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the things i see in you

Chapter Text

Emma Swan is an idiot.

 

She's always been an idiot, Regina's maintained that for years, but this whole Dark One ordeal seems to have brought her most idiotic tendencies to the forefront. Regina had thought that Emma sacrificing herself and getting sucked into a vortex of evil to save her had considerably raised the bar on stupid Savior behavior, but stupid Dark One behavior is proving to be an even greater problem than stupid Savior behavior ever was. It's stupid Dark One behavior, after all, that has brought them to this moment, standing in Emma's kitchen with a kind of mutual (if muted) exasperation that hasn't truly been present between them since before the first curse broke.

 

When Snow and David left, citing the late hour and promising to begin work on solving the crisis in the morning, Regina had stayed behind through silent agreement and Emma had led them to the counter and poured them two drinks. Now Regina leans against the cold marble island, sipping slowly and observing the house for the first time (breaking in and taking what she needed against Emma's will didn't really count as a house tour). It's a little bland, Regina thinks. Empty. Not that she can see much more than shadows right now. She'll have to reassess when it's light again.

 

Regina hears Emma somewhere behind her, probably on the other side of the island, set her glass down. They still haven't spoken a word.

 

And, well, Regina doesn't really know why she's here, why she's having drinks with the Dark One (one of the two, as they all just found out) at eleven o'clock at night instead of strategizing or researching or looking for ways to protect her family and deal with the certified mess they're facing. (Not sleeping, Regina doesn't think she could fall asleep now if she tried.) But here she is at this not-quite-uncomfortable impasse, standing in silence and taking note of Emma's interior decor of all things, while Emma's newly-evil boyfriend goes God knows where, planning or doing God knows what.

 

Well, neither the Savior nor the Evil Queen has ever been good at being normal. So why start now, when the world might be crumbling around them for the fifth-or-so time in as many years.

 

"Your new place isn't very... homey." Regina finally speaks, somewhat reluctantly breaking the silence. She can almost feel Emma's gaze on her back.

 

"Is this really the time to question my taste?" Emma responds, and it's familiar. Regina's mind flashes back to speeding down the road to the town line as a shrieking chernabog chases them, to that blasted yellow bug that holds too many memories, to looking over at Emma and thinking I can't let her die, I can't ruin her life again and transporting out of there, hoping it works out because their son can't lose both his mothers in one fell swoop. Fortunately for all of them, it did. It worked out. It always does, until it doesn't.

 

And here they are now.

 

All things considered, life was simpler then. Regina misses it, misses having someone other than her son (as much as Regina loves him, and she loves him more than anything, she spent many years without any friends and it took its toll) at her side who is willing to support her despite everything.

 

Well, she has Robin now, and she loves him. He makes her happy. But it's not the same.

 

No one is like Emma.

 

"If my son is going to be living here someday, it needs to be a good home for him," Regina says, letting a touch of snob color her words. (Great, now it really is like before the first curse broke.) "There are standards." Emma walks around the island to Regina's side and leans against it at the opposite end, mirroring Regina's pose from five feet away. Regina feels like Emma's building up to something more serious than interior decor. Regina's right.

 

"I did what I had to do to save him. I don't regret it." Emma's stone-faced, looking straight ahead into the darkness of her living room. Regina feels a twinge of frustration but tries to tamp it down, tries to empathize.

 

"Did I say you had to? Regret it, I mean?" Regina tilts her head to the left, observing Emma's hard eyes, her set jaw, and remembers what it was like to be evil and alone—though Emma Swan isn't evil, even as the Dark One; Regina doesn't think Emma Swan could be evil if she tried. But she is alone right now, Regina sees that, and she remembers exactly what it feels like to make bad decisions, drastic decisions, for love and have no one else understand. (Except the Evil Queen never tried to defend her decisions to others; no, the Evil Queen did what she wanted and needed no one's justification but her own.)

 

"It was heavily implied," Emma replies, bringing Regina back to the present. Regina exhales (huffs, really).

 

"Just because I don't want the pirate with a centuries-old history of violent vengeance to be consumed with dark magic," she pauses, "doesn't mean you should be obligated to justify your actions to me." Regina scoffs. She knows Emma can hear the self-deprecation in her voice. "Don't get me wrong, I disapprove. But I'm one to talk."

 

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

 

"Do you feel badly enough that you need to feel better?"

 

"No."

 

"Okay then." Regina almost rolls her eyes. She's forgotten how petulant Dark Ones can be—almost as stubborn as the idiot Savior Emma had been before all of this, and at that thought Regina feels another twinge of long-held frustration that she doesn't resist. "Although, let me remind you, Savior, that the reason we're here in the first place is because you just had to follow your first impulse and save me."

 

"And would you have preferred if I didn't?" Emma mutters back. Another twinge.

 

"Maybe if you had just stopped and used your brain for one second, we might have avoided this entire mess-"

 

"I had no choice-"

 

"Same thing you said when you broke our son's heart." Regina knows she's hit a nerve. Good, she thinks. Let her think about that a little while longer.

 

Emma's jaw sets harder, if it's even possible. "You said it yourself Regina, you of all people should know that everything I did was because there was no other way-"

 

"Oh, haven't you heard? For heroes there's always another way." They both fall silent, stewing in their own tense bitterness. (When Regina really considers it, she thinks that maybe it's a bit irrational to be angry at the Savior for doing what the Savior is fated to do and sacrificing herself for others. But she'll never admit that out loud.)

 

"I'm sorry, okay?" Emma speaks up again after a few moments, voice low and quiet. "I know I shouldn't have done that to Henry."

 

"No, you shouldn't have," Regina responds, the timbre of her voice dropping to match Emma's. "But I'm not the one you need to apologize to." Emma hums in acknowledgment and it's short but it's something. She picks up her glass again, and Regina watches her down its remaining contents in one swallow. Emma clears her throat and looks over to her, and for the first time tonight (hell, for the first time in days, weeks) it seems like they are actually looking at each other, seeing each other, the way they used to be able to.

 

"Our son," Emma whispers, eyes softer than Regina has seen them in a long time. "He's really something, isn't he," she continues, and oh.

 

And suddenly Regina gets it, she understands what Emma feels so acutely that it momentarily takes her breath away. Regina's been here, she's been the object of Henry's love and gone and betrayed it away; she knows what it's like to be filled to the brim with love for him, it being the only thing keeping her tethered when the darkness calls, even when he himself is too hurt to look her in the eyes.

 

So Regina takes a breath and remembers what it was like when no one believed in her but against all odds Emma did, and what kind of person would Regina be if she didn't return the favor? She lets herself smile, small but organic and more meaningful than either of them are willing to admit, and watches Emma's jaw unclench just a little bit. "He really is," Regina whispers back. "He's extraordinary." And they stand there, recognizing something so profoundly real in each other, in their shared love of their son, and they let it sit between them like a bridge—so familiar yet so new.

 

Regina doesn't know how long she stands there in Emma's kitchen, nursing a half-forgotten drink and letting her edges soften, but she hopes that if only for one night Emma was able to let her edges soften too.

Chapter Text

This is the way it has to be, and Emma is ready to accept it.

 

It's a logical decision. After all, all of this is her fault; she caused her family so much harm as the Dark One—hell, she's the one who turned Killian into a second Dark One, and that's the whole reason they're all in trouble now. The least Emma can do, no, the only thing she can do is protect them from the danger she put them in. And the only way to do that is by sacrificing herself.

 

Emma's just grateful that she won't have to spend these final moments alone. She can spend her last night with her family, with her son and her parents and Regina-

 

Regina, who is currently refusing to look her in the eye as they walk down Main Street in the appropriately-gloomy late afternoon. Emma can't figure out what she's thinking; her face is cold and stoic, unusually expressionless. Regina's walls haven't been up like this, not really, in a long time. Emma wonders if this is how Regina felt just weeks ago when their positions were reversed, when Emma, caught up in her Dark One schemes, refused to open up to her.

 

"Regina," Emma murmurs tersely, not even sure what she's going to say. Regina looks up and faces Emma, not missing a single step. Her heeled boots sound a brisk rhythm on the sidewalk. Emma's quiet. Regina just stares. She's been doing that a lot these days, staring at Emma (no, Emma thinks, staring at the Dark One).

 

"What, Emma?" Regina responds, and she sounds so tired. She slows down to fully turn toward Emma, wrapping her coat more tightly around her body like a shield.

 

Emma is still going over words in her head. What are you supposed to say to your son's other mother before you sacrifice yourself to save her and her family from a problem you created? "I'm sorry. For everything," Emma finally says. Regina exhales and visibly deflates, as if the energy is being drained out of her, and Emma has the presence of mind to add something else, something more positive, that will make it stop. "And thank you. For helping me do this and- for keeping it a secret. I really appreciate it." And that was clearly the wrong thing to say because Regina stiffens and abruptly averts her eyes, and Emma is at a loss. Has she forgotten how to read Regina? Is Regina just not comfortable around Emma anymore? (Is that even a surprise? Was Regina ever comfortable around the Dark One?)

 

"As long as you're sure, Emma." Regina's voice is low and somber but it has a questioning undertone, as if she's waiting (hoping?) for Emma to contradict her. Emma's not going to do that.

 

"I'm sure," Emma says, and she makes sure to sound resolute. Nothing's going to stop her from saving her family. Regina meets her eyes again, gaze dark and pensive, and nods shortly.

 

"Then let's go get that sword," she mutters, and starts walking again. The two of them make the rest of the trip to Gold's shop.

 


 

The gravity of what Emma's about to do fully sets in just minutes later, when Emma watches Regina matter-of-factly describe the plan to Gold and Gold responds with more goodwill than either of them have ever seen from him before. He calls Emma a true hero and a brave woman and gives her Excalibur without a second thought, and Emma doesn't know what to think. But she can feel tension and surprise and more tension rolling off of Regina in waves, and she thinks it's time for them to go have dinner with their son. Everything else can wait.

 

Emma turns to Regina and speaks directly to her. "Right now, all that matters is I need to be with my family while I can be." Regina is still facing the other way. "Come to Granny's with me."

 

"No, I can't," Regina replies, finally turning to Emma with furrowed eyebrows. Emma is slightly taken aback. No? But then Regina continues, "Robin and I need to protect Roland and the baby from Zelena," and Emma feels a pocket of rage burning up inside her, sudden and unexpected, because oh, right. Regina has another family now. A new one. And some part of Emma wants nothing more than to counter Regina's words with Are they more important than we are? Than your son is? but she registers that this might not be the time to have that conversation. And besides, it doesn't matter anyway. Soon enough Emma will be gone and Regina's family issues won't be her concern any longer.

 

(But Emma still can't help feeling betrayed and, well, jealous, in some odd way. It's not fair that Emma's top priority be spending her last moments with her family, the one that's about to be broken apart forever, while Regina's top priority seems to be with her boyfriend and his children—who, by Emma's assessment of the situation, seem to be facing less certain death than she is at the moment (Sure, Zelena's loose, but does that even compare to how Emma's planning on absorbing the darkness from a dozen Dark Ones and running herself through with a sword? No, it doesn't). After everything, it doesn't make sense for Regina to choose them over Henry and Emma and her parents right now.

 

But again, Emma reminds herself, now's probably not the time to have that conversation. And the conversation won't matter anymore when Emma's gone.)

 

"I'll catch up with you later," Regina finishes, interrupting Emma's bout of silent fuming before averting her eyes again and walking out the door. It takes Emma a couple seconds to process what Regina has just said, but then the word later runs through her head and all of a sudden Emma panics because she doesn't know how much time she has left, she doesn't know if she'll actually be here later to catch up, and there are so many things she wants to say to Regina, so much history between them that they've never addressed, and they share a son for God's sake, they haven't even talked about what it means that Henry is losing one of his mothers and-

 

Emma knows her eyes must have gone a little manic when she looks around and spots Gold, still standing at the other side of the room, watching her with a single eyebrow raised.

 

"Is everything alright, Miss Swan?" he asks drily. Emma opens her mouth slightly as if to say something, but instead she simply turns and walks out the door. Regina is already halfway down the block.

 

"Regina, Regina! Wait!" Emma calls out, almost frantic, and some pesky Dark One instinct within her is telling her to stop caring, to stop being so shameless, but Emma ignores it. Regina turns, eyes brimming with sudden concern, just as Emma reaches her.

 

"What- is everything okay?" Regina asks quickly. Emma opens her mouth again but finds that the words aren't coming out.

 

"Yeah, I- just..." she stammers, and Regina looks on with increasing confusion.

 

"Emma, what is it...?" By now Regina's stoic exterior is firmly back in place, and Emma sighs.

 

"Just... tell Henry I love him. After, I mean," she finally says, looking down for a moment. It comes out more gruff than Emma had intended, but she thinks Regina gets the idea. She hears Regina's soft intake of breath.

 

"Emma, I... yes, of course," Regina responds, voice soft. Emma looks up again and it's like a switch has been flicked—Regina's expression is so unguarded and filled with emotion that Emma almost takes a step back. The unfettered devastation in her dark eyes is overwhelming, and if Emma doesn't break away from her gaze she thinks she might drown in it.

 

(And, well, maybe this is why Regina had her walls up so high today.)

 

But Emma finds that she can't look away, not when Regina's the only one who knows what's going to happen and Emma's about to go eat dinner with the rest of her family for the last time and lie to their faces. Regina reaches out and gently places a hand on Emma's forearm, the arm that isn't weighed down by Excalibur, and Emma revels in her touch like it's a lifeline.

 

But an inner voice reminds her that it's unwise to cling to lifelines when she's going to die in a matter of hours anyway, and soon enough she pulls away from Regina's grasp. "You should go. I should go too," Emma says with the smallest of smiles, and she knows it's a touch too cold, too forced for Regina to believe it's genuine. Regina falters.

 

"Okay," she eventually says with one last lingering glance. Regina turns around and walks away, but not before she hesitates one last time.

 

"Emma-" she says as she turns back, voice heavy with unspoken feeling. But by the time Regina has finished saying her name, Emma has disappeared in a cloud of grey smoke.

 


 

It's incredibly ironic, Emma figures, that in the end it was Regina who was able to get through to Killian and bring him back from the darkness, and it was Killian who proceeded to make the noble sacrifice to save them all. Emma almost laughs. In the end she couldn't do any of it right, it seems.

 

It's weird. For the first time since she emerged in the Enchanted Forest as a newly-inducted Dark One, Emma no longer feels hollow, like there's a pit in her chest filled with grey where her heart should be. But at the same time she feels emptier and more exposed than ever, like the grey disappeared and took all of her heart's defenses with it.

 

Killian is gone, she keeps repeating to herself. He's dead when I should be. This is all wrong. None of it was supposed to happen like this. She wasn't supposed to lose him, not like this.

 

Emma sits in her house, the one they were eventually going to move into together, and wallows in solitude. She could only endure so many platitudes and comforting touches and careful looks from her family before it became too much, so despite her parents' visible concern, she gave Henry a long, tearful hug (and he hugged her back so tightly, and for the millionth time she thanked whatever gods or forces or fate that brought him into her life because he is everything) and pushed him toward Regina (who Emma doesn't really want to think about right now, she's not sure why but she just doesn't) and retreated into her own privacy to break down alone.

 

Now a sleepless night and morning have passed and Emma's shed enough tears for a lifetime, so what now.

 

(Emma thinks that maybe she shouldn't have asked that, even rhetorically and in her own head, because it was just begging for something to happen next. Which it does.)

 

A brisk knock at the door startles Emma out of her thoughts, and somehow she just knows it's Regina (Who else would be this subtle? Certainly not her parents). Emma inexplicably dreads facing her but at the same time she craves it, craves Regina's calm and honesty and her willingness to just be when everyone else is determined to fix in moments of sorrow.

 

Ultimately the desire to see Regina wins out, and Emma walks mechanically to the front door and opens it. Just as predicted, Regina is standing on the other side looking much more put together than Emma does at the moment, and Emma silently steps aside to let her in.

 

Regina appears to take stock, looking around the house and probably taking note of the crumpled tissues and strewn-about cushions and assorted bottles of cheap alcohol lying around. Her hand twitches, as if she's itching to clean it up, but instead she just walks over to the couch, puts her hands on its spine and leans against it, still standing and observing. Emma, who is now feeling a bit self-conscious (which is absurd, all things considered), goes to pick up some of the trash.

 

"Hey," Regina says, her voice gentle but not too gentle in that singularly Regina way. Emma swallows, hyper-aware of Regina's eyes on her as she throws used tissues into the garbage bin.

 

"Are you here for something, Regina?" Emma asks in place of a greeting in response. And she knows that's probably a stupid question, they both know that there's only one glaringly obvious reason Regina would be here and if there were some sort of emergency Regina would have cut to the chase already, but Emma doesn't really care if her questions make all that much sense right now. She's still a bit torn between asking Regina to leave and not come back for a week or begging Regina to stay here with her so Emma can just sit and not be alone.

 

"I don't know," Regina replies simply. "If you want me to go I'll go." It's right there, Regina has just handed Emma an out for the taking. "Henry's willing to see you whenever, he did want to let you know," Regina continues, and Emma smiles, just a little bit. Their son. "If you don't want to be alone." And Emma looks at Regina and marvels at how well she can sense what Emma needs.

 

Emma shakes her head and gestures to the couch. "No. Stay," she says, and Regina exhales and nods slightly. She unbuttons her coat and drapes it over the arm of the couch before sitting down, posture casual enough for Emma not to feel tense. Emma disposes of more tissues and joins her, a bit sprawled out, hugging one knee to her chest like a buoy and angling herself toward Regina.

 

"Do you want to talk about it?" Regina asks after a moment, the lilt in her voice telling Emma that she already knows what the answer is going to be.

 

Emma scoffs and gives Regina a look. "No. You knew that already." Regina smiles.

 

"It's an obligatory question in times like these, I hear," she replies, just the right amount of snark in her tone. Emma gives a weak but fond smile in return, rolling her eyes slightly. There's a pause.

 

"Do you want to go drink ourselves into oblivion?" Regina asks this time, and Emma barks out a quiet laugh.

 

"I think I drank enough last night," Emma says, noncommittally waving a hand at the empty bottles scattered about. "But thanks."

 

"My cider is several times better than any of... this," Regina intones with badly-concealed disdain as her gaze flits around the room. Emma smiles fondly again, a little brighter this time. "The offer always stands."

 

"I know, Regina." And Emma does know; she knows that Regina will be there for her through anything and everything, and it's invaluable. She looks Regina in the eyes. "Thank you. Really."

 

Regina puts a soft hand on Emma's knee and squeezes briefly, eyes warm. "So," Regina says, and this time she sounds more definitive. "Do you want to put on some trashy action movie and lay here for three hours?" she asks with a twinkle in her eye. Emma feels a sort of peace, or something as close to it as she's going to get right now, expand in her chest.

 

"Yeah."

 

And so they do just that.

 


 

Hours later, when Emma wakes, it takes her a little while to realize that she had fallen asleep in the first place. She's snuggled in a very fluffy blanket and her cheek is resting against the cushion and facing Regina, whose eyes are also closed and breaths even. Regina is leaned into the corner of the couch, one of her wrists positioned lightly over Emma's outstretched ankle in an endearingly protective way that makes Emma a bit warm inside. (Regina can be subtle with her affection for everyone who isn't Henry, and moments like these are unneeded but still sweet reminders of how much she cares, of how lucky Emma and her family are that she cares.) Henry, who had been called over as soon as the movie started playing, is still awake, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the couch and quietly munching on popcorn as he watches an unidentified buff man perform stunts across the TV screen. For a moment Emma is neither here nor there, eyes glossy as they rest on her son and his mother in this tranquil scene while the muted sounds of the movie playing in the background sound far away enough to be a dream.

 

But then reality comes crashing back down like a tidal wave, and Emma remembers what happened—god, Killian is dead—and why she woke up from her nap just now—voices. She jolts awake, abruptly enough for Regina to also stir.

 

"Emma?" she asks groggily, and for a second her hand tightens over Emma's ankle almost instinctively.

 

"Sorry, sorry, everything's fine," Emma responds, which, ha. There are a lot of words to describe the current circumstances, and fine is probably not one of them. "There's just..." She trails off.

 

"What is it, Mom?" Henry has now turned around to face them, still chewing the remnants of his last handful of popcorn. Emma takes a moment to reach out and tweak his hair and she smiles, hoping to alleviate some of the worry in his eyes.

 

"Nothing, kid. Go back to the movie," Emma reiterates, and she looks to Regina for backup. Regina looks unconvinced, but she takes the hint immediately.

 

"So, what'd I miss while I was asleep? Wait- is that a helicopter chase?" Regina says, playfully prodding Henry's side with the foot sticking out from under the blanket. Henry also still looks somewhat unconvinced (what is it with these two, Emma can't get anything past them-) but he relents and begins animatedly explaining an intricate sequence of the movie's events to Regina, who clearly does not know what he's talking about but listens anyway. She shoots Emma a pointed look somewhere in between paying attention to their son, a look that says we'll talk later and leaves no room for argument.

 

Emma sighs internally. She supposes she'll have to tell Regina sooner rather than later about how she still hears the whispers she heard as the Dark One, how the only way that could be possible is if the dagger is still here and contains darkness, and, well, that shouldn't be possible but if it is it poses a whole new set of problems for all of them-

 

But for now, Emma thinks she might just sink back into the fleeting comfort of this moment, of Henry and Regina and cushions and blankets and an overproduced movie that no one but the teenage boy is actually following. So Emma squeezes her eyes shut, blocks out the whispers, and turns her attention back to them.

 

The weight of all the loss and danger can remain uncarried for just a few more hours.

Chapter Text

"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 toshe's not a slob, for God's sakebut 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 whereor maybe more appropriately, whothey'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 aggravationbecause 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 protectionsupport, 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 Goldespecially 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 eyessmall, but undeniably thereand 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.

 

Well then.)

 

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 comfortingfamiliar, 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 restlessthinking about Emma, though that's not what she told her assistantand 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 justificationswork, 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 casebut 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 phonerationally, 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 yesterdaybut 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 GoldRobin seems to understand to leave her alone right now, which is a reliefbefore 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 hardthey 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 attentionsince 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 RumpelstiltskinRegina knows she's guilty of it herselfbut for Emma to do it so blatantly, without even a second thoughtsomething'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 Hookshe does. But she also knows that this is complicatedEmma 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 happenedhow she didn't diein 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.

 

As if.)

 

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.

 

As if.)

 

"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 planRegina is still a little unsettled by the idea of splitting Emma's heart, but it could work, she supposesand 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 roomjust 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-"

 

"Hey, lang-"

 

"-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 widenapparently 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.