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"The love we were promised in fairy tales was never something for us to find.
It has always been something for us to create."
Tyler Kent White


And a whole lot of confusion.

That was what Regina Mills felt ever since she had torn the envelope open, only to reveal the documents unsigned.
Once again.

Her arms were wrapped around her midsection in an attempt to hold together what was threatening to fall apart ever since the day her wife had left her.
Ever since her wife had walked out of her life almost two years ago.

Regina took a deep breath and slammed her fist onto the desk, determination written all over her face.
Tomorrow she would go to Storybrooke and she would make Emma sign the divorce papers.
And if it would be the last thing she would do.

After a horrendous and seemingly never-ending flight from New Mexico to Maine Regina got into her rental car, a luxurious black Mercedes limousine and took a deep breath.
While she could do without the New Mexico heat at times she wasn't sure why anyone would willingly move somewhere as cold as Maine.

To get as far away from you as possible her subconscious threw in and deep down Regina knew it was the truth.

Of course she knew why her wife had left her in the end.
She was well aware of her mistakes and shortcomings and ever since the day she had entered her mansion to find Emma gone she had tried to make peace with how broken she was.
And that, even though she had loved Emma Swan with every fiber of her being, she had blown it because her goddamn paranoia had gotten the best of her once again.

She might be incredibly successful, wealthier than people could even imagine, smart and beautiful and yet after a lifetime of reprimands by her mother, well, deep down Regina Mills was as insecure as they come.
On the one hand, she was filled with too many doubts and on the other hand, she was way too ambitious.
Driven by an incessant need to be better, to prove herself.
The feeling of not being good enough (deeply ingrained by her mother for over 40 years) would probably never go away.

And that was the reason why she still couldn't understand why Emma hadn't signed the divorce papers yet. She had sent them to Storybrooke three times and every time they had come back.
Without a word.

It made no sense, especially considering the fact that Emma had left her.
Without an explanation.
Then again she really hadn't needed one.

She counted to ten in her head to calm down before she finally started the car because she really had to get going.
It was an almost three hour drive to Storybrooke and it was getting late.

When the Storybrooke sign finally appeared in her vision it was close to 11 pm and Regina sighed heavily.
She was here.
In the sleepy, little town Emma had found a new home in.

The thought filled her with dread, so much dread, but there was no one to blame other than herself and Regina knew it.
Well, she could blame her own mother but she wouldn't go there.
Not tonight.

As she drove through the streets she wondered what Emma's life here looked liked.
She had refrained from hiring a private investigator because the less she knew the better and yet she couldn't help but wonder what it was about Storybrooke that had made Emma stay.
Or who.

That was what hurt the most.
The thought, the possibility that Emma had moved one and lived a happy life.
Without her.
Not that she didn't have every right to live her life and be happy.
Even Regina knew that.

But then why didn't she sign the divorce papers?
To spite her?
To punish her?
Emma wasn't that cruel, now was she?

When she finally stopped the car in front of the only hotel in town, a simple Bed & Breakfast from what she had seen on the website, an elderly woman was already expecting her, sitting on the porch.

“Good evening, Misses Mills! Welcome to Storybrooke.”

Regina tried to remember the name of the owner but came up blank, much to her embarrassment, “Forgive me, Misses...”

The woman got up from her rocking chair with a chuckle, “Lucas. Eugenia Lucas. But people here just call me Granny.”

Her room wasn't spectacular, not even half as luxurious as she was used to and yet Regina liked it somehow.
It was warm and comfortable.

Much to her surprise, the elderly owner had helped her with her luggage.
She hadn't expected such a warm welcome to begin with, considering that it was in the middle of the night, but Eugenia Lucas had surprised her.

Regina was used to people fearing her or tripping over their own two feet in an attempt to impress her but Eugenia Lucas had simply treated her like the average person from next door.
Usually it bugged Regina when people didn't acknowledge who she was and what she was capable of but here, in this sleepy little town, the clocks seemed to be ticking differently.
It dawned on her how much Emma had to love that, they were polar opposites after all.

By the time Regina was finally ready for bed it was almost midnight.
She was exhausted to the bone and yet she couldn't sleep, memories of Emma and their time together flooding her mind.

She had always been good at compartmentalizing and once Emma had left Regina had shoved it all away, hidden in little boxes in her mind, hidden so deep within her soul that only the anger of being abandoned had remained.
But now that she was in the same town, now that Emma was so close, all the pain and the devastation came rushing back and Regina wasn't prepared for either.

Needless to say that Regina had barely slept and by the time her alarm went of at 7 am she felt like she had been run over by a truck.
She was not a morning person but used to being efficient in everything she did.
That morning though she barely managed to get out of bed because she dreaded facing Emma.
Her soon-to-be ex-wife.

She dragged herself into the bathroom for a quick shower before she dried her hair, applied her make up and put on her favorite black dress.
It fit like a glove and it gave Regina a confidence she didn't possess, especially not now.
After slipping on her red heels she grabbed her phone, her purse and the envelope with the, as of yet, unsigned divorce papers and left her room to head over to the diner for some coffee.
Regina had been surprised when Eugenia Lucas had told her that the diner belonged to her as well.

She was even more surprised when she entered the diner and spotted the elderly woman behind the counter, tending to customers after she had waited for Regina's late arrival yesterday.
Regina nodded to her in greeting and took a seat in a booth in the corner, hidden away from the rest of Storybrooke's citizens.
If anyone would bother her this morning all bets would be off.

Thankfully nobody had attempted to talk to her at the diner despite countless curious glances that had been thrown her way (she was a stranger after all and she stuck out like a sore thumb). Eugenia Lucas had served her coffee and a plate of fruit wordlessly, which Regina had appreciated immensely.

By the time she left the diner it was 8.30 am and she thought it an acceptable time to go see her.
To see Emma.
It wasn't much of a surprise to her that the drive to the address that was supposedly Emma's only took about four minutes from the Bed & Breakfast.

Mifflin Street 108.

There it was.
The house that Emma seemed to call home these days.
It was nowhere near as big as her mansion but it looked nice.
Regina guessed that one would be able to see the ocean from the porch.
It was such an average place and such a simple house but there was a certain beauty to it, Regina could admit that.
She could see why Emma would love it.
It took Regina a good ten minutes until she finally found the courage to get out of the car and her knees shook way more than she cared to acknowledge as she took the steps that led up to the house, her heart beating heavily in her chest.

Regina was so irritated by her own behavior because she wasn't one to hesitate, wasn't one to doubt (unless it was herself) but if she wanted to get something done she did.
But this was different, wasn't it?
And then again – was it really?
Emma had left her almost two years ago.
This was merely a formality.

Regina took as deep a breath as she could manage and knocked with a shaking hand, fingers balled into a fist, and braced herself to either face Emma or nobody answering.
Emma could be working despite it being a Sunday, couldn't she?

What Regina didn't expect was a beautiful, young brunette with seemingly endless legs and a wolfish grin answering the door, “What did you forget this time, Em?”

“Oh”, the smile died on the woman's lips as soon as she spotted Regina, “You're not Emma.”

“I'm afraid not”, Regina sneered, “But I am, in fact, looking for her. Any idea where I can find Miss Swan this fine morning, Miss...”

“Ruby. Ruby Lucas”, the woman replied, blushing under the intense stare, “You are...uh...she's...she's at the station. Sheriff station.”

Regina nodded once, “Very well.”

She left without another word, mind reeling.
Of course Emma had moved on.
Why wouldn't she?
And this Ruby, well, she was everything Regina wasn't.

First and foremost, Ruby was kind.
She had seen that in Ruby's eyes, even though their encounter hadn't even lasted two minutes.
And while Regina knew that she was beautiful in her own right Ruby was not only stunning but also unguarded, carefree.
And she was young.
She had to be in her mid-twenties or something while Regina would turn forty-two in February.

A part of her had always feared that Emma would eventually find someone younger, seeing as Emma was only twenty-eight.
It was that kind of paranoia that had been the root of all evil.

She found the Sheriff Station without problem and this time Regina got out of the car without preamble.
Emma had moved on, so Emma would sign those damn papers.
She had to get back to Boston because she had a plane to catch first thing Monday morning.

Regina entered the station, head held high, heart beating even more wildly than before.
Was she angry?
Mostly at herself though.
Emma's unwillingness to sign the papers only irritated her at this point considering that she had a new, a good life here in Storybrooke.

She almost bumped into a young officer, Deputy Nolan, according to his uniform, who was about to head out of the station in a hurry.

“I'm looking for Emma Swan”, Regina hastily announced and the man only pointed into the direction of what had to be an office, “The sheriff is in her office. I'm sorry, ma'am. I really gotta go.”

Emma was the sheriff of Storybrooke?

It took Regina a moment to pull herself together before she made it over to the office but then she knocked and a feeling of dread and anticipation washed over her.
It was rather confusing.

And then the door opened and there she was.
Emma Swan in all her glory.
As beautiful as ever.
And not in the slightest surprised to see her it seemed.

Regina caught sight of the badge on her belt and the gun in the shoulder holster Emma was wearing.
The sheriff.
Her wife was the sheriff here.

“Regina”, Emma gestured for her to enter, “Please, come in and take a seat.”

“Would you like something to drink? Coffee? Water?”, Emma asked and stared at her across her desk and she seemed so calm, so collected.
It was highly irritating.

“No”, Regina snapped and pulled the papers from the envelope and threw them on said desk, “I want you to sign the papers so I can go back home. I have a business to run and work to do.”

Emma tilted her head, “Is that the only reason you came?”

Regina's irritation grew even more, “Why else would I be here?”

A heavy sigh was Emma's only response, “I see.”

Regina scoffed, “You left me, Emma. You left and you didn't even to say good bye or bother to call. It's been almost two years.”

“After you hired a private investigator to prove that I was cheating. Which I was not. And yet you kept accusing me”, Emma fired back and Regina realized how much Emma had grown as a person since she had left. How much more confident she had become.
It suited her.

Emma was about to say something when the phone on her desk rang, “Excuse me.”
She picked up the phone, “Sheriff Swan speaking.”

Regina watched Emma's face fall and fall some more the longer she listened to the caller, “I'm on my way. Page Mulan, Whale, the whole cavalry.”

Emma got up, “I'm sorry but duty calls. I gotta go. You are staying at Granny's, aren't you?”

Regina nodded, dumbfounded.

“Alright. I'll come by once I'm finished and sign your papers so you can be on your way.”

Regina had driven around town for a long while, her mind racing.
What had Emma meant when she had asked if the divorce papers were the only reason why she came?
What had Emma expected?
Why else would she have come to Storybrooke?

By the time Regina returned to her room it was way past lunchtime.
And then she waited.

It was almost 8 pm when there finally was a knock on her door and Regina almost jumped out of her skin.

She gasped when she pulled the door open where Emma stood, looking worse for wear.
Lip split, knuckles bleeding and she was limping too.

“What happened?” Regina headed into the bathroom and came back with a wet towel. She debated for a moment before she handed it to Emma.
They weren't that close anymore.

Emma took it gratefully and started cleaning her hand, “Things got a little out of hand. Social workers were there to take a kid away from her dad because he is schizophrenic and had stopped taking his meds. He's lost it. But everyone is safe now.”

Once she was done cleaning her hand she handed the towel back to Regina, “Let's get this over with, shall we? Just give me the damn papers.”

Regina put the towel away before she put the divorce papers and a fountain pen on the table.
Emma took a seat wordlessly and started reading them.

The sight boggled Regina's mind.
She hadn't even read them?
Her last theory had been that Emma didn't agree with their divorce settlement. That she probably wanted more money but if she hadn't even read them yet...

“Why did you never call?”, Regina rasped out.

Emma halted her reading and looked her straight in the eye, “Because it wasn't for me to apologize.”

Regina dropped her gaze, “You know I'm not good at that.”

Emma chuckled, “You aren't good at a lot of things, Regina. What did you say when we first met? You don't know how to love very well? Yeah, no kidding.”

The words hit harder than Regina had anticipated and she felt her defenses rise, “I am well aware that what I did back then was a mistake. A grave misjudgment. I really got carried away there but I was scared. You ran off to god knows where all the time and then I hired Sidney Glass and he showed me all these pictures of you and that...that woman...and I...I knew you weren't working because I checked your log and it...I never figured out what you did or what you were up to because after you figured out why I had hired Sidney...when I saw the disappointment in your was the first time in my life that I doubted my own actions. And I thought maybe I should simply let you explain...but by the time I got home you were gone.”

“It was too much. I had to get away because you were choking me. No matter how much you might have loved me, Regina. You were killing me with your attitude. With your incessant need to control everything. You were completely paranoid. You saw a threat everywhere. You were jealous of everyone who talked to me. Even Killian. And he's as gay as they come. I couldn't breathe. And when I figured out Sidney was spying on me because once again you didn't trust me and my love for you...when I never gave you a reason to doubt me...I had to go. I needed space. Because I was dying alive”, Emma explained.

Regina turned her back to Emma, ashamed, “I've finally accepted that I have lost you, due to my own shortcomings. It hasn't been easy because with you the last sparkle of light disappeared from my life. But I brought this on myself. I thought it in our best interest to get on with the divorce so you can be free of me and we both can move on. Well, you can. You already have. I won't. I'm not like that. You know me.”

She watched Emma cross out something in the divorce settlement before Emma stood up, “I'm not taking any of your money, no matter what we agreed upon once upon a time. You owe me nothing, Regina.”

Regina wanted to argue but Emma kept talking, “You asked me why else you should be here, other than the papers. Earlier today. The truth is...”

Emma took a deep breath, “The truth is for almost two years I've been waiting. Waiting for you to come find me, to apologize. To tell me that you saw the error in your ways and that you would at least try to treat me better. That you were willing to get help, to work through all your trauma, so we could be happy. That you would fight for me, for our marriage. That I was worth the fight. Instead you spent almost two years feeling sorry for yourself. And that settles that. matter how much I love you, Regina, I deserve better. I know things were different when we met. I was a fuck up, unwanted and thrown out with the trash. I had nothing. But now I do. I have a life here. I'm the sheriff. I have friends and something akin to family. People respect me here. And I'm not giving this up...not even for you. When nothing has changed. Nothing at all.”

And then she signed the papers without a blink before she put the pen back onto the table, “There you go. You can go back to your life now, Regina.”

“How dare you talk to me about love when you have moved on long ago. You're living with another woman and you want me to believe that you still love me?” Regina's chuckle was nothing short of cruel.

Emma met her eyes and dared her to call her a liar, “Ruby is not my girlfriend. She is my roommate. I couldn't have afforded the mortgage for the house otherwise. She's my deputy's girlfriend actually, but Dorothy is currently in Kansas because of a family emergency. They both live with me.”

Emma made her way to the door but stopped before she opened it, “Good bye, Regina. I truly hope one day you'll find someone who is important enough to you that you finally start facing those demons of yours.”

Regina had been too dumbfounded to stop Emma from leaving and she was still standing there, standing at the door half an hour later.
What had she done?
How could Emma think she wouldn't be important enough?

Because it's all she knows Regina's subconscious supplied, And you treated her badly. Really, really badly.

She needed to think, to clear her mind.
And so she grabbed her coat and left her room at last.

Regina found Eugenia Lucas sitting in the rocking chair on the porch again.

“Misses Lucas, I was wondering if you needed the room tomorrow or...”

The elderly woman sat up and eyed her sternly, “Thinking about prolonging your stay?”

Regina shrugged helplessly, “I don't know if I should. Maybe it's a stupid idea. Selfish. I just...Emma...”

“You are her wife.”
It wasn't a question, it was a statement.

“I was. But I messed up”, Regina admitted and she wasn't even sure why. This woman was a complete stranger. She usually had a hard time opening up even to the people closest to her and yet.

Eugenia Lucas nodded, “So I have heard. Please, take a seat.”

Regina eyed her warily but took a seat in the other rocking chair in the end, “I take it Emma told you then.”

“She's my granddaughter's best friend. She told us everything. When she arrived here she was a complete mess. August, her former foster brother, told her to come. Back then Albert Spencer was still the sheriff. He hired her straight away because she had experience as a bounty hunter. When he retired a couple of months ago the city council voted for her to be the next sheriff”, Eugenia explained.

“Oh. That makes sense I guess. She's a very capable woman. Works well under pressure”, Regina knew that all too well because Emma had worked with the security team of Mills Solar for the years they had been together.

“That she is”, Eugenia nodded, “And she loves you. Despite your relationship being so toxic, she got a glimpse behind your mask and what she saw there...well, she thought it was worth saving. You should have seen the poor girl when the divorce papers arrived the first time. She had been so convinced that eventually you'd come for her.”

Regina dropped her head in shame for the second time that night, “And I let her down again.”

“You are here now”, Eugenia tried to cheer her up.

“What does it matter?” Regina looked her straight in the eye, “It doesn't matter whether I leave tomorrow or in three days time. I'll have to go back home eventually and Emma made it clear that she will not leave Storybrooke either way.”

“May I speak freely?" the elderly woman asked and Regina nodded, “Of course, Misses Lucas.”

“It's Granny," the woman gave her a stern look, “I get that you have your company. But you can come back. Put someone else in charge. Or sell it. Because you don't look like you are happy. And please don't tell me the company has been your family's for generations because Misses far as I know you have no more living relatives and you have no children either. So who will you pass it onto anyway? When there's no one left. You might as well give it into the hands of someone who wants it because you just took over out of obligation, didn't you?”

“Even if that were to be true”, Regina said, “What would I do then? Move to Storybrooke? And then what? I'm not good at doing nothing. I might not care much for my family empire but it's all I have.”

“You don't have to decide tonight. It's just something to think about”, Eugenia offered, “And George Midas wants to step down as mayor since years but nobody is willing to take over. You're good at leading, apparently. And you should be able to work with a budget all things”

Regina chuckled in amusement until she realized that Eugenia Lucas was actually serious, “I don't know. I mean...I'm not the most likable person. Surely, the people of Storybrooke wouldn't appreciate someone like me as their mayor.”

“You'd be surprised what this place could do for you. You know who Emma was when she arrived here and look at her now. She's risen like a phoenix from the ashes.”


They sat in silence for a long while after that.
When Eugenia Lucas finally got up Regina was close to falling asleep, “So, what about that room?”
Are you leaving or are you staying?

“I'd like to stay for a week if that is possible”, Regina stated carefully, “I haven't taken a day off in...well, not since. I could use some time to think and see what options I have.”

The elderly woman seemed to be satisfied by the answer, “Make it two then. Two weeks. Talk to Mayor Midas. Get to know the town. See what the area has to offer. And talk to Emma. Really talk to her. Be honest. Don't make her think she isn't worth the effort. Love isn't a fairytale. It's hard work.”

Regina nodded in understanding, “Thank you, Misses...Granny.”

“I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow. You've got to eat. Good night, Misses Mills.”

She had sent her assistant an email, informing him of her plans to take a spontaneous vacation and that her meetings had to be rescheduled till after her return.
Regina was sure people wouldn't be happy and that there would be some fallout but she really was tired.
The break was definitely needed.

And if there was just the slightest chance that Emma would consider giving her another chance, well, then she would take all the time off she could afford.
That's what she should have done to begin with.
She should have spent more time with Emma instead of worrying about what she was up to because Regina was so busy with work that her wife had to fend for herself most days.

Regina woke up without the help of her alarm the next morning.
She felt surprisingly energized even though she had been too wired to fall asleep until the early hours of the morning.

And yet she found herself at the dinner only a couple of minutes after seven in the morning, apparently meeting Eugenia's approval if her nod was any indication.
She was about to take a sip of her coffee when she saw Emma and Ruby enter the diner together.
Emma's right hand was bandaged and she was still limping but she seemed to be alright, all things considered.
And she stopped dead in her tracks as soon as she caught sight of Regina but made her way over to the table anyway.

“Are you okay? Has anything happened? I thought you'd be gone by now”, Emma looked as worried about her as Regina remembered.

“I'm fine. I just decided to stay for a couple of days”, Regina answered carefully.

Emma's eyes grew wide in surprise, “You are?”

A nod was Regina's only answer, "Can we...can we talk?.”

“I can't”, Emma sighed in resignation, “I have to go to the office to finish some paperwork."
She hesitated for a moment before she continued, " could come to the house for dinner?”

“That sounds lovely”, Regina felt shy all of a sudden and she wasn't sure why.

“Good. Around seven or is that too late?”, Emma wasn't quite sure about this either.

“Seven is perfectly fine.”

“Cool”, Emma scratched her neck, “I'll...I'll see you then.”

Ruby had watched her like a hawk for as long as she had been at the dinner but Regina hadn't expected anything else.
If Ruby was anything like her grandmother she was protective of Emma because she was one of them and Regina found that she appreciated that.

She got into her sleek Mercedes and drove around town in an attempt to find something that could interest her.
Or that would even be worth an investment of sorts.
She wasn't sold on uprooting her life and selling the company just yet but the thought was somehow thrilling, she had to admit that.
And it wasn't like the thought had never crossed her mind before. She had been so tempted to sell her family's legacy more than once but had never gone through with it, too scared of her mother's wrath. And what would she have done with her freedom anyway?

There had never been a plan b, she hadn't even dared to consider another path because she had always known what would eventually be expected of her.
But now with her mother gone and Emma here in Storybrooke…
Eugenia's words were constantly on her mind. It was true though. There was no heir, no one to take over after her.
She had sacrificed so much and for what?

Her half-sister had passed away years ago, even before she had met Emma and since Regina couldn't have children and Emma had never been too keen on the idea either.
Of course that could have changed by now but even if the miracle would happen and they would get back together nothing was set in stone.
Even if they would have a child it didn't mean said child would want to take over the business and Regina would never force her life on anyone.
She would never make the mistakes her mother had made.

But could Storybrooke really be an option?

Mother would come back from the grave to haunt her. Regina was sure of it.
And yet, or maybe because of that thought, she was seriously considering this even though she never had imagined that she would trade the South for anything.

Maybe it was time for a change after all.
For a fresh start.
Whether here or somewhere else, that was the question.

Despite Storybrooke being a coastal town, Storybrooke didn't have much to offer.
The harbor had long been abandoned.
These days only a few people came here to take sailing trips or enjoy some days of peace and quiet in the sleepy little town but that was about it.

There was a clocktower with a defective clock and, much to Regina's delight, there had to be stables somewhere.
At least a sign hinted at it.

She was eager to check them out but was rather disappointed when she finally arrived.
The stables were completely run down and there were only a few horses left.
What a shame because the area was beautiful.
There were fields and forest as far as she could see and there was so much potential - for competitions, festivals, all sorts of things.

Why hadn't Mayor Midas done something about that?

When she caught sight of what she assumed to be a stable hand Regina got out of her car, “Excuse me? Who is the owner of this place?”

“That would be me”, the man answered, “But not for much longer. We're closing because I'm moving away to be with my fiancé.”

“I see”, Regina contemplated, “Would you possibly be interested in selling the property then, Mister...”

“Locksley. Robin Locksley”, he held out his hand, “And with whom do I have the pleasure?”

“Regina Mills.”
She shook the offered hand, “Would you mind showing me around?”

“It would be my pleasure. But what would you want with this place? Storybrooke isn't the most sensational stop on the map.”

“I'm thinking about moving to town and I would need something to do or invest in. Stables are always a nice asset and I happen to love horses”, Regina answered honestly.

Robin Locksley only shrugged, “Very well. Who am I to talk you out of it? It's your money.”

Robin had given her the big tour and had shown her all the land that belonged to the stables, including a part of the forest that had a lake and a log cabin.

“What about the horses?" Regina wanted to know.

“Two of them belong to people here in town and the other four...well, if you want to have them they are yours. And then there's Hades.”

Regina's ears perked up, “Can I take a look at him?”

“Be my guest. I'm not going anywhere near that devil”, Robin pointed towards the barn, “He's only two years old but he got spooked by a falcon once, hurt his leg. It has healed nicely and he made a full recovery but he's never been the same. It's like he's possessed.”

Regina entered the barn, curiously, but cautious and stopped dead in her tracks.
In a big, single-bay stood a pitch-black steed, all strength, and muscle, like her beloved Rocinante once upon a time.
He was magnificent but nervous.
There was a haunted look in his eyes and she knew she had to have him.
Even if she wouldn't buy the stables, she needed to have that horse.

“I'll take him”, she announced when she returned to Robin, “And I'll think about making an offer for the stables. Would that be acceptable?”

“Sure”, Robin nodded dumbly, “Let me get you a business card and you can call me once you decide.”

Regina shook her head, “That won't be necessary. I'll be back on Friday. Either to make arrangements for the horse or to talk about details.”

“Oh. Alright then. Let's say ten o'clock?”, Robin held out his hand.

Regina shook it firmly, “Very well.”

It was way past five in the afternoon by the time she returned to her room and Regina cursed under her breath because she hadn't meant to come back so late.
She had been at the stables a lot longer than she had anticipated but she had fallen in love with the place right away. And she had taken her time to check out the horses.
One was a yearling, rather promising. Two were about eight years old and had great potential and the other one was around nineteen years old according to Robin but in good shape. It would make a nice horse for children to learn riding.
But she was getting ahead of herself.

First she had to see what Emma had to say and if she should even consider any of this.
It was way too early to tell, that much was certain.

Emma had changed a lot while she had been stuck in her darkness and misery like she always had which meant she had a lot of catching up to do if any of this should have any chance at working out in their favor and Regina wasn't even sure that she was capable of change.

It was not that she didn't want to or that she didn't see the necessity for it but she feared that it might be too late for her.
She would be willing to try though.

Being late wouldn't help her chase, that was a given, so for starters she had to get ready.
And she had no idea what to wear.
She would think about it while she showered.

The good thing about being wealthy and used to all kinds of luxuries was that Regina always brought a suitcase full of clothes, even if she only went on a short trip.

While she hadn't planned on staying when she had packed she had still brought a number of different outfits and she was grateful for that.
Unfortunately, all of it was rather businesslike and Regina cursed under her breath that she hadn't thought to bring anything a bit more casual.

In the end she chose black slacks and a white button-down shirt because what else could she do?
The dresses she had brought would be an even "worse" choice.
Yes, she would be dressed to kill or seduce but she was fairly certain it wouldn't be appreciated at this point.
Not tonight. Probably not ever.

She put on her coat and left her room with only a couple of minutes to spare but she would make it in time.
Barely, but she would.

Emma was sitting on the steps when she arrived, waiting for her, and Regina's heart sank.
She would tell her that it was a mistake, that she should just leave, get the divorce she had come for, wouldn't she?

Regina got out of the rental car, “Good evening, Emma.”

“Hey”, Emma smiled shyly, “I wasn't sure you'd come.”

“Oh”, Regina cleared her throat, “Well, I said I would.”

“That you did”, Emma got up and gestured for Regina to follow her, “Come on in. Dinner should be ready any minute.”

The house was warm and beautifully decorated.
A real home.
Not a cold mansion with minimalistic furniture that made it even more unwelcoming.
That was the first thing Regina recognized.

“Can I take your coat?" Emma asked and held out her hand.

Regina nodded, “Of course.”
She shrugged out of it and handed it to Emma, “Thank you.”

“Please, take a seat”, Emma pointed to the dining table that was set up for two, but could host up to four people, “Dorothy is still in Kansas but Ruby might come home at some point unless she has to close up today. I'm not sure. I don't remember her schedule. Plus it gets changed all the time.”

“That's fine”, Regina took a seat.

Emma stirred something in one of the pots on the stove, “What have you been up to today?”

“I've been at the stables and bought a horse.”

“You...what? You bought a horse?!" Emma's eyes grew comically wide as she turned around to face Regina.

“I did”, Regina nodded, “He reminds me of the horse I had when I was a child. The one my father had gotten me.”

“Oh. You got Hades”, Emma chuckled, “Of course. Why am I not surprised.”
“Should have bought the stables instead”, she mumbled to herself, almost quiet enough for Regina not to hear. Almost.

Should she tell Emma that she was actually considering it?
Probably not.
It was way too early.
There would be way too much pressure.

“It smells delicious. I didn't know you cooked so well”, Regina said instead.

Emma shrugged, “Well, we went out for dinner most of the time, so there was no need, was there? But I wasn't much of a cook until I came here. Granny taught me, mostly. And Ruby.”

“I see.”

Dinner had been delicious indeed.
Regina could tell that Emma had made a true effort to please her and she felt a pang of guilt in her chest because surely Emma had thought a simple pasta wouldn't have been good enough.

Now they were standing on the porch and as Regina had imagined you could see and hear the ocean from there.
It was beautiful.

“You wanted to talk”, Emma said as she leaned against the banister, “Why are you still here, Regina?”

What should she say?
What could she say?
She felt like every single word would be too much and yet not enough because everything was so uncertain and if Regina Mills was truly honest – she was scared.
Scared out of her mind that it was all too late and that she had lost Emma for good anyway.
Not that she could blame her.

“I don't know how to," Regina started and fell quiet again.

“Just tell me the truth. I can take it”, Emma tried to give her an encouraging smile but failed. She didn't dare hope, Regina could tell.

“What you said yesterday. That I have been sulking for two years instead of doing something about it...I guess it's true”, Regina admitted with a heavy heart, “I didn't think it would make a difference. That you were gone anyway. The first couple of days I thought you only needed time to cool off but you didn't come back, didn't call. And then Killian told me you had moved away....I didn't take it well. So I worked and worked some more. You know me, Emma. I'm not good at dealing with feelings. I just...”

“I know”, Emma sighed, “And that's the problem, isn't it?"

Regina only nodded, “Yeah. What you made me think. And then I had a conversation with Granny last night and I realized that maybe there really is more to my life than what my mother forced me into. I need time to think...and figure out how to go on from here. I'm not even sure what I want to do...but the truth is that I...”

Emma took a step closer, “You what?”

“I'm tired, Emma. I'm so tired. Of working all the time, all the responsibility. This meaningless and empty life. I never wanted you to leave me. The opposite, in fact. But how could you stay? I was awful, wasn't I? And I'm getting older and older and...”

“You're still beautiful”, Emma rushed out before she would lose the courage, “But that's not why I loved you.”

“It's not healthy, the way I am, is it?”, Regina looked at Emma, vulnerable and uncertain.
Deep down she had always known, it wasn't really a new insight. It simply was the first time she admitted it out loud.

“No, I guess it's not.”

“I don't know if I can change. I don't know if I can be the person you see in me. I don't know that I can be the person you deserve”, Regina sounded so helpless and so defeated.

Emma crept another step closer, “Are you willing to at least try?”

Regina was silent for a long while, debating, before she nodded.
“Yes. But I don't even know where to start.”

The first real smile appeared on Emma's face, “Do you remember the first time we met?”

Of course Regina remembered. How could she ever forget?
She remembered everything about that day.
Her father had just passed away.
That had been almost six years ago.

She had been at a conference in Florida at the time and she had been so devastated that she had decided to drive home instead of catching the next flight because her mother would be even more unbearable now and she needed some peace and quiet to breathe. To clear her head. To grief in her own way.
The funeral service wouldn't be for another two weeks and so she had driven around without destination and she had sat on the beach late that night.

And there she had been.
Twenty-two-year-old Emma Swan in all her glory.
She had been so kind and she had worried about Regina from the first moment she had said hi.
Regina was sure that she must have looked like a complete wreck from all the crying but Emma hadn't minded.

She had invited her to dinner at a small beach grill, even though Emma really didn't have much at the time and it had been so refreshing because Emma hadn't known who she was.
Or what family she came from.
How much wealth they possessed.
Not then.

Regina had to admit it had been one of the saddest and best days of her life. And so they had met up again the next couple of days until, one day, the weather was bad and the rain poured heavily and Regina was sure that Emma wouldn't show.
But she did.

She stood there, in the pouring rain while a hurricane had moved closer and closer, like a beacon of hope and Regina had been so very mesmerized.
Emma had kissed her then, without much fanfare, and it had been everything.
Because it had been honest.

The next three days they had spent holed up in Emma's tiny apartment, shielded from the raging storm and Regina had felt something she had never felt before.
Despite being “locked” up in this small space she had finally felt free.
She had been 35 years old at the time.
And she had been convinced that she would never see Emma again once she left.

Emma had proved her wrong, of course, because she had shown up in New Mexico a couple of weeks later.
Walked straight into Mills Solar without a care in the world and Regina had been smitten.

Her mother had been livid, furious as all hell, but this one time Regina had stood her ground.
And so Emma had stayed and become a member of the security team because of her background as a bounty hunter.
Her mother's doing because Emma had insisted that she wanted to work.

They had gotten married about a year later despite her mother's constant scheming and her many attempts to break them up.
But their love had been strong then.

It had all started to go downhill after her mother's sudden death about three and a half years ago.
A heart attack.
Out of nowhere.

Despite her difficult relationship with her mother Regina had felt so alone in the world back then.
Emma had been right there but she hadn't really dealt with losing her father and when Cora Mills, who had seemed so much larger than life, had died Regina had fallen into a deep black hole because she simply didn't know how to function on her own.
Her mother had dictated her whole life and all of a sudden there was so much responsibility that she didn't know what to do with herself.
She had been working for the company for years at the time, of course, but Cora had been the one who truly had been in charge.
Of her every move, except for Emma.

Emma, who had tried, with all her might, to be there for Regina, only to be pushed away time and time again.
And so she had given her space.

Which, unfortunately, had only triggered Regina more and her paranoid thoughts had begun to grow.
Surely, at some point, Emma would find someone younger, someone kinder, someone more beautiful, someone who could love her better. Someone with less baggage. Fewer flaws.
In short: anyone but her.

Looking back now Regina saw how absurd it was but back then she had been so caught up in her own madness that she hadn't been able to tell right from wrong anymore.

And then Emma had started to come home later and later, reeking of booze and smoke, telling her she had been at work when Regina knew for a fact that she hadn't been.
They had fought and made up and Regina had become more controlling, more obsessed, Emma's countless reassurances and pleas to just let her breathe unheard.

She had hired a woman to test whether Emma was faithful and to her big surprise Emma had passed with flying colors.
But Emma had been furious when she had found out because of course, she had.

Emma had been so hurt, so disappointed, and Regina had felt something akin to guilt for a second but she had justified her actions with Emma's constant absence.
They had eventually made up but the vacation she had promised Emma had fallen through because of a work emergency.

Emma had been home more but it had made little difference because Regina had been working all the time and so Emma had started to disappear again and Regina had hired Sidney Glass to find out what her wife was up to.
And he had returned with pictures of Emma and a young woman, Belle French, walking arm in arm, laughing, smiling and it had torn Regina apart from the inside out.
She had flat out accused Emma of cheating once more, secretly taken photographs of Emma and that other woman strewn all over the living room floor and Emma had realized what Regina had done.
A private investigator.

She had tried to reason with Regina pointed out that she had only met a friend because not in one picture had she done anything other than laugh or walk with her friend arm in arm. That it meant nothing, that it was innocent. That Belle was happily married but Regina didn't want to hear it.
None of it.
And she had missed how devastated her wife had looked at her because of the accusations, because of the fact that Regina still didn't trust her and that she had hired someone else to spy on her.
Regina had been too wrapped up in her paranoia to realize anything anymore.

Emma had left only a couple of days later and they hadn't talked for almost two years.
And yet here they were.

“Regina? Where did you go?” Emma asked, standing next to her now.

“I...I do. I remember. Everything.”
A single tear made its way down Regina's face and Emma reached out to brush it away, as gentle as ever.

“I know you were so sad because you had just lost your dad back when we first met...but there was a beauty in that too. Not that I didn't like you better when you were happy, on the few occasions that you were”, Emma gave her a pained smile, “I fucked up too, you know? It wasn't just you. When your mother spiraled. And I knew it. I saw it happen. And you might have pushed me away, but still...I should have tried harder to make you see that you would probably need help to deal because Cora might have been a bitch...but it was all you knew.”

“I don't know that there was anything you could have done”, Regina admitted, causing Emma to shrug, “But I should have at least tried.”

“What I meant though”, Emma continued when Regina stayed silent, “Is...that when we first met. Those few days you didn't give a damn about what was expected of you. You just did you. You did what felt right to you and that was as carefree as I've ever seen you. As soon as you returned home you were so serious. All the time. And I get it, what with the company and all but matter too. You always have.”

“I don't want to get a divorce”, Regina rasped out, voice filled with tears.
And it was probably the truest thing she had ever said.

“Neither do I”, Emma took Regina's hand, “But you already know that. It's going to be a hell of a lot of work though.”


They stood in silence for a while, Emma never letting go of Regina's hand.
Regina wanted to hold on for dear life but didn't dare to tighten her grip for fear that it would be too much.
She hadn't been close to anyone like that since the day Emma had disappeared from her life and she was scared.
She was scared that she would ruin it all once again before they even had the chance to make it right.

“I think we should probably call it a night and...uh”, Emma rubbed her neck, “Think about what we need from each other for this to work. We could meet for lunch or dinner tomorrow to talk about that. Whatever works for you.”

Regina nodded in agreement, ”That sounds acceptable.”

Emma smirked at Regina's words, aware how hard all of this had to be for the woman who was known to be an absolute control freak.
She was so unapologetically Regina and she loved her for it.
If only her wife could mellow out a little.
Just a little.

“Do you have to work tomorrow?” Regina asked carefully.

“Yes. I finish at five.”

“Hm. Maybe it's better that we meet for dinner then. I feel like this conversation might need more time and I want you to have a relaxing lunch break”, Regina thought out loud.

Emma smiled, “You're actually right. I could pick you up around six? Six-thirty?”

“Very well. Just be there when you are ready, Emma. I do realize that your job comes with a lot of responsibility. I'll be in my room, ready to go at six. But I...I don't mind waiting”, Regina stated and they both knew it was a lie.
Regina hated for people to be late but at least she made an effort to understand Emma's new life here now and that there was a chance that Emma wouldn't make it on time.

“Alright. Let me walk you to your car”, Emma squeezed Regina's hand encouragingly.

She had entered her new cellphone number into Regina's phone before her wife had left, staring after the car long after it was gone.
There was a certain longing in Emma's hopeful eyes for the first time since she arrived in Storybrooke.
Maybe all was not lost yet.

Emma was sitting in the living room in the dark, curled up on the couch when Ruby finally returned from the diner.
It was almost 2 am.

“Jesus, Em! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?!," Ruby clutched her hand to her chest dramatically as soon as she found the light switch.

“Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. Couldn't sleep.”
Emma gave her a sheepish smile.

Ruby plumped down on the couch beside her, “How was your dinner?”

“It was...good. Better than I expected to be honest," Emma admitted.

“Okay”, Ruby eyed her warily, “And what now?”

A shrug was her only answer.

“I mean," Emma started eventually, “I want this to work but I don't know how. Regina has so many issues and God knows I've got some of my own you think you could be a little nicer to her when she comes to the diner?”

“What do you mean?" Ruby looked at her, the picture of innocence, causing Emma to chuckle.

“You know what. Stop staring at her like she's a murderer or something. Like you are ready to tackle her to the ground if she makes one wrong move. I appreciate your protectiveness but Regina is not the enemy," Emma bumped her best friend with her shoulder.

Ruby let out a heavy sigh, “I guess I could do that.”


They stayed quiet for a while before Ruby carefully asked, “Em, have you ever thought about seeing a therapist?”

“Uh...are you talking about Regina? Or myself?”

“Maybe both," Ruby suggested, “You should do your separate sessions but maybe some joint ones would be good too. Couple counseling or whatever. Maybe it could help? You could talk to Archie about it and if you don't want to go see him...well, he can refer you to one of his colleagues. But he's actually good at what he does.”

“It's worth considering but I'm not sure Regina is up for that," Emma admitted.

Ruby grew unusually serious, “She better be if this is gonna work because I'm afraid you won't be able to pull this off by yourself. And even then it's a gamble."

Regina was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.
She had given up on sleep hours ago.
Her restless nights weren't healthy, she knew that much but too many thoughts were clashing in her head for her to find rest.

Emma wanted to try and save their marriage.
She really wanted to try.
And Regina was over the moon.
She was also scared to death because she wasn't sure that she could take losing Emma again if things wouldn't work out.

Regina was well aware that she had issues and that her behavior was often questionable.
None of this was news to her.
She had caught herself wishing to be different more times than she cared to remember but she simply didn't know-how.

Even if she would change, if she could, the facts wouldn't.
And Emma being almost fourteen years younger than her was an undeniable fact.
Not only was Regina a very complicated person, but she was also getting older.
And quickly.

Emma had ended up taking the day off by switching shifts with David Nolan because she needed time to think.
Ever since she had run from New Mexico she had dreamed of seeing Regina again, of working things out with her wife but now that it was finally within reach she was terrified.

Regina wasn't in a good place, Emma was well aware of that.
She had seen right away as soon as she had caught sight of Regina when she had entered the Sheriff station the other day.
She shouldn't have left the way she had, she knew that too.
She knew that now.
Running when things got too difficult was her specialty and she really had to work on that because she had hurt Regina too. It wasn't like Regina had only hurt her.

Back then it had sounded so reasonable in her own head.
Regina would find her and she would make it right, that was what she had believed in back then.
Killian had warned her not to be so naive (because life was not a sappy fairytale) but she had thought she'd know better.

Emma hadn't taken into consideration that Regina couldn't just drop everything on a whim because she had a company to run and Emma had always admired how driven Regina had been to keep her family's legacy up and running.

Hence why she found it a little shocking that Regina had spontaneously decided to prolong her stay, and not only for a day or two, no, for two whole weeks.
Not that she didn't want to spend time with Regina but somehow her wife seemed so very defeated and Emma wasn't sure that what was happening right now was a good thing.
At least not for Regina.

Maybe what she wanted and expected was all kinds of wrong?
Even if they were to be able to save their marriage – what would their life look like?
Regina lived in New Mexico and she lived in Maine now and neither of them would move or give up their life.

It wasn't even fair to expect that from each other, was it?
What had she been thinking when she had decided to relocate to another state, far away from the place Regina called home?
How had she not realized this sooner?

Ruby was right, wasn't she?
They needed help if they wanted a fighting chance to get it right this time around.
But would Regina even consider talking to a therapist?
Two years ago Regina would have sent her straight to hell for merely suggesting it.

Regina had spent her day talking to associates and shareholders only to find out that selling Mills Solar would be a lot easier than she had anticipated which made this whole situation even more enticing.
In the end, she had called the one person she somewhat trusted – her childhood friend Mal.

They hadn't seen each other in almost three years but Regina knew that Mal wouldn't judge, no matter what.
And she hadn't.

Mal had listened to all of her ramblings, had tried to make sense of the jumble that was Regina's thoughts.
It had come down to Mal telling her to do what would be best for her and no one else.

If she felt like selling the company and doing something else with her life, she should because she didn't have to prove anything to anyone anymore.
And that, even if things with Emma wouldn't work out, she would have the means to start a new life, a new chapter.
A different life.
Her own life.

That she should do what she wanted to do and not what anyone else expected of her.
And that maybe, just maybe, she should consider talking to a therapist.

Regina had been livid at the mere suggestion although she knew, deep down, that Mal had a point but she wasn't ready for that kind of admission.
She wasn't one to talk about her feelings and emotions, she never had been, taught to hide it all away by her mother when she was still a child.
And as she had grown older she had mastered it to protect herself – from her mother and mother's fury mostly.

Therapy was like breaking the armor open, taking away the mask she was hiding behind, and allowing herself to be vulnerable and exposed.
It required a trust Regina simply didn't possess.

She had texted Regina to wear something casual and winced as soon as she had pushed the send button.
Emma was sure nothing that would qualify as casual had found its way into Regina's wardrobe.

Now that she stood in front of Regina's room door at the Bed & Breakfast Emma was a nervous wreck.
She hadn't been before but she was now because they had so many important things to talk about.
Things that could easily break the very, very fragile bond that was still holding them together.

It wasn't for the lack of love, Emma was sure of it, but their circumstances.
Regina loved her, she had seen it in her expressive brown eyes.
Right when Regina had walked through the door of her office at the Sheriff station.

Regina's love was the one thing Emma had never doubted and never would.
Like her own love for Regina had never wavered.

The problem was that neither of them knew how to love very well.
Neither of them had ever learned what it meant to have a healthy relationship.

Emma had taken Regina to the diner for dinner because Storybrooke didn't have much to offer when it came to restaurants.
It was a sleepy, little town after all.

Regina hadn't seemed to mind, at least she had not complained like she would have done back in New Mexico.
Then again Emma would have never dared to pull a stunt like that back then.

Ruby had been somewhat friendly and Emma appreciated that her best friend was trying.
She knew that Ruby had her doubts about this, and so had she, but if Emma had any say in it Regina would stay her wife till the end of days.
But they had to find common ground, they had to become something they had never been before – they had to become equals.

Now that they were taking a walk on the beach, wind blowing, waves rushing against the shore.
Regina's hair was tousled and her lipstick almost worn off after dinner and Emma was fairly certain her wife had never looked more beautiful.

She wished she could pull Regina close and kiss her as she used to but Emma didn't dare.
Mostly because Regina seemed so incredibly tense and she didn't want to do anything to make things more complicated.

It wasn't the right time, Emma knew that much.
But it didn't mean that she didn't want to just forget the pain of the past and move on.
Only, it wasn't that easy.
Not even close.

“I don't know what to do”, Emma admitted instead, “My life is here now and yours is...well, not.”

Regina had made the decision not to tell Emma about the idea of selling Mills Solar because nothing was set in stone yet.
Maybe she would, maybe she wouldn't.
But if she chose to do it she'd do it for herself and no one else.

She turned away from the ocean and met Emma's eyes, “There's no point in worrying about this just yet, is there? If...if we can fix our marriage...then we'll figure something out.”

“You're right”, Emma admitted.
She wanted too much way too soon.
She knew that too.
But she'd waited two years already and now that Regina was here she didn't want to let her go again.
Which was ironic, wasn't it?
She'd left her after all.
She'd run like a coward like she had done so many times before.
Because it had been easier than to stay and fight.
But she had needed Regina to show her willingness to fight for this, for her, for them, hadn't she?
Only she had gone about it all wrong.

“I think I'm going to see Archie”, Emma fidgeted with the zipper of her leather jacket.

Regina only looked at her questioningly.
Archie? Who was Archie?

“Right. Uh...Archie Hopper. He's a...therapist”, Emma eyed Regina warily, not sure how her wife would react, “I have issues too. It's not just you. And I think...if this is going to work...we both have to make an effort. A real one. So yeah...I think I'm going to see Archie.”

Regina was quiet for a while before she whispered, “Mal suggested I see a therapist as well.”

“Oh”, Emma was dumbfounded because she hadn't expected that. She wasn't Mal's biggest fan because the woman was way too self-centered and arrogant for her liking but she knew that Mal had Regina's best interest in mind.

“No promises though," Regina continued, “I'm not sure I...but...I'll think about it.”

Emma nodded in understanding.
If anyone knew how guarded Regina was, it was her.

“What are your plans for tomorrow?" Emma asked because she feared that Regina would get so bored that she would leave before the two weeks would be over.

“I have a meeting at the stables with Mister Locksley.”

“Right. You said you bought the horse," Emma nodded in agreement and didn't know why. Not like Regina needed her permission or approval.

“I did. Maybe we can have dinner? I'd offer to cook this time but...there's no kitchen in my room," Regina dropped her head.
She loved to cook but she barely had found the time while they had lived together and she felt ashamed of it now.

“We could cook my place”, Emma offered with a small smile.

Regina considered the suggestion for a moment, “Very well."
She took a deep breath, “I know you want a solution for fix our marriage. I get that, Emma. I wish we could just get back together but...I think we shouldn't put so much pressure on ourselves. I'm a very broken person and you have your demons as well. If we expect too much, push too hard, we might set ourselves up for failure.”

“You're right", Emma hated to admit it but Regina had a point.
There was no easy, no quick fix for this.
It would take time and they had to be patient and even then the outcome was still uncertain.
“So, I guess it's one step at a time, isn't it?”

Regina nodded, “Yes. If you still want to try.”
If you still want me.

“I'm not giving up on you that easily, Regina. I know it might have seemed that way when I left without a word...but I'm not. It all made sense in my head back then but I realize now that it was a stupid thing to do. A horrible thing. And for that I am sorry.”

Regina had shared a nightcap with Granny that evening as well, once she returned to the Bed & Breakfast.
They hadn't spoken much and yet it had helped Regina to make up her mind.
At least when it came to the horse and the stables.
She had bought them the next day and had hired the former stable hand Gepetto to run them in her absence.
Because no matter what she would decide in regards to the company, she had to return to New Mexico after her vacation.

Together with Gepetto's help, she had managed to move Hades outside into one of the paddocks.
The black steed had stormed around as if he had gone mad for quite a while but Regina had stared at him in awe nonetheless.
He was a magnificent animal and with time he might be able to show that to the world.
Could she do the same?

Regina wasn't sure but when she saw Hades finally calm down and look at her curiously, only for a moment, it sparked the kind of hope inside of her that made her want to try.
She wanted to try for real.

Cooking dinner together with Emma had been interesting.
It had been quite challenging not to command Emma around like she would be the boss of her because Regina knew that had been one of her biggest mistakes.
She had always appreciated Emma but she hadn't been able to show it.
Not the way she should have.

Her mother had raised her to be better than everyone.
Had kept preaching that Regina was destined for greatness.
That no one could be trusted because people would care more about her money and her name than about her.
Regina had refused to believe that but after her heart had been broken for the third time and her mother's ongoing rants of I told you so Regina had given in to that kind of paranoia.
Until she had met Emma, who had neither known who she was nor cared.

She had caught herself bossing Emma around twice but her wife had only smirked at her knowingly and had gone about her way anyway.
Regina had felt her nostrils flare because how dare Emma but then she had watched her wife cook and of course Emma was doing fine on her own.

That was it, wasn't it?
Emma had needed to grow, had to become her own person.
And now they had to find a way to become equal partners and not what they had used to be.

Yes, she was still wealthy and a Mills but none of that mattered.
Not when it came to Emma.
She couldn't fix this with money or her name, she had to find a way to let go in order for Emma to come back.
For Emma to stay.

They had to rebuild their whole relationship from the ground and it dawned on Regina that it would be even more difficult than the both of them had imagined.

Her two weeks in Storybrooke had gone by a lot faster than Regina had anticipated.
She had spent a lot of time at the stables, planning, organizing, studying the horse she called her own now.
Well, all of them were hers but Hades she would keep as her personal horse.

Emma had come by a few times, not knowing that Regina had bought the whole property as she had sworn Robin Locksley and Gepetto to secrecy for the time being.
They had taken a couple of walks together and Emma had introduced her to Mayor Midas, who had lamented about the retirement he wouldn't live to see if they wouldn't find someone willing to take over soon.
Regina had said that she couldn't understand why no one would be willing to run for office because Storybrooke might be a sleepy, little town but it was quite idyllic.
The mayor had shrugged helplessly and had said that nobody wanted to juggle with budgets and that the younger people cared more for the city than for staying around.

Regina could see why but on the other hand she was still irritated.
Granted, had someone told her a few years ago that she would consider leaving her home, that she would be tempted to move to Maine, she would have had them committed.
But that had been then and a lot had changed ever since.

She could see the appeal of Storybrooke and she certainly understood why Emma loved it so much.
The slower pace and all the fresh air, no matter how cold, had done Regina a world of good and she knew she would miss it.
Most of all she would miss Emma.

Regina and Eugenia Lucas had taken a nightcap on the porch together every night, an unspoken agreement between the two of them, and Eugenia had shared stories about the hardships of her life.
How she had lost her husband to a horrible accident only a couple of years after they had gotten married, leaving her to be a widow at barely twenty-seven.
How she had never remarried because he had been her one true love and that she could fully understand Emma's determination to save their marriage.
How her daughter had run off with her no-good boyfriend when Ruby had barely been two and how she had ended up dead from a drug overdose when Ruby had been about ten.
That it had been the two of them ever since Ruby had been a toddler and that she was so glad that Ruby had found Dorothy because they were made for each other.

Regina hadn't shared much but she had told Eugenia Lucas about her good memories with Emma.
About their travels, sadly mostly for business on her part, but she had enjoyed taking Emma along all the same.
About how madly she had fallen in love with Emma although quite a few years separated them and that she had felt so much doubt in the beginning until Emma had shown up in New Mexico out of the blue.

It was her last day in Storybrooke for the time being and Regina was standing in the paddock with Hades, brushing him down.
He had calmed down considerably around her and Regina was ecstatic about his progress, when she caught sight of a tall, red-haired man with a Dalmatian, walking towards the stables.

She petted her horses' neck before she headed towards him, “Can I help you?”

“I'm looking for Regina Mills," he said with a kind smile.

“You found her, Mister?”, Regina reached out her hand professionally after she had made it out of the paddock.

“Archie Hopper”, he replied, “The sheriff sent me here.”

Regina's irritation showed on her face.
Had Emma called the therapist on her?
“I see. What can I do for you, Doctor Hopper?”

“Emma has come to see me a couple of times lately and she told me that the two of you were trying to work things out. We were just wondering if you would be willing to do some joint sessions with her because she is trying to make sense of a lot of things and she wants to explain that to you. But she doesn't want to do it by herself. She has asked for my assistance”, Archie explained while the dog sat beside him, patiently wagging his tail.

“Do I have to talk about anything as well?," Regina asked warily and saw the man shake his head, “Not at all. Listening is what really matters for starters. Unless there is something you want to talk about.”

“There isn't," Regina snapped before she took a deep breath. Her short temper would be the end of all things good in her life eventually, “Forgive me. I've been...thinking about...about therapy. I am...considering it but I'm...not...”

Archie nodded in understanding, “You aren't quite there yet. I understand that. Whenever you are ready.”

He took his business card out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Regina, who took it hesitantly, “When I'm ready.”

They had agreed to have dinner at Emma's house once again but Regina had shown up with pizza, to Emma's absolute delight.
She didn't care for it much but she knew how much her wife loved it and Regina had decided that it was time she started to make a few compromises and sacrifices.
To show Emma that she wanted this.
It was just a tiny step but Regina could tell that Emma appreciated it all the same.

A woman she hadn't seen before had stormed into the house shortly after they had finished eating and Emma had introduced her to Dorothy Gale, deputy and girlfriend of Ruby Lucas.
Emma had been quite baffled to see her because they hadn't expected her home for another week or two but Dorothy had only hugged her fiercely before she had dashed off to surprise her girlfriend.

Emma had shaken her head with a huge smile on her face as she had watched Dorothy almost fall down the stairs in her hurry.
Regina had chuckled in amusement but she understood quite well how excited Dorothy must feel.
She remembered how high on adrenalin she had been every time she had been on her way home when her mother had made her travel alone.
God, how much she had missed Emma every minute of every day!
How it had never changed, even when Emma had been long gone.

Now that they were sitting on the couch, facing each other, Regina saw how serious Emma had grown.

“What's on your mind, dear?" Regina asked and winced at her use of endearment.
It was so tempting to fall back into old habits and she had tried with all her might to keep her distance the last two weeks, not to get her hopes up, but it got more difficult by the day.

Emma sighed heavily, “I know you have to go back and I don't want to push anything...but what now? What are we going to do from here on forward? We've put this conversation off ever since you came here but I feel like we can no longer do that.”

Regina was quiet for a long while, choosing her words very wisely, “We should keep talking. On the phone or through video calls. And I will try to come back in a couple of weeks. No promises on when exactly but I will come back. And maybe...maybe you could come to visit me too...I know you won't come back for good. But maybe for a weekend?”

“Yeah. I could do that," Emma agreed. It was only fair.

“And time will tell the rest.”

Emma had come by at the Bed & Breakfast in the early morning to see her off and she had hugged her so hard that Regina had feared for her ribs for a moment before she had finally found the courage to kiss her wife – at least on the cheek.
It wasn't much but it was a start.

She had left with the promise to call as soon as she would land in New Mexico and she had seen how tempted Emma had been to leave with her.
To throw everything she had built away and just go with her like she used to.
But it wouldn't be right and Regina wouldn't allow it.
Not this time.
This time they would do this right.

The weeks that had followed had been miserable for the both of them.
They had never dealt well with being separated and while they were only at the beginning of this new journey – in a way their bond was stronger than ever.
Because they were finally learning to talk and, more importantly, to listen. They understood that it was essential for their relationship, they knew they had to work for what they wanted.

Regina had returned to Storybrooke for a four-day visit at the beginning of November and they had seen Archie together for the first time.
It hadn't been as bad as Regina had thought it would be and Emma had finally told her what she had been up to before Regina had hired Sidney Glass.

Emma had confessed that she had taken another job as security for a club because she had needed money to pay Belle and her husband.
Jewelers who were supposed to make a special ring for Regina, diamonds and all, because before they had gotten married Emma simply didn't have the means to buy her a proper engagement ring.

Regina had looked at her, completely bewildered, because Emma had made quite some money working for her own security team at Mills Solar.
Emma had only laughed and had told her, straight to the face, that she would have never used Regina's money to pay for it, even though she had earned it because she had worked for it.

And that she had wanted it to be as special as Regina was to her and that this one time she wanted to do something right, to give her something that no one else could because she had come up with the design herself and it would be one of a kind.
That she hadn't cared for material things but that Regina did and that she had wanted to do it for her because she had meant everything to her.

It had made Regina feel even worse about her distrust and she had blurted out that she still didn't understand what Emma could possibly see in her.
She had ranted that she wasn't getting any younger and surely Emma had to see that by now.

Emma had simply taken her hand, had looked at Archie with a cocky smile, “Isn't she the most beautiful woman you have ever seen?”

Archie and Regina both had blushed at the question but then Emma had grown serious and had told her that while she was an incredibly beautiful woman, and always would be, Emma had fallen in love with her because when they had met Regina had treated her like she would be the most precious thing in the world.
That despite Regina's flaws and their toxic relationship, she had never doubted Regina's love for her.
That she understood why Regina had tried to hold on with all her might, that she had wanted to control every step Emma took.
That she understood Regina's fear of losing her because she had been afraid all the same.
And that she had run away because she had feared that Regina would ask her to leave anyway when she had gotten so paranoid that she had seen a threat behind every corner.

Archie had been quite satisfied with their progress and Regina had kissed Emma that night.
It had been sweet and chaste and not at all what they had been.
It was new and careful but neither of them was fooled.

Their passion was burning stronger than ever under the surface but Emma didn't dare to give in because Regina was too scared still.

Emma had meant to visit New Mexico for Thanksgiving but a nasty storm had ruined those plans because Storybrooke had needed its Sheriff.
Regina had understood but she hadn't liked it.
But for the first time she hadn't given in to her anger and in the end, she had been so worried about Emma's safety that she hadn't even cared that they had missed their time together and she had simply bathed in the feeling of relief once the storm had passed and Emma had called her to let her know that everyone was alright.
They had talked for hours, about everything and nothing, and Regina had fallen asleep with Emma still on the phone.

She had started her own sessions with Archie Hopper the week after that - he had agreed to video calls and Regina had been glad.

Emma had visited the first week of December and it had been weird to have her back at the mansion.
They had been so awkward around each other, even more so than in Storybrooke, the first couple of days after Regina's initial arrival and it had taken them a joint video call session with Archie to get rid of some of the tension.

Regina had admitted that it was incredibly hard for her to keep her hands to herself because she wanted to be close to Emma, physically, but she couldn't when things were still so uncertain.
Archie had been very understanding, and not all that surprising, so had Emma, and both of them had assured Regina that a relationship was about more than sex and that her feelings were valid and that they mattered.

Emma had slept in the guest room during her stay and while Regina craved Emma's touch it had been for the better.
They had shared another kiss one night while taking a stroll across the estate.
It had left both of them smiling and hopeful.

Once Emma had returned to Storybrooke Regina had finalized her plans to sell Mills Solar and had surprised Emma with a spontaneous visit a couple of days before Christmas.

Gepetto had been working with Hades and when Regina had taken Emma to the stables to show her the magnificent horse Emma had talked Gepetto into giving her riding lessons once Regina would be gone again.
She wasn't as keen on horses as her wife but maybe they could go riding together one day and the thought alone had made Emma giddy.

Emma had spent Christmas in Storybrooke surrounded by friends and yet she had longed to be with Regina who had gone to Europe to visit Mal at one of her many vacation homes.
They hadn't been on the best of terms when Regina had left for Italy because Emma had drunkenly called her a few days prior while at The Rabbit Hole and some girl in the background had tried to hit on Emma which had caused Regina's intense jealousy to rear its ugly head.

Emma on the other hand had felt like Regina was punishing her when she had learned that her wife would leave the country and wouldn't be around until the new year, unaware that Regina had thought about visiting Mal since their conversation when Regina had first been to Storybrooke.

They had faced their first rough patch then but Regina had called on Christmas morning and she had apologized for assuming the worst once more and that it was so hard for her to shake that feeling because they hadn't been intimate yet and surely Emma had to be tempted at times.

When Emma had asked if she was tempted to be with someone else, if she had been with anyone ever since Emma had left, Regina had fallen silent because the thought had never crossed her mind.
Emma had only asked why she thought it would be any different for Emma.
That she should trust in the love they shared because it had always been mutual and nothing had changed.
Not when it came to that.

Regina had told her then that she had made plans with Mal because she had wanted to give Emma her space and that it had nothing to do with punishment. That she had merely thought spending the holidays together might be too early and that she hadn't wanted to be alone for the holidays and Mal had been generous enough to invite her to spend them with her because they hadn't seen each other in years.

Once they had gotten over that obstacle both Regina and Emma had felt quite proud of themselves and Emma had offered to visit Regina in New Mexico after her return.
Regina had been vague about it at the time but Emma had decided not to worry.
Maybe Regina hadn't made plans when exactly she would return yet and most of all Emma was glad that Regina took time for herself now because she had been working herself into the ground all her life.

Mal had been the one to suggest that Regina finally put Emma out of her misery because there was no doubt that Regina would move to Storybrooke.
Not just because it was easier for them but because Regina had actually grown to love that sleepy, little town in Maine.
And some of its people.

Eugenia Lucas had become someone Regina greatly appreciated. And the same could be said for Archie Hopper.
They might not have interacted all that much but Regina had nothing but respect for Ruby and Dorothy because they had looked out for Emma all this time.
David Nolan, another deputy, was acceptable as well, even though she found his wife annoying.
The pixie-haired woman was too sweet and too eager for Regina's liking and she dreaded seeing her again but her dislike for Mary Margaret Nolan wouldn't keep her away from Storybrooke.

Eugenia had helped her find an apartment and she had signed the lease the day before Christmas.
The furniture she had chosen to bring should have been delivered by now and because Regina had never been known for her patience she had boarded a plane to Maine the day before New Year's Eve.

Emma thought she was hallucinating when she entered the diner during her lunch break to find Regina sitting in a booth, chatting animatedly with Ruby.
And yet there she was.
Back in time to ring in the new year and Emma felt the butterflies in her stomach doing somersaults.

God, that woman!
This infuriatingly complicated woman.
How much she loved her, in spite of everything.

Regina got up to greet her and before Emma could think better of it she pulled her close and kissed her, right there, in the middle of the diner.

“I'm sorry," she rasped out breathlessly once she pulled back but Regina cupped her cheek and smiled, “I missed you too.”
And then Regina pecked her on the lips before she made Emma sit down for lunch.

Ruby invited her to Granny's New Year's Eve party when she served their food and Regina readily accepted, much to Emma's delight.

“Not that I'm complaining," Emma said, waving with a french fry, “But aren't you supposed to be sipping champagne with Mal?”

Regina chuckled, “I was and it has been incredibly dull, can you believe it?”

“Who are you and what have you done to my wife?" Emma joked, causing Regina to laugh out loud.

“It's come as quite a surprise to me too, believe me," Regina smiled, “Actually, you have to thank Mal for my presence. She convinced me to come because she knew I'd rather be here than anywhere else and that I should start off the new year with my wife.”

“Remind me to send her flowers some time," Emma mumbled and ate her fry.

They agreed to meet back at the diner around eight because Emma had a shift to finish and Regina wanted to check on Hades before she would get ready for the party.

Regina had taken Hades for a walk because she could do that now and she made a mental note to talk to Gepetto about his thoughts in regards to riding the pitch-black steed.
It was too early, Regina knew that, but she felt he was ready for some basic work to build a proper foundation.

By the time she arrived at the diner, the party was already in full swing but Emma was nowhere to be seen.
Word must have spread about their very public kiss earlier because almost every citizen made a point to greet her and Mayor Midas made a beeline for her as soon as he caught sight of her, “Misses Mills!”

“Mayor. It's nice to see you again," Regina gave him a polite smile.

“Back in town once more. I take it, you like it here?," he asked curiously and Regina nodded, “Very much so.”

George Midas smiled triumphantly, “Come to my office next week. I'd like to talk to you about something Eugenia Lucas brought to my attention. Something I think is a fabulous idea. But first, we celebrate.”

Regina nodded, dumbfounded.
She had thought Eugenia had been joking about her becoming mayor, had thought that Eugenia had long forgotten about that conversation.
Also, wouldn't that mean she would be Emma's boss?
Regina wasn't sure if that would be such a great idea and she definitely would have to talk to Emma about that before she made any decisions.

First, she had to tell Emma that she was here to stay though.

Emma arrived wearing a suit and Regina could barely contain herself, the need to be with her wife stronger than ever.
Her wife didn't dare kiss her in front of the whole town which was probably a wise decision because Regina wasn't sure that she could hold back then.

She watched Emma getting greeted by everyone, watched as people smiled at her and Regina realized how very loved and respected Emma was in Storybrooke.
It warmed her heart and at the same time, she felt her raging jealousy creeping up her spine.
How could she ever be enough for Emma?
How could she ever compete with all of this? All of them?

“It's her choice.”

Regina almost jumped at the voice but Archie only smiled at her, his eyes as kind as ever.

“I beg your pardon?" she rasped out, heart racing.

“Loving you. It's Emma's choice," Archie stated, “She keeps talking to people because that's what she has to do as the sheriff. But she glances over at you every other second, checking that you are alright. There's no competition. You are her choice. Her only choice.”

“How did you know?" Regina asked, irritated that Archie had been able to read her so well.

He shrugged, “I guess I'm not so bad at my job after all.”

Regina chuckled, “Looks like it.”

It was Dorothy who kept Regina company until Emma was done with her rounds.
Ruby had stopped by in-between serving drinks and the both of them had shared some of Emma's funnier moments in Storybrooke.

How Emma had fallen face-first into the mud one rainy night because she had to detain a drunken Leroy in the woods and the both of them had slipped.
Or how Emma and Ruby had gotten drunk together and Dorothy had returned from her shift to find Emma sleeping on the floor and Ruby snoring on the kitchen table.

It had pained Regina that Emma had to leave her in order to experience all of that happiness but at the same time, she understood how important it had been for the both of them.
Only Emma had grown so much and she had a lot of catching up to do still.

“I'm sorry for taking so long," Emma whispered into her ear when she finally returned but Regina shook her head, “Nonsense. You are the sheriff and it's your duty. And these are your friends.”
And much to her own bafflement Regina found that she actually meant it.

Everyone cheered and counted down from ten until the clock struck midnight.
The sound of popping champagne bottles could be heard in the background as people hugged and kissed but Regina only had eyes for Emma who smiled at her radiantly, eyes sparkling with delight and Regina couldn't find a reason not to kiss her wife.
And so she did.

It wasn't much later that exhaustion finally caught up with Regina.
She hadn't slept since she had landed and she was pretty worn out from her long trip and Emma realized it too.

“You should get some rest. I'll walk you to your room," Emma offered, and Regina was tempted, so tempted, to take her up on it but she needed to prove to herself that she was capable of change. And Emma had to see it too.
Regina had talked to Archie about it a couple of times and he had suggested starting simple.

“Why don't you stay with your friends and I'll meet you for lunch tomorrow?" Regina suggested and watched as Emma's eyes grew wide in surprise.

Regina cupped her cheek, “I've had a long trip and I really need to sleep but you should have fun with your friends. You deserve it.”
She grabbed her coat and Emma escorted her outside, “I don't mind leaving.”

“I know," Regina said, a smile on her face, “And I appreciate it. But it isn't necessary. Good night, darling.”
She leaned in to kiss Emma gently, “I'll see you for lunch?”

“Wouldn't miss it for the world.”

Emma was already at the diner when Regina showed up which was a rare occurrence because Emma had a tendency to be late while Regina would rather be early.
Today though Emma had beaten her, mostly because Regina had gotten held up at the stables.
She could tell how tired Emma was and appreciated her wife's presence all the more.

“Have you slept at all?" she asked once they had ordered their food, chuckling when Emma yawned in reply.

“Couple of hours," Emma admitted, “I helped Ruby and Dorothy clean yeah.”

Regina nodded in understanding, “You have the day off, yes?”


“Good. Because you will get some rest after we finish lunch and that's not up for discussion," Regina stated and froze.
Wrong thing to say entirely.
She turned white as a sheet.

“Emma, I...didn't. I'm sorry. That came out wrong," she felt the panic rising in her chest, “What I meant to say...”

Emma reached across the table and covered Regina's hand with her own, “It's fine. I know what you meant and I will get some rest later, I promise.”

Of course, Regina's choice of words had been unfortunate but Emma understood the sentiment.
Regina cared, she just didn't know how to show it at times, and then she started to dictate everyone's every move.
It was in situations like this one that Emma didn't mind so much because Regina was concerned about her well-being but it dawned on her that they had to have a more detailed conversation about this at some point because it might be confusing to Regina that she didn't mind her behavior one minute and would be bothered by it the next.
But it really wasn't that black and white, now was it?

Emma didn't mind Regina being bossy or possessive entirely but everything with her wife had always been so over the top when it should have been about moderation.

Emma had filled Regina in on the latest town gossip during lunch which consisted of Leroy's drunken adventures and David's seventy-fifth rescue mission of Misses Rosenberg's cat which had landed him flat on his ass.
Regina had laughed, mostly because of Emma's silly facial expressions, but she had laughed and she had felt almost carefree for a moment which she had enjoyed immensely.

They had left the diner together and Emma had insisted on walking her back to the Bed & breakfast.
Regina had known right then and there that she couldn't put off telling Emma the truth any longer.
It was time and Emma deserved to know.

“There's something I want to show you," Regina admitted, “And I guess there's something I have to tell you as well.”

Emma eyed her warily, instantly conflicted, fearing the worst, “Okay?”

Regina held out her hand, “Come with me and I'll explain.”

She was surprised that Emma intertwined their fingers and followed her without further questions, blindly trusting her when Regina wasn't sure that she deserved it.

They reached the apartment building after a short walk and Regina gestured for Emma to walk upstairs to the top floor while her wife grew more and more confused.
Until Regina unlocked the door and Emma stared at furniture that was all too familiar.

She turned around and looked at Regina in confusion, “What is going on?”

Regina gestured for Emma to enter the apartment, “You might want to sit down.”

Once both of them were seated Regina told Emma everything.
That she had sold the company, that she had bought the stables and that she would stay in Storybrooke for the time being so they could try and fix their marriage.
That she hadn't wanted to tell Emma until she would be sure, that she had to make this decision for herself.

Emma just stared at her and stared some more, unable to find the right words.
Her mind was racing a mile a minute because she couldn't believe what Regina had done.
Neither for herself nor for them.

Regina got a little unnerved when Emma stayed quiet.
Maybe it was too much, too soon?

“I can always go back if you," she offered but Emma was out of her seat all of sudden, pulling Regina to her feet and right into her arms.
And the next thing Regina knew was that they were kissing, the fire between them returning with a vengeance, leaving them both breathless.

“Don't ever think I don't want you here," Emma rasped out between kisses, “I just never thought you would do...any of that. it all...a secret.”

Things could escalate easily, Regina was well aware, and that was why she stopped Emma's roaming hands in the end, “We should stop.”

Emma froze instantly, “I'm sorry. I guess I got a little carried away.”

“It's not that I don't want to," Regina admitted and took Emma's face in her eyes, their eyes locking, “I do crave your touch more than you know. But I don't want us to rush into this now because you are happy to have me here...because our issues are still the same and I don't want you to regret...”

“I get it," Emma assured, “I wouldn't regret it, just so you know but you are right.”

Emma had called Archie on her way home later that afternoon and had required to talk to him first thing the next morning because she needed help to sort her thoughts.
He suggested she could accompany him on his morning walk with Pongo.

So here they were, walking down the beach at the crack of dawn.
And Emma told him everything.

“I can't believe she did that. I know she did it for herself but she also did it for me. For us. And I'm so over the moon but," Emma didn't know how to explain.

“But you don't want to get so lost in her that she walks all over you again," Archie observed and Emma nodded, “Don't get me wrong...I don't want to change who she is. Regina doesn't have to be perfect, she just has to get a better handle on her emotions so her anger doesn't flare up so quickly. I realized that yesterday when she told me that I had to get some rest and that there wouldn't be a discussion over it. She turned white as a ghost when she registered what she had said and how she had said it. The thing is I didn't mind because I know she was worried and I really did need the rest. How do I explain this to her? I'm afraid she believes I need her to be a completely different person and that's just not true. She thinks we should wait for her to be “perfect” to get back together but let's be realistic. She'll always be flawed in a way and so will I.”

“So, you don't want to wait anymore?" Archie asked carefully, causing Emma to sigh, “No. I mean...she is my wife. I want to be with her. I love her, flaws and all. She is getting better and she is trying really hard.”

“Is it enough for you to trust her again, Emma?”

She thought about it for a moment before she nodded, “Yes. Yes, it is. As long as she keeps trying. I'm not an idiot, I know that she will fail at times. We all do. We're all just human after all.”

Archie smiled encouragingly, “And there you have your answer.”

Emma was busy at the station that day and by the time she finally got back home, it was already late. She had barely managed to call Regina in the afternoon but she vowed to talk to her wife soon which proved quite difficult in the end because Regina was busy at the stables the next couple of days and her schedule conflicted with Emma's, much to her dismay.

The chance finally presented itself a week later.
Emma was on her way home from work and it was almost 9 pm and she was soaking wet because it had started pouring while she had been patrolling the woods after some acts of vandalism at the well the other day.
But she had the weekend off and she really, really needed to talk to Regina and so she drove over to the apartment building instead of home.
She was shivering from the cold by the time she arrived in front of Regina's door and she knocked with shaking hands.

Regina pulled the door open only moments later, irritation written all over her face that instantly turned to worry once she saw the state Emma was in.

“What happened?" she dragged Emma into her apartment and brought a towel from the bathroom so Emma could dry her hair a bit which she did wordlessly.

“Emma, are you alright?" Regina checked her over, looking for injury but when she found none she met her wife's eyes, trying to find the answers in them.

Emma reached out for Regina's hands and pulled them against her chest, “I love you, Regina. And I know you aren't perfect. I don't expect you to be. I don't want to change who you are. I need you to understand that. What I do need from you is to see me as a partner, not a maid. You can boss me around when it comes to my own well-being but not just because you're in a funk and you're in need of a punching bag. And I need you to talk to me when your paranoia is threatening to get the better of you because I'm not out there to get you. You will not always succeed, you will fail at times because you're only human and so am I. But you're trying, honest to God trying, and that is enough for me. I want to be with you, Regina. For as long as you'll have me as we vowed to when we got married. I meant it then and I mean it now.”

Emma was preparing for a rant but Regina threw herself at her and the only words that were heard for the rest of the night were words of reassurance and love.
And moans of pleasure while their minds, souls, and bodies reconnected through touches and feelings of unfiltered joy and ecstasy, their skin on fire and their passion burning in their hearts and veins.

Regina woke up to Emma putting gentle kisses all over the back of her neck.
She had fallen asleep wrapped in Emma's arms, more content than ever.

“Morning", she rasped out, her voice husky from sleep and she felt Emma smile against her skin, “Good morning.”

Emma ran her fingertips over Regina's arms, leaving goosebumps in their wake, “I hope you slept well.”

“Mmmm," Regina tried to focus but failed miserably, too engrossed in Emma's close proximity, feeling her skin on her own.
A moment later she was flipped over, resting flat on her back and Emma started a trail of kisses all over her chest and breasts, further south, covering her stomach and hip bones, causing Regina's breath to quicken.

“Would you be terribly mad if I'd choose to have you for breakfast?" Emma asked but didn't wait for an answer and the words died on Regina's lips when Emma's mouth continued its journey even further south.

They finally made it out of bed around noon because the growling of Emma's stomach could no longer be ignored and Regina fixed some tomato soup and grilled cheese, much to her wife's delight.
And she told Emma about Eugenia's crazy idea and the mayor's offer to take over once he would retire.

She saw the pride in Emma's eyes, watched how they sparkled and Regina vowed to never take Emma for granted again.

“You should totally do it. You'd be the perfect fit for Storybrooke," Emma said before she ate another spoonful of soup.

“I'm not sure. Wouldn't you be working for me again if I did?”

Emma shook her head, “Is that why you don't wanna do it? Because you think I don't want to work with you? Regina, no. Things are a little different in Storybrooke. Since no one else wants the job George would appoint you and the council would vote, which is just a formality. Unless someone else decides to run for office...then there would be an election. But considering that Georg is trying to retire for almost five years I'd say you're good. And we both work for the town and have to answer to the council. Obviously, we'd have to work together and you're responsible for the town budget which involves our budget but that's really not a problem. I don't mind if you don't.”

“Emma, are you sure?" Regina wasn't convinced, “You can think about it. I won't be mad if you don't want me to be mayor. I've got enough money to last me a lifetime. I can always do something else.”

“I'm fine with it, Regina. No point in making this awkward or complicated...Madame Mayor," she smirked, “Oh, I like the sound of that.”

Regina tilted her head curiously, “Do you now, Miss Swan?”

“It's Misses”, Emma insisted, triumph sparkling in her eyes, “You'd do well to remember that.”

There came a time of peace after that.
Regina would work at the stables, rebuilding, and training Hades while Emma was at work, and once Regina figured out that Emma had been taking riding lessons with Gepetto she had sometimes watched from afar.
At first, she had wanted to suggest she teach Emma but then Regina had decided against it because they spent a lot of their free time together anyway and it was important that they each had their own things, wasn't it?

If Emma wanted her help she would ask because Regina would never deny her, they both knew that.
But until then Emma was safe with Gepetto and that was enough.

Emma would stay over at Regina's place a couple of times a week and on occasion Regina would spend the night at the house but she found it a little overwhelming when Emma's roommates were there at the same time.
Regina wasn't used to living with friends but she had to give Ruby and Dorothy credit for trying very hard to make her comfortable.

Regina had found a friend of her own in Kathryn Midas who helped her get adjusted in town and in the office, she would take over come June.
It had taken little convincing that Regina would be the perfect candidate for the mayor position because she knew how to lead and calculate budgets.
George Midas and his daughter were showing her the ropes little by little and she was growing more confident that she could do it.

Emma believed in her.
Kathryn and her father believed in her.
To a degree, the town council already believed in her.
And the people of Storybrooke hadn't needed convincing because they might not know her but they trusted Emma's judgment.
Regina just hoped she was worthy of that trust.

They both kept seeing Archie, separately, and sometimes even together, and Regina had to admit that she was finally healing.
Slowly, but she was healing.

That didn't mean that her mood didn't get the better of her at times.
It didn't mean that Emma didn't get fed up with her antics here and there.
And they would lash out and they would fight but then they would take a step back to calm down before things could escalate completely.
Archie had taught them that.

And then they would talk through their issues with his help, and lately even without him on occasion and they would remind each other how much they cared and how much they had grown.
They would make up and they would make love, slow and gentle or wild and passionate, but love all the same.

It was around the second week of September when it all came crashing down.
Regina was the mayor now and quite good at it too but that day she had to deal with rather difficult citizens and she was already riled up when she received a call from Dorothy that there had been an incident at work and that Emma had gotten stabbed.

Regina was out of her seat in an instant and drove through town like a madwoman.
She arrived at the hospital, anxious and frightened, and that was never a good thing.
Regina barked her way through the building and arrived at the room Emma was in, only to find a nurse sitting on her bed, smiling at her, holding her hand.

And Regina just snapped.
Screamed at the top of her lungs that she was done trying to be better because it would never work. Her paranoia was feeding her anger, her fury, and all she could see was betrayal.
Emma would leave her.
Emma would leave her.

And no matter how hard she tried to reel herself back in, to push the anger away, that day she didn't succeed.
She stormed off before Emma even got a word out and didn't look back.

When it finally dawned on Regina what she had done it was already too late.
And once the tears started she couldn't stop crying all night.

Ruby told her that Emma was alright but that she had to stay at the hospital for at least another two days for observation and that Regina should go see her but she couldn't.
She felt too embarrassed, too ashamed.
She had let everyone down, hadn't she?

The call came three days later.
She was in her office when she saw that Archie Hopper was calling her and she answered her phone with shaking hands.
He told her, in no uncertain terms, that he expected her at his office within the hour.

Regina contemplated telling him to go to hell but what she did say was that she would come over right away.

To her big surprise, Emma was already there and Regina's stomach fell.
This was it, wasn't it?
This was the end.

“Regina," Emma started, her voice gentle, ”Please, sit down.”

And she did.
Regina sat there tenser than she had ever felt in her life, staring at her hands that were balled into fists to stop from shaking.
With little success.

“I think it's safe to assume that you had a really bad day...the day Emma ended up in the hospital?" Archie asked carefully and Regina nodded.

“Can you please tell us what happened?”
Archie had to be a saint for his patience.

Regina took a deep breath and then she told them everything.
How terrible her day had been, how scared she had been, and how she had arrived at the hospital already way too wired. How seeing that woman sitting on Emma's bed had triggered memories long forgotten.
How her mother had terrorized and abused her, how she had punished her.
How every single person she had ever cared for had betrayed her.
How her father had never stood up for her, how he had never once tried to protect her from her mother's cruelty.

How Daniel had only been in it for the money, that all hell had broken loose once she had figured out that she was a lesbian.
How Victoria Belfrey had told her that she would never have given her the time of day if she wouldn't be the Mills heir.
And how she had stumbled in on Ingrid cheating on her with some woman named Ursula when she had come back from a business trip early.

How she had never been enough.
Not once.
Neither for mother nor her father.
Nor anyone she had ever cared about.

Not worthy of love, not worthy of protection.
Always just a means to an end.
Not enough.

How she had gotten paranoid after that.
How the whole world had become a threat to her, how her mother had only fed it.
How mother had always known best.
How cruel Cora had really been.

Emma had gasped in horror more than once.
She had met Cora Mills and she had known that she had never been mother-of-the-year material.
But she had never realized how bad it had really been.

Regina was shaking like a leaf.
She had never talked about this before and she had never thought she would.
Tears were streaming down her face and she felt so utterly broken.
Broken beyond repair.
At the same time, she felt a wave of relief wash over her because she had finally broken free of what had been holding her down for so long.

And then Emma pulled her into a hug, pulled her into her arms, and held her close and all sense of fight left Regina.
She cried into Emma's neck, tried to tell her how sorry she was but the words got swallowed by her sobs while her wife stroked her hair and whispered assurances.

It took a while for Regina to calm down and when she finally managed to pull herself together she recognized Emma and Archie were sharing a look.

“Don't think I'm not still mad at you," Emma said, her smile never leaving her face anyway, “But I'm also very proud of you. And the nurse at the hospital was the sister of the guy we saved when...when I got stabbed. Just so you know."

"God, I really am a fool, aren't I?" Regina looked completely embarrassed, causing Emma to laugh. She held out her hand too, "Come on, let's go home. There's something I want to talk to you about and I think we've taken up enough of Archie's time.”

Regina was curled up on the couch, mug of tea in hand, waiting for what Emma had to say.

“So, Archie and I talked earlier. Before you arrived. I was you think it would be possible for Dorothy and Ruby to move into your apartment?" Emma asked and watched her closely.

“What? Why?”
Regina wasn't sure she understood.
Did Emma want her to leave town?

Emma scooted closer and took her hand, “Regina, you are my wife and we do have problems. Like so many others. And right now I am a bit mad and disappointed but I love you. And I want you to move in with me. We are married and I want to live that life as the married couple we are. We will still fight at times and we have a long way to go but I want you with me because I'm not going anywhere. Not this time. You are my wife because I choose you to be.”

Regina was dumbfounded and at a loss for words.
Whatever she had expected, that wasn't it.

“Archie said usually it would be a good thing for us to have our separate homes but the feeling of not having you here makes me anxious. There's enough room so we can avoid each other for a while if one of us gets pissed off and I think maybe you'd find it reassuring too...if we lived together again?," Emma continued, suddenly unsure and unnerved by Regina's silence.

“You have to let me pay for stuff around the house and part of the mortgage”, was what Regina said at last, causing Emma to chuckle, “Of course that's what you would say.”

“I'm serious," Regina said, “You are right. Back in New Mexico, I ran the whole show and I guess in a way I always felt being taken advantage of even though you never did. It's not about you. But you are also right when you say we have to be equal which means we share everything from now on.”

“That sounds surprisingly reasonable, Misses Mills," Emma agreed and kissed her gently, “Also...I have one more request.”

“Yes, darling?" Regina ran her fingertips over Emma's neck, “What is it?”

“You've got the horses. I think it's only fair that I get to have a dog.”

And then Regina laughed, laughed so hard that she felt tears prickling in her eyes.
Of course.
Emma had always wanted a dog but she had never warmed up to the idea.
Until now.

“I guess I see a trip to the animal shelter in our future then," Regina put a kiss to Emma's temple, who rasped out a disbelieving “Yeah?”

“Yes," Regina's voice was only a husky whisper against Emma's ear, “But first I wanna show you how sorry I am.”

Things got better for real after that day.
Regina kept seeing Archie and Emma dropped in on occasion, proud of her wife for battling through the darkness that was her past.

They had hosted a Thanksgiving Dinner at Town Hall for everyone and while the people of Storybrooke didn't necessarily consider Regina to be open and warm and friendly, they appreciated her being the mayor.
Regina had invested some of her own money to improve things in town because she could spare it.
There was a new playground now and the stables offered riding lessons for everyone, even the children from parents who couldn't afford it.
There were a couple of more horses as well and Regina and Emma had gone on their first ride together the other week where Regina had shown her the cabin at the lake that was part of the property.

Emma had convinced her to use it as a weekend getaway so to speak.
They would be able to hide away from the world and recharge whenever they wanted and Regina had to admit that she found the idea tempting.

Regina had suggested they invite Ruby, Dorothy and Granny over to the house for Christmas dinner and Emma had been ecstatic.
Kathryn and Frederik would probably join them as well, together with Kathryn's father.

Never in her life had Regina dreamed of having any of this.
A wife who truly loved her, a home, and a family.
Friends who honestly cared about her.
And yet here she was, in a sleepy, little town in Maine called Storybrooke.

A place she would have never thought about twice.
And yet that place that had given her everything.

Emma was out of town with Ruby, present hunting for Dorothy as far as Regina knew, on December 20, and so she didn't bother to rush home and stayed at the office late to get a head start on some of the paperwork left on her desk for after the holidays.
It would make things run smoother for her and she wouldn't have to worry about it between Christmas and New Year's.

When Regina finally made it home it was almost eight but the house was still dark.
She unlocked the door where a tail-wagging Koa was already waiting for her.
They had adopted the blue Pitbull the day after she had agreed to have a dog and Emma had dragged her straight to the shelter first thing in the morning.
Regina had been a bit skeptical about the breed at first but once they took him for a walk and she saw that the dog shared the same silly antics as her wife Regina had been sold.

“Hello, my precious boy," she patted him on the head and gave him a treat out of the pocket of her coat.
It had become their little routine and she carried dog treats around in her coats and jackets all the time now.

Regina put her coat in the closet when she noticed that Koa was running around in circles excitedly.
“You wanna go outside?”

The dog barked in reply, causing Regina to laugh, “Let's go then.”

They walked through the house together and Regina opened the door to the porch, only to stop dead in her tracks.
There were candles burning everywhere and Emma was leaning against the banister, a bright smile on her face.


Her wife held out her hand and Regina stepped closer, taking it.
Emma cupped her cheek with her free hand, her smile never wavering, “Are you happy here, Regina?”

“Of course I am," Regina answered immediately and realized that it was nothing but the truth, “I'm happier than I've ever been.”

“Good," Emma nodded, “Me too.”
She took a deep breath, “Our journey has been a roller coaster ride from the moment we first met and we've dealt with a lot of obstacles over the years. Our whole life has changed, quite drastically, but I'd say for the better. We have changed too. We've grown and we've overcome so many things, separately as well as together. But there's one thing that has never changed. The love I feel for you. No matter how hard it was, no matter how challenging, no matter how difficult you decided to be...I loved you and I love you still, Regina. More than ever. I have complete faith in you. In us, really. I know there's nothing we can't overcome. Together. And that's why...”

Emma got down on bended knee, “That's why I want to ask you...Regina, will you marry me again? I know we already are married but things are different now and I...”

Tears of joy and happiness were running down Regina's cheeks and she barely managed to rasped the words out, overcome with emotion, “Yes. Yes, of course, I'll marry you.”

She pulled Emma back to her feet and kissed her soundly, the world around them disappearing in its entirety.
It was only when Regina finally pulled back for some much-needed air that she saw Koa sitting next to her feet, a little red velvet box in his mouth, wagging his tail.
She couldn't help but laugh, bent down, and held out her hand so he could drop it into her waiting palm which he did immediately.

“Good boy," Emma praised and fed him some treats that she had stashed in her jeans pocket.

The dog munched happily while Regina opened the box and gasped.
Emma hadn't lied when she had told her she had wanted Regina to have a ring unlike any other.
There was no doubt that it was the ring Emma had ordered Belle and her husband to make.

The band was delicate and beautifully crafted.
There were rubies that were red as blood and the diamond in the middle was as black as the night.

“Belle told me that black diamonds were really rare. They are the strongest of all diamonds and they don't reflect light, they absorb it, which means their beauty comes from the surface. It reminded me of you. Because you always carried that darkness and yet there's so much beauty to be seen when I look at you. In your smile, rare as it might be, in the depths of your eyes. If you look close enough you can see that light, that fire, within. It makes you shine. It's one of the many things I love about you", Emma explained which left Regina speechless once more.
She took the ring out of the box and slipped it on her wife's finger.
A perfect fit.

Koa was patiently waiting while Regina tried, with all her might, to find the right thing to say but words failed her.

“You have no idea how much you mean to me, Emma. How much all of this means to me. That you love me for who I am and that you helped me heal. That you stood by me through it all. Through the darkness and the pain. That you loved me no matter how much it hurt and that you waited patiently for me to get better. You everything to me and I love you. More than words could ever say," was what came out of Regina's mouth in the end and she was proud that she had managed to say anything at all.

Emma's smile was so bright, it was almost blinding, “Let's get inside. I don't want you to get sick.”

Regina nodded, “Very well.”

Emma held the door open and gestured for Regina to go inside, “After you, Misses Mills.”

She stopped in her tracks, turned around and kissed Emma once more, “If we are doing this again we're doing it right. I think it should be Swan – Mills after all, don't you think?”

Emma swept her off her feet right then and there and carried her inside while Regina screeched in amusement, much to Koa's delight, who dashed around like a lunatic.

“Emma, let me down. You're driving the dog crazy", Regina wheezed out through her laughter but Emma only shook her head, “Nuh huh. Koa, bed.”

The dog did as he was told and dropped down on his dog bed with a heavy sigh as if to say You are such a spoilsport, mom!

Emma and Regina chuckled at his silly antics before they disappeared into their bedroom.

Swan – Mills.

It was the milestone neither of them had been sure they would ever reach but they had.
They had fought many battles, lots of them against themselves, against their demons.
They had hurt, they had endured.
They had fought.
And Regina and Emma were well aware that their work would never end.
That even though they loved one another it would always take more than that.
It would take effort and commitment but they didn't mind.

They had walked through the darkness together and they had come out the other side stronger.

As an unbreakable team.