Henry is coming home today. It quickens Regina’s heartbeat, makes her move with a lightness to her step, and she bakes three separate batches of cookies before she runs out of flour. Henry is coming home , is going to sit in this kitchen and sprawl out on that couch and maybe, just maybe, he might even talk to her. Just a few words, even. She’d be satisfied with small talk, with a conversation about anything other than how evil she is, with anything but monosyllabic, uncomfortable responses.
Oh, he isn’t staying , but she can’t let that bitterness overwhelm her before he arrives. This is supervised visitation, and it’s the closest thing she’ll have to Henry back, so she can’t complain and ruin it. It had been Emma’s idea, after Henry had run off with explosives in an attempt to destroy magic. He needs to spend time with you again , Emma had said, just a few minutes after calling Regina a bad person in front of their son. He needs to understand that you aren’t going to go off and murder everyone in this town in front of him. She’d given Regina a warning glare, as though to ensure that Regina does not, in fact, go off and murder everyone in the town, and Regina had nodded and asked when they could start because she has so little pride anymore, just broken-down longing for her son.
Emma, she still remembers, had once believed in her, and it seems entirely unfair that that had been shattered by a lie and then abandoned wholesale. Emma, with this new man flitting around her, Henry’s father , and Regina has to grip the edge of the counter to stop herself from setting something on fire. These twice-weekly visits with Henry are the last time she’ll have with him before he goes off to a perfect nuclear family and Regina is alone, again, with just the memories of the only person she loves.
The knock at the door comes while her hands are still trembling, and she presses them against her apron, forcing a smile onto her face. She strides to the door in a rush of energy, fully relying on the sight of Henry’s face to keep up the facade of happiness, and falters.
Emma stands there, but Henry is not beside her. Regina cranes her neck to peer at the hideous yellow car parked in front of her curb, her hands trembling again. “Is he…is he getting his backpack? I don’t mind if he does homework here with me,” she says, but she can’t see Henry in the car.
Emma watches her evenly, as though prepared for a fight. Regina tenses. Emma takes a breath. “He wouldn’t come,” she says at last.
Her eyes are like beacons of pity and wariness, all mixed up into a potent green mixture. Regina stares at her, uncomprehending. “What do you mean, he wouldn’t come ?”
“I tried,” Emma says, and she heaves a sigh. “I did my best. I even had Archie talk to him about it. I think it’s…it’s better for him to spend time with you instead of letting his imagination run wild. But Archie also said that I shouldn’t force it. He’s just a kid, Regina. He’ll come around.” Now she avoids Regina’s stare. “He’s just still kind of…gun shy, I guess.”
Regina barks out a strangled laugh, her last hints of anticipation dissipating. Henry isn’t coming. It’s slowly beginning to dawn on her. This will be another day without Henry, despite what Emma fucking Swan had promised her. “I can’t imagine why. You feed him poison about me. You try to erase the past ten years. And now you’re surprised when he doesn’t want to be around me?”
She should turn around now, slam the door on Emma’s face and delight in that last bit of power that she still holds– a house, a place where she can shut Emma out of instead of being shut out herself– but she can’t bring herself to do it. To lose the last bit of human contact she’ll have until Thursday, when Emma comes again to tell her that Henry won’t visit.
Emma says tightly, “You know, if you weren’t so busy running off with the bad guys, then it might be a little easier to persuade Henry that you’re trying to be better.”
Regina presses her hands to her sides, refuses to let Emma see them shaking. “Well, my mother is dead now. I killed her. So I hardly think that that’s relevant anymore.” What’s relevant is that Mother had isolated her, had taken Emma and Henry away from her and left Regina with no one to cling to. What’s relevant is that Emma had left Storybrooke with Henry and Mother had promised Regina her son. What’s relevant is that Snow had fed Regina a fairytale so Regina would take Mother’s heart and shove it into her chest and see, for a moment, glittering humanity and love and–
Emma stares at her, uncomprehending. “What do you mean, you killed her? I thought that Mary Margaret poisoned her heart?”
Emma hadn’t been there, had been teleported out of the pawn shop before the final encounter. Of course Snow had been too much of a coward to explain the depths of what she’d done. “Ask your mother what she did,” Regina spits out, and she turns now, shuts the door behind her, and lets herself sink to the floor and sob desperate, heartbroken tears.
She is alone.
On the other side of the door, Emma says, “Regina.” It’s muffled, which is why it sounds so much gentler than before. “Regina, I…” Her voice trails off, and she doesn’t speak again, and Regina lifts her head back against the door and feels the tears slip down to her chin, joined together as they fall.
She crumbles cookies into dust when the fury finally sets in, burns half the dining room table before she manages to get herself under control. This is a setback, she reminds herself. But really, nothing has changed. It isn’t as though Henry had ever come . Henry hasn’t been back in his room since she’d been the fool who’d sent him away after the curse–
But no, she hadn’t been a fool then. She tries to remember that, the strength and fear that had come with sending Henry away. It had been the right thing, a terrible thing, but if she’d ever done to Henry what Mother had to–
She stops the thought, then lets it fester, curls onto the couch where she’s slept for days and pulls a throw over her for some vague warmth. She doesn’t like going upstairs anymore and walking past their rooms– the guest room where Mother had stayed, the bed still unmade, and Henry’s lonely, empty room. She’d only gone up there today to shower and change her clothes in anticipation of Henry’s visit, and now, it had been for naught.
It is barely eight o’clock, but she has no more energy to remain awake, and so she stares blankly into space and lets her dark thoughts overtake her as she drifts off.
And then, cutting into her drowsiness, the doorbell rings.
Regina almost doesn’t get it. It’s late, and there’s no one who would come to her door without malicious intent. But there’s the last drifting thought– Henry has changed his mind, it’s finally Henry – and she lifts herself off the couch and stumbles to the door, the throw still wrapped around her.
She sees Emma in the peephole and her heart leaps with sudden anticipation, with the surge of adrenaline that comes with the possibility of Henry, and she pulls the door open.
Henry is not beside Emma. “Hey,” Emma says, shifting from foot to foot. “Sorry. Can I come in? I wanted to talk to you about…” She gestures limply. There is something different about her now, a purposefulness to her movements that Regina hasn’t seen in her since before the curse had broken. “There’s just something.”
Regina steps aside warily, and Emma comes in, closing the door behind her. “I’m sorry about Henry,” Emma says in a whoosh of words, all at once. “I think he will come around. He misses you, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. He feels guilty about it. I miss you, too,” she says, turning to Regina with vulnerable eyes, and Regina is taken aback.
“Excuse me?” There had been moments when there had been something like appreciation between them– Emma saying your mom…she’s a piece of work, you know? and the smile she’d given Regina then. Emma inviting Regina to her welcome back party. The way that Emma had spoken to her parents in the station that day after Archie had gone missing, her words filtering into the interrogation room. I know her. I believe her . They’d been moments when Regina had believed that Emma could be someone she’d…
But that had been before Mother, and Regina had never thought that it was anything but kindness on Emma’s part. Now, though, she stares at Emma and doesn’t understand.
And Emma still gazes back at her, every shield she’s had up in front of her gone at once. “I wish we hadn’t fought earlier,” she whispers. “I get so…around you.” She doesn’t fill in the emptiness in the center of her sentence. “I just wanted to talk to you about this. Us.” She waves her hand between them, and Regina can only gape at her, can only watch her hand with a swooping sensation in her belly. Emma looks at her, not a hint of malice or mocking in her gaze, and she says, “There is something, isn’t there?”
“Yes,” Regina breathes, because hadn’t there always been? Haven’t they been doing this dance since before the curse was broken? And she doesn’t know what has shifted now– why Emma would, so gently, come to her and broach the topic– but she reaches out as Emma moves to her, and she comes alive when Emma’s lips touch hers.
She’s been living in dullness for so long that it is a shock when everything bursts into color, when Emma is in her arms and her kisses feel so good, burning against Regina’s skin. Regina kisses her and kisses her and kisses her, her heart thumping with exhilaration, and she isn’t thinking about proximity to Henry or her feelings about Snow or the gulf that had opened between them. She only thinks of Emma, who’d seized a piece of her and left her wanting, who had initiated this, who wants–
She shudders in Emma’s arms, lit on fire with no relief, and Emma kisses her forehead, kisses her cheekbone, presses her lips to Regina’s jaw and leaves hot kisses against her skin, and Regina thinks, this. This is where I want to be .
“Emma,” she murmurs, chokes out, an overcome litany. “Emma, please, please, Emma– Emma –”
And the door flies open. “Get the hell away from her,” David snarls, his sword out. Snow is behind him, agape with horror, and the boyfriend lurks beside her and looks very uncomfortable.
Emma sighs against Regina’s skin. “Go away,” she says, and Regina can feel her smile. She tightens her arms around Emma’s waist, holds her closer, and she glowers at the intruders.
“Regina, please,” Snow says wetly. “Please, don’t–”
It’s the boyfriend who says it succinctly, his eyes averted, and the earth tremors beneath Regina again. What was his name here? Neal. Neal says, “She’s under a love spell,” with such certainty that Regina recoils.
Emma says, “I am not ,” but Regina shoves her back, abruptly certain that she is. It’s a good one, the kind that doesn’t wipe away a personality in favor of too-ardent affection. But Emma isn’t in love with her. Emma doesn’t have feelings for her, and Regina had been a fool to believe for an instant that she might. This isn’t real. None of this is real, and she’s…
She twists around, desperate for some water, and Emma follows on her heels. “Stop it. Don’t listen to them,” she says insistently. “They just can’t handle the idea that I might love you . I’m not under a spell. I’d know if I were under a spell.”
“My father cast it,” Neal says grimly from behind them, and Regina’s heart sinks. “I found the aftermath when I dropped by the shop today. I don’t think he meant for it to zero in on her , though.” He jabs a finger at Regina, giving her a sloping, sidelong glance. “It, uh…it looked like he had one of Henry’s gloves in the spell.”
Regina understands magic like none of these imbeciles do. She focuses on that , on Henry’s glove and the implications there instead of the woman whose hand is still brushing her wrist, defiant in the face of her parents’ disapproval. If Rumple had used Henry’s glove, it had been a targeted love spell. He’d wanted Emma to fall in love with the person most linked to Henry, and had wagered that it would be Henry’s biological father.
Instead, Emma has fallen in love with Regina. She is sick and alive at the same time, at this precious awareness that only Rumple and Regina must grasp. She is Henry’s mother , is still linked to him enough to redirect a spell, regardless of what the Charmings might think.
She exhales, and Emma murmurs, “What’s going on?” She’s close, so close that her hand is on Regina’s arm, and Regina recoils, her thoughts returning to this miserable reality.
“Stop it,” she bites out, the humiliation and the despair and the uncertainty mingling in her heart. “You’re under a spell– don’t touch me.”
Emma looks stricken. “Regina, no. I’m not under a spell. I’ve always…” She looks challengingly at her mother. “I’ve always had a crush on you,” she says, turning back to Regina, and Snow lets out a shuddering noise. “I mean, I thought you were a piece of work, but a hot one. And then when I came back from the Enchanted Forest–”
“The spell is warping your memories,” Regina says tightly. “It’s making you imagine things. We hate each other, remember?” She takes another step away from Emma, feels sick with their proximity. With what might happen when the spell breaks, when Emma loathes her even more.
Because she will take Henry away. Not because her kisses had felt like air after suffocation, or because Regina had actually believed her when she’d said…
She turns away from them all, her hands trembling again, and says curtly, “None of you were invited into my home. Get the hell out .”
She faces the wall, presses her hands against it and listens to the shuffle of them, the arguments with Emma and the exasperated, “Well, then, prove it–” and then Emma is gone. Her companions are gone. Regina is alone, kisses still burning her lips as though the phantom of Emma remains, drawing life from Regina where there had been none to give before.
She falls asleep on the couch, wrapped in the same blanket, and she awakens to a soft hand on her forehead and quiet conversation. “Does she fall asleep like this a lot?”
The voice that responds makes it clear that this must be a dream. “Never. She has a whole nighttime ritual. When I was little, I used to–” The voice stops.
“I would sit with her and watch her take off her makeup. It was cool to watch, I guess. Then she would put on pajamas and we’d go sit in my bed together and read. And then she would go to her room after I went to sleep, I think. I don’t know why she would sleep like this.” The voice sounds uncertain, grudging, and Regina is suddenly sure that this isn’t a dream.
The hand on Regina’s forehead moves gently to her shoulder, and Regina opens her eyes. And there they are. Emma and Henry are standing over her, Emma with those unfathomable depths of warmth in her eyes and Henry hanging back, arms around himself, looking down. “Hey,” Emma murmurs. “You fell asleep on the couch.” She looks at Regina with concern in her eyes, and Regina leans into her touch, aches for it–
Love spell . The reminder sinks in, and Regina pulls away from her. “What now?” she demands. “I thought I sent you away.” She doesn’t dare speak to Henry, who feels like a mirage that might flit away if handled too roughly.
Emma bites her lip. Henry says brusquely, “They locked her up.” He stares at the curtains instead of Regina, and he looks angry and small, her perfect little boy.
“I don’t like being locked up.” The terse voice that comes with that revelation sounds real, even if Emma’s gentleness is all an illusion. “I don’t like Neal locking me up.” Emma glances at Henry, her face wan, and Henry squeezes her hand. “But I’ve been sheriff long enough to know perfectly well how to get out of those cells.” She shrugs. “I got Henry from Ruby and came back here. Ruby , by the way, agrees with me about us.” She raises her eyebrows challengingly. “She says I had the hots for you when I got to town, so I don’t want to hear any more about a love spell.”
Henry lets go of Emma’s hand. “You’re definitely under a love spell,” he says, and he looks up only to meet Emma’s gaze. “But it’s okay. I’m going to protect you from yourself.” Regina watches them, her heart thrumming with desperate envy and loss, and she is afraid to speak.
Emma shakes her head. “You’re wrong ,” she says, and then she turns, her eyes tentative. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” she whispers. “Can I stay here?”
It is a struggle to get off the couch, to pull herself up and smooth down her slacks and shirt as though she’d only been dozing off. When she looks up, Henry is staring at her with his little jaw set; he glances away in a flash when she catches him. “I have a…a guest room upstairs.” She doesn’t want Emma here, with the false love shining in her eyes. But Emma has brought Henry with her, and Regina will never turn him away. “I just need to change the linen.”
She walks slowly, Emma and Henry trailing after her, and she walks up the stairs carefully. It’s harder than it’s ever been, and she thinks with dread of what awaits her. Mother’s room will have little record of her appearance here, because she’d had little to begin with. There is just the unmade bed, and Regina will have to strip it now for Emma Swan, who will take this other thing from her, too.
Emma says, “I didn’t think there were enough visitors to Storybrooke to justify a guest room. Definitely didn’t think you were the kind of lady to leave a bed unmade– oh,” she says, and Regina hears the truth dawn on her in that dull oh , the quiet realization heavy within it. When she says, tentative, “Why don’t you let me take care of the linen?” Regina knows that this must be the love spell. Emma has never been so sensitive.
It bothers her more than gratifies her, and she says abruptly, “I can do it myself,” and strides into the room, pulling off Mother’s sheets and leaving them on the floor for a minute while she retrieves new linen from the closet. Emma is there when Regina pulls the sheet over the mattress, quietly tucking in the other side, and she works in silence and doesn’t offer, only acts.
When they are done, the guest room is pristine and ready for Emma, Mother’s last impression on the town gone for good, and Henry is gone from the doorway. Regina lets out a strangled noise, her heart seizing in her chest, and she hurries from the room, steps out into the hallway to search for him, and then sees him.
Henry is in his room. He is sitting on the bed, his arms wrapped around the pillow that Regina had cried over, back on the day that the curse had broken, and he is staring at the walls with tears slipping down his cheeks. Regina chokes back a breath, terrified of spooking him, and she backs away to her own room.
She can’t let Henry know that she’s been sleeping downstairs, she vows. That she isn’t the mother he remembers, who had been calm and collected and would never go to sleep without cleaning off her makeup and getting into satin pajamas. She has to seem like her , the woman she’d been before the curse had broken.
She wipes off her makeup and brushes out her hair, alarmed at how dirty it feels. A shower, then.
By the time she’s in pajamas, it is after eleven at night and the house is quiet. Henry is asleep in his bed, and Regina dares to step inside, to let her hand trail over his arm for a moment, to close her eyes and imagine that this is forever.
When she leaves his room, it’s to walk carefully across the hallway, down to the guest room. Emma’s parents had locked her up, but they hadn’t stayed or checked on her after that, or they’d have already stormed in here with their puffed-up righteousness and their demands. I don’t like being locked up. Yet Snow and David and even the vaunted biological father hadn’t thought beyond their determination to keep Emma from Regina.
Emma is still awake in the guest room, lying on the bed in nothing but a tank top and her underwear, and she lights up when she sees Regina. “Whoa,” she says.
“What?” Regina tugs at her pajamas irritably, self-conscious.
“You just…you really look that beautiful with your makeup off, huh?” Emma says, and she climbs out of her bed and slips a hand into Regina’s. She moves so smoothly that Regina doesn’t realize that she’s been maneuvered backward until her shoulderblades touch the wall, and Emma is running her fingers through Regina’s hair. “Fuck, you’re gorgeous,” she says in a husky voice, and Regina can feel her legs turn to jelly at Emma’s tone. “Wanna kiss you–”
“No,” Regina says firmly.
Emma pouts. “Just a little,” she wheedles. “I know you think I’m under a love spell, but I promise that I won’t– I won’t hold it against you if I am. I mean, this is clearly all me.” She gestures ruefully at herself. “I feel like I just…I haven’t cared about someone like this in so long ,” she says shakily, and her eyes are very vulnerable. “And obviously, you care, too, or you wouldn’t be doing…” Her fingers trace Regina’s jawline, and Regina breathes raggedly. “...this,” Emma finishes, and Regina leans back against the wall, pressing her head to it and mustering up her strength again.
“No,” she says again, this time less firm.
Emma exhales a disappointed sigh. “Fine,” she says, the pout back in place. “I thought you were supposed to be evil ,” she says sulkily. “Shouldn’t you be taking advantage of–”
Regina wrenches herself away from Emma, the words scorching her skin with poison spikes. She hurries to her room, already reprimanding herself for whatever the hell she’d been doing with Emma, who still thinks she’s–
“I’m sorry,” Emma says from behind her, now fretful. “I’m sorry. I was trying to make a stupid joke. I don’t mean…I mean, you killed people,” she says, now defensive. “Obviously, you weren’t perfect and I’m never going to pretend that you were. It doesn’t mean I care about you any less now. You’ve changed, Regina. I know that. I know you wouldn’t–”
Regina whirls around, her eyes flashing. “I absolutely would,” she snarls. “You think you’re the first person to be cursed to want to be with me?” It lingers with her, the way that she has wronged others. It never used to, before she’d been alone with her thoughts, when the anger had been all she had. Now, it’s a constant she carries with her. “Do you think that I have ever stopped before?”
Emma reaches for her, and this time, Regina lets her catch her, lets the force of it throw them both onto Regina’s bed. Emma’s hands slip up Regina’s pajamas, and Regina is abruptly nauseous, is sick with the desire and the horror of Emma’s touch.
She stumbles out from under her, leaving Emma on her bed, and she sits up, legs down on the side of the bed and bile threatening to rise up within her. “Stop,” she says, and Emma stops. “ Stop . Please.”
Emma is silent, lies down on her back on Regina’s big bed and doesn’t move. Regina lies beside her, her hands flat against her side, and she manages to say, a paltry explanation, “I was…before I was evil…”
“ Regina .” Emma sounds like a frustrated friend, like someone who can’t bear the thought of Regina calling herself the word she’d just used.
Regina ignores her. “Before I was evil, I was a girl,” she says in a whisper. “A girl who dreamed of getting out from under her– her mother’s thumb.” She has to choke out the words, and they don’t quite link together, are bits and pieces of a broken story. “And then she married me to a king. It was what she wanted for me.”
“What did you want?” Emma asks. It isn’t a question she’s been asked before.
But she’s said the answer, had begged it of so many, and she knows it at once. “To be free,” she murmurs. “Only that.”
And now the right words come. “I don’t like being restrained,” she says, because the right words are not the simplest. She thinks of Mother’s magic around her, and of hands on her wrists to press them painfully into a bed. “I don’t like being held down. I was angry because anger made me strong. And I wanted to hurt other people like I’d been hurt. To have the control that I didn’t when…” She can’t finish the sentence.
Emma exhales with terrible, perfect understanding. “Yeah,” she says, and she turns onto her side, keeps a careful distance from Regina. “Yeah, I get that.” Then, tentatively, “You don’t seem angry right now. Just kind of…defeated.”
Regina doesn’t deny it. There is still anger, bubbling beneath the surface, but she suspects that it will always be there. For a long time, it had sustained her. Now, she finds that she doesn’t want that sustenance.
But she can say, the words quiet, “I don’t want to do it to you. You’re under a love spell, Emma. I can’t…if you really care about me, then please don’t let me do this to you.”
Emma says, “Why?” Her eyes aren’t accusing, aren’t hurt, are only questioning.
Why? Regina can’t say. She can’t explain what it is that keeps the demon at bay here, what makes the idea of taking advantage of Emma such anathema. She settles on the easiest explanation. “Because sometime soon,” she says in a strained voice, “You are going to wake up from this spell. And if you’re as angry as I was, I’m never going to see my son again.” She breathes in, chokes on it. “I live and die by your whims, Emma Swan. You have utter control over the last vestiges of happiness I have in this world. I don’t have a choice . I don’t have anything except the possibility that you might be in a giving mood, and I…”
Emma reaches for her, then thinks better of it. She stands up shakily, removes herself from Regina’s bed, and she stands in the doorway and stares at Regina. “That’s horrible,” she says. Her fists are clenched, and her jaw is tight. “That’s a horrible, horrible…”
She is angry, but Regina is relieved to see that it isn’t at her. This is anger directed inward, and Emma whirls around in a sudden rush of emotion and storms to her room, the door slamming shut behind her.
If it were Henry slamming doors, Regina would call something reproving after him. For Emma, she only lies back down and feels something foolishly like trust.
She sleeps late now, with no job to get to and no son to herd off to school. The sun is already high in the sky by the time she awakens, and there are raised voices downstairs that jolt her.
She must be under attack again. The townspeople had thrown rocks through the windows and vandalized the house in those first few weeks, before Mother had come and their terror had overwhelmed their rage. She gets up to lock the door of her room– it will keep her from doing anything she might regret, and keep them out– and then she remembers last night.
Emma and Henry . But it isn’t just them. She can hear Snow, loud and urgent. “You can’t stay here. You don’t know what she’ll do to you! And you’re defenseless!”
“She isn’t going to do anything.” To her surprise, it’s Henry who says it, though he sounds sullen. “You should see the way she runs away from Emma when Emma tries to…” His voice trails off, and he makes a fake gagging noise.
“Henry.” Snow seizes on him instead. “It isn’t good for you to be here. She isn’t…she isn’t stable–”
Now Regina strides downstairs, instinctive fury rising within her at the thought that Snow might take Henry from her. She is still in pajamas, her hair rumpled, but she gives little thought to that as she descends the stairs.
Emma lights up to see her– it’s a terrible shock, watching someone brighten as she appears instead of cowering or hardening– but the others look wary. “What have you done to my daughter?” David growls, lifting his sword.
Regina just looks at him. There had been a time, just a few weeks ago, when David had been gentle with her, when they’d been alone and working on taking care of Henry together without either of the other two women in the room. When he’d iced her neck after Daniel’s catastrophic return and had looked at her as though he’d been seeing her for the first time, and he’d brought her food from Granny’s and sat silently with her. Maybe he’d only been making sure that she wouldn’t start killing townspeople. His kindness had been gone the moment that Snow had returned.
But he falters now, his sword dropping again, and Regina takes a breath and thinks that, maybe, there had been something else. She says dryly, “I’ll admit it. I gave her my second-best linen last night. Then I ravished her for hours.”
Henry, thankfully, does not know the word, but he catches the gist and wrinkles his nose. Emma says, “She did not . She was the perfect gentle…woman,” she finishes, grinning at Regina. “Which is really sweet but also really infuriating , because I’m not–”
“You’re under a love spell,” they all say together, and Emma scowls at them.
“Sorry, Emma,” Henry says apologetically. “But you are. You hated… her –” He gestures at Regina as though he doesn’t know what to call her, and she feels ill. “Like, yesterday. You were complaining about going over here alone, remember?”
And this – this is too much. Regina turns abruptly. “I really don’t care what you do,” she says, her voice sharp as she catches Emma’s dismayed gaze. “Leave, stay. But get your goddamned parents out of my house.”
“We’re not going anywhere without Emma,” Snow snaps.
Regina scoffs. “You left her alone last night to rot in a jail cell. I think you’ll do fine leaving her here.” She strides back up the stairs, her heart seizing in her chest, and she hears footsteps behind her as she makes it to her room.
“I wasn’t complaining about seeing you,” Emma says quietly. “I was doing my best to get Henry to come with me–”
“So you tried a guilt trip.” Regina can imagine it clearly. “You tried to talk him into coming out of an obligation to you –” To her horror, tears burn her eyes. This is, somehow, more damning of her relationship with her son than anything else. She has hoped that he doesn’t hate her, that he only stays away because of Emma’s and Snow’s influence. Not this , Emma trying to bring Henry and getting nothing.
“Hey. Hey, no .” She can hear Emma moving closer, and then a moment of hesitation. “Can I…can I hold you?” she asks, and Regina’s heart clenches even more. “I just…I think you need it.”
Regina jerks her head in a nod before she can think about it, and there are abruptly arms around her waist, Emma’s face pressed to her back. “I think he’ll come around,” she whispers. “No one hurts this much without caring too much in the first place. It’s why I was so angry when I thought you’d killed Archie–”
“Please stop comparing my son’s feelings to your love-spelled ones,” Regina says raggedly.
Emma lets out a little noise of annoyance. “That’s not the spell ,” she says, frustrated. “If there is a spell, it only let me feel what’s already– stop,” she says firmly, though Regina thinks it is to herself. “I am comforting right now. Not fighting.” Her arms tighten around Regina’s waist, and Regina leans back into her, taking the undeserved embrace as the tears keep coming.
This is torture in its own way, this false comfort and the illusion of a gift that is someone who cares about her. That is Emma , caring about her, because she’s the only person in this town who Regina wouldn’t have rebuffed. Emma has been– there have been times when Regina would have longed for this, when Emma has been enough to have her heart quicken in her chest, and now–
Now, the only bit of something like love she might have is a botched spell. She shivers in Emma’s arms, and she manages to whisper, “The spell.”
“Ugh,” Emma says against her back.
Regina pulls away, wiping at the wetness on her face with her blanket and sitting down on the edge of the bed. Emma hovers in front of her now, fidgeting with the waist of her jeans. “It’s an astonishingly good spell,” Regina admits. “No real personality changes, and you haven’t even told me that you’re in love with me, because it doesn’t make you blurt out anything you don’t want to. It’s a wonder you’re even here instead of grumbling around for a few days trying to deny your feelings– your fake feelings,” she amends, and Emma looks miserable at that. “If it had worked the way that Rumple had intended it and you’d fallen in love with the boyfriend, I doubt anyone would have known.”
Emma looks sick at that. Regina feels a little sick, thinking about it– Emma under a spell, her family gleeful and supportive, and no one the wiser. She clears her throat before she can dwell on the horrifying image. “Love spells are difficult to break. True love’s kiss is obviously not an option. Often it has to be sheer willpower from somewhere deep in your psyche, but that can be…tricky when you’re not in control. I do have a number of books that might help us out in my vault– what?” she demands, because Emma is smiling now, tremulous and sweet.
“You’re going to help me?” she asks, as though Regina is offering something precious to her.
Regina purses her lips. “I’m going to get rid of the pest haunting my home,” she says, and Emma laughs, unbothered, and lifts Regina’s hand to press a kiss to the back of it.
It is quick and harmless, a compromise between Emma’s affection and Regina’s reluctance, but Regina’s hand tingles after. She is left with choked breath and no words, and Emma smiles at her with only her eyes and whispers, “I know. Yeah? I know.” She kisses Regina’s hand again, and she slips out of the room.
Regina can hear her downstairs as she speaks to her parents again, this time with her voice even and calm. By the time Regina is dressed and ready to venture back to the foyer, it’s quiet. Snow and David have left, and Henry is sitting on the couch in the living room with one of his old video games.
She says carefully, “Shouldn’t you be at school?” She doesn’t want to drive him away, but if Emma is letting him skip out on class because of a spell…
“It’s Saturday,” Henry says brusquely, then, disbelieving, “Did you really not know that?”
Regina does her best to smile easily, to offer openness instead of the bland reality of her painful life. “Well, I haven’t been working. It’s a little like your summer vacation when you were six when I took off and we kept forgetting the days.”
Henry snorts. “We missed a doctor’s appointment,” he remembers. “And then we missed the one that you scheduled to make up for that one.” He doesn’t sound accusing, and Regina’s heart jumps.
“Do you remember how we got better at it?” she asks him.
Henry bobs his head. “Of course ,” he says with confidence. “The puzzles. A different one to work on for each day of the week. The whole living room floor was covered.” He looks around the room, his eyes still bright, and she sees the moment when they dim again. “I guess that was all because of the curse, though.”
“No, it…” Her voice trails off, and she knows that she’s lost him. But he is still here, playing his video game, and she dares to sit down beside him. Not too close, not to spook him, but on the next cushion on the couch, and she watches his avatar run over ledges and flip sideways over a tree as it races through abandoned ruins. “Jump,” she says suddenly, spotting a gap that Henry hasn’t noticed.
Henry’s avatar jumps. “Thanks,” he mutters. But he doesn’t push her away, and Regina offers him more directions– an enemy he’s missed, an explosive on the ground, another break in the ledge to jump. When he gets through the ruins, she feels as though she’s actually accomplished something today.
She closes her eyes, leaning back against the couch, and she lets herself imagine for a moment that this is a year and a half ago, that the world is still hers and her son still loves her. When she opens her eyes, Henry is watching her, but he starts and turns back to the screen when she catches him.
They are interrupted by Emma’s call from the kitchen. “Breakfast!” she says, and Henry jumps up. Regina follows him, very wary of finding out what Emma’s done to her kitchen.
To Regina’s surprise, there is little chaos. A bowl is on the counter, a frying pan on the stove, and a number of open cabinets that Regina closes deliberately, but Emma has kept the room clean and found the ingredients she’d needed to make pancakes. “I am useless at anything but breakfast foods,” she says ruefully, plating a few final pancakes and setting them down at an empty seat at the kitchen table. It’s Regina’s usual seat, but she doesn’t protest. There is another plate of pancakes across from Emma’s, next to Henry’s seat, and Regina sits gingerly.
“Don’t worry,” Emma whispers conspiratorially. “I don’t poison my food.”
Regina barks out a laugh. “It wasn’t poisoned ,” she corrects Emma. “It was cursed. I just wanted you to…”
“Get some sleep? Fat chance,” Emma says, making a face. “I think if I’d eaten it, it would have been the best nap I’d ever had.” Henry watches her, his eyes wide, and Regina is immediately aghast at their own callousness.
“Henry–” she begins.
Henry cuts her off. “It was really peaceful,” he says. “But you can hear everything . People kept coming in and talking at me.” He glances at Regina for a split second, long enough for Regina to remember that she had been one of those people. She’d apologized and sobbed and cursed, had made wild promises and snarled out hatred and regrets and far more, and she’d never thought that he might have heard it. “Also, I think that you two had a fistfight in a closet near my room.”
Emma looks embarrassed. “That was…”
“Who won?” Henry asks, eyebrows raised at Emma. “Because I really thought it would be you.”
Emma smirks. “Oh, I won both fistfights we had.”
“ Both ?” Henry echoes.
Regina finds her voice. “You stormed off from the first,” she says, remembering the blood churning through her, the rage and lust and confusion that had come with their fight outside the cemetery with Graham. “And we didn’t finish the second one. We were trying to save Henry.”
“You stormed off from our last fight,” Emma points out. “After…” She bites her lip. “I’m sorry,” she says suddenly, stabbing at her pancake. “We really screwed you over after Archie disappeared. I wanted to go talk to you right away when we realized– but then Belle got hit by a car and Gold dragged me out of Storybrooke–” She is still staring at her plate, avoiding Regina’s eyes. “I wish I’d found you before I left,” she murmurs. “It’s what Cora wanted, right? All of us to abandon you. You didn’t have anything but her.”
Henry is watching them both, his face unreadable. Regina shakes her head. “I could have used some of that empathy then,” she manages.
“I tried ,” Emma says, and now she sounds beseeching. “I was trying to talk you into listening– I wanted to apologize at the shop. And you wouldn’t let me talk to you.”
“You put a knife to my neck,” Regina points out, feeling very aggrieved.
“You were trying to kill people!” They shouldn’t be having this conversation in front of Henry, who is back to staring at his pancakes and pretending he can’t hear them. At the very least, Regina should deny that– she hadn’t wanted to kill anyone then, least of all Emma. She’d only been lost in Mother’s machinations, desperate to keep her son and her sole ally.
But Regina straightens her back, struggles to keep her voice even. “If this is you under a love spell, excuse me for thinking that you might have been less than welcoming if I’d returned to you.”
Emma rolls her eyes, the tacit denial of the love spell, and says stubbornly, “I can care about you and still argue with you.”
Regina laughs. She can’t help it. It is just so quintessentially Emma to be under a love spell and still so utterly irritating. It makes her flush a little, takes her back to that terrible, unforgettable year when they’d been at each other’s throats. She’s never had a relationship like that in all the years that she’s been alive, one where someone had felt like an equal to challenge her.
Only Emma, who shakes her head and laughs with her now, her mouth full of pancakes, and Regina puts aside their fight in favor of watching Emma’s glittering eyes and the way that her hair seems to move like the ocean against her shoulders.
They begin research on the spell that afternoon. Regina returns from her vault with a stack of old spellbooks and sets them on the dining room table, which is still charred and only half there. “What happened here?” Emma asks, wrinkling her nose, and Regina offers a halfway shrug in response.
Henry eyes the table and the books with trepidation, and Regina swallows. “Henry,” she says carefully. “I know I promised you that I wouldn’t do magic, but…”
“Sometimes you just have to set something on fire,” Emma says wisely. It’s a far cry from magic isn’t the problem, kid, it’s her , and Regina has to remind herself that nothing has changed. Emma is under a spell, and it might have stripped all the hostility from their interactions, but soon…soon, she will loathe Regina even more.
Henry doesn’t respond. But he takes a spellbook from the pile, and he opens it and flips through it. “Some of these are bewitched so they can be read in any language,” Regina tells them. “Others will be more difficult. Emma.” She remembers Emma’s confidence at her door once, after Archie, when they’d been about to come to blows. Emma has magic.
Emma has magic . When she thinks about that, it sends a shiver through her, a fear and a longing. Emma has magic, and who knows what it might do to her? Emma has magic, and Regina could be the one to help her learn about it. “Here,” she says brusquely, setting a book into Emma’s hands. “Close your eyes and try to breathe the magic. Feel it at your fingertips.”
“You smell really nice,” Emma breathes, and Regina swats her side.
“ Focus .”
Emma makes a face. “It’s hard. You grew up with all of this.”
Regina scoffs. “I did not,” she says. “I hated magic. It was…” She remembers for a moment Mother– Mother before Storybrooke, when she’d been Regina’s worst fear instead of her only ally– and the years of terror and pain that had come from magic. “If someone had told me that I could destroy all magic by throwing some explosives into a well, I’d have done it in a heartbeat,” she says reflectively, and Henry looks up and stares at her, his eyes wide. “I would have killed myself ,” Regina amends, shooting him a reproving look. It’s bold, to try to reprimand Henry now, but he bites his lip and looks sheepish instead of lashing out. “But it would have made my life…easier, I think. Better.”
Unconsciously, she touches her neck, feeling the way it constricts when she thinks about Mother’s punishments. When she looks away from Henry, it’s to dawning realization on Emma’s face. “Regina,” she murmurs, and she sounds so compassionate that Regina can’t tolerate it.
“I learned magic when I was desperate to escape the king,” she says instead, keeping her head rigid and her tone matter-of-fact. “And I got better at it when I let my anger control it. Strong emotions will help your magic bloom.”
Emma shakes her head. “No way. I’m not learning magic through anger. I know how that ends. I’ve seen Star Wars.” Regina’s eyes flicker, unbidden, to Henry, with whom she’s watched Star Wars at least a dozen times. He meets her gaze, something almost like a smile passing across his face before he stifles it and looks back at his spellbook.
She clears her throat. “Try thinking about something else, then,” she says haltingly. “Magic can be used for good, too. Who do you want to protect? What do you want to accomplish with it?” Emma stares at the book, and the magic of it seems to emerge in a rush, disappearing with Emma’s breath as she inhales and then exhales.
“Whoa,” she says, and Regina can feel the buzzing sensation that comes with the magic emanating from Emma, the way that it takes to her like a moth to a flame. Emma has surprising depths of inherent magic, blazing within her, and the book has ignited it. “Why do I feel like I’m going to–”
Regina shoots forward and seizes her, teleporting them both into the back yard just as Emma explodes with magic, the light bursting from her in waves. Emma pants, her face wet with sweat and her body still shaking, and she says, “I need– I need–”
She lunges for Regina, and Regina catches her and holds her, feels Emma’s hands sliding under her jacket and blouse to press against her skin. Her legs tangle into Regina’s, her face buries into Regina’s shoulder, and she trembles with desperate need, setting Regina aflame with it. “Please,” she groans, and she reaches for Regina’s hand and kisses her wrist, presses her lips to it again and again as her hands roam against Regina’s skin. Regina is helpless to resist, is as desperate for Emma as Emma is for her. The magic around them is all-consuming, triggering something within them, and Regina can’t– she can’t–
She teleports them in a rush of magic into her bathroom, and she twists the tap to cold. It douses them in freezing water, and Emma shrieks, the magic twisting around as it escapes her. She falls back from Regina, and Regina catches her before she bangs her head against the shower tap, holding her steady. “Too much magic for you,” she says severely. “You’re too powerful and too uncontrolled.”
Regina thinks she hears Emma mutter, “And you’re too gorgeous,” and she turns away, her face reddening. She hears footsteps pounding up the stairs– Henry throws open the door to her room, his eyes accusing– and then he sees them both, soaking wet in their clothes with the shower still blasting behind them, and his eyes clear.
“It made the magic stop,” Emma says, twisting her hands helplessly as she drips all over Regina’s bathroom floor. Henry just stares at them. His lips are twitching like he might smile.
Regina says delicately, “I think we’ll leave the other spellbooks to me.”
“I found one spell,” Henry says suddenly. “Maybe. It’s for breaking mental enchantments.”
“Oh, well done,” Regina says without thinking, and she’s startled when Henry ducks his head and smiles. She gathers herself before she speaks again, careful not to frighten him off. “We’ll need to collect the ingredients. I’ll just…change first and then get to work on that.”
“Me, too,” Emma says, wincing. “I should probably go back to the loft and pick up some of our stuff.” They both look sharply at her. She says, her smile a little pale, “If I’m not back in an hour, come break me out.”
“We will,” Henry says loyally, and Emma drips her way downstairs, leaving them behind. Henry wanders to his room, and Regina changes quickly, pulling on a warm cardigan and sweatpants before she ventures out to find him.
He is sitting on the floor beside his bed, an old stuffed owl in his hands. Regina walks tentatively to him, sits down beside him on the floor. “When you were four, you wouldn’t go to sleep at night without Hootie on the top of your bookcase,” she remembers. “You said he kept the monsters out.” He hadn’t known then that the monster was the woman who’d kissed him goodnight.
He doesn’t say that now. He says, “Do you think they’ll try to lock Emma up again?”
“No.” She means it. Snow and David are idiots, but they’d seen what Emma will do if they try to restrain her. “Maybe her boyfriend would. If he’s anything like his father, he’s a piece of work.”
“My dad,” Henry says, a little defensive, and it hurts like needles digging into Regina’s skin. Then, abruptly, “He wasn’t part of the love spell. Right? Just Mr. Gold?”
“As far as I know,” Regina says grudgingly. “Rumple might have had more luck with a willing subject.”
Henry scuffs his shoes against the carpet. “They said that– he used my glove for the spell.”
“Yes,” Regina says. She is very careful now, her words chosen with hesitation. “Rumple likely believed that the spell would connect Emma to him through you.”
Henry is quiet for a long minute. “It went to you,” he says. “But it went to you,” he repeats, as though he isn’t quite sure what to make of it. There is a trapped look building in his eyes, a fear of something he isn’t ready to acknowledge, and Regina wants to push , force out the revelation, have more days of the two of them in this room together and in this house–
But she knows that she can’t force it. She’s learned that much. She inhales a breath. “Do you have any homework this weekend?” she asks instead, and Henry looks at her, almost frightened, and then relaxes.
“Yeah,” he says. “I have to make a simple machine out of stuff I can find in my house. I was thinking about making a lever out of cardboard.”
Regina considers. “I think I have some cardboard boxes in the garage,” she says. “Let’s get to it.” She rises to her feet, holding out a hand to Henry, and she pulls him up when he reaches for her and leads him down the stairs.
The counterspell doesn’t work. Regina isn’t completely surprised by it, though Henry is disappointed that his work had been for naught. He follows Emma around for the rest of the evening, asking her, “ Now do you feel different?”
“Can’t break a spell that isn’t there,” Emma says flippantly, leaning against Regina as Regina stirs a pot of chili for dinner. “As I keep saying .”
Regina raises her eyebrows. “Try this,” she says, offering Emma a spoonful of chili, and Emma eats it obligingly. “Too spicy?”
Emma’s eyes bulge out, her face reddening, and she swallows with a choking, gurgling noise before she says, “It’s perfect.”
Regina catches Henry’s eye from where he’s peeling potatoes at the garbage can. “Love spell is still in place,” she says, and Emma scowls at her.
The next day, they find another promising counterspell, and then a curse that might induce hatred. Regina quails at that one, and Emma flat out refuses to try it. “I never hated you,” she says. “It would be as fake as you claim me caring about you is.” They have no luck with the counterspell, and then Emma and Henry have to go out to visit Snow and David to make it clear that they haven’t been kidnapped by an evil witch.
They come back, and this time, they have Henry’s backpack and clothes for the next day. Emma goes back to work on Monday, and Henry goes to school; but Regina doesn’t slip back into the emptiness that has governed her days alone. Instead, she researches spells and tidies up the house. Emma and Henry both have a way of getting into every room and leaving it askew, and she straightens picture frames and puts away books and feels the darkness edge closer only when she thinks about them not returning at night.
But Emma is back at noon with lunch from Granny’s for both of them, and Henry gets off the bus at Main Street and walks the two blocks back to her house. She nearly trips on his shoes on the stairs, and she calls out the instinctive, “ Shoes! ” before she can stop herself– but Henry only grins to himself and retrieves them, putting them in the basket beside the stairs where they belong.
They eat roast chicken for dinner and Emma says, eyes closed, “This is the best food I’ve ever tasted.”
“Better than Snow’s?” Regina asks, because she is nothing if not petty.
Henry snorts. “Ms. Blanchard– Grandma– she puts chicken in the oven and bakes it. Just like that. Sometimes she’ll pour a jar of sauce over it. It’s okay.”
“It tastes like a group home,” Emma says, and Regina feels unaccountably pleased when Emma takes seconds and finishes her plate. It’s a feeling she usually reserves for Henry, but Emma is…well, it would be implausible for her to insist that she doesn’t appreciate Emma’s presence here. Emma has that charm to her, that wonder at kindness and fierceness around the people she loves, and Regina is always struck by it, even when it had infuriated her.
It feels like cheating to sneak in there now, to gain something that she hadn’t earned. She feels sick whenever she imagines another Emma in there, deep down, who is repulsed by everything happening here. Another Emma, furious and helpless at the image of her sitting beside Regina at a burnt dining room table, maligning Snow’s food and savoring Regina’s.
There will be no coming back from this. But there is no stopping it, either, when Emma is so stubbornly determined to stay. “When I go back there, they just try persuading me that it’s safer with them. That I’m really in love with Neal,” Emma says the next evening, after Henry has gone to sleep. They are working in the study– or, rather, Regina is working, poring over books of spells and setting up elaborate potions on her desk while Emma lies on the couch with a spellbook resting on her chest as she talks. It’s soothing, having company during spellwork. Regina had never thought that she might like it.
She pours a smoking purple phial into a red one and watches it turn brown. “Were you in love with him before?” she asks, keeping her voice steady.
“When I was a kid ,” Emma says, and there is something lonely and sad in her voice, something that tells Regina far more than her words. She tries to imagine this tiny Emma, the girl who had been so alone that she’d have fallen in love with anyone. “Then he framed me for grand larceny and left me pregnant in prison, so–”
Regina looks up from her potion, feels her heart churning at the image of it. Emma, hardly seventeen, all alone in a prison with Henry growing inside of her. The fear that would come with that– the isolation– “You gave birth in prison,” she says. It had been a point of smugness last year, a joke to cruelly mock Emma instead of consider Henry. You didn’t want people to know you cut his cord with a shiv? She remembers it with a burst of self-loathing, with the clarity that followed the rage and fear.
“It was hell ,” Emma says staring at the ceiling. “And then there was…I heard him, but I couldn’t see him. I wouldn’t. I was so afraid…if I did…”
“You’d want to keep him,” Regina murmurs. The potion is ready, but she doesn’t bring it to Emma yet, keeps this vast distance between them when she thinks about Emma’s own claim to motherhood.
Emma shakes her head. “I don’t regret it,” she says fiercely. “I don’t. The boy Henry became with you…he’s perfect . And he brought me here. To my family. To you,” she says, lifting her head to gaze at Regina, and Regina quails under her gaze.
“I wasn’t…I almost brought him back,” she confesses. The memories of that had returned with the breaking of the curse, another misery on that miserable day. You have lost your son and you were fool enough to have put all of this into motion. The words spill out of her now, the story of a baby with easily traced roots and the horror that had followed the knowledge that she could raise the savior’s son.
Emma is sitting up now, watching her with wide, stricken eyes. “What did you do?”
“I couldn’t give him up,” Regina whispers. “I couldn’t. So I made myself forget instead.” She’d used these phials and bottles, the last of the magic that she’d had, all in the service of raising Henry without any reservations. It had been her only selfless act in adulthood, perhaps, and it still makes her tremble to think about.
Emma stares at her, her eyes rimmed with red, and she says hoarsely, “Regina…”
Regina can’t bear it. She lifts the vial with the potion and carries it to the couch, sitting up against where Emma’s legs are stretched out across the cushions. “Here,” she says. “Drink this.”
Emma drinks it obligingly, her eyes still on Regina, and Regina watches her and feels the same stirrings of dread that she feels each time Emma tries a new potion. “How do you feel?” she asks, her voice unsteady.
Emma finishes the whole vial, licks her lips, and says, “Like I want to kiss you.”
Regina sighs. “Back to the drawing board,” she says, and it is appalling how she feels a little lighter with the failure, a little relieved. It isn’t about Emma loving her, she tells herself again. It’s about Emma not hating her.
Emma scoffs. “Is it so unbelievable that I’d want to kiss you? I wanted to kiss you last year, and I also wanted to slap you basically every single time you talked.”
“Do you want to slap me now?” Regina stacks the empty vials into each other and Emma takes them, standing to go clean them in the kitchen.
Emma makes a face. “ No , but that’s beside the point–” She lifts a hand to touch Regina’s face, tentative and gentle, and Regina takes the hand and then sets it down.
Sometimes it is harder to remember that this isn’t exactly Emma, that Emma despises her. Sometimes, Regina has to remind herself to see this through that Emma’s eyes. She’d be furious. She’d be horrified. “You should get some sleep,” Regina says softly, and she winces at the tenderness in her voice and makes a quick escape upstairs.
They only finish their conversation about Neal the next day, after he knocks uncertainly on Regina’s door and asks to see Henry and Emma. Emma says, “There’s a big backyard,” jabbing a thumb at it, and she hangs back on Regina’s patio, watching as Neal and Henry toss a frisbee at each other. Badly.
“I didn’t think about sports until it was too late to teach him to love them,” Regina admits, a failing on her part. “He’s never shown much interest.”
Emma scoffs. “Neal’s childhood was apparently in some ancient version of your world. I don’t think he knows much about sports, either.” She leans back against the wall. “I’m sorry I brought him here. I just…I didn’t want to be alone with him.” The words come slowly, but without prompting. “There’s so much pressure to just…get over it. To be grateful to him for what he did to me because of destiny and all that fucked-up stuff. And I can’t. I look at him and I just feel so…so helpless,” she says, twisting her hands, and she rests her head against Regina’s shoulder. “Like I’m seventeen again and he’s supposed to be my ticket out of hell instead of into it.”
“I hated him on principle before,” Regina confesses. “But I hate him more now.”
Emma beams at her. “And that’s why I…” Her voice trails off, and she watches Henry instead. Regina stands beside her, glaring daggers at Neal, and he looks sheepish and very nervous when he tries making conversation with Emma later. By the time he leaves, though, he isn’t watching Regina warily anymore. Maybe it’s the cookies she’d brought out for Henry and Emma that had won him over, or the frisbee that had nearly smashed into her face. But whatever it is, he doesn’t push for Emma to return with him, and he offers Regina a nod when he leaves.
She stares back, thinks, I will kill you for what you did to Emma Swan , and he blanches and retreats down the block.
They fall into a routine. Regina’s days are busy with Emma and Henry around. On occasion now, there are magical threats– an accidental ogre, or a magical fire from someone’s failed experiment– and Emma calls Regina in to help her. “It’s easier with you,” she says breathlessly, waving a sword at the three-headed sea monster they’re battling at the beach. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I bet they’d stay away if there was actually someone in charge here.”
Snow has become de facto mayor, which is going miserably for her and is a source of great satisfaction to Regina. They stop there on the way back from the beach– Emma is insistent that Regina gets out more, that people grow accustomed to seeing her around town– and find Snow buried in paperwork, close to tears. “I can’t do this,” she says in a hushed, tearful whisper to Emma. Regina hovers at the door, putting absolutely no effort into wiping the smugness off her face. “I’m just not good at this– it makes no sense–”
“Regina,” Emma says wearily, beckoning her over. “Can you please stop gloating and help Mary Margaret?”
Regina scowls. Emma looks pleadingly at her. Regina sighs. “You’re better off reinstating me,” she says, striding over to Snow. “This is a disaster.”
Snow says, “I know .” She makes a face. “You were always a better queen than me, too.” Regina’s eyebrows shoot up, and Snow says, “I mean, I was less murderous–”
“The bar is so low,” Emma says, shaking her head, but she’s grinning.
Snow shoots her a look. “And more popular,” she reminds Regina. “Possibly because of the less-murderous thing. But you did the day-to-day stuff so much better than I did. All those grain stores and taxes! And you took all the good advisors when you went into exile.” Regina would marvel at how quickly Snow has dispensed of the distrust and hatred between them, except that Snow has always been too naive. Regina sustains it just fine for the both of them.
Which is why she is absolutely going to make this worse for Snow, and refuse to help her. “I’ll help you,” her traitorous voice says, and she glowers at Snow and then starts organizing the paperwork.
By the next day, she has been wheedled into coming into her old office for a few hours a day to help Snow. “You’ll get a salary, of course,” Snow assures her. “I think the people will be relieved. I’ve been a nightmare.” She tilts her head to observe Regina for a long moment before she says, “And you’re clearly on the road to reform now. I hear that Emma has you fighting monsters most days.”
The worst part about coming in to work again is, by far, Snow’s proximity. She won’t leave when Regina arrives, and she insists on making conversation. “Do you know what happened to my horse when the spell hit?” is the next day, and “How did the whole Enchanted Forest fit into this town?” is the day after. On the third day, Snow says, “Emma seems so happy lately,” after Emma drops in with lunch for them both, and Regina snaps, just a little bit.
“Of course she’s happy,” she snaps. “She’s under a love spell. She doesn’t have the sense to be unhappy. She’s trapped in a fantasy world that isn’t real .”
Snow blinks at her. “No,” she says. “I was trapped in a fantasy world that wasn’t real. For twenty-eight years. Emma isn’t trapped anywhere.”
She doesn’t understand. Her voice is leading, implying something that Regina can’t comprehend. “You have no idea what Emma’s going through,” she says sharply. “She hates me. And one day, we’re going to figure out how to break this thing, and she’s going to discover that–”
“That the woman she hated– the woman we all thought couldn’t be trusted with her– has done nothing but take care of her.” Snow says it calmly, without the early fears and resentments in her voice. She looks beseechingly at Regina. “I was so afraid when I found out that she was with you. I thought you’d…well, we all saw how it started,” she mumbles, a flush settling across her face. “But you cook her dinner and help her fight and it’s…well, it’s not what I expected.”
Regina scoffs. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says roughly. “It’s not about her . Henry is…”
“Regina,” Snow says, and she shakes her head. “Okay.” But she’s smiling at Regina with those knowing eyes that Regina hates , and Regina glowers at her and busies herself with paperwork.
“I hate your mother,” she informs Emma at dinner that night. “She’s a pretentious, self-important brat who thinks that I care what she has to say. I don’t want her praise. I’m not some simpering subject of hers in the Enchanted Forest. I was the queen .”
“Yes, you were,” Emma says, with the soothing manner of someone reassuring a small child. Regina gives her a hard look. Emma laughs. “Come on. She’s really warming up to you.”
“I don’t need her to warm up to me . I’m the one who hates her! It was never mutual!” Regina scowls at her French toast, which Emma had made while she’d been working late with Snow.
Emma grins at her. “Eat your dinner, Your Majesty,” she orders. Regina takes a single bite. Emma says thoughtfully, “I wonder if you’d be able to win over David, too. He’s a soft touch,” and Regina loses her appetite again.
But Emma says, “It’s kind of great, yeah? That you all might be able to coexist in this town?” And it’s almost shy how she says it, almost tentative and vulnerable, as though this is a secret dream that she’s been nursing for a long time. Because, as wary as she might have been of her parents after the love spell had first been cast, she’s spent a lifetime longing for family.
This is what Emma wants, Regina knows. Her parents close by and ready to fall into the role of nurturers. Her son with her. And a…well, a partner, though Regina has to remind herself forcefully that that partner isn’t meant to be her. This damned love spell has certainly ruined even the grudging tolerance that they’d had for each other.
Who knows what might happen when it breaks?
There really is no reason to build relationships with her despised enemies just to make an illusion happy, but she still wanders into the station during one of Emma’s late shifts with more than enough dinner for just Emma. “Emma isn’t here,” David says, eyeing her with an unreadable gaze. “She just got a call and ran out.”
“Oh.” Regina looks sharply at David, struggling to make out if the call had been concerning. There are days when Emma comes home with bruises from a bad fall or burns from an attack from a magical creature, and she wants to stop her from going out there alone again. To call Regina, every time, so Regina can protect her. But Regina knows that Emma would take that as a challenge, which would be so much worse than this.
David clarifies, “Pongo got out into the woods.” His eyes bore into Regina as Regina exhales, and he says, “I’m sure she’ll be back soon, if you want to wait.”
Regina twists her hands. She had once felt larger than life around men like David, towering over her but nothing compared to her power. She still has magic now, has begun using it casually again alongside Emma without any protest from Henry, but now, she feels small around him, young and uncertain.
David says, and his voice is gentle, “Do you want to sit?”
She looks sharply at him, discomfited by his kindness. “No, I don’t want to sit . I want to–” She pauses, at a loss for what she wants, and she takes a breath. The image flits through her mind, the warmth that will flood through Emma at returning to her seated beside Emma’s father, and she sits in silence.
What has she become?
The spellbooks are slowly running dry, every potential potion failing, and Emma patiently tries each one and complains only a little when they taste terrible. It’s been weeks now, weeks of Emma entrenched in Regina’s life, and Regina savors it like a forbidden treat. Emma thrives with Regina’s proximity, and Regina watches her and remembers kissing her and feels sick and yearns at the same time.
“Did you even like women before the love spell?” she asks Emma one night. The last potion had made Emma a little dizzy, and she’d wound up in Regina’s bed while Regina had monitored her, lying flat above the comforter as she stares at the ceiling. “Shouldn’t that have been your first clue?”
Emma puts up a finger. “First of all, there’s no love spell.” Another finger. “Second, obviously I liked women before now. Did you not see me checking you out every time you wore one of those half-buttoned shirts–” Her eyes get dreamy, and Regina laughs, stretching out next to her, and feels the warm flush in her cheeks. “And I’ve dated my share of women. Not that it ever worked out. Or that I really dated as much as had one-night stands with hot ladies I picked up in bars.”
“How hot?” Regina asks, challenging.
Emma reaches out to stroke Regina’s cheek with her knuckles. “None of them held a candle to you, believe me,” she says, and Emma lets her hand trail down to Regina’s hand and raise it to Emma’s lips. She kisses Regina’s hand once, twice, and Regina shuts her eyes and wants nothing more than to exist in this moment forever. “Honestly, I was pretty screwed up in my early twenties,” Emma admits, looking at Regina over her hand. “I spent a lot of time just kind of losing myself in…anything. Whatever would make me forget.”
Regina shifts her hand to hold Emma’s steady, lifts Emma’s hand carefully to kiss her palm. Emma’s eyes shine, and Regina says, “To forget Henry?”
“That was a big part of it,” Emma admits. “I felt… god , so guilty. I was terrified he’d wound up in the same foster system that had raised me. But they assured me that he’d be adopted, that infants were in high demand–” She swallows. “I mean, I was almost adopted when I was an infant. I spent the first three years of my life being fostered by one family.”
Regina watches her, startled by that revelation. “What happened?”
Emma shrugs. “They had their own kid. They sent me back.” Her eyes are like pits of old pain, ingrained within her. “I guess they were never planning on adopting me, or they would have before that. I was just a…a practice baby.” She shifts to stare at the ceiling, avoiding Regina’s eyes, and Regina holds Emma’s hand to her cheeks, keeps it close to her in silent comfort.
They do this sometimes now, lie on Regina’s bed and talk about their pasts. Regina ventures admissions she shouldn’t make, not to someone who will hate her with the right potion. Here is what Mother used to do to me . Here is how the king treated me. Here is what I did when I was angry and didn’t care about who I’d hurt . Emma gifts her with her own admissions, careful and small. This is what my foster brother did to me. This is a place where I was not wanted. This is a time that I self-destructed . They are both of them twisted and wrong, women whom the world had forgotten to gift kindness, and Regina marvels sometimes at how Emma could emerge from it all and be good. Regina doesn’t play mind games with herself anymore, insisting that she is anything less than evil; but Emma is the epitome of goodness, and Regina can only wonder at her strength.
“This is dangerous,” she says aloud one night, when the awareness gets too strong. Emma is good , and Regina has no place here. Not with her. This isn’t a love story.
Emma sits up. “What do you mean?” Her eyes blaze with abrupt concern, then suspicion. “This isn’t about the so-called love spell, is it? Has it ever occurred to you that the reason why all these potions aren’t working is because my feelings are real ?” She looks about to riot, to protest Regina’s denial, and Regina is suddenly very weary.
“Emma,” she says, and she sits up, too, on the opposite side of the bed. She feels it shift and knows that Emma has clambered across it, and then there is the comforting weight of Emma beside her. “You’re going to hate me. Don’t you understand that? Look what we’ve done here. Look at what this spell has forced you into. You’re on my bed .” She gestures around the room. “You’re living in my house. You’re telling me things that you’ve never told those two idiots that you call parents, and we’re going to…when the spell wears off, you’re going to despise me. You’ll never forgive me.”
She can hear her voice, high and on the verge of despair, and Emma shifts against her, lays her head against Regina’s shoulder and says, “You’re wrong. You’re so wrong . If I were…if there were really a spell controlling me, you’ve done nothing but take care of me. But give me a safe place to…” She shifts, nuzzling Regina’s neck, and Regina lets out a choked noise that might be a sob. “Regina,” Emma breathes. “I know me. I would have…we would have gotten here anyway. I swear it.” Her hand is on Regina’s other cheek, gently turning it toward Emma’s face, and Emma’s lips are abruptly, dangerously close. “We’d be here anyway,” Emma whispers, and her breath is on Regina’s lips.
Regina trembles, shakes with the desire that seizes her. Emma’s scent is all around her, her eyes like pinpoints of glittering green that are inescapable. Emma is so close, and all it would take– she just needs to lean in for a moment of ecstasy. This is what she’s wanted, isn’t it? The last perfect piece to the world they’ve created together, and Emma wants it– Emma is ready to take it, if Regina will only bend–
Regina leans forward, but only to press her forehead against Emma’s, and she feels frustrated tears begin to water her eyes. “Emma,” she says hoarsely. “Emma, please–” She stumbles to her feet, but her hands are in Emma’s– she doesn’t know when she’d taken them, only that she’s pulling Emma with her– and their foreheads are back together. Emma kisses Regina’s wrist, evokes sudden sensations from Regina, and Regina gives a shuddering sigh, tugs Emma with her, feels Emma’s body heat burning her skin. “Come,” she says, and she can’t breathe, can’t say what she needs to.
Emma kisses her wrist again. “I’m trying ,” she says, and she laughs and kisses Regina’s wrist for the third time, stumbling with Regina to press their bodies together.
Regina tucks her head against Emma’s shoulder, her lips nearly drifting to touch Emma’s neck before she seizes control of herself. They are almost out of Regina’s room, almost into the hallway, and she guides Emma a little more, backs up so Emma can follow, until they are pressed firmly together and Regina can feel every curve of Emma’s body. She makes a noise, a whimper that is humiliating , and Emma sighs, “ Fuck , that’s hot,” just as Regina finally fumbles Emma’s door open.
She pulls away from Emma, except where she can’t– except where the idea of moving away from her makes Regina want to sob– and she says, “Go. Bed. Go now,” so desperately that Emma finally listens.
She takes a step back, and Regina shoves her into the room, slamming the door behind Emma, and she sinks to the floor and stares in despair at the wall opposite her. She can’t keep doing this. She can hardly do it at all. And now–
“Goodnight, Regina,” comes the murmur from the other side of the door, and Regina lets out a strangled noise in answer. Emma sighs, loud enough for Regina to hear the frustration, and Regina presses her head against the door and tries to remember when it is that she’d found her conscience again.
Fuck that .
She showers hastily, pulls on pajamas and curls onto her bed, where she can still catch Emma’s scent. This is an exercise in impossibility, in torturous tests of her will every single day. How is she supposed to do this for weeks? For months, if they never find the right counterspell?
But there is a last resort, one she has been too furious and proud to take until now, and she dresses again and vanishes from her room.
The pawn shop is dusty and quiet, but for Belle, who is fixing something behind the counter and raises a knife when Regina enters. Regina raises her hands. “I’m just looking for Rumple,” she says, a little twinge of nausea when she sees Belle. Last she’d heard, Belle had lost her memory, but now she seems to remember Regina just fine.
Belle glares at her. “I’m not helping you with anything,” she says darkly.
“Then help Emma,” Regina retorts. “Your boyfriend cast a love spell on her. Do you know what that means? Do you know what he did to her?” Belle’s face flickers, uncertain. “She’s a prisoner in her own mind–” She hesitates, reconsidering her words and how they might sound to Belle. Belle watches her, eyes narrowed. “I just want him to fix it .”
“Odd,” Rumple says from the doorway to the back. He’s leaning on a shelf, eyeing Regina with glittering, knowing eyes. “I would have thought that you’d already fixed it.”
“I’ve been trying.” Regina feels the malice in the room, the sick sense of slippery amusement that suffuses the air around Rumple at all times. Once in a while, they are friends. More often, there is this: Rumple quietly sowing destruction and delighting in her descent into it. “I’ve mixed dozens of potions. Tried a hundred counterspells. Nothing has worked.”
Rumple laughs lightly, the hint of disdain clear in his voice. “Well, perhaps it’s time you tried something a little more obvious than silly, useless spells. This is just magic, isn’t it?”
And there is something about the way that he drawls his riddles and mysteries– something about what he’s said that finally pings within Regina. Of course . Of course, there is one simple option, and it’s a sign of the upheaval in her life that she hasn’t thought it through until now. “Yes,” she says, and her heart thuds. “I suppose it is.”
She walks from the shop instead of teleporting away, relishing the cool night air as she returns home. It surges against her face, a constant slapping motion that feels like something she deserves. Why had it taken her so long to find a solution? And now that she has one, what now?
She will tell Emma about it when she gets home, she decides. She has to immediately. And in the morning, they can fix this and lift the spell.
But when she gets inside and heads upstairs, she can hear light snoring from the guest room. Emma has already fallen asleep, and Regina stands by her door and listens to the sound of her slumber for a moment. It’s rhythmic and soothing, and her heart clenches when she imagines her house tomorrow night. Quiet. Empty. Free of all the people she cares about.
She walks back across the hall to peer into Henry’s room, and she pauses, alarmed. Henry is tossing and turning, letting out little moaning noises, and he looks flushed even in the dark. Carefully, Regina steals across the room, sits down on his bed, and lays a hand on his back and another on his shoulder. “Henry,” she whispers. “Henry, wake up.”
Henry’s eyes open and he gasps, his face frozen in terror. “Bad dream, Mom,” he croaks, and he holds his arms out for her, an instinctive, childlike motion.
Regina pulls him to her, cradles him in her arms, and he curls against her and shivers. “You’re burning up,” she murmurs. “I think you have a fever. Let me get you some medicine.” Henry huddles closer to her, and she savors his embrace, takes an extra moment before she detangles herself from him.
She pours a little cup of Tylenol for Henry, measuring it out to his last weight that she knows, and she tiptoes back to his room so as not to awaken Emma. But his bed is empty– she feels a sudden surge of terror– and then she spots her door, open when it hadn’t been before.
The lights are off, and Henry is snuggled into her bed, under the comforter and his eyes drifting shut. “Drink this,” she urges him, pulling him up to a sitting position, and Henry drinks obligingly and then drops back into Regina’s bed.
She changes back into pajamas in the bathroom, sliding into the bed beside Henry, and he rolls over to burrow into her side. She wraps her arms around him, her heart thumping with the desperate drumbeat of a song that is close to completion, and she does her best to push thoughts of tomorrow from her mind.
In the morning, Henry is still in her bed when she awakens, and she clasps a hand to his forehead and notes with satisfaction that he is only a little warm. She slips out quietly, careful not to awaken him, and she heads downstairs to the delicious scent of Eggs Benedict.
Emma turns to smile at her, her eyes shining in the way that they always do when she spots Regina. “I actually went shopping yesterday after work so I could stock up on breakfast essentials,” she informs her, shaking her head. “What did you do before me?”
“Henry ate cereal. I ate coffee.” Right on cue, Emma passes her a mug, and Regina inhales the scent of it and sits down at the table. “I think we should keep Henry home from school today.”
Emma darts a look in her direction, careful and curious. “I saw he was in your bed this morning.”
“He had a fever in the night. It happens occasionally, usually when it gets cold out. But it means he’s coming down with something, and he’ll need the day off or it’ll get worse.”
Emma nods. “Okay,” she says, and then, a little quieter, “I didn’t know that.”
“You would have discovered it,” Regina says wryly, but she’s glad that she’s told Emma now, before what comes next. “He’ll sleep late and recoup over the day. Not a big issue.”
Emma flips an egg onto a plate. “I’m glad he came to you,” she says simply. “That he’s getting more comfortable being around you.” She adds shredded cheese on top of the egg and then pours a sauce from the blender over it. There is something very soothing about watching Emma confident in the kitchen, all the moving parts coming together into something delicious and warm, and Regina digs in as soon as the plate is set in front of her. “I think he’s been afraid that forgiving you might…you know, make him a bad guy by association. Or something like that. But there’s no way he sees you as a bad guy anymore.” She sits down opposite Regina, beginning her breakfast with the gusto that Regina has come to expect from Emma. “You’re just his mom.”
“I don’t know,” Regina says, but she longs for it with sharp aching, with a desperation that she can’t quite hide. By the end of the day, perhaps, Henry will be gone. But maybe– even with a hostile biological mother, even with an Emma who despises her– maybe, Henry will still visit.
She doubts she’ll be in a state to entertain after Emma leaves, though, and she breathes in a shuddering breath and says, “There’s something I have to tell you.”
She explains her visit to Rumple last night, the lingering clues he’d offered to her that had made her see a clear solution. Emma listens in silence, her eyes unreadable, and she speaks only at the end to say, “I’m not under a love spell.”
“Emma,” Regina sighs, only a little exasperated. “Fine,” she agrees, an absolute lie. “Maybe not. But there’s no harm in trying it. And then you’ll know for sure.”
Emma cuts a piece of her Eggs Benedict, studying her fork instead of looking up, and she says finally, “Fine. I’ll do it. Later.”
When she leaves for work, it’s with Regina’s hand clasped in hers, and she kisses the tips of Regina’s fingers with unvarnished longing that has Regina’s heart skip. “Emma,” Regina whispers, and she wants to sob.
But she doesn’t. Henry is home for the day, and Regina can’t think about what’s coming next when she has to look after him. She cancels work with Snow for the day and tracks down some of the old sick day paraphernalia: an enormous, fluffy blanket, the extra pillows they put on the couch, and chocolate and marshmallows for hot cocoa. By the time Henry pads downstairs, wearing his pajamas and a pair of socks, she’s set up his sick day nest.
He lights up. “Sick day?” he asks. He doesn’t comment on this: the two of them alone in the house for a day, and the old wariness that had been between them. Instead, he climbs into the nest that Regina had made for him and pulls her to him, and he says, “I want to watch Lord of the Rings.”
“Breakfast first,” Regina says firmly, and she heats up his eggs and puts them on a card table next to the couch. “Emma made you Eggs Benedict.”
Henry takes a bite and closes his eyes in bliss. “She’s so good at breakfast,” he says, shaking his head. “But when she tried surprising you with dinner last week, we had to throw out the frying pan.”
“Is that where my frying pan went?” There’s a new one in the cabinet now, without the dent that the old one had had on the bottom right, and Regina had taken it in stride. “What did she do?”
Henry snorts. “She wanted to saute onions. It was a disaster. She paid me ten bucks not to tell you.” He purses his lips in sudden realization. “Oh, crap ,” he says, and Regina has to laugh.
“I’ll never tell,” she promises, wrapping an arm around Henry’s shoulders, and she senses the way that he stiffens at the touch– for only a moment, as though he’d suddenly remembered who she is– and then relaxes, leaning into her touch.
They watch a movie until Henry dozes off again, his fever still running low, and Regina reads a book on the couch in their nest. It’s nearly lunchtime, but Henry’s breakfast is still mostly untouched, and Regina is unwilling to leave the nest to find something for them to eat.
Who knows where they’ll be in a few hours? If this is the end, then she is going to enjoy every shred of time she can have with Henry–
She is crying before she notices it, tears slipping down her face as she imagines returning to her miserable state before the spell. It isn’t fair that something so despicable could be so precious to her. It’s another cruel joke of the universe that has pitted Emma and Regina against each other. Emma will find her family only if Regina will lose hers. Regina will have love only when Emma’s capacity for it has been perverted and twisted. They are at two ends of a cosmic seesaw, and one of them rises while the other falls.
Losing Henry again will destroy her. And losing Emma– Emma, who is a dream, who had never been real, except that she’d felt so real that Regina hadn’t been able to deny her– losing Emma will be devastating.
She lets the tears fall for a long time, Henry out on the couch beside her and Regina’s book fuzzy in her lap, and she only blinks them away when she hears the door open and Emma’s familiar stride in the foyer.
She turns, her heart pounding and her throat dry with terror, and Emma holds up a bag from Granny’s. “Thought I’d drop by for lunch and see how Henry was doing,” she says, her brow furrowing at what she sees on Regina’s face. “What’s wrong?”
Regina shakes her head, the words emerging in a hoarse whisper. “You didn’t try it yet.”
Emma’s face clears up. “No,” she admits. “I haven’t had time. I’ll try later.” She maneuvers around the couch and then pauses, distracted. “Whoa. Did you make a nest ?”
Emma takes off early and comes home right away, ostensibly to look after Henry. “It’s just not a good day for that,” she says at Regina’s questioning look. “My parents wanted to invite us to a family dinner tomorrow night, and I feel like…it’s just not a good time. I’ll do it Saturday.” She shrugs away Regina’s questions, and instead entertains Henry with a wild story that is clearly fake about an evil wizard she’d fought today at the clock tower.
“I once fought a dragon there, too,” Emma says smugly. “I took her down without a problem.”
Regina scoffs. “Because she was locked up, and she’d been there for twenty-eight years. You wouldn’t have stood a chance against Mal in her prime.”
Henry’s eyes widen. “ Maleficent is under the library?”
“Was,” Emma corrects, and Regina scoffs again.
“She’s immortal. She’ll be back.” She feels a little surge of affection when she thinks about Mal, despite their differences. There are some people who will always be dear to her, regardless of who’d locked up whom or who had tried to kill whom. “She’ll be glorious , too.”
“Oh, my god.” Emma’s eyes narrow, and she looks suddenly suspicious. “Regina, was Maleficent your girlfriend ?”
Henry perks up. “That’s so cool,” he sighs. “A dragon! Do you think she’d let me ride on her–”
“Not the way she let Regina, I bet,” Emma mutters, and Regina slaps her side. Emma gives her a doleful look. “So you brought your girlfriend to Storybrooke and then locked her up for twenty-eight years? Twenty-nine! That’s cold.”
“She’s immortal,” Regina repeats. “This is essentially a day or two for her. And she deserved it.” She is not entirely sure that Mal had deserved it, but she is sure that Mal won’t hold it against her for long. “Anyway, she’ll have to be specially resurrected right now, and I wouldn’t do it while the town is in upheaval. I don’t know what kind of mood she’ll be in.” She thinks to suddenly add, “And she isn’t my girlfriend. She’s just…an old friend.”
“An old friend you’ve fucked,” Emma says in a low voice when Henry retreats to the bathroom. “Don’t deny it. I can read you like a book.”
Regina rolls her eyes. “Regardless. We aren’t together , so there’s no need to be jealous.”
Emma wrinkles her nose. “I’m not jealous. I mean, I am a little ,” she concedes grumpily. “Since you run scared whenever I get close enough to touch you. I just think it’s badass. You dated a dragon!”
“ Dated might be a stretch.” Regina raises her arm to display Emma’s hand on it. “And I’m hardly running scared.”
Emma shifts closer to her, resting her head on the back of the couch near Regina’s ear. “You know what I mean,” she murmurs. “I’ve told you, I’m not under a love spell.”
“And if you actually do what I suggested and discover that the spell has passed, then you’ll find that I’ll…” Regina turns, their lips so close that they nearly brush when Regina speaks. “I’ll be far more amenable to whatever you want,” she breathes, and Emma’s eyes turn lidded and hungry.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she says, a little breathless. “Saturday.”
It is a promise, but one that Regina hears no sincerity behind. She doesn’t know why Emma is hesitating– doesn’t know if it’s her place to push anymore– but maybe it is about this family dinner that, apparently, includes Regina. “I am not family,” she says the next day, stalking around her bedroom as Emma and Henry stretch out on the bed and watch her amusedly.
“You’re my family,” Henry points out. It emerges tentatively, a little gift that comes with an atrocious condition. “I think it could be nice. Plus, your food is way better than Grandma’s. You could bring apple pie. It could be your vengeance against her.” Regina looks sharply at him and sees a whisper of humor in his eyes. Henry is teasing her, another step forward that she hadn’t expected.
Emma snorts. “Uncursed,” she says. “Please. Otherwise, we’ll all have to suffer through David kissing Mary Margaret awake right in front of us. Can you imagine how nauseating they’ll be?”
Henry eyes her. “Probably on par with you and Mom flirting at the breakfast table,” he says, poking Emma, and Emma yelps and pokes him back.
“ Traitor ,” she says. “Anyway, we’re not going without you. I bet Mary Margaret invited Neal and is going to try to play matchmaker–”
And that’s enough to persuade Regina. She picks out clothing to Emma’s satisfaction– something dark and sharp that evokes the Evil Queen– and then stubbornly goes downstairs to bake up a storm.
Two hours later, they’re climbing the steps to Snow’s apartment, laden with pans of food. Regina had been just spiteful enough to cook an entire meal, complete with an apple-themed dessert, and Henry and Emma carry them into the apartment as Snow watches in dismay. “I did cook, you know,” she says, taking a pan and inhaling. “But– oh , this smells amazing –”
“Just a pot roast I threw together,” Regina says airily. “I hope it tastes all right.” Henry snickers. Emma elbows her.
Snow looks suspiciously at it but has the sense not to say anything about it, only ushers them into her apartment. The table is set for five, which startles Regina. “I was sure you’d shoehorn that man into your family dinner,” she says in an undertone to Snow, who is trying to fit Regina’s food onto her platters.
Snow shakes her head. “You always assume the worst of me. I’m not going to push Neal and Emma together when she’s clearly in love with you.”
Regina scoffs. “She’s under a spell, Snow, if you’ll recall.” Everyone else seems content to play-act like this, to pretend that the love spell is real. It grates at Regina, who can never forget it for a moment.
“She’s happier than I’ve ever seen her,” Snow says softly, spooning a stir fry into a bowl. “Maybe it’s a spell. Maybe it isn’t. But if this is what makes her– if you’re what makes her happy, then the spell won’t make a difference.” She smiles at Regina, warm and affectionate in that way that twists Regina’s stomach.
She struggles to stay calm, to not alarm Henry or Emma where they’re chatting with David. “Did you think that I was happy with your father, too?” Snow looks sharply at her. Regina continues, relentless. “Do you understand what it’s like to be a prisoner to someone else’s whims? To be forced to smile and be grateful when you have no choice–” Her voice cracks, and she clears it. “I’ve been on both sides of that,” she says, and it’s a little too loud. She rasps the next words, afraid to attract Emma’s attention. “I’ve done unforgivable things because of it. I won’t do them again.”
Snow is still lost somewhere in the beginning of her diatribe. “My father…it wasn’t unusual in our world,” she says, defensive. “For young women to marry older, powerful men. You wanted to marry him. You wanted to be a queen.”
It’s so bold, so ignorant, that Regina stumbles backward. Snow stares at her, and something seems to click in her eyes, something registering that never has before. “Oh,” she says softly, and she takes a step forward, reaches for Regina, and Regina dodges her touch and moves safely to the other side of the counter. Her eyes swim with something unreadable. “Regina,” she says slowly. “What Emma is going through now…it isn’t the same. If that spell hasn’t already been broken, she’ll remember all of this. She’ll remember how careful you were with her and what you gave her anyway and she’ll–”
“No,” Regina says, her throat clogged with fears and regrets. “I know Emma. No, she won’t.”
“We’ll see,” Snow says, and she reaches out to touch Regina again and then seems to think better of it. “For now, though, let’s enjoy dinner.” She looks ruefully at her soggy meatloaf. “Or, at least, your half of it. You did this to spite me, didn’t you?”
Regina takes savage pleasure in setting out the meatloaf on the table next to her immaculate pot roast. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says coolly, and Snow laughs and cuts herself a piece as the others drift toward the table.
“I don’t think this is the attack you think it is,” she says cheerfully after she’s tasted the food, and Emma laughs.
“It was my secret scheme with Henry,” she says conspiratorially. “We didn’t want to give up on a night of Regina’s food.”
Henry grins. “Kind of how I feel when I walk really loudly near your room on the mornings you sleep late,” he says. “I’m not missing out on an Emma breakfast because you hit the snooze button.”
Emma looks at him in betrayal. David says, “Emma cooks ?” He looks startled. “I didn’t know that.”
“She’s broken toasters because she was angry,” Snow says, frowning. “I’ve never seen her cook. You’ve been holding out on us!” she accuses, twisting to face Emma.
Emma looks embarrassed. “Not really,” she says. “It’s not that exciting. I’m just good at eggs.” She twists her napkin around her fingers. “I’m crap at everything else in the kitchen.”
“You don’t want to know what she did to my frying pan,” Regina says darkly, and Henry shoots her a scandalized look. “It’s a win/loss kind of scenario.”
Snow laughs, the tension dissipating, and she says, eyes gleaming, “Do you know why she broke the toaster?”
Emma says, “Mary Margaret, no ,” and the meal settles back into something nearly comfortable, Snow sharing humiliating stories about each of them in turn and Henry listening avidly. David eats thirds of Regina’s pot roast and winks at her from across the table when he goes for fourths, and Emma smiles from across the table and kicks at Regina’s ankles and Regina thinks for a moment, I could do this again .
It’s horrifying to realize. It’s reassuring. It’s a sign of something like a future, lingering just out of her grasp, and she wants it and hates it at once.
She can’t do this. She can’t dangle a life where she is accepted– where her worst enemies are her closest friends, where she is never alone– in front of herself when she knows that it’ll only take a moment to sever that reality from hers forever. She is playing games, and she can’t do it anymore.
Henry asks to stay late– David is watching a game that Henry has abruptly expressed interest in– and Regina agrees without a second thought. “No school tomorrow,” she points out to Emma, who looks uncertain about it. “He can sleep in.”
“That’s true,” Emma agrees slowly. “I’ve just…never thought you’d willingly leave Henry with Mary Margaret and David again.” They’re back in the car, and Emma is still glowing with the happiness that had come from a successful dinner. “Are you sure about this?”
“Emma,” Regina says, and she stops at the one traffic light in town, the one where she should make a right to get back to the house, and she doesn’t put on her turn signal. “The dinner is over. Henry is out. There’s really no reason not to break the spell right now.”
Emma yawns. “I’m tired,” she says. “It’s late. Can’t we just do it tomorrow?”
Regina twists to stare at her. “It’s eight o’clock.”
“Whatever. All that small talk has me wiped.” But Emma is avoiding her eyes, and Regina feels that sick pit in her stomach again. “Tomorrow.”
Except now, Regina is certain that it’s a lie. “You’re not going to go tomorrow,” she says slowly. “You’re not going to go at all. Are you?”
Emma shrugs uncomfortably. “It’s my choice,” she says. The light turns green, but Regina doesn’t move. “I can do what I want to. And I don’t want to–”
“Emma.” Regina is beginning to feel a headache coming on. This is so much more difficult than she’d ever imagined it would be. “I know you don’t believe that you’re under a love spell, but–”
“Of course I’m under a love spell! I’m not stupid!” Emma barks out, too loud, and Regina flinches. Emma takes a breath, calms herself down. “I know that…how I felt before the spell was really fucking different. I was an idiot. And now I’m…” She shakes her head vigorously. “I’m happy , Regina. I like who I am now much more than I ever liked who I was before. I wake up in the morning and I’m actually excited to…to get out of bed and make breakfast for you and Henry. To come home to you and talk about my day and lie on your bed with you and just…”
Regina feels tears stinging at her eyes. “It’s not real, Emma. None of it is.”
“I don’t care. I don’t care what’s real. I don’t need to be that angry, bitter person from before. You know how mad I was at everyone?” Emma demands. The light turns red again. “I couldn’t even be alone in the same room as Mary Margaret because I was afraid I’d let it slip. And now I celebrate whenever you say anything nice about her. You know how I felt about you ?” she continues, relentless. “I thought you were evil . I thought you were irredeemable. I don’t want to be that person ,” she says desperately. “Don’t make me become that person again.”
“That person is you ,” Regina points out, helpless. The situation is rapidly spiralling out of her hands, is becoming something else entirely. “You’re allowed to be angry. I deserved your judgment. We don’t just…get to make a whole new Emma and then keep her.”
Emma clenches her fists. “No. It’s still me . It’s like…me if therapy worked,” she finishes, a little laugh bubbling up. “You know I’m still the same. You always meant a lot to me, even if I wanted to punch you sometimes. It’s just…it’s only now that I love you,” she says quietly.
It’s the first time that she’s said it, and it staggers Regina even though it means nothing , even though it is only a curse. Her arms are shaking, her fingers curling around the steering wheel. The light turns green, and this time, Regina drives straight ahead, through the last stretch of Main Street.
“No,” Emma says fiercely. “ No . I won’t let you.”
“You have to,” Regina says. “You have to. I can’t…” And the words emerge, furious and heartbroken and lost. “I love you, too, you asshole . You fucker. You absolute monster. I love you now. It’s too late. And none of this is real–”
“Regina!” Emma seizes the wheel, and the car jerks.
Regina waves a trembling hand, and ivy wraps itself around Emma, holding her against her seat. “I don’t want to do this,” she says desperately. “I don’t want to force you into this. But I have to. Don’t you see? I can’t let you be like this forever.”
“I’m going to hate you,” Emma spits out, and she sounds just as angry and devastated. “I’m going to destroy our family. Why can’t you just be happy like this? Why do you have to ruin everything good we’ve ever–”
“I’m sorry,” Regina whispers hoarsely, and there is the town line, stretching out in front of her, like a pit into the abyss. “I’m so sorry.” Emma is struggling against her bonds, magic sparking around her, and she wriggles free– she slams the car door open before Regina can stop her, and Regina seizes her, holds her close in some simulacrum of an embrace, and she wraps her arm around Emma’s neck.
“No,” Emma says, painfully strained. “No, Regina–”
Emma tries to throw herself out of the car just as Regina slams her foot on the accelerator. They move faster– too fast, her car is veering out of control– it hits the sign, that cheery NOW LEAVING STORYBROOKE! and spins wildly– Regina loses consciousness for a moment, remembers her magic when she returns, but it’s too late, it’s not working, nothing is working–
And then, Emma’s arms around her, tugging her from the broken husk of a car. Regina gasps for breath, stumbles in place, her heart pounding and the beginnings of terrible aches throughout her body. “Emma,” she says, her voice strained. “Emma, my magic isn’t…”
And then she sees the line in front of her, a warning that stands between her and the town. “Emma?” she says again, tentatively.
Emma doesn’t look at her. Emma’s fists are clenched, her face hard and dark, and when she walks back over the town line and into Storybrooke, she doesn’t turn to see if Regina is following.
Y'all are amazing, thank you for the incredible reception to the first part! Here, we begin to heal. <3
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.