So it isn’t like she’d known it all along, like she’d been walking through life with this I have a big, fat lesbian crush on Regina awareness hovering over her for a decade without doing anything about it. It had been more like a slow awakening, bit by bit until the instant she’d sat bolt upright, jolted to this earth-shattering awareness.
First: I hate Henry’s hot mom. Then: Is Mayor Mills growing on me? Then: I just want Regina and Henry to get along. Then, abruptly: I care more about Regina Mills than I do myself . When they’d gotten to I don’t want to exist in a world without Regina in it , something had gone a little wonky, had shifted so dramatically that she’d had to scramble to course-correct. Saying goodbye to Regina and Henry is the hardest thing I’ll have to do , she’d thought, and she’d buried herself instead in the relationship and pregnancy that had been the reason she’d stayed.
And then, a brief appearance, so many months later that it had been a shock to her system. Regina in her front hallway, her hand on the shoulder of a boy who is the mirror image of their son fifteen years ago. “Hey,” Regina had said, a little breathless, and Emma had stared at her and been so overwhelmed that she hadn’t said a word as Regina had explained (He’s from the alternate universe you wished into being, he’s just a boy dealing with a lot of trauma, all he wants is you).
Regina had lingered for a moment after leaving this younger Henry behind– Ry, they’d agreed, for simplicity’s sake– and Emma had been seized with an acute desire to hold her. To lose herself in a dream that she hadn’t known she’d had, and to wrap herself in Regina’s embrace. It’s been a long seven months and twelve days without Regina.
But Regina had only hugged Ry, not Emma, and Emma had been so frozen in bewilderment at the emotions roiling through her that she hadn’t tried to touch Regina before she’d disappeared.
And Emma had turned to Ry and said, “Hi. I have to go break up with my husband,” and then fled upstairs, leaving him downstairs and bemused.
Killian had accused her of being a lesbian, which might have been valid, though he’d said that it was because only a lesbian would ever be able to resist me . He’d also said, in that terrible, complicated fight, that he’d known that she was in love with Regina for years , to which she’d only thought to respond, “And you didn’t tell me earlier?”
Ry had watched the entire bitter fight with raised eyebrows and a tilted head, and after– once Killian had stormed out, taking only some rum from the counter and his singular change of clothing, never to return– he’d said, “Does this happen a lot?”
“Just this once,” Emma had said weakly. They’d rarely fought before because they’d had a system: Emma would extinguish any fire that rises within her, and Killian would lie about anything that she might be unable to overlook. In retrospect, they’d had a terrible, toxic relationship, but she tries to think as little about that as possible now.
Instead, she throws herself into preparations for a baby she names Hope, and she spends most of her free time with a teenage boy, which is par for the course when it comes to Emma’s years in Storybrooke. Ry is helpful, and he tells her everything he knows about Regina.
Namely: it’s been years , not months, since Regina had last been in Storybrooke. Henry has a ten-year-old daughter of his own now, and they’d gone through some kind of curse that Ry doesn’t know much about. Regina is now stitching together various worlds, building something that will be the biggest crossover effort since King Kong vs. Godzilla . Mary Margaret and David have been working with her, which is kind of like finding out that your mom’s been secretly hanging out with your best friend behind your back. In fact, it sounds like pretty much everyone ever has been involved in this, except for Emma.
“Everyone didn’t want to bother you,” Ry says, shrugging as though this is totally fine and not abject betrayal. “You were having a baby soon. Now you’re going through divorce and have a newborn.” He rocks Hope on his lap, unbothered, and Emma gapes at him and doesn’t know what she’s supposed to think about any of this. Is she hurt? Maybe a little. Is she disappointed? Immeasurably.
It’s little relief when she gets the invitations in the mail, two of them embossed and written formally in Enchanted Forest script. Emma and Ry have been invited to the coronation of Queen Regina , elected by popular vote in all of the United Realms. “Did I get a vote?” Emma asks, wrinkling her nose.
“You voted by mail last month,” Ry reminds her patiently. “Right after you had Hope, remember? You were kind of loopy. Kept saying that the ballot paper was glossier than usual.”
“I thought that was for mayor.” She’d picked Regina, obviously, because a part of her refuses to believe that Regina won’t come back. Now, more than ever, Storybrooke needs Regina in charge. The town has become a hub of this United Realms, and there are probably a billion building and tax codes that have to be updated accordingly. “Regina’s getting coronated ?”
Ry gives her a sidelong look. “You’re going to need a ballgown,” he says critically. “Whatever you might say about who you were in my realm, at least you knew how to dress for an event.”
Emma scoffs at him. “I dressed like I was twelve,” she says, and she gets an elaborate gown from one of the local seamstresses– because now they have more of those than they do clothing boutiques– and pairs it with her jacket, because she’s going for a look that says I’m not from around here but I showed up for Regina . Then she spends an hour on her hair, right before Hope pukes all over her.
Ry goes without her, itching to see Regina again. Emma changes out of her dress and sits there for a while in silence, cradling Hope and wondering what the point of any of this is. Regina’s been gone for twelve years . Henry’s been with her, the two of them putting together some kind of beautiful family that Emma’s never seen. Do they ever think about Emma? Does she still fit seamlessly into their family, or have they grown past her? Regina had remembered her to bring her Ry, but she’d said very little, had been too busy to even share a hug or an update on her life.
So maybe Emma is a little bit in love with Regina, but Regina can’t possibly feel the same way. No one holds a flame for someone they haven’t seen in twelve years, not beyond that kind of wistful memory that always seems safely out of reach. And had Regina ever had feelings for her?
A memory returns to her– a hug, a rare one, because they’d never been huggers with each other. Zelena had noticed that Emma was engaged, and Regina had held her for a moment. I’m happy for you. I really am . She’d said it so oddly– and Emma had expected some distaste because she’d known how much Regina had disliked Killian, but she hadn’t expected the grief swimming in Regina’s eyes. I really am , as though this had broken Regina’s heart.
She finds another dress. She pulls on the jacket again, which had survived Hope’s spit-up, and she tucks Hope into a car seat and drives out to her family castle. Late . Really late.
At least she makes an entrance. Regina smiles at her with those warm, beautiful eyes. “Emma,” she breathes, and Emma is absolutely sure in that instant that she’d made the right decision to come. And there– on the dais, right next to Ry– there is Henry , beaming at her, and Regina’s arms are around her, and Emma decides right then that she’s never giving this up again.
Twenty seconds later, Hope starts crying, and Emma has to duck out in the middle of the ceremony. “Is this what you got from your dad?” she hisses at the baby, who is cooing happily now. “The talent of cutting into every moment I can possibly get with Regina?”
Hope gurgles at her. “Shut up,” Emma says, though it occurs to her that she probably shouldn’t be talking to an infant like this. “You’re going to love her. It’s pretty much impossible not to.”
“She’s really cute,” someone says from behind her. A little girl, one she’s never seen before, and she moves with confidence to peer down at Hope. Emma blinks at her– thinks that she should ask for immunization records before she lets anyone from the Enchanted Forest go near her infant– and then sighs and moves the blanket a little so the girl can see Hope. “Does she have magic?” the girl wants to know.
Emma shrugs. “Not the kind I have, that’s for sure,” she says ruefully. “And I don’t think it’s genetic in my family, so I guess not? Unless there’s some ancient prophecy about her or something.”
The girl nods knowingly. “There’s always an ancient prophecy,” she says. She wiggles her finger against Hope’s stomach, making Hope gurgle happily. “I guess there are probably old prophecies that predicted the United Realms. Wish there had been one that had introduced pizza to this land instead. I would have had a way better life.”
Emma laughs, startled. “You’re not from the Enchanted Forest?”
“I’m from an Enchanted Forest,” the girl says. “Not this one. But I’ve also lived in Seattle. Much better food.” She wrinkles her nose. “Didn’t love losing my memories, though. Or my dad, for a while.”
Hope coos at her. The girl covers her eyes and then pulls her hands apart, playing peekaboo with Hope. Emma sighs. “Been there, done that. I didn’t meet my dad until I was twenty-eight.”
“I know,” the girl says, and she flashes a smile at Emma before she ducks back into the main room. “You should come back in soon. There’s gonna be food. And dancing. No one will care if the baby cries.” She lifts a hand as she disappears around the corner. “See you soon, Grandma Emma.”
“Wait–” Emma jumps up, then pauses, flummoxed. “ Grandma Emma ?” she repeats to Hope. “That sounds terrible .”
So that had been Lucy. Someone has spoken about her to her granddaughter, then, at some point. Emboldened by this discovery, she steps back out into the ballroom, where the people are beginning to disperse to the dance floor. She’s missed the entire ceremony, including Regina’s speech.
Crap . Regina is already in the center of the throng, leading the dancing with a beautiful woman in her arms, and Emma feels a stab of envy and trepidation. It’s probably just business, one of dozens of royals whom Regina now rules, but the woman murmurs in Regina’s ear like she knows her well and Emma clutches Hope and watches her with daggers in her eyes.
And then, a distraction. “Ma!” Henry comes flying to her, his eyes warm and affectionate, and Emma is awash with love for her little boy, all grown up, who sweeps Hope into his arms with the confidence of a father and then sets her down in the arms of a smiling woman who must be his wife. Emma turns to her, distracted and overwhelmed at who to talk to next, and Henry says, “Dance with me.”
So she dances, and for a few minutes, she can forget that Regina is dancing with someone else across the room. Henry grins at her and says, “Lucy said you seemed a little overloaded. A lot to take in, huh?”
“Why didn’t anyone ask me to help?” Emma blurts out, which is embarrassing and not at all the thing that you ask your son first after years away, but it sits there at the edge of her tongue, needy and demanding. She bites her lip. “I mean. I could have helped out with…all of this.”
“I didn’t think planning balls was really your thing,” Henry says, amused.
“No, I mean…” Emma winces. “All of this. These worlds. This whole thing. I would have liked to help. Regina shouldn’t have had to do it alone.” She sounds stupid. She knows she sounds stupid.
But Henry’s eyes crinkle and he says, “We thought you’d be busy. You were having a baby. And then Ry told Mom about the divorce and that you were doing it all on your own and we wanted to come and help you , but you said you didn’t want anyone there.”
Emma remembers Ry passing on the message, an everyone wants to come help out that Emma had taken to mean Mary Margaret and David, not Henry and Regina. “I thought he meant…” She shakes her head. “Well, it doesn’t matter now. We’re all here now, aren’t we?”
Henry smiles at her. He’s practically her age now, which is par for the course in this family. More suspicious is Regina, who hasn’t aged a day since Emma had last seen her. Witches . Gorgeous, ridiculous witches who had once been so close by that Emma could have walked into their office every afternoon with lunch and now feel as though they’re an eternity away across the room.
Henry is watching her, his brow creased with concern, and Emma averts her eyes and stares instead at Regina, who has separated from her partner to dance with a young blonde woman who moves freely. Next is David, and Henry says quietly, “You should go there. Mom’s missed you.”
Emma scoffs. “She has a fifty-person line to dance with her. She has plenty of other people now.” It burns like agony, knowing that she might have missed her chance, and she watches Regina longingly and wills her to turn.
Regina does turn, and she catches sight of Emma and Henry. Her eyes sparkle, and she gives Emma that same smile that she’d given her earlier, and Emma stumbles and trods on Henry’s toe.
“Ow,” he says, then, “Listen. I think we’re going to go back to the house in Storybrooke after this. Mom is talking about moving back now that Storybrooke has become the hub of the United Realms, and honestly, Lucy has had a pretty stable education lately that I don’t want to give up by going back to a castle in the woods. Jacinda can work in the station, if you’re cool with that? You could probably use the help–”
“Jacinda is your wife,” Emma remembers from Ry’s vague mentions. He had known very little about Henry’s life, but she’d drunk in every word like she’d been parched. “That’s– the woman who has Hope?”
“Yeah.” Henry beams at her. “She’s really great. You’ll love her. And she did a stint in Hyperion Heights as a detective, so she has a resume–” He shakes his head. “My point,” he says, remembering himself, “Is that you should drop by after this. Get to see Mom in a chiller setting, you know?”
It’s just an aside, a mention before she’s brought to meet Jacinda and Lucy properly, but it sticks with her for the rest of the day. By evening, the party is winding down and Emma is long past her limit, and she watches Regina dance with Ry and decides to try to break into the dance just as another dignitary swoops in to dance Regina to the other side of the room.
And that settles that. Emma is fleeing the party. She tucks Hope into her carseat and beckons Ry, and they drive home in silence. “Everything okay?” Ry asks when they’re nearly home. He is quieter than Henry in many ways, less likely to push her, but he is also far more observant. “You looked happy to be there.”
“I was,” Emma says, and it is both true and a lie. “I got to see Henry and his family– a beautiful family, Lucy is so smart and Jacinda is the whole package– and it sounds like they might be moving to Storybrooke.”
It’s just…strange, her son an adult who casually moves back to town without checking in, who chats with her as though this is a casual meeting instead of their first time seeing each other in years, for him. And Regina had barely had a moment for her today. If Emma hadn’t been late, would Regina have even known that she was there?
“Henry suggested we might want to drop in to Regina’s house here later today to get to see her without the crowds,” she says. “If you’re okay with that.”
Ry nods. “I am,” he says. He’s talked about what had preempted Regina bringing him here– the rage and the bitterness, the fear for his dead grandparents and his missing mother, the hatred pointed at the Evil Queen for taking them away– but he has healed enough that he smiles now when he thinks about Regina, and he looks happy when she mentions going to see her.
They change into more casual clothes at home and Emma feeds Hope, curls up with her in a chair in her bedroom and luxuriates in the quiet familiarity of home. When she’s done, Hope is bundled into a stroller and they walk together to Regina’s old house.
“It’s big,” Ry notes, his eyebrows raised. “I didn’t think that houses got this big in this realm.”
“Yeah, well, Regina cursed it into being,” Emma points out. “I guess a smaller house would have been too much of a transition for her. I can’t imagine Regina in some of the closets I’ve lived in.”
Ry snorts. “No,” he says, his voice a little sly, and Emma pokes him. “What?” he protests. “I remember one time in my realm when you had this dear friend who you were obsessed with. You would follow her around making eyes at her. I think Grandma had brought her there to introduce you to her brother, but even Grandma gave up after that.”
“Great. Thank you for that assurance of my lesbianism,” Emma says, poking Ry. She doesn’t remember this incident– so much of her memories of the realm she’d wished up are like vague images in her mind, outlines that have never been colored in– but she believes it. She remembers seeing Regina for the first time in the realm, and thinking how tragic it is that someone so lovely could hold such evil within her .
She really should have figured this all out a little earlier.
She knocks on the door, her heartbeat quickening at promise of seeing Regina soon, and someone calls from inside, “It’s open!”
It is not Regina. Emma pushes the door open, and discovers, to her chagrin, that the party has just been moved here. The woman who had danced with Regina first is sitting on the couch in the living room, sandwiched between two more strangers, and they all eye Emma with curiosity. “Who are you?” the woman asks.
Emma hesitates, straightening out the stroller as Ry lifts Hope from it, and she says, “I’m Emma Swan.” If Regina has spoken about her, then that name will mean something .
The woman squints at her. “Wait,” she says. “I know you.” Emma has just enough time to exhale in relief when the woman says in recognition, “You’re the one who came late to the coronation!”
“What Sabine means is that we were happy to see you,” a girl on the other couch says. Emma hadn’t noticed the occupants on the second couch, and she stumbles back, nausea suffusing her at the man who sits on the other end of the couch. “Hey, Emma,” the girl says, but it’s from a distance. “You don’t actually know me because of time travel stuff, but we used to be tight . I still have your car.”
“My–” Emma is distracted from the man on the couch for a moment, just for an instant. Her gaze returns to the man, and she croaks, “Killian. Good to see you?”
Killian blinks at her. “I prefer Rogers,” he says, and he isn’t Killian at all, not in his mannerisms or in the careful way that he speaks. He has an arm around the girl in the center of the couch– she’d danced with Regina, too, Emma remembers– but it’s familial. Fatherly, even. “I do recall our encounter, though. How is my counterpart?”
Emma jerks her head. “Uh.”
“She’s a lesbian,” Ry cuts in, eyeing Rogers suspiciously. “It didn’t work out.”
The girl on the far side says, “ Nice , Emma!” and gets up to high five her.
Emma pinches the bridge of her nose. “Is…is Regina here?”
“She’s in the kitchen,” Sabine says. “We were promised dinner.”
“You will get dinner!” a familiar voice calls from the kitchen, and Emma’s throat clogs up in an instant. “I haven’t cooked properly in years , though, so if you’re expecting anything decent–”
Sabine calls back, “Anything I don’t have to make myself is decent.”
“I miss your beignets,” the girl in the middle says mournfully. Rogers pats her shoulder. The time travel girl presses a kiss to her cheek.
Regina calls again, “Who else is here? Don’t tell me that Zelena invited those dignitaries from the Land Without Color, too–”
“Nah, it’s some lesbian lady named Emma,” Sabine announces. Emma closes her eyes and contemplates using her magic to teleport away.
Regina doesn’t respond, which just intensifies the feeling, but Ry gives Emma a nudge toward the kitchen and Emma stumbles over to it, slipping into the room and noting with relief that it’s empty, but for the woman standing over the stove, a finger in her mouth as she winces.
“Are you okay?” Emma seizes the finger, sees the telltale angry mark of a burn. “Oh, crap. Come here.” She pulls Regina to the sink, putting her hand under cold water, and Regina comes obligingly. “Hey,” Emma whispers, and she notices how close they are right now, standing over the sink together with Regina’s hand clasped in Emma’s.
Regina looks at her with warm eyes. “Hey,” she whispers back. “It has been a long, long time since I’ve seen you last, Emma Swan.”
Emma’s legs are jelly, and she totters a little, swept away in the power of a full-on gaze from Regina. How had she ever survived these when she’d gotten them daily? How had she not noticed that she’d been head-over-heels for Regina? “Less time for me,” she offers. “I mean, seven months or so. Maybe seven months and five days? Twelve days? I haven’t been keeping track.” Her attempt to be cool about it fails miserably, and she keeps her fingers wrapped around Regina’s wrist, because she’s pretty sure that if she drops it now, Regina will find a pretext to get rid of her.
Consciously, Emma has known that Regina would have other people in her life right now. It’s been over a decade for Regina, and she’s good with people when she wants to be. Emma just hadn’t understood how many there would be, strangers who dance with Regina and eat her dinners and hang out with her even after a long and stressful day.
Regina doesn’t need Emma anymore. She hardly even has time for her. But she doesn’t look at Emma as though she’s trying to get rid of her, and Emma feels suddenly hopeful. “I missed you, too,” she murmurs. “Hated fighting battles without you next to me.” She studies Emma’s face, and Emma has to suppress a shiver. “You look different.”
“So do you.” Up close, Regina looks more content. Maybe even younger. “Happier. You’ve found your place.” Emma aches for it, to be a part of Regina’s place . To be at Regina’s side again, in any way that she can. “I guess I just look more tired,” she jokes. “That’s all Hope.”
“I’d like to meet her,” Regina says, and then, leadingly, “Unless she’s at home with her father.”
“Shut up,” Emma says, and she’s smiling despite herself, stupidly happy in this quiet kitchen while voices chatter in the next room. “I know you know I got divorced. You don’t have to pretend not to be smug about it. Killian hasn’t been back since. Never even met Hope.”
Regina scowls. “Fucker,” she says. “You’d think that he’d at least be a decent father. Rogers is–” She looks abruptly alarmed. “You’re not going to date him if I say something kind about him, will you?”
Emma snorts. “God, no.” She clears her throat. “Killian accused me of being a lesbian when he left. I think it might be the first thing about me that he actually got right.”
Regina’s eyes are fixed on Emma again, and Emma feels a thrill of anticipation. “Have you…are you sure about that?” Regina asks, her voice husky.
“Pretty sure,” Emma admits. “I mean, I’ve kissed girls before and it was always good, but I kind of just figured that girls were better kissers. Didn’t think about why I enjoyed it so much more until–”
Regina lets out a little cry. A little flame had popped out of one of her fingers and burned the other in the exact same spot where she’d gotten the first burn. Emma seizes it, extinguishing the flame and healing the finger with a little bit of magic. “Sorry,” Regina says, a little breathlessly. “Sorry. I’m, uh…still getting used to using my magic in Storybrooke again.”
Emma says, daringly, her optimism bolstered by Regina’s spontaneous flammability, “Hey, listen. Do you want to– can we get drinks after dinner? Together? There’s this upscale bar in Storybrooke now that’s pretty much the perfect–”
She’s cut off again, this time by a horde of people. Lucy wanders into the room first, followed by Jacinda, and Sabine with Jacinda. The others in the living room follow, and then even more people, crowding the spacious kitchen. “Thought I’d get drinks,” Sabine tosses over her shoulder.
“Smells ready,” a man says, licking his lips.
“I’ll set the table,” Lucy offers.
A woman takes Regina’s arm, pulling her away from Emma. “Regina, I thought we might discuss the current situation in the Land of Untold Stories–”
“What do you think about the Land Without Magic?” someone else asks. “Do we have a basis to introduce ourselves to them–”
Within moments, Emma has found herself on the opposite side of the kitchen from Regina, who offers her a resigned wave and then turns to one of the people around her. She doesn’t look overwhelmed by the wave of people, and she takes it all in stride, as though this is how it always is. Their brief conversation in the kitchen had been the exception, Emma’s beginning to understand, not the norm.
There are going to be no drinks tonight. Maybe not any night. Regina is just too busy , and she doesn’t look back at Emma again.
She slinks back to the living room, where Henry and Ry are talking on the couch together as they make faces for their baby sister, and she wishes, not for the first time, that she had just gone with Regina all those months ago.
It’s weeks before she sees Regina again, and not for lack of trying. You would think, sharing a tiny town and working on the same block, that she’d see Regina multiple times a day, like she used to. Instead, she drops by the office and is told things like oh, Regina’s actually meeting with the Crocodile King in the Land of Swamps or Regina’s been out all day negotiating a peace between the space hunters and the planetoid chasers . The house is dark most days when Emma comes by, especially now that Henry has found a little house down the road from Granny’s.
“Don’t feel bad. Grandma Regina came late to our weekly breakfast on Tuesday,” Lucy tells her one day when Emma comes to walk her home from school. “She’s just super busy.”
“Tuesday at Granny’s? What time?” Emma asks, and then she feels guilty about it. If Regina wants to see her, she’ll see her on her own time, not when she’s supposed to be spending time with Lucy. Emma is beginning to grasp exactly how precious that time is. Something about being around Lucy feels very much like being around Henry used to be, all that thoughtful precociousness and bright-eyed optimism.
Regina has spent ten years with Lucy already, has been there since the start, and Emma feels a bolt of jealousy toward every one of them and the happy family she hadn’t been a part of.
Regina has had plenty of time to get used to Emma not being around. Emma is still adjusting, and it’s somehow much harder now when Regina is around , kind of, just barely out of reach. It’s also a whole lot harder now that Emma’s kind of come to terms with the fact that Regina is it for her. Her preferred companion, the love of her life, whatever you want to call it.
“Just call her,” Jacinda says, eyebrows raised. Jacinda has, in fact, stepped in at the station, and she’s proven to be more competent than David ever was. There’s a lot less law enforcement these days and a lot more general coordinating and fighting incursions on the town, and she’s excellent at both of those things. “You don’t need to ask me about her comings and goings. I can barely keep track of them myself. But when I text, she texts back eventually.”
“Right.” Emma paces. “Texting just seems…really impersonal. Especially when it’s someone you haven’t seen in so long. I used to spend basically hours every day with her, and now she might shoot me a text once in a while?” She shakes her head. “I don’t want us to become those kinds of people.”
Jacinda’s eyebrows go nearly to her hairline. “ Hours every day?”
Emma feels a spark of offense at her doubt. “Is it so hard to believe that we were that close?”
Jacinda shrugs, spreading her hands in a polite kind of, but I’m not going to say it because I know you’ll get annoyed .
“What? Of course we were,” Emma says, annoyed. “She must have mentioned me.” It’ll absolutely break her if Regina hasn’t mentioned her at all over the years, if she’d just faded away to a vague and unremarkable memory.
“Occasionally,” Jacinda concedes, busying herself with papers on her desk. “But you describe it like the two of you were inseparable, and I just…” She lifts her shoulders again. “How do you just leave someone like that and then not try to get in touch for twelve years?”
Emma stares at her, taken aback. “It was much less time for me,” she protests. “I just figured that Regina was working on a way to get in contact.” She hesitates. It had been twelve years for Regina, hadn’t it? “Didn’t…did Regina ever mention trying to speak to me?”
Now Jacinda no longer looks dubious. Instead, a frightening expression has taken over her face. Pity , because she knows the answer to that. “I’m sorry,” she says, and she moves to Emma to lay a hand against her arm and then retreats to her desk again.
Emma stands in place, stymied. It’s impossible . Regina had left, yes– but Emma had never imagined that it might be for good, that she had left Emma behind without a thought to reach her again. How the hell can Regina move on so easily when Emma had been slowly dissolving from longing?
Twelve years . Years without Emma, with new friends and new people to rely on. Years in which Regina had barely spared a thought for Emma. Emma had let her go– had been encouraged to let her go, because of Killian, because of Hope, because she’d had a life in Storybrooke and couldn’t go wandering the realms with her son and her best friend– and that had been an ending that she hadn’t expected.
Regina hadn’t sat around mourning their relationship. Regina is doing perfectly fine, flourishing and beloved, and Emma is beginning to wonder if she had ever meant as much to Regina as Regina had meant to her. “Oh,” she says aloud, and she stumbles back to her seat.
Jacinda looks chagrined. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “I shouldn’t have mentioned it. She definitely did talk about you, especially with Henry. She always seemed very fond. Maybe even sad. I know she missed you.” The phone rings, and Jacinda snatches it up, clearly relieved to have a distraction. “Sheriff’s station.” A pause, and then, incredulous, “ Really ?”
She hangs up the phone and looks up, an exasperated look on her face. “That was Storybrooke High School’s principal. An unkindness of ravens from the Land of Morbid Poetry–”
“How is that a place?” Emma demands, and Jacinda shakes her head.
“There’s a land of everything now,” she says. “Hell, I’m from the Land of Slightly Less Racist Fairytales, so I can’t talk–”
“Did you really get Regina to log it as that in the index of lands?” Emma asks, interested.
“It’s a process. I’m working on it.” She puts up a finger. “Anyway. Homicidal ravens terrorizing the students. They want us to take care of it.”
“Ry is there,” Emma says, frowning, and she grabs Jacinda’s shoulder and teleports them both to the school.
Jacinda ducks. “Bad idea!” she shouts over the screeching of hundreds of ravens. “No cover here without a car!”
Emma throws a wave of magic at the ravens, but they seem to absorb it– seem to grow, too, the flock like a black wave that blots out the sun. They dive and attack, scratching at a student’s face, and others run for the building. The ravens are smarter than your typical avian, though, and they stream toward the doors, heading off students who try to flee.
The door opens once– but it’s from the inside, and Jacinda says, “What idiot is going out to meet the ravens?”
“My idiot,” Emma says grimly. There is Ry, emerging from the building and waving a sword, his eyes determined as he swings it at a raven.
The ravens dodge his blows. Emma puts her head down and runs forward like a linebacker to the doors, pulling out her gun and standing breathlessly beside Ry.
He tosses her a look of disapproval. “You shouldn’t be here,” he says. “Hope doesn’t need a mother shredded to pieces–”
“Oh, please,” Emma says, outraged. “I’m not a princess anymore. This is my job . I saw you run out here.” She fires a few shots, and the ravens scatter, then return, relentless. They snatch students by the hair, leaving them screaming and running, and scratch at anyone they can reach.
Ry swings his sword, misses a raven and gets a faceful of feathers instead. “It was better than being in there. I think my literature teacher was about to fling herself out the window in ecstasy. Why do I need to go to high school again?”
“To make friends like a functional teenager,” Emma retorts, and she throws up a shield around them, a meager little thing that the ravens bounce off and then begin to absorb, too. They’re getting bigger, and one swoops down that has a larger wingspan than Emma does.
Ry slashes at that one and hits it. “Ha!” he says smugly, and Emma winces and aims again, shooting meaningless bullets at the sky. Jacinda is doing the same a few feet away, unrelenting, but they’re making very little headway. Emma Swan is losing to a bunch of birds , which is both ridiculous and ironic.
And then, at last–
A flash of orange, glittering through the sky like an enchanted fireball, and Regina emerges behind it like she’s been summoned. “I’m here!” she calls out. The ravens scatter, and Regina hurls another fireball their way. “Emma? Emma!”
“Right here,” Emma says, and Regina strides to stand beside her.
She is dressed in what looks like an old-fashioned glittery evening gown, molded to her body from neck to chest to ass to legs. “Don’t ask,” she says, and she pauses to look Ry up and down, solicitous and sharp-eyed in her worry. “I got the report of an incursion in Storybrooke near the high school. I ran out of my meeting.” She twists around to stare at Emma. “ Ravens ?”
“I’m not the one who attached Storybrooke to the Land of Fucking Stupid Villains,” Emma says, and Regina shoots her an unamused look. “But hey, it’s good to see you–”
The ravens dive, seizing on Regina’s distraction, and Regina swings around. “Together?” she says, and Emma feels an absolutely breathtaking surge of affection sweep through her, the certainty that yes , they did have something precious, even if it’s been tamped down for so long.
“Together,” Emma confirms, and she fires magic out as Regina releases fire, a red-hot mixture of deadly energy that sends the ravens shrieking and fleeing. Regina pulls her hands apart to widen their range and Emma pulses the magic, lets it come out in short little bursts that pop like fireworks in the sky.
The students whoop, their fear forgotten. Jacinda tosses a magic bean– they’ve got massive storehouses now, from the Land of Botany and Poor Choices– and the ravens hurtle into the corresponding portal, vanishing for good. And Regina says, “Emma,” and lays a hand over her cheek. “You’re hurt.”
“I am?” Emma doesn’t remember a raven slashing her, though she notices suddenly a burning pain right near where Regina is stroking her skin. Stroking it, her fingers running up and down the slash that must be there. “I mean,” she says, suddenly dizzy. “Yeah. Really stings. Ow.”
Ry looks unimpressed. “It’s barely a scratch.”
Emma shoots him a death glare. “Watch it. I’m an invalid .”
Regina’s eyes are intent on her cheek, and she worries her lip. “I should have come sooner,” she says, and Emma feels that comforting, slightly arousing sensation of Regina’s magic running through her, warming her and healing the spot where she’d been scratched. “I’m so sorry, Emma. Are you all right?”
Emma nods faintly. Ry says, “She’s fine .”
“She looks like she’s basically on death’s door,” says Jacinda, who is definitely just making up for earlier but Emma isn’t going to complain about that. “You should probably bring her back home.”
Regina eyes her like she isn’t sure if she’s being mocked, but she does teleport away with Emma, Emma rematerializing on the couch in Regina’s house. “Lie here,” Regina instructs her. “I have a first-aid kit…somewhere.” She disappears into her study, at which point Emma regains enough presence of mind to feel guilty.
“It’s really fine,” she calls to Regina.
“Not fine,” Regina calls back. “It could get infected. Stay put .” She reappears with a first aid kit, and she dabs bacitracin on the wound that she’d already healed, sitting on the couch right up next to Emma. “I got worried when I saw that Storybrooke had a breach,” she murmurs. “I know you’re in the thick of things– and I know you can handle yourself, but…”
“Hey,” Emma says, and she leans back against the couch, tugging Regina back to face her. It’s moments like these, rare enough that she can count them on one hand, that feel as though no time has passed, that they are still very much those two people who had been everything that Emma had believed that they were. “It’s good to see you.”
Regina smiles, tentative and soft. “You, too,” she says, laying a hand on Emma’s. “It’s been so hectic . I should probably get back to the Land of Endless Parties–”
“You should bring me to the Land of Endless Parties,” Emma says, her interest piqued. “I like parties.”
Regina gives her an incredulous look. “You hate parties. You like hiding away from parties with me and pretending all the other people aren’t there.”
Which is fair, given most of Emma’s partying experience. “Okay, fine. I don’t like parties. But I do like your dress,” she says, and she watches with satisfaction as a flush spreads across Regina’s face. “And endless parties sound…interesting.”
Regina winces. “They really mean endless parties,” she clarifies. “The people there aren’t able to leave. They dance, they eat, they flirt, and then they die. We’re working on a magical constitution that might give the people their freedom.” She sits up reluctantly. “I have to get back there.”
“They can give you an hour,” Emma wheedles. “They don’t know how bad the threat is. It could be monsters. Or ogres. Or exploding ravens. Something really terrible.” She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively. “I’ll owe you one,” she promises. “Next crisis, you get to call me out of Storybrooke and I’ll fight with you.”
Which actually sounds like a win/win for Emma, come to think of it.
Regina hesitates. “What are we going to do for an hour?”
Emma’s traitorous mind supplies several ideas. She says, “Ry likes to play Risk?”
Regina’s eyes glitter. “I would love to play Risk,” she says, and it occurs to Emma that, perhaps, arranging a game of Risk with a former evil tyrant is probably not a great idea.
“I mean it, by the way,” Emma says as she fights valiantly for control of Greenland, her final outpost in the Northern Hemisphere. They’ve moved to Emma’s house, where Hope is napping and the babysitter is working in the downstairs apartment with the baby monitor. They’re essentially alone, for the first time since Regina had returned. “Call me in the next time you need me. I’ll be there right away. Storybrooke is mostly quiet when it isn’t under attack. You’ll be distracting me from paperwork.”
Regina rolls the dice and knocks out two more of Emma’s troops. “Ha! Die,” she crows, smacking them off the board. In a less murderous tone, she says, “I couldn’t do that to you. You have a baby at home–”
“I got this ridiculous raise when you changed my job from sheriff of Storybrooke to sheriff of the United Realms,” Emma says. She’d actually thought that there’d been an accidental zero added on, and she’d called Regina’s office and spoken to Robin, who had assured her that Regina had done it intentionally. “I actually have a full-time babysitter now. Anastasia Tremaine? Jacinda recommended her. She’s been boarding in my basement and watching Hope during the day so she can do college at night. It’s totally fine if I have to run out unexpectedly.”
Regina still looks reluctant. Emma says, “Look. I know we’ve gone…a while since we last fought together. But we were good today, weren’t we?”
“We were phenomenal,” Regina says, and a little thrill shoots up Emma’s spine. “I’ve been…I’ve gotten very accustomed to fighting alone. To leading armies without any…any equals.” She looks wistful. “I do miss fighting together with you.” She rolls again and knocks out Emma’s last troops in Greenland. “Taste my wrath , you insufficient peon,” she says gleefully, and Emma watches her and feels nothing but overwhelming love for her.
“If I were you, I’d end my turn now and bolster the troops next turn,” she offers.
Regina snorts. “If you were me, I wouldn’t have four continents under my control. Indonesia,” she announces, moving her troops in, and Emma gamely picks up the defending dice again. “I don’t want to bother you,” Regina says in a much more sedate tone. “I know you’re busy.”
“I have a baby, Regina. I’m not managing several hundred realms in my free time while still making Tuesday morning breakfast with my granddaughter.” Emma casts her a glance, sees that Regina’s eyes are fixed on the board. “Sometimes I’m a little sleep-deprived. That’s about it.”
Regina’s eyes take on a faraway tint for a moment. “I remember those months with Henry,” she says. “I was in a haze half the time, but when I was awake enough to enjoy it…he was perfect.”
“He’s still perfect,” Emma says. “Both of him. Henry with his books and Ry and his dumb sword.” She can’t quite keep the beaming smile off her face. “Hope is…she’s pretty perfect, too. Happy and sweet and easy to take care of. I think she’s got an attitude , though.”
Regina shoots her a look. “She’s three months old.”
“Oh, you’ll see,” Emma says without thinking, and then, after a moment in which they are both lost in thought, “If you want to, I mean.”
Regina says, “I would very much love to meet your daughter, Emma.” Her smile is soft, the kind that has Emma weak-kneed with wonder, and it doesn’t leave her face as she captures all of Australia with a few well-placed rolls. “After I crush your army to the point that even your own family won’t recognize you.”
God , that’s hot. “Crush away,” Emma manages, and Regina wipes her out of her final outposts in Africa and wins the game with her eyes still fixed on Emma. It’s been an hour and a half, but Emma isn’t going to tell Regina that. “Hope should be waking up soon. Let me text Anastasia that I’m going to get her.” She climbs up the stairs, Regina behind her, and tiptoes down the hallway to the nursery.
The door is closed firmly, and Emma eases it open, flicking off the baby monitor and tiptoeing inside. Hope is already awake, staring with fascination at a black-and-white pattern that Lucy had put inside the crib, and she twists to see Emma.
She gurgles happily, and Emma says, “Hey, baby girl. Good sleep?” She pulls her out of the crib, swaying with her, and she brings her over to the changing table. “Don’t worry,” she says in a singsong voice. “I’ve had to deal with way worse poop today than yours. Have you ever seen a raven?” She keeps up the chatter as Regina moves silently next to her, gazing down at the baby. “Have you ever seen your brother try to stab a raven? Because that’s even funnier.”
Hope offers her a toothless smile. Regina sucks in an audible intake of breath. “I’ve got someone for you to meet,” Emma croons. “She’s actually a pretty big deal outside of Storybrooke. Rumor has it that she just conquered the world. And something about the United Realms, but we’re not big into politics out here.” She presses a raspberry kiss to Hope’s stomach and then pulls her stretchie back over her legs and zips them up. “Wanna say hi?”
Hope gurgles. Regina lifts her up into her arms, visibly awestruck, and Emma leans back and watches them. Hope looks content, and Regina, still in that stunning evening gown, is already glowing with love for Hope, that magical maternal instinct that she has that Emma’s always been a little bit obsessed with. She hums a little song, and Hope’s eyes close again, drifting off in Regina’s embrace.
And then, it’s all ruined. Something seems to glow white-hot near Regina’s thigh, and Regina says in a whisper, “Oh, damn . I have to get this.” She passes Hope to Emma and retrieves a mirror from a pocket that Emma can’t quite believe exists.
She flips the mirror open. “Rogers. What’s going on?”
Rogers sounds far too much like Killian for Emma to ever be comfortable around him, particularly when he speaks with that irritable urgency. “We’ve lost three of our diplomats to the party,” he says. “The leaders are threatening to pull out. I don’t care what’s going on in Storybrooke– we need you here.”
“Right.” Regina glances at the clock on the wall behind Emma and lets out a quiet curse. “It’s been…longer than I thought.”
Rogers says, “Are you in a nursery ?”
“There were evil ravens,” Emma says loudly. “Very threatening. They got everywhere.”
Rogers says, “With Emma Swan ?” There is something barbed in how he says her name, though Emma doesn’t think he holds any personal animus toward her. Maybe it’s only that Regina is with her, possibly playing hooky from her very important meeting.
Regina sighs. “I’ll be there soon,” she says, and she snaps the mirror shut. “I’m sorry,” she says. “It was…it was good to see you again. I wish I could stay for longer.”
“I get it,” Emma says, because she has to. What’s she supposed to do, make demands of the queen of the universe while Regina is trying to save an entire realm. “Maybe we can– hey, if you’re around with some free time, I’ll be here.” It sounds exactly as pathetic as Emma had been afraid it might sound. “I mean. Next big attack,” she says, pointing a finger at Regina. “Call me.”
“I will,” Regina promises, and she offers Emma a single regretful smile as she disappears, fading away to another realm in a wave of purple smoke.
And that’s the last time that Emma sees Regina for days.