"So are you going to tell me what that was about earlier?"
Regina and Emma are moving about Emma's living room, cleaning up after their meal. They and Henry had ended up ordering takeout from Granny's for an early dinner (which they had eaten right from Emma's couch instead of at the table, something Regina will deny agreeing to—she's not a slob, for God's sake—but actually secretly enjoyed), and then Regina had sent Henry off to Snow and David's precisely to ask this question.
(And to check up on Emma, because the anguish that had receded from her eyes for a little while had gradually crept back into them, and Regina feels helpless to do anything about it.)
"About what?" Emma feigns ignorance and Regina resists the urge to roll her eyes, shooting her a pointed look instead.
"You know what." Regina stores the last of the leftovers in the fridge before turning back to Emma, who is now leaning against the counter halfway across the room and fidgeting. "Seriously, Emma," she continues, watching the other woman carefully. "Are... are you okay?"
Emma lets out a sudden noise, something between a laugh and a sob, and Regina tries not to wince. "Okay isn't really the word I'd use right now," Emma says, voice wobbly. Something in Regina's chest hurts at the way Emma wrings her trembling hands. Regina walks over to her slowly, hesitant to invade Emma's space, and stops just within arms reach. Emma looks up at her with tired, shining eyes.
"Yeah," is all Regina says, voice soft, because what else can she say? (Regina knows how all-consuming loss can be; no apology or expression of care, however sincere, is enough to begin filling the void, especially when the wounds are so fresh. She would give anything to save Emma from that, to keep Emma from having to feel that hollow devastation that Regina has become all too familiar with over the years.
But Regina can't do that, she can't make the loss disappear. All she can do is be the solid ground beneath Emma's feet as Emma's world crumbles and hope it's enough to hold her up.
It has to be.)
Emma moves closer to Regina, something subtle but begging in her gaze, and Regina understands. She reaches out and gently touches Emma's arm, the same way she had just a day before when they had both thought Emma was about to die. Oh, how one day changes things.
(And Regina doesn't know if she should feel guilty for being thankful, relieved beyond words, that it wasn't Emma who lost her life that night. Because for one careless moment Regina had felt with such fierce certainty that the price of Hook's life was more than worth it if Emma could still be here, still breathing and living and loving their son, and Regina doesn't know what that makes her. Loving? Selfish?
Regina tables this line of thought, pushes it into the recesses of her mind. Now's not the time.)
Just as before, it seems as if something in Emma simultaneously tightens and loosens at Regina's touch. (Regina doesn't think too hard about what that might be.) Emma trails her hand across Regina's other wrist and holds it almost reverently, grasp deceptively light, as if it holds all the answers she's seeking.
It doesn't. Regina doesn't, but maybe she holds enough for Emma to find one precious moment of respite.
They stand there together in silence (they're good at that, Regina thinks) until Emma pulls away slowly and sighs.
"I'm hearing voices. Whispers," she says, voice hushed.
"What?" Regina's eyes widen instantly.
"The same whispers I heard when I was the Dark One. I'm not crazy," Emma explains urgently, almost defiantly. "I think the dagger's calling to me."
Regina's eyebrows crease with confusion. "No, that's- I believe you, it's just- how? That shouldn't be possible, not after what H- what Killian did."
"I know. But the Dark One voices are calling to me, and maybe you can guess where—or maybe more appropriately, who—they're calling me to," Emma replies, and her wry tone quickly makes it clear who she's talking about.
Regina clucks her tongue and exhales from her nose with something akin to irritation. "Gold," she says, and Emma nods. Uneasiness but more so tired aggravation—because really? Him again?—seep into Regina's thoughts. What has he been up to this time.
"I'm gonna go see him. See what's going on," Emma starts, and a flash of concern streaks through Regina.
"Now?" Regina says, letting that concern flow through into her voice and hoping Emma doesn't take it the wrong way. She knows Emma, and she knows that Emma hates being spoken to like she's fragile. (And that isn't what Regina thinks, not by a long shot; Emma Swan has never been and will probably never be anything resembling a damsel needing protection—support, maybe, but not protection in the common, old-fashioned sense of the word.) And it's not that Regina doesn't trust Emma, that would be absurd, but she definitely doesn't trust Gold—especially not right now, given everything that's just happened and the state it's left them all in: battered and off-kilter.
"Yeah, now. I- I have to see." Emma's determined, it's clear by the spark in her eyes—small, but undeniably there—and Regina can't find it in herself to put it out. "Come with me?" Emma asks almost absentmindedly, grabbing her leather jacket off the back of a chair. Regina immediately follows, collecting her own things.
"Of course." It's funny that Emma even had to ask. When's the last time Regina didn't?
(But then Regina remembers from just the day before, Emma's Come to Granny's with me and Regina's No, I can't.
They're about to head out the door when Regina checks her phone, which has been left untouched for several hours, and sees that she has three missed calls and several texts from Robin (where are you? and can I see you? and are you okay? what are you doing right now? and Regina???????). Regina sighs, and Emma turns around at the sound.
"What?" Emma asks.
"It's Robin." Regina holds up her phone. "I think he's been looking for me." Something in Emma's face shifts, a shadow that might have gone unnoticed by anyone who hasn't been attuned to Emma's expressions for as long as Regina has. Regina frowns at the change.
"Then go to him," Emma says, gesturing to the phone with a half-shrug. "I can go alone."
"No, this is more important-"
"Regina, I'll be fine." Emma's reassuring words don't quite match the tightness in her voice or the guarded expression on her face. "I'll find you after and tell you about it, yeah? And maybe... it's better if I confront this alone anyway." Regina swallows and remains rooted to her spot for a few prolonged moments, but eventually concedes and texts Robin back: Sorry, I'm coming now. When she looks up again she's a little disappointed to find that Emma's face is still a bit shuttered, but she continues on.
"Find me as soon as you're done and call me if anything happens," Regina tells Emma sternly. "I'll be waiting," she adds, tapping Emma's shoulder twice with the corner of her phone as she walks past. Emma responds with a grudging nod and slight eye roll (which, in Regina's opinion, is rather hypocritical considering Emma once literally tracked her phone and insisted on following her on an undercover mission, but whatever). "I mean it, if anything happens and you need me..."
"Then I will call you. Just make sure your phone's not on silent this time, old lady," Emma quips with a small smirk. Regina glares, but on the inside she feels a warmth settle over her. This, unlike the entire rest of the situation at hand, is comforting—familiar, just like the way Regina lazily flicks her fingers to lightly thwack Emma in the chest from six feet away (magic is useful like that sometimes). Emma just chuckles. Regina's silently relieved.
"Shush," Regina warns, tilting her chin upward in a faux-regal pose. She makes a show of flicking the sound button on her phone and Emma nods solemnly, clearly holding back more laughter. "I'll see you?"
"Yeah," Emma replies. With one last nod, Regina raises her arms and lets the purple smoke surround her.
Regina lands on the porch outside of her mansion and takes a moment to collect herself. She hasn't seen Robin at all today; she had woken up at the crack of dawn after very few hours of sleep, checked on Henry, and arrived at Town Hall well before eight. (Apparently, mayoral responsibilities only multiply after the threat of a dozen resurrected Dark Ones roaming through town is eliminated. Figures.) By noon she'd been feeling restless—thinking about Emma, though that's not what she told her assistant—and went on a quick walk-slash-lunch-break with an also-concerned Henry before she ditched the office entirely and whisked herself to Emma's house instead.
Now here she is four hours later, realizing she hasn't thought about Robin all day and feeling a little guilty about it. He is her soulmate after all (...soulmate? boyfriend? They haven't really decided on a term, but it seems a bit contrived to keep referring to him as her soulmate), and he should probably be higher on her list of priorities. But Regina reminds herself that today is a special case.
After all, it's not every day that your best friend tries to cope with the fact that she sent her evil-not-evil boyfriend to the Underworld by running him through with a sword of literal darkness.
And with that cheerful thought, Regina opens her front door and walks in, mentally preparing a heartfelt apology and a list of justifications—work, Henry, Emma. Robin enters the foyer and Regina flashes him a smile.
"Regina, where have you been?" he asks, bright eyes worried.
"I'm really sorry I didn't call, it's been a busy day with work, and Henry, and I went to see Emma, and..." Check, check, and check.
"Oh, Emma? How is she?"
"She's..." Regina sighs. "Well, I guess she's about as good as anyone would be right now. But I know her, and she'll get through this." The corners of Regina's lips turn upward at the thought of Emma's family, all of them supporting one another through the hardest of times. Robin smiles as well and nudges at her shoulder.
"Well if anything, this horrible ordeal has been a reminder to all of us to hold our loved ones close," he says, taking both of her hands in his. "Let's do something quiet tonight, just the two of us. We haven't been able to sit down and relax since, well, since I was still with my wife who turned out to be your sister." They both chuckle, Regina albeit a little uncomfortably (they haven't really talked about that particular ordeal of their own yet, at least not to any meaningful extent, because there hasn't exactly been time. But Regina's definitely not in the mood to talk about it now. And besides, there are more pressing matters.)
"I'm sorry, that sounds really nice, but something's come up. I don't know if it's going to be a problem yet, but I'm waiting on a call from Emma." Regina takes a small step away from Robin, still holding his hands in what she hopes is a placating gesture as she watches his grin falter.
"Now? What could have possibly happened now?"
"It's... we don't know yet exactly, but Emma went to find out. I was supposed to go with her, actually, but I saw your calls, and..." Regina trails off, eyebrows furrowing. Where is Emma now? Is she talking to Gold yet? If she's in danger and she isn't calling me I swear-
"Okay, uh, then we can at least sit down and have something to eat." Robin's voice sounds distant to Regina, cutting through a fog of worry, and it takes her a moment to register what he's saying. "I made some-"
"We had an early dinner at Emma's," Regina interjects. She realizes too late that her voice came out sharp, unexpectedly so. She swallows and shakes her head minutely, trying to clear out the last of the fog. "I'm sorry, Henry was hungry so we ordered Granny's. I wouldn't have eaten if I'd known..."
"It's okay." Robin smiles yet again, strained at the edges, and a slight awkward tension fills the air between them in the silence. Regina presses her lips together, trying to think of a way to salvage the situation.
"You know, I'm sure whatever... issues Emma and I have left to deal with right now can be resolved quickly," she says, though a voice in her head is scoffing because when has that ever been the case—but she's willing to pretend, if only for a minute. "Once she checks in with me we can set tomorrow aside for just us, what do you think?" Regina grasps his hand in hers, hoping he'll agree quickly because her other hand is twitching to reach inside her jacket pocket and check her phone—rationally, Regina understands that she (very pointedly) took it off silent and she would have heard any call or message, but the compulsion is still very much there in her fingertips.
"That sounds nice," he (finally) replies (really it's only been a few seconds, Regina knows that, but still). She shoots him one last smile, waits for him to reciprocate, and pulls away, murmuring some indeterminate excuse or the other to leave the room and go to her office, rather indiscreetly pulling her phone out on the way there.
Just as expected, nothing. Regina sighs and plops down onto the couch, rubbing the edge of her hand against her temple.
(And if Regina were a healthy person who was upfront about her emotions, she might have taken this quiet moment to acknowledge that losing Emma to the darkness, watching someone she cares about disappear right in front of her in horror, might have manifested in a fear that's only been exacerbated by the stress of believing that Emma was about to sacrifice herself yesterday—but Regina hasn't really been an emotionally healthy person in a long time, and she will continue to resolutely ignore the source of her stress while simultaneously wallowing in it.)
It takes a few more minutes of staring at her phone wondering what the hell is going on with Emma and Gold—Robin seems to understand to leave her alone right now, which is a relief—before Regina finally gets a text from Emma. She scrambles to read it, and it only says one thing: i'm parked by granny's. Regina teleports out of her house within seconds.
She emerges from her cloud of smoke to see Emma's Bug and quickly walks over to the passenger's side, footsteps loud in the empty street. It's dark outside now, dusk just setting in, and the cold air almost instantly chills Regina to the bone. She can see Emma's silhouette inside her car as she approaches; her posture looks stiff and antsy, as if she's about to bolt off.
Well, apparently Regina read that right, because she doesn't have a chance to get one word out when she sits inside and closes the door before Emma's driving off and most definitely breaking the speed limit.
"Emma, what-??" Regina starts, bewildered. The car's engine hums, dangerously loud, and is only increasing in volume with every passing second.
"Gold betrayed us. He betrayed us and Killian died for nothing, so I'm going to get him back." The spark Regina had caught a glimpse of in Emma's eyes earlier is in full force now, except now it's paired with heightened anguish and and a frantic anger just behind it.
"What?! Emma, would you just slow down and explain this to me-"
"Gold is the Dark One again, he- he loopholed Killian's sacrifice and it's not fair-"
"Gold did what?? And what do you mean you're going to get him ba- slow down, you're going to crash-!"
"I'm going to the Underworld, I'm saving him, it's the only-"
"Emma STOP!" Regina raises her voice as they rush toward a turn they're definitely not gonna make at this speed. Emma seems to come to the same realization and brakes hard—they skid to a stop just in time.
For a few seconds they just sit there and catch their breath. Regina's the first to move, clambering out of the car and walking around to Emma's side to pull her out as well.
"Are you okay?" Regina asks, voice simultaneously sharp and gentle. Her hands are on Emma's elbows from having grabbed her and the two of them lean against the side of the Bug, alone in the cold, dark street. Emma nods and Regina nods back but stays close, hands lingering on Emma's jacket sleeves. "Now, tell me what happened."
Emma sighs, eyes fluttering closed as she leans into Regina's hold. She looks and sounds exhausted. "When Gold gave us Excalibur, he enchanted it so that when it was used, all the darkness was redirected to him instead of back to the Underworld." Regina inhales sharply before scoffing, because of course he couldn't resist. Of course.
"So, that makes him the Dark One. Again. I guess it was our mistake to ever trust him."
"Not only the Dark One, he now has all the magic of every Dark One ever. He's powerful, Regina. More powerful than before." Emma pauses and Regina processes, but before she can really think about what fun new problems an extra-powerful Rumpelstiltskin may pose, Emma continues: "But more importantly right now, he can take me to the Underworld. I can get to Killian."
At this, Regina drops her arms and looks carefully at Emma. Something about this feels off. This doesn't seem like something Emma would normally do.
(But then again, what is "normal" Emma anyway, especially after everything that's just happened? What right does Regina have to say she knows? After all, if Emma became the Dark One to save Regina, what lengths would she go to to save the man she loves?)
Wary but cautious, Regina simply asks, "And Gold's agreeing to do this for you?"
"Yes. Because Belle doesn't know he's the Dark One again, and I'll keep my mouth shut if he does," Emma answers grimly, and Regina's eyebrows shoot up. This is what really grabs her attention—since when does Emma Swan use people as bargaining chips?
"So what, you're blackmailing the Dark One and Belle is just, I don't know, collateral damage?" Regina knows her tone has an edge and she doesn't bother softening it. (Frankly, they've all tossed Belle around for far too long as nothing more than a shiny object to manipulate Rumpelstiltskin—Regina knows she's guilty of it herself—but for Emma to do it so blatantly, without even a second thought—something's off.)
"Belle's going to figure it out soon anyway, okay? She's too smart for his scheming, we both know that already. Killian's life is at stake here." Emma's defensiveness slots into place like a latch locking a door. Her words are hissed, low and urgent.
But Regina doesn't think Emma realizes how much her eyes betray, the guilt and the turmoil and the something else, something much more personal, burning in them just below the surface.
"Emma, why are you doing this?" Regina asks softly, a little tentatively. Emma's eyes narrow.
"Why do you think? I love him, and if there's a chance to get him back, to give him a life he deserves, I have to take it." She sounds genuine enough, and Regina knows Emma loves Hook—she does. But she also knows that this is complicated—Emma and Hook and this entire situation are really fucking complicated and Regina doesn't know what to take from it.
"Emma," Regina says again, low and simmering from the bottom of her throat. "Is- do you think that's what he wants?"
(Because as much as Regina generally disliked him, his let me die a hero had sounded too similar to her own let me die as Regina from years before and Regina still grapples with what happened—how she didn't die—in the mine that day, so. She thinks she may understand in a way the rest of them don't.)
"It's my fault all of this happened to him. Even his sacrifice, my sacrifice, was made in vain. I have to fix it," Emma says back to Regina, and that's when the realization finally clicks into place. Emma is defiant, Regina can see it so clearly, defiant and desperate and trying to settle months of chaos and darkness with one act of selfless devotion. The Savior's doing what the Savior does best because she doesn't know what else to do.
(And Regina's heart hurts for her, for a fatigued Emma who carries the weight of impossible expectations as if she's any less valuable for not meeting them.
There's a long pause before Regina responds. She turns words over in her head, all too cognizant of that line between spoken and unspoken that the two of them never cross. (They communicate in fleeting touches and lingering looks and unexplored conversations. This is another one of them.)
"He doesn't blame you, you know. None of us do. For any of it," she finally says. Emma's eyes abruptly flick to hers, bright against the darkness all around them, and Regina tries to convey everything she hasn't said, tries to tell her it's okay and you are loved and you don't need to repent for having shed the illusion of perfection and goodness. And for one split second Regina thinks she may have succeeded, or at least begun to, until Emma's eyes fall.
"You would do the same for Robin," Emma says in return, and it's abruptly clear that the conversation is over (unexplored and all). Regina just exhales, her breath a white puff of resignation, and firmly pushes thoughts of Robin out of her mind for now. (Now's not the time.) Emma continues, voice steady and stronger than it's been all day. "I'm doing this, Regina. I'm going to the Underworld and bringing him back with me."
"Okay," Regina replies simply. She can see that Emma's not going to change her mind, and she knows from experience that arguing now will get them nowhere. Instead she casually adds, "So, when do we leave?"
(Because despite everything, Regina will be damned if Emma thinks she can go off to Hell without her.
"We?" Emma stares inquisitively as if this weren't a given, and Regina gives her the certified Emma, don't be an idiot look. Emma's shoulders, hunched from the cold, relax as if warmth is flooding through them, and the barest hint of a grateful smile makes its way onto her face. "You would do that for him?"
Regina snorts but her eyes are soft. "I would do it for you," she corrects gently. You know that. Instinctively, she lifts a hand and brushes strands of wind-swept hair away from Emma's eyes, the pad of her thumb just barely brushing Emma's near-frozen cheek by accident. Emma's eyes and smile widen in tandem, a miniscule amount, and Regina feels content.
"Now," Regina says, turning back to the car. "Where the hell were you trying to go when you almost killed us earlier?"
"We are not taking our teenage son to the Underworld!"
"I know that, why are you yelling at me?!"
They're all in Snow and Charming's loft, Emma having just explained her grand plan—Regina is still a little unsettled by the idea of splitting Emma's heart, but it could work, she supposes—and successfully (if unintentionally) recruited the entire crew to go with them. Except the kids, of course; they're staying home. Robin and David have just left to confirm living arrangements for Neal, Roland, and the baby.
Henry, however, doesn't seem to be getting the message.
So now the three of them, two moms and son, are standing in a corner quietly arguing (though that hasn't stopped Snow from not-so-subtly listening in on their every word from across the room—just as nosy as ever, Regina thinks wryly). Regina and Emma are adamant about Henry staying in Storybrooke because, well, they aren't stupid; they're not going to bring their teenage son to the land of the dead. But Henry's determined, his desire to be in on the action abundantly clear, and Regina blames Emma's genes.
"He got all this risk-taking and thirst for adventure from you," Regina mutters. Emma just scoffs, rolling her eyes.
"Hate to break it to you Regina, but his stubbornness came from you, so we're even." Before Regina can make another retort (because Emma is plenty stubborn herself, thank you very much), Henry pipes up again.
"Look Moms, I'm not a useless kid, I could help! I'm the author, I have the book, and you don't know what you're gonna be facing down there. You might need me!" Henry pulls the storybook out from under his arm and waves it in their faces.
"You're right, we don't know what's down there, and that's exactly why it's too dangerous," Regina calmly responds, gently pushing the book back down to look him in the eye.
"Yeah, Henry, the first priority for your mom and me is always gonna be keeping you safe," Emma adds. "That means we aren't going to drag you to some Underworld that's pretty much guaranteed to be shitty and dangero-"
"-Yeah yeah, sorry, crappy and dangerous." Emma rolls her eyes again, Regina glares at her without much venom, and Henry looks like he's about to laugh for a second before his face morphs back to righteous exasperation.
"I've been in plenty of situations a lot more dangerous than this," Henry declares, and Regina huffs. He's not wrong, but he sure doesn't need to remind them about it as if it's a good thing. "I bet Neverland alone was way crazier than the Underworld's gonna be."
"Uh, that's kind of the point, kid." Emma sounds almost bemused.
"We're trying to avoid situations like that, remember?" Regina says, and Henry glowers.
"This isn't fair!" he exclaims before storming off and up the stairs. Emma and Regina share a look. Teenagers, Regina thinks with a touch of both fondness and frustration.
"So, that went well," Emma stage-whispers. Regina makes a sarcastic noise in the back of her throat.
"Fantastic," she deadpans. At this point Snow moves from her spot in the kitchen and makes her way over to them, and Regina, with only mild annoyance, instantly recognizes her I-have-advice-to-give face as she opens her mouth to speak.
"If I may-"
"You may not," Regina interrupts, voice drawling. Emma sighs and puts a hand on Regina's shoulder blade, touch brief and chastising, to turn them toward Snow.
"What is it, Mom?"
"Well, I fully understand that you want to leave Henry here to keep him safe, but..." Snow begins, and Regina raises an eyebrow.
"But what," Regina says, and it's more of a statement than a question. In the corner of her eye, she sees Emma cocking her head with similar sentiment.
"Maybe it isn't such a bad idea for Henry to come along." Snow shrugs. "He's more than proven that he's capable in the past, and he clearly wants to help. Letting him could do him some good."
Regina stares blankly. "Forgive me for not wanting to ta-"
"-Take parenting advice from the person who put her newborn daughter into a tree and sent her to a different realm, yes, I know," Snow finishes with a lilting tone of voice and mirth in her eyes. "We've heard it before, Regina." Emma chuckles and Regina looks on, a little exasperated but mostly bewildered (because apparently they've reached a point where they can fondly joke about these things?) and secretly a bit pleased (look how far we've come).
"My point is," Snow continues, flashing her usual proud smile, "that your son is a hero. He gets that from both of you" —Regina scoffs— "and it might be better to let him go with you now, when you can keep an eye him." Regina turns to face Emma, who gives her a head tilt that says she's got a point and a pointed look that says you know our son, the troublemaker. "Besides, family sticks together when they can, right? Neal may be a baby but Henry isn't, and we'll all be there to protect him. And as soon as we find Killian, all of us will come back home together."
Regina notices how Emma's posture shifts at the mention of Killian's name. Her heart fills with sympathy and she moves a little closer to Emma, but doesn't do more than that. (There's been a niggling worry in the back of Regina's mind that she used her understanding of Emma, her ability to see through Emma sometimes without even thinking about it, against her when she was the Dark One, and now Regina has no idea where the line is, where Emma wants the line to be, if Emma trusts her less than she did before.
It's been less than 24 hours since Emma's name disappeared from the dagger and there are so many things they haven't spoken about yet. Things they probably won't ever speak about. Add it to the list, Regina thinks, bitterness and relief swirling together in her mind. Shove it into Pandora's box with the rest of them.
But this isn't the time to dwell.)
(It never is.)
"Regina?" Emma says, lightly nudging her elbow. "What do you think?"
"What do you think?" Regina asks in return. She's still a bit conflicted right now, and Emma's instincts about their son are usually decent.
"I mean..." Emma shrugs. "My mom isn't wrong about being able to keep an eye on him. You know Henry, who knows what sort of operations he would get up to if we left him here angry? Might be safer for him with us."
Regina inhales, looking from Emma to Snow to the stairs, up where Henry retreated. "I don't love this," she says slowly, "but you may be right." Emma and Snow grin, and Regina makes a show of rolling her eyes. "Even a broken clock is right twice a day, right?" she adds for good measure, but their grins only widen—apparently she's not fooling them for a second. (She hasn't fooled them in a long time. She isn't complaining.)
"Henry's gonna be fine," Emma murmurs, however, seeming to share some of Regina's lingering fear. She catches Regina's eye. "You can protect him. You always have." Regina blinks at the use of the word "you."
"We both have." Regina gently corrects Emma for the second time that night, and for the second time Emma's returning smile is a a little shaky but grateful. (Dark Ones and curses and Underworlds and unspoken things aside, it's really nice to have someone next to her who shares that unwavering, unconditional love for their son, to know that someone else is also willing to give everything for him. Regina has never doubted that for a second.)
Emma gestures toward the stairs as if to say let's go tell him the news, and they go to find their son together.