There is a crossroads at Main Street that happens unexpectedly, as though it has only just occurred to Emma that she has to go somewhere . She hasn’t been thinking about that. Instead, she’s been running through memories in her mind, over and over, feeling sick and trapped with each one that she recalls. Mary Margaret beaming at a visit last week, that murmured, I think you two might actually be perfect for each other. David’s eyes softening whenever he sees Emma with Regina, as though this is where she belongs. Townspeople winking at Emma, making comments about the wife , thawing to Regina because she’d been half of a new whole.
Regina, lying beside her on a bed, speaking in a low voice about an adventure from her childhood. Regina’s wrist at Emma’s lips. Regina fighting alongside her, watching her with shining eyes, seeking her out in a crowded diner or a busy street. Regina’s furious statement just a half hour ago. I love you, too, you asshole.
Emma’s feet stall, and she feels nauseous. Ahead of her, two blocks down, is her old– is Mary Margaret’s apartment. No , she thinks, and she is sick again. To her right is Granny’s bed and breakfast, and she hesitates and then remembers collecting lunch there too often– getting something for the missus? Granny would say, cackling, and Emma would laugh in turn.
No, she can’t go there, either.
If she turns at this corner, she’ll be on her way to Mifflin Street, where she’s sure Regina has already returned. She hadn’t been affected by the curse in the same way, and she clearly hadn’t lost her memories over the town line. She’ll have stepped over it, healed whatever minor injuries she’d gotten– Emma can feel a soreness in her neck from the crash, but she doesn’t care– and then teleported right back to her house to go feel sorry for herself.
An image crosses her mind– that unmade bed in Emma’s…in the guest room on that first night. That pile of blanket on the couch as though Regina had been sleeping there. Regina’s hair, matted down and dirty. Back then, she’d had the uneasy sense that Regina had been more than just sad over her losses. Now, she firms her chin and refuses to dwell on it.
It’s not her problem. It’s what Regina fucking deserves, after the way she’d…
She grabs onto a telephone pole and heaves empty, panicked breaths, shaking uncontrollably as she gags on her own breathing. She feels herself spiralling again, feels that sense of powerlessness writhing through her like a venomous serpent, and she squeezes her eyes shut as a dozen streetlamps blink out on the street.
When she opens her eyes, it’s with grim purpose. She walks straight, but only for another block, and she stops short in front of the pawn shop and seizes the doorknob. It’s locked, but she shakes it anyway, rattles it with dark fury until something magical sparks from her fingers and the door flies off its hinges.
She stalks in just as Gold strides into the main room of the shop, looking alarmed. His features relax when he spots her, and he waves a hand and returns the door to its hinges. “Ms. Swan,” he says lightly. “Aren’t you just a walking thundercloud today. I take it that your love spell has been broken at last?”
“ Your love spell,” Emma snarls. “You sick, twisted…” She stops herself. Gold is looking more amused by each comment, and she is only getting angrier. “Here’s what you’re going to do,” she says, keeping her voice even. “I want an apartment. I know you own most of Storybrooke, and there are plenty of decent vacancies. Furnished,” she adds as an afterthought.
Gold eyes her speculatively. “What’s your price range?”
Emma laughs sharply, feels that furious confidence bloom again. “You are going to give me an apartment,” she says, keeping her words cold and calm. “And you are going to be grateful that I need something from you, because otherwise…” The lights in the pawn shop go out as well.
Emma hasn’t figured out much about her magic yet, not since that disastrous attempt with the book. But she suspects that she can do plenty worse than bursting a few lightbulbs when she’s this angry. Gold must agree, because there is abruptly something cold and metal in her palm.
“86 Main Street,” he says in the dark. “A ground floor apartment with an outdoor entrance and Storybrooke Park in your backyard. You could do far worse.”
She doesn’t respond. Instead, she storms from the pawn shop again, her skin burning like it has been violated again by Gold’s voice, and she heads back up Main Street.
She doesn’t want to talk about any of this with Mary Margaret and David, and so she pauses outside of their apartment, plasters a smile onto her face, and knocks on the door before she pushes it open. “Henry,” she calls, finding him on the couch with David. He has a guilty look on his face, a cookie in his hand that explains the guilt on his face– Regina would be appalled, this close to bedtime– and David waves sheepishly.
Emma waves, avoiding his eyes, and focuses on Henry. “We’ve gotta go,” she says quickly. “It’s time.”
Henry looks bewildered. “Now?”
“Now,” Emma says firmly, and Henry gets up reluctantly, offering Emma a cookie as he joins her at the door. She takes it. She might be furious at Mary Margaret right now, but Mary Margaret still makes excellent cookies. “Let’s go,” she says, and she eats it rapidly, feels it turn her stomach, and finishes it anyway.
Henry walks trustingly beside her, and Emma considers her options. Their things are still spread out between two houses, and neither of them have pajamas or a change of underwear with them, but they’ll have to make do for the night. There are no options that are otherwise tolerable.
She slips her hand into Henry’s and holds onto him tightly, and he looks up at her with his eyes worried. “What’s going on, Emma? Why did I have to leave? Did something happen to Mom?” He looks terrified at that, his pale little face drawn and confused, and Emma curses her own spelled self for ever letting Henry move back in with Regina.
“I shouldn’t have…I’m sorry I didn’t think through what kind of impact moving back in would have on you,” she says, her voice quiet and strained. “Your mom isn’t stable right now. She isn’t someone you can count on to…to make the right decisions or good choices. And until she figures that out, I don’t want you being so vulnerable to her. Maybe she’ll work through it someday. But today…” Her voice trails off.
Henry stares at her, frightened. “Did Mom do something?” he asks, his voice wavering. “She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t . She has us now.” He sticks up his chin. “Last time you told me she did something bad, it wasn’t even real. Archie was alive! Mom had nothing to do with it!”
“No, I– She didn’t do anything,” Emma says, taken aback. She’s faltering, trying to express herself without having to get into the absolute violation that she’s coping with right now. “But I think…I don’t know what she might do.” What will Regina do, after having a taste of a life that she had relished and then having it taken away? Emma has been forced into a role for weeks as supportive and loving almost-girlfriend , and Regina has reaped every reward of it. And now…
Now, she’s bound to turn into a monster again.
“Look,” Emma begins again. “I just think that we should stay somewhere else right now. I actually got this amazing apartment on Main Street, right near Granny’s and the park, and I think you’re going to love it. Come on.” She leads Henry down the street toward the park.
It takes her a few moments to realize that Henry isn’t following. “Henry,” Emma says, exasperated.
“I want my mom,” Henry says stubbornly. “ I want my mom! ” he repeats, louder and more strident, and then again, “ I WANT MY MOM! ”
And then she’s there, summoned by Henry’s cry. Maybe she’d been watching this whole time, spying on Emma from afar. Maybe she’d also gone to Gold’s to yell at him. Whatever it is, there she is.
Regina stands at the end of the street, still dressed in the same clothes that she’d worn to the family dinner. Her face is obscured by the dark, the streetlamps still out, but Emma can see the hand she reaches out to Henry. “Sweetheart,” she breathes, and Emma can’t–
She can’t do this. “Henry,” she says, her voice wan and quiet. “Henry, please don’t go with her.”
Henry hesitates in the street, understanding finally lighting up his eyes. “The love spell is broken, isn’t it?” He looks shaken, disappointed, and Emma flinches away from him at that.
Regina says, “Wait. Let me discuss this with Emma.” She calls her Emma , just like everyone around her, and it’s irrational how quickly the outrage bubbles up– the thought of how dare you call me Emma, it’s Ms. Swan to you , as though Regina has only just started calling her Emma during the spell. Emma doesn’t care. She wants the distance between them, a gulf that isn’t surpassable by any words or kindnesses or–
Emma walks to Regina, her steps jerky, and she notes with the habitual gaze of someone who had once cared that Regina doesn’t look injured from the crash. There’s a tear in her suit jacket, but she doesn’t seem to have noticed it. Otherwise she looks devastatingly perfect.
Emma stops two feet away, far enough that it eases her twisting heart, and she says, as calmly as she can manage, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to stay with you.”
Regina shakes her head. “He needs stability, Emma,” she says, her voice pleading. “We gave him that for the past few weeks, and he’s been thriving. And if he wants to be with me, then can’t he–”
“No,” Emma whispers harshly. “No, he fucking can’t . You’re not stability. You’ll switch sides on a dime. Someone shows you any affection and you’re gone to mass murder again, or whatever.” It’s cruel, and even crueller because they both know that it’s true. Regina’s face darkens.
Her tone is quiet, silky. “You can’t take my son from me. Not now. Not when he’s finally…” Her voice cracks. “Emma,” she says helplessly. “You know me.”
There is something so sad about it, the idea that Emma knows Regina. That Regina had been fool enough to trust a false version of Emma and share all her vulnerabilities, and Emma has returned with all that information and none of the false love that had received it.
She grits her teeth. “And I know…what?” she demands. “That you’re a good person now because you didn’t rape me when you had me? You want a fucking medal for that? You want my son for that?” Now she’s furious again, trembling with it, and she can feel the anger surging through her. “I wasn’t myself. For weeks , I was someone else, and instead of helping Mary Margaret and David lock me away where I couldn’t do anything I’d regret, you played house with me!”
That’s the part that rankles her most. That there had been an obvious solution, one that wasn’t turning Emma into some kind of Stepford Wife. That Mary Margaret and David, before they’d decided that they’d liked her better under the spell, had already attempted. Emma doesn’t like being locked up, but she’d still been in a prison, and everyone had liked her better that way.
Regina’s jaw tightens. For a moment, Emma remembers touching it, tracing it at intimate moments when she’d pause at Regina’s lips and Regina would kiss her fingers. Then Regina speaks, and Emma shoves all of that away. “I didn’t think you’d want to be locked up,” Regina says coolly. “I spent every free moment trying to break your spell. I forced you into breaking it now,” she says, and the veneer cracks. Beneath it, Regina looks only heartbroken. “I wanted to help .”
Of course. Because Regina is in love with that illusion now. Emma scoffs. “And that’s the only reason why you’re still standing,” she snaps. “You selfish…opportunistic…you…” She trembles with the force of her despair. She has no idea how to move forward from this or how to recover. She has no idea how to process any of what has happened and to see a way that it can be fixed. She has been replaced, and everyone around her is better for knowing the fraud who’d been playing the role of Emma.
Regina just watches her and looks drained, exhausted, and Emma realizes abruptly that she is being unreasonable. Regina isn’t the unstable parent right now. Emma is, and she’s crumbling into little pieces in front of her son. Henry watches them from a safe spot on the opposite corner, his eyes wide and frightened, and Emma says in a low voice, “I will never forgive you for using me to get him back. For using me to create your own perfect little domestic dream–” She takes a breath and raises her voice, ignoring Regina’s expression. “Henry,” she says, a little louder. “You’ll go home with Regina tonight. We’ll work out custody arrangements…soon. Something more regular.”
She refuses to watch the way that Regina’s shoulders sag with relief, the way her eyes shine with gratitude and guilt, the way she smiles when Henry hurries across the street and into her arms. A few weeks ago, bringing Regina and Henry back together had seemed the obvious, ethical thing to do. Tonight, she hates herself for doing it.
Henry looks up at her tentatively. “Love you, Emma,” he says, and he reaches out for her. She holds him– squeezes him tight, this precious boy of hers, who has been dragged into a mess through no fault of his own– and then she releases him to Regina, feeling something drain out of her, too, when he walks away.
He doesn’t turn back. Regina does, her dark eyes settling on Emma as though she’s already gotten to the root of Emma’s despair. Emma can’t move, and she stares at Regina and hates her, hates her like she’s never hated her before, until Regina turns back and walks away with Henry.
The apartment is, in fact, one of Gold’s nicest. It’s nothing like Snow’s modest loft, roomy in that way that you can only find in a small town with an improbable amount of space but still with few frills. This is large and elaborate, with a picture window facing the park and three spacious bedrooms. There’s no dining room, just a few barstools at a kitchen counter, but Emma doesn’t need one of those. She isn’t going to be entertaining here. All she needs is space for herself and Henry.
If Henry ever comes back.
Staying with Emma has always been his way to distance himself from Regina and from the baggage that comes with her. He’s already turned on Emma once, when he’d discovered that she’d lied to him about his father. And tonight– I want my mom! – had been another moment, the space between them widening as Henry discovers Emma’s imperfections and longs for Regina. If Henry goes, then Emma will, too, will vanish back into the real world and leave this eighteen-month fever dream behind–
No . She’ll linger here, watching Henry from afar and drowning in misery, having found everything and lost it all because of meddling, painful magic. Henry had had the right idea when he’d tried to blow it all up, after all.
She washes the sheets on all of the beds, just to be safe. There’s a washer and dryer in the apartment, and she thinks about some of the poorer areas in town and marvels in a cold fury at twenty-nine years of Gold just sitting on this empty, amazing apartment while she pours in detergent and listens to the rhythmic sound of the washer. Then she digs through the pantry, finds a long-expired box of pasta, and boils it without burning the pot too much.
She remembers in a sudden flash cooking with Regina– chopping vegetables and stirring onions and, when trusted on one ill-advised evening, even frying chicken. Regina had been incredulous when Emma had burned the chicken. You fry pancakes twice a week! You fry eggs! Why can’t you handle chicken? Emma had shrugged, no good answer to it, and sheepishly scraped grit off the bottom of the pan.
It’s not that she can’t cook anything but breakfast. It’s that she’s sharper in the morning, more readily able to focus on what matters. And what had mattered– in that magical, dead haze– had been watching Regina descend the stairs sleepy-eyed and breathe in Emma’s food as though it had been the best thing she’d ever smelled.
“No,” Emma chants, smacking the burnt pasta pot against the side of the sink. “No, no, no.” Stop thinking about that. Stop thinking about her.
And then, she is there, as though Emma had summoned her. “You really burned water, didn’t you,” Regina says slowly, wonderingly. Emma spins around, the pot out defensively, and splashes an arc of water along the kitchen floor. Regina shakes her head. “Give me that,” she says, and she takes the pot from Emma and puts it back in the sink, scraping at the gunk at the bottom of it.
Emma stares at her, and then decides that she isn’t real. Obviously, this is an illusion. Regina doesn’t even know where Emma is staying, and Regina would never give up a moment with Henry to come fight with Emma. Carefully, Emma takes the bowl of singed pasta from where she’d left it on the counter, adds some tomato sauce that she’d found in the pantry, and contemplates the spices that are sealed on the top shelf before she shakes in some garlic.
It tastes bland and uninspired, but she’d had dinner a couple of hours ago and has very few excuses for midnight pasta. She eats it and eyes Regina, still standing at the sink, and wonders if her subconscious has manifested some pseudo-Regina to haunt her. “I didn’t invite you in,” she thinks to say.
Regina looks at her over her shoulder, and crap , that’s not a pseudo-Regina at all. Emma can read her now as easily as she’s been able to since the curse had broken, and she can see every last ounce of misery and regret on her face. Emma jerks back. “I don’t want to hear your excuses,” she bites out.
“I came here to discuss custody,” Regina says, scrubbing at the bottom of the pot. “If you can’t stand being around me, then I don’t think it’s healthy for Henry to see that. We can keep our mutual loathing to ourselves.”
Emma snorts, ungraceful and resentful again. “Didn’t seem like much mutual loathing before this spell broke.” That’s the fucking nightmare of this, because Regina should have hated the spell. Because Regina should have hated Emma . Instead, she’d welcomed her into her house, and it hadn’t been just about Henry. It had never been just about Henry. Regina had–
Emma doesn’t even know why this makes her angry right now. She only knows that she’s angry, and Regina’s quiet dip of her chin– that careful acknowledgement– only serves to make her angrier. “Fine,” she says sharply. “Whatever. Have you talked to Henry about this? Because he made his preferences pretty clear when we last saw each other–”
“He wanted to go home,” Regina says. “This is…” She gestures around her. “It’s actually pretty nice,” she concedes. “I half-expected you to be sleeping in your car tonight.” That had been Emma’s B plan, though she doesn’t concede it now. She only glowers at Regina, feeling the hostility suffuse the room. Regina clears her throat. “I don’t think he knew what you were going to do. But of course he’ll want to come back to you now. I thought– well, we live close enough that we could do something daily. Maybe he would spend weekdays with me, but you could pick him up in the mornings for breakfast and he could come to the station after school. Then I’d bring him home for dinner. He could spend most weekends with you, but I’d like at least one a month to spend with him. We can count this one as mine.” Regina has thought this through, has spelled out a plan so seamless that Emma knows that it didn’t come from the past few hours.
Emma shakes her head violently, her fork splashing sauce onto the table with the motion. “You have it all figured out, don’t you?”
Regina puts the pot down in the drying rack and turns to face her, her expression even. “If you’ll recall, I was the only one who accurately predicted exactly how this would end,” she says. “I knew you’d hate me. I planned for what might happen next every time I tried breaking the spell.” She says it blandly, without any emotion, and Emma feels another surge of rage.
She drops her fork into her bowl, stalks across the kitchen and watches as Regina flinches back. “Oh, please,” she snarls, and she’s never felt more confused and angry and betrayed and desperate. “Don’t act so tortured about it. You can pretend all you want that you have your shit together, but I saw the way you…you panted for me. You would have jumped into anyone’s arms if they’d come to you–”
“No,” Regina says, and now she looks so pained that something in Emma’s chest twists violently, forcing her from her rage. “Not anyone’s, god , Emma…” She closes her eyes, and a tear leaks from one of them, a marker of agony that isn’t fair. That isn’t right. Emma is the one who’s in agony now. Emma is the one who had been so violated. Regina had just…accepted it, preferred it, flourished from it–
And now, Emma is lying on the ground in pieces, and Regina has only lost her favorite toy. Emma moves in close as Regina stands, eyes still shut, and she reaches out to touch Regina’s face. The sauce has made it to her fingers, leaves streaks of bright red down Regina’s cheeks like blood. “Shut up,” Emma whispers. “Shut up. Don’t pretend you didn’t love every second of it.” Regina presses her lips together, says nothing in return. Emma shakes with distress and rage. “Don’t tell me that if I touched you now like that– if I did this again–” She lifts Regina’s wrist, which had held such fascination for her when she’d been under the spell. “You wouldn’t shudder.”
Regina shudders. Emma runs her lips across it, feels the emotions rise up as though they’ve been in hibernation until now, wants to collapse with them. “Don’t tell me that if I kissed you now, you wouldn’t kiss me back,” Emma hisses, and what the hell is she doing except that this is control. That this is Emma in utter control of the situation, and Regina is the one who bends, whose lips part and eyes open so Emma is drowning in grief, in despair, in the unvarnished love of someone who had fallen for an illusion–
Emma kisses Regina, and Regina kisses her back, drops her hands and then presses them to Emma’s hips until Emma feels whole. Regina sighs into the kiss, and Emma pushes her back against the sink, hooks her hands below Regina’s thighs and lifts her up onto the ledge of the sink and kisses her harder. Regina’s hands are on Emma’s cheeks and her legs are against Emma’s sides and she is everywhere, is like a relic of a sweat-slicked dream from last year that Emma would deny ever having, is oxygen itself and Emma can only breathe in.
Emma kisses Regina’s neck, and Regina lets out a strangled moan and moves closer, is nothing but a pliant body in Emma’s embrace. It’s intoxicating, everything Emma’s ever and never wanted, and Emma kisses her shoulder, slips her jacket off her shoulder, reaches down and yanks open Regina’s blouse until buttons pop up. She laves her tongue over Regina’s clothed nipples, sucks on them through the fabric of her bra, shoves a hard palm against a spot between her legs and listens to Regina as she cries out, as she curses, as she says in that soft, helpless tone, “ Emma –”
And then Emma steps back. She is breathing hard, and she can feel her own arousal, so strong that she’d be surprised if Regina couldn’t smell it. She wants this, but that is nothing new. She’s always wanted this. And she’s never once thought that she might have it.
Let Regina know what it feels like to be under someone else’s control like this, helpless and wanting and it all a lie. “Weekends and mornings and afternoons,” Emma says, finding her rage again, pushing it out from where it had disappeared beneath the longing. “I can agree to that.” She notes with cold satisfaction that she’s left a mark on Regina’s neck, a purpling spot that no one will mistake for anything but what it is. Regina stares at her, her eyes wide and hurt and confused.
Emma takes a step back, turns around, and catches sight of herself in a large mirror hanging over the couch in the next room. She hates every inch of what she sees. “But send Henry outside on his own when I come in the mornings. I don’t want to have to see your face any more than I absolutely have to,” she spits out, and she waits until she hears the whisper of air behind her, the sudden wind that means that Regina has teleported away.
When Regina is gone, Emma moves mechanically to the table, where her terrible pasta is waiting, and she sits and picks up the fork again. She makes it until the fork is nearly at her mouth before she dissolves into harsh, wrenching sobs, shaking with so much force that she’s afraid that she might fall over, and all she can think of is Regina’s startled, hurt face.
No one arrives to find her on Saturday, though Mary Margaret sends a few text messages that Emma responds to readily. I’m okay , she writes. Taking a day or two to myself . Regina hasn’t given anyone her new address, at least, so Mary Margaret doesn’t show up at the door and Emma cruises back roads when she patrols that afternoon.
On Sunday, Neal arrives. He hangs out in front of the door, waiting uncomfortably, until Emma finally yanks the door open. Before the spell, Emma hadn’t known what to think of him– there had still been some old love and hurt, mixed together in a potent cocktail of pain– but with the spell had come clarity, and she nods grudgingly to him and wishes he’d leave. “Hey,” he says. “My father told me…he said you’d be here.”
“Henry isn’t here,” Emma says curtly. “And if he’s tried another spell, it hasn’t worked.”
Neal winces. “I’m sorry about that,” he mutters. “I didn’t want– it wasn’t what I thought he’d do. I told him that I wanted a clean start, and he was just… the Dark One about it.” His face twists, and Emma stares at him.
“A clean start,” she repeats. “Where I forget that you put a seventeen-year-old in prison because Pinocchio told you to ?” When she puts it like that, she wants to laugh and cry at the absurdity of her life. “I don’t think you’re the one who gets to pick the clean start,” she says.
Neal scoffs. “Emma, you put our kid up for adoption. He lives with the Evil Queen now. I think we both have things to move past–”
“You’re going to hold that against me?” Emma says incredulously. “That I tried to give that kid his best chance? Did you think that we’d have been good parents?” She jerks a finger at him. “Refer back to the comment about the teenager you stuck in prison–”
“Okay. You’re right,” Neal concedes, but Emma isn’t done.
“And Regina did a damned good job with Henry. He’s a good kid. He’s a great kid. And no way he’d be like that with us fucking him up. Regina is–” Her legs are feeling wobbly, and she’s so angry at both of them, at herself, at fucking Gold and his fucking spell–
“Okay,” Neal says again, his voice placating, and Emma is dizzy. “Okay,” Neal says again, and his hands are on Emma, guiding her to sit down, and Emma stumbles as she moves, her knees buckling under the pressure of standing, until she has slipped down onto the couch. “I get it,” he says, and he looks suddenly shamefaced. “I didn’t really register…I did a shitty thing,” he murmurs, and it rolls off of Emma like a single weight from the burden she carries. “And I get that there’s no fresh start for us. I just wish…”
“I don’t,” Emma says sharply, and she is exhausted, is so upset and lost and in this endless, complicated crisis– “I don’t,” she says again, her heart pounding in her chest, and Neal sits back, a safe distance away.
“I wish we could be friends,” Neal says at last, and he offers her that sheepish smile that had once had her whole heart. Now, it just seems like a child’s smile, like someone who has never once accepted his responsibility for his actions. “I get that we’re not going to be together again. I got that you were hung up on Regina back when you spent half that boat ride back here obsessing about what she was up to with Cora. But I thought that we could at least…we would be good together as friends, too, I think,” he says, but Emma has already been lost, stopped at the passing mention of Regina.
“What are you talking about?” she demands. “When did I obsess–” But she had , she knows she had, and she remembers it with horrifying clarity. She’d been on her way back to Storybrooke with a ship after Hook had been killed in the altercation with Gold, and Henry had still been furious with her. They’d gotten a report from Mary Margaret, and all Emma had been able to think about had been Regina. Regina, who she should have spoken to about Archie when she still could, because Cora had been able to manipulate her. Regina, because Henry might have hated Emma, but Emma had been damned if she was going to let Regina sabotage her relationship with Henry like that.
Regina, because Emma had invited her for that victory dinner at Granny’s before Archie’s disappearance, and there had been something about the way that her eyes had shone that had left butterflies in Emma’s stomach. No . Regina had been a necessary evil, not someone Emma had been fixated on. That had been a spell. Emma is sure that she’d hated Regina. Or, at least, that she’d been fed up with Regina and…and…
Neal says gently, “It’s okay, you know. I know what it’s like to care about someone who just…always puts power first.” He leans back on the couch, and Emma has to actively stop herself from defending Regina. “I wasn’t trying to get between you. And I know it sucks that my dad sabotaged whatever you two were still figuring out. I really just wanted to get to know Henry. And this new you,” he says, offering her another sheepish smile. Emma doesn’t smile back.
Neal shifts uneasily. “Anyway,” he says. “I was hoping we could work something out. I went over to Regina’s and she said you were going to have Henry in the afternoons and weekends, and that she’d rather eat parboiled slugs than have me visit him at her house .” His nose wrinkles as he struggles to repeat her exact words, and Emma is overcome with a rush of–
No. No. She jerks her head. “Yeah. Um. I guess you can drop by the station Tuesday afternoon. Hang out for a little while. We can see how Henry’s feeling about the weekend.” Neal looks hopefully at her, and Emma says blankly, “And I guess you can let Regina know.”
Neal looks startled. “Oh,” he says. “Sorry. I thought you two were still…” He heaves his shoulders, a dismissive shrug. “I kind of figured that the love spell wasn’t what had you so obsessed with her.”
Emma just stares at him. Neal mutters, “I did not watch the L Word with my last girlfriend for three seasons to come back to it here .” Emma’s stare gets a little harder. Neal puts up a hand. “I’m going,” he says. “I swear, I’m going.”
He gets up, sidling out the door, and Emma slumps back against the couch in frustrated defeat.
On Monday morning, Henry is sitting on the porch at Mifflin, and Regina isn’t there. Emma breathes, feeling tension fade away with Henry’s smile, and she reaches for him and holds him tightly, letting her resentments and fury fade away for the time being.
When she sees Regina framed near the curtain by the window, she thinks, not now. Not today , and she walks on with a determined gait that gives away none of her turmoil.
Henry squeezes her hand. “It’s gonna be okay, Ma,” he says, and he speaks with such confidence that Emma nearly believes it.
She returns to work. It’s the only thing she can do, really, while the world is falling apart within her. She drops Henry off at the bus stop, picks up a croissant and two coffees from Granny’s, and overthinks every interaction she has on the way to the station. Archie smiles at her, but it’s almost sad, and he must know already that the spell is broken. Last time she’d seen him, he’d sat with her and smiled as she’d talked about some…minor thing that Regina had done around the house. There had been a light fixture that had needed replacement, and Regina had insisted on doing it alone, maybe? Emma remembers describing it with pouty affection, talking about how Regina had brought in a ladder and taken care of it without an ounce of magic, and Archie had laughed and beamed at her and said I’m so glad that you two found each other .
Granny had said briskly, as she’d passed Emma the croissant, “Looks like I’ve got my favorite breakfast customer back. No more home-cooked meals, huh?” Emma had thought about snapping that those meals had been hers , that she cooks mornings, but she’d instead taken the croissant with a tight smile and fled.
Now, she breathes in the crisp air outside, and she exhales as she pushes the station door open. David is sitting behind Emma’s desk, and he jumps up when he sees her. “There you are,” he says, his smile craggy and warm. “I saw your car out on patrol the other day, but you didn’t radio in.”
Emma hands him the coffee. “Nothing happened to report,” she says, sipping her own coffee and feeling, abruptly, as though she might cry at the normalcy of this. At David, standing with her and drinking coffee, and she reaches for the fury and the hopelessness, of the reminder that he is why you never had family , but it feels muted today. There is too much between it, too many days spent in camaraderie without that resentment sustaining her.
She feels fragile, and she twists around to glare at the wall, to force herself back into one of the Emmas of Before. There is the Emma she’d been before the curse, who had approached David with extreme misgiving, and the Emma she’d been after, who had loved and hated him with equal vigor. There is the Emma of the love spell, who had felt so whole and happy that there had been no space to resent her parents anymore.
“Hey.” There is a hand on her shoulder, and Emma gulps in an unsteady breath. David slides his arm around her back, pulls her against him, and Emma leans against his shoulder as he says, “That love spell really screwed you up, huh?”
“Of course it did,” Emma says wetly. “What do you think something like that would do?”
David eases the coffee out of her hands, sets it on a desk, and wraps her in tighter against him. And it feels good, not like any of the Emmas of Before would understand. It feels good to be angry and confused and comforted at once, and Emma shivers with it, rests her head against his broad arm and says, “I know that I was…I know it made it easier for you, too.”
David turns her around, sits her down on the desk, and takes his own seat in the chair a few feet back. “You have to understand,” he begins, and Emma feels her stomach plummet. “It isn’t unheard of in our world for spells like this to take and last. We took it in stride once it was clear that you were in good hands. And you seemed so happy . Love spells don’t create happiness.” He shakes his head. “There was this shepherd I knew who was dragged into one, back when I was younger. One of the barmaids got a hold of a good spell, and he was lovestruck. Problem was, he was already hopelessly in love with her sister, and it killed him. You could see the way that he wasted away.” He shakes his head. “He married the barmaid, and he was miserable. He didn’t make it another year before he died of a broken heart. It was a terrible story.”
Emma stares at him, too astonished to be appalled. “People just let him marry her? He was under a spell and they still–”
“Not everyone realized until he got sick,” David says, shrugging uncomfortably. “And it was…in our world, there isn’t a lot of concern about what magic can do. People fear it, but they also use it freely, and most spells are never broken.”
“Consent isn’t really a thing in the Enchanted Forest, huh.” Emma remembers Regina’s whispered admissions, the way she’d tremble when she’d talk about the king, and she feels sick. She presses her fingernails into her thighs, and she breathes raggedly. “It was…I just think back to the spell and I feel so trapped,” she admits. “Maybe I was happy. I don’t know. I didn’t choose it. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to…to hate,” she says, and she means to hate Regina , but David’s eyes grow wide and then very somber.
He doesn’t prod. That would be Mary Margaret who prods, since the curse, the unassuming friend replaced with this stronger, more intrusive version of herself. Instead, he sits opposite her, reclaims his coffee, and sips it as he says, “I remember…I held you at the end. Did you know that?” Emma looks up, lost, and David takes a breath. “I carried you to the wardrobe. I fought off guards while I did– Regina was coming, and the curse was on its way, and Snow was supposed to…the wardrobe would only hold one,” he says slowly. “Snow wasn’t supposed to go into labor yet.”
Emma remembers the nursery, suddenly, the abandoned room within the castle. A home for her, and a second home planned, both of them with her mother. David clears his throat. “I only got to hold you that once, and I remember– I remember thinking that at least I’d gotten this. That at least I’d gotten to hold you once, because I was never supposed to. You were supposed to grow up with your mother,” he says quietly. “I looked at you, and I was ready to throw aside the curse. To give up on the kingdom and on defeating Regina and on anything but spending the curse with this tiny, perfect baby–” His voice cracks. “But then the soldiers came. Too many soldiers. I was a shepherd, and they were trained soldiers. They knew you were the savior. They wanted you dead before the curse took effect.”
Those last few minutes before the curse have been a mystery to Emma, an impossible headache of how the hell could they leave me? Except that there had been no choice. There had been soldiers coming to kill her, and David hadn’t been able to defend himself from them. He’d been in a coma for twenty-eight years after his run-in with them. Mary Margaret had been helpless, and David had been defeated. “I put you in that wardrobe to save your life,” David murmurs. “Not to save everyone else. I could only hope that you’d find us.”
Something drains out of Emma, a weight that she’s been holding for months. David rises and walks to her slowly, approaching her like one might approach a skittish doe, and he leans down and kisses her forehead. “I am so, so sorry that you were alone. And I know that we’re to blame.”
“No,” Emma says, and there is a new grief, pervasive and just as heavy, and how is she supposed to look past it? She knows the truth. She knows who had done this to her. “Regina is to blame. Not you. And I–”
“And you…?” David prompts, looking concerned.
Emma can’t answer. “I need to get to work,” she says, and she turns and yanks out a stack of paperwork that she’s been neglecting.
She had had her head on straight before all of this. She had known exactly who the villain of her story had been, and she hadn’t wavered in that, exactly. There had been moments of compassion, but Emma isn’t a monster . She isn’t going to let Henry lose his mother because Regina is a twisted, evil–
Fuck , this was easier when Regina was a mystery to her, not the woman who’d laid beside her and listened to Emma talk about her worst memories from group homes. Not the woman who’d fallen asleep on the couch during a movie, snuggled into Emma’s side with that peaceful smile on her face. Not the woman who had stood alongside Emma and fired offensive magic at trolls and ogres while Emma had waved a useless gun.
Regina who’d told her in choked tones, I live and die by your whims, Emma Swan. You have utter control over the last vestiges of happiness I have in this world. And Emma had been sickened by that truth, by the realization that she did hold all the power in their relationship. The villain has been defeated, and she can’t fight back without losing her child. Regina might never stand trial for her crimes ( I did once, Regina had recalled one day. I told them I only regretted that I hadn’t created more misery . She had looked rueful, and Emma had been unbelievably turned on by that), but she is changed by them.
Somehow, the Evil Queen had raised a child who believes only in goodness, and it has destroyed her. And Emma…
I love you, too, you asshole. You fucker. That desperate, furious admission. Emma shivers when she remembers it, the depth of emotion that had come along with it, the despair of the Before Emma– who had believed, unequivocally, that the version of herself that would follow would never let herself be loved by Regina.
Before Emma had been a self-loathing, delusional prick , Emma decides grimly, and hates her right back. Perfect, sweet Before Emma, who had been everything her son and parents had needed. There were no complicated emotions, no messy memories to work through. She’d been in love! How marvelous! She’d been happily living a charming fairytale, playing house with a woman she’d loved and their shared son, and the greatest conflicts they had had been over what to make for dinner. Before Emma had happily stuck her head in the sand and kept it there, and she’d refused to be miserable anymore.
Prick , she thinks again, bitter and longing. Before Emma has subsumed her, taken away all the harsh pieces of her and made everyone love her. Emma is nothing like her. Right now, Before Emma would be wandering off to Granny’s to pick up lunch for herself and Regina and sometimes even Mary Margaret, because everything is easy and good when Before Emma is calling the shots.
Instead, Emma stands in the doorway of the station while David takes calls, and watches in silence as two figures depart Town Hall together and walk toward Granny’s. They move in tandem, closer than Emma would have imagined, and she follows them as though drawn by magnetic force.
They go inside. Emma does, too, hangs back and watches them with eyes that she’s certain must look shellshocked. Mary Margaret is speaking, her voice loud enough to hear. “I think that we should bring them lunch,” she’s saying. “David said that he’s getting along fine with Emma, and I think that’s–”
Regina laughs sharply. “Anyone could get along fine with David,” she says. “ I get along fine with David. That doesn’t mean she wants to see–” She takes a breath. “You go,” she says, and her voice is bitter in that way that she doesn’t let on around Emma now. “I’m sure she’ll be happy to be surrounded by family.”
Mary Margaret shifts. “Regina,” she murmurs. “You can’t tell me that you aren’t family, too.” She reaches out to touch Regina’s wrist, and Emma is surprised at the blazing jealousy that erupts even at that. Even at Mary Margaret– at her mother touching Regina’s wrist, when it’s– it’s hers –
No . It’s a different Emma’s wrist, an Emma whom Emma has decided is a prick, and Emma wants no ownership in any part of Regina Mills.
Regina says to Mary Margaret, “You go eat. I think I’ve lost my appetite.” Emma dodges out of her sight, slips to the back of the room and then out the side door before she can be seen. She paces in the alley, frustrated and uncertain. She should go back to the station. Sit through a meal with Mary Margaret and remind herself why it is that Mary Margaret had once been her best friend. Not this, lurking in the shadows and waiting–
Mary Margaret walks out of the diner and heads for the station. Regina leaves a minute later, her stride quick and clipped, and heads for Town Hall. Emma twists around and follows.
No one stops her in Town Hall, and the mayor’s secretary gives her a quick, discreet nod and turns away when she walks past. Emma pushes the door open, and she shuts it behind her.
Regina is standing against the wall, her face unreadable. Emma stalks forward, and she doesn’t know what she plans on doing until Regina’s hand is in hers, her wrist upturned to Emma’s lips. When she inhales, it feels like home, and fuck Before Emma for turning her into this. Fuck every other Emma, every bit of the myriad of emotions she’s cycled through in the past few months. Look at her now, pathetic and gasping with tears over Regina’s wrist, and she staggers in place, overwhelmed with it all–
Regina slips her arms around Emma like a mother might slide her arms around a child screaming for something he can’t name, and Emma collapses into her embrace, staggers forward until they’re stumbling against the wall and close enough to a couch to fall onto it. Regina exhales, tugs Emma closer, and she clings to Emma like no one ever has. It’s frightening, suffocating, and Emma gasps into it, burrows closer to Regina and takes this terrible, stupid comfort.
Regina shifts her after a few minutes, guiding Emma to rest across the couch with her head on Regina’s lap. “Before Emma was a fucking prick,” Emma informs Regina raggedly.
Regina says, “She seemed a lot like you, actually. Maybe after a few sessions with Archie.” She sounds almost amused, which is some nerve. “But I will concede the fucking prick bit, too.”
“Stop it.” Emma wants to scream. “Why are you being nice to me? Don’t you understand that I hate you?” She shifts, twisting onto her side so she can rest against the soft fabric over Regina’s abdomen, avoiding meeting her eyes. “Do you think that’s funny?”
“No,” Regina says evenly. “I think it’s a miracle I haven’t gone out and cast another curse to get you back.” Emma looks up at her, her heart pounding with this new fear. “I do not do well with losing people I love. But I think you expect better of me, and it’s– well.” She exhales. “It’s the reason why I got up this morning and came here instead of my vault.”
“I can’t stop…” They’ve lain like this before, in Regina’s study at the house, and Emma had always felt unburdened there. She can feel it now, the desperation to speak when Regina is here, to know that she’ll be listened to. “I’m a mess,” she blurts out. “I can’t stop thinking about it all. About the curse and the spell and everything we–” She snaps her mouth shut, but it’s too late.
“You weren’t wrong,” Regina says quietly, and Emma can feel the aching pain in her words. “I was selfish to keep you when I could have…I should have locked you in the asylum. You’re right. It would have been better. Nothing would have changed.”
Emma stares at Regina’s hand. Takes it, presses her wrist to Emma’s mouth again, and she feels Regina’s whole body shudder when Emma kisses her wrist. “It would have been better,” she says mechanically, and she wonders if either of them will ever be able to say that and believe it.
She imagines the past few weeks as though they had never happened. The asylum, trapped in a room there and reliving the horror of her teenage years. Mary Margaret and David visiting and Emma forced to watch her resentment grow, yearning for Regina, and never knowing that she could have instead spent weeks being the happiest she’s been in her life.
She would have emerged grimly grateful to Mary Margaret and David, but she’d be haunted by the memories of that place, and she might be just as screwed up as she is now. “Well,” she amends, and she looks away from Regina to the room around them. “I would have hated it. It would have destroyed me. Maybe just…living my spelled life outside of the asylum was better for me. But I still feel so…”
She can’t say it. Not with Regina here, listening patiently as she always does, and the fury is already beginning to drain away. Regina murmurs, her voice wry, “This may not come as a shock, but I’m a strong proponent of letting women be angry when they’re wronged.”
It is an odd validation to have, the Evil Queen offering her understanding, but it washes over Emma like a warm breeze. “I’m angry,” Emma whispers. “I’m so angry. And I’m angry at myself for…” She pulls away from Regina, scrabbles at rage that is already elusive. “I was so happy while I was in love. I’m so angry that I lived this perfect existence that I didn’t choose. Idiot ,” she snarls, but it is only directed inward this time. “Idiot, idiot, idiot –”
When Regina speaks, it is with delicacy, the sort that had preceded her worst confessions when they’d had their conversations. “I’m furious at myself for falling for you,” she says blankly. “I knew there’d be a fallout that would risk everything .” Everything is Henry for Regina, and Emma wants to scream why? , wants to demand to know what it is that Regina had seen that had been worth risking having Henry. “I knew that this would all happen,” Regina says, and she stares at a painting across the room, pensive, as Emma watches her.
“I’m pretty angry at you for that, too,” she says, but there is no more fury in her voice. She forces out the next words, tentative and throaty. “If you could. If there was a way. Would you take it back?”
Regina turns to face her. She looks haunted, her eyes dark, and her hands are shaking on her lap. “Never,” she says, and Emma feels the word in every hollow space in her body.
She cooks breakfast for herself the next morning, if only to avoid seeing Granny again in the morning, and there is too much for just her. Carefully, she packages up the warm pancakes into foil-wrapped sections and carries them four blocks to Mifflin, where Henry is waiting on the porch. “Here,” she says. “I made you pancakes.”
Henry peers under the foil, his eyes wide and delighted, and then he says, “Wait. There are three plates wrapped in here.” Emma looks at him, feeling very foolish, and he says, “Hang on.”
He disappears inside and tugs Regina out to sit beside him, and they sit, all three of them, on the porch of the house and eat pancakes in silence. Well, Emma is silent. Henry fills the air with chatter, lost in the happy sensation of family around him, and Emma tries not to revel in it too much.
She makes an appointment with Archie. Technically, she makes three, but she cancels the first two and pays the 24-hour cancellation fee, and she’s ready to cancel the third, too, when there’s a bark and a knock on her door and Archie is standing there, knowing and kind.
So she talks to Archie, and they discuss trauma and loss and grief, and how it is that Emma can be mourning so many things that she’d never really had. They make plans and she has homework– tell Mary Margaret three things that I miss about her – and therapy, for the first time, feels like something she might actually be able to handle.
Maybe she’d only made that appointment because of Regina’s amused suggestion that Before Emma had been the same as her, but with therapy. Maybe it had had literally nothing to do with Regina, because there can be something in her life that isn’t about Regina.
Maybe she’s only kidding herself.
She brings over waffles a few days later, except that they aren’t done. “I can’t put on the ice cream and drizzle the chocolate before I bring it over here,” she explains to Henry, avoiding Regina’s eyes. “So I guess we can just have them as is–”
“There’s ice cream in the freezer,” Regina says to Henry, and her eyes seek out and catch Emma’s. “You bought it the last time you made waffles.”
“I can’t believe you don’t like ice cream,” Emma says, disbelieving. Regina won’t even take it on her waffles.
Regina shudders. “Too cold. I don’t like cold food. I’ll eat anything hot, though.” Halfway through that statement, her voice lowers and turns silky, and Emma’s legs go boneless beneath her. She seizes the counter to keep herself upright, and Regina sidles off to the foyer with her plain waffle and some confectionary sugar sprinkled on top, her face carefully smug.
Oh , the Regina that Emma knows is coming back, too.
Had there been a Before Regina, too? She wonders it until she remembers little things, the pieces that hadn’t fallen into place until now. Regina has been sad – so sad, devastatingly sad– for so long that Emma has nearly forgotten who she’d been before. Even when Emma had been living here, Regina had been muted, had clung to her with the fear that comes with knowing that certain things are ephemeral. Every moment of love had been followed by Regina’s glowing grief. Regina only knows loss, and Before Regina had surrendered entirely to it.
The Regina who teases her and strides off, abruptly in control– this Regina is the one Emma remembers from before the apple turnover. This Regina had always been capable of making her weak-kneed and fed up and alive, every negative emotion at once coalescing into something indescribable. This is the Regina of Emma’s dreams, the one whom Before Emma couldn’t have handled at all.
It invigorates her, getting to see that glimpse of Regina again, and she lingers at the house until Henry absolutely has to get to the bus and stops just short of inviting Regina to join them. But she’s in a good mood when she leaves to work, and she hums as she wanders into the station and makes her coffee.
David says, “Good morning, huh?” His eyes are crinkled and fond, and Emma rolls her eyes at him and refuses to answer.
She still feels that strange urge at lunchtime, the feeling that she’s forgetting something. But she doesn’t go out and get lunch for them , the two women who have her so conflicted right now. Before Emma was capable of sitting down with Mary Margaret and making casual conversation without it feeling like an insurmountable peak, and Before Emma could bring Regina lunch and tease her and laugh when Regina would poke her in response. Before Emma, that asshole , was easy at people, full of love and joy at it.
She doesn’t follow her urge to leave, to become Before Emma. Before Emma was a powerless hack, and she will not . But when Mary Margaret appears at the door of the station at the end of the day and says, “Emma!” with that delighted surprise, she doesn’t shrink away.
“Hey.” She glances to David, who busies himself with something on the desk. “Uh…see you around–”
“Oh, absolutely not ,” Mary Margaret says firmly, and there is abruptly a hand on her arm, strong and steady. “Come. You’re going to show me your apartment. Henry says it’s badass , and I heard you’re not paying rent?”
“If Gold has the nerve to ask for it, I might pay it,” Emma concedes. “But I don’t think he’ll have the nerve. I’m still considering pressing charges.” She walks uncertainly, the distrust and the hurt far stronger than the anger right now. Mary Margaret walks with confidence, a hand still on hers, but she drops it at Emma’s last admission.
“Can you…” She tilts her head, bewildered. “Is there a crime to casting a love spell?”
Emma grits her teeth, feels Mary Margaret’s dismissiveness like a personal attack. “There should be, Mayor Blanchard, ” she says coolly. “Or do you think it’d be acceptable if someone just…forced you to be with someone you hated? To lose all control of your body and be in their hands?”
Mary Margaret is silent. Emma stops moving. “You know,” she says, and this is not what she’d discussed with Archie, and would not be considered productive healing, except that Regina had said that there is something to women being angry when wronged. And she is wronged, and she is angry. “You really have no idea what it’s like, do you? You’ve never lost that. You’ve always been free.”
“I spent twenty-eight years of my life without my memories,” Mary Margaret says. “I think I know what it–”
“You don’t know a thing,” Emma snaps. “You were frozen in time. Everyone was frozen in time. And you didn’t have people you…people you trusted just leaving you to the curse. Just…watching and rooting for that fake – that lie – while you’re the only one who can’t do a thing to fight it–” She gulps in a breath. “You liked me that way. I was trapped and screaming, and you were celebrating –”
She can’t do this. She can’t relive it again, not when she’s been trying so hard to move on, and she strides forward, heading desperately toward her apartment to escape Mary Margaret. But there are footfalls behind her, and when she jerks the key in the door and slips inside, closing it behind it, the door stops.
Mary Margaret’s foot is in the doorway, and Emma throws up her hands and turns away. “I don’t want to hear you pretend it didn’t happen,” she says, staring at a tasteful painting on the wall over the couch.
“I won’t,” Mary Margaret says, and Emma turns slowly, eyes her with distinct distrust. Mary Margaret spreads her hands. “Would you prefer that I lie to you?” she asks, and it’s almost plaintive. “I did celebrate. I was happy. I thought…I had this stupid notion that the love spell would break and nothing would change. That it had already broken.” She shrugs, self-effacing. “I was naive and I was so sure that you were really in love with Regina.”
Emma barks out a laugh. “Why in the world would you think that? What ever gave you the idea that I had some latent, deep-seated feelings for–”
“You were obsessed with her, Emma,” Mary Margaret murmurs. “I saw you last year. I saw how fixated you were on everything she did. And then– after the curse broke– you were so determined to help her. You defended her against everyone, and you invited her to that party, and you were so heartbroken when you thought she’d killed Archie and I–” She shrugs helplessly. “There’s only so much before it stops just being about compassion and starts…you know. The spell didn’t change anything . It just kind of…eased the tension between you after Cora.”
Emma’s heart is somewhere in her throat, stopping her breathing. Mary Margaret looks pleadingly at Emma. “I didn’t imagine for a second, once I got past my own prejudices against Regina, that you were anything but content with her. I didn’t think that you were trapped. I was just happy that you both were happy.” She wrings her hands. “You seemed so happy, Emma. It felt so real. And I don’t blame you for being furious with me. I get that now. And I know that you’ll probably never be able to trust me again, and it kills me, but I deserve it.” Her voice is wet, but it doesn’t waver. “I just…I wanted to tell you that. Okay?”
“No,” Emma says, and she wants…not Mary Margaret , not a friend who doesn’t understand her and maybe understands too much at once. She wants something else, something much harder to define, much more elusive in her life than even a friend. She wants to sob and unravel and she wants, more than anything, her mother , and so she reaches out her plaintive arms and takes a shaky breath as Mary Margaret rushes to them, holding her tightly as she sobs.
She cries for what she’d lost and what they’d lost, and she cries for the anger ebbing out of her body because it doesn’t protect her anymore. She cries because she doesn’t know where she belongs anymore or who this After Emma is, and Mary Margaret cries with her and holds her tightly and sways, unsteady, in the middle of the room. It’s not okay, and it isn’t going to be okay, even when Mary Margaret turns around suddenly and says in a voice clogged with tears, “This apartment really is gorgeous,” and they laugh and sob some more.
It isn’t okay. But maybe they will be, someday.
On Friday, Henry comes home with Emma. “I love this room,” he announces, stretching across the enormous bed in his room. “It needs more books, though. And clocks.”
“Clocks?” Emma repeats dubiously.
Henry bobs his head. “I used to be so into clocks when I was little. Mom bought tons of different kinds for me and we’d try to set them all exactly the same. It never really worked because some of them slowed down.” He looks suddenly wistful. “It was really hard to fall asleep at the loft because there was no ticking.”
Emma looks at him in surprise. “You never mentioned it. I could have gotten some clocks.”
Henry shrugs. “It was fine. It wasn’t home .” She knows what he means. This place feels like home, like a real and solid place where they could stay. And if Henry wants clocks and books, then they’ll get them.
They microwave pizza for dinner and watch cartoons until late, and they make plans to go out to Portland early the next day and do some real shopping. Emma texts David that she’s taking the day off, and she gets back a bewildered clocks?? that she responds to with a shrugging emoji. She doesn’t understand Henry, but she does love him, and she’ll do pretty much anything for him.
But it’s strange how everything they do feels shaded in Regina . In the morning, Emma makes too many eggs, and Henry says, “We can bring it over to Mom,” that hopeful look on his face.
But Emma hesitates. “I’m sure she has a busy day ahead,” she says. “I don’t want to bother her.” She isn’t in love with Regina anymore, and the instinctive need to see her is irrational and should be nipped in the bud.
Instead, they leave town, and Emma’s hands tremble on the wheel. Here , she had realized that Regina was trying to take her out of town. Here , she had tried to get out of the car. Here , Regina had told Emma that she loved her.
Here , the spell had been broken. She can barely hear Henry’s chatter over the buzzing in her ears, and she wants to scream at the regret and the longing that she still can’t shake. Regina had broken the spell. Regina had saved her. And she isn’t angry anymore, but she can feel the pit of emptiness still in her stomach, the sensation that something is missing.
They drive out to Portland, and they pick out books and clocks and some new clothing for them both. Emma craves, with every purchase they make, to check in with Regina. Do you think this book is on his reading level? Is this clock too loud? Is this shirt too casual for school? She has to shake the urge, over and over, to make this day about Henry and not whatever still lingers between Emma and Regina.
But it’s Henry who broaches the topic as they get into the car on the way home. “Do you think…is Mom going to be okay?” he asks, worry shaping his features. “We left town for a whole day, and we didn’t tell her about it.”
Emma bobs her head automatically. “She’s going to be fine. She can just ask Mary Margaret or David where we are.” But she knows, with sudden and frightening clarity, that Regina will not. She thinks back to Regina before the spell, the haggard woman who had brushed Emma off and been sharp and angry, her hair unwashed and her beds unmade. Regina had been deep in a bout of depression, and Emma had only seen it once she’d gotten into the house.
Henry’s presence forces Regina to action, to function, and it helps her mental health as much as it has helped Emma over the past year and a half. Without Henry, how is Regina spending her weekend?
She pulls over and sends a quick query to Mary Margaret, and Henry reads the response to her a few minutes later. “She says that she hasn’t heard from Mom today, but it’s the weekend and she’d rather not work on weekends.” He sounds grim, then a little brighter as he reads the next message. “ ‘I miss teaching, to be honest. Going to see about reinstating Regina full time again.’ That sounds good!”
“Yeah.” Emma agrees absently, but she is caught in thoughts of Regina still, wasting away in that big house with no one to take care of her. She squeezes the steering wheel, thinks about it, and says, “Let’s call your mom’s cell. See how she’s doing.”
But there is no answer, which alarms Emma. Regina, as Emma imagines her, would be waiting by the phone for a call about Henry, tense and cranky at the distance between them. Silence is so much worse. “I don’t like this,” she says grimly.
Henry shifts in his seat, his eyes wide and uncertain. “What do we do?”
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Emma says with absolutely no feeling, and she drives twenty miles above the speed limit for the next half hour, speeding around curves and narrowly missing driving into a number of ditches. She can feel the panic rising, the fear for Regina– for Regina alone , abandoned, without her family around her.
No , she tells herself. Without Henry . Emma isn’t– Emma can’t be her family. That had been a spell, and Before Emma is the worst , and Emma isn’t in love with Regina, unless that constricting sensation in her throat is–
She pushes it aside, except that it won’t go. It’s a feeling that she can’t shake, an emotion that creeps up in through the walls around her heart until it’s trapped in there with her and won’t leave. Fear for Regina. Regrets that she hadn’t dropped in at breakfast, that she hadn’t texted, that she hadn’t checked in earlier. Regina is safe, she’s sure of that, and Regina can defend herself, but the idea of Regina sad – of Regina on her couch, alone and depressed again as though the past month hasn’t happened– it’s killing Emma.
What else can that be called?
She focuses on the road, on getting home as quickly as possible. It’s late now, past seven o’clock, and she has no idea if Regina’s eaten today. If she’s gotten dressed or taken care of herself at all. Has she even left her bed?
She pulls into Storybrooke, drives down the long road into town and edges forward at the red light on Main Street until it finally turns green. “I’m sure everything’s fine,” she says, yet again.
Henry asks, his eyes narrowed, “Then why are you trying to break that steering wheel in half?”
Emma doesn’t answer, only pulls up beside the curb at Regina’s house and jogs to the door. Henry fumbles for his key, but the door is unlocked, and they ease it open without knocking.
There are voices inside, and Emma freezes. Maybe David had gone to check on Regina, or Neal had gotten mixed up about the days to see Henry–
But, no, this voice is silky and cool, and Emma places it a moment later. Gold is here, standing in the living room, and she can hear him speaking poison into Regina’s heart. “They’re gone, you know,” he says. “Left town this morning and never returned. I hope you don’t take it too badly.” He sounds very much like he would prefer that Regina takes it badly, and Emma burns with anger.
She strides forward, outraged again at Gold , this snide old monster who has done far too much to both of them, and she’s cocking her fist and punching him in the face before she can think to stop herself. He stumbles back, grabbing at his nose, and Henry lets out an admiring little gasp as a weary voice says, “Emma, was that really necessary?”
Regina is sitting on the couch, dressed to kill, one knee crossed over the other and her face perfectly made up. Emma says, “Yes,” and Regina raises an eyebrow in a silent, Well, then, carry on , that Emma takes as approval.
“You’d better go, Gold,” Regina drawls. “She might be a puncher, but he’s a biter.” She jabs a thumb at Henry and looks very fond, and he grins at her and then wanders off to the kitchen as though he’d never been worried at all.
Gold hobbles out, a thin stream of blood running from his nose, and Emma glares after him and then deliberately shuts and locks the door behind him. “Did he just show up to harass you?”
“To provoke me, I think.” Regina looks unworried as she rises, tidying up the living room absentmindedly. “I think he’s still hoping to present Neal with Henry if I go off the deep end. He said you left town?” There is a hint of vulnerability in her voice, an uncertainty that Emma reads beneath the carelessness.
“We had to…buy clocks, for some reason– Regina ,” she says, and she feels the panic again, swirling around with confusion in her heart. “I thought you were…you didn’t answer your phone.”
Regina blinks at her. “My cell? It’s somewhere in the study. I was doing work there earlier today. You should have called the house, too, if there was an emergency–”
“No emergency.” Emma twists her fingers, struggles for the words to explain and drawing a blank. “I was…I kept thinking you might be…I called you, and you didn’t pick up,” she says again, and it doesn’t answer a thing. “I called you. And I thought you…”
Regina’s face softens. “Emma,” she murmurs. “I trust you. I know that you aren’t running off with Henry anymore. I was just…trying to fill a very empty day,” she says at last, pursing her lips together. “To give you the space with him that you need. Were you worried about me?” She asks it tentatively, almost wonderingly, and Emma can’t bear it anymore.
She surges forward, and Regina holds her, presses her hands to Emma’s face and kisses her with fire and famished affection. “Emma,” Regina murmurs, and Emma loses herself in Regina’s embrace, is as gone as Before Emma had been every time that they’d touched. “Emma,” Regina whispers again, and Emma kisses it away, puts her lips on every part of Regina’s face in defiant desire.
This isn’t a spell. The spell had been a dreamlike state, had been so much affection that Emma hadn’t been able to contain it all. This is raw and real, is everything that Emma’s ever wanted, and Emma buries herself within the earth that is Regina, the sky that is the brown eyes that gaze fiercely into hers, the wind that whips around her in a hundred tiny kisses.
This is her entire world in a woman, and Emma can’t bear to let go.
When they separate, it’s only because of Henry, tapping his foot against the floor and saying “Ahem!” loudly until they notice. “Not that I don’t think this is great,” he says, gesturing at them dubiously, “But I’m starving . We haven’t eaten since Portland, and we had Reese’s Pieces and Cheez-its for lunch.”
“Emma,” Regina says reprovingly, and she nuzzles Emma’s cheek to lessen the rebuke. Emma glows with it, kisses the tip of Regina’s nose instead of accepting it. “I suppose I could put together something small for dinner,” she says grudgingly. “If you’d like to stay.”
Dinner , Emma thinks. Breakfast. Every moment in between . None of this had ever felt so exhilarating under the spell, and this all feels new and bright and good, like a beginning that has finally gotten started. “I think we could stay,” Emma says, and she takes Regina’s hand, kisses the skin at her wrist just once, and leads her to the kitchen.