel anxious, Regina.” She smiled. “The whole being pregnant thing is kind of a big deal, even for a kick-ass, magic-wielding, super-mom like you.”
Feeling the tension gathering at her temples, Regina exhaled, trying to tamp down her mounting frustration; especially when it was in danger of being aimed at Emma. “It’s not that.” She paused and it occurred to her briefly that the fact she was once again visibly on the verge of tears, was absolutely not assisting her argument. “It’s not just that. I can’t explain it.” She pulled one hand free pressing the bridge of her nose. The action was largely futile but at least allowed her a moment to think before, she lifted her eyes to meet Emma’s. “It just feels like something is trying to warn me. Like something is coming.”
“Is there anything you’d like to ask me?”
Doctor Cartwright offered up a kind smile, breaking the silence that had temporarily fallen over the small and somewhat cramped OB-GYN room at Storybrook General. She was a grey-haired woman in her late sixties with warm brown eyes and a distinctly grand-motherly air about her. Whilst Regina wouldn’t say she was exactly comfortable with the scenario, it brought a certain level of relief that she had absolutely no recollection of having ever before encountered this particular citizen in either realm and she genuinely appeared to hold no ill will towards the former queen. Although, even if that were the case, Regina considered idly, any action the doctor may wish to take would have been a harder feat with the Saviour hovering vigilantly by her side, seemingly primed and ready to react to any foe, or uncomfortable question, that might come the mayor’s way. Which, she supposed was probably a good job as her relatively sleepless night seemed to have left her thoughts slow and stolid, wafts of ideas in a molasses, her head thrumming with every attempt to separate them until little point remained.
The doctor was obviously waiting for a response, Regina realised, as she felt a hand fall onto her knee, resting there.
“I think we’re good.” Emma nodded hesitantly as she spoke. If either she or the other woman found it strange that Regina had suddenly fallen mute, neither of them seemed to wish to point this out.
“And how have you been feeling physically, Mayor Mills? Or am I ok to call you Regina?”
Trying to mould her thoughts into a coherent form, she felt the warm weight squeeze her knee, and it appeared to help focus her. Through her weighted eye lids, she managed to hold the older woman’s gaze for a moment, comforted by what she found there.
Dr Cartwright nodded encouragingly, and Regina inhaled.
“I’m still experiencing some fatigue.” With her eye lids flickering as she answered the question, and from the concerned looks and steady hand on her back, Emma had been offering all morning, it took much of Regina’s self-control not to laugh at the absurdity of the statement as it was spoken.
The doctor, to her credit, simply proffered the same understanding smile. She looked down at her notes for a moment, flicking over the page before glancing back up. “And the dizziness and nausea?”
Regina again felt the familiar prickling at her consciousness but was unable to snatch at it through the haze. “It comes and goes.”
She felt the grip on her knee tighten as Emma swallowed before addressing the doctor. “Some days it’s pretty bad.” She grimaced. “And she’s been getting bad headaches too.”
For a moment, Regina thought about interjecting, but realised she lacked both the energy and the motivation. Her sudden lethargy also surely wasn’t being aided by the fact that it must have been at least a hundred degrees in the room, but Emma, oblivious as always, other than the worried looks she kept casting in her direction, seemed unaware of this issue. As was the doctor who was again nodding comfortingly at her whilst retrieving a small case from the desk drawer beside her.
“Ok, Regina. Well, we’re just going to take a quick check of your blood pressure, as I see the nurse noted this was a little elevated at your last appointment.”
The weight on her knee shifted as next to her Emma moved to allow the doctor to place the cuff around Regina’s upper arm, watching the gauge carefully. The motion was like an anchor being lifted and for a moment she felt untethered, her head spinning. Emma was now watching her closely once more and she felt a hand move to her back. She wondered whether the other woman would be able to feel the sweat that she could sense starting to run in uncomfortable rivulets down her spine. Dr Cartwright was now also observing her with a concerned expression which was doing nothing to slow the pounding of her heart or the blood racing through her veins.
She wasn’t certain, but the doctor and Emma appeared to share a brief look before the older woman stepped away from her personal space, disappearing through a side door. She reappeared moments later with a glass of water, placing it on the desk beside Regina before vanishing again. The hand on Regina’s back was moving in lazy circles and she found herself leaning into it, closing her eyes. She was unsure how much time had passed, but when she opened them again, she found that her breathing had started to slow and Emma was now holding the glass of water, encouraging her to take a sip. As she did so, the doctor re-entered the room, nodding at Emma before reclaiming her seat behind the desk.
“Ok, so Regina, your blood pressure’s still higher than I would like to see, but not dangerously so.” Her smile and tone had the reassuring professional edge that Whale, in his thirty plus years, seemed unable to master. “But I would strongly advise you to get plenty of rest, and not push yourself.” She looked at Emma for a moment who was nodding solemnly next to her. “And listen to your body, ok? Sometimes it knows what is good for you, even if your mind is unable to tell you.” Her face relaxed. “Right then, I think that’s everything for today. I’ll ask my secretary to book you an appointment for your first scan next week and you just call me if you need anything. It was lovely meeting you both.”
With a flurry of papers, the woman was gone, and Regina let out a long breath. The hand on her back had maintained its soothing movement and as her shoulders relaxed, the doctor’s words bounced lazily around her mind. She just needed to understand the message.
“Are you sure you don’t wanna try to get some actual sleep?”
Emma’s voice had taken on the unfamiliar tone, for her at least, of a parent dealing with a belligerent pre-schooler. And as much as this irked Regina for it to be aimed at her, the rational part of her brain, that was still attempting to function, could almost understand it. Since returning from the hospital appointment she was fully aware that she was pushing the Saviour’s patience to its, seemingly lengthy, limit. Yet for some reason, she couldn’t stop it. The sense of dread that had been rising in her gut since the early hours was only getting stronger, and there were still the wispy strands of thought tickling at the edges of her consciousness. Yet the harder she tried to hold onto them, the further away they seemed.
“You might feel better if you at least lie down.”
The words were in danger of being drowned out by the clashing of the pans that were beginning to be almost launched from the dishwasher, forming a precarious tower on the kitchen counter. Regina made a mental note, when neither were at risk of coming to harm from the conversation, to show Emma the proper way to use the machine.
“And you might feel better, Miss Swan, if you stopped trying to treat me like a toddler, or some infirm geriatric, who has lost the use of their faculties.”
The final pan clattered to its resting place, and Emma stood, pulling an elastic from around her wrist and almost aggressively pulling her hair into a messy ponytail. As the band snapped with a satisfying crack, she took a deep breath and Regina could practically hear her counting to ten, before her shoulders relaxed a fraction and she sighed.
“Look, I know you’re tired, and it’s been a long morning.” She paused for a moment, possibly expecting a fireball. When it didn’t come, she continued slowly, her hands raised in the universal symbol of surrender. “And I get that you’re maybe a little stressed.” She paused again, wincing slightly. “But we both know that I’ve never been afraid to call you on your bullshit when you needed to hear it. And pregnant or not, I’m not gonna stop now.” She smiled slightly, catching Regina’s eye. “I’m allowed to worry about you.”
Regina blinked, swallowing past the lump that had once again mysteriously appeared in her throat. However, before she could form a response, there was a sharp knock at the front door, causing both women to startle. Emma was the first to recover, shaking her head in irritation.
“I’ll get it.”
Still struggling to process, Regina watched as Emma headed for the door. Whilst she couldn’t actually see her, Regina knew that by force of habit she would first be quietly peering through the peep hole to assess the status of their uninvited guest. At the groan that followed, she had only one suspect in mind as she heard the door being pulled open and two words uttered that made her own heart also sink.
“Not that this isn’t a pleasant surprise, Snow, but what brings you here?”
Placing a cup of hot tea in front of her former stepdaughter who was perched, not entirely comfortably, on a stool at the island, Regina was grateful that she at least had a task to occupy her; Unlike Emma, who since her mother’s arrival appeared to have shrunk into herself, turning within moments into an awkward monosyllabic teenager and following Regina mutely around the room, to the point she’d nearly tripped over her twice simply boiling the kettle. The whole situation was doing nothing to help the damn headache Regina could now feel brewing.
Snow, on the other hand, whilst not necessarily at ease, seemed suitably oblivious, turning to her daughter and smiling concernedly.
“Your father said you were taking a personal day, so I just came to check on you, honey. Is everything ok?”
As it became apparent that there was a danger of Emma not actually answering with anything beyond a grunt, Regina fought an eyeroll, but found herself speaking regardless.
“Don’t worry, Snow. I’m not actually holding her prisoner… this time.”
Feeling the sudden need to sit down, she moved past Emma who was still standing self-consciously in the centre of the room, brushing a hand lightly over the other woman’s lower back as she did so. At the contact, Emma seemed to loosen a fraction, her eyes meeting Regina’s with a look of gratitude that made her chest clench.
“You really should come home soon, Emma.” Snow continued. “Your little brother is missing you.” Despite her daughter’s visible flinch at the words, the woman was not giving up. “Your dad and I miss having you around the loft.”
“I know, mom, but…” She closed her eyes.
“Plus, your father and I were really hoping that we could get out and spend some actual grown-up time together…” This time it was Regina who shuddered. “And we hoping you’d be around to watch Neal.” Emma’s body stilled to a degree that even Snow seemed to finally realise something was amiss, as she tailed off. “Just for a night, sweetie.”
Regina was unable to see Emma’s reaction beyond sensing it, as for a second, she felt like all the oxygen had been pulled from the room. Her head swam and she lowered it into her hands cursing the gods that she was about to pass out in her kitchen in front of Snow White, nonetheless. Before she could process the thought further, she felt a hand on her shoulder and another on her knee. There was no need to open her eyes as Emma’s voice, now calm and soothing, was in her ear. “It’s ok. You’re ok.”
The world began to right itself, and Regina finally dared to lift her head, relying instead on the white-knuckled grip she had on the countertop. Emma was nodding at her encouragingly, broad steady strokes sweeping her back.
“You’re good.” She reached over to uncurl Regina’s fingers from the bench. “Do you need to throw up?”
Leaning into the hand at her back, Regina took a deep breath, shaking her head, at least to the throwing up part. The spinning had stopped but she was utterly exhausted and could no longer deny that taking some rest had become a necessity rather than a luxury.
She looked up to see Snow hovering nervously across the room eyeing the pair with an open curiosity. “Is she ok? Is there anything I can do?”
Emma, for her part, at least managed a brief glance in her mother’s direction, before her attention turned back to Regina, her expression softening.
“She’s fine.” Her eyes again caught Regina’s. “We’ve got this, mom. But you should probably…”
The sound of the backdoor closing registered dimly in Regina’s brain, as she focussed on rising from the stool without ending up face-first on the tiled floor. Emma’s arm was warm around her waist as she found her feet, and she leant gratefully into the security it offered.
“Let’s get you back to bed, yeah.” It was no longer a suggestion, but Regina didn’t much care as she let Emma guide her carefully up the stairs and into her room without quarrel. Her head was aching, her breath still wouldn’t quite catch as often as it should, and she was struggling to keep the nausea at bay. Her thoughts tired and fuzzy, she stared for a moment watching as Emma climbed onto the bed, rearranging the pillows on one side to prop herself up against the headboard. With a hesitant shrug, she patted the space next to her, gently pulling Regina closer as she settled until her head lay cushioned on her lap.
“Can I try?”
Regina could only nod as one hand cupped her head, a thumb brushing over her brow, whilst the other found hers, taking a gentle hold. Closing her eyes, she began to feel the low thrum of magic swirling into her senses as her breathing slowed and her limbs became heavy. She slept.
“That talking option doesn’t apply simply to myself, you know.”
Regina watched, with a rising sense of frustration, the forceful stabbing at the keys of the laptop now set up in the den. Since waking up somewhat refreshed, finding Emma contentedly playing some kind of juvenile game on her phone next to her, the other woman’s mood seemed to have grown more morose as the evening passed. As if sensing his other mother’s mood, Henry had excused himself to complete his homework shortly after dinner, leaving the two of them in a not quite comfortable silence. Emma was most definitely dwelling on something, and if the melancholy expression on her face didn’t prove it, the aggressive typing of her ‘urgent’ monthly reports, which to the best of Regina’s recollection she had never previously cared to submit on time, was a sure tell. And if nothing else, it was giving her yet another damn headache.
“So, you’re not imagining your mother’s head, as you’re annihilating town property?” Regina smirked involuntarily. “We’ve all been there.”
Emma’s face fell further, as she looked up with an apologetic shrug. The throbbing in Regina’s temples intensified but she ignored it, leaning over to close the laptop lid before sliding it off Emma’s knees and onto the floor. “Emma, I appreciate I may not be the natural or logical choice with whom to discuss your feelings about your parents.” She paused, not sure what reaction she was looking for. “But, as bizarre as this may be given all that has gone before, it pains me to see you in distress over such matters.” There it was again, that niggling at her conscience. “So, if it would help you to talk, I’m here to listen as you are for me.”
She watched as Emma swallowed heavily, her eyes beginning to glisten. The pounding in her head was making her slightly nauseous but she leaned over, covering Emma’s hand with her own and squeezing it lightly. Emma smiled a little tremulously, but at least managing a nod. Feeling slightly encouraged, Regina weighed up her words carefully in light of the damage she was acutely aware they could inflict if used incorrectly.
“I think it’s fair to say that whilst your mother may believe she means well, she can be a little thoughtless at times, and can fail to appreciate the full impact of her actions.”
The irony of the statement and its orator was not lost on either woman; Regina felt the pressure on her own hand increase for a moment. She did her best to keep her expression gentle.
“But that said, I don’t doubt that your parents miss seeing you every day, even if Snow’s attempt at expressing that to you was somewhat…” A number of fitting adjectives sprung to mind, but Regina bit them back, “… misplaced.” She sighed, encouraging Emma to look at her. “And I am most definitely conscious that once again, it is I who is coming between you and your parents and I apologise as that was not my intention when you became caught up in this… situation.”
At this Emma lifted her head, meeting her gaze head on. “Regina…”
“You don’t need to say anything.” She smiled sadly. “And I know that this has been causing you a degree of tension, the depth of which is becoming clearer. And I am also aware that you wish to keep this from me, in a valiant, yet misguided, attempt to not add further to my personal stress, no doubt.” Emma took a deep, slightly unsteady breath. “But I do have a suggestion that I believe may ease this situation for you slightly, if you would care to listen.” She paused, wondering at what point she had finally lost her mind. “You should tell your mother about my pregnancy.”
If Emma was a cartoon character, Regina had the distinct impression that her jaw would have hit the ground. Instead she stared in silence, her mouth slack in apparent confusion.
Regina fought the surprisingly welcome urge to genuinely laugh as the other woman continued to simply gawk at her. “Close your mouth dear, your genetics are showing.”
Emma raised an eyebrow, despite following the instruction. However, her expression soon turned fretful.
“But this isn’t anyone’s business other than yours… and Henry’s.”
And yours. The thought took Regina by surprise, but Emma seemed genuinely upset by this, so she schooled her expression to one of resigned good humour.
“Emma, I may be somewhat of an expert in political spin, but even I am cognisant that at some point this is going to be idle gossip that I am no longer able to conceal.” She looked down at the slight curve of her stomach that she could feel pressing increasingly against the waistband of her pants with each passing week. “If Snow accelerates that process, well then, in this circumstance, that is something I am willing to live with.” She smiled at Emma, squeezing the hand that had remained in hers. “You know I appreciate, possibly more than most, the… complexities, of the mother-daughter relationship.” Emma was now looking at her with something akin to wonder. Regina cast her eyes down, focusing on the inexplicable strength she found in their linked fingers. “And you, more than anyone, deserve to have parents who care about you, who you feel comfortable with.” Her words caught in the sudden tightness in her throat and the grip on her hand tightened. As she looked back up, Emma was still smiling, but her eyes were unmistakably glassy. “I suppose it’s not your fault that for you, that is with the two idiots.”
Shaking her head, Emma let out a chuckle. The tension she’d held all evening seemed to drain from her, but Regina noticed, with regret, just how tired she looked. A silent wave of gratitude washed over her, and she made a mental note to do her best with some magical soundproofing for her next bout of five am morning sickness, so at least the other woman could sleep in for once. On thinking about her physical state, Regina was surprised to realise that the punishing headache from minutes earlier had now vanished. The comprehension that had been teasing her suddenly took form and she drew in an audible breath. It couldn’t be… She shook her head. The idea was preposterous.
Emma was now watching her again, the concerned look back on her face. Regina offered what she hoped was a reassuring smile, patting Emma’s hand before rising to her feet. “I’m fine, truly.” Taking a deep breath, she felt the sudden need for some fresh air. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take out the garbage from earlier.” She waited as Emma pulled a face. “And before you say anything, I am not some invalid and am more than capable of undertaking routine household chores, despite what you and Henry appear to believe.”
Padding back into the kitchen, Regina grabbed the trash bag from the can, pulling open the backdoor. Looking down, she briefly wondered what her past self would have thought of her merrily carrying out chores in fluffy slippers and a pair of yoga pants. However, her thoughts were interrupted by a rustling in the bushes in front of her. Squinting in the dimming evening light, she took a step forward, trying to ignore the prickle of unease she could feel creeping down her spine. Nothing. Feeling slightly foolish, she turned to head back inside, when a shape in her peripheral vision made her stop dead in her tracks. For a moment she thought she might be having a genuine episode, until a familiar voice cut through the peaceful silence.
“Well, hello my darling. Or should I say, congratulations?”
Thanks as always to everybody reading, leaving kudos or a comment. It really does make me smile to hear from people (and not just because of lock down isolation!). Things have been a little busy for me work-wise, so have now fallen into the dreaded state of no longer being chapters ahead. However, there's nothing like a bit of pressure to keep writing and didn't want to lose momentum, so here is the next one...
“I taught you better than that, Regina.”
For a moment, Regina believed that time had stood-still. A rush of cold settled deep in her bones and the air around her seemed frozen in place.
“Honestly, Regina? Where are your manners?”
The world came rushing back into focus and Regina’s hand fell subconsciously to her stomach. Feeling an eerie calm settle over her, she pushed her shoulders back, her voice practiced and steady.
“So, you do remember me.” Cora lifted in eyebrow, her glance darting for a moment to her daughter’s protective stance. “I was beginning to think that murdering me meant nothing to you.”
There was a noise from the house behind her and the kitchen light flicked on. Emma. Regina felt herself tense.
“What are you doing here, mother?”
Cora smiled coolly. “Well, now that would be telling, wouldn’t it, dear.” She glanced behind Regina curiously. “Maybe, I just wished to see my daughter.” Regina eyed her levelly and Cora shrugged. “Although I must say darling, given your churlish teenage tantrum on the matter, I did not expect to find you with child.” The movement from behind came closer and Regina’s spine stiffened. Cora continued to eye her with interest. “But then neither did I expect to find you playing ‘happy families’ with the Charmings’ delinquent off-spring.”
The burst of magic took even Regina by surprise as she watched the pure white jet blast from her palm, burning an ashen mark on the ground. As it fizzled and died, a more familiar purple smoke filled the air in a flourish before vanishing.
Cora stood, pensive for a moment, before meeting Regina’s shaken gaze with an open curiosity.
“Well, well. Now that is interesting.” She quirked her lips. “I didn’t think the Saviour had it in her.”
The backdoor slammed open as a frantic Emma appeared. It occurred to Regina hazily that she should have been more prepared for the younger woman predictably throwing herself between her and danger, but the universe appeared to be experiencing some sort of time delay and it was only when she felt a hand gripping her arm and a solid body in front of her own that she jolted from her haze.
“Get the hell away from her.”
Emma’s voice was low and menacing and for a moment Regina found herself craving the protection. But Cora’s stare was icy, if not mildly amused, and as Emma raised her arms ready for offense, Regina felt an unexpected surge of panic at what her mother might do in response. Breathing somewhat heavily, she placed a firm hand on Emma’s arm, stepping around her, until she was once more facing Cora directly. Emma looked genuinely torn but as Regina rested her other hand subtly on the small of her back, she seemed to silently accept the decision, leaning into the touch, her breath ragged in Regina’s ear.
Cora was now watching them both keenly. “Very good, Regina. Please control your pet knight.” She smiled, almost amiably. “Well, ladies, this reunion has been a pleasure, but I really must get going now.” She waved regally. “Places to go. People to see.” A dark cloud of smoke began to rise. “Until next time.” And she was gone.
“Ok, what the hell was that?”
Her mind still numb, Regina could feel a pressure on her arm as she was being half dragged back into the mansion. Emma sounded slightly in danger of hyperventilating. As she shut and bolted the kitchen door behind them, she turned to Regina once more.
“How was that even possible?” Emma paused. “Ok, stupid question. We live in a world of fairy tale characters.” She raked a hand through her hair, finally stopping. “Are you ok?” She turned Regina to face her, running her hands over her arms as if checking for injury. “Did she hurt you?”
Rational thought beginning to filter back in, Regina felt an overwhelming rush of affection for the woman who had without hesitation thrown herself between her and her psychopathic parent.
“I’m fine, Emma.” Yet, her voice sounded strangely detached even to her own ears.
“Did she say why she was back?”
Regina shook her head.
Emma’s face paled. “My mom.”
Maybe it was something to do with seeing the abject fear in the other woman’s expression, or maybe it was just the initial shock wearing off, but Regina felt her senses flood back and she reached for Emma’s hand. She was unsure who the gesture of comfort was really for.
“I don’t believe she will attempt anything further tonight. It’s not her style.” She sighed, realising the inevitability of what was about to come. “But… And I truly hate myself for saying this, it may be an idea for your parents and Neal to stay here tonight.” She shook her head, trying not to think about the marvel with which Emma seemed to be regarding her. “Just until we can put a protection spell on their apartment in the morning.” Emma continued to stare. Whether it was the revelations from both her own and her mother’s recent musings, or the realisation of their proximity, Regina swallowed. Unsure how to break the moment, or even if she wanted to, she squeezed Emma’s hand, before stepping back. “Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, whilst you have the pleasure of speaking with the Charmings, I’m going to go and check on Henry.”
As she turned to move away, she was surprised to feel the grip on her hand tighten rather than release. Emma was watching her keenly, her eyes now shrouded in a different kind of concern.
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
Suddenly feeling the need to be anywhere other than in the presence of the other woman, Regina turned back with a careful smile.
“Of course, Emma.”
At the flash of distrust that flickered across the other woman’s face, Regina felt her heart sink. The impact was only softened by the stark reminder that she was in fact being untruthful, yet not for any of the reasons which Emma may now have been busy imagining. Oddly unable to leave it at that, she sighed, rubbing a thumb over Emma’s knuckle until she looked back up. “I’m sorry. I think tonight has just made me a little off balance.” Not entirely a lie. “But I am going to speak to Henry, whilst you call your parents, and then I shall be right back down to await our most welcome guests.” Emma’s glance had now softened, and Regina felt an easing in her chest. Giving one last smile, she turned to exit the room. Only when she reached the stairs did she stop a minute, her hand falling subconsciously to rest on her stomach once more, allowing the confusion she was feeling to show.
“We really do appreciate this.”
Taking a deep breath before pushing open the door to the den, Regina was greeted by the sight of a pair of anxious Charmings seated gingerly on her sofa. Snow was clutching a mug of coffee, which it looked like she was yet to actually drink; David sat beside her looking somewhat bemused whilst shooting the occasional worried glance at his wife. Emma, who appeared equally on edge, was in the chair opposite, with Henry perched on the arm. As Regina entered, both quickly rose to their feet, freeing the seat for her and receiving odd looks from the couple opposite them in return. Suddenly feeling too drained to make an issue of it, Regina sank gratefully into the chair. As she sat, Emma took Henry’s place on the arm, her hand absently resting on Regina’s shoulder, whilst their son settled on the floor next to them. She could feel Snow watching the scene with interest over her drink. It was going to be a long night.
“It seemed the most appropriate solution at this late hour.” All heads turned to Regina as she spoke.
David cleared his throat. “Nevertheless, you didn’t have to do this, so we’re grateful.”
Regina glanced at Emma who had yet again fallen mute. Steeling herself to be the host of this impromptu gathering, she forced a congenial smile that she hoped adequately masked her overriding desire to just leave the Charmings to fend for themselves so she could get some much-needed sleep.
“Did you get Neal down ok?”
The brightening of Snow’s face at the question, showed Regina she had picked a safe topic. Yet she felt the hand on her shoulder tense.
“Oh yes, thank you. He’s such a good sleeper.”
Snow’s tone was beginning to get back to its usual level of animation as Regina cursed the inevitable headache she could feel forming. Hoping that Snow was now suitably distracted by her discussion of her son, she reached up, gently squeezing the hand resting upon her. Emma showed no visible recognition of the gesture, Regina was relieved to feel her relax slightly.
“Emma showed us up to the guestroom and he just fell right back to sleep. We’re so lucky with him.” Regina held the hand in hers a little more firmly for good measure. “And thank you for bringing his crib here. We weren’t sure how to fit it in the truck and we wanted to get here quickly so…” She trailed off somewhat awkwardly.
David clasped his hands, looking down at his feet before looking back up at Regina, one eye on his daughter. “Why is she back?”
Regina wasn’t aware she had stiffened at the question until the grip on her shoulder tightened.
“Why would Regina know that, dad?”
“Your father didn’t mean anything by it.” The rebuttal came quickly.
Snow sounded defensive at best; Regina felt Emma bristling beside her. On the floor, Henry shifted so that he was directly in front of her. Regina fiercely blinked back a tear. Damn hormones.
As if sensing he was starting a battle he couldn’t win, David held his hands up, smiling awkwardly. “It wasn’t an accusation.”
The tension was rolling off Emma in waves. Regina closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose in a futile attempt to keep the headache at bay. When she opened them, Emma was alternating glancing at her with concern, with staring daggers at her parents. Although Snow continued to watch the interaction with curiosity, Regina found herself shuffling closer to Emma, leaning into her imperceptibly to rest what she hoped would be a calming hand on her leg. The other woman startled slightly but again seemed to ease at the touch, taking a breath. Regina did the same. Meeting the Charmings’ gaze, she nodded.
“Well, then the question should also be, how is she back. Although I am afraid that at this point, I know the answer to neither.”
“Well, we need to find out.”
Despite her best efforts, Regina felt a small eye roll escape as she turned her full attention to David. The thigh under her hand tensed and, for Emma’s sake, if no other reason, she did her best to keep the irritation out of her tone.
“And we will. However, I would suggest that there is little any of us can do tonight other than attempt to get some sleep.” Regina bit back a yawn at the thought. Once again, she could feel Snow’s eyes on her. “And then tomorrow, Emma and I will cast a protection spell on the loft, and you will be free to return to your home.”
If the Charmings heard the sigh of relief from their daughter, they for once had the good sense not to mention it, Regina thought as she continued.
“After which, we can decide the best course of action.”
If she happened to look at Emma as she said we, it was just a coincidence. Yet she still caught the small knowing smile that flashed across the face of an irritatingly smug Snow White.
“Now, I’m sure we can all agree that it’s getting late and it’s been somewhat of an eventful evening, so…”
Henry understood his cue and started to his feet, yawning exaggeratedly. Out of the corner of her eye, Regina saw Emma smirk, but found to her surprise that her only reaction to their antics was yet another jolt of affection, and a passing relief that Emma’s earlier distress seemed to be abating slightly.
Pulling himself up, Henry seemed to consider both herself and Emma carefully before, to her slight surprise, leaning over to give both a quick hug. “Night, moms. I’ll take Grandma and Gramps up to their room.”
This time, Emma’s smile was genuine. Her hand squeezed Regina’s shoulder one more time before she too rose to her feet, offering a small nod to her parents as they dutifully followed their grandson from the room. As the door finally closed, her shoulders seemed to drop and brought both hands to her face, roughly rubbing her eyes.
“Are you ok?” Regina too had now pulled herself upright.
Emma dropped her hands, looking at Regina with tired eyes but a warm expression. “Shouldn’t I be the one still asking you that. I mean you’re the one whose mom just came back from the dead.”
Regina shrugged. An action she realised she did more frequently since her increased exposure to Emma. “Yet somehow you’re the one that just attempted to have a stand off with your parents in my den.”
Emma cringed having the grace to look a little guilty. “Yeah, well, I didn’t like how my dad spoke to you.”
Ignoring the sudden, unexplained rush of emotion, Regina swallowed, choking out a slightly strangled snicker. “You know that of all the things your parents and I have said to each other over the years, that interaction was probably one of the more civil?”
“It still didn’t give him the right to insinuate that you might know what Cora is up to.”
Emma looked genuinely affronted on her behalf; Regina swallowed again, before feeling a warm pressure on her hand.
“Anyway, no offence but you look exhausted. You should try and sleep and I’ll get myself fixed up here. She reached for the throw blanket draped over the two-seater.
“What are you doing?” Regina was genuinely confused.
“I put mom and dad in my room.” Emma shrugged. “And I know this place has like a gazillion rooms, but it seemed easier for them to take that one. I’ll just crash on the couch.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Emma smiled. “We both know I’ve slept in plenty of places worse than your couch.”
“At least let me make up one of the other rooms for you.”
Emma sighed but the sound was filled with affection. “Regina. You’re tired and I know you’re trying not to use magic right now, so I’m not going to let you run around playing host for me when I think we both know that I overstepped the mark of guest when I pretty much invited myself to move into your house.” She smiled guiltily again. “The couch is fine, I promise.”
For the second time that evening, Regina could feel words rising on her tongue that were possibly a sign she really did need to be committed. Although this was somewhat different than her offer to the Charmings, she realised, in that the moment the thought crossed her mind, she realised it was genuinely wanted.
“You could sleep in my room.” At Emma’s possibly confused silence, she pressed on. “Look, I think the chances of my having a restful night are limited given the circumstances. And something tells me you’re probably not actually planning on sleeping tonight, so we can at least keep each other company for the next few hours until you’ll inevitably be watching me emptying the contents of my stomach.”
As Emma trailed off, Regina could feel the flush rising in her cheeks and the scorching heat of mortification. If it had been anyone but Emma, she realised, she probably would have found a sufficiently cutting rebuke and been on her way, yet one would just not come.
“Emma, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to impose or make you uncomfortable in anyway. I know…”
“… my situation appears to have me blurring boundaries and I don’t want to…”
As Regina looked up, her embarrassment was compounded by the fact that Emma appeared to be almost laughing at her. However, as she took in Regina’s expression, her own sobered and her tone softened.
“If you’d actually let me speak, what I was going to say was thank you, and to be honest, I feel like I could really use the company tonight.”
Before she could feel further humiliation, Regina felt a tug on her hand, as Emma headed to the door. Shaking her head, she had no choice but to follow.
“You better not snore, Miss Swan.”
It was the strange light seeping into her consciousness which began to tug Regina into wakefulness. Her forehead was pressed against something warm and solid and she could sense a calming pressure against the back of her head. As she stirred, the object moved, and there was a now familiar sound. Emma. The events of the previous evening flooding back, Regina sighed. The hand, Emma’s hand, smoothed down her hair until it rested on her back. She fought to open her eyes against a slumber clearly deep enough to have her attempting to work out exactly how long she had slept for. The last thing she remembered was, in the pensive, yet strangely comfortable silence as Emma had settled a little tensely in the bed beside her, both women seemingly lost in their own thoughts, feeling a warm hand slip into hers, anchoring them. She had meant to turn to say something, or at least check Emma was truly alright given the emotion that appeared to be simmering under the surface when it came to her parents, but instead, the grip on her hand tightened until Emma’s steady presence beside her was all she felt. Then nothing.
She blinked again. The strange light, it in fact seemed was the sun was streaming in through the gaps in the blinds. Just what time was it?
“Morning”. A soft smile greeted her as the world came more clearly into focus. The confusion on her face must have shown as Emma raised an eyebrow. “It’s just gone seven.”
Regina’s eyes widened at the realisation.
Emma grinned. “Yeah, that’s right. No five o’clock puking call for you this morning, your majesty.”
As this new piece of information registered, it must have shown on Regina’s face, as Emma’s hand was now rubbing her back.
“Crap, I spoke too soon. Do you need to get up?”
Attempting to get her thoughts back under control, and a little grateful whilst she did so she could blame her physical ailments, Regina swallowed, shaking her head in the negative.
Emma let out a relieved sigh, but her hand continued its soothing motion. “Do you wanna try and sleep some more, and I’ll go deal with…” She trailed off nodding in the direction of the guestroom currently containing her parents and baby brother.
Regina could already feel her limbs relaxing and her breathing slow, but she fought the sensation, instead shifting so she could see Emma more clearly. The other woman’s expression was taut, her face pale, and she’d somehow managed, Regina noticed, without disturbing her, to freshen up and change her clothes.
Her voice hoarse, but gentle, she reached out, squeezing Emma’s leg. “Did you get any sleep at all?”
Emma grimaced slightly, before shrugging. “Yeah, I got a couple of hours.” At the scepticism this received, she sighed. “Maybe an hour. I’m fine” She yawned deeply, casting a sheepish look at Regina. “I just need coffee.” A cry sounded from the room next door, followed by a crash, and then the agitated murmurings of one of its adult occupants. Emma sighed. “And maybe a valium.”
Squeezing her leg one more time, Regina pushed herself upright. “Well then dear, it looks like you and I have a spell to perform and then we can rid this house of its idiot guests and get on with our day.” Feeling surprisingly refreshed, she slipped out of the bed, but not before casting a backward glance to see Emma watching her, the expression on her face warmer than the early morning sun.
Entering the den, Regina felt a flash of deja vu. The Charmings were back on the sofa, but this time Neal was playing with a toy car on the floor in front of them. As Regina entered, he rammed the metal vehicle straight into Snow’s toe. At her flinch, Regina could’ve sworn the child caught her eye and actually smirked. Henry was on the floor beside him, joining in the game in the half-hearted manner that only teenagers can accomplish. Emma, meanwhile, was again perched on the arm of the chair, a mug of coffee clutched in her hand, her expression blank.
As Regina took her place next to Emma in the chair, Snow greeted her with a nod, moving to stand. “There’s fresh coffee in the pot, Regina. I can get you some if you’d like.”
Regina shook her head, turning her attention to Charming in an attempt to gauge where his mindset was at, now they’d all had a night to think. Yet she could still feel Snow’s eyes upon her. As she turned to pin her with a challenging stare, she expected the younger woman to back down, but instead she continued to watch her curiously. Realising her hand had fallen once again to rest on her stomach, she moved it to instead grip the arm of the chair. Snow smiled, before turning her attention to her daughter.
“Emma, are you ok sweetheart? You look tired. Did you not sleep well?”
Beside her she felt Emma flinch. “I’m fine mom.”
“Are you sure sweetheart?” She reached down to scoop Neal off the floor, balancing him on her knee as he struggled to get back to the floor with his toys. “Maybe you’d sleep better back in your own bed for a few nights.” She relented and put the boy back down. “I know it’s a little crowded at the loft, but don’t you think you’ve taken advantage of Regina’s hospitality for long enough?”
Regina didn’t have to look at Emma to see that remark have its impact. The tension gathering at the base of her own neck was evidence enough. However, when a glance to her right saw Emma biting on her lip, and blinking a little too heavily, Regina found she could take it no more.
Her voice took on an icy menace that saw even Henry look up from his seat on the floor.
“I can assure you Snow that, unlike some people, there will always be a place in my family for Emma, so long as she wishes for it to be so.” She felt Emma turn to her in surprise but kept her eyes on Snow and Charming. “Far from taking advantage, I can assure you that your daughter is very much appreciated here with Henry and I in our home.” The anxious tapping of Emma’s leg against the chair was beginning to make her head rattle and she subconsciously put her arm down to stop the motion. As the limb stilled, she left her hand gently holding the other woman’s shin. Emma once again seemed to relax a little under the touch. “In fact, as I have recently informed Emma herself, I am unsure how I would have fared in recent times without Emma’s presence.” She paused, feeling only a brief flush of guilt in the realisation that this particular act of petty vengeance was one she was very much enjoying. And, she considered, an entirely justified one given the Charming’s confounding and in her opinion unforgiveable blindness to their daughter’s emotional needs. “And with circumstances such as they are, I cannot see that changing anytime soon when…” Her free hand drifted back to her stomach. “… in six short months we will be blessed with a new addition to our family.” She did her best to ignore the look, somewhere between disbelief, awkwardness and fascination, being sent her way by Henry and instead focused on the stunned faces of the Charmings, and the dazed gratitude she could see in Emma’s eyes.
“Well, um congratulations, that’s fantastic news.” Snow stuttered, seeming to prove that absolutely nothing could break her default mode of delight at impending motherhood, regardless of situation or context. “That’s wonderful news.” She swallowed. “A new addition to the family is always something to be celebrated.” Her voice, to her credit, only shook a little. “You must all be so happy.” Evidently unsure what to say or do next, Snow turned to her husband who was looking between his daughter and Regina with a confused expression on his face, before choking out a strangled, “congratulations”.
Losing what was left of her limited patience, Regina smiled coldly. “Thank you, Snow, Charming. I will be honest it has taken some getting used to, but yes indeed we all are.” She nodded curtly. “Now, if you will excuse us, we have a protection spell to create to ensure that your family can return to your home and…” She sighed disdainfully, “…common civility can return to ours.”
Without waiting for a response, she rose as regally as she could manage to her feet, almost theatrically holding her hand out to Emma, who grasped it silently, allowing herself to be pulled to hers. With an apologetic glance at Henry, that she hoped went undetected by the Charmings, Regina led the other woman from the room, not stopping until they reached the street outside the house.
As the fresh air hit them, it was Emma who brought them to a stop, turning suddenly so they were face-to-face. “Well, that was quite the display, your Majesty.” She looked amused rather than upset and Regina felt herself relax. “Just one thing…” Regina felt herself tense, until Emma spoke again, this time struggling to contain her mirth. “How come you are so much better at fighting with my parents than I am?”
Regina couldn’t help but return the smile. “Decades of practice, dear.” She flinched, looking almost contrite for a moment. “And possibly a sizeable amount of hormones.” She sighed guiltily. “Was it too much?”
This time Emma let out a genuine bark of laughter, covering her mouth with her hand as she did. “I honestly don’t know.” She shook her head. “I know they’re my parents and I love them but…”
“They are insufferable fools and you were secretly willing me on?” Regina quirked an eyebrow.
Emma shot her a glare. “I was going to say…” Her voice dropped and she looked to the floor. “Sometimes it’s like they don’t even bother to try and understand.”
Feeling her heart clench, Regina reached once again for Emma’s hand tugging at it until she looked up. When she spoke, she sounded almost shy, taking herself by surprise. “You know I understand, right, Emma?” Glistening eyes met hers, and Regina inhaled, taking a moment to compose herself before smiling softly. “And if it makes you feel better, I can simply apologise to them when we return and indeed blame the hormones.” At Emma’s surprised look, she shrugged. “Your mother will be unable to hold a grudge against me whilst I’m pregnant and your father will be too embarrassed by the whole thing to say a word.” She smirked deprecatingly, hoping that this time Emma knew she was genuinely making light. “Again, we all know I’ve done far worse.”
Emma managed a wobbly smile before her expression grew serious again. “Thank you.” She paused. “I mean, I know I’m the Saviour and all that crap, and I’ve stood up for myself my whole life, but…”
The words seemed to die on her lips, and Regina squeezed her hand understandingly. “Sometimes it’s a relief to have someone step in and take over, if only for a few minutes.” She smiled. “I honestly do understand, Emma.”
“I know.” Her face clouded over once more. “Are you sure you’re ok with them knowing?”
“Well if I’m not, it seems a little too late as that particular ship has most definitely sailed.” Regina rolled her eyes.
Emma surveyed her carefully, seeming to accept her answer, before her brow again furrowed in consternation.
“It was weird though, wasn’t it? That they never even asked who the dad was?”
“Well, that should hold for the moment.”
Regina was aware that the slightly dubious expression on her face may not have been giving Emma immense amounts of the confidence in the rather rushed protection spell they had just created around the Charmings’ apartment. However, the euphoria of her earlier outburst had long since faded and she could feel the familiar exhaustion kicking in. Despite Emma’s help, the physical act of producing magic strong enough to counteract her mother’s seemed to be taking its toll, plus with no further encounters with either psychopathic or idiotic parents to distract her, she was again unable to shake the notion that that had been plaguing her since the previous day; a notion, she realised, that she would need a particular brand of expertise to verify. Looking across at Emma, the other woman, after her sleepless night, seemed to be faring little better, as she turned to Regina with a slightly hopeless sigh.
“How can you even tell?”
Regina shot her a frustrated glare, but found, taking in the dejected slump of Emma’s shoulders as she collapsed against the apartment wall, that she just didn’t have it in her today to launch into another lecture about the younger woman’s failure to take seriously her magical education. Feeling instead a rush of sympathy, she joined her in leaning against the wall, their shoulders brushing together.
“Look, I know you barely got any rest last night.” Regina smiled at the resulting yawn which Emma did her best to conceal. “Why don’t you head back and release Henry from the clutches of his grandparents.” She nudged Emma’s shoulder with her own. “And if you decide to take a nap, well I’m hardly one to judge at present.”
Emma swallowed another yawn. “And what about you?”
Taking a breath, Regina forced a casual smile. “Oh, I’ll be home shortly. I just have a couple of errands to run first.” She picked some lint from her jacket before looking back up. “How about tacos for dinner?”
As Emma watched her closely, she forced her shoulders to relax. The other woman was silent for a second before worry crept over her features.
“What about Cora?” Emma’s eyes flitted from side to side as if she expected simply saying her name aloud would somehow summon her.
Regina felt a flush of shame for causing Emma to worry. However, reminding herself that at this point she was essentially out of alternatives in acquiring some answers, she schooled her expression into one of reassurance.
“Emma, I promise I will be quite fine running errands in public in broad daylight.” She nudged the shoulder against hers once more. “As I said last night, whatever my mother is planning, I don’t believe her to be an immediate threat.” She sighed. “If nothing else, she prefers a more dramatic style of evil deed.” She smiled again. “And if all else fails, I also promise that I have no desire to put myself in any unnecessary danger right now.” She patted her stomach, holding Emma’s gaze.
Looking to all intents like she had no fight left in her for the day, Emma nodded begrudgingly. “Ok, but if anything seems even remotely weird, you either call me or just poof home, yeah?” Her expression was earnest.
Feeling somewhat like an admonished child, who knew they were about to disappoint yet again, Regina nodded solemnly. The tentacles of guilt crept back in, compressing her chest in their vice like grip and it was all she could do not to tell Emma that she had indeed changed her mind and would be returning home with her to face her parents and their son. Instead, she forced herself upright, patting Emma’s arm as she turned headed back out onto the street with only one destination in mind.
The bell above her head jingled its cautionary welcome, as Regina pushed open the door. The interior, as was customary, was dark and vaguely sinister and the air contained the strange mixture of must and magic that signified only one business in town. As she stepped inside, the proprietor materialised before her, as if from nowhere, the only sound the tapping of his cane as he came toward her.
“Regina. Well, now this is, as always, a pleasant surprise.”
“Rumple.” Just looking at the man before her made an unintentional shiver run down Regina’s spine. “The pleasure is all mine, I’m sure.”
Rumple smirked. “Well, look at us. All pleasant and the like.” His eyes drifted to her stomach, a knowing smile twisting the corner of his mouth. “So, it is true, I see.” His gaze levelled, as he raised an eyebrow. “So, tell me, Regina, which of your problems are you looking to solve first?”
Regina held his stare with a measured breath. However, the amusement dancing in his eyes revealed his awareness that he had already been successful in unnerving her. Receiving no response, Rumple twirled his index finger around the handle of his cane, before looking at her with what seemed like genuine interest.
“I have to say Regina, whilst not unprecedented, this really is quite remarkable. And as your teacher, I feel it is my responsibility, no,” he paused, “my duty to tell you that.”
“Former teacher,” Regina managed to bite out.
“Potato-potahto”. He shrugged. “Anyhow, it is always of great interest to me, when I begin to sense the presence of a new magical being in town.” Regina could feel him watching her reactions closely. She took a steadying breath. “Especially one who looks to hold such enormous power.” He tilted his head slightly. “At first, I thought it was your mother’s return, but…”
“What do you know about Cora?”
The words were ground through gritted teeth, but Rumple simply shrugged once more.
“We’ll come to that, deary.” He smiled. “All things in good time.” His gaze again strayed downwards. “Much like yourself, it is the other new arrival in your family who holds much greater interest to me.” Regina’s hand settled protectively on her stomach before she could stop it and Rumple laughed. “Don’t worry, I have no interest in taking a child from you.” He cocked his head once more. “At least not now. Been there, done that.” His voice began to take on the sing-song quality that made Regina’s senses tickle with impending danger, but she needed to know, and more infuriatingly, they both knew that.
“And as for Miss Swan…” Rumple observed Regina closely. “Well, I see the student has well and truly become the Master.” For a moment, he looked genuinely disappointed. “Even if she remains somewhat blind to her immense talent.” At the mention of Emma, Regina tried to school her reaction, but from her former teacher’s dry amusement, she knew she was failing. “Well, that’s why you’re really here isn’t it, Regina?”
Rumple’s tone changed without warning, becoming almost thoughtful. “It’s funny, isn’t it,” he mused. “Whilst others crave it, only for it to never be so, or…” He met Regina’s eyes squarely. “… actively take steps so as to stop the flow of nature in its tracks.” He sighed in a way that in anyone else would have been genuinely sympathetic. “Some people, it would seem are destined to forever have no choice in their fate to become a parent.” He laughed brightly. “It’s almost sad, when you consider it.”
“Rumple…” It was practically a growl.
“Now, Regina. May I remind you that you have come to me for help.” He ran a gnarled finger over the cane’s engraved handle. “There really is no need to take that threatening tone. We’re old friends, here. If you want to know the answer so badly, all you have to do is ask nicely.”
Regina’s breath caught in her throat, the problem fighting stubbornly for release, yet unable to give the creature before her the satisfaction. “And what is it that I want to know the answer to?”
“My, my, this really has got you in a quandary, hasn’t it? You can’t even bring yourself to speak of it.” Rumple’s expression approximated kindness. “Never let it be said that I would not assist a friend in need. And in the spirit of our somewhat shared history, let me tell you what it is, if I am not mistaken, the question to which you seek answer.”
He stopped for a moment, his brow creasing, as he moved awkwardly behind the store counter, plucking objects seemingly at random from the shelves around him.
“Did you know…” His tone was conversational. “Back in the old world, there were incidences where women were accused of infidelity, sometimes even put to death for such a crime, whilst there always remained question of whether there was a more… magical explanation.”
He continued selecting items, casting only a passing glance over his shoulder at Regina as he continued. His movement seemed relaxed, casual almost, but there was a concentration underlying which Regina understood all too well.
“There has been suggestion, that it is possible, given enough power, and dare I say enough desire, to in fact rewrite the parentage of a child before they enter the world.” He reached down to retrieve a large pot from under the counter, lifting it with some difficulty onto the surface. “The lore goes that if an unborn child chooses to absorb the magic of another practitioner during the earliest stages of their development, particularly if it is the yearning of the mother that someone other than the societally selected mate be their true partner, then the correlating magic is capable of producing an evolution of sorts.” He began sifting through the ingredients, throwing them into the pan. His voice never faltered. “I suppose, in this realm you would speak of it as genetics, DNA or whatever they call it on all those tedious crime shows they would have us watch. But the principle is the same.” He leaned forward, spryly plucking a loose hair from Regina’s collar. “And whilst I have never witnessed such an event myself, I have always been curious as to the circumstances in which such an affair should occur.”
As he reached for the final ingredient, picking it carefully from a jar, Regina realised with a shudder was marked ‘Saviour’, he finally looked up from his work.
“You always were an intelligent girl. So, I’m assuming by now that you have queried why your own state, dare I say both physical and emotional is tied so closely with that of Miss Swan? And I would imagine that you also have full cognisance of the magic that has been used upon both you and your unborn child? Quite potent magic, for such a novice, I might add.” He frowned, as if finding the words distasteful. “Although True Love, even in this realm, it would seem really is a quite powerful force.” Pausing again, he smiled once more, watching her closely. “You may even have noticed the tell-tale signature in your own magic, no? Or an even closer connection between her magic and your own?”
Regina felt a chill befall her. Emma’s sudden ability to heal her. The white blast of magic aimed at her mother.
The concoction in the pan started, to her consternation, to bubble and hiss before letting off an explosive blast of purple and white steam, temporarily filling the room. As the smoke cleared, she looked over to see Rumple’s smug grin, staring at her through the haze, his tone taking on an amused lilt.
“So, congratulations, Regina. However this started out, and believe me when I say, I am not interested in the details, I can confirm, deary, that your suspicions are correct. You are indeed having Miss Swan’s baby.”
Sorry for the slight delay in posting. This was the first chapter in this story that just did not want to cooperate until the very last minute! Thank you, as always, to everyone who took time to read, leave kudos and comment on the last chapter. It definitely makes a fic writer happy to see that people are interested in the story they are attempting to tell. Hope everyone is staying safe.
It was barely noon, and with the fall sun pushing through only a scattering of wispy clouds, the day had all the makings of a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It was making Emma want to punch something.
Henry’s smirk only grew wider at her, to be fair pretty feeble glare, and she gave up, sinking her head back into her arms which were now propped uncomfortably on the kitchen island.
“I said, Gram and Gramps won’t be back anytime soon.” There was a pause, followed by a snicker. “I think mom made pretty sure of that.”
When she gave no response, he sighed exasperatedly, and the whole exchange was so unmistakeably Regina that Emma felt the familiar warmth rise in her chest. She made a sound which was somewhere between a groan and a whimper, and practically heard her son roll his eyes.
“So, you can stop being an idiot and just go and get some sleep.” Yeah, definitely Regina. There was another pause and she knew something more was coming. “She’s only gone to the store. You don’t need to worry about her all the time.”
Emma lifted her eyes for a moment, considering searching for some kind of witty quip, or maybe a heartfelt statement about how she’d always worry about Regina. But Henry was giving her a strange knowing look that she realised her sleep deprived brain was in no position to deal with and instead dropped her head back onto the counter. In doing so she somehow managed to miss her arms and this time it was a wince that met her ears.
“Mom. Go to bed!”
There was a grip on her upper arm, and she was being hauled to her feet. She marvelled for a second at just how tall the kid was getting before being forced to concentrate on not tripping over her uncooperative feet as she was being propelled unceremoniously toward the stairs. As she turned back to give a slightly embarrassed grin, Henry was watching her with an expression that seemed almost parental as he shook his head.
“If she’s not back in thirty minutes, I promise I’ll wake you up. Deal?”
With a grateful nod, Emma turned around, focussing on making it up the stairs in one piece. Her limbs felt heavy and uncooperative, her brain kind of fuzzy and she wondered if this was how Regina had been feeling for the last few weeks. The thought brought with it a different ache which she quickly shoved down. Because if the previous month had taught her anything, it was that some things were best left unexamined. Especially when she was the kind of tired that felt like she’d spent the previous night drinking with Leroy, and not simply lying still in the dark, listening out for any sign that the person, who had somehow come to mean pretty much the world to her, apart from their son, was sleeping anything other than peacefully and safe under her watch. When she’d managed to stammer out a story about getting an hour or two’s sleep, she’d been maybe a little economical with the truth. But it still seemed easier than explaining why she’d felt the need to spend the night watching her best friend sleep, when she couldn’t explain it to herself.
Rubbing her eyes roughly, Emma went to push open the door to the guest room. Neal’s crib was still there, she realised; she’d have to send it back to them later. Although to be fair, she wasn’t surprised that her parents had left in something of a rush the minute she’d got back to tell them their apartment was safe once again. The memory of Regina’s outburst flashed into her head and that warm feeling was back. Looking at the bed, it was unmade and one of Snow’s scarves hung over the frame. The warm feeling was replaced by something more insidious and before she realised, the door was swinging closed with a bang. Watching it in mild surprise, Emma’s attention was drawn to the open one next to it and working on instinct she headed toward it. As she entered, she noticed vaguely that the bed had been made since she’d left it that morning, and it just looked so comfortable and so… Regina. Without further thought, she peeled off her jeans, pulling back the covers and climbing in. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
It was the smell of peppers and spice that pulled Emma back to consciousness. For several moments she wondered where the hell she was. Yet there was something familiar enough that the usual panic of waking in an unknown place didn’t claw at her chest in the expected way. Waving around in the dark, her hand hit something solid, and plastic. Her phone. She didn’t remember leaving that next to her. Turning on the screen, the room was illuminated and she was mortified to realise that not only had she passed out in Regina’s bed, from the drawn blinds, the jeans folded neatly on the chair, and the phone placed beside her, Regina had been in and found her here. Another glance at the device only compounded the feeling, as the flashing time mocked her. It was gone five o’clock. Regina had let her sleep all day.
Stumbling out of bed, she grabbed the jeans, pulling them on. Stopping only briefly in front of the mirror to tame her hair, she took a deep breath before heading down the stairs. As she made her way toward the kitchen, the smell got stronger and she could hear the low chatter of her son and his mother over the simmering pan on the stove. She couldn’t help but smile, as she took in the scene. Regina, although clearly tired, looked at ease, if not somewhat put out as she was prevented from getting up from her stool at the counter by Henry’s purposeful frown. Their son meanwhile had a wooden spoon in one hand and a whisk in the other and seemed perfectly content as he peered into the pan with a satisfied nod. As she slipped into the room, Regina looked up with a warm expression and before she knew it, Emma found herself next to her leaning into the warm hand on her elbow.
“I’m glad you finally got some sleep.”
Emma pulled an apologetic face. “Yeah, sorry about that.” She pulled at a strand of hair hanging over her face. “You should’ve woken me up when you got home.”
Regina was looking at her in a way that Emma couldn’t read but made her take a step closer.
“Emma.” The hand on her elbow had moved to her lower back and she closed her eyes for a moment as the sensation travelled up her spine. “Thanks to me, you’ve barely had a good night’s sleep in the last month.” Her body felt like it might melt, and for a second, she wondered if that was actually a thing. “You deserved the rest.”
Henry was now giving them both an amused look. At her evident confusion, he sighed and went back to his stirring for a moment before coughing pointedly.
“Ok, moms. So, dinner’s ready.”
Her head feeling a bit fuzzy, obviously from the five-hour nap, Emma looked down at Regina who seemed to look equally lost for a moment. As she stood, Emma could see the heaviness in her movements, and she slipped a hand under her arm. She frowned at their son’s raised eyebrow, as she felt a weight shift against her for a moment before there was a flicker of something, and Regina abruptly righted herself, suddenly able to look anywhere but at Emma. Henry was still watching them, and Emma pushed aside her confusion at the strange sense of loss the action invoked, running a hand through her hair as she turned to follow Regina into the dining room.
“Smells good, kid.”
Dinner turned out to be a subdued affair and more than once, Emma found herself exchanging worried glances with Henry as Regina picked delicately at the tacos making the odd robotic reply to the stream of chatter their son was doing his best to keep up. When even a comment about Snow’s most recent haircut failed to get a rise, Henry reached over, putting his hand on his mom’s arm.
“You ok, mom?”
Regina blinked for a moment before looking up. She seemed so lost in her own thoughts Emma wasn’t sure she’d even heard him, and a spike of worry shot through her.
Shaking herself, Regina smiled. Yet the expression seemed forced and she didn’t make eye contact. Carefully placing her cutlery on her still half-full plate, she placed her own hand over Henry’s.
“I’m sorry, Henry. Dinner was delicious. You did a wonderful job. However, I think the day’s events are catching up with me, so if you’ll both excuse me, I’m going to take some rest for an hour or so.”
Without further discussion, she rose to her feet shakily, and Emma found herself standing too, until Regina waved her off, finally turning to look at her.
“Please, finish your meal.” There was something a little desperate in her expression which made Emma’s senses prickle. “I’m fine.”
Ignoring the flash of hurt, Emma nodded stiffly, before slipping quietly back into her seat. Henry looked pensive as they both listened to Regina slowly ascend the stairs before quietly going back to their food.
“Ok, what’s going on now?”
Henry had put down his fork and was staring her down in an all too familiar fashion.
Emma sighed, dropping her own fork with a louder clatter than intended and leaning back in her chair in a manner that would have drawn ire from Regina had she stuck around to see it.
“Why do you always think it’s something to do with me?”
Henry didn’t see fit to dignify that one with an answer. She’d really have to speak to him about the eye-rolling thing one day soon.
“She’s been acting… off since she got back earlier.” His gaze didn’t shift, and Emma did her best not to flinch under it. “She’s normally only like this when you two fight.”
“Regina and I don’t fight.” Henry was now smirking at her, and god, when did this kid turn into his other mother. “We have discussions.”
The smirk transformed to a slightly condescending nod. “So, what did you discuss this morning?”
“Who’s the parent here, ok?” Henry continued to stare. “Nothing happened, I swear.”
Something about that response must have satisfied him, as he sat back in his chair, his expression and tone shifting back into a concern that caused a faint pull of nostalgia for the kid she first met. “Should we go check on her?”
The food clearly having the desired effect, Emma felt her thoughts clear as she ran through the day from Regna’s perspective; the blow-up at her parents, pretty much her fault; not able to take a nap because someone was asleep in her bed, definitely her fault. The guilt escaped in the form of a sigh that had Henry’s look of concern switch to focus on her.
“I’ll go, kid.” She pushed herself up, wondering when their son had also picked up his other mom’s irritating ability to pretty much always be right. “I think this one might be on me after all.”
Ignoring the apprehensive look still following her, Emma traipsed back up the stairs trying to figure out what she would do if Regina still happened to be awake when she found her. But as she pushed open the bedroom door, that thought became irrelevant as she was met with the all too familiar sound of retching coming from the bathroom. Rushing in, Emma felt her heart physically constrict at the sight of the pale shaking figure clutching the toilet as if it was a lifeline. Without thinking, she skidded in, dropping to her knees and using one hand to gather Regina’s hair whilst the other rubbed her back as she continued to heave painfully. After another couple of convulsions, she seemed to collapse in on herself, the strain too much, letting Emma bare the weight as they sank into a seated position.
Attempting not to jostle her, Emma shifted so she could get a better look at the woman in her arms. Regina’s face was ghostly white, making the faint red rim around her eyes all the more pronounced. She felt paper thin in Emma’s firm grasp, and she loosened her hold reflexively, one hand reaching up to brush away the hair that was beginning to stick to the line of moisture that was gathering despite her shivering. Emma’s stomach was doing that weird swirling she’d been noticing lately, since Regina had pointed out the whole healing magic thing, and she fought against the protective wave she could feel threatening to overwhelm her. As if sensing it, Regina seemed to nestle in further, her head coming to rest under Emma’s chin. The magic pulsed through Emma’s veins looking for escape and she inhaled deeply, attempting to stem the tide. The flow slowed to a trickle, humming gently against her skin where it touched Regina’s; the head lolling against her growing heavier.
“Regina.” The murmur garnered no response. “Let’s get you back to bed, ok?” Still nothing. Worry crept into her tone. “Can you stand?”
At this, Regina seemed to come back to herself, her head jerking forward, again leaving Emma with that strange bereft feeling. Realising that she was in fact attempting to move, Emma found her own feet, as she slid her hand to support an unsteady elbow. Almost as if she had been shocked, Regina jumped at the contact stumbling slightly as she grabbed the sink for purchase before righting herself and turning to Emma with an empty smile.
“Thank you.” She nodded stiffly. “I’m feeling much better.” She inhaled, and the smile cracked for a moment revealing the tension behind it, before being returned firmly to its place. “I’ll be quite able to sleep now.”
The sudden feeling of intrusion like a punch to her gut, Emma took an involuntary step back. Finding herself unable to do anything beyond offer a mirroring nod in return, she turned sharply blinking away the moisture beginning to cloud her vision. As she reached the bedroom, she couldn’t help but glance behind her at Regina who had yet to move but was watching her with an expression so full of sorrow it made her breath catch. However, the moment their eyes met, her features shifted, leaving Emma to wonder if she’d invented it. Suddenly desperate for escape, she slipped out of the door, coming to rest heavily against the frame. Welcoming the cool feeling of the paint against her forehead, she swallowed down the unexpected sting of the dismissal, yet somehow could not bring herself to leave until she was at least satisfied that Regina has made it safely back to her bed. Listening to the tell-tale shuffle of weary feet followed by the soft scrape of the comforter being pulled into place, she waited a moment before chancing one last look through the gap which had been her escape. Curled on her side, Regina’s eyes were closed but in the dim light, Emma could see the glimmer of the tears on her cheeks before a hand lifted, swiping at them roughly. Finally turning away, she missed the quiet words which accompanied the action.
“I’m sorry, Emma. I’m so sorry.”
“Mom, are you ready?”
Her son’s voice startled Emma from her thoughts as she drained the last dregs of her coffee, habitually shoving the empty mug into the dishwasher and flicking on the machine. Not that she was in particular need of the caffeine in the way she had been over the preceding weeks. Since the day following Cora’s return, she had not once been awakened in the early hours by the sound of painful retching. However, she was fairly confident, from the green tinge to Regina’s complexion each morning, that it was not that the sickness had eased but instead that Regina had cast a silencing spell on her bedroom. Yet, she’d found that she did not have the emotional energy to challenge her. Since her dismissal from the bathroom on the evening in question, Regina had been gentle with her, almost solicitous, but the usual easy ebb and flow of well-placed jibes and unspoken understanding seemed to have been replaced by a careful courtesy which was making Emma fluctuate between wanting to put her fist through the nearest wall, or curl into a ball and sob out her frustration.
With the latter not exactly being an option for her, it had only taken until Monday morning before she had instead gone, in hindsight, possibly a little too hard on one of the lost boys who had been picked up for petty theft the previous night. The consequence of which being she had now also had to endure several days of David watching her like a hawk but stuttering awkwardly and slinking off anytime she caught him looking. At least her mom didn’t try and do subtle. Snow, on the other hand, had taken it upon herself to text Emma at least twice a day with helpful suggestions of ways she could help Regina with her “condition” and invitations for “the three of them” to join the Charmings for dinner at the loft. Unable to think of anything more awkward than approaching Regina with the request, Emma had found herself sharing stilted dinner conversation with her parents twice already that week. Yet even her attempts at playing the role of dutiful daughter seemed doomed to failure in her current mood, leading to her on the second occasion being ushered out of the door by her mom as soon as dessert was cleared away, with the suggestion that she should probably be getting back to Regina and Henry. On any other occasion, she would have been grateful to escape the cloying atmosphere of the loft to find herself somewhere she could actually breathe, yet now even the usually steadying presence of Regina brought with it an uncertainty that made her feel the world had been knocked off its axis and she was left orbiting the lives of those around her.
“Mom, we’re gonna be late.” Henry’s voice grew lighter. “Or you could actually let me walk?” The optimism turned a little sour. “It’s not like anyone’s seen Cora since that night. You know you can’t babysit me forever, right?”
Snapping back to reality, Emma turned to Henry with a sigh. “I’m sorry, kid. You know the rules.” With a sudden rush of guilt that the weird tension with Regina could also be impacting their son, she attempted to lighten the mood. “Anyway, since when were you ever in such a rush to get to school on a Friday?”
At the question, he looked away, a red glow adorning his cheeks. Emma smirked. “Ah, Ava it is?” The scowl she received made the expression grow, before a more horrifying thought took over.
Seeing her face change, it was Henry’s turn to grin. “Don’t worry, mom, my class got ‘the talk’ when we were in New York.”
Emma paled. “But you, um, I mean, you’re…” Her voice tailed off as she grimaced.
Her son waited another moment before snorting. “Mom, relax, I’m fourteen. I can barely get a girl to look at me.” He shrugged awkwardly. “It’s gonna be a while before you have anything to worry about on that front.”
Feeling the embarrassment return, Emma smiled. “I know, Hen sorry. But you’re growing up, kid and that’s scary for your mom and I…” Wondering how something that had begun as gentle teasing of a member of the Mills family had come to, as always, backfire on her in spectacular fashion, she shrugged, her tone more serious than she intended. “I just need to make sure you’re always gonna be responsible.”
Unsure what else to say, she watched as Henry sighed, turning around, and grabbing his backpack off the counter. “No offence mom, but I’m not sure you’re the best person to be giving this talk right now.” At her evident confoundment, he shook his head. “I’ll wait in the car.”
With the sinking feeling that she was somehow now at fault with the entire family, Emma allowed herself one last sigh, before squaring her shoulders and following her son out of the door to face whatever else the day might bring.
The claxon sounding beside her nearly gave Emma a heart attack. Yet, she thought idly, it was still preferable to the slow death by paperwork that was sure to befall her if her dad didn’t stop coming up with excuses as to why he suddenly should take any even vaguely interesting call that came into the sheriff’s department.
When the noise didn’t abate, Emma realised with a mixture of amusement and melancholy that the sound was coming from her cell and was in fact the ring tone she had jokingly assigned to Regina one night a couple of weeks ago and forgotten to change back. Hating the apprehension that washed over her, she reluctantly picked up the device swiping at it tiredly.
“Is Henry with you?”
“Hello to you too.”
“Is Henry with you?”
The increasing panic in the question made Emma sit up straight in her seat.
“Regina. What’s wrong?”
There was a pause filled with shallow breaths. “When I got to the school to collect him, he wasn’t there.”
Ignoring her own wave of fear, Emma inhaled, shoving the papers on the desk into a messy pile as she got to her feet.
“I’m sure he’s fine. He’s a teenager. He probably just snuck off somewhere with Ava or one of his friends.” Her hand subconsciously fell to the weapon at her hip, despite its minimal utility in a town of magic. “Have you called his cell?”
Emma waited for the retort that it was she, not Regina who was the idiot, or something along those lines, but instead a sniffle sounded down the line and her heart twisted.
“There’s no answer.”
Quickly dropping the phone from her ear and firing off a text of her own, Emma gave the empty station one last sweep before addressing Regina as calmly as she could manage.
“Try not to worry, ok. I’ll be right there.”
As she materialised beside a visibly distraught Regina outside the school, Emma let out her usual celebratory breath that she had achieved the feat with all her limbs intact and in one location. Taking in her new surroundings, she noted that the street outside the school was empty except for Regina’s Mercedes abandoned at a weird angle on the sidewalk; any remaining students and teachers had clearly long since vanished for the day. Pulling out her phone once more, she saw that it was gone four.
Watching her check the time, Regina pulled herself straighter, her spine rigid. Despite the unseasonably warm September air, she tugged her jacket around her as if fending off a chill. If not for the recent distance between them that the other woman had imposed, Emma would have pulled her into a hug there and then. Shrugging off the thought, she settled for sidling toward her, propping herself against the low wall and checking for any response to her earlier text to their son. Finding nothing, her heart sank but she did her best to keep her face and tone neutral.
“Did you check with my parents yet?”
Regina blinked, her voice scratchy. “They’ve not heard from him.”
Emma nodded, hoping that the anxiety bubbling in her chest stayed hidden.
“I’m sure it’s nothing.” She attempted a smile. “He was frustrated this morning, so he probably just snuck off before you got here.” She tried to catch Regina’s eye without success. “I know I’m the cool parent, but he’s totally grounded when we track him down.”
“It’s my fault.”
Regina’s voice was low and muffled by the fist pressed to her mouth.
“It’s my fault. I was late.”
Even if she’d had the remotest room to judge, any inclination to do so, even in jest was destroyed by the broken look on Regina’s face and the tears rippling in her voice.
“I left work early as I was feeling rather unwell.”
If Emma hadn’t managed to obtain eye contact before, she certainly wasn’t going to achieve it now. But she tried anyway.
“I must have fallen asleep and before I knew it…”
She tailed off swallowing heavily. Emma found herself inching closer unsure whether her comfort would be welcomed.
“Why didn’t you call me?” The words sounded harsher than intended and Emma cringed before softening them. “If I’d known you weren’t well, I would’ve come home early.” Memories of the last week creeping back in, she sighed. “Or at least have collected the kid.” A tear escaped down Regina’s cheek and this time Emma couldn’t help but reach for her hand. “You’re not on your own, remember.”
Regina swallowed heavily, still refusing to meet her eye, but she felt a grip on her own hand and something in her stomach uncoiled, if only for a moment.
“Look, we don’t know anything has even happened.” She gently tugged the hand in hers and Regina finally looked up. “Why don’t we head home and see if he’s there before we declare a crisis just yet.” Emma hoped she at least sounded calm and optimistic despite the terror she could feel beginning to claw at her throat. She must have sounded at least semi-convincing as at this, Regina nodded, glancing tentatively at her abandoned vehicle. With a sigh she pulled the keys from her coat pocket handing them wordlessly to Emma, as she steered them toward the car, not letting go until Regina was safely in the passenger seat. Ignoring both her growing unease about Henry’s whereabouts and the renewed protectiveness toward the woman next to her, she closed her own eyes for a moment before gunning the engine and heading toward Mifflin Street.
As they pulled up outside the house, that sometimes to Emma remained just as imposing as that first night in Storybrook, the sight of the back gate swinging lazily on its hinges caught her attention. Regina was already out of the car and heading toward it, and Emma had to race to catch up, her gut screaming as she caught Regina’s arm and quietly pointed to the object strewn in the hedging that lined the path. Henry’s backpack. Pulling the other woman behind her, Emma tentatively pushed open the back door. It gave easily, slipping off the latch and swaying open. Feeling a chill run down her spine, she made sure Regina was squarely behind her before pressing further into the kitchen. As she stepped into the room, her heart stopped at the sight of a pale faced Henry sitting stiffly at the counter a glass of milk in front of him. On seeing Emma and Regina, he grimaced shaking his head imperceptibly. However, it was enough to draw the attention of the woman behind him, who turned smiling cordially, despite the dark glint in her eye.
“Wonderful. I was wondering when the rest of the family would get home.”
At Cora’s voice, despite Emma’s best efforts, Regina had once again slipped around her, placing herself between Emma and the older woman. Briefly considering pulling her back, despite the potential gravity of the situation, Emma’s brain took a moment to marvel at the seemingly uncontrollable impulse she and Regina had always had to ‘save’ each other, regardless of the threat in question. Instead she moved to stand alongside her, ignoring the dirty look, she received in return.
“It’s good to see you again, Cora.”
Cora was watching her daughter with a predatory gaze. Emma could feel her magic cutting a fiery path through her veins, her hands flexing subconsciously. Cora’s eyes flitted momentarily to Emma as she spoke.
“Now, now, Miss Swan. There is no need for that. What kind of message does that send to my grandson?” She leaned forward placing a hand on Henry’s shoulder. To the kid’s credit, Emma thought, he didn’t flinch. But beside her, Regina inhaled sharply. Cora continued amiably. “But then again, if his mothers can’t afford to be on time to collect him from school, especially when they appear to believe there is such a threat in town, then what hope does the poor boy have.” Her gaze fell squarely on her daughter. “It’s lucky I was here to help, really.”
“Why are you here, mother?”
To the casual observer, Regina sounded bored, but Emma could detect the same undertone of fear she had heard on the night of Cora’s first appearance.
“Darling.” Cora smiled. “If that was yet another clumsy attempt to get me to reveal the evil plan you seem convinced, I have, you really do need to work on your subtlety.” She squeezed Henry’s shoulder. Emma threw him what she hoped was a reassuring glance. “Maybe I’m just here to get to know my grandson a little better, and just in time too it would seem, as you have another one on the way.”
For some reason, Emma thought, Cora focused on her as she said this. Beside her Regina seemed to stiffen. Cora smirked, giving Regina a look that Emma couldn’t quite read before sharp eyes were back on her.
“Not exactly what I would have chosen.” She shook her head almost sadly. “But then Regina always did have these foolish notions, that I’ve never been able to fully avail her of.” She surveyed her daughter coolly. “Despite my efforts.”
Regina’s breath hitched and Emma’s fingers flexed, painfully aware of the still figure of their son between herself and Cora. Cora noticed her eyeline, smiling and Emma had the sudden sensation of being in a sniper’s range, that she was unable to escape.
“Emma Swan.” The older woman shaped her features into an expression that imitated empathy, but her eyes remained cold. “Always the orphan.” Cora sighed again, her gaze not leaving Emma. “Always searching for a family that you can never quite complete.” Her voice grew hard. Beside Emma, Regina seemed frozen. “And It looks like you’ve well and truly wormed your way into my daughter’s family.”
The words stung, and they both knew it, but Emma was damned if she was going to give a reaction. A hand brushed hers, warm fingers grazing her wrist, although their owner’s eyes remained glued to the woman in front of them. The gesture, however, did not go unnoticed and Cora cast a sideways glance at Regina.
“You always did have a weakness for a sob story, dear, even as a girl.” Her smirk grew. “And quite the story it is.” She paused, as if waiting for a reaction from her daughter, but there was nothing. She turned back to Emma.
“And here you are, another desperate soul distracting my daughter from the greatness she could be capable of once more.” She laughed, but the sound was devoid of humour. “I’d say, like your mother before you, but I confess that your way into this family has been considerably more creative.”
At this comment her focus shifted back singularly to Regina, the two engaged in a silent standoff that Emma weirdly couldn’t get a read on. However, realising that this might be their best chance whilst Cora was at least partly distracted, she nodded at Henry, who with surprising dexterity, slipped out of Cora’s grip, sliding under the counter and scrambling hastily to Emma who shoved her behind him with an audible sigh of relief.
At the action, Cora shook her head, looking irritated, if not outright angered. “Really Miss Swan, so juvenile.” Her attention turned back to her daughter. “Well, as charming as your family is, Regina...” She paused again. Regina swallowed heavily but remained strangely silent. “I feel I have completed my grandmotherly duty for one day.” She peered between the women trying to catch a glimpse of Henry behind them, shaking her head as Emma and Regina both took a step toward each other, arms pressed together closing the gap.
“Until next time.”
With a wave of her hand she was gone.
“Is he ok?”
Emma looked up as Regina slipped quietly into the den. After Cora’s departure, the other woman had seemed to withdraw into herself, barely able to look at Emma, yet clinging to Henry like her life depended on it. It was a sentiment Emma could very much identify with, the terror of walking in and finding him with Cora, still very much fresh in her own mind. Yet, given Regina’s evident, if misplaced, guilt over the whole incident, it had seemed only right that she be the one to check the kid was ok. That Henry was indeed ok, was something Emma was strangely confident about, not just because out of all his recent kidnappings, today’s attempt barely registered on the trauma scale, but also because he had text her to say as much, and probably in the hope of an intervention from Regina’s coddling. The text had been almost an hour ago, but despite her attempts to rationalise to the contrary, Emma was unable to fight the insistent voice in her head, telling her that Regina and Henry needed some time together without her getting in the way.
Regina’s voice was soft and low. The toll of the day could be seen in every movement as she hovered between her usual seat on the couch next to Emma, and the safety of the armchair across the room.
Concern claiming a temporary victory over her demons, Emma steeled herself, patting the empty seat next to her and eying Regina closely.
Berating herself for the palpable relief she felt when Regina perched, albeit awkwardly, next to her, Emma sighed. Gaining no response, she turned her body to face the other woman, shaken to see the silent tears suddenly streaming down her face.
“Regina?” The softness of her tone was unfamiliar even to her own ears. “What’s wrong?”
The question was greeted with a shaky gasp as Regina swallowed heavily, clearly trying, yet being only marginally successful to get herself under control.
“I’m sorry.” This set off a fresh wave of tears which she furiously tried to brush away to no avail.
“Hey.” Emma reached over, grabbing one of Regina’s hands and holding it in her own. “Why are you apologising?”
Regina shook her head almost violently, biting her bottom lip. The tears stopped, and her voice was now strangely steady. “This is all my fault.”
“Ssh. It’s no one’s fault.” Emma squeezed the hand in hers, desperately trying to figure out what the hell was happening and how she could make it better. “Henry’s ok. He’s a tough kid.” Regina was at least now looking at her and she smiled encouragingly. “We’re all ok.”
Whatever Emma was trying to sell, she realised, Regina was not buying it, as she shook her head again, before looking over Emma’s shoulder, spitting out her words through gritted teeth. “If I hadn’t… If I’d just called you…”
“Then Cora would have just found another way to get to him, to get to you.” Emma paused for a moment, weighing up whether her next words were going to help the situation, or possibly find her blasted into the front yard. She caught Regina’s other hand, but kept her eyes pinned to the cushion between them. “But you should’ve called me.” She winced at the statement, or more so how it could have been interpreted. “I mean you can call me.” She dared a glance up. “You can always call me.” Feeling her own tears threatening, she cursed the woman beside her for making her feel the need to spew up her feelings on demand. “And whatever it is that I must’ve done to make you feel like you had to stop calling me, or that you couldn’t call me, I’m…” She swallowed, rolling her eyes to stop the emotion spilling over. “I’m sorry, ok.”
A sharp tug on her hand caused Emma to stop, relieved at the distraction, until she looked up to find Regina staring at her with eyes so full of anguish, she thought her heart might actually snap.
“Oh, Emma.” Regina shook her head, her expression shifting through a myriad of emotions, none of which, Emma realised she could actually follow, before settling into an earnest stare. “It’s not you.” The grip on Emma’s hands tightened almost painfully. “How could you think it was anything you did?”
Unsure how to respond in any way other than to make herself seem even more pathetic than she was currently doing, Emma looked away. When she lifted her gaze, dark eyes were watching her hesitantly. For a moment, Regina looked like she was going to say something, but instead, she sighed, loosening her grasp, but trailing her thumb gently over Emma’s wrist as she spoke.
“What mother said earlier was utter rubbish, you do know that right?”
Despite the urgency in Regina’s voice, the sudden tightness in Emma’s throat made any reply almost impossible and instead she found herself clinging to the hand that remained in hers. Her breath hitched as gentle fingers moved to brush back the hair that she had willingly let slip over her face.
“You are part of this family.”
The declaration was fervent enough to make Emma lift her head. Searching Regina’s eyes and finding no trace of a lie, she finally releasing the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding and surprising both of them by drawing Regina into a fierce hug. Her arms circling a warm neck, she allowed herself a rare moment of comfort. With her face buried in soft hair, she barely caught the final whispered words as they faded in the stillness of the moment.
“More than you know.”
Sorry for the delay in posting. Life (or at least work) got in the way a little bit on this one. Thanks, as always, to those reading and taking time to comment. This is kind of an introspective chapter, which is not my strong suit, so I apologise. More, and hopefully better, to follow.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was the unpleasant yet familiar acidic sensation in her throat and tell-tale churning of her stomach that finally forced Regina from her bed. If she was honest with herself, it was almost a relief to have something else to occupy her thoughts, if only for a few moments, no matter how distasteful. It would at least detract from the pounding of her head as a result of yet another sleepless night. However, as she resignedly expelled the remnants of the dinner she had barely picked at the previous night, following her mother’s impromptu visit, she found herself frustrated that before crawling wretchedly into bed, the grinding weight of her regrets, almost too much to bear, she had forgotten to lift the soundproofing spell that she had cast upon her return from her conversation with the imp exactly a week ago. The spell that meant she would again be going through this daily torture in the absence of Emma.
Emma. Even the shape of the name on her tongue made her chest tighten under the crushing guilt that had taken up residence there since Rumple had confirmed what she had already begun to suspect about the baby growing inside her. And her actions since, in keeping with every other facet of her tumultuous history, rather than assuage her sins, had only served to make everything so much worse. Despite all her rhetoric about wanting to change, to become a good person, what did it say about her ability to do right by those she… cared about, that it had taken an insight provided by her psychopathic mother to realise the hidden damage her recent behaviour was inflicting upon the one person who she could genuinely say had stayed by her side no matter what. Better than anyone, she understood the insecurities that Emma tried so hard to hide from everyone else around her. It was those same insecurities that had her so infuriated with Snow for being utterly blind as to her daughter’s needs. Yet, because of her innate selfishness, now she too was one more person who, in Emma’s perception, had cast her aside, deemed her no longer useful, not quite right for the part being cast. And worse still, when the load had become too much for her to carry, instead of retribution or anger, the damn woman had offered her support and comfort when she was so truly undeserving of it that with anyone else it would have been farcical. And she had been so close to just blurting out the truth there and then; to telling her that she was so damn good that even Regina’s unborn child had decided to take advantage of the fact and claim Emma as some sort of commodity to be commandeered for their own advantage. Yet another of Emma’s choices, beginning at the chain of events which had commenced even before her birth, taken from her. And once again, regardless of the intention, taken from her by Regina. Rumple might be as weak a man, as he was a malevolent imp, but the son of a bitch had an unfortunate habit of being right. And in this case, much like with Baelfire’s part in the sequence of actions that resulted in a vulnerable teenage Emma becoming firstly pregnant, then reunited with Henry, she was just one more person who was forcing Emma into a parental role that she never chose to play.
Taking a breath, Regina wiped her mouth, grimacing at the bitter aftertaste. Finally reassured that for now at least the physical nausea could be held at bay, she hauled herself to her feet, grabbing her toothbrush and bearing it weapon like as she stared herself down in her bathroom mirror. The irony of the action was not lost on her as she took in her grey complexion, the bags under her eyes and the slight swell of her stomach protruding under her camisole. The image was so far away from the woman she had not so long ago been determined to portray at all costs; yet without the costume to define her, without the mask that almost everyone had found it simpler not to look beyond, the woman looking back at her at times seemed like a stranger. Gone was the naïve young girl who through the machinations of others would eventually cut her path to becoming the Evil Queen. Yet also gone was the Queen herself, her protector, her armour. And what was left in her place? To that, she wasn’t sure she had an answer.
With an irritated sigh, she swilled her mouth before cranking up the faucet pressure, filling the basin with ice cold water, and lowering her face into it. The freezing blast was a welcome relief as she let the sensation rush her body, stealing her breath and with it her spiralling thoughts. Grabbing a towel, she quickly dried herself noting, this time with relief, that it was barely six, which gave her plenty of time on a Saturday morning to complete the task at hand. She had a lot of making up to do this weekend, and when it came to Emma, breakfast seemed like as good a place as any to start.
Fully absorbed by the mission to produce the most appetising, and also quite possibly, the unhealthiest morning meal known in any realm, Regina almost missed the arrival of its recipient over the sound of sizzling pans and freshly brewing coffee. As she turned catching sight of blonde hair out of the corner of her eye, she visibly startled, bringing her hand to her chest as she looked back, her heart hammering. Despite the air of trepidation surrounding her, on seeing the reaction, Emma smirked and even with the panic still beating in her chest Regina felt immediately lighter. Before she could change her mind, she glided over to the other woman, taking her by the elbow and leading her over to the counter.
“Sit. I made breakfast.”
Emma was watching her closely, her expression pensive and somewhat guarded. The heaviness in Regina’s chest returning, she offered what she hoped was a reassuring smile, her hand lingering on Emma’s shoulder as she pushed her onto the stool.
“I know I’ve been, I mean, this week…”
Blue eyes remained fixed on her, as she pulled on her bottom lip with her teeth, rolling her eyes at her own idiocy.
“I just wanted to do something nice for you.” Regina exhaled, forcing herself to meet the Emma’s gaze. “You deserve something nice.”
Emma watched her for a moment longer before flashing her an awkward grin. “Well bacon and pancakes pretty much qualify then, I guess.”
Feeling some of the tension dissipate, Regina’s shoulders relaxed a notch as she concentrated on piling Emma’s plate suitably high that even if it had not been for the morning sickness beginning to again rear its ugly head, the sheer amount of cholesterol in front of her would have had the same effect. Yet she couldn’t help the genuine smile as Emma’s eyes lit up at the sight in front of her.
Allowing herself a moment to bask in the comfortable domesticity of the scene, Regina slipped onto the stool opposite, taking a breath, and letting her eyes drift closed.
When she opened them, Emma was playing absently with her fork. On noticing Regina looking back at her, she smiled guiltily acknowledging her already empty plate and shrugging.
“Are you not having anything?”
The grimace flashed across Regina’s face before she could hide it and Emma’s expression shifted to one of concern. She put the utensil down reaching across the counter and resting her hand on top of Regina’s.
“You didn’t need to do this, you know.”
Regina sighed, shaking her head. “After my recent behaviour, I think you could argue that this is the least I could do.”
“Regina.” Emma paused. “I get that none of this is easy for you.”
Regina swallowed, the tension suddenly returning and pulling at her chest until it ached. “That maybe so. However, even I am aware that this does not give me free reign to behave in a thoughtless manner.” Her eyes dropped to their joined hands for a moment before she forced herself to lift them. “Particularly toward the one person who really did not deserve it.” Unsure whether it was hormones, or the look of genuine confusion on Emma’s face, as to why there was a need for apology, Regina felt her throat tighten, the words breaking as she pushed them out. “I want you to know how sorry I am for treating you poorly.”
This time it was Emma’s turn to look away. “It’s fine. Honestly. You’ve had like a tonne of crap thrown at you.” She swallowed; her eyes glued to the counter. “You’re allowed to have priorities.”
She attempted to pull her hand back, but Regina held on, the painful tug of both guilt and intense empathy, battling for dominance as she heard clearly the words that Emma was not saying. Fighting the surprising impulse to round the counter and embrace the younger woman, Regina instead squeezed the hand in hers until Emma cautiously met her gaze. With a sudden flash of understanding, she levelled Emma with a flat stare.
“My priority is my family.” The words were clipped and harsh. But by the look on Emma’s face, she knew she was paying attention. “And I believe I was abundantly clear last night, Miss Swan, as to who that includes.” Unable to keep the humour out of her voice any longer, Regina smirked. “I don’t let just anyone break my dishwasher on an almost daily basis or steal all of my expensive shampoo.” She gave the fingers in hers one final squeeze, her tone softening audibly as the eyes watching her glistened. “So, if there is any remaining doubt then, dear, I’m afraid you are simply as idiotic as your simpering parents and there really is nothing further I can say to convince you of your place in this family.”
Emma watched her for a long moment, before blinking and using her free hand to swipe across her cheek. With a sense of relief, Regina allowed them both a minute, rising from the stool and refilling Emma’s coffee mug. The slightly glassy eyed look of appreciation she received in return pulled at her core and she absently rested a hand on Emma’s back rubbing gently as she felt the shaky inhale of emotional fortitude being gathered. After a couple of deeps breaths, Emma seemed to ground herself. Sensing that they both could benefit from a distraction, Regina slipped back onto her stool, taking a long sip of her own morning tea and quirking an eyebrow.
“Speaking of, or not as the case may be, my family, we still have the small matter of my mother to deal with.”
“Are you sure you’re ok with them coming here?”
From her position on the sofa, books spread out covering every conceivable space, Regina watched with dwindling amusement as Emma paced her hundredth circuit around the already cluttered room.
At the question, Emma spun to face her, running a tense hand through her hair. “You’re the one who suggested my parents may be able to help with the research stuff.”
Regina sighed. It had indeed been her suggestion to enlist the Charmings in the tedious, and most likely fruitless search of the dusty tomes she had instructed Emma to retrieve from her vault that morning. After all, four pairs of eyes were better than two, even if half of them had the IQ of rocks. And, if nothing else, they could at least rule out a number of possibilities as to how Cora had somehow managed to make her way back to town. However, as their arrival had drawn closer, Emma appeared to be getting increasingly restless and Regina could feel her own guilt gnawing at the edge of her chest for yet another thoughtless suggestion that was causing the other woman evident distress.
“And you’re the one wearing a hole in my carpet.” At Emma’s apologetic glance, Regina felt her irritation grow. Careful not to again cast it in the wrong direction, she pointedly moderated her tone. “If you’d rather not have to handle them today, I will call Snow this minute and tell them their assistance is no longer required.” At Emma’s silence, she continued. “If it helps, I can tell them that you are deeply disappointed that you will no longer get to spend the day with them and that I am solely to blame for the change of plans.”
Releasing a breath, a glimmer of a smile appeared on Emma’s face and she turned, dropping down gracelessly on the seat next to Regina. The open book resting there slipped to the floor, losing the page Regina had spent the last ten minutes trying to find, yet, Regina found any frustration she expected to feel vanish at the grateful look on Emma’s face as she leaned in for a moment until their shoulders bumped.
“Thank you. But I can’t avoid them forever.” She paused. “And at least when you’re here, I feel like at least there’s someone who gets it, and sees my side.”
Leaning into the comforting weight at her side, Regina tilted her head toward the source. “I believe the turn of phrase is, ‘I’ve got your back’”.
Emma was silent for a moment, before twisting to face her, still no space between them.
“I trust you.” It had the tone of a revelation; a quiet one, but a revelation none the less. “I mean I know I trust you, but I guess what I mean is, I really trust you.” She shook her head, visibly sorting through her thoughts. “You know, I think you’re the one person who’s always straight with me.” She grinned. “Especially when I really don’t wanna hear it.” She looked down, fingers pulling at the frayed edge of the cushion, as her voice dropped to a near whisper. “I don’t know what I’d do without that.”
Her heart twisting painfully, Regina found herself unable to speak. Emma was now looking at her with a vulnerability that made her think she would without conscience destroy anyone who even threatened any ill will towards her. Yet the unspoken truth was a chokehold, and for a moment she was paralysed, unable to respond but somehow also unable to look away. Of all the sins she had committed against this woman who had, in spite of everything, become so integral a part of her life, it was the realisation that this one could irrevocably be that which was unforgivable which sparked a frisson of fear so pure in its clarity, she genuinely felt unable to breath. The thought of losing Emma from her life was unconscionable, yet suddenly felt like the only possibility in the face of a truth that she knew she lacked the courage to voice. However, as the seconds ticked by, Emma continued to look at her with so much care that Regina knew she was ultimately far too selfish, not so far removed from her former self, to give that up; at least not just yet. This time the guilt rose like actual bile. As she swallowed, it back, the words slipped out unchecked.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
The declaration seemed to hang in the air between them, and for a second Regina felt she was suspended with it. It wasn’t that she had doubted the truth of that statement. But the unequivocal certainty with which she knew it hit her with an icy blast, and with it the force of the huge cosmic joke at the epiphany that this was surely her punishment, finally, for all her past crimes. For a moment, she thought she may laugh. But as a hand reached out, wiping a tear from her cheek, she realised she’d done the opposite.
“God, what is it with this couch and overly emotional conversations?” Emma was smiling at her now, although the worry in the expression hovered behind her eyes and Regina could see her awkwardly searching for a distraction. “Anyway, it seemed liked you wanted to tell me something last night?”
If her life actually were the Disney cartoon it had been made out to be, Regina was almost certain that the screen would have cut to a freeze frame of her horrified shock. She could practically hear the accompanying score. As a consequence, it took longer than she would care to admit that the beats echoing through her mind were in fact the very real knocks at her back door. Her heart pounding relentlessly in their wake, she was only just managing to centre herself and rise to her feet, following Emma in the direction of the sound. As she entered the kitchen, Emma shot her yet another concerned look as Snow and David trailed somewhat apprehensively behind her.
David nodded briskly but with no particular animosity. Feeling a flood of relief as her mask slipped almost seamlessly back into place, Regina returned the greeting. Snow came to stand by his side, clearly wanting to speak, but for once appearing astute enough to keep it to herself. Emma meanwhile continued across the room until they were once more shoulder to shoulder. The air remained silent for a moment, as the Charmings looked expectantly at their daughter. Regina found herself waiting with them, in what now seemed the natural order of things in which the Saviour would take the lead. Yet Emma simply held her gaze, a hand drifting to the small of her back and in the unspoken ceding of control, she felt a connection so true that she once again found herself unable to breathe. The gentle pressure on her spine giving her strength, Regina nodded once more, relieved that her voice sounded like her own.
“Snow. David. Thank you for your assistance.” Her eyes drifted upward to where Henry had already declared he was having a video game day that he knew she wouldn’t dispute given the circumstance. “As I assume you’re aware, we had another visit from my… from Cora last night.” David’s arm slipped behind Snow in a strange mirror image. “As she seems somewhat unwilling to share why she is back.” She turned to Emma for a moment. “We thought how she’s back seemed as pertinent a place to start as any.”
Again, Snow looked like she wanted to say something but remained silent. Emma eyed both her parents for a moment before glancing at Regina who gave an imperceptible nod.
“I picked up a load of Cora’s old books from Regina’s vault for her this morning…”
At Snow’s horrified look, Regina sighed. “By magic, dear. No imminent danger.”
With only a small grunt of frustration, Emma continued, inching closer to Regina as she spoke. “We thought there might be something in there which could tell us how she got back to this realm after…” Her voice trailed off uncomfortably at the baleful looks she was receiving from both her parents.
Not bothering to hide her own irritation at Snow’s abiding ability to make every injury her own, Regina picked up without missing a beat, her body angling allowing Emma to move ever so slightly behind her if she wished.
“I’ve spent some time this morning going through these and selected some volumes which may contain relevant sections.” She was relieved to notice that both Charmings were seemingly at least paying attention. “Now it will be a rather laborious process, but we thought reading through these would at least be a place to start.”
“Shouldn’t we ask Rumple for help?”
David’s arm slipped more firmly around his wife as she spoke. As Snow stuttered under the stony glare she received in response, Regina was grateful momentarily of the woman’s residual instinct to regress back to Mary Margaret in such instants as the rest of the room seemed mercifully unaware of the way her body had frozen at the mention of the imp’s name.
As always seemed the way, she was saved by a wary voice behind her.
“I think we should try it our way before we bring Gold into this, ok.”
Snow blinked at her daughter before retreating even further into herself. “Or course, sweetheart.”
The uncomfortable tension still puling at her chest, Regina inhaled. Feeling a sudden need for some space, she took hold of Emma’s elbow, steering her purposefully in the direction of the hallway.
“Excellent.” She cast a brief backward glance at Snow, long enough to see her observing the interaction closely. “Now, if you’ll excuse us both for a minute, we will set up the study and we may begin our research.”
Following the fifth grunt in as many minutes, Regina lifted her head, shooting Emma a look somewhere between withering and amused. Despite her hunched over frame, and the fact it had been over three hours and she had yet to even stop for an inevitable bathroom break, Regina felt, she realised, more at ease than she had all week. Setting aside the event that had made this exercise a necessity, this routine was familiar. Comforting. The books, the research, the purpose. She understood it. It made sense. It gave her focus. The same however, could not be said for the woman sitting opposite her.
“Is there a problem, Miss Swan?”
At the interruption, Emma jolted, the chair, or at least the two legs that remained on the floor as she swung back on it, shuddered and Regina saw the brief moment of panic until it righted itself, and Emma heaved another sigh, this time of relief.
On the sofa at the other side of the room, she caught out of the corner of her eye, both Charmings suddenly sit to attention, as if poised to attack on their daughter’s behalf. Shaking her head, Regina looked at Emma who was smiling sheepishly. “Be careful. You’ll hurt yourself.” The gentleness in her tone, she realised, was in no way for show. “Why don’t you take a break?”
With a reluctant yawn, Emma nodded. “We’re getting nowhere.” To be fair, she sounded surprisingly more despondent than outright bored. “And I need caffeine.”
The action appeared to be catching and Regina let out her own yawn. Emma smiled in sympathy. “Tea?” As if suddenly realising they weren’t alone, she turned to her parents. “You guys should take a break if you need to.”
With a grateful look Snow shot to her feet. “We should check in with Ruby.” Then, as if further clarification were needed. “She’s babysitting Neal for us.”
“She probably hasn’t eaten him for lunch yet.” Regina’s commentary was audible only to Emma, who sniggered for a second before turning back to Snow.
“Take as long as you need.”
As the Charming’s filed out, Regina glanced back down to the page she had been reading only to feel Emma’s eyes boring into her.
“You need to take a break too.”
“Honestly, Emma. I’m fine.”
Once again, looking for the lie but appearing to find none, Emma huffed. “Well, I’m bringing you food.” She waited until Regina looked up at her. “And you’re going to eat it.” She sighed again, this time more deeply. “And then we’re going to find a literally magical solution which involves sending your mother to a realm far away from here, so she can’t hurt you anymore and we can go back to perfectly normal problems like how to stop you throwing up every morning and what to do with a teenager who won’t get off his X-Box for more than five minutes unless his life is in some kind of mortal danger.” With a final dramatic sigh, she turned throwing a grin over her shoulder as she headed in the direction of the kitchen.
Alone in the study, Regina closed her eyes, clutching onto the memory of the unrelenting care that Emma offered so effortlessly, yet soon would no longer be hers to greedily accept. The need to sear it into her mind suddenly felt so urgent that it almost choked her.
An angry buzzing from the desk in front of her interrupted her ruminations and she reached idly for her phone. Her heart stopped for a moment as she saw it was a text notification. A message from the hospital, one she’d been both anticipating and dreading in possibly equal measure. Her first scan. Their first scan. Monday. Two days. Forty-eight hours before she irrevocably crossed that blurred line between omission and outright lie. Her rational mind knew that the longer she left the other woman in the dark, the more unforgivable her deceit surely became. Yet the mere thought of Emma turning her back, of just not being there, was more than she could begin to contemplate. Of all the things, she thought, that she had survived in her unrelenting history, it was ironic that this could finally be what broke the Evil Queen. That she wanted, no needed, Emma at that scan had never been in doubt, even before Rumple’s revelation. But how could she now do that to her, let her sit there, hold Regina’s hand without understanding the true significance of the moment for herself. But more reprehensible still was the thought of Emma not being there. Yet another choice removed from her. Assuming that is, that this was even something Emma would want. In all their conversations, that had first started on that godforsaken island, they’d never once spoken about whether either of them wanted another child one day. Why would they? They had Henry. But would Emma and her almost masochistic need to do the right thing, even for a second consider doing anything other than being there for this child, regardless of whether she could ever forgive Regina for forcing her into that role.
The room was getting uncomfortably hot. Attempting to refocus, she turned back to her research, frantically trying to ignore the flash of heat burning through her, as she pulled her shirt absently away from the clammy skin of her slightly swollen stomach. Suddenly conscious that she was being observed she lifted her head to see concerned eyes watching her closely from the doorway.
She attempted to smile but the action seemed to swallow what little oxygen was left in the humid study leaving her momentarily light-headed. She tried once again to concentrate on the text, but the sweat was now running in uncomfortable streams down her back as the writing swam disconcertingly out of focus. Feeling the need to escape, she stood, making it as far as the sofa before the effort became too much and she dropped down onto it. Desperate to centre herself before she alarmed the other woman too greatly, Regina inhaled slowly, quickly realising that this action came with its own set of difficulties. Feeling her chest tighten painfully, she did her best to stifle the gasp that came with the sensation but it was too late and Emma was now on the move, appearing almost instantly at her side, a feat made easier, Regina idly thought, by the fact that the room seemed also to have decreased in size, the walls now impossibly close exacerbating the intense heat soaking through her pores.
She desperately wanted to reassure Emma that she was perfectly fine, but the words got lost in a gulp of air that no matter how hard she tried was refusing to enter her lungs. Trying again, Regina felt another flash of pain, this time stronger, rip across her chest. Now starting to panic she tried again, a shorter breath this time, her head spinning with the effort. The growing feeling of terror clutched at her heart like a familiar memory and all her instincts were screaming for her to move, to flee, to do anything to out run it, but the room was now pitching and falling around her and her limbs felt simultaneously both too heavy and too weak. Snatching greedily at whatever oxygen she could find, the air became denser still and she inhaled faster to capture as much as she could. The heat in the room was suffocating and she clawed at the buttons of her shirt, no longer caring about anything more than remove the restrictive item. She was confused to feel gentle hands, stilling her own. Struggling to comprehend, she felt rather than saw her arms being guided to her side, replaced by the strangely comforting weight of a cool hand smoothing over her shoulder blades and down her back as the sofa dipped beside her.
Still frantically gulping in air, she became peripherally aware that alongside the gentle motions of the hand on her back, there was a soothing voice in her ear encouraging to open her eyes. As she did the floor once again dropped beneath her, leaving her stomach rolling desperately as she quickly slammed them shut. Quickly taking another breath her fear grew as this time no air seemed to make its way in. Now somehow desperate to communicate this she opened her eyes and was surprised to see Emma smiling softly at her, one hand making its way to rest tenderly on her cheek. “You’re ok.”
Whilst her mind was screaming to tell the dense woman in front of her that sudden inability to breath was far from an indication she was ok, her traitorous body seemed to take comfort from the touch and she felt a brief but welcome rush of air enter her exhausted lungs. At the action, Emma’s smile seemed to grow.
“That’s it. You’re doing great.”
Convinced now that Emma had finally lost what little sense she had, Regina was again startled to feel the hand disappear from her cheek and instead grasp one of her own, lifting it until it was secured against the soft skin exposed by the scoop neck of a tank top. As her initial confusion lifted, she became acutely aware of the steady fall and rise of Emma’s chest under her hand in time with the slow rhythmic motion of the comforting warmth on her back. Feeling the tightness in her chest abate slightly, her eyes latched onto Emma’s who held her gaze encouragingly.
“Try and breathe in time with me.”
Holding onto the reassurance on Emma’s face, she tried to slow her breathing, as her chest gave another painful twinge and she took in several agonizing gasps to no effect. Feeling a sharp rush of fear, she was distracted momentarily by a firm increase in pressure on her hand.
“Hey. It’s ok. Trust me.”
She was so tired, and there was something about the determination, and another emotion she couldn’t quite place in Emma’s tone, and as Emma took a slow deep breath, she did her best to mimic the action, this time feeling her chest expand gently. Emma grinned.
“You’ve got this.”
Continuing to concentrate on matching Emma breath for breath, Regina was unsure how long they had sat there but whilst her chest no longer felt like it was going to explode, her body felt perversely like she had run a marathon, and the drooping of her eyelids was not being helped by the hand that had moved from her back to trace hypnotic patterns beneath the loose tendrils of hair on her neck. Feeling herself shiver, she was unsurprised to feel herself tugged closer toward the warm body beside her, guiding her head until it rested securely above a soothing steady heartbeat as her eyes slipped closed.
It was the odd sensation of being both chilled to the bone yet encased in the most wonderful warmth that forced Regina to open her eyes. As she looked down, she realised with a jolt that she was somehow wrapped completely securely in the embrace of Emma who had one arm around her shoulder, and the other draped almost protectively over her stomach. Realising with an alarming amount of dismay that she should probably move, she felt her faculties kick in as a wave of exhaustion brought back the unwelcome memory of what had led to this current predicament. Groaning slightly with the effort of pushing herself upright, instead of releasing its hold, she suddenly felt the arm around her tighten, pulling her closer. Warm fingers traced a gentle pattern on her skin, and she felt herself relax involuntarily, soaking in the comfort.
“This one’s for me”. Emma’s voice had an almost fragile edge to it, and when Regina tilted her head so she could see her, her face was pale and tense. “You really scared me, ok.”
The guilt once more clawing at her throat, Regina remained speechless as Emma reached over to wipe away yet another tear from her cheek as the emotional overload seemed intent on continuing its onslaught. Unable to bear it any longer, she forced herself to shift out of the safety she did not deserve, stilling Emma’s hand before it could reach its target and lowering until it rested between them. She couldn’t, however, quite bring herself to let go completely. Emma was watching her closely, making no attempt to disguise the concern that furrowed her brow. Cataloguing it in case it was indeed the last time she would be lucky enough to feel it aimed at her, Regina sighed, unable just yet to loosen the grip on the solid hand in hers.
“Emma. I need to tell you something.”
I absolutely promise that they will talk in the next one.
Thank you as always for everyone reading, leaving kudos and commenting. I can only apologise for the delay with this one. Work has been particularly time consuming, plus the slight easing of lockdown causes the dilemma of being able to socialise just enough to detract from writing time, but not enough to come up with plausible excuses to avoid social contact and use the time to write. This is a relatively short chapter, I'm afraid, as the ending seemed like a natural break, but hopefully more to follow soon time permitting.
The adrenaline from finding Regina fighting for breath barely an hour earlier spiked again through Emma’s veins as she received a look of trepidation that seemed to inflict actual physical pain upon its source. The hand on hers held her in a death grip, yet its owner looked only seconds away from running and never coming back; an instinct which Emma, at that moment, could empathise with.
“What is it?” Masking her fear seemed pointless, so she didn’t bother. In response, she received only a blink. The other woman swallowed heavily but remained silent. “Regina?” Emma could hear the patchy rhythm from earlier returning to her breathing and her own worry kicked up another notch. “You’re scaring me.”
At this, Regina seemed to come back to herself for a moment, biting her lip and giving Emma a look that she again couldn’t read but bore an eerie resemblance to the one they had shared at the town line before Pan’s curse hit. It felt final.
“What is it you need to tell me?” Emma didn’t realise how close she was to tears until she heard them in her voice. “Regina?”
“I went to see Rumple last week.”
“Ok?” Emma frowned slightly at the non-sequitur, but she’d take Regina talking over not talking, so she went with it. “Because of Cora?”
Regina looked hesitant for a moment. “In a fashion.” She looked down, moving her hand as if to pull it away, but Emma held fast. “She said something to me.”
The distance in the other woman’s tone was unsettling and Emma felt a nervous churning in her stomach at what was to come.
“You know Cora’s…” Emma trailed off, the words a psychopathic bitch, dangling unhelpfully in the air. “You can’t necessarily trust what she says.”
Regina nodded absently, but Emma wasn’t sure she’d heard as she continued unaffected.
“The thing was, she only confirmed what I had already begun to suspect but was too afraid to truly consider.” She shook her head, now seeming to stare past Emma, her eyes unfocused. “I always knew magic was capable of things that even I could not fully understand.” Her expression became almost wistful. “As a girl I would romanticise it, all the possibilities.” Her eyes tracked back to Emma for a brief moment. “But then after mother and Daniel, and Snow…” The words died off. “Well, we all know that story.” Her gaze shifted again. “I made it my mission to master it, to make it mine, to control it. To never have it control me.” She smiled, but the gesture was devoid of humour. “I spent so long convincing myself that my choices were my own.” Her free hand swiped at the skin under her eye and she looked almost surprised to find it dry. “And then, more recently, bearing the consequences of those decisions.” She swallowed. “And I, as well as anyone, understand what it means to have your choices taken away from you.”
Emma squeezed the hand in hers, hoping her utter confusion was masked by the worry that was making her throat tighten as Regina continued to stare blindly at the wall behind her. The gesture appearing to break through, if only briefly, Regina glanced back. When their eyes met, Emma almost flinched at the flash of fear which danced over them before her voice once again became distant. As her hand other hand drifted down to rest over her stomach, Emma felt her own rush of dread as she continued.
“I should have known when I first felt your magic so strongly.”
Regina’s voice was now shaking slightly, and Emma couldn’t hold in her own anxiety any longer.
“Regina. Is it the baby? Is the baby, ok?” Emma swallowed the tremor creeping into her words. “Did something happen?”
At this, dark eyes met hers full on and Regina smiled, gently. The genuineness in it was overwhelming and Emma’s breath caught in her chest.
“The baby is fine.”
Emma’s relief felt was palpable. Yet, Regina was still watching her with an expression of such devastation that it squeezed the air from her lungs.
“You know you can tell me anything, right?” She could hear her own desperation as Regina’s eyes now held a glint of moisture and she forced her tone to lighten. “If you were going to scare me away, I think we both know it would have happened by now.”
At this, Regina let out a mirthless laugh which quickly transformed into a choked sob. However, the tears in her eyes still refused to fall. Unable to take it any longer, Emma moved to pull the other woman into a hug. But was halted by a firm yet gentle hand against her shoulder.
The words felt like a slap and the cold sting must have shown on her face, as Regina’s expression shifted almost immediately to one of remorse.
“I’m sorry.” Tilting her chin, Regina blinked a couple of times, inhaling deeply. “I need to say this. And until I do, I can’t take any more from you than I regrettably already have.” She paused again. “Your magic really is so powerful, so pure.” She sounded almost awed. “You truly are capable of achieving so many extraordinary things.” Her gaze softened, her hand once more settling on her stomach. “And I felt it.” She smiled. “We both felt it.”
Around her confusion, Emma could feel her thoughts crystallising as she stared at the woman in front of her. The words vibrated in the space between them.
“Regina, what are you saying?”
Taking a deep breath, Regina exhaled slowly, a tear finally escaping down her cheek at the action.
“It’s yours, Emma. The baby. It’s yours.”
Fearing for a moment that she might actually pass out, Emma was relieved to be sitting down as she felt the blood drain from her head, her heart hammering wildly. Only the warm hand in hers kept her tethered, as the kaleidoscope in her mind settled back to focus on the woman watching quietly yet concernedly beside her.
For someone who had always prided herself on dealing admirably with some truly insane shit in her life, Emma had the abrupt realisation, that this was not going to be one of those moments.
“Actually, no, I really do mean how?”
Although still holding her hand, Regina was edging away from her, and Emma at least had the insight, she thought idly, to be thankful that the shock she was feeling was tempering the hard edge that may have slipped out otherwise.
“Sorry, it’s just… It’s a lot.”
“No, I’m sorry.”
Regina sighed sadly and Emma’s irritation at her own sudden inability to speak flared.
“Please don’t apologise.” Her head still spinning, she pulled on Regina’s hand holding her in place. If nothing else, that seemed important. “I just don’t understand.”
Regina ran her free hand through her hair, appearing to gather her thoughts for a moment before looking at Emma squarely. The guilt in her expression remained evident but her voice was low and calm.
“Back in the Enchanted Forrest, there was a lore, although I never witnessed it myself, that if the circumstances were… conducive, where the magic of a practitioner was powerful enough, it was capable of being absorbed by an unborn child.” She paused, searchingly. “This could result in an evolution of sorts.” She stopped again. “Overriding any previous genealogy and replacing it with their own.”
Emma blanched, swallowing back the bile she could feel rising in her throat.
“And you’re sure?”
“I sensed it.” She sighed again. “As, evidently did my mother. Rumple simply confirmed it.”
Biting back her incredulity, Emma worked to keep her own tone even.
“And he was telling the truth?” Regina’s flinch was miniscule, but it was there, and Emma felt her gnawing guilt begin to balloon. “I mean Gold always has an angle right. Remember when…”
Her words were cut off.
“Emma.” Regina’s tone was soft yet resolute. “I’m sure.” She looked away seeming almost embarrassed. “I can feel it. Your magic… Our magic.”
Regina looked like she was waiting for her to say something else, but despite her best efforts, Emma’s mind was drawing a complete blank.
At her silence, Regina nodded. Although the action seemed more for her own benefit than Emma’s.
“Emma, I need you to know that I don’t in anyway hold you accountable for this.” Her voice had an almost robotic quality about it. “And I understand if you need space to process this and you have no obligation to me in respect of this.”
Feeling somehow as if she were under water, Emma again managed barely an impassive nod as Regina stood slowly, finally relinquishing the hand she had held in hers throughout the conversation.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling rather exhausted and I think I must take some rest.”
Emma watched the retreating figure as she found herself alone on the sofa with only her racing thoughts for company.
Unsure how long she had remained frozen in place, Emma closed her eyes as she felt all her senses rush back in at once, the sudden stimuli descending upon her until her head spun and she gripped the arm of the couch.
Regina. The baby. Their baby. Regina. Shit.
She’d been so busy attempting to process what Regina had been saying, she hadn’t even stopped to think about how Regina must feel about this turn of events. Forcing her brain to work, she attempted to think back to exactly what she had said. So, the baby hadn’t started out as hers. Obviously. At this thought, her traitorous mind began to conjure up an entirely different image and she groaned out loud at the inappropriate timing. Focus. Her magic had done this. She had done this. To Regina. Regina, who had so rightly pointed out the many choices during her turbulent life that had not been of her own making. Regina who had been forced into marriage, and although she’d ever explicitly said it, but it hung there, in all the things she didn’t say, into the bed of a husband who saw her only as a trophy to be displayed, and to play mother to a child barely younger than herself. Her mother. Her grandfather. No, Leopold, because regardless of the stories Snow had tried to tell her, that man was not her family. But now, she had become yet another person who had forced something upon Regina that she didn’t ask for; that she didn’t consent to. The bile was back in Emma’s throat and she thought for a moment that she might actually throw up.
How could Regina look at her so gently. Speak to her so calmly. Fucking apologise to her. Apologise for something Emma had done to her. Accident or not, she had caused this, once again, her own hubris, always thinking she could help, and doing so she had yet again blindly subverted the course of Regina’s life.
Why would Regina even want her anywhere near the baby. Or her. Henry. A cold dread swept over her. Her family. The sound of her own pulse filled her ears and it was almost a relief when the numbness started to take hold, filling the cavern that was forming in her chest. She’d had a family. And once again she was going to lose them. This time by her own doing. How could…
The interruption was gentle, yet the shock as it jolted her from her thoughts set off another adrenaline rush and she was embarrassed to feel herself physically startle. Before she could think further, she felt the cushion beside her dip.
“Are… are you ok?”
Shaking herself, Emma turned in the direction of the voice. Regina seemed hesitant but was looking at her with such warmth that she felt her shoulders relax, the spooled tension in her stomach uncoiling of its own free will.
“Sorry”. She winced slightly. “You caught me off guard. I thought you were sleeping.”
Regina again looked almost guilty. As Emma forced herself not to turn away in shame, she could see the pallor in the other woman’s features, highlighted in the dim light of the room. There was a light sheen of sweat across her hairline and her forehead was creased in the way that Emma had learned to read meant that she was fighting off a headache. Letting her concern once again take precedence, she reached behind her grabbing the throw blanket and shaking it out until she could wrap it around Regina’s shoulders.
“You need to rest.”
Regina stilled for a moment, pausing in the way that meant she was weighing up her words. Emma waited.
“I couldn’t sleep. I… I think the baby can somehow sense your emotions.” Regina’s expression grew more tentative, but her eyes remained fixed on Emma’s. “When you’re troubled, I…”
Another slam of guilt hit Emma directly in the gut, as she felt her brain flash randomly to the various occasions when Regina’s more severe pregnancy symptoms had flared seemingly at random. When she had left the mansion after telling Henry with the first flicker of doubt about her place in their make-shift family, during Snow’s first unexpected visit, when Regina had shut her out before Cora had shown back up and taken Henry.
“Regina. Shit!” If there was a more eloquent way of expressing herself, Emma resigned herself to the fact it was currently completely beyond her. Yet even with her head now buried in her hands, she could still see the raised eyebrow pointed at her. Aware that this was definitely not her finest moment, she tentatively looked back up. Regina’s face remained pale, but it didn’t prevent the smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth and Emma found herself offering up a guilty smile.
“Why didn’t you say something before?”
Regina levelled her with a flat gaze. “Because today’s conversation is going so well?”
At the familiar snark, Emma felt the air between them loosen and despite the remorse at her own actions still churning in her stomach, she flashed a grin. However, the moment of levity was cut short as Regina shivered slightly swallowing in the way she did when she was fighting off a wave of nausea. Emma reached over pulling the blanket more securely around her.
“Sorry. I’m sorry.”
She dared to meet the eyes now watching her closely, as her hands fumbled with the blanket for a moment longer before drawing back to rest on her own knees. If anything, Regina looked almost confused at her feeble attempts at an apology.
Emma fought the urge to cover her face, wishing for a moment she’d taken the opportunity earlier to down a couple of glasses of the apple cider that she knew Regina kept hidden in her study, as maybe on occasions such as this, alcohol really was a solution. Because, god, how exactly did you apologise to your best friend for accidentally mutating their baby’s DNA against their will? Did Hallmark make a card to say ‘sorry, my buried trauma from my childhood is making your morning sickness worse’? Or, ‘sorry, I seem to have given your kid superpowers’? Maybe…
Her spiralling thoughts interrupted, Emma blinked, the urgency in the other woman’s voice breaking through.
Regina swallowed heavily, but having won Emma’s attention, her voice softened. “Whatever you’re currently thinking, I really need you to stop.”
Her mind clearing, Emma could see the beads of sweat forming against dark hair, and knuckles with their grip on the edge of the couch.
She forced herself to take a breath, almost relieved as the rush of concern for Regina overwhelmed all other thought and she shuffled closer, carefully extracting Regina’s grasp on the furniture with one hand, the other drawing slow circles on her back.
Guessing it was safer to stay quiet, Emma sighed, letting her eyes close and focussing all her attention on syncing her own breathing with the slow steady rhythm she could hear Regina establishing. After a couple of minutes, she felt a tug on her own hand, and with a final measured exhale, she turned to meet her gaze.
“How are you feeling?”
“I think I should be asking you the same question.”
Regina’s tone was again gentle, and Emma fought back another wave of guilt, cramming it tightly into its box, and slamming down the lid. Her hand, she realised was still on Regina’s back, and more concerningly, seemed to be supporting most of her weight. As she forced herself to really take look, whilst some colour had returned to her cheeks, she still looked pale and drawn, and Emma felt the familiar clench in her heart as she subconsciously inched closer.
“You really need to rest.” She squeezed the hand in hers, attempting a smile. “How about if I promise not to have another meltdown until you at least get one decent night’s sleep.”
Regina cast her own eyes down for a minute, biting on her lip, before looking back at Emma. “Are you staying?”
For a moment Emma’s heart stopped, as if all her worst fears were about to be confirmed. Yet Regina was watching her almost hopefully. Tentatively. Her brain still struggling to process why the hell Regina would even want her to stay, it was only when the hope in the expression began to fade, that Emma felt the now familiar surge of panic, pulling Regina’s hand into her lap so she had no choice but to look right at her.
She paused, frantically scrambling for words, any words, other than the flow of expletives and jumbled apologies which seemed to be all she had been capable of so far. Regina seemed to be waiting for her almost patiently, a fact that made Emma’s heart sink further at the level of discomfort the other woman must be at to not even comment about her continuing inability to form even a basic sentence. How could Regina think she’d be going anywhere? Not out of choice, at least. But then, what had Emma actually said to her since the news had been broken? Surely she must’ve had said… Crap.
“I’ll be here!”
Regina’s expression brightened slightly, and Emma felt her own alarm start to recede.
“I want to be here.” She swallowed down a sudden burst of emotion, but she knew the shake in her voice gave it away. “And I’m sorry if I acted like an idiot and didn’t exactly make that clear.” Regina was smiling, her eyes glistening and the knot in Emma’s chest loosened further. “I was here regardless, so as far as I’m concerned, the fact that the kid is lucky enough to have some of my genetics, is just a bonus, ok?” Emma grinned but she knew the moisture beginning to leak from her own eyes was telling its own story. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll always be here for you.” Regina was looking at her so gratefully, that Emma felt a shard of guilt crack through its box threatening to break free, as her voice dropped in the effort to contain it. “If you still want me to be.”
Ignoring the perplexed expression that she received in response, Emma yawned exaggeratedly, using the distraction to force the final fugitives of her shame back into their temporary prison. Tugging on the hand still in hers she brought them both to their feet, her arm, for some reason, still lingering on Regina’s back unable to let go.
“C’mon kid, I think it’s time you and your mom got some sleep.”
However, as she guided Regina back out of the den and toward the stairs without protest, the little voice in Emma’s head told her that the same was unlikely true for herself.
Once again thank you to everyone for the positive responses. I was determined to find time to finish another chapter this weekend, so here we go...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Are you even listening to a word I’m saying?”
Emma looked up guiltily from the piece of toast in her hand as Henry smirked at her from across the counter. Regina was staring at both of them with her hands on her hips, but it was clear to their son that her current irritation was aimed solely in one direction.
“Ok, so I’m heading to school.” Slipping off his stool just as the blare from the horn of David’s truck filled the kitchen, Henry grinned at Emma as his other mom’s ire was redirected, if only for a moment, at the offending din. However, his expression turned more serious as he glanced back in Regina’s direction as he reached the door. “Good luck with your scan, mom.”
With the click of the latch, he was gone, and Emma looked back over at Regina wincing slightly, but her breakfast now finished. Whilst not an excuse that would wash, it was, Emma considered, a minor miracle that she was even coherent having managed, by her reckoning, no more than four hours sleep in the forty-eight hours, since Regina’s revelation. The previous day had been spent by both in a strangely courteous routine where they seemed stuck in a holding pattern of continuously asking if the other were ok, without ever really giving or receiving more than a perfunctory response, which only served to perpetuate the cycle. By lunch time, Henry had begun eyeing them both with caution, yet remained uncharacteristically silent, and by the evening had feigned forgotten homework, slipping up to his room earlier on a Sunday night than Emma had thought physically possible. As soon as he had done so, Regina had declared herself also in need of an early night and vanished without further conversation to her bedroom, leaving Emma alone with only Netflix and her chaotic thoughts to occupy her. She guessed she had finally passed out for a couple of hours somewhere around three before waking again at five, straining to hear any tell-tale sign that Regina was awake and may need her. None was forthcoming.
Now, again with no teenage buffer between them, Emma could feel the weight of her contrition once more bearing down upon her, and despite the annoyance in her voice, the expression on Regina’s face held a sadness that she couldn’t bring herself to think about.
Regina sighed. “As I was saying, I have a meeting with the damn dwarves at nine, so it may be easier for you if you meet me at the hospital.”
“Um, yeah, ok.” Emma’s brain officially felt like it had been scrambled. “The scan, yeah.”
Regina was now looking at her cautiously. “That’s if you’re still able to accompany me.”
Her tone had taken on an apprehension, that make Emma’s heart lurch in her chest, cutting through the guilt and the fog.
“Huh?” Emma groaned internally at her own continued idiocy. “Of course I’m coming with you.”
Regina regarded her for a moment longer, before nodding, curtly and busying herself with the contents of her purse, steadily refusing to look back up.
“Ok, well, I need to head to the station, so I guess I’ll see you at eleven.”
Receiving only a mumbled acknowledgement, with a growing despondency Emma deposited her empty plate into the dishwasher before gathering her cell and her keys and with a wave of relief slipping out of the door into the fresh early morning air.
Pulling out her phone for the third time in as many minutes, Emma could feel her anxiety building. Regina had definitely said eleven, right? Even she couldn’t have screwed this one up. She scanned the parking lot from the seat of the cruiser she’d made the drive in. The Bug had seemed a little reluctant to start when she’d left Mifflin Street earlier, and she hadn’t wanted to chance missing the appointment as a result of her beloved ‘death trap’ letting her down at a crucial moment. So, it seemed pretty fitting, given the cosmic joke her life seemed to have become of late, that it was Regina, queen of punctuality, who was yet to show up. Before she could control it, a prickling of fear crept up her neck. What if something had happened? Cora. She shoved the thought back down. It was fine. Regina was only a couple of minutes late. But what if Regina wasn’t feeling well? Shit. She’d been so careful the day before to distract herself, to not let her mind drift to the place which seemed to exacerbate Regina’s symptoms, but could she really say the same today? Despite her best efforts to focus on the ever-growing pile of paperwork on her desk, her brain had inevitably wandered. But then, if she really considered it, was Regina ever really too far from her thoughts? Even before this… situation. Emma cringed. Situation? Baby. Regina’s baby. Their baby. She felt her chest catch and inhaled. Get your act together, Swan.
Taking another deep breath, she dragged a hand through her hair, sweeping another glance around the parking lot in enough time to see the familiar sight of a Mercedes pulling in smoothly beside her. The air in her lungs released. Quickly jumping out of the car, Emma felt her relief at seeing Regina arrive in one piece start to give way to the clawing doubt that had seemingly taken up residence in her stomach. Sure, Regina thought she wanted her here now, or maybe she felt obliged to include her give the circumstance, but how long could it really be before she resented her for what she’d done? How long before Emma screwed it up and they spent the next decade fighting over another kid, the way they’d done over Henry in the beginning? Could Emma even now contemplate fighting Regina? Even if…
Snatched unceremoniously from her subconscious, Emma’s head jerked up so quickly she wondered how she hadn’t also given herself whiplash. Yet the voice that pulled her from her thoughts seemed to hold more confusion than irritation. Blinking, she realised that Regina was now out of her own vehicle and several steps ahead of her, making her way quickly, yet kind of shakily, toward the hospital entrance. As Emma’s eyes met hers, her brow furrowed for a moment in a questioning fashion, before it smoothed over and her face became blank.
“Are you coming inside?”
Swallowing heavily, Emma managed a short nod. Yet by the time she forced her legs to carry her forward, Regina had already turned around and was halfway across the lot. Choking down her unease, Emma had no choice but to follow.
“Well, it’s lovely to see you both again.”
Standing somewhat awkwardly in the doorway, Emma stuttered out a greeting before falling silent as Regina and Dr Cartwright exchanged pleasantries. Whatever discomfort was making her own skin itch, Regina was showing no such ill. Emma noted, with a strange flash of pride, that the woman before her was not simply putting on a performance as Madam Mayor, but looked genuinely content, excited even, as she picked out the words ‘scan’ and ‘photo’ from the idle chat, her attention continuing to roam.
Dr Cartwright’s office seemed smaller than she remembered, despite the tiny stature of its occupant. With a flush of embarrassment, Emma realised that during their previous visit she must have been so hyper-focused on Regina, she barely noticed anything about either the office or the doctor herself, who seemed a little older than Emma remembered but was nevertheless a strangely reassuring presence.
Glancing around the room, she took in the desk they had sat at during the previous visit, before her eyes were drawn to the far corner and a curtained area, pulled back to reveal a metal hospital bed frame positioned between a portable ultrasound machine with a small screen attached by a series of thin wires.
Scanning the wall behind it, she found her gaze had settled on a particularly graphic, and pretty personal diagram, and quickly turned away, slamming her hip into the decorative vase standing unobtrusively by the entrance as she did so and garnering yet another questioning look from Regina.
Shakily righting the object before it could fall, she flinched, offering an apologetic grimace.
In response, Dr Cartwright winked at Regina almost conspiratorially. “It’s always the partners who are the most nervous.”
The comment may have been a throwaway one, but Emma’s entire body halted, waiting for Regina to either jump on the poor woman, or least correct her. Yet instead she merely smirked as the doctor continued unperturbed.
“Well, come on then Regina, it’s time to get on with the reason you two are here today. I believe it’s time to meet your baby.”
Still with a smile, Regina followed the older woman to the bed, hoisting herself onto it in a semi-dignified fashion. As she did so, she caught Emma’s eye, beckoning for her to come forward, but Emma suddenly felt like she was stuck in quick sand, as her back flattened against the door frame in protest and she wasn’t sure whether she’d imagined the flicker of hurt that seemed to cross Regina’s face before she turned her attention back to the physician.
Waiting whilst Regina settled, Dr Cartwright turned to Emma casting her a strangely pointed look which made her shuffle back further still, suddenly feeling every inch the interloper which she clearly appeared to be. Turning back to Regina, Cartwright smiled encouragingly, opening a drawer in the cart beside her and pulling out the blood pressure monitor. At the sight of it, Emma felt her own heart rate spike, recalling Regina’s previous reaction, yet her limbs remained frozen. For a moment she swore she felt Regina’s eyes on her and the impulse to go to her was almost unbearable. Her brain buzzed. Did she even still have any right to offer comfort to Regina when the most recent damage was clearly once again all on her? What right did she have to be there at all?
Continuing the steady flow of chatter, the doctor carefully met Regina’s eyes before placing the familiar cuff around her upper arm. There was a brief pause as she clocked the reading, her eyes barely leaving Regina, before indicating with the button beside her that she was getting ready to lower the bed. Regina nodded her consent.
Now in a prone position, Regina lifted her shirt slightly, exposing the slight swell of her stomach. The action, for some reason, caught Emma off guard and she was unprepared for the shockwave that washed over her. That was their kid in there.
Cartwright pulled out a bottle of gel as the machine next to her whirred to life. Despite warming it up as best she could, the low gasp from Regina as the cold substance touched her bare skin was still detectable and Emma lowered her head, the feeling of intrusion magnifying until it filled the room.
The device continued to emit a low hum and the doctor smiled apologetically. “Sorry, we’re probably due an upgrade at some point.” At Regina’s contrite acknowledgement, she laughed. “Don’t worry, it still works just fine. It may just take a little while to get going.”
Emma swore she could feel the doctor’s eyes back on her as she spoke, as her own continued to burn into the carpet.
With a small sigh at the still blank screen of the ultrasound, Cartwright turned back to Regina, and Emma dared lift her gaze from the floor. As she did so, the doctor moved around the bed to the far side, paddle in hand, leaving a clear line of sight between Emma and Regina.
Ignoring Emma altogether, Dr Cartwright appraised Regina. “How have you been feeling?”
Now unable to tear her eyes away, Emma watched as Regina responded with a wry smile.
“That good, huh?” The doctor’s expression was kind and Emma felt a flash of gratitude.
Regina was silent for a moment, her eyes closing. When they blinked back open, she may have been addressing the doctor, but her gaze was focused solely on Emma.
“Some days have proven to be more challenging than others.” She arched an eyebrow before her expression softened. “But I’ve had Emma there taking care of me.” She paused again; brown eyes fixed on green. “I can’t imagine doing this without her.”
Suddenly unable to look away, Emma swallowed around the lump in her throat. Regina smiled gently, her hand flexing slightly as she steadily maintained eye contact. For a moment Emma felt like a stray dog, torn between its feral nature and the pull of a simple act of kindness. Regina’s hand twitched again, and Emma found herself inching forward until it was almost in reach. As she neared the bed, she felt warm fingers slip into hers, tugging her across the remaining space between them just as the screen in front of them burst to life. At the movement, Emma’s grip tightened as the sound of a steady heartbeat filled the room. As she turned from the screen back to Regina, the watery eyes that met her, mirrored her own, and she struggled to speak over the staccato rhythm of her pulse in her ears.
“That’s our kid.”
Smiling through the tears she was doing nothing to hide, Regina nodded. “It is.”
“Everything looks good, ladies.” Dr Cartwright adjusted the image slightly, nodding reassuringly and turning her attention briefly back to the machine before shuffling quietly to the door. “I’ll give you a minute, whilst I go and print the first photo for your latest family album.”
Family. An unexpected surge of emotion rushed through Emma and she was barely able to choke it back. Regina stayed silent but Emma felt a gentle tug on her hand anchoring her in place. Family. The pressure on her hand increased and as she allowed herself to glance down, she was met with a slightly tremulous, but understanding gaze. Family.
The moment was broken as the door swung back open and Dr Cartwright entered, a broad smile on her face and a hand outstretched proffering an envelope that she immediately passed to Emma.
“For safe keeping.”
Pulling a towel from the dispenser, she handed it to Regina who promptly wiped the gel off her stomach, replacing her shirt, and with a bit of leverage from the hand still in hers, pulled herself to seated position before slipping off the bed and coming to stand next to Emma, their arms brushing.
With an approving nod, the older woman smiled. “Well, it was good to see you both again.” Her eyes flitted to Emma for another moment. “Now you keep looking after her, and Regina, if you have any concerns or questions, you just call me, ok?”
Beside her, Regina nodded. Emma attempted the same but with the tension no longer surging through her body, the combination of euphoria from the last fifteen minutes and the two sleepless nights that had preceded it, saw the whole affair begin to take on an almost surreal state as she watched the doctor shake first Regina’s hand and then her own. She could see Regina watching her with what looked to be concern, but like the consummate professional that she was, bidding their goodbyes, she simply manoeuvred Emma to the door, keeping a soft hand on her lower back as they wound their way through the building and back out into the parking lot.
As they reached their vehicles, Regina stopped. Emma did her best not to mourn the loss of the contact as Regina’s hand dropped first to her side before she seemed to hesitate, smoothing a hand over her hair, and turning to face her.
“I meant what I said in there.”
Unable to disguise the confusion on her face, Emma could only watch as Regina sighed, shaking her head.
“About not being able to imagine doing this without you.”
Her tone remained level, but Emma could see the tell-tale twitch of masked emotions in her jaw.
“And whilst we both know I am more than capable of doing so...” She inhaled, swallowing but her voice remained steady as her eyes fixed on Emma’s once more. “Quite truthfully, if I have a choice in the matter, I really do not wish to.”
Unable to respond, Emma blinked, to her surprise, her eyelashes coming away damp. Regina’s expression softened somewhat, and she reached forward, again taking Emma’s hand.
“So, whatever foolish notions of guilt, or doubts about your place here, that you may be entertaining, you can stop, ok.”
For some reason, Emma remained unable to speak. However, Regina appeared to take her silence as acquiescence. With a final squeeze, she dropped Emma’s hand, arching an eyebrow.
“Now unfortunately, the town will not run itself, and I still have a small mining dispute that I need to attend to, so I will let you go back to the serious business of eating bear-claws at your desk and playing trashcan basketball with your father, and I will see you at home this evening.” With a final smirk, she opened the car door, slipping inside. “And feel free to show the picture of our second child to your parents at any time, if you believe the situation warrants it.”
Emma could only watch as the car pulled away, realising that for the first time in over a week, the weight in the pit of her stomach had vanished.
Unable to take another minute of her dad’s knowing smiles, being thrown across the sheriff’s station at every opportunity since she returned from the doctor’s appointment, at three o’clock, Emma had officially called it a day. The exhaustion from earlier was again making itself known and she wanted nothing more than to crash on the sofa until Regina made it home. Expecting to have the house to herself, having received a text from Henry earlier to say he was spending the evening with his grandparents, as she pulled up on Mifflin Street, she was surprised to find Regina’s car already in the driveway.
As she entered she could feel the fluttering of a breeze from an open window in the kitchen. A thin strip of light emanated from the den. Following it, she gently pushed open the door to find Regina sitting stiffly on the sofa. At the intrusion, the other woman barely moved, letting out a small sigh as Emma stepped into the room.
As she got closer she could see that Regina’s face was ashen, the skin around her eyes taut. It was such a stark contrast from the image outside the hospital as they had left, Emma felt her chest swell in sympathy as she fought to keep her voice to an almost inaudible level.
“Hey. You ok?”
At the question, Regina inhaled, beginning to turn toward Emma until she seemed to think better of it and instead kept her eyes trained forward.
“I believe I am experiencing the onset of a migraine.” Regina’s voice was strained, and it did nothing to quell the rush of protectiveness Emma could feel surging through her at the sound. “I managed to get home but unfortunately the light headedness began before I was able to get upstairs, and I am afraid now if I move, I shall be quite sick.”
Her own breath catching, Emma reached behind her turning out the lights in the room and in the foyer. As the house pitched into darkness, she heard a distinct sigh of relief from the older woman. Her eyes adjusting to the limited light, Emma quietly approached the couch, a cold cloth conjuring itself in her hand. Sitting down gently beside Regina, she placed the chilled fabric across her forehead. Even in the dark she could see her eyes close at the contact. Taking the cushion from beside her she placed it across her knee, patting it softly. After steeling herself for a moment, Regina gingerly lowered herself down, so her head rested in the Emma’s lap. Keeping one hand on the compress, Emma’s other hand found itself again combing through dark hair as she felt Regina’s tense muscles begin to relax. “Do you think you can sleep?” The only response being a pained grunt, Emma smiled softly, diverting her gaze for a moment. “Hey, kid. I know your mom’s tough ok, but can you try and chill out and give her a break so she can get some rest, here.” She was relieved to hear Regina let out a soft laugh in response. Turning her attention back, Emma let her fingers trail lightly over aching temples and down a pale cheek. “I know you’re not feeling good but just close your eyes ok.” Feeling Regina’s breaths fall in line with her own, Emma smiled. The hand in Regina’s hair moved to softly stroke the back of a smooth neck as she sighed tiredly, her eyes drifting closed.
Continuing the calming ministrations, Emma’s heart swelled as she felt some of the tension leave the warm body resting against her. Her hand again found its way back into dark hair weaving gently through thick strands as her nails gently scraped the skin beneath. At the movement, Regina let out a muted groan. Momentarily alarmed, Emma watched as she shuffled closer to her still before releasing a relaxed sigh. Unable to stop the affection flooding through her, she repeated the motion, watching as Regina’s breathing slowed further and she mumbled contentedly. Hoping fiercely that she had done something to relieve her pain if only a little, she watched in awe as Regina’s chest finally took on the steady rise and fall of sleep.
“What time is it?”
Emma gently brushed aside the stray hair falling in tired brown eyes. “A little after seven.” She smiled. “Don’t worry, you’ve barely been out two hours.” Regina’s eyes slipped closed again as Emma softly rubbed her arm. Just as she was wondering if Regina had drifted back to sleep, she heard a quiet “thank you” muffled against the cushion. Smiling softly, Emma reached for the hand now resting on a slightly swollen stomach.
“Feeling any better?”
After a moment of consideration, she felt more than saw Regina swallow a yawn before responding.
“Tired. But I think the migraine has been held at bay for now.” She rolled over to look up at Emma, the gratitude in her face clear. “Although I’m not sure I wish to move from this position.”
At the flush of embarrassment that crossed Regina’s face following the evidently unfiltered admission, Emma felt her smile widen. Sensing the importance of not breaking the connection she hesitantly laid her palm flat on Regina’s gently protruding stomach, her thumb stroking a gentle rhythm and holding her gaze. “I don’t have any place else to be.”
Unsure what to expect, Emma was surprised to feel Regina roll back over, her hand softly gripping Emma’s resting on her stomach, securing it in place, as her eyes drifted closed.
In a pure act of procrastination, I also attempted to actually use the Tumblr account I set up years ago under the same name as here. Feel free to stop by and say hello, although there is no guarantee that I actually understand how it works and would know how to respond.
To anyone still reading, huge apologies for this taking so long. Life after full-time lock down unfortunately leaves considerable less time for writing, whilst work has been all consuming. This story will continue, but updates will be more sporadic and chapter length will continue to vary. Thank you as always to everyone reading, leaving kudos and comments - these continue to make me smile.
Letting out her second sigh in as many minutes, Regina watched as Emma reappeared momentarily in front of her on her fifth circuit of the kitchen, stopping only to pick up her coffee mug and take a quick gulp, before continuing on her way.
“If you refuse to sit down, can you at least stop that incessant pacing.”
Despite the amusement in her tone Regina felt a mounting irritation as Emma’s anxiety now appeared close to boiling point which was helping neither her own equilibrium nor the preparation for the conversation they were about to have with their son.
With a guilty flinch, the other woman finally came to a halt, dropping down onto the stool opposite and sinking her head into her hands as her elbows met the counter with a painful sounding thud.
“Do we have to do this today?”
At odds with the pointed exasperation she schooled her features into, Regina realised she could very much empathise with the near whine of Emma’s tone. Having agreed the previous evening that they needed to tell Henry the truth about his soon-to-be sibling’s genetic heritage sooner rather than later, the sooner now seemed like a much better idea in theory, than in practice. The teenager was due home any moment and whilst outwardly appearing calm and collected, internally Regina could feel that panic bubbling to the surface and part of her wanted nothing more than to give in to Emma and defer this particular revelation to sometime the other side of never.
It wasn’t that she was positive that Henry would react poorly to the news. However, after everything their ‘family’ had endured since Henry had learnt of the circumstances of his own birth, just the guilt of explaining that a new child shared the blood of both his mothers, felt like a final test to the bond she believed she had finally built with her son. And simply the thought of that connection proving to be anything less than unbreakable was, if she was honest, entirely heart breaking.
Steeling herself, she reached over placing a hand on Emma’s arm until the blonde hair was blown out of the way with a huff and resigned eyes met hers. At the look of defeat, already on Emma’s face, Regina felt some of her own worries being pushed aside. Whilst Emma had not exactly been forthcoming, as was her wont, about her fears over Henry’s reactions, the other woman had shared enough of her past with Regina for her to understand both her very real, yet in Regina’s view, completely misplaced notion, that she was somehow still unfit to be a parent, on top of her guilt that their shared son might somehow feel he was being replaced with a more biological version. The sudden realisation that it was she, of all people, who had become the staunch defender of Emma’s abilities as a mother, brought with it an unbidden smirk and Emma, catching it, groaned.
“How can you look so calm about this when I know you’re freaking out just as much as I am.”
At Emma’s dramatics, Regina’s smile grew broader. “Remember dear, I am a politician.”
Emma was now watching her closely and she let her smile drop.
“If it’s any consolation, I am indeed as ‘freaked out’ as you are. Yet one of us has to be the adult here and it would appear that person is I.”
At this, Emma flashed an appreciative grin, placing a warm hand over Regina’s, and straightening her own posture.
“Yeah, we’ve got this.”
Despite the falseness of the confidence, Regina again felt her own shoulders relax.
“Indeed, we do.”
Any further time to dwell on the matter was cut short by the click of the back door that announced the arrival of the source of their apprehension. Regina pondered for a moment whether it was a case of their son having impeccable timing, or quite possibly that he had observed the scene through the window whilst herself and Emma had been lost in their thoughts and had subsequently been attempting to eavesdrop. Either way, she considered, Henry looked unaffected by whatever he may have seen or heard, or again simply accustomed to whatever drama of the week he was about to walk into.
Dropping his backpack on the floor, the teenage headed to the refrigerator pulling out a carton of orange and taking a swig, seemingly oblivious to the contrasting looks he received at the action. Once he was done, he carelessly threw the half-empty container back where it came from and closed the door turning to the women expectantly.
“Ok, so what’s happened now?”
Emma’s voice was at least three octaves higher than its normal pitch and Regina rolled her eyes.
“We just wanted to talk with you.” She attempted to keep her voice as steady as the look she was receiving from her son. “It’s nothing to be concerned about. We just wanted to talk with you about the baby.”
At this, Henry cast a glance at Emma who, to her credit, managed a reassuring nod. “It’s nothing to worry about kid.”
“We just have some… news that we wanted to discuss with you.”
Henry eyed them a little sceptically but sank regardless onto a stool at the end of the counter, waiting.
“So, um, you see…”
Emma stopped, swallowing heavily and casting a look of desperation in Regina’s direction.
With only mild surprise, Regina felt a wave of protectiveness, as she gave Emma a brief but reassuring nod, before turning her full attention to her son. This was, after all, her own doing. Straightening her spine, she took a breath, confident at least that her face portrayed none of the maelstrom of her emotions as she grasped for exactly the right words to explain to her son how she had come to be unintentionally carrying the child of his biological mother.
“I know the last few weeks may have been… unexpected for you.” Regina’s hand absently drifted to her stomach as she shot a wry look at Emma. “And now that your grandparents are aware of the situation, it will not be long until the news reaches others in town. And I am conscious of the fact that we have not discussed certain topics which may arise as a consequence of this.”
His face unreadable, Henry gave a small nod as Regina continued.
“As you know, it is now, quite some time since I have been in a relationship.” She felt her voice shake as a familiar hand moved to grip her own under the counter. Henry was watching her closely. But instead of any air of distress, Regina had the curious feeling that he was humouring her. “And I expect you have at least wondered how I ended up in this… situation.”
Henry winced, his expression turning a little queasy.
“If this is the ‘where babies come from’ conversation, I know time has been pretty messed up around here, but I am actually in high school, and you really do not need to do this.”
Emma shot him a look, and when he looked back at Regina, he appeared appropriately rebuked.
Steeling herself, Regina nodded. “I know I may not always handle it too well, Henry. And you will always be my little prince. But I do appreciate that you are indeed growing up.” She paused, looking over at Emma, who gave a reassuring smile. “Which is why we wanted to make sure you know the truth and get to ask us any questions you may have.”
She watched her son whose eyes seemed to be flickering curiously between herself and Emma.
“You see, sometimes, when…”
Henry’s voice cut through her own and Regina found she could only wait as his eyes met Emma’s. As the pounding of her heart in her ears receded, she drew a silent breath. The deer in headlamps expression was yet to fade from Emma’s face. Yet, to her utter relief, Henry’s countenance wasn’t so much accusatory, but more victorious, as he watched his biological mom’s mouth gape in a strange approximation of a question.
Shrugging, he turned to Regina cocking an eyebrow. “We. Us.” He waited expectantly. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
“It was magic!”
The blurted exclamation seemed to take Henry by surprise as much as it did her, as two pairs of dark eyes turned to Emma, who shrugged sheepishly.
Regina, sighed. “I’m sorry, Henry. We know this is a lot to take in. And Emma and I are both still getting used to this situation ourselves.” She stopped looking over at Emma for assistance, but the other woman appeared frozen in her seat, continuing to stare uncertainly at their son. “However, we need to know how you feel about this. Because it’s alright if…”
Her words were again cut off by the teenager who was again watching her with an unnerving degree of mirth, his eyes skimming to Emma and then back to her.
“I’m not being rude, mom, and I’m glad you wanted to tell me yourselves, but I’m not really getting what the big deal is.” The sincerity in his voice found Regina swallowing back a sob, borne as much of pride as sheer relief. “I mean, this doesn’t really change anything, right? You’re both my moms already, and it was never really gonna be any different for this kid, wherever they came from.”
A muffled noise came from Emma’s direction, as she not so surreptitiously, ran a finger roughly under her eye. The rush of protectiveness the sound provoked, caused Regina to almost stutter as she again addressed their son.
“Emma and I both love you so much, Henry. And we have no doubt that you will be a wonderful big brother. But this is a surprise for all of us, so if you do have any questions…”
Henry paused. The only sound in the room a soft sniffle, as Emma looked away embarrassed. Regina leaned over the counter, this time openly taking her hand; an action that did not go unnoticed by the teenager. Breaking into a smirk, he finally managed to catch Emma’s watery gaze before shrugging at Regina.
“Seriously, mom. I’m really happy for you both, and everything. And I know you probably feel like this requires some sort of better explanation. But I’m pretty sure I don’t need any more details, ok?”
Feeling her own cheeks flush, Regina glanced at Emma who seemed too busy trying to compose herself to have heard their son’s comment. The silence was blessedly broken by a loud buzzing emanating from the jacket, slung casually over the spare stool. Swiping again at her eyes, Emma retrieved her cell, her frown growing as she read the string of texts coming through.
“Everything ok?” Regina’s tone was measured, but she did not like the look on Emma’s face that the messages had evoked.
“Yeah.” Emma paused for a moment, her eyes flitting to Henry and then back to Regina. “There’s just been a few disturbances across town, and nobody seems too sure what’s happened.” She hesitated again. “My dad thinks I need to check it out.”
There was something in Emma’s voice that sent an icy shiver of dread down Regina’s back. Cora. As if reading her thoughts, Emma nodded stiffly, picking up the jacket and throwing her shoulders back as she slipped it on. “I won’t be long, ok.”
Not wishing Henry to sense her panic, Regina smiled. “Dinner will be served at six. Don’t be late.”
With what looked like considerable effort, Emma flashed a grin at Henry before disappearing through the backdoor.
Trying to push down her growing sense of panic, she all but flinched as Henry’s voice rang out in the now subdued kitchen.
“How long have you known it was Emma’s?”
The question was not one she had anticipated, but Henry’s tone seemed simply curious. As she turned to face him, he was appraising her with interest.
“About three weeks ago.” She halted for a moment, but again reminded herself that it was best Henry heard the facts directly from her. “I had my suspicions, so I paid a visit to your other grandfather to confirm them.”
“You went to Rumpelstiltskin to ask about your baby.”
The disbelief in Henry’s voice made Regina once again curse that damn story book.
On seeing the look that crossed her face, Henry flinched. “Sorry.” She could see his brain processing the information he was extracting. “So, how long has Emma known?”
Tamping down a sense of irritation at her son’s questions, which held more a tone of casual interrogation than emotional turmoil, Regina sighed.
“A few days.”
Henry nodded contemplatively but remained infuriatingly silent. Hoping she hadn’t placed too much trust in her son’s growing maturity, Regina’s next words came out more hurriedly than she would have cared for.
“We just want to keep this to ourselves at the moment, Henry.” She could hear the warning in her tone. “At least until Emma has opportunity to speak with her parents.”
At this, Henry choked out a snort, giving her a look nothing short of incredulous.
“You realise you basically already told Gram and Gramps that their daughter knocked you up, right?”
For a moment Regina wasn’t sure which was worse, the crudeness coming from her son, or the uncomfortable realisation that, in her anger at Snow and David on Emma’s behalf, he was right.
It suddenly seemed to occur to Henry what he had said, and to whom. He visibly cringed, eyeing Regina cautiously as if trying to gauge the level of trouble he was in, before throwing back his shoulders, eerily reminiscent of his biological parent just minutes before.
“Sorry, mom, but I’m fourteen. I know you both want me to stay a little kid forever, but I’ve already been kidnapped this week alone, I nearly die at least once a year, and we have HBO.” At Regina’s continued silence he shrugged awkwardly. “So, anyway I’m going to go do my homework now.”
He paused, his expression softening to one that brought back memories of bedtime rituals and first days at school; leaving her with the fleeting thought that their son had a little too much of both herself and Emma in him.
“But I’m happy, it’s Emma’s, ok? I mean, I don’t know how you guys did it.” He seemed to grimace again before swiftly moving on. “But out of all the people I’d pick to look out for you and my baby brother or sister…” His face became solemn. “… I’d choose Emma.”
Before Regina had chance to react to this revelation of sorts, she was tugged into a quick hug before watching her son disappear through the door and out of view as heavy feet thudded gracelessly up the stairs.
The thudding bass of electronic music and simulated gun fire above her head informed her that Henry had, hopefully, now finished his homework and moved onto the inevitable video game portion of his evening. With dinner bubbling idly on the stove, Regina glanced at her watch, only to confirm what it had told her not five minutes earlier, that it was edging closer to six, and there was still no word from Emma. The empty screen of her cell phone stared at her mockingly, revealing no response to either the text or chat message she had left the other woman, ‘just checking in.’ It was occasions like this where she would kill for a glass of wine. Her hand drifted absently to her stomach once more. Yet, she realised, with a startling clarity, that the only thing on her mind was Emma. Worry for Emma, yes. But more generally, just Emma. Distractedly stirring the chilli, another of Emma’s favourites, she sighed.
Emma, who had sought her out and been her friend when she had given her absolutely no reason to do so. Emma, who despite everything that had happened over the last few days was still there, making sure she was ok. Emma, who had whole heartedly thrown herself into supporting Regina through her pregnancy, even before she had any biological imperative to do so. Oh gods. The realisation hit Regina like a truck. Whilst she was aware on some level of the part she had played in making this situation what it was, Henry’s words from earlier sunk into her brain, repeating on a loop. She chose this. She had been so busy focusing on her own guilt; her dismay at her own naivety. And then there had been Emma to consider. Firstly, how she could tell her, and latterly on how they would then tell their son. But the next thought struck her with a ferocity that took her breath away. Despite the guilt, and recrimination, she was relieved. But not just relieved. She was happy. She attempted to inhale, but the air caught in her lungs. Because, whilst she may have told Emma the general mythology that appeared to have led to their current predicament, there was a part of the story that she had still chosen to withhold. The part where Regina, even if subconsciously, had clearly desired so much for Emma to be a part of her unborn child’s life, that her magic had allowed it to become so.
Feeling her chest constrict, Regina gripped the spoon harder, the plastic straining against the side of the pan, as she forced the air back into her lungs.
As she did, she felt another prickle down her spine, her senses suddenly sharpened. For a moment she thought her phone must have chimed and she had missed it in her distracted state. But it took only a second for her to realise that the alert was one of a much more visceral level. A pulse slithered through her veins and she felt it like she felt her own heartbeat. There was someone in her vault. Someone uninvited. And seeing as the structure was protected by blood magic, that meant only one thing.
Thank you to everyone still reading and showing an interest in this story, and apologies again for the haphazard posting dates. This feels like a bit of a 'filler' chapter, but a necessary one. More to follow soon. Hope everyone is keeping safe in the new normal.
The unnerving sight of her own shadow wavering on the grey wall of the vault, its ethereal form murky and unexpected in the dimming evening light, caused the breath to hitch in Regina’s throat as she involuntarily shrank into the space it had occupied. The heavy wooden door to the mausoleum entrance was ajar, and a thin slice of yellow illuminated the gap, shimmering artificially in the void. Hugging the weathered brick as she rounded the corner, her pulse throbbed loudly in her ears. Her free hand found its way to her stomach as the comforting flicker of fire danced over her raised palm. The reassuring sensation brought a welcomed relief to the old, yet still familiar tickle of dread as a potent and instantly recognisable magic filled her senses. Squaring her shoulders, she pushed down the creeping memory of fear the sensation evoked and raised her hand. With in efficient gesture, the ancient door swung slowly open revealing the back of a slim figure in a dark cape, tendrils of long hair stealing out from under the raised hood. Beyond them, in the chamber, swirls of colourful mist filled the air, the low hum of a melodic chant echoing in the vacuum. At the unwanted interruption, the intruder ceased their motion, the light and sound fading into darkness. Regina could only watch as the figure turned unhurriedly, the distinctive clipped tone sending a frisson of anxiety down her spine as dark eyes met her own.
“Why hello, darling. How lovely of you to stop by.”
Thankful that, if her childhood had taught her little else for which she was grateful, she could be confident that her face remained an unswerving mask, Regina rolled her eyes. The flame in her palm swelled momentarily. Yet despite the pounding of her heart, her tone was one of indifference.
“What are you doing here, mother?”
Her own expression equally as indecipherable, Cora sighed.
“Thirty years in this hideous realm has really done your etiquette no favours, my dear.”
It struck Regina, that Cora sounded genuinely disappointed and for a horrifying second, she bit back the urge to apologise. Instead she adopted the most bored tone she could muster, forcing herself to maintain eye contact under the older woman’s piercing gaze.
“If you’re here for some kind of retribution for what happened during your last visit….”
At this, Cora smirked, eyeing her with an appraisal which was bordering on derisive.
“Believe me, darling, I have better things to be doing than seeking revenge on that insipid White girl.”
Refusing to shrink under the obvious admonition, Regina arched an eyebrow in acknowledgement. As the edge of Cora’s mouth twitched in the beginnings of a smile that looked almost genuine, she was surprised to see the flame in her palm subside. A reaction which did not go unnoticed by Cora. Her fingers twitching in anticipation, Regina continued to level the other woman with an even stare, until she eventually sighed again, her tone light.
“Although, I have to admit it is mildly embarrassing that it was by that simpering woman’s hand that I met my supposed demise.”
At this, Regina could not contain the flash of mirth in her own expression, as the simmering fireball finally extinguished.
Cora nodded approvingly at the reaction. “It’s about time you put that parlour trick away. There really is no need for such unpleasantness. Despite your transgressions, you are my daughter first and foremost, and I am not here to cause you harm.”
The heat tickled through her arm, and Regina clamped her fist shut, working again to keep her expression neutral.
“Which naturally begs the question, why are you here? Or more pressingly, how it is exactly that you are here?”
Cora watched her thoughtfully, her head tilting to the side as she smiled in the coy fashion that Regina associated with the various men of power that she had watched her mother encounter during her youth.
“Your proclivity toward the direct approach has always been so unladylike.”
This time there was nothing staged about Regina’s eye-roll. “Yet, still a pertinent matter, mother.”
At this, Cora simply shrugged dismissively. “What can I say? It really is who you know, dear. And is it so difficult to believe that I did not return simply to spend time with my beloved daughter?”
Tamping down her growing frustration, and acutely aware she had little energy, emotional or physical, remaining, Regina shifted slightly. As she did, she felt a strange discomfort down her side. Moving back to her original position, she was alarmed to realise that the sensation remained. Forcing her focus back onto the impenetrable woman before her, she threw out a smirk of her own.
“And here I was hoping that we could skip the touching family reunion and get straight to the exposition.”
Another unreadable expression flitted across Cora’s face. Yet, she remained silent. Unable to ignore the uncomfortable twinge in her stomach any longer, Regina’s hand rose unconsciously settling over what had now become a dull ache.
Noticing the movement, Cora’s eyes flashed. “And it seems I could not have picked a more opportune moment to spend time with my family.”
Regina’s breath caught in her chest and for a second she was unsure whether it was due to her mother’s not so veiled threat or the sharp pain that blossomed in her abdomen. Thankfully, she realised, Cora was so absorbed in her own thoughts that she did not pick up on the miniscule flinch Regina allowed herself, as she once again tried adjusting her stance with little reprieve.
“Forgive my incredulity mother, but child rearing was never really your forte.”
Expecting a comeback, Regina watched as instead Cora’s expression grew heavy for a second, her brow creasing in what, a younger version of herself would have tried to believe was genuine concern.
“Then, as your mother, I should perhaps suggest that you heed the warning of the woman who gave birth to you, and indeed of the parenting that produced such a mother.” Regina felt probing eyes searching her own. “At least with young Henry, you had no need for such concerns. He was after all the product of the precious saviour and that hapless offspring of Rumple’s. This child however…” Cora paused. “As you say, our bloodline has not in the past leant itself well to motherhood. So, it may indeed be fortuitous that at least half of this child’s DNA will have a proclivity towards the tedious righteousness you seem so intent on adopting as your own.” There was another silence, followed by a sigh of what sounded like resignation. “Although I must say, with the power this child will inherit, it seems almost a shame to dilute it in that inane manner that I know you will insist upon.” Something in the night seeming to catch her attention, suddenly brightening, Cora shrugged, her voice taking on a breezy air, as Regina felt her eyes once more rake over her. “Anyway, I believe I have what I came for, for now at least. Don’t let me keep you from your family.” She smiled sweetly. “I’m sure the good Sheriff has had quite the afternoon, following my breadcrumbs around your quaint little town. For my grandchildren’s sake, I hope she did not inherit her mother’s intellect.” Whatever had distracted Cora appeared to be more pressing as she cast a glance over her shoulder, the familiar black smoke already swirling around her feet. “Anyway, dear. Do look after yourself. Until next time.”
As Cora vanished before her, Regina felt a sharp cramp rush up her side. Her hand reached blindly to the wall seeking purchase. Panic beginning to edge out all other thoughts, she leaned back heavily, welcoming the solid sensation of the rough stone as it scraped against her back. Her pulse was refusing to settle to its normal rhythm and for a moment she had the fleeting fear that Emma would somehow be able to sense her growing anxiety. Emma. The first person who would run foolishly into danger if she thought for a second Regina, or anyone, may come to harm. Emma. The last person who deserved to be dragged into a parent child relationship that made Oedipus look functional.
Forcing her breathing to slow, she realised, with relief that that pain in her stomach had receded back to a dull ache. The tightness in her chest eased another notch and the world swam more clearly into focus. It was now almost completely dark out, and as she reached into her pocket for her cell to check the time, she found to her dismay that in her haste to get to the intruder, she had left the device at home. Damn it. She’d only intended to be gone a few minutes, so she hadn’t even informed Henry she was going out. If Emma had arrived home, as she undoubtedly would have by now, if Cora’s pointed comments were anything to go by, she would be wondering where she was. No, not wondering, more than likely considering tearing the town inside out until she located her. Despite her frustration at her own folly, the thought brought with it an unexpected warmth. Feeling her strength returning, Regina pulled herself to her feet. It was time to go home.
“Where the hell have you been?”
The back door had barely opened when Regina heard the frantic words being hurled in her direction. Not wanting to answer any awkward questions about why she had suddenly chosen to use her magic, when she had so clearly been limiting it, she had transported herself to the end of the street. Her plan had been that if Emma was for some reason circling the neighbourhood looking for her, her explanation of feeling like taking a walk would at least seem somewhat plausible. However, from the panicked expression on the other woman’s face, and the anxious, bordering on furious, tone of her voice, it seemed the subterfuge was futile.
As Regina started to reply, she spotted her abandoned cell phone clutched tightly in Emma’s hand and inwardly cringed. If the situation was reversed, she could only imagine how infuriated she would be.
Seeing the apology, clearly evident on Regina’s face as their eyes met, Emma sighed, her shoulders dropping.
“Are you ok?”
Despite the sudden urge to placate, the falsehood dripped off Regina’s tongue before she could even begin to analyse why.
“I’m fine. I simply needed some air and must have lost track of time.”
Emma was watching her carefully, a question appearing in her eyes at the transparent lie. However, she simply nodded, her voice dropping.
“You shouldn’t just go out like that without telling anyone. And not without taking your phone. Especially with Cora still running around town like she’s here on vacation.”
The guilt already gnawing in the pit of her stomach, Regina felt a searing flush of temper, suddenly in need of an outlet.
“I am quite capable of taking care of myself, Emma. I’m pregnant, not incapacitated.”
Regina’s senses flared, awaiting the comeback she knew her retort deserved. However, in response, Emma ran a hand roughly through her hair, looking like she wanted to say something. Instead, she sighed, shaking her head tiredly.
“It’s been a long day, ok. And I’m not looking for a fight, but I’m allowed to worry about you.”
The defeat in her tone removed any remaining wind from the sails of Regina’s anger, as she took in the exhausted look on the younger woman’s face. Whatever Cora had been doing before she arrived at the vault, she clearly knew the chaos it would cause. The real question, however, that remained was whether the carnage was a means to whatever ends had brought her mother to Storybrooke, or simply a distraction from something much worse which awaited them. Feeling drained at the thought, Regina drifted further into the room, shifting unconsciously toward its other occupant. It was only when her shoulder brushed Emma’s that she realised how close they were now standing.
Emma, to her credit, barely acknowledged the uncharacteristically quick acquiescence, and instead inhaled slowly before casting another concerned glance in her direction. It was only then that Regina realised the uncomfortable aching sensation was returning and she was unable to control the wince as her hand fell to her side.
Emma’s voice had the unique quality of someone who was panicking but trying to hide it, badly. In any other situation, Regina may have laughed, but her own concern was starting to spike. Before she could respond Emma’s arm was around her guiding her through the foyer and into the den where she was lowered carefully onto the couch.
Relieved to be sitting, the pain was once again starting to subside, and she felt her muscles relax against the warm body slotted securely next to her.
Obviously feeling the shift, Emma squeezed the arm still fixed around her shoulders. “Don’t worry, it’s probably just the start of growing pains. They were a bitch when I was pregnant with Henry.”
Her throat feeling tight, Regina swallowed, embarrassed by her own alarm at an expected symptom that she had been researching only the day before.
As if reading her mind, Emma smiled. “I’m guessing it’s pretty normal to be a little freaked out the first time it happens. One of the guards was pretty cool and used to talk to me about what was normal, so I didn’t stress out too much.”
Still trying to get a hold of her whirling emotions, Regina felt the cushions shift next to her.
“Come on, you look kinda beat, and I think I read that the cramps should go away if you rest.”
The solid weight against her shifted away and Regina felt the loss keenly. Yet, she allowed herself to be ushered down onto the throw pillow that had been hastily positioned at one end of the seat. Before she could object, her legs were being carefully lifted until she was fully prone. As she felt her shoes being gently removed, she barely managed to suppress the undignified moan as a warm hand squeezed the now aching muscles. As a puff of laughter escaped Emma’s lips, she realised she had not been entirely successful in this and tried her hardest to muster up a stern glare to offset the momentary lapse. In return she was met by an amused stare that she found she had neither the heart, nor the energy, to fight.
“You realise you’re going to have to give these up at some point, right?” Emma examined the pump in her hand, prodding at the sharp heel as if it were some kind of torture device. “I’m pretty sure your feet are going to start hating you in a few months if you insist on continuing to dress like you’re running some Fortune 500.” She turned the shoe over in her hand before looking back up at Regina, a grin starting to form. “And I hate to break it to you, but no kid with half my DNA is gonna see these as a natural fashion choice.”
At the lack of reaction, Emma looked pensive for a moment, before leaning over and dragging the throw blanket from the back of the couch until it covered Regina.
“Get some rest, ok?”
Feeling a gentle pressure on her arm, before Emma stood back up, Regina closed her eyes. The care in the action spurred another wave of guilt. With the omission about her earlier whereabouts, still sitting between them, she found herself unable to bear witness to any further act of comfort. This, however, could not fully protect her from the concerned gaze she could sense for several long seconds before the sound of receding footsteps and a quietly closing door faded to nothing. Now alone in the silence, she willed her suddenly racing heart to slow down as her treacherous thoughts spun in circles, ricocheting between the harsh cold image of her mother, black cape shimmering as she once again vanished and the ghost of the compassionate touch from Emma still lingering on her arm, knowing Regina was hiding something, yet offering her kindness just the same; two very distinct ends of a spectrum all too familiar. But where did Regina herself lie on this scale? Too much water under the bridge to fully redeem herself from all the harm she had caused. Yet enough rights to make her past wrongs haunt her with all the more clarity. Could she honestly say she had earned this second chance that life appeared to have thrown her? Was there any real guarantee that when faced with whatever devastating adversity was in line for her next, she wouldn’t simply find solace in old habits, fall back into the care of the queen who had protected her when no one else had even tried? And who was to say her mother was wrong? The parent child relationships in her bloodline were warped in a way that there was barely a term for in modern therapy. Just look at the lengths she had been prepared to go to simply to keep Henry from Emma when she had first launched herself into Regina’s town and Regina’s life like the saviour she had eventually proved herself to be. Yet, Henry, with his inherent goodness had pardoned her, allowed her past transgressions to fade in the same way as his own. But who was to say that a child of her own blood would hold the same capacity for forgiveness? Maybe that child would instead choose to cling to pain and seek revenge in place of hope. When confronted with hardship, would that child grow to be someone like she, who relished in their anger and sought vengeance upon those who they believed had inflicted it. Or instead be someone who could set their misfortunes and hurt aside and be selfless, even when they had rarely been the recipient of such benevolence. Someone, like Emma.
The destination of her train of thought, she realised, should probably have been obvious. Yet between her spiralling reflections the revelation hit her with such force that she drew in a sharp breath, that stung in her chest. In the days after Gold had confirmed her suspicions about her unborn child’s parentage to be true, when she forced herself to deliberate upon it, Regina had fought to convince herself that she, and by extension the baby, had chosen Emma because she had proven herself to be a more than adequate parent to Henry in recent years. And, in any event, her sheer stubbornness in inserting herself into Regina’s life, her insistence on being her friend, regardless of whether Regina needed or desired it to be so, meant that she would have to accept that Emma Swan would be a fixture in the life of her and her children irrespective of social boundaries or good sense. Yet, with Cora’s voice echoing in her ears, another, bleaker, narrative began to rear its head, prodding at her subconscious, whispering its cruel words in a language she understood all too well. What if this turn of events was grounded in a cause more fundamental than simple preference? What if Emma’s role in this was for the purpose of preventing her child from following the same dark path she herself had all too easily taken? Was this not the very reason Regina had taken that potion all those lifetimes ago? What if any blood child of hers was invariably so fatally flawed by the family legacy that she too had perpetuated, that their only chance was for their remaining genetics to be formed from a soul magically engineered to be the epitome of good? Wasn’t that dichotomy the true curse from the Enchanted Forrest that she could never quite escape? Right and wrong. Light and dark. Good and evil. Little room for the myriad of shades that lay somewhere in between, for the figures who never truly fit neatly on any one side, for someone like the person she had become.
The newly acquired insight settling over her, its weight sitting heavily on her chest, Regina’s hand drifted back to her stomach and she was grateful when sleep finally arrived.
And here we go again... A slightly longer effort this time, at least. Thank you as always to everyone leaving kudos and comments - it is a great motivator, as well as being a relief that people are sticking with me on this. Hope everyone is staying safe.
The first thing that occurred to Emma, as she felt an unwelcome consciousness intruding into her exhausted brain, was that she could smell coffee. It was not that the aroma itself was so unusual, but it did raise the question of where the hell had she fallen asleep? For some sadistic reason, the baby, in the last week, seemed to have taken a particularly violent dislike to that specific scent, leaving Regina ashen and queasy at even the barest hint. And therefore, as much as it pained Emma, and sent her running to Granny’s on a daily early morning basis, all remnants of the beverage had been temporarily removed from the mansion. Which again, raised the issue of where the hell was she?
Stretching out a hand, her fingers met what felt like paper, and maybe a pen. Crap. That explained why her pillow felt so hard, and not at all like the downy comfort she had become so quickly accustomed to after a few weeks in her current living situation. What time was it?
Unwilling to face the answer to that just yet, Emma wracked her brain for what she must’ve been doing when she managed to finally pass out. The initial terror of returning from the wild goose chase, which her gut knew with a hundred percent certainty was Cora’s handy work, only to find Regina’s cell abandoned in the kitchen and the woman herself nowhere to be found, was still vivid in her mind. Plus, her stress levels had only increased seeing the discomfort the other woman appeared to be in on her return; both physical, and it had seemed, emotional. Even without her super-power, it would have been obvious to Emma that Regina was withholding something. Ignoring the realisation that, with anyone else, the feeling probably would have come with a side of distrust, she was unable to shake the gnawing concern that Regina was somehow gearing up for another round of the self-sacrificial bullshit that she still seemed to think she owed the town, and was going to try and take on her mother all by herself. A fear that, once she’d ordered a pizza for herself and Henry, and roused a weary Regina from her nap and convinced her to go to bed, had left her completely unable to settle herself. Which at least more or less explained, what had brought her to her current predicament.
Her senses beginning to filter back, Emma felt the growing realisation that she was no longer alone. Blearily lifting her head from her desk, she blinked in her surroundings until her unfocused gaze met a familiar pair of concerned blue eyes.
The amusement in David’s tone was clear as he reached over, untangling a paperclip that Emma belatedly realised was dangling from a stray curl of hair that had worked its way free.
“What time is it?” The question was more of a croak, and Emma cleared her throat, groaning at the effort.
The cheerful grin he flashed at her was at odds with his answer, and Emma could feel her scowl growing. At this, his expression moulded into one of concern and he smiled hesitantly.
“What’s up, kiddo?”
Too tired to dredge up her most recent disappointment with her parents, which seemed like an even greater effort with the genuinely kind look on her dad’s face, Emma sighed, rubbing a hand over her face.
“I just wanted to go through my notes from yesterday, try and see what we could’ve missed.”
Despite her best efforts, a yawn escaped, and David vanished for a moment, reappearing with a steaming mug of coffee which he placed on her desk, dragging over a chair to sit on the other side.
“I know you’re worried.” He paused, catching her eye. “We all are. But we will track her down, honey.”
Emma could feel her exhausted brain registering, but the words slipped out before she could filter them.
“I’m just scared that she’ll….” She groaned, realising that with the understanding nod of her father, it was too late to do anything but carry on talking. Ignoring the strange relief that washed over her, she picked up the coffee mug, scraping a nail around the rim without taking a sip. “I mean, she’s already managed to get to Henry once.” David was watching her patiently. “And it’s just not good for Regina and the baby. She’s got enough going on already. It’s not fair that she has to deal with this crap too.” She huffed in frustration, dumping the mug back down with a little more force than intended. Moving more quickly than she would have given him credit for, David leaned over, sweeping up the stray papers as the dark liquid sloshed over the desk, giving her a supportive smile that for some reason made her swallow heavily.
“It’s ok to be worried about them, Em. Some would even say normal.” Stretching back to grab some tissue from his own desk, he began mopping up the mess, his gaze never leaving his daughter. “But we’re all here to look after Regina. She’s family.” His eyes twinkled, and Emma found herself relaxing. “But I value my life, so please never repeat that to Regina.”
“Thanks, dad.” Emma rolled her neck, grimacing at the cracking of the fraught muscles. To her relief, David simply nodded.
“So, why don’t you go drink your coffee, instead of throwing it everywhere, freshen up and then we can go back through everything we know, and make a plan, ok kid?”
Ignoring the prick of tears that had begun burning, Emma picked up the mug, taking a hefty swig. With a final nod, David pushed himself to his feet, squeezing her shoulder lightly before quietly leaving her to her thoughts.
“I just don’t get what she was doing?”
Letting the Sharpie drop from her fingers in frustration, Emma took a step back, attempting to survey the scene that they had been re-constructing on the station conference table for the better part of three hours. David, to his credit looked almost as frustrated as she felt, as he too took a step away to stand by her side. For a moment they both took in the newly decorated map of Storybrooke, which was beginning to resemble a slightly morbid craft project more than a town plan. Red string, hooked around drawing pins, revealed the likely order in which the magical chaos had ensued, and alongside each pin were polaroid photos of the coinciding incident, or at least its’ aftermath. Making a mental note to introduce her dad to some of the more current police procedurals that Netflix had to offer, Emma forced herself to focus, hoping that if she could just clear her mind, some kind of pattern would subconsciously make itself known to her. But instead, all she could see was a totally random mess. Ok, so route planning probably wasn’t going to be big on the agenda of someone who could ‘poof’ themselves any place they needed to go. Yet, Cora was clearly up to something and from what she knew of the woman, albeit mostly from the meticulous daughter she had created, she did not seem like one who liked to go with the flow. There was clearly a plan. But, what was it?
By what Emma could only assume was some small miracle, despite a couple of minor scrapes, no-one had been badly injured by any of the magical incidents that had been springing up all over town. Although, seriously, Little Shop of Horrors was not so fun in real life. Yet, between carnivorous plants eating through the butcher’s shop then promptly dying, a flock of demonic birds, with a strange resemblance to pterodactyls, destroying an abandoned farm on the outskirts of town before mysteriously vanishing and perhaps most disturbingly from her childhood nightmares, several sightings of a giant shark, which apparently became invisible upon anyone looking too closely at it, circling the bay by the docks for almost an hour before disappearing in a loud, and extremely gross explosion for no particular reason, and taking out at least three fishing boats in the process, it had been a long and, even by Storybrooke’s standards, creepy afternoon. And whilst Emma by no means had Regina’s understanding or knowledge of magic and its uses, she could tell, if only on instinct that the displays they were seeing were the work of one individual. And whether it was her natural magic, or plain gut instinct, she knew it was Cora. However, the why was still alluding her.
Even in the midst of the chaos, she had realised that the whole set up was too absurd to be anything but a distraction. Yet after reassuring a family who lived only a block from Mifflin Street that their chairs being repeatedly stacked on top of their kitchen table by an unseen presence, was totally nothing to worry about, she’d had a certain urge to get back before dark. That she’d then spent an embarrassing amount of time checking that in no way could she hear knives scraping against pipe work anywhere in her vicinity, was a decent indication, that if Cora was simply messing with them, she’d done a fairly impressive, if slightly retro, job. But again, why? Pointless, if kind of terrifying, magic shows were not Cora’s thing. There had to be another reason why she’d wanted the citizens of Storybrooke distracted for an entire afternoon. And where had Regina disappeared to? What if Cora had…
Blinking Emma turned to see David watching her with the same look of concern from earlier.
“I’m fine, dad.”
At his momentary smile, she flinched, knowing that she had subconsciously used the title, as she so often did to distract Snow and David from digging any further into certain moods. If only to assuage her own guilt, she returned the expression, pointing at the map.
“What do you see?”
David appeared to think about the question before shrugging. “Whoever, or wherever, Cora got her inspiration from has pretty classic taste in movies.”
“Not bad for a guy who spent more than two decades in a coma.” Emma quirked an eyebrow, but her tone became serious. “But what else? I mean, it’s random, like too random.”
David nodded. “You think it’s to cover up what she’s really doing here?”
Running a hand through her hair, Emma sighed. “That’s what really scares me.”
There was a moment of hesitation, before an arm reached out pulling her into a tentative side hug.
“Look, I know your mom and I still don’t always see eye to eye with Regina, but like I said earlier, she’s family and you trust we’ll do whatever it takes to keep her and the baby safe, right?” When Emma found herself unable to respond, David tightened his grip for a moment before releasing her and offering another smile which gave her more reassurance than it probably had any right to. “Look, we’ve done as much as we can here. Why don’t you head off and spend some time with Regina and Henry, and I’ll let you know if anything else comes up, ok?”
Feeling both the pull of exhaustion, and an even greater pull, which she wasn’t going to examine too closely, to see for herself that Regina was in fact safe and well, Emma grumbled, but nevertheless headed to her desk to collect her keys and phone. As she turned to leave, David was still pouring over the map, adding yet another piece of string to their trail. When he caught her staring, he gave a her an encouraging wave, shooing her in the direction of the door. With a final sigh, this time of relief, Emma headed home.
As she tiredly fumbled with her key in the lock, Emma’s heart leapt into her throat at the commotion she could hear coming from the kitchen beyond. The noise wearing on her already frayed nerves, it took several attempts before she finally navigated the mechanism, pushing open the back door, and recoiling almost immediately at the black smoke and acrid smell that filled the air. This time her voice held a note verging on panic.
The sounds came more into focus, and with genuine bemusement, Emma realised that it was more a chain of expletives which she was genuinely surprised that the other woman, so often old-fashioned in her choice of language, even knew, let alone could use in such an inventive fashion.
At that the room fell silent, and with the wave of a hand outlined through the fog, the smoke started to clear, revealing an irritated Regina holding a dish that contained what appeared to be the charred remains of some sort of pastry.
Attempting to contain her amusement, guessing it wouldn’t end well for either of them, Emma smiled. “You ok?”
A familiar look of disbelief flashed across Regina’s features for a second before she seemed to deflate, her shoulders dropping.
“It would appear I can no longer even stay awake long enough to make pie.” At Emma’s genuinely sympathetic expression, she softened. “But other than that, I’m just excellent. And not that I’m not happy about it, but why are you home so early?”
This time it was Emma’s turn to look sheepish. “I think my dad took pity on me and figured I’d be more use home with you than trying to help him figure out Cora’s little game from yesterday.” She yawned widely, before shrugging in embarrassment. “And that.”
“You didn’t sleep.”
It wasn’t really a question and Emma didn’t dignify it with a response. Instead she shrugged off her jacket, hanging it over the back of the stool next to her, noting the slight flinch from Regina as she mentioned Cora.
“I just wish I could figure out what her plan is.”
As if she’d now steeled herself against any further reaction, Regina simply nodded, placing the still smouldering dish on the counter and indicating to Emma to follow her, a move that Emma made gratefully as the stench of cremated fruit was beginning to make her throat burn. As they headed toward the den, she could see the tell-tale sign of blankets laid out on the sofa, a sure sign that Regina’s fatigue was as she had suspected, greater than she had been willing to admit. Seeing Emma take in the scene, the other woman straightened her shoulders once more, moving around the couch to stand by the fireplace, as if the simple act of sitting down was an admission of weakness. Too exhausted to call her on it, Emma sank down into the cushions, twisting slightly so she could see Regina as she continued to think aloud.
“I mean, it had to have been a distraction, right? Because, seriously, how else do you explain a ten-foot marshmallow dude stampeding Main Street. Wait, was that even Disney…” Seeing Regina’s expression change to one of mild confusion, she tailed off. “And her magic. I don’t know, it just seemed really strong. Like we were meant to be able to tell it was her. Even I could sense it.”
At this, Regina’s eyes narrowed, and she looked at Emma curiously. “You think she was trying to draw attention to herself?”
Feeling like Regina had something more to add, Emma waited. However, instead, she fell silent, clearly considering something, yet somehow choosing not to share it. The lack of sleep and emotional rollercoaster of the last few days, probably not helping, Emma couldn’t help but feel her frustration start to bubble to the surface.
“Well, if anyone would understand what her game is, it should be you.” Emma detected the flash of hurt on the other woman’s face before her brain could send the message to her mouth. “I mean the whole toying with people was kind of your thing too, right?”
Instead of offering a verbal response, Regina seemed to recoil at the words, taking a step back until she was practically standing on the hearth. The reaction hitting Emma like a punch to the gut, she exhaled, instinctively taking a step forward to close the gap.
“Shit! I’m sorry. You know I didn’t mean that like it sounded. I really am an idiot ok.” She reached for Regina’s hand, relieved when she didn’t pull away, despite the strangely haunted expression her face had taken on. “I’m not saying you’re anything like Cora, ok. You know that right?” Emma could hear herself sounding increasingly desperate, but she needed Regina to understand. “You have done so much good here, and I get that mom-daughter relationships can be messed up. I just meant that you know her better than anyone and are the best person to figure out what she wants, so we can fix this, like we fix everything else, together.” Regina was yet to reject her, but she seemed frozen, and Emma’s fear that she’d done something irreparable only grew. “And we need to fix this because I need to know that you’re safe, that you and our kid are safe. Because if anything happened to you…”
Unsure what else she could say, she let her words fade. Regina remained silent but her skin had taken on an unhealthy pallor and Emma could tell that her breathing was becoming increasingly shallow. As her eyes darted wildly around the room, Emma felt her own chest ache in empathy.
“Can’t breathe.” The words were choked and desperate.
Emma let her thumb drift to her wrist to rest on her pulse point, confirming what she suspected, that her heart was hammering wildly. With a calmness that she still didn’t feel, she sought out Regina’s face forcing her to retain eye contact.
“Regina, you’re ok. I promise you. But you need to listen to me.”
Realising Regina was now fixed on her as if she were a lifeline, Emma offered a reassuring smile, squeezing her hands briefly before letting go, desperately trying to recall the more useful parts of the advice she’d spent several late nights googling after the incident in the study.
“Do you want to keep moving or do you need to sit down?”
“Dizzy.” The word was quiet but clear.
Emma nodded. “I’m going to move you so you can sit on the sofa, ok?” When the only response from the older woman was a gasp for air, Emma steered her back gently pushing her down into a seated position and propping up as many cushions as she could reach behind her. Crouching down to remain at eye level, she carefully balanced on the balls of her feet. “That’s great. Ok, I know it’s hard, but can you try and take a deep breath for me.” Emma breathed in through her nose holding it for a moment then exhaling. Watching her intently, Regina attempted to copy, holding the breath for a second as beads of sweat started to form. Unable to hold it, Emma watched, her heart clenching as Regina’s breathing became more rapid still, tears now filling her eyes. “Sshh, you’re ok. I promise. You’re doing great. Let’s try it again.”
Glancing at the clock on the wall, Emma was painfully aware that almost twenty minutes had now passed, and Regina seemed no closer to having gotten her breathing under control. Whilst she now knew that in theory a panic attack could last anywhere up to an hour, she was quickly realising that reading this information on the internet and watching someone she cared very deeply for struggle to breathe were two very different things.
Her own worry growing, alongside the gnawing guilt which had taken up what felt like a permanent residence, Emma swallowed, deciding to take the tack which seemed to have recently served her well when it came to Regina Mills and follow her instincts.
Rising to her feet she carefully maintained eye contact, smiling gently. Lowering herself onto the sofa next to her, she slowly reached out a hand. Regina nodded in silent consent and Emma closed the gap between them, one hand rubbing gentle circles on a trembling back, the other gently stilling a shaking knee.
Inhaling slowly again, she was relieved to see the action mirrored, this time with greater success. “That’s it. And again.” Her eyes remaining fixed with Regina’s, Emma repeated the action for several minutes until the other woman’s breathing was more or less in sync with her own. Not breaking the eye contact, she reached around the older woman, grabbing one of the blankets still in their pile from earlier, loosely wrapping it around Regina’s still trembling frame. “See you’re ok.”
Gratefully accepting the additional warmth and her breathing now almost under control, Emma could see the exhaustion in the other woman’s face. Shifting closer still, she wrapped an arm carefully around her shoulders, holding the blanket in place, the other hand tenderly squeezing Regina’s which remained folded in her lap. As she turned to look at her, the trust in her eyes took Emma’s breath away, and she found herself tightening her grip whispering fiercely. “See, you’re ok, I’ve got you.”
At the thought, Emma was only mildly surprised to feel her surroundings dissolve and reform to reveal once again Regina’s bedroom. Smiling almost shyly, she guided her down onto her side pulling the covers around her and seating herself back on the edge of the bed. For a moment Regina looked like she was about to speak but Emma smiled softly smoothing a hand through dark hair. “Sshh. You don’t need to say anything, just try and rest, ok.”
Regina’s eyes already closing, Emma barely caught the mumbled “so tired” that escaped from the bed.
Brown eyes fluttered open for a moment; the anxiety clear even through the exhaustion in them. “But what if….”
Emma smiled softly, the hand in Regina’s hair stilling for a moment, the words spilling out without hesitation. “I’m not going anywhere.” Her hand recommenced its soothing motion. “Just close your eyes and rest.”
Regina’s eyes were already drifting closed, as she snuggled into the pillow settling onto her side in the position that Emma had come to realise signified sleep. As she did so the covers shifted leaving a smooth back exposed. Absently reaching out to pull her shirt back down, Emma’s fingertips brushed the bare skin. Feeling strangely guilty, she went to pull her hand away until she heard the relaxed sigh from the other woman at the contact. Driven purely by instinct, she placed the flat of her hand on Regina’s back letting her fingers trace soothing patterns on the warm skin. At the sensation, the exhausted woman let out a content sigh, and Emma was amazed to feel her relax under the touch. Suddenly unable to pull her hand away, she watched in awe as Regina’s features slackened, the previous signs of worry slipping from them, her breathing becoming deep and steady as she finally felt safe enough to succumb to sleep.
The click of a door latch below made Emma startle from the strange trance she seemed to have fallen into. Crap. Henry. The kid had picked up the well-intentioned, if not slightly over-protective, habit of coming home at lunch to check on his mom on days he knew that she had stayed home while Emma was at work. And as normal, his timing was perfect, or not as the case may be.
Torn between an almost painful reluctance to leave Regina’s side, but not wanting to Henry to wake her up accidentally when he inevitably came upstairs looking for her, Emma lifted herself carefully from the bed. She froze for a moment as Regina stirred at the movement before shuffling over to settle in the spot that Emma had vacated, her breathing evening out almost instantly.
Leaving the bedroom door open just enough so she could still hear any disturbance, Emma slipped out of the room, meeting Henry as he rounded the top of the stairs. If he was surprised to find her home and coming out from his mom’s bedroom in the middle of the day, he didn’t show it. Instead he raised a concerned eyebrow as Emma put a finger to her lips, motioning him in the direction of his room. However, her constant glances in the direction of Regina’s semi open doorway did not go unnoticed, and instead of going into his room, Henry stopped outside, leaning against the wall and giving Emma a hard stare.
“Ok, what’s going on now?” Worry filtered into the expression. “Is mom ok?”
The conflict between not wanting to scare the kid but knowing she probably shouldn’t lie to him must’ve played out on her face, as Henry’s voice became more urgent.
Sighing, Emma turned, dropping her head back until it thudded against the wall. The unexpected jolt brought her back to the present and she met her son’s eyes purposefully.
“She’s fine, Henry. She just had, um… a panic attack, I guess is the best way to describe it.”
The shock in Emma’s expression had no hope of staying hidden.
Henry, sighed, seemingly torn between frustration that Emma was playing dumb, and concern that she may genuinely have no clue what he was talking about.
“She had one the other week, right?”
Still struggling to follow the conversation, Emma nodded mutely.
Henry returned the motion, his expression growing more serious still.
“I guessed she had, as she seemed like she did last time.”
“Last time?” Emma choked out.
Henry’s voice slowed, as if he was explaining something to a small, and not particularly intelligent kid, and Emma was torn between taking in the information and telling him that being a condescending little shit was not the best trait for a lanky teenage boy. Hearing Regina’s scolding voice in her head, she chose to simply listen.
“I think she had them after Grams killed Cora the first time. At least I think that’s what they were. I know she went to see Dr Hopper and then she seemed better, and then, Neverland happened…” he shrugged. “And then we were all gone. And when we remembered mom, and everyone, I was really worried about how she’d been, when she didn’t have us around. But I spoke to Grams who promised they’d been looking out for her and making sure she wasn’t alone, and…”
He trailed off, looking up at her and when he spoke, he sounded so like his ten-year-old self that Emma’s heart clenched painfully in her chest. “Is she gonna be ok?”
As he dropped down to sit on the thick carpet, Emma waited for only a second before sitting next to him, knees drawn to her chest, mirroring his position. At the look of concern etched on his face she had the sudden urge to hug the kid, but instead ruffled his hair as she had done when he was younger.
“She will be, Hen. You and I will make sure of it, right?”
“But how do we help her?”
Henry was watching her closely; the little kid suddenly replaced by the more empathetic young man he was gradually starting to become. It was a pertinent question, and Emma knew that a placating response was not going to cut it. Which would have been easier to handle if she actually knew the damn solution herself.
“To be honest, kid, I kind of wish I had a better answer for you on this one.” Emma shrugged, winding her braid around her hair and meeting her son’s eye.
“I think all we can do is keep just trying to be there for her and letting her know that it’s ok with us if she’s not always ok.”
Henry appeared to consider the response carefully before accepting it, continuing to look Emma dead in the eye, as he nodded thoughtfully. “She needs to know how much we love her.”
Before she could respond, he was back on his feet, at a speed that made Emma’s body feel every minute of its thirty plus years, and his expression was back to one of teenage inertia.
“Ok, so I’m gonna head back to school before mom wakes up and freaks out that I came home on my own.” He paused for a moment, looking Emma up and down before casting a quick glance in the direction of Regina’s bedroom. “I’m really glad you’re here, ma.”
And with that he was gone, leaving Emma, as now seemed like a regular occurrence, wondering what the hell had just happened.
As brown eyes fluttered open, Emma took a quick glance at the clock to see that over an hour had passed since their son’s unexpected interruption. After which, she had briefly toyed with the idea of going downstairs and attempting to clean up the morning’s pie massacre, yet she instead found herself back perched on Regina’s bed, watching her sleep. Whilst she’d tried to tell herself it was purely because she had promised Regina she would stay, she was finding it harder to ignore the realisation that no part of her actually wanted to leave. A truth made all the more obvious by her hand which of its own accord had again began trailing gentle patterns on smooth skin as Regina watched her drowsily for a moment.
The older woman smiled softly. “Thank you.”
Ignoring the guilt that she could feel bubbling in her chest, Emma returned the expression. “How are you feeling?”
Regina’s brow creased for a moment as she brought a hand up to pinch it slightly.
Emma watched with sympathy. “Headache?”
Regina nodded slowly, “a little.” Clearly annoyed with her own perceived weakness, she frowned.
At the action, Emma finally dragged her hand away from the other woman’s back, instead reaching up to comb her fingers gently through thick hair. At the loss of contact Regina shivered. Suddenly hyper-aware of every response, Emma reached out securing the blanket around her before turning her full attention back to her.
Regina paused for a moment before sighing resignedly. “I think I also feel a little nauseous and for some reason am chilled to the bone”
Emma smiled sympathetically. “Do you think you can sleep some more?” Her hand found its way back into the other woman’s hair, sweeping it tenderly away from a pale face. Seeing the hesitation flash across Regina’s face, Emma’s limbs were moving before her brain had chance to catch up. Rising abruptly, she rounded the bed, pushing the covers to one side and clambering in, shuffling until her front was flush against Regina’s back and gathering the older woman to her. Wondering, a little too late, if this was a boundary too far, she was surprised when she felt the weight of Regina shifting to settle more firmly against her, a relaxed sigh accompanying the action.
Unable to contain it any longer, and easier to say now Regina couldn’t actually see her, the “I’m sorry” was out of Emma’s mouth before she could control it.
Regina stilled for a moment, and Emma held her breathe, hoping that she had either slipped back into sleep or hadn’t heard her.
Of course, she was never that damn lucky.
“I shouldn’t have said that stuff about Cora… and you.”
Regina was silent for a beat. The “oh, Emma” was so soft that she almost missed it. “You know you didn’t cause this?”
Unable to respond in a way that didn’t make her sound even more pathetic than she was already feeling, Emma opted for a noncommittal grunt. Closing her eyes, as if the action would allow both herself and the entire situation to disappear, she felt a gentle pressure on the hand that she belatedly realised had found its seemingly natural position on Regina’s stomach. Realising she was not getting off the hook on this one, she sighed.
“I just want to help.”
The weight in her arms shifted and as she dared to let the world back in, she found dark eyes watching her seriously.
“Emma, you have no idea how much you just being here helps.”
Feeling the sudden intensity, Emma shuffled so she could at least stare up at the ceiling and pretend the other woman wasn’t somehow peering directly into her soul.
“I just wish you didn’t have to go through all this crap. It’s not fair. You don’t deserve it.”
Emma was aware she probably sounded like a slightly petulant child, but the comfort of the decadent bed, not to mention the warm body against her was making it increasingly difficult not to surrender to her own exhaustion, and her filter, if she really had one to begin with, was at a solid zero.
“I think you will find many who would fundamentally disagree with that statement. And rightly so.”
The conviction in Regina’s gentle tone made Emma’s heart physically ache. Without thinking, she reached out an arm, snaking it under the other woman’s shoulders and pulling her closer.
“Well they can go screw themselves, ‘cos they don’t know you.”
Regina was still for another moment and Emma felt a hint panic edging through her exhaustion as she realised she was pretty much holding her. Starting to release her grip, she was surprised to instead feel Regina shifting more securely into her, laying her head on her chest and letting out a slow breath. Giving into the intense rush of protectiveness that flooded through her at the action, Emma tightened her grasp, feeling Regina sink into her further, her hand twisting itself into her shirt and holding on. As her brain fumbled for words of comfort, Regina’s breathing slackened, and the solid weight of her head slotted perfectly under Emma’s chin grew heavier. Letting her fingers drift down the exposed arm clutching her, the overwhelming need to protect the woman in her arms only grew as Regina let out a contented mumble, burying herself further into Emma and visibly relaxing. Emma watched in awe as she felt the moment her body settled, and she slipped into the solace of sleep. Knowing that, for the moment at least, Regina was comfortable and safe, Emma finally allowed herself to follow.