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(i'm in love with an) uprealm girl

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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.

 

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.

Chapter Text

She could text Regina, she supposes. It’s what Jacinda does, and Emma watches with marked envy each time Jacinda laughs at her phone (“It’s Henry ,” Jacinda once says with a long-suffering sigh. “I do talk to other people”) and wonders if she should try it. 

 

But Regina isn’t texting her , and she hates to look desperate. It’s still impersonal, and aside from that single afternoon together, they haven’t hung out at all. Emma sees Regina once– at Granny’s one morning, chatting with Lucy with their heads tight together– and she doesn’t have the nerve to interrupt them. Instead, she waves vaguely and smiles and ducks out before Regina can respond.

 

She calls her once. Calling is nice and neutral, friendly without being pushy. Regina picks up on the second ring, which is encouraging and makes Emma feel warm and lighthearted enough that she bounces Hope a bit as she listens to Regina saying, “Emma?” 

 

She’s hard to hear. There’s a shouting argument somewhere in the background, a dozen voices jabbering in languages Emma’s never heard before, and Emma says, “Bad time?” 

 

“Of course not,” Regina says immediately. “It’s just the Land of Babel. They’re always like this.” Someone is calling her name, and she says something irritable in a language Emma’s never heard before. Then, in English, “Zazu, I’m just taking a call.” 

 

Someone on the other end says in a tinny voice, “Well, then, I suppose this realm can wait for you to gab on the phone a while.” 

 

Regina sounds even more annoyed. “Just give me a minute.” She returns to Emma. “How are you? Is everything all right?” 

 

“It’s fine,” Emma says hastily. “I just wanted to…to check in. See how you’re doing?” 

 

“Oh.” Regina sounds suddenly distracted. “I’m fine. I’m just…you know. Trying to stop this world from self-immolating before my advisor does so instead. The usual,” she says wryly.

 

“Sounds busy,” Emma says, and Regina is called away again, Zazu’s voice amidst others Emma can’t understand. 

 

Regina snaps something quick and then returns to the phone, apologetic. “Emma, I’m sorry, but–”

 

This call had been a big ol’ embarrassing mistake. “You have to go,” Emma says, resigned.

 

“It’s just that someone just set the tower on fire. You’re sure everything’s okay?” Regina asks abruptly, and Emma wonders for a moment if Regina would stay on the phone if she’d say that it isn’t, that she needs help now. If Regina would leave that tower to the people of the realm to clean up if there had just been a reason.

 

“Peachy,” Emma says wanly, and the connection breaks.

 

It’s just that Regina is so needed now, and Emma is muddling through simple town management while Regina is off being everything to a billion other people out there. Regina is drowning in friends and allies and subjects now, and she just doesn’t have time for someone who had once meant something to her. 

 

Twelve years. Plenty of time to move on.

 

She breaks her own rules that night and sleeps with Hope in her arms, tucked against her and snoring ever so slightly against her skin. It’s a quiet comfort, and she wakes up in the morning and fries omelets for Ry and Anastasia and herself and tries not to think too hard about it.

 

By the next week, that embarrassed longing is a little less present in her mind, and she’s gone full hours without thinking about Regina when a man who looks vaguely familiar pokes his head into the station. “Jacinda,” he says, and Jacinda looks up from her paperwork. 

 

“Remy!” She smiles at him. “Where’ve you been?” 

 

“Working on the restaurant,” he says, jabbing a thumb out toward the far side of Main Street. That’s how Emma knows him. She’d been called to the restaurant once a couple of weeks ago when there had been some problem with the locks. Sabine had been there, too, and she’d promised Emma a free meal when they would open. “Grand opening is next week. You heard?”

 

Jacinda arches her eyebrows at him. “No, I have no idea what’s happening in my best friend’s life,” she says.

 

Remy looks pleased. “I’ve always thought that we were close–” 

 

Jacinda smacks his arm. “Not you.” Remy snorts, and Jacinda leans back in her seat. Emma eyes them and busies herself with paperwork, that uncomfortable sense of non-belonging washing over her. “You came all this way to invite me to the grand opening?” 

 

Remy shakes his head. “Nah,” he says. “Sabine had an idea. You know how Roni’s supposed to be getting back here tomorrow night? We figured we could do a mini opening just for the family. Hyperion Heights people, you know. If Roni’s around–”

 

“She says she’ll be around, but you know how easily she gets pulled away,” Jacinda says, shaking her head. “She needs a break.”

 

Wait. Are they talking about Regina ? Emma stops surreptitiously eavesdropping and instead watches them with laser focus, drinking in every word she hears. Remy says, “She won’t miss the opening if Henry and Lucy ask her to come.” 

 

Definitely Regina. “Regina’s going to be back here tomorrow night?” Emma blurts out, all pretense of being not-desperate gone. 

 

Remy looks cagey. “Uh,” he says. “Listen, this is really just a get-together for close friends–”

 

Emma abruptly understands Regina’s perpetual urge to set things on fire. Jacinda must see the look in her eyes, because she says hastily, “Remy, Emma is Henry’s other mother. Of course she’s invited.” 

 

Remy blinks. “Other mother?” he repeats. “Henry’s got two moms?” He shrugs that off, as accustomed to unexpected familial revelations as everyone else in this realm, and nudges Jacinda slyly. “Well, wouldn’t want to piss off your mother-in-law,” he says, and he’s cackling to himself as he wanders out of the station.

 

“Thanks,” Emma mutters, feeling very humiliated at the entire exchange. “I mean, it’s fine. I was just asking about it. I didn’t need an invite–”  

 

“Emma,” Jacinda says, and she’s smiling a gentle smile at her. How is it that Emma manages to feel parented by her own daughter-in-law sometimes? “Come to the party tomorrow night. Bring Ry, too. Regina would love to see you both.”

 

So maybe, since the raven attack, Jacinda has decided that Regina and Emma might have actually been friends. Emma is relieved, if still a little stymied at the possibility that Regina hadn’t contacted her over twelve years. It makes no sense. How could they have grown so apart?

 

In several moments of insecurity over the next day, she wonders if Regina would want to see her at all. But Ry wants to come along, and Emma hates to disappoint him. She leaves Hope in Anastasia’s arms with a kiss to the top of the baby’s head and wears a nice dress because this is a classy restaurant, according to Henry, and she ducks into the restaurant with Ry’s hand tight in hers.

 

“It’s going to be fine,” Ry mutters in her ear. “These are some of the most relaxed people I’ve ever seen.”

 

“You spent most of your life in military training,” Emma retorts, her eyes already flickering around the room. There are a number of familiar faces here. Sabine, leaning against the door to the kitchen and chatting with Rogers, who still makes Emma shudder. Those two girls from Regina’s house, one of whom Emma has since learned is Zelena’s daughter, Robin. A few others she’s seen and helped around town. 

 

But most of them are strangers, and Emma feels a little sick as she maneuvers through the room, out of her depth and in a place where she doesn’t belong. There are a few polite hellos, but Ry detaches from her to talk to Rogers, whom she does not want to speak to at all, and Emma is on her own. 

 

She catches a glimpse of Henry across the restaurant, chatting with Robin and her girlfriend– fiancée?– and she makes her way toward him. “Hi,” she says breathlessly, squeezing in next to Jacinda. “I really don’t know anyone here.” 

 

“You know me,” Robin says brightly. “I mean, not yet, but you will.” 

 

Henry slides an arm around Emma’s shoulders. “It’s cool, Ma. Mom should be here soon, and she’ll be so happy to see you. She mentioned the other day that you two have barely seen each other lately.”

 

Emma perks up at that. “She brought that up?” 

 

Henry shrugs. “I might’ve asked her. I was wondering if you two were…well, it’s weird. I guess she was friendly with a lot of people in Hyperion Heights, but she never met someone she connected with like you.” 

 

Jacinda smacks his arm. “I thought you said that your mother didn’t make friends,” she says reprovingly. “You always made her sound like some kind of loner in Storybrooke.” 

 

“Not a loner ,” Henry protests. “I didn’t think of Ma as Mom’s friend . They were…different.” He laughs suddenly, looking down at Emma. “When I was a kid, I used to think that you and Mom would fall in love someday. Before you got married, obviously. I didn’t really get how intense women relationships could be before I married my wife and met her other half.” He nods to where Sabine is balancing a massive tray of hors d'oeuvres and passing them to Remy to put on a table. Emma’s face, she thinks, has gone very pale. All her blood must be concentrated in her heart, because she can hear it pounding in her ears.

 

“Right,” Robin says, eyeing Emma. “Like Alice and me.” 

 

“Exactly,” Henry says, nodding. “Like Alice and you– wait–”

 

He’s distracted abruptly by a commotion at the door, and a familiar voice drifting across the restaurant. “–quite the production here,” Regina is saying, and people flock to her. Henry moves through the crowd, clutching Lucy’s hand, and Jacinda wanders off toward the kitchen to find Sabine.

 

Robin and Emma are left standing awkwardly together. “You’re not gonna go after Aunt Regina?” Robin says, her eyebrows raised. “I thought you came here for her.” 

 

Emma waves a hand, attempting for airiness. “I’ll wait until everyone else has said hi. No big deal.” They fall into another awkward silence, and Emma ventures, “So, you knew me in the future?” 

 

“Yeah. Timeline’s out of sync,” Robin says dismissively. “We diverged when I was, like, six, right? There’s another Robin and another Mom out there, I guess. Maybe they popped out of existence when we came back here. But I lived here another ten years after that. Then I popped over to the other Enchanted Forest for a couple of years.”

 

Emma blinks at her. Ten years. Robin had seen her future, without the altered possibilities that had come when Regina had returned to Storybrooke. “I guess I didn’t get killed by some invading monsters or anything along the way.”

 

Robin shakes her head. “There wasn’t too much of that. Just a regular town of boring people.” She laughs. “I stole your car once when I was fifteen and tried to drive out of town. You caught me about eight minutes in. Then we talked for a while. It was good.”

 

“We were close?” Emma ventures. She can imagine it in this girl, a little caustic and careless, who would steal the Bug and live to tell the tale.

 

Robin nods. “After that, yeah. I hadn’t known before that that there was anyone in the town who wanted out. When you got me the magic bean, I thought you might come with me. But you said that you had to stay. For Hope, I guess.” 

 

For Hope, not for Killian. Emma wonders, but she doesn’t have the courage to ask. Instead, Robin nods to someone behind her and Emma turns to find herself face-to-face with Regina.

 

Regina looks tired, but she’s dressed to the nines and glowing, and Emma is temporarily breathless. “Emma,” Regina murmurs, and she moves forward to hug Emma briefly.

 

Emma breathes in the scent of Regina and is shaky when Regina pulls away. “Hey,” she says, smiling stupidly. “How have you been?” 

 

Regina rolls her eyes in sheer, familiar exasperation. “The usual,” she says. “Good to be here. Good to see you.” They’ve pulled apart, but Regina’s hands have lingered where they’d fallen, against the skin of Emma’s palms. “I hope that everything was all right the other day?”

 

Emma burns with embarrassment. “Yeah,” she says. “It was nothing. I just…” She casts around for another explanation and comes up blank. “I guess I missed you,” she says truthfully.

 

Regina’s eyebrows lift for an instant, then drop. “Oh,” she says, and volunteers nothing more.

 

Emma feels as though the silence between them is expanding, threatening to drown them both within it. “I mean, it’s been twelve years for you so I guess you got used to not seeing me every day,” she says hastily. “But it hasn’t been that long for me. I’m still used to us…to us doing lunches together and those late dinners and visiting each other at the station and Town Hall…” Her voice trails off, and she can hear it getting thick and hoarse. There is too much she longs for, too much she can never have again, and she is afraid to bare too much of herself to this long-gone Regina.

 

Regina, who smiles distantly and says, almost compassionately, “Oh, I don’t think that’s true.” For a moment, Emma thinks that she’s talking about missing Emma, that they’re on the same wavelength, and then she says, “We were already drifting apart before I left, remember? Very few lunches. Almost no dinners. You had your husband and a baby on the way.” She tilts her head, her face smooth and unreadable. “You had a lot going on. I suppose some things just fall to the wayside.”

 

Emma stares at her, stricken. “We didn’t–” But the incidents are coming back to her. Breakfast with Regina skipped because of enduring morning sickness that she couldn’t shake for months. Killian getting grouchy whenever Emma would be out– we’re married, we should spend our evenings together , as though he hadn’t been working with her all day. Once he’d gotten more active at the station, he’d been annoyed when she’d go out for lunch without him, and Regina had been so stiff and cold the first time that Emma had brought Killian along that she’d just…stopped.

 

Stopped, their relationship stalled while Emma had done her best to settle into the role of future mother in a nuclear family unlike what she’d had with Henry and Regina. She knows now that Killian had always seen Regina as a threat. Back then, she had just thought that he’d been throwing himself into their little family with a frustrating degree of possessiveness. 

 

And she’d wondered, even then, if this all might have been easier if she’d been somehow doing it again with Regina. 

 

Regina is watching her now, that same distance in her eyes, and Emma wonders with a lump in her throat what might have been. What she’d lost, those last few months, when they’d begun to fall apart and she hadn’t noticed. “I didn’t realize,” she says at last, hardly loud enough to be heard in the clamor of the restaurant.

 

Regina’s eyes clear a little. “I hear pregnancy brain is a killer,” she says, her voice pleasant again. “Come here. I’ll mix you a drink.” 

 

“Mix me a drink?” Emma echoes, and she watches with bemusement as Regina leads her to the restaurant bar and then ducks around it. Sabine laughs and nods her through, and Emma leans on the counter, befuddled. The most mixing of drinks that she’s ever seen Regina do before is adding alcohol to her cider. But Regina’s hands move in a blur, selecting little cups and ingredients and stirring a drink that looks and tastes perfect. 

 

Emma takes a gulp of it and then stares at Regina in disbelief. “You learned professional bartending at the other Enchanted Forest?” 

 

Regina laughs. “Hyperion Heights,” she says. “I was cursed. You wouldn’t have recognized me. The band tshirts and the curly hair and the absolute casualness of it all–” She shakes her head. “I had a bar there.” 

 

“You had a bar ,” Emma says, spellbound. “You were a hot bartender. Oh, my god. This is, like, ten of my favorite dreams in one–” She might be flirting a little, but Regina is smirking at her like she doesn’t mind at all. “Do another drink.” 

 

“I can do them all,” Regina says, her voice throaty, and Emma feels a thrill down her spine. Regina looks at her with dancing eyes, and she mixes another drink, this one a sharp vodka with a bite to it, her gaze still locked with Emma’s. “My bar was good .” 

 

Emma kicks back the whole drink, feels the buzz that shudders through her body and welcomes it. “This I’ve got to see,” she says, bolder than she’d meant to be.

 

Regina winces and looks almost wistful. “I haven’t had the time to go back to Hyperion Heights since the worlds were joined. Maybe if it comes under attack sometime,” she says hopefully, and that ticks something in Emma’s lightly buzzed mind. 

 

Emma points a finger at her. “You’d better call me for that. I want to see you in your element as hot bartender.” Regina, she imagines, would have had plenty of regulars who’d come just to see her, to flirt at the bar before wandering off. She wonders if Regina has ever mixed a drink like she’d mixed the last one, her eyes on her customer with that magnetic energy rippling between them.

 

The grief and the jealousy that tear through her at that are enough that she staggers a step back, and Regina says, “Deal.” She opens her mouth to say something else, but she’s interrupted by a loud voice.

 

“Hey! Roni’s mixing drinks!” someone calls, and their brief moment of privacy is interrupted. Regina looks briefly unhappy before a polished smile replaces it, and Emma is swept away, back into the crowd, right next to Robin again.

 

“Hello again,” Emma says weakly.

 

“Again?” Robin echoes. “I’ve been standing right next to you this whole time. You really don’t notice anything when Aunt Regina’s around, do you?”

 

Emma peers at her, unsure if she might be joking. “What’s that supposed to mean?” 

 

Robin shrugs. “Nothing you don’t want it to,” she drawls, patting Emma on the back. “We’re on the same side here. We’re like…lesbian kin. I feel very connected to you, and not just because you were basically my second coolest aunt.” 

 

In another universe. Emma contemplates that, and she finally musters up the courage to ask the question that’s been eating away at her. “In the future…the one that doesn’t happen…was I still married to Killian?”

 

“Oh, yeah,” Robin says, and Emma’s stomach drops. Robin makes a face. “That was the blandest marriage ever. You fought a lot, I guess, but not even in that way that you fight when you just have a lot of passion between you. You were both always more fun when you weren’t around each other. I kind of got the impression that you stayed together because of Hope.” She wrinkles her nose. “But I shouldn’t talk about alternate futures. Now I know why, right? Good for you, fighting that heteronormativity!” She pumps her arm, then grows businesslike. “Let’s talk about how we’re going to attack Hyperion Heights.”

 

“What?” Emma says, taken aback. Is Robin suggesting that Emma fake an attack on…just so Regina will… “No!”

 

“Yes!” Robin says, leaning forward. “She’s craving this. She needs this. And she needs a break.”

 

Emma scoffs. “So give her a spa weekend.”

 

Robin wiggles her eyebrows. “With you?”

 

“She doesn’t want a spa weekend with me,” Emma says, and she feels a surge of hopelessness, of the reminder that comes with just a bit of distance from Regina. ing When they’re together, it’s easy to fall back into the old friendship and to feel as though nothing has changed. But once they’re apart again, insecurity rears its insidious head. “She’s gone twelve years without me just fine.” 

 

“Aside from the letters,” Robin points out, and Emma blinks at her.

 

“Letters?” 

 

Robin shrugs. “I had a tunnel back and forth between worlds,” she says. “At the change of the solstice and equinox, at the exact place I’d left, I was able to travel back for an hour or two. I used to bring you these packages of letters to each other. Really sappy ones, too.” Her eyes dance. “The kind that are addressed, like, my dear Emma at the start and are so thick that there’s gotta be a dozen letters in there. Mom thought it was nauseating. I thought it was pretty cute. Kind of figured there was something unrequited going on there.”

 

Emma pauses, bewildered. “We wrote letters to each other,” she repeats, choosing not to dwell on Robin’s claims of unrequited . “We did talk.” 

 

“Talk might be a stretch. I think you spent all your energy on those letters.” She laughs. “Aunt Regina never talked about what was in them, just hid them away and read them in private. But I figure she wouldn’t say no to an outing with you. Something cute and quick that could be a secret break from being queen, like fighting trolls in Hyperion Heights, right? You know any trolls?” 

 

Emma decides, a little belated, that Robin is a wise and thoughtful person whom she likes very much. “I don’t know any trolls,” she says, and then, slowly, “I do know a dragon.”

 


 

Lily opens her door with a raised eyebrow and a distracting number of shirt buttons unbuttoned. “Emma Swan,” she drawls. “I heard about the divorce. Figured it was only a matter of time before you showed up here.”

 

“Yeah,” Emma says, relieved that Lily gets it. “I thought you might be able to help me with Regina.” 

 

Lily hastily buttons two buttons. “Sure,” she says. “What are we doing to Her Majesty today?”

 

She’s a lot more cheerful when she hears exactly what Emma has planned, though mildly concerned about the possibility of being set on fire. “You’re a dragon,” Emma says, exasperated. “Who cares if you get set on fire? Aren’t you fireproof?” 

 

“I don’t know what’s in that nasty magical fire,” Lily says, wrinkling her nose. “I don’t want to get killed just to be your wingman–”

 

“Not a wingman,” Emma corrects her. “This is about giving Regina a break.” 

 

“This is about scoring a date with the lady you’ve had the hots for for the past decade,” Lily says scornfully, and Emma absolutely can’t deny any of that. But Lily shrugs, and she says, “Well, fine. It’ll beat you moping. Or coming around here for some warm comfort– I mean, if you’re thinking about that,” she says, offering Emma a sideways look, and Emma holds up her hands and takes a step back.

 

Next on the agenda is to pick a day for the official attack of Hyperion Heights, which is easier than she thinks. Robin arrives at the station the next morning with a laptop, and she announces, “I stole this from Aunt Regina’s annoying administrator. Here’s her schedule for the week. I figure there are a few possibilities. You don’t want to get in the way of the peace talks between the Land of Combustion and the Land of Eternal Vodka, but this diplomatic visit to the Land of Missing Socks? Please.” 

 

Jacinda eyes them warily. “Do I want to know?” 

 

Emma nudges Robin to keep it quiet. Robin says, “We’re picking a day to orchestrate an attack on Hyperion Heights so Emma can shoot her shot at Roni’s.” 

 

Jacinda blinks. “Not Thursday,” she says. “We have a meeting with the new applicants for deputy then.”

 

“Thursday sounds good, actually,” Emma says hopefully. She doesn’t want to sift through new applicants for an opening they don’t really need, and this seems like the ideal way to skip it–

 

“Wednesday,” Robin says cheerfully. “You can interrupt attempt number seven to set up a democracy in the Land of Particularly Stubborn Royals.” Emma peers at the laptop dubiously. Robin concedes, “Okay, they just call themselves the Magical Forest, but my name is better.” 

 

And so it’s settled. Emma makes the arrangements with Lily, and she settles down for breakfast on Wednesday morning with her phone in hand, waiting for a call from a woman who might decide that she doesn’t need Emma at all for this fight. “She’ll call,” Ry says, as though she’s confided with him on any of this. He shrugs at her stare. “It’s my business to know what’s going on in the land where I live,” he says. “I might not rule here, but I’m still ready for combat.” 

 

Emma squints at him. “Don’t you have an econ paper to finish writing?” 

 

Ry scowls. “I used to fight ogres threatening to attack my kingdom. Now I’m supposed to type essays about the meaninglessness of money?”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Emma says, mussing his hair. “Think about how your brother felt when he got back from hell and had to immediately go to second period math. School waits for no man.” 

 

Ry groans. “You’re the worst. She’s the worst,” he tells Hope, who smacks him with a spoon and then does it again joyfully. “Mom wouldn’t make me go to school if she were here.” He says it with a certain degree of slyness, the words of a boy who has never experienced Emma and Regina as anything other than a united front. “Henry says that you’re the strict one and Mom’s a softie.” 

 

“Ask Henry sometime who used to help him skip class when he was ten,” Emma says, unruffled. Which had maybe not been her best move, but hey– it had gotten them to this point, somehow, so she can’t quite regret it. Maybe some of the ways that she’d undermined Regina early on. They’d been mortal enemies, but it hadn’t excused the way she’d become a harmful interloper in Regina and Henry’s relationship. 

 

In the years that had followed, Regina had become more and more permissive when it had come to Henry, treating him with absolute faith and trust. Emma, who loves Henry with all her heart and soul, had been a little too dubious to give a teenaged boy with a tendency to, on occasion, make stupid decisions like destroy magic or trust strangers or make impassioned speeches in the middle of New York City the leeway that Regina had offered him.

 

She’d kind of liked being the strict parent. Structure is something that she’d never had as a child and that Regina had had too much of, and they’d found a balance together.

 

There’s a strange pit in her stomach when she contemplates raising Hope on her own. She doesn’t like to think too hard about it– she has a support system now and she’s got Anastasia for at least a couple of years until her babysitter finishes school, and that should be enough– but it comes to her sometimes how alone she is in this endeavor. There is no second parent to confide in, no one who is going to love Hope the way that she does. No one to– and this is a secret dream, an impossible one– climb into bed next to at night to whisper about the little things that have happened in Hope’s day, to laugh with her and whisper, We have the best kid .

 

Is it too much to wish for a partner?

 

She stares at her phone again, and Ry passes her the milk with nothing but sympathy on his face. When Anastasia comes upstairs a few minutes later, bleary-eyed but smiling, it takes everything in Emma’s power to hand Hope over to her and drag her feet out the door.

 

“She’ll call,” Ry says as Emma drops him off at school. He opens the car door and then hesitates. “Look. I don’t know what Mom’s thinking these days, really– I haven’t gotten to spend much time with her since we first stitched together the realms– but I do know that she was looking forward to seeing you then. And nervous about it. You two miss each other. She’s going to want to find a reason to spend time with you.” 

 

“Maybe,” Emma says, her voice suspiciously hoarse, and she manages a wan smile. “See you later, Ry.” 

 

“See you, Ma.” The Ma had stung when Henry had first started doing it– when Ry had followed suit, soon after he’d gotten here– but now it feels more and more like her. Ma , Emma but not quite. Mom and Ma . Simple. Whole.

 

She is just one half of that whole, checking her phone as though she’d have missed a call in the past five seconds.

 

But Regina doesn’t call. Emma spends the day trying not to glance at her phone obsessively, chasing cats in trees and breaking up battles between visiting knights and ninja at the beach (Storybrooke has become the focal vacation point for both, for no discernible reason), and even notices the alarm bulletin pop up on the radar in Hyperion Heights. Nothing.

 

She turns the phone over, unwilling to spend the day staring at an empty screen, and then she still spends the next hour jumping every time it buzzes. No phone call. No ringing through the station, a clarion call to Regina’s side. Nothing at all.

 

“Your friend’s putting up a good fight,” Jacinda observes. She’s got a page open– a camera mounted in Hyperion Heights, which displays the entire air battle as it unfolds. Emma can’t see Regina, but she sees the flashes of fire hurled to the sky, Lily whacking them away with her tail. Lily has brought a dozen other dragons with her, and they all look unharmed, the magic bouncing right off of them. 

 

“I hope she smacks Regina on the head,” Emma says bitterly, staring at the screen with such intensity that she accidentally trips when she takes a step forward and falls over. Why had she tried this? Why had Robin told everyone? Now, she looks like an idiot, and she has nothing to show for it.

 

She crashes to the ground in a miserable heap, and Jacinda pops up over her, holding up Emma’s phone. “Regina texted you half an hour ago. How’d you miss that?” 

 

So apparently Regina has decided that they’re casual enough for texting. Emma seizes the phone and hurtles out to the closest portal.

 

She emerges in the middle of chaos. 

 

In the footage on Jacinda’s computer, the dragons had looked like bad CGI– a common enough phenomenon in the United Realms, where the magical and unnatural tends to look so unrealistic that it borders on absurd. In person, they’re huge , diving down and breathing literal waves of smoke and fire at the city. Emma gapes up at them for a moment, and then zeroes in on the spot on the ground where they’re circling, bolts of magic flying up at them from it.

 

She runs, magic carrying her footsteps so she’s nearly flying, and she lands firmly exactly where she wants to be: her back to Regina’s, throwing up her own magic to join with Regina’s. Together, their magic seems to mushroom, forming a protective shield over Hyperion Heights. 

 

“Nice of you to finally show up,” Regina says breathlessly. “I’ve been on my own for hours .” 

 

“First of all,” Emma says, pulling out her sword and eyeing the closest dragon. It veers away from her, wary of the sword like it hasn’t been of the magic. “It’s been a half hour.”

 

“Felt like hours,” Regina mutters, exhaustion in her voice. 

 

Second of all , I missed the text. I didn’t realize we were texting ,” Emma says, slashing her sword halfheartedly at Lily. Lily exhales what might have been a mocking laugh in person and is instead a wave of smoke that sends them both stumbling back, against a wall with only their hands and magic to defend them. 

 

Regina eyes Emma instead of protecting herself from the next attack, and Emma has to perform a little bit of embarrassingly fancy footwork to ward Lily off. “Is there a data charge out of realm?” Regina asks, ignoring Emma’s awkward dance altogether.

 

Oh, it’s about to get much more awkward. “No,” Emma says, firing off a little bit of magic at the dragons. It doesn’t seem to do much to them, but it’s easier than trying to fight with a sword while she’s having a conversation. “I don’t know. I just…I kind of figured that we weren’t close enough to casually text each other. I thought you’d call.”

 

Regina blinks at her. “By my calculations, sometime around when you sacrificed your soul to the darkness for me, we must have qualified as close ,” she says, and there’s an edge to her voice. Maybe it’s irritation with this creeping insecurity that seems to envelop Emma when she considers exactly how long they’ve spent apart. Maybe it’s hurt.

 

“It’s been a while!” Emma points out helplessly. “Maybe things changed!” 

 

Above them, Lily has run out of patience. She dives down with a slew of dragons, and the conversation is paused. Regina builds something large and roiling, a sphere of magic that drips poison, and Emma charges forward as she works on it, instinctively aware that Regina will want her to distract the dragons. She waves her sword violently and captures their attention, slashes at dragons and manages to draw blood from one. 

 

The others swarm like sharks, drawn to the blood trickling out of the first. Only Lily rears back, alarmed. It’s Emma’s first hint that these dragons aren’t sentient people like Lily, just magical beasts, and she dodges them as Regina hurls her sphere at them all at once.

 

The force of the blow is blinding, sends the dragons spinning away into a shining portal and Emma flying backwards through the air. She nearly smashes into a wall when there is another surge of magic, this one warm and embracing like the heat of a fire, and it pulls her down, gently.

 

She lands in Regina’s arms, sliding nearly to the ground before Regina catches her. “Emma,” Regina begins calmly, as though the break in the conversation had never happened. Out of the corner of her eye, Emma sees Lily snort with disgust and swoop away into the portal before it disappears. Regina says, enunciating every word, “It is to my great displeasure that I must inform you that I still feel exactly the same about you as I did on the day I left Storybrooke. Please text me stupid memes again.” 

 

Regina is still holding her, one arm supporting Emma’s shoulders and the other at her waist. Emma’s feet are touching the ground, but she still feels rather shaky. She flashes a smile at Regina, light and playful, and says, “That’s so sweet. You really know how to sweep a girl off her feet.” 

 

Regina smirks at her, and every uncertainty of Emma’s is wiped away in an instant. There is something about the light dancing in Regina’s eyes when she talks to Emma that makes Emma feel as though she is exactly where she belongs. “Oh, just wait. I promised you a drink, didn’t I?”

 


 

Regina’s hands are fascinating . Emma has always thought so. Before Regina had left, she had committed to teaching Emma how to mix potions for a few months. Emma might have figured out then that she was a lesbian, if only because she hadn’t learned a thing about potions but had been absolutely transfixed by the movements of Regina’s hands as she’d shaken vials and poured in little alternating bits of ingredients, only pausing to stick a finger into the potion, sniff it, and then continue.

 

She does something very similar when she mixes drinks, except that she licks her finger more than once when she’s mixing her own and doesn’t stick her finger in Emma’s at all. Which is very polite and probably more hygienic, even if Emma is gripped with the wild desire to lick off Regina’s finger for her. “Here,” Regina says, pushing her glass forward. “Taste this.” 

 

Emma squints at the drink, which is fizzy and smells faintly of lime. “What is it?”

 

“We’ll call it the Emma,” Regina says, her eyes intent on her, and Emma downs it. It’s sweet and a little tangy, and it burns like vodka when she swallows it.

 

Emma looks up at Regina’s expectant face. “I could get very, very drunk on this,” she says. 

 

“As could I,” Regina murmurs, and she drinks her own Emma with slow and methodical movements, tilting her head back and letting her throat move as she swallows. Emma watches her with naked longing, her chest on fire with every motion.

 

Is it perverse to want to be a drink? 

 

She clears her throat. “So how’d you wind up as a bartender?” she says at last.

 

Regina shrugs. “Curse,” she says simply. “I didn’t cast the curse. I did set it off, though. Henry was going to die without it. But the curse puts people in specific roles when it works well, and this was…” She motions at the bar around her. It’s clean and dim, with brick walls and light that filters in to give it a smoky haze. “I don’t know. Roni was different than anyone I’ve ever been. A free spirit, I suppose, but…maternal. I wanted to take care of every wayward soul who wound up in this bar.” She laughs. “And… god , the tattoo I had to get removed. The piercings–” 

 

Emma leans forward. Regina pushes another drink to her, and she drinks it in three quick gulps. “Tell me everything,” Emma demands.

 

“I did keep the navel piercing,” Regina admits. “Just one last remnant of Roni to remember.” Unexpectedly, she tugs her shirt up, and Emma is treated to a breathtaking glimpse of smooth skin, a glimmering silver stone at the center of it. Oh, fuck , she wants to lick it.

 

She’s kind of consciously known that she’s in love with Regina for a while now, and she’s known that she’s attracted to Regina for longer than that. Regina is gorgeous and funny and mean in all the best ways, and Emma has been struck speechless by her before. This new urge, though, feels far more feral, like the blinding desire to back Regina onto this counter and kiss a trail down her belly, to attack her lips and make her forget everything as quickly as a curse. 

 

Maybe it’s just the vodka talking. Maybe it’s how warm this bar has gotten. She says, her voice hoarse, “Why did the curse put you here ?” 

 

Regina contemplates the answer, her lips pursing in a way that shouldn’t be as inviting as it is. “I suppose this is where the curse thought my place would be. Not as a queen.” She traces a finger around the rim of her glass. “No one in the other realm knew me as a queen. They were aware of my past, of course, but it was all rather theoretical for them. I was occasionally a leader in our little group, but more often, I was a mentor. Or a caretaker.” She smiles, her eyes sad. “I miss it sometimes,” she says. “I’d never complain about my role now– it’s what I’ve always wanted, to be a queen whom people like and respect, who was chosen by the people…” Her voice trails off, her eyes on her glass, and Emma’s heart aches for her. 

 

“You’re allowed to complain,” she says. “Your job sucks . It’s a great honor,” she says hastily, afraid to downplay what Regina’s election had meant. “Doesn’t make it any less shitty, though.” 

 

Regina gazes at her, silent, and Emma says, “And listen. I’m kind of bummed I never got to see you in your element here, but you were never just a queen or a mayor to me. To us,” she says hastily. “You were also a mentor and a caretaker and a mother and all those things when you were in Storybrooke. It’s all a part of you.”

 

Regina reaches across the bar to take Emma’s empty glass, and their fingers touch and linger there. Emma wonders– Regina is so tactile sometimes, is the kind of woman who touches without thought, so what she might mean by it is nothing or– and then, Regina says, “While we’re keeping score, I think you are many of those things to me as well.” 

 

A shiver of longing wafts through Emma. “Think I might have been cursed to be your co-bartender here?” she asks.

 

Regina laughs. “That was Zelena,” she says. “No, I think you’d have been in law enforcement with Jacinda. And you’d come by here at night for drinks and keep me company until closing.” 

 

“You don’t know,” Emma says lightly. “Sometimes these curses do funny things. Maybe we’d have hated each other.” 

 

Regina raises her eyebrows. “And you think you wouldn’t have been here every night to bicker?” 

 

“I do love bickering with you,” Emma concedes, grinning. “I’d be a thorn in Roni’s side.” 

 

“Probably the reason I’d wake up in the morning,” Regina says ruefully. “Nothing gives me purpose in life like petty squabbling. Especially with you.” 

 

Emma thinks, suddenly, about living for twelve years without Regina around. It feels empty and cold, like nothing worth enduring. Whatever had been in those letters must have been enough to sustain her, year after year, and she glances at the bar again and wonders if Regina still has one or two of them tucked away, letters that might reveal answers to every question that Emma has. 

 

She doesn’t ask. Some of the answers fill her with as much dread as Robin’s revelation that she’d stayed married to Killian in the other timeline. Instead, she says, “Well, I’m always good for a petty squabble. Or a full-on battle. Preferably against other people.” 

 

Regina laughs. “I would hope,” she says, and then, a little abashed, “This is terrible to admit, but I’m glad that Hyperion Heights was attacked today. This was so much more enjoyable than the diplomatic quagmire I’d been scheduled for today. And there was minimal damage,” she adds hastily. “No casualties.” 

 

“And Emmas,” Emma says, clinking her glass against Regina’s. “Both of them.” 

 

“One more delicious than the other,” Regina says, and she bites her bottom lip and then releases it, and Emma is gripped with the wild fiction that Regina had meant something else entirely by that. 

 

Emma clears her throat, which is suddenly very clogged. “You should call me more often when there’s a crisis,” she says. “That’s what you’re paying me the big sheriffing bucks for, right?” 


Regina smiles at her, and Emma is pretty sure that she needs to do this again, if only to earn that smile another time. “Right,” Regina says, and when her phone rings insistently with a call from someone named Zazu , a number that she has to pick up that will summon her away again, she does it with marked reluctance.

Chapter Text

It should be worrying, how easy this new routine becomes. Emma calls in favors. A lot of them, from people who ask disturbingly few questions. When Emma asks Ruby to orchestrate a crisis in Oz, Ruby just shrugs and says, “Something bad enough to get Regina here?” And then there are abruptly werewolves invading Oz and terrorizing the Munchkins, and Regina gives Emma a call. 

 

Emma nearly gets a leg chewed off, and Regina spends a lengthy amount of time inspecting her for signs of wolfiness. “Do you feel…wilder?” she asks, peering at Emma’s pupils with her phone flashlight. 

 

“Ow! Too bright,” Emma complains. Regina looks alarmed. “Because it’s dusk , not because I’m suddenly nocturnal.” 

 

Regina disappears and reappears a few minutes later with a bouquet of flowers. Emma peers at them. “Regina,” she says. “Flowers? For me? And it isn’t even Mothers’ Day.” 

 

“You brought me flowers on Mothers’ Day,” Regina reminds her. “I brought you chocolate. Which of us was the considerate one?”

 

“Always you,” Emma says obediently. She sniffs. “And because I know you’re about to ruin the mood and ask, I can’t smell them from over here. Because I’m not a werewolf.” 

 

“Let’s wait until the moon is out,” Regina says grimly, and Emma decides that, in fact, it couldn’t hurt to spend a little more time waiting for the full moon.

 

They wander down the yellow cobblestones that lead to the Emerald City, which is stunning and gleaming and a little overly ostentatious. “I almost married the guy who built this,” Emma reflects.

 

“Wouldn’t be your worst marriage,” Regina mutters, and then grins, unapologetic, when Emma glowers at her. “What, am I supposed to pretend that you have good taste in men? You’re the one who discovered that you were a lesbian all along.” 

 

Emma makes a face. “Don’t tell me. You knew it all along?” It’s what everyone has said since then, including her own mother– who is a bald-faced liar who’d have never let her marry someone other than Regina if she’d known that Emma had had a thing for her– and her father– who is probably telling the truth. “You were all just standing around, laughing at idiot Emma trying to do her best in the shackles of heteronormativity, waiting for me to finally get a clue. I just love hearing about that.” 

 

“No,” Regina says, her eyes fixed on the grand columns of the Emerald City as she speaks. “I had no idea that you were interested in women.” 

 

Now, it’s Emma’s turn to be dubious in reverse. “At all ?” she says. “I mean, even I know now that I wasn’t subtle about it. I was, like, excruciatingly gay sometimes. There are only so many times that you can appreciate someone’s ass before you start questioning things.” She squints at Regina. “I knew that you liked women.”

 

Regina says, stone-faced, “I never said that–” 

 

“You went on a wild gay adventure with Maleficent that one time and showed up at our rendezvous with your shirt inside out,” Emma says. It had been absolutely fascinating, too, the only thing she’d been able to think about in between the gripping terror of Regina being undercover and the creeping fear that Regina might enjoy it too much. “And I have to say, as a lesbian, I don’t like you feeding into the trope of evil bisexuals. I’m very disappointed in you.” She says it in enough of a deadpan that Regina looks at her, shamefaced, until Emma starts laughing. 

 

Regina shoves her. “Shut up,” she says, and then, when Emma stumbles, her hand is back on Emma’s arm, pulling her back to her. In the moonlight, Regina’s eyes seem to glimmer, and there is something ethereal about her, dressed in leather riding pants with a green waistcoat that glows like a halo around her in the city lights. Emma wants to move just another step closer, to hover at her lips and then close the gap between them, to laugh and kiss Regina and erase every last thought of missed chances from her mind. 

 

Instead, Regina puts a hand on Emma’s cheek and says, “Do you feel it?”

 

Emma nods dumbly, and Regina says, her voice rising, “Oh, god. The wolf is awakening?” 

 

Emma catches herself. She’s getting very, very good at salvaging the conversation before she does something she can’t take back, and she instead mock-howls at the moon, a terrible imitation of a werewolf that has Regina send a spark of magic at her ass and make her jump.

 

“Asshole,” Regina says, but it’s with distinct fondness, and she takes Emma’s arm when Emma extends it to her. 

 

They walk together until Regina is pulled away by Zazu, because Regina is always pulled away by Zazu. There’s always a crisis, always an emergency that her majordomo insists requires her attention. Regina delegates– at least, according to Robin, who works in her office and still seems to have plenty of time to wander into Emma’s house with Alice after hours to eat everything in her fridge– but there are too many emergencies that demand her alone, and she has no choice but to go.

 

Emma is always left behind, lingering alone in some fantastically beautiful place, yearning.

 

Then again, at least she can go back home to her family at the end of the day. Ry is home when she gets back this time, sprawled out on the couch with two empty pizza crusts on a plate next to him. Hope is asleep against his chest and he’s typing an essay, but he watches Emma with undisguised wistfulness. “How was she?” 

 

“She’s…you know. Busy. But we had a good time.” Emma scoops Hope up, rocking her until her eyes droop again and Emma can settle down on the recliner. “I think it’s good for her to spend some time with friends.” 

 

Ry snorts. “When are you going to ask her out?”

 

Emma gives him a severe look. “Look,” she says. “It’s different with us.” 

 

“Because you’re emotionally constipated?” Bold words from the kid who had tried killing Regina when he’d really just wanted a mom. Emma chooses to save that comeback for a better time.

 

“No,” Emma says, rubbing Hope’s back. “Because it has been a long time since I should have tried it, and I am very embarrassed about it. And she isn’t giving me any signals. Shouldn’t there be signals?” It would be so much simpler if Regina would just, like…make a move of her own. Regina isn’t exactly known for bottling up her feelings and keeping them secret, so if she hasn’t said anything, it’s because she just isn’t thinking about Emma like that.

 

That’s fine. Emma’s faced dragons and demons and the gates of hell itself. She can charm Regina Mills into falling in love with her. Those letters that Robin had mentioned linger in her mind, a single picture of what Regina’s relationship with her had been near the end of Regina’s timeline.

 

Ry says dubiously, “I don’t know. Maybe you’re just missing them all. Mom isn’t really that subtle.” Now he’s wistful again, and Emma looks a little harder at him. “Sorry.” He looks embarrassed. “It’s just…we spent a lot of time together when she first stitched together the realms. It’s different now. She tries to drop by sometimes to walk me home from school–” 

 

“She does?” This is news to Emma, who’s roughly five minutes away by car and could easily be there exactly on time to bump into them. 

 

Ry shrugs uneasily, and Emma understands exactly why he hasn’t shared this information. For all his teenaged repression– borne by both his age and the years spent alone as ruler of his kingdom, Rumple whispering manipulations in his ear– Ry, too, wants his alone time with Regina.  

 

“Good,” Emma says, and she manages a smile for him. “I’m really glad you two are getting time together.” And she doesn’t say anything else to Ry, because it isn’t his burden to carry, but it stings. Stings, because Regina will find a way to spend time with everyone she cares about– brunches with Henry and Lucy, walks with Ry– and she has never extended that to Emma. 

 

Emma lies awake in bed that night, lost in regrets and hopeless wants, and she vows that she won’t back down. It’s easy to run, to quit on this exhausting quest to date Regina without her noticing, to stop pushing something that is still so one-sided. But she doesn’t think that she could bear it anymore, when every day without Regina is like an ache that suffuses her, inching closer and closer to heartbreak. 

 

She won’t fall into old habits. Not when she is like a child in love for the first time, drunk on the possibility of Regina at all moments of the day. When even her happiest moments are shadowed by absence.

 

No. She has wasted too many years. Backing down is not an option.

 


 

When Mary Margaret calls her a few days later, Emma expects the worst. They’ve had these conversations before, the urging for Emma to claim her crown or at least learn a little bit about governing the land, please, you might enjoy it . Some part of Mary Margaret, for all her concessions to Neal’s inheritance, still dreams of Emma being a princess in her castle, and Emma feels like the worst person ever each time that she turns Mary Margaret down.

 

Today is no different. “It wouldn’t be a long visit,” Mary Margaret wheedles. “Just a few hours for dinner. I haven’t seen Hope in weeks .” 

 

“You babysat last Tuesday,” Emma says, unimpressed. “When Anastasia had that afternoon class. Ry said he came home and you two had some archery competition in the backyard. I’m still pulling arrows off the siding, by the way.”

 

“It feels like weeks. I haven’t seen you in weeks,” Mary Margaret says. “You’ve been so preoccupied with work–” 

 

Work, wooing the queen of the universe…same difference. “You can always drop by,” Emma says patiently. “I’ve gotten pretty good at chicken pot pie. Feel like Dad would be into it–” 

 

Mary Margaret sounds disappointed. “That wouldn’t work,” she says, and then sighs. “Okay, fine. Robin gave us a call. Your father has worked it out so some of the ogres are going to attack this beautiful spot near the lake…it’s gorgeous there. Very romantic. I was just thinking…” 

 

Oh. “Oh.” And then, because she isn’t exactly going to ditch a perfect opportunity to see Regina, she agrees to visit the castle tomorrow.

 

Then she calls Robin. “It would be really great if you’d just let me work this out on my own,” she says.

 

Robin is unimpressed. “Sometimes, true kindness is helping someone help herself,” she says. Every now and then, Emma is acutely reminded that Robin is Zelena’s daughter. “Consider me your lesbian guardian angel.” 

 

“You use lesbian as a personal adjective more than anyone I know,” Emma says.

 

“That’s offensive and homophobic,” Robin informs her, and she hangs up the phone. 

 

On a last-minute impulse, Emma decides to bring Ry and Hope with her. “This is a family outing,” she decides, and she feels her heart warm a little bit at the way that Ry brightens. He’s just a kid who’s been through it, desperate for some more time with Regina, and that time might be precious and rare, but Emma is going to have to share it. 

 

They lay out a picnic blanket at the lake, laden with food that Mary Margaret has packed for them. There is turkey and pastries and sandwiches, and Ry eats three legs of roast turkey with gusto as Emma stares. “What?” he says. “I’m a growing kid. Besides, I missed normal food.” 

 

“You want me to serve more feast food?” Emma asks dubiously. “Like the ones where the head of the boar is sitting on the table?” Ry looks as though the answer might be yes , and Emma stabs a finger at him. “Pizza or you starve.”

 

Ry stretches out on the ground. “Pizza,” he concedes. Out here, in the sun, a castle looming behind him, he’s never looked more like his old self, as though he belongs in armor instead of the collared polo and jeans that he’s wearing. “Maybe I can come out here for dinner sometimes, though.”

 

“That would make your grandparents very happy, I’m sure. Your uncle, too.” Neal had followed them around all afternoon, desperate for someone normal to talk to. Emma’s pretty sure that seven years spent in Storybrooke are enough to ensure that yet another one of Mary Margaret’s kids isn’t going to want to stay in this castle.

 

“He’s a good kid. It’s weird that he didn’t exist in my realm.” Ry contemplates that. Emma shifts. She can think about why that is, but doesn’t like to dwell on it. “Grandma and Gramps are different here, too. Less intense. Maybe it’s because they don’t feel like they have as much to prove.”

 

He looks pensive, and Emma knows that he’s thinking about the grandparents he’d lost. She leaves Hope on the ground, her little fingers seizing blades of grass with interest, and turns to Ry. “What was it like?” she asks tentatively. “After I disappeared.” 

 

“I thought you were dead,” Ry says, staring at the sky. “And Grandma and Gramps were dead. It was fine. I mean, I was on my own, but I could handle it. I did fine.” There’s a rawness to his voice, and Emma lays a hand over his arm. “I had heard that the Evil Queen was sailing with pirates now, and I was trying to find her. I thought that…I guess I figured that if I could kill her, it might make things better. Or give me something I could actually do.” He brightens, finding a way to avoid any more of the conversation. “Hey, I bet she’d date you. We should find her.” 

 

“Ry…” Emma squeezes his arm. “I’m sorry. I left you there on your own, and I…” The guilt is overwhelming, is a mess of painful memories and regrets. “I should have brought you with me.” 

 

“You didn’t even know I was real.” Ry shrugs. “It’s fine. I’m fine now.” He’s settled in, is as much a teenaged boy as he is a knight and heir to a throne, but there is still an abruptness to how he speaks about his old life, a trauma that he’s never quite shaken. “So where’s Mom already?” 

 

“Ogre attack first,” Emma reminds him. “They’re taking their sweet time.” She considers the situation. “Do you think you could bring Hope inside when we see them coming? I know that these are nice ogres or whatever, but–” 

 

“No such thing as a nice ogre,” Ry says grimly. “I’ll bring her in.” He is wistful again, thinking about Regina. “Mom always calls me Henry . Never Ry . Did I ever tell you that?” 

 

Emma looks at him. “Why?” she asks curiously. Ry had been a compromise, a name that is solely his without being a new name entirely, and Ry has always seemed fine with it. Happier with it, even, and without the shackles of the past.

 

Ry shrugs. “I don’t know. She said once that she never wants me to feel like I’m second.”

 

Emma’s stomach twists. “Do you?” she persists. If she’d missed out on that– had pushed a name on Ry that had given him a complex–

 

Ry scoffs. “No. It seems only fair, since I’m the superior Henry. We gotta give Henry something .” He preens in the sunlight, smug in his certainty, and Emma laughs and musses his hair. 

 

“Absolutely,” she says. “For the record, you’re exactly as big a dork as Henry is.” 

 

“Two girls and one guy asked me to the dance next week,” Ry says, opening one eye to peer at her. “Think Henry could have managed that?” 

 

“Which one did you say yes to?” Emma asks, very interested in the response, and she is leaning forward, absorbed in whatever Ry might say next, when the ogres attack.

 

They’re fast . Ogres must have evolved over the past years in the Enchanted Forest, because they move at a much faster pace than she remembers. One moment, the lake is quiet and the grass is still, and the next, Emma is clutching Hope to her, throwing magic at an ogre looming a few feet away. It lets out a roar of victory and swings a hand at her, sending her flying, and Emma holds Hope tightly and lands magically on a rock in the lake. 

 

These ogres don’t seem aware that this is supposed to be a farce, that they’re supporting characters in a story that is supposed to feature Emma as the dashing hero and Regina as…the other dashing hero and love interest. Instead, they’re intent on landing blows on Emma and Ry. Ry swings his sword easily, swats at a lumbering ogre arm and clambers up a rocky pile, fighting as though he’s an action movie hero. Which is supposed to be Emma’s thing, thank you very much, if she weren’t the one holding a five-month-old.

 

One of the ogres wades into the water after her, and Emma blasts him with a wave of magic. She isn’t going to kill them– isn’t supposed to, she assumes, if they’re buddies with David– but they seem very willing to kill her. She throws him back, and another two appear out of nowhere, charging toward her and only flinching at her magic.  

 

Ry lets out a yell and jumps onto the back of one ogre, cutting its shoulder and avoiding its throat. Emma calls a large branch to her and swings it like a club, and Hope lets out a little shriek as Emma moves. “Teleport her out!” Ry calls, which– duh . Emma twists, gathers magic around her to teleport Hope out–

 

–and Hope disappears before Emma can save her. 

 

“Hope!” Panic overtakes her, and she twists around, slamming a massive wave of magic into the lake. It erupts in a shower of water, little spears striking the ogres and warding them off. They flee for the trees, leaving a dust cloud behind them, and Emma exhales when it clears. 

 

Regina is standing there, Hope in her arms, head and arms tucked over her to protect her from the dust. “I thought you might have needed a hand with her,” she says sheepishly, and Emma leaps off her rock and runs to them gingerly. 

 

Hope is watching Regina warily, and Regina pokes her belly and says, “This is what I get for saving you?” Hope’s frown turns into a giggle, and she wriggles under Regina, coaxing out more tickles. “There we go,” Regina says, satisfied, and she  turns back to Emma. “You seem to have had that under control.”

 

“What, like I can’t take a few ogres?” Emma wants to retrieve Hope, to hold her in her arms after that scare, but something stills her hands, and she is instead struck by the absolute perfection of seeing Hope wrapped in Regina’s embrace. “Glad you could be here, though. What did I pull you away from?” 

 

Regina rolls her eyes. “Would you believe that the Land of Anthropomorphic Rabbits demanded my presence for a royal wedding?”

 

Emma stares at her. “No.” 

 

Bunnies , Emma. Bunnies in tuxes. I have never spent so long trying not to laugh at a reception, and I watched your parents get married.” Regina rocks Hope. “I bet you would have found it hilarious ,” she coos to her, and Emma tries not to melt where she stands.

 

Regina looks up a minute later, beaming as Ry comes to join them. “Henry,” she breathes, and she angles Hope so she can give him a tight hug. “You were something out there with that sword.” 

 

“You should see me with a basketball,” Ry says, preening a little. He leans his head against Regina’s, and Regina presses an effortless kiss to his temple. Must be nice to get hugged and kissed by Regina, Emma reflects, and then also reflects that it’s weird to be jealous of your son’s relationship with his mother. “How are you doing?”

 

“The usual,” Regina says easily. “Bunny weddings. A diplomatic reception with the cars from Cars . Later, I’m supposed to give a little spark of magic to every muffin distributed at the Grand Annual Meeting in the Land of Cubicles. They claim it’ll keep the citizens happy, though I’ve never seen any sign that they’re capable of happiness.” She spreads her hands, a what can you do? that is both amused and weary. “And that’s just today.” 

 

“I want to see the Cars cars,” Ry says immediately. “I just watched that with Lucy last week. It’s the weekend! Come on.” 

 

Regina looks at Emma. Emma wants to say I want to see the Cars cars , too, except that she really doesn’t. What she wants is for Regina to stay here, to take a break from her endless duties and take a few minutes with Emma right now. Instead, she shrugs and says, “If you see a Lamborghini, try to persuade it to come back home with you.”

 

Ry grins. “Nice. I’m going to tell Grandma and Gramps goodbye.” He takes off toward the castle with only a single nod to Emma, which makes it clear that Ry, in fact, is a selfless kid who has Emma’s best interests in mind.

 

Emma crouches next to Hope’s stroller, which has been crushed by an ogre’s foot, and mends it with a little burst of magic. Carefully, Regina lays her down within the stroller, easing her in as though she’s a newborn instead of a five-month-old who is newly re-enamored with Regina. Hope watches her adoringly, and lets out a little whine when Regina pulls her hands away.

 

“Hush, little darling,” Regina croons. “Look up at the blue sky. Do you see the white clouds?” Hope looks up obligingly, as though she can understand Regina, and Regina keeps up a steady stream of dialogue as she shifts so Emma can push the stroller.

 

Hope’s stroller is like a soporific. Within minutes, she’s asleep, and Emma and Regina keep walking in comfortable silence. “Strange that the ogres attacked here,” Regina says reflectively. “David had mentioned that he had them under control.” 

 

“You can never have ogres under control,” Emma offers, and Regina seems to accept it. 

 

“They don’t seem deadly anymore,” she notes. “Just inconvenient. Seems like most of the attacks lately have been fairly mild.” She laughs. “It’s a nice excuse to get away, though. I’d rather fight than officiate another bunny wedding .” 

 

“Every time you say bunny wedding with that level of disdain, a little girl cries over her stuffed rabbit,” Emma says. “Imagine the queen of the world hating on cute, harmless bunnies. What a scandal . It’d be like that time you tried killing Snow White for a few years.” 

 

Regina nudges her. “Yes, that’s exactly the same.” The lake is every bit as beautiful as it had been advertised. Mountains rise high above it, multicolored trees giving it all a golden hue, and they meet green valleys to the crystal blue of the lake. It’s the sort of place that would be hosting constant weddings in the Land Without Magic. Emma’s own parents had gotten engaged here. 

 

Today, Emma walks beside it with Regina and can’t think of a thing to say. There’s the truth, pesky feelings , building up within her like an impossible, perfect burden. But she is not foolish enough to foist those on Regina yet. There’s skip Cars and come home with me to play another board game , but she doesn’t think her heart could take it if Regina says no. 

 

She finally asks, “How are you?” It’s casual, the kind of emotionless question that comes with a faint acquaintance instead of someone with their history. “I really want to know,” she adds in hastily, because she does. She wonders about Regina multiple times a day, about this fantastically competent woman who treads through worlds as though she can solve any problem. Regina could absolutely cheer up someone who lives in the Land of Cubicles. Emma knows it. 

 

Regina looks at her, her eyes very warm. “I know you do,” she says. “I wish I had an answer. I have no idea how I am,” she admits. “I’m too busy to stop and think about it. I’m needed ,” she amends. “It’s good to be needed. Is that too self-involved?” 

 

“No,” Emma says. “It’s sweet.” Regina flushes at that, then rearranges her face into an expression of extreme skepticism. Emma says, “It is . You just want to help people. What a sap.” 

 

Regina snorts. “And you?” she asks. “Keeping Storybrooke safe, raising an infant, getting to know all the new pieces of your family– how is that going for you?” 

 

“It’s good,” Emma says automatically. “I get to see Henry practically every day. Ry is really adapting well to Storybrooke. Lucy is adorable, Jacinda is actually my favorite person I’ve ever had work at the station–” 

 

“Your father worked at the station,” Regina points out.

 

Emma wrinkles her nose. “My father liked to charge into situations and ask questions later.”

 

“Only space for one of those at the station,” Regina says easily, and Emma knows she’s being mocked and doesn’t mind. “Do you…” Regina clears her throat. “Are you getting enough support?” 

 

“Yeah. Lots of family around. I’m not alone,” Emma says swiftly, and Regina stops walking and tilts her head, politely dubious. Emma shrugs, self-conscious. “I’m not alone,” she says again. “I told you, I have a babysitter. Ry is great, too. Not like…a kid I need to look after. He’s coming into himself. And my hours are fine. Not like yours–”

 

“Emma,” Regina says quietly, and she moves to a rocky area just beside the lake, sitting down on the side that faces the mountains. Emma locks the stroller and moves to sit beside her, staring out at the trees. “I know you never wanted to do this alone. Can’t imagine you would have married Hook if you hadn’t,” she says wryly. “And I thought that before I knew that you were a lesbian.” 

 

“Yeah, well, I decided that this was better,” Emma says, and she means it. “I couldn’t be with Killian anymore. Once I put it all together. Robin told me–” She stops, uncertain of what she wants to reveal there. The letters still hang over her, a possibility in a future that has happened for only one of them, and she doesn’t know what she’d said in them that might have given Regina that impression. “Anyway, I’d rather raise a kid on my own than do it with him. Imagine trying to parent with Killian around, teaching Hope to drink and gamble and…” She shrugs. “It’s better this way. I’m just…I’m not positive I won’t fuck her up, too. Would be nice to have someone around to make sure of that.” 

 

Regina shakes her head. “Emma,” she says. “You could never. You’re a wonderful mother. Henry and Henry are–” 

 

“I didn’t get Henry until he was ten,” Emma points out. “And I wished Ry into being. Of course he’s amazing.” She chews on her lip. “It’s just hard, you know? Every day, I’m worried I’m…I’m feeding her something bad or setting the stage for some formatively terrible trauma or…” She takes a breath. “This was so much easier with you,” she says, even though she shouldn’t. 

 

Regina is staring at her now, inscrutable. “You’re just so effortless with them,” Emma says, plunging full steam ahead. “And when we were…you know, we did a good job with Henry. A great job. And I always felt like I was a pretty decent parent when I was doing it with you.” 

 

Silence. Emma peeks at Regina, her heart pounding wildly. Regina says dryly, “Well, it isn’t too late for you to put her up for adoption so we can run through the same thing all over again.” 

 

“There’s got to be an easier way,” Emma says daringly, and Regina stares at her again, her lips pursed together and giving Emma nothing. Emma waits, waits for Regina to say something – god, she isn’t subtle at all, come on – 

 

“I’ve given up kidnapping for the time being,” Regina says, her expression still oblique, and Emma very nearly slams her head against the rock where they’re sitting.

 

She smiles widely at Regina, which is the exact equivalent of fuck me and fuck you, thank you very much, just politer. “And we’re very proud of you,” she says mockingly, and Regina gives her a little shove and stands up. 

 

“I’m proud of me,” she says haughtily, the mood utterly shattered. “Do you know how often I see an adorable baby and want to raise it?”

 

“Just baby?” 

 

“Kids are the worst ,” Regina confides, and Emma isn’t entirely sure if she’s joking or not. “I just want to save them. Sweep them away and spoil them and pretend that I’m reliving my best years with Henry– not that all my years with Henry aren’t my best years– ah,” she says, brightening. “Speaking of.”

 

Ry has returned, is bounding toward them with an expectant look on his face, and Emma says when he arrives, “We were just discussing having another baby.” 

 

Ry says, “ Were you.” 

 

Regina says, deadpan, “Only through illegal means. It’ll be so humiliating when they arrest me. What a blow for the bunnies whose wedding I officiated.” And the frustration lingers in Emma’s chest, but there is something to this, too, Ry and Hope beside her and Regina smirking between them. This is something , weighs upon her like something hard and heavy on her chest, and she stands alone after Regina and Ry leave and feels something painful and peaceful linger in the space where they’d gone.

 


 

This might be easier if it were a little more natural. Natural might be a stretch, because Emma is absolutely the one who’d arranged for the zombies to invade the Land of Incense and Candlelight and the ice storm that had nearly destroyed several formations in the Land of Mysterious Monoliths. But at least she’d been the one to make the calls in those cases. 

 

More often, she is summoned to Sabine’s restaurant with orders, and Emma is beginning to think that all of Regina’s friends are terrible influences. “We’re excellent influences,” Sabine says briskly when Emma ventures the point. “We’re helping Regina, which also means helping you. Eat a beignet.”

 

The beignet is thrust in her face. Emma eats it. The best part of all of this, just slightly behind spending time with Regina , is the beignets. “You’re manufacturing crises so I can take Regina out on dates that she isn’t aware that we’re having,” Emma says, skeptical. “I don’t actually feel like she’d appreciate that, if she knew.”

 

“Oh, she would,” Alice says dreamily from Emma’s other side, appearing out of nowhere to seize a beignet. Emma jumps, nearly dropping her own pastry, and eats it in a hurry. You never know when you might lose something you love. “What shall it be this week?” 

 

“I do know some very menacing sea beasts,” Rogers says easily. Emma still finds him rather disorienting to look at, but she is trying to be tolerant. He comes by to visit Jacinda all the time now, sometimes with an arm around Alice, and he has never shown any interest in her. That strange encounter with him before he’d left with Henry and Regina had been a last-ditch effort to find happiness, she understands now, and he has found it in his daughter instead. “I was quite close with a mermaid named Ariel for a time.” 

 

“Oh. I know this sea witch. Ursula? Could be she hates my guts and I definitely owe her big time, but I think she’s got a soft spot for Regina,” Emma says, still very dubious about this attempt. “She can launch an attack on the Land of Simmering Fire.” 

 

Ry scoffs. “You’re so bad at this,” he says. He’s at the next table in the closed restaurant, feeding Hope a sliver of something that had better not be beignet, because Emma is not giving her six-month-old sugar. “That’s your idea of a romantic outing? Fire everywhere?” 

 

“Have you met Regina?” Sabine says. “She might actually be into that.” Rogers snorts. Alice pats his arm. 

 

“Better idea. Have Ursula terrorize the Land of Summer Resorts. You’re welcome,” Ry says with satisfaction, sitting back in his seat.

 

And it’s a pretty decent idea, except that Ursula misunderstands– possibly purposely, because Emma did kill her girlfriend that one time– and attacks the Land of Last Resorts instead, which means that Regina is hanging off a cliff when Emma arrives, a pit of miasmic fluid lingering beneath them. “I am going to kill Ursula,” she says, still hanging off the side of the cliff. 

 

Emma angles her carpet beneath them to catch Regina, and this is also kind of romantic, when she thinks about it. “You know villains these days,” she says, and Regina drops into her arms with a choked noise, caught in her stable embrace so neither of them fall off the carpet. “They just want to make some noise. Be known. Build up their street cred a little. Competition’s tight now, yeah?” 

 

Regina snorts. “Yeah,” she echoes, and then peers around. “How’d you get a flying carpet?” 

 

Emma shrugs. “It was a last resort, I guess.” Below them, the water is roiling into a whirlpool, but they sail above it safely, somewhere halfway between the cliffs and the water. “Not my favorite mode of transportation, but it gets the job done.” 

 

“Mm,” Regina leans against her. “And I’m saved again. Sometimes I wonder if I should just bite the bullet and hire you as my full time bodyguard.”

 

“Maybe you should,” Emma says, careful to sound just cheerful about it instead of abruptly, painfully hopeful. It’s embarrassing, how desperate she is to spend time with Regina. Like a kid with a crush. But she’s spent enough time away from Regina to know to value what she does have now.

 

Regina scoffs. “I could never do that to you.” Now she’s irritable, throwing halfhearted bolts of magic down at the whirlpool below them. “I would never have taken a job like this one when Henry was young. You’d hardly see Hope.” 

 

“Right. You’re right.” She is right, though Emma thinks suddenly about Lucy, and Ry, and all the people Regina isn’t seeing while she fights. “They all miss you,” she says. “If you wanted to drop by Storybrooke sometime– Sabine’s beignets are pretty much the only reason I wake up in the morning, and Lucy is doing some huge biography fair in school that parents and grandparents are invited to. Jacinda and Henry have started hosting game nights that Alice keeps cheating at but no one can catch her. Ry has a school dance next week and he talked Anastasia into going with him, even though I think that half the kids in school are into him. He’s got that knightly thing about him that just makes him a brat half the time but is winning over all the girls– I mean, I think they’d all like to see you.”

 

Regina laughs, but it’s a little strained. “It sounds perfect,” she says. “I’m glad you’re getting along with everyone. I always thought that you would.”

 

It occurs to Emma, not for the first time, that these are Regina’s friends who have become her companions, that she is living out a life that Regina would have been living if she hadn’t been so wrapped up in keeping the realms together. “They’re pretty cool,” she says. “I mean, running the station or a restaurant or the mayor’s office has nothing on wandering the realms as its queen, but we hang in there. I imagine life was a lot duller the first time I lived out this existence.” 

 

Regina leans against her, which might be affectionate or might be to get a better vantage point from which to toss a magical grenade down at the water. “You didn’t live out this existence,” she says absently. “This is it.” 

 

“I hear there was another existence, though,” Emma says, and she peers at Regina tentatively. “Robin says there were letters.” 

 

Regina laughs, a note of discomfort in her voice that she can’t quite hide. “It wasn’t you,” she says. “There’s no use in speculating about a future that never happened.” 

 

“It happened for you.” Emma wonders suddenly if those letters hadn’t been fond at all but dripping in sarcasm and resentment. She tries to imagine herself living out an empty, unsatisfying life alone for years without Regina contacting her, and she’s sure she would have been snippy. “Was I nasty in them?” she asks, and she craves to know more, to see the letters and understand.

 

Regina gives her nothing. “You were…unhappy,” she says at last. “We worked through it.”

 

“Did we speak in person? Or by mirror or…whatever, I don’t know? You seem to have magic beans and interdimensional spells and all that shit now,” Emma says, prying a little more. “Or was it just those letters?” 

 

Regina glances at her. “Just the letters,” she says. “Anything else was…inadvisable.” 

 

“What? Why?” Emma demands, baffled. “You mean you could have kept in touch? You chose to spend twelve years just…pretending I didn’t exist?” Oh, she’d definitely been pissed in the letters, she knows, if only based on the way her heart is pounding right now. “Jacinda didn’t even believe me at first when I told her that we were close, did you know that? That’s our daughter-in-law .”

 

Regina doesn’t answer. Emma says, “This was stupid. This was a mistake.” The flying carpet had seemed like a nice touch for a botched date when she’d found it. Now, it’s too close, too bumpy, too easy for her to be thrown against Regina when she just wants a little space. Now, the whole idea of these manufactured dates feel manipulative and ridiculous, not a respite for Regina as much as a reckoning, and Emma isn’t even sure that Regina wants her to be there at all. Why should now be different than the past twelve years?

 

Regina says, “Saving me from the edge of that cliff?” She’s watching Emma evenly, as though preparing for a fight, and Emma swallows back nausea. She doesn’t want to fight with Regina, doesn’t want something that has been so nice for both of them to become sour and bitter now. But there is something reckless within her, frustrated at what she doesn’t understand– what Regina has been privy to, over years that have been reset, and what she is blind to now– and she is afraid that this will end very badly.

 

She clears her throat and attempts to defuse. “Don’t you have some security?” she says. “Like the Secret Service, but for queens of the universe? Shouldn’t there be some big, hulking, dumb guys with guns assigned to you?” 

 

Regina laughs, just as relieved to change the topic as Emma is. “I don’t need any of that,” she says. “I mean, yes, I do have a cadre of witches who are supposed to guard me. But they’re not very good. I’d rather have you here.” She throws another wave of magic at Ursula. This time, Emma joins her own magic with Regina’s, and they’re able to steady the water, leaving it still and peaceful in their wake. Regina glances at Emma, and there is that fierce joy on her face, the satisfaction that comes whenever they fight together.

 

Today, Emma can’t quite share it. 

 

Regina says, “You know, there’s a great spot to watch the sunset at the top of those cliffs. If you wanted to climb up there with me. It’s the perfect time of day.” It’s tentative, an overture that might be an apology, and Emma wants to take her up on it. To climb a mountain, to sit and watch the sunset and shut out the rest of the world and all of her doubts and fears.

 

Instead, she says, “It’s actually pretty late. I’ve got to get to Hope before dinner or Ry might feed her pizza.” Hope has just started solids, and Ry is impossible. It’s a valid excuse. 

 

It’s just that it is that– an excuse , and it sounds like it to her ears. 

 

Regina says stiffly, “I’ll see you around, then,” and Emma thinks, this is the end. This is the last time that Regina will call her, because Regina is so easily spooked when it comes to pushing too hard. If Emma retreats even once, Regina will never ask for her again.

 

And today, she has no choice but to retreat.

Chapter Text

 

It’s miserable, stepping back from Regina. It’s a mistake, because Regina is never going to follow. Regina is too busy to follow, is being pulled in a hundred directions at any given moment, and Emma is just another person hanging onto her, pulling her to her without any regard for her time.

 

She’d thought that she’d been helping , that her agenda had been the one that Regina had wanted. That Regina might have treasured their moments together. Now, she isn’t so sure. What had she been doing except trying to suck Regina dry, just as everyone else is? She’d come in with expectations, had made an attempt to charm Regina, but in the end, she’d been just another obligation. Regina would be here if she weren’t.

 

It’s good that Regina isn’t here, because Emma is angry. Furious , really, when she lets herself be. How dare Regina keep this part of Emma from her. How could Regina make a decision that had clearly not been mutual– have cut Emma off entirely for twelve years with no explanation–

 

Emma might not know who she would have been in twelve years, but she knows exactly how crushing and painful it would have been to know that Regina could see her at any time and wouldn’t. And Regina has no explanations, offers nothing but patronizing, condescending–

 

She needs to take a step back. She loves Regina desperately, is trapped in this sort of one-sided dance like she’s never been before. Emma is accustomed to being pursued, to settling into relationships that offer some form of companionship rather than relationships she’d wanted. She’s never really let herself want before, which is possibly why she hadn’t figured out her own sexuality until she’d been in her mid-thirties.

 

And she doesn’t know how to want like this, the hollow yearning that feels as though it might eat her alive. So she pulls a Classic Emma Swan and tries not to think about it. She goes to work, tosses a stress ball back and forth across the room with Jacinda. She heads to Granny’s for lunch with Anastasia and Hope and Sabine’s for dinner with Henry and his family. At night, she plays video games with Ry and does her best to stop co-sleeping with Hope because she’s really getting too noisy for that, and this is her routine. Chasing off invaders to her little town, raising her kids, hanging out with friends. Emma, a dozen years ago, would have been struck breathless by this sense of belonging. She would never have anticipated the greed that comes with it, the desperation for more, more, that is never sated. 

 

Emma, a dozen years ago, would have never imagined what it could be like to be so utterly in love with someone else.

 

“This isn’t good for you,” Robin informs her one afternoon. She’d been at the house with Ry when Emma had gotten home, the two of them fighting in the backyard with enthusiastic zeal. Robin had actually been on the house when Emma had arrived, crouched with her bow at the edge of the porch as though she’d been a sharpshooter, and Emma had nearly had a heart attack. All these people around– every one of them as comfortable with her as though she’d gone through their adventures and curses with them– is still taking some getting used to. “You need to get out.”

 

“Let me guess. You’ve gotten Darth Vader to attack the Land of Mood Lighting and you want me to show up as Regina’s backup?” Emma asks, unconvinced.

 

“Darth Vader,” Robin says thoughtfully, considering, and then she shakes her head. “ No . Just, like…something casual. No Aunt Regina. Just drinks with Alice and me. Lesbian night.” 

 

Ry scrunches his nose. “What am I supposed to do, babysit?” 

 

Robin shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m not the boss of you. Aren’t you supposed to be a king or something?” 

 

“No one takes me seriously here,” Ry grouches, and he executes a flawless slice of his sword, cutting a dozen leaves off of a tree near the porch. Emma claps politely. Ry gives her a dirty look. “Fine,” he says. “I will watch my baby sister as I descend into homophobia. And play video games.” 

 

“You do that.” Emma ruffles his hair. “You’re a good kid, Ry.” He leans against her, content despite his complaints, and she kisses the top of his head.

 

Hope is already quieting down for the night at dinner, dozing off while picking at her Cheerios and listless and cuddly when Emma sets her down in Ry’s arms. “She isn’t going to give you any problems tonight,” she promises, and she ducks outside to meet Robin.

 

They grab a portal to the Land of Questionable Nightlife. Alice leads the way, weaving through the crowds like a cat on the prowl, and Robin links her arm with Emma’s so they won’t be split up. It’s packed and dark in this realm, glittering nightclubs brightening the streets, and Emma nearly loses Alice a few times.

 

“Don’t worry,” Robin says, easing her to the right. “I can always find Alice.” She takes them through an alleyway and around a corner, right where Alice is waiting impatiently. “See? We’re almost there.”

 

“Where is there , exactly?” Emma asks, remembering that she has no idea what Robin’s planning. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have gone to Aesop’s Tables or the Rabbit Bar in Storybrooke proper, unless– “Are you bringing me to a lesbian bar?” she asks, suddenly wary.

 

Robin blinks at her. “What?” she says. “No. Why would I do that?” 

 

“We’re here,” Alice announces, stopping in front of a building that sports a number of brightly colored flags and the name Isle of Sappho’s .

 

Emma looks at Robin. Robin says, “Yeah, okay. Maybe I am.” She looks defensive. “You need to relax, okay? Spend a little time on your own with your people.” 

 

Emma narrows her eyes. Something is off about this, isn’t it? Why would Robin…? “Is this just a scheme to have me hook up with someone and make Regina jealous?” It won’t work . Emma had flubbed the charm Regina into falling for her part of the plan, so what would there be to be jealous about?

 

Robin lets go of her arm. Takes a breath. Says, her voice only slightly caustic, “No?” She scowls at Emma, and Emma notices for the first time that Robin looks hurt. “I know this might be hard for you to comprehend, but not everything is about Aunt Regina. Sometimes we’re just being good friends.” 

 

Oh. It’s something that hasn’t occurred to Emma before. These are friends , people who genuinely might want to hang out with her without demanding something in return. It’s a strange concept, one that makes her warm and just a little more whole. “Oh,” she says. “Okay.” Robin looks at her, an eyebrow raised, and Emma admits, “I do appreciate having my own lesbian friends.” 

 

Robin offers her a half-smile. “Now who’s using lesbian as a personal adjective?” She slips her hand into Alice’s and leads them inside, Emma following obediently. “Oh, hey– Ruby’s here,” Robin says brightly. 

 

Ruby is sitting comfortably beside Dorothy at a table near the bar. She waves them over, and Robin slips into a seat next to– Elsa? “Hey,” Emma says, giving her an awkward wave.

 

“Hi,” Elsa says, smiling at her. “How was the Land of Mysterious Monoliths?” 

 

“Surprisingly nice,” Emma says. “We hung out in a mountain cave and guessed at the constellations. It was–” She feels a sudden ache when she thinks about it, Regina tucked in beside her, pointing out strange stars in the unfamiliar sky. In moments like those, she’d been sure that Regina had been attainable. In moments like this one, she doesn’t know. “It was really good.” 

 

“Hi Alice, Robin, Emma,” someone says from behind them. “I come bearing drinks.” Mulan squeezes into another seat at their rapidly filling table.

 

Emma waves weakly, twisting around to hiss to Robin, “Do you know every lesbian in all the realms?” 

 

Robin frowns at her. “Emma, don’t be so closed-minded. Some of them are bisexual.” She leans forward. “So, did you date her?” she asks Mulan, as though they’re continuing a conversation.

 

“She was in the underworld ,” Mulan says scornfully. “Do you really think I’d date someone who’s already dead?” 

 

Elsa, Ruby, and Emma all nod in unison. “Absolutely,” Emma says, because she’s never once met Mulan when she wasn’t wholeheartedly in a doomed one-sided relationship. 

 

“You probably tried to save her first,” Ruby says sympathetically.

 

“Be quiet,” Mulan says, jabbing a finger at them. “That was out of the goodness of my heart. I didn’t do it to date her–” 

 

“But you are dating,” Alice says thoughtfully.

 

Mulan narrows her eyes at her. “How do you know that?” 

 

“Alice knows everything,” Robin says smugly. She lowers her voice. “You know who this is? Marian . Like, The Marian. My mom was the one who tracked her down in the Underworld– it was a whole thing. Kind of a mess. But she’s back now! I bet she’d want to see you, Emma. She said you were the one to save her– well, before…you know…” 

 

“Right,” Emma says, and she looks up at Mulan’s expectant face and says slowly, “She’s here now, isn’t she?” 

 

Marian is at the bar, along with several other familiar faces and some strangers. It’s oddly refreshing to chat with people at the bar, to bump into old friends or enemies and be introduced to people she’s never met before. Emma is, more often than not, a dedicated introvert, and it’s always a pleasant surprise when she’s reminded how nice it is to be surrounded by people. 

 

By the end of the night, she’s lightly buzzed, and four women have given her their numbers. “I’m in love with the queen of the world,” she’d informed one, and the woman had laughed and said, “Who isn’t?” so she pockets the number. She has no interest in dating anyone but Regina, but it’s nice to know that she has options if she ever recovers from crushing heartbreak.

 

On the way home, she tells this to Alice, who says gravely, “Oh, I wouldn’t recover. It sounds far worse, wouldn’t you say?” 

 

Robin says, “I’d never get over you,” and Emma takes off on her own for the portal, leaving them soulfully kissing each other behind her. 

 

Sometimes, it’s nice to have lesbian friends. Sometimes, she’d really rather be around people who are as miserably single as she is. 

 

She takes the portal back to Storybrooke, emerging in the parking lot near the Enchanted Forest where she’d left her car. It’s late, close to eleven. She still feels mildly drunk, so she leaves the car and teleports home instead, landing in the hallway outside Hope’s nursery.

 

There’s a dim light in the room, the door cracked open, and Emma thinks with a pang that she’d been wrong about Hope sleeping well. “I can take–” she whispers, pushing the door open, and she stops mid-sentence.

 

Ry is sitting on the floor next to the crib, back to the wall and head turned to see her. He isn’t holding Hope. No, that privilege goes to Regina, who is in the glider, humming to Hope. Hope is nestled in her arms, bundled in a blanket, and Regina is watching her with her eyes gleaming with affection. 

 

Emma says, “What.” She can’t think of the words, the right thing to say, or even if she’s angry or happy to see Regina. She just stands there, at a loss, and Regina looks up at last to look at her.

 

It’s Ry who speaks. “Hope had a fever,” he says. “She didn’t look good. I wasn’t sure…I’ve never really taken care of her when she was sick, and Anastasia isn’t answering her phone and I didn’t want to bother you–” 

 

“You could have bothered me,” Emma says, but the words aren’t as harsh as they could have been. Her eyes are fixed on Regina, who holds Hope protectively, and Emma’s stomach lurches.

 

“Henry said you’d gone out for drinks. I can’t imagine you get a chance to do that very often,” Regina says, meeting Emma’s gaze. “He asked me to help, and I came.”

 

“He shouldn’t have bothered you,” Emma manages. “I know you’re very busy.” 

 

Regina laughs. “There is nothing I am doing that’s more important than this,” she murmurs, and Hope lifts one weak little hand and lays it on Regina’s wrist. Regina rocks her gently, letting Hope doze off again. “I gave her Tylenol,” she says. “Ry thought that would be all right. It doesn’t look like it’s anything serious– just a little cold. She’s uncomfortable when she lies on her back.”

 

“I’ll sleep with her tonight,” Emma says. “Let her fall asleep on top of me.” It’s what she usually does when Hope is sick. Hope seems so fragile when she isn’t feeling well– is so listless and clingy– and Emma’s heart contracts when she imagines Hope sick without her around and then expands again when she imagines Regina there instead. “I…thanks for being here.” 

 

“Henry asked me to,” Regina says, and Emma is brought back nearly a decade, to awkward thank yous and the same excuse. Some things never change.

 

Some things will never be the same again.

 

She holds up a hand. “Let me just– I’m going to shower and get ready for bed. I stink like that bar.” 

 

“Isle of Sappho’s?” Regina asks, and there is a note of something in her voice. “Mal’s taken me there a few times.” Nope , that’s just Emma who’s simmering with jealousy. “Not a bad ambiance, but it’s always so crowded.” 

 

Emma shrugs. “I got four women’s numbers, though, so it wasn’t all bad,” she says, trying to be breezy. Regina’s brow furrows, and Emma feels suddenly transparent. “Uh. You can give Hope to Ry for now,” she says. “I’m going to be a while.” 

 

Regina doesn’t budge. “I can wait,” she says. Emma stares at her, stymied, and walks out to her room. 

 

It hits her in the shower that Regina isn’t doing this to be difficult. Or she might be, but Emma doesn’t think that that’s Regina’s style. Regina is caustic and rude when she’s feeling standoffish, but it’s Emma who insists on being in the other person’s face, of not bending when given an opening. If Regina is waiting, it’s because she wants to talk to Emma. This is an overture, isn’t it?

 

Emma scrubs herself off, brushes her teeth, gets into pajamas. She considers something a little more seductive– if her charm offensive is still going– but humiliatingly, she hasn’t worn any of her old teddies since long before her pregnancy and they’re too tight at the chest and hips. She pulls on a ridiculous pair of long pajamas patterned with pictures of ducklings instead, suddenly self-conscious, and says, “Regina?” 

 

Regina brings Hope in gingerly, and her wary eyes go odd and soft when she catches sight of Emma, stretched out in her bed. “ Love the pajamas,” she says lightly.

 

Emma holds out her arms, and Regina sets Hope onto her chest. Emma’s stomach does something unsolicited at the motion, like a dream she can’t allow herself, and she smiles wanly. “My mom got them for me.” 

 

“It’s the only good thing she’s ever bought,” Regina says, sounding starkly honest, and she wraps her arms around her waist and hesitates.

 

She wants to say something. Emma knows it, can see it in her eyes. There are still some things that she can read on Regina, and she also sees the trepidation that comes with it. And she, like a reflex that she never wants to shake, steps in to ease the process for Regina. “I’m sorry I ran off so quickly last time,” she says. “It’s not…I guess it’s not fair for me to expect you to talk about…” A future, Emma’s future, one that will never happen now. 

 

Regina presses her lips together and shifts in place, and Emma daringly pats her bed. Regina sits down. From her pocket, she retrieves a little paper.

 

A photograph. She passes it to Emma silently, and Emma stares at the girl in the picture. She’s six or seven, grinning at the camera with a gap-toothed smile, her hair brown and long with a wave to it. She looks remarkably like Henry, nearly his twin, and Emma lays a hand on Hope’s back and gapes at it. 

 

“Your mother’s genes are disgustingly strong,” Regina observes, because yes , this half-grown Hope bears a striking resemblance to Mary Margaret. “Though it’s probably for the best, considering your terrible taste in men.” 

 

Emma snorts. There must be some Killian in the girl in the picture, but Emma doesn’t see it. “I have nonexistent taste in men,” she reminds Regina.

 

Regina quirks a smile. “And isn’t that a relief.” She holds out another picture, this one of Hope at ten or so. She’s making a face, a personality evident from just her expression, and Emma blinks away watery tears, a strange emotion suffusing her that she can’t name.

 

“Thank you,” she says quietly. “For showing me these.”

 

“I have more,” Regina says, and her voice is stilted, still uncertain. “You sent me…many pictures. Always of Hope. Never of yourself or him .” She clears her throat. “I didn’t want to share the letters. But I suppose you have the right to see them.” 

 

She pulls another rectangle from her pocket, thin and shaped like a box. With a wave of Regina’s hand, it grows, becoming a real box that must hold dozens of letters. “Some are better than others,” Regina murmurs. “It was…you’d send me many of them every year. The earlier ones are very angry.” 

 

Emma slips out from under Hope, eases her onto a pillow that will prop her up so she can breathe, and sits down on the floor beside the bed. Regina slides down to sit beside her. “I want to see.” 

 

She opens one and finds fury within, hurt and pain that makes her shake with its force. What the HELL, Regina? You’re just going to cut me off? Robin and Zelena can go on little jaunts to visit you and you can’t even enchant a mirror? Did you even TRY to reach me? I don’t care if you don’t want to see me. I don’t want to see you, either. But my SON is there. I want to see my son. FUCK YOU. Fuck you and your need to control every last bit of his life– of my life– of your fucking cursed town that you can’t let go of–

 

Emma puts the paper down. “I would apologize,” she says, chewing on her lip. “But I kind of see where she’s coming from. Where I’m coming from.” Regina doesn’t respond. 

 

Emma finds another one, this one a little more grudgingly forgiving. At least tell me that you’ll keep writing. I might be furious with you, but it still kills me not to get to talk to you at all. 

 

“Henry wouldn’t,” Regina says at last. “He wouldn’t let me open up a line of communication with you. Once in a while, he would find another way to contact you. But never through me.” She looks horribly guilty, and Emma doesn’t understand, doesn’t know what she’d did to push Regina away so wholly that even Henry had encouraged it. 

 

With unease, she opens a letter closer to the middle of the pile. In this one, she’s far from furious, chatty as she details some project that Hope is working on. The letter goes on for a while, recounting an invasion of Storybrooke gone wrong and some magical skill her future self had been working on, casual and mundane.

 

Near the end of the letter, she gets melancholy. It used to be so much easier when you were around. Remember that time when Henry refused to let us chaperone his Homecoming dance and we decided to go anyway? Last night was Homecoming at the high school and I had to break up a few fights there that got out of control. Made me miss you. 

 

Emma remembers that dance when Henry was sixteen, when a senior had asked Henry to go with her and they’d both been deeply suspicious of her motives. They’d transformed into a teenaged couple to keep an eye on Henry, had danced their way across that room and made light jokes about their date and had had one of the best nights that Emma had had in years. She remembers it now distantly, with aching longing, and Regina’s eyes are far away, too. 

 

There are more letters like that last one than any others. The angry ones are rare later on, have been replaced with a slew of everyday updates. Regina hears about every outing, every happy little event that Killian and Emma have for Hope. Hope is a Daddy’s little girl . The town is so peaceful that Emma takes long vacations and goes traveling with her family. She hears about Emma’s adventures in Storybrooke, rare and lacking the same end-of-the-world excitement as their mutual ones used to have, and she hears Emma’s reminiscences of a better world in which the two of them were fighting together. 

 

She seems so happy , and Emma doesn’t like it, doesn’t like imagining that she could have ever been happy in that farce that had been her marriage. “This is so dull ,” she says. “This is what my life was like? How did you manage to read these ever year without passing out from sheer boredom?” 

 

Regina shakes her head. “I drank in every word,” she says. “My letters were no better, trust me. You would talk about Hope and I would talk about Lucy. it was excessively mundane, except–” She hesitates. “There was one more.”

 

Emma frowns. “One more letter?” 

 

“It’s not…” Regina closes her eyes. “I don’t know if you want to read it. It was the last one I got, just a week or so before the curse. The only one I got that last year.” Emma blinks at her, her interest piqued, and Regina lays her head against the bed, visibly uncomfortable. “I don’t think…I really don’t think that Emma would have wanted anyone else to see it.” 

 

“Good thing it’s just me here,” Emma says. If she’d been a little drunk before, it’s cleared up entirely, and she feels rather painfully sober right now. Regina watches her for a moment, her eyes pained, and she slides her hand over the inner cover of the box, revealing a hidden compartment. 

 

Inside, there is just one letter, and Emma unfolds it with trepidation.

 

It begins: I burned all the letters I was going to send this year.

 

Maybe that was stupid. Maybe it was stupid to sit here, the night before Robin comes to visit, and destroy twenty letters that I’d written to you to send. Now I’ll have nothing except this, and I don’t know how this is ever going to explain it all.

 

I just got so tired of the lies. 

 

“Lies?” Emma echoes, and Regina doesn’t look at her, only leans against the bed and stares at the wall. Emma reads on, her stomach lurching. 

 

I write these fucking cheerful letters because I guess a part of me still feels so competitive with you. That if you’re living this ideal life in another realm, then mine had better be good, too. That’s why I stayed, isn’t it? That’s why I let you and Henry leave me here. For my picture-perfect little family and future. 

 

It’s shit. All of it. I love Hope so much I think that I might die sometimes from it. She’s eleven and perfect and she despises me. I thought that that’s supposed to start when she’s a teenager, but it’s been years already. She hates being around me. We fight– god, I never understood what it meant to fight with a kid. I never got how crushing it was when Henry hated you until now. Everything I say is taken as instigation. Everything she says is barbed. 

 

I’m so fucked, Regina. I should have listened to you when you told me that I was too good for Killian instead of listening to you when you told me that I deserved a happy ending with him. I don’t know if I’m too good for him or if I’m just not good enough. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, why I’m barely able to be around him without feeling sick. It was like…the instant Hope was born, something switched off in me. Like I’d gotten what I wanted from him and every time he touched me after that felt like poison. So he has his women and I can’t even blame him. And I can’t leave him, either, because I know that Hope won’t come with me. At least he’s subtle about it. At least Hope doesn’t know that, too.

 

My parents are still around sometimes, but they come and go. They’ve withdrawn from me, which I also get. Neal’s getting older, needs more attention, and I haven’t exactly been forthcoming. I don’t want to talk to them. I’m just…ashamed, I guess. That I’m the only one who can’t seem to make this whole perfect true-love-happy-ending thing work. I don’t think I’m cut out for fairytales after all.

 

God. I can see you here sometimes in my mind, the way you’d roll your eyes at me as if I was stupid for ever buying into any of that. (I know, I’m stupid, I don’t think you’ll grasp exactly how much I hate how stupid I was about all of this.) I think about it sometimes– if I’d made a different decision twelve years ago, if I’d left with you and Henry and raised Hope in that other realm. If Hope had grown up with all of us instead of me, if she’d still love me if her father hadn’t hated me. 

 

I can’t be here anymore. But I can’t leave Hope. I think I’d just crumple up and die if I ever lost her. I don’t know how to exist in a world without her. I wish–

 

The words have been savagely scrawled out, unreadable, and all that is left beneath them is a single line. I wish you were here , it says, and then, Emma .

 

Emma folds the paper, dizzy. She rises to her knees to take in the baby sleeping peacefully on her bed, and she notices only then that she’s crying. The tears are streaking down her cheeks, and Regina watches her, her eyes grave.

 

“Tell me,” she says, her heart thumping violently. “Tell me you were going to come for me.”

 

“I was going to come for you,” Regina says simply. “If I’d had a few more days– if I’d been able to get to you in time– I had to see who you were. Which version of you was the real one.” 

 

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Emma says, and she feels sick. “I’m glad she doesn’t exist anymore. I’m glad I never went through those twelve years. I– fuck ,” she says, staring at her hands. “Fuck.” 

 

Regina says quietly, “I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I’d heard that you had left Hook. I don’t know if– you don’t put a lot of blame on him in the letter. I do,” she says, and her voice is fierce. “And I was going to do whatever I could to make sure that you didn’t have that life again.” 

 

“I appreciate that,” Emma says. Her voice is dull, and she stares at Hope, the perfect baby that she’d been destined to fuck up for life. “She’s going to hate me?” 

 

“No.” Regina puts a hand on her back. “No. Never . I swear it. That girl is going to grow up with a mother who loves her and two brothers and no one poisoning her against you. I am going to be there every step of the way to make sure of it.” 

 

“You’re hardly there now,” Emma says, which is vulnerable and petty and mean, and Regina recoils as though she’s been struck. “I’m sorry,” Emma whispers. “I’m sorry. I’m just…” The bitterness of that letter– of all the letters, now that she knows that they’re lies– it seems to seep into her, leaving her with the one incontrovertible fact that she can’t look past. 

 

The one fact that never changes. Regina is gone, and Emma misses her. 

 

Regina doesn’t answer, and Emma sees the softness of her face, the way that it shudders as though it might shatter. “You’re right,” she says. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to make that better. I don’t know how to– I’m grateful to be queen–” 

 

She stumbles over the words, and Emma says, “You don’t have to keep saying that. It sucks. We both know it sucks. And maybe it’s what you want to do– to spend your life fixing other people’s messes and calling it a gift instead of a burden– but you don’t have to pretend here. Not to me.” 

 

Regina exhales, and Emma sinks back to the floor beside her, listening to the rhythm of Regina’s breaths interspersed with Hope’s. When she puts a hand into Regina’s, Regina squeezes it, and she turns to face Emma. “I never wanted to be a queen,” she says, her words hoarse. “Not when my mother made me one, and never since.”

 

“What did you want?” 

 

Regina smiles, and it’s soft and distant. “A little cottage somewhere. Love. Family. Something other than fighting and fighting the demons of my past.” She closes her eyes, and Emma blinks away her own tears and watches her, drinks in her features and memorizes them as though this is the last time she might get to see Regina like this. “I like to imagine that I’ll be able to retire from being queen one day. That I can just…iron it all out and then go find somewhere quiet to live the rest of my days. But I don’t know if there’s anyone else who will do what I can.” 

 

Emma feels the confidence like a surge running through her, like the certainty that has only ever come when she’s rescuing Regina. There is so much in her life that is in flux, that can be destroyed with too-gentle or too-hard hands, and there is so much that she can get wrong. But she never feels that doubt when Regina is in danger. “We’ll find someone,” she says. “And if we don’t, so be it. It can’t be on you to fix the problems of the world.” 

 

Regina doesn’t agree. She doesn’t disagree, either, which Emma takes as a concession of sorts. “It is absolutely crushing,” Regina breathes instead, and her hand rises, turns, her knuckles brushing against Emma’s cheek, “To go so many days without seeing you.” 

 

Emma’s heart jumps. In this dark and naked space, it’s impossible to think about signals and plans, about all the things that are supposed to mean all the other things, about what is and isn’t real. All there is is Regina, her hand running over Emma’s skin, and it is so, so soft. “You have so many friends now,” Emma says, and she feels vulnerable and breathless, on the cusp of heartbreak or ecstasy. “I can’t be the only one–”

 

“I don’t have anyone else like you,” Regina murmurs, and Emma stops talking. “I don’t think I ever could.” 

 

Emma stares at her. Regina is gazing back at her steadily, her hand still on Emma’s skin, and they watch each other in silence, in anticipation. 

 

It’s Regina who speaks first. “What changed–” she begins, and her voice is heavy with maybes, with quiet implications. “What changed in the timeline this time around? That made you realize you had to leave him?” 

 

Emma counters with a question of her own, her heart constructed of delicate, radiant light. “Why did you refuse to see me for all those years?”

 

Together, the questions converge into an answer, shining clear and bright between them. Why . Why wouldn’t Henry encourage Regina opening a channel between them and Emma? Why had Regina disappeared with nothing more than a goodbye, just as they’d been growing apart and Emma had been settling into the possibility of a family with her husband?

 

Why had Emma cast aside all of that the moment that she’d seen Regina again?

 

And Regina’s fingers, still against Emma’s cheek, are suddenly unmoving. Emma shifts forward, daringly, and she wonders– had she really needed to win Regina over at all? Has Regina been here for all this time, waiting? 

 

When their lips meet, a sob is torn from Regina’s throat, and Emma pulls her close, onto her lap, Regina’s legs on either side of Emma’s hips. Regina trembles, and Emma kisses her again, dots her lips against Regina’s jaw and neck and ears. Regina clings to her, and Emma feels a swooping sensation like completion, like everything coming together at once. 

 

Here they are: on the floor of Emma’s bedroom, beside her bed, tangled together in quiet relief. Regina is stroking Emma’s hair, is tracing patterns into the skin that has been left exposed beneath her pajama shirt, is trembling beneath Emma’s ministrations. Emma is kissing Regina– languorously, as though they have all the time in the world, as though this is something that she can do forever.

 

And she can. She thinks that she could very well spend a lifetime sitting on the floor with Regina in her arms, tasting her lips and her skin and lost in her scent. Something within her burns hot with desire, and she thinks not now because her baby is up on that bed and they will have more time. They have not suffered so long in loneliness for this to happen for a single stolen moment. Regina is breathing loudly– gasps, really, that Emma elicits with hot kisses– and Emma catches them with her lips, sucks on Regina’s lip and revels in the sensation of it, and then kisses Regina’s face again. It is such a glorious face. 

 

Regina shifts atop her– just enough that Emma registers with satisfaction that she is uncomfortable– and Emma murmurs, “Patience,” in her ear, her lips grazing Regina’s earlobe.

 

Regina sucks in a breath, her eyes flashing, and she purrs into Emma’s ear, “I want to lick you raw and screaming,” which has Emma second-guessing her own patience, which has her calculating how long it would take to very politely pass Hope back to Ry while Regina waits here, her head tilted back and her face flushed with wanton desire, and pretend that this isn’t about what it’s definitely about–

 

And then, something vibrating against Emma, a harsh and unpleasantly jarring vibration instead of something more pleasant. Regina looks alarmed, defiant, and she grinds against Emma and kisses her with renewed desperation. The buzzing stops and then starts again, a barrier between them, and Emma lets out a sigh and pulls out the phone from Regina’s pocket.

 

Regina says tersely, “Zazu?” 

 

Emma keeps kissing her, traces letters against her pulse point to spell out EMMA SWAN , and Regina sighs and leans her head back as she talks, the words spilling out with satiated ease. “Again? I don’t see what good I’m going to do there– you can’t tell me that the integrity of the entire United Realms is hinging on managing this one snafu–”

 

Emma sucks on her neck, nibbles at it, and is delighted to discover the rose-purple mark that she’s left behind. Regina keeps a hand in Emma’s hair, holding her fast as she argues with the person on the phone. “You can take care of it. Of course they’ll listen to you,” she says crisply, and then lets out a protracted groan as Emma scrapes her teeth against the curve of her jaw. “Excuse me,” she says. “I just– fell.” 

 

The voice on the other line sounds unamused. Regina sighs heavily. “All right,” she says, and she sounds defeated. Her hand falls, and Emma hesitates, her lips stopping against the side of Regina’s neck. “I’ll be right over.” 

 

She hangs up the phone, and she looks so dejected that Emma doesn’t have the heart to make this any more difficult for her. “Come back when you can,” Emma says instead, and she presses her lips against Regina’s. “Don’t worry. I’ll be here.” 

 

“You’ll be here,” Regina repeats, and she kisses Emma, long and sorrowful, and then rises to press her lips to Hope’s tiny hand. Hope shifts in her sleep– young and loving, and Emma can only do everything in her power to hope desperately that she might stay that way– and Regina murmurs, “I’m sorry.” 

 

Emma doesn’t trust herself to respond without saying I am, too , and so she sits instead in the quiet of her bedroom, watching Regina with her eyes still bright and wanting, and Regina disappears in a lazy haze of purple smoke.

 

She doesn’t return later. Emma hadn’t been foolish enough to expect otherwise, and so she is energized instead of disappointed, floating on the promise of what might yet be to come. 

 

This has only begun.

Chapter Text

There are more villains to call upon, and Emma doesn’t hesitate. 

 

She gets a voice note from Regina late that night, harried and stressed. “ I had to threaten to set the leader on fire just to get him to sit at the table. It’s going wonderfully.” A pause, as though she’d nearly ended the message, and then, “ It was really good to see you tonight.

 

Emma responds in text form: Oh, were you here tonight? I’d forgotten. She then recalls that they’re on thin ice right now and Regina might take her seriously, and so she sends a string of emoji to Regina that range from laughing to winking to a cringeworthy kissing emoji to– of all things– the two-women-and-a-girl emoji. 

 

Heart on the line, hopelessly in love, here she is.

 

And she is determined to get time to enjoy it, whether or not Regina can ever find that time. She calls in favors, some less valid than others. “You don’t remember the time I helped you out?” she says incredulously to a vampire from the Land of Iron Deficiency. The vampire blinks at her. “Come on. You were trying to attack Storybrooke and I put up a barrier to keep you from coming in. It was the only reason why you survived. You’re welcome .” 

 

“And what would you like me to do for you?” the vampire says skeptically. Sadly, he does not speak with the same accent as the Count from Sesame Street (“for copyright reasons,” he informs her, and she nods and takes that in stride), but he has an odd inflection to his voice regardless.

 

Emma contemplates. “Hey,” she says suddenly. “You think you can make a ruckus in the Land of Sepia Mysteries?”

 

Regina looks stunning in the old-school noir get-up, a fedora low on her face and a frankly sexy-as-fuck jacket falling to her ankles. She ducks her head low when she sees Emma, a smile playing at the edges of her lips, and she says, “Oh, that dress is working for you.” 

 

“It’s doing eighty-five percent of the work,” Emma says, grinning, because she’d gone with a low-cut brown dress that falls past her ankles, along with pumps below it with fishnet stockings. “You said something about vampires?” 

 

“Terrorizing the populace. Just outside,” Regina says, gesturing, and they stalk out into the streets together, peering around until the vampire attacks. 

 

Emma makes the more attractive target in her outfit, and so she tilts her head back and makes noises of gasping, ladylike distress when she’s grabbed. Regina twists around, her eyes flashing, and she sends flashes of sepia magic at the vampires until they flee, all of them converging in a rush on the portal that will take them out of the realm.

 

Once they’re gone, Regina tips her hat again and says, “Thank god . I thought I’d never get called to another crisis.” She slinks forward, tracing a hand along the bare skin of Emma’s shoulder. “A dame with a face like yours shouldn’t be out when there are vampires underfoot,” she says, in character, and Emma swoons in response, both of them laughing as they stumble into each other. 

 

Emma is the one to catch Regina this time, arm around Regina to tilt her face up to Emma’s, and she murmurs, “It is very good to see you, Your Majesty.” 

 

“Mm,” Regina says, and she tugs Emma down to kiss her. 

 

They walk through the dusty streets of a land without real color, watching the brown-gold sky and dipping into a club to dance together, and they sit together on a park bench to stare out at the sepia trees in front of them at the end of the night. “I tried to take a day off,” Regina says, shaking her head. “The day after we…when Hope was sick.” She laughs ruefully. “Zazu told me that I could take a day off when I’m dead. As if he won’t have me working from hell.” 

 

“I always kind of figured that was what hell would be,” Emma says thoughtfully. “Just doing the worst parts of your day job without any end of the day. Hades’s domain was too mild to be eternal torment.” 

 

Regina winces. “I don’t know. Watching you chasing that worthless pirate felt like eternal torment to me.” Emma nudges her, and then realizes that she’s serious.

 

She leans against Regina’s shoulder, quietly exultant in how easy that motion is right now. “Why didn’t you say anything?” If Regina had made an overture– if she had said something to Emma– it might have been messy. It would have been disastrous to Emma’s relationship with Killian. And it would have ended here, Emma knows with certainty, the two of them comfortable and together after years of upheaval.

 

Regina sighs. “At first, I didn’t think that you were interested,” she says. “I thought that there might be something there after I came back. But by then, I was worried that it wouldn’t be…” Her voice trails off, and Emma places a hand against her cheek to tilt her face to Emma’s, to the two of them with eyes inches apart and locked together. Regina looks vulnerable, uncertain, and she says in a whisper, “I didn’t want to be with you unless you felt about me the way that I felt about you.” 

 

“Regina,” Emma says, and she wants to burst with a thousand feelings at once, to say it all and lay her heart on the ground in front of them to be trampled. She reins it in only moderately, and she runs her thumb over Regina’s chin. “By my calculations, sometime around when I sacrificed my soul to the darkness for you, I think that qualified as feelings .” 

 

Regina snorts. “Please,” she says. “You can’t tell me that you– all this time–” 

 

Emma kisses her, gentle and content. “I don’t know,” she murmurs. “I don’t know when I fell head-over-heels for you. But I know that you have been one of the most important people in my life for a very, very long time.”

 

They kiss on a bench until the streets are quiet and the shadows of wolves move through the park, until Regina’s phone is ringing again and Zazu makes some snide comments about the people dying in the Realm of Half-Finished Sandwiches because Regina hasn’t fixed the vampire problem here yet, until Emma says I hate your job and Regina says wryly so do I and they are leaning in for one last goodbye before Regina is swept away.

 


 

And Regina does make an effort. It’s as though she’d only been waiting for confirmation that she is wanted, and now she finds ways to slip into Emma’s life, bit by bit. There is an apple turnover on Emma’s desk the next morning, a note stuck to the plate. Picked this up from Gingerbread Land. I’m covered in confectionary sugar for my meeting with the royals in the Fire Kingdom but it was worth it. No signature, but Emma knows the handwriting, and she grins like a fool at it until Jacinda says, eyebrows up, “Eat the damn turnover or I will.” 

 

Regina shows up in the evenings, too, though it’s usually in the mirror in the front hall, calling Emma’s and Ry’s names until they pull the mirror off the wall and prop it up in the kitchen. “Terrible day today establishing regulations in the Rollercoaster Realm,” she says one day, looking green, and she vomits a few minutes later on her side of the mirror and has to excuse herself.

 

Another day, she appears at breakfast, playing peek-a-boo with Hope from what looks like a hot-air balloon. “I wanted to see you,” she says to Emma, her eyes bright. “I wanted you to see this.” She gestures at the view behind her, but Emma is stuck on the sight of Regina, windswept hair and a flush to her skin.

 

Emma asks Regina to come by exactly once, for a dinner with the whole family. Regina arrives at six on the dot, and Lucy races to her, a blur of movement that careens into Regina as Regina catches her, laughing. “It is good to see you, sweetheart,” she says, and she glances up and sees Emma– her shirt streaked with cooking stains and a preponderance of flour on her jeans– and her eyes soften. “And you,” she murmurs. 

 

She sets her phone down on the front hall table with grim determination, and she wanders into the living room to greet everyone else as Emma moves to the kitchen. She’s cooking– has been determined to cook this meal on her own, and has gotten decent enough at it that she thinks her cauliflower is going to be as much of a hit as her ziti– and she listens to the sounds from the other room with a sense of peace. There , the cadences of Henry and Ry’s voices as they argue about a show that they’re both watching. There, Jacinda making offhand comments and cooing to Hope as Hope makes excited squeaks in response. There , Lucy’s too-loud voice and Regina’s warm, affectionate responses, the rhythm of it like a song. There is her family, the one that Emma has never known to dream of. Big and happy and full of love. 

 

She doesn’t notice that Regina has stopped talking to Lucy until she hears footsteps behind her, and she exhales as Regina slides her arms around Emma’s waist and kisses her neck. “Missed you,” Regina murmurs.

 

Emma sighs with quiet bliss. “Somehow, seeing you in that mirror makes it worse,” she confesses, and she turns to kiss Regina with equal vigor. Tonight– if Regina stays– tonight, she might be able to bring Regina upstairs, to do what she’s wanted to for months. “I can’t believe Zazu let you get away tonight.” 

 

“He didn’t,” Regina says ruefully. “I sneaked out in the middle of a diplomatic negotiation in the Land of Untold Stories. They weren’t going to work anything out, anyway.” She glances once to her phone in the hallway, then turns away from it and back to Emma’s neck. “You cook now?” 

 

“I always cooked. Occasionally. When I had to.” Emma makes a face. “Figured I should get better at it now that I have a teenager and a half living full time with me. And Hope might as well grow up eating food that doesn’t come out of a box.” 

 

“Mm.” Regina snatches a piece of broiled cauliflower off the serving tray. She makes a noise of pleasure, and Emma twists around, backs her against the counter and lifts her up against it to kiss her soundly. Regina tastes like garlic and turmeric, and she hitches her legs up against Emma’s hips, her dress riding up around her. Emma slides a hand over to caress the underside of Regina’s thigh, and Regina lets out a little noise of pleasure. 

 

“Okay,” Henry says from behind them. “Actually, I don’t think I need a drink.” 

 

Emma drops Regina, very sheepish. “Sorry,” she says. “There’s, uh…there’s a bottle of coke in the fridge.” 

 

Henry winces. “Something stronger, please.” 

 

Neither of them can quite meet Henry’s eyes as Emma locates a bottle of whiskey and passes it to Regina. Regina pours it out for them, and the three of them drink in silence, the cloud of embarrassment hanging over them. 

 

After a few minutes, Henry says, “So, you two are actually together now, then?” 

 

Regina arches an eyebrow. “What do you think?” 

 

“It’s hard to tell sometimes,” Henry protests. “I’ve seen paparazzi pictures snapped of you walking hand-in-hand through the Realm of the Lovestruck and then come over to find Ma pining endlessly.” 

 

“We didn’t want to get separated,” Regina says reasonably. “It’s crowded there. And Emma had just thrown herself in front of an angry giant to stop him from destroying the realm, so I was feeling protective.” 

 

Henry blinks. “Yeah,” he says. “That’s the kind of stuff that made it hard for me to figure it out when I was thirteen, too.” He grins. “It’s about time, though, yeah? I would have killed to live with both of you in high school. That was around when I figured out that Mom was stuck in this sad unrequited thing.”

 

“I was not,” Regina says, eyes narrowed at him. Henry shrugs, unrepentant.

 

Emma says, “It wasn’t unrequited . I had the sad unrequited thing. Your mother just has no game.” 

 

You have no game,” Regina says, tossing her an outraged look. “If I didn’t invite you along whenever some enemy halfheartedly attacks a realm, we wouldn’t even see each other.” 

 

Emma keeps wisely silent at that. Regina’s smug look, she decides, is cute enough that she will accept the unfair loss here rather than to explain exactly how she’s been the mastermind behind said attacks. Henry says, “ Anyway , I’d better get back out there. I think Hope is giving Jacinda baby fever.” 

 

He looks at them, possibly for some sympathy, and gets none of it. Regina says wistfully, “Oh, I hope so.”

 

“Have two more,” Emma volunteers helpfully. “Closer in age, too, because having three kids over thirty years is really confusing.” She feels for the first time like a real grandmother , wheedling for more grandchildren, and she feels positively gleeful at the way that Henry backs out of the room, looking alarmed. “I’m a grandma,” she says, still baffled at that, and Regina slips an arm around her waist and presses a kiss to her shoulder. 

 

They emerge together, setting the food out on the table, and Regina scoops Hope up and bounces her to her high chair. Hope is delighted by her, refuses to eat when anyone but Regina tries to feed her, and Emma’s heart swells with treacherous joy at what that might become in the future. A Hope raised by Emma and Regina will be a Hope who loves Emma, who will never grow into the angry girl who’d given that future Emma so much pain. This Hope will be happy , not resentful, and Emma has no doubt that they’ll be able to handle whatever challenges she poses. 

 

The food is finished quickly, and Ry and Henry fight over the last few pieces of cauliflower goodnaturedly, settling it with an arm wrestling competition that has Jacinda groaning and Regina rolling her eyes. “I’m a trained knight,” Ry warns Henry. “And I don’t have old-man reflexes.” 

 

“Okay, I’ve lived through more battles than you’ve ever heard of ,” Henry says, offended.

 

“Right. Old-man reflexes,” Ry says mock-sympathetically. “I’m sure you have very strong fingers from all the writing, though.” 

 

Lucy picks a piece of cauliflower off the serving tray as she watches them. “Think Dad has a chance?” she asks, popping it into her mouth.

 

Regina says, “Maybe.” She shakes her head at them when Henry turns back to Ry, missing it.

 

“Not a bit,” Jacinda says, and she raises her eyebrows at Ry when he winks at her. It occurs to Emma that, perhaps, Ry might be developing an inappropriate crush on his older self’s wife. Well . That’s a problem to pretend doesn’t exist.

 

Instead, she says in a stage whisper, “It’s important that he feels like he does.”

 

“I don’t like any of you,” Henry informs them. “Except Mom, who always believes in me.”

 

“That’s right, Henry,” Regina says seriously, and Ry glowers at her until she points at him and mouths something that Emma is pretty sure is you’re my guy

 

The boys clasp their hands together, Lucy finishes the last piece of the cauliflower, and tonight is perfect , exactly as it should be for everyone (except Henry, whose hand slams down on the table a moment later), and Emma is already planning the next one when Henry picks up his phone and says, “Oh, wow. Did you guys see this? Diplomatic talks in Untold Stories went sour and there’s a civil war on.” 

 

Regina stiffens. Henry throws her a guilty look, as though remembering suddenly that they have the woman in charge of all the realms in the room with them, and he says hastily, “I mean, if they haven’t called you already, they probably don’t need you yet.” 

 

“I have to go,” Regina says, and she rises, her hands wringing with distress. “I have to– my phone–” 

 

“This isn’t your fault,” Emma murmurs, guiding her back to the front hall. “You’re allowed to take a night off.” 

 

Regina picks up her phone, and Emma winces at the number of missed calls and messages that pop up. “I was supposed to be there.”

 

“You shouldn’t have to be there all the time,” Emma says, and she longs for a way to make that clear to Regina, to give her the breathing space that she needs. “It shouldn’t be one person’s burden to hold together a thousand worlds.”

 

Regina shrugs helplessly. “But it is,” she says. “But this is what I have to do. What choice do I have?” She disappears, fading away instead of vanishing in her typical burst of magic, and Emma is left frustrated and tired in the front hall.

 

She’d do anything to give Regina another break. Anything .

 

“There must be some other villain you haven’t called yet,” Ry volunteers, trailing behind her. They’re all there: Henry and Ry and Lucy and Jacinda, Hope propped up on Jacinda’s hip, and they watch her expectantly, waiting for her to find the thing that might bring Regina back to them all.

 

Emma says, “There’s one.” 

 


 

The shores of Neverland belong to the wild now. There are no more clearings, spaces made for the Lost Boys to cavort and camp out. Instead, wildcats prowl through the woods, growling menacingly at Emma as she walks along the shoreline, a baby safe in the sling at her chest. 

 

She knows he’ll be here. Maybe not right away– her message, she expects, would have been received with resentment and scorn– but he’ll come. In years spent around him– years of occasional tension and the constant sensation of trying too hard to be someone she isn’t– she has come to learn all his little tics and inclinations. They had been a way to dodge him, sometimes, and then to feel guilty enough to try to appease him. 

 

This might be the worst mistake she ever makes. She strokes Hope’s back and thinks about the letter that Regina had showed her and shudders. She can feel the screaming fear crawl through her. That isn’t a future she wants. It’ll destroy her. It’ll destroy them all. 

 

But that isn’t how this is going to go. Not this time.

 

The ship appears at the horizon, a familiar mast silhouetted against the moonlight. Emma waits as it approaches, stands on a rocky shore with her legs braced against the wind that whips around her, the sling secure and blocking out the worst of it from Hope. 

 

Killian emerges from the ship, his eyes wary. “You called?” His eyes sweep over her, lingering at her stomach and then shoot up to the sling at her chest, and Emma considers the charitable possibility that time has been working differently for him and he isn’t aware that Hope was born six months ago. “If you have regrets, I’m at pains to inform you that I’ve moved on.” He motions to the ramp, and a woman descends it to lean into his arm. She’s pretty– dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a danger in her eyes, and she takes in Emma with a raised eyebrow. 

 

She reminds Emma a bit of Milah, which relieves her more than she’ll admit. In every way that had mattered, she and Killian had been a mismatch. “I have, too,” she says, and she can’t stop the smile that blooms across her face when she thinks about it.

 

Killian nods. “I have heard the reports,” he says grudgingly. “The queen always fights with the savior at her side.” There is less resentment in his eyes now that they are apart, more resignation and a touch of something almost content. His eyes flicker back to the lump that is Hope in Emma’s sling. “I expected no less.” 

 

They stand in silence, sizing each other up, and Emma chooses her words carefully. “It would be…It would be really convenient for me if you were an absent father who never once stepped back into Hope’s life,” she says, and Killian’s eyes narrow. She wonders if he’d known Hope’s name until now, or if he’s thought of her at all. She thinks she knows the answer. “But I’ve met another version of you,” she says, and she remembers, for a moment, a glimpse she’d seen of Alice and Rogers walking through Storybrooke, Rogers with an arm tight around his daughter. She thinks of the not-this-future, in which Hope had adored her father even when she’d had no patience for her mother. “I know you’d want to be around for her.” 

 

Killian’s eyes are fixed on Hope, and there is something yearning within them, something so much more acute than any gaze he’s ever turned to Emma. The woman murmurs something into his ear, and he closes his eyes and then opens them. “Do you believe that I would want to be anywhere around you?” he says incredulously. “You broke my heart, Swan.” 

 

The woman murmurs something else. Killian twists to her, says something in a low voice. 

 

Emma says, “You did plenty to me.” She has thought about it, has tackled her guilt and found something ugly beneath it. “You used to put me down and quash any part of me that wasn’t all about you.” There had been very little good about them, once she’d gotten some distance. “You made me think that I wasn’t good enough for you. And you kept me from my son and Regina.” At the moment of choice, of spending twelve years with her family, she hadn’t had a choice. Killian had been there, an anchor wrapped around her legs, and she had stayed. “I think I’d have been with them all along if not for you,” she says, and she hears it spill from her lips like bitterness.

 

Killian watches her, guarded, and Emma feels very alone and vulnerable in this rocky beach, only a sling protecting Hope from the rest of the world. “You’re a pirate,” she says. “I was your treasure. Isn’t that what you used to say? I couldn’t be an object forever,” she says quietly, and Killian dips his head in quiet concession.

 

“I would like to know her,” he says, and Emma lifts Hope carefully out of the sling and waits until Killian and his girlfriend both sit on a large rock before she passes Hope to them. The woman has not introduced herself, which Emma thinks is just fine. She doesn’t feel any desire to know more about Killian’s life, to understand the people within it. If this woman sticks around, then maybe, for Hope’s sake, Emma will get to know her. 

 

Killian holds Hope delicately, with a gentleness that she’s never seen from him before. If she hadn’t met Rogers, she wouldn’t believe it. Hope squints up at him and promptly bursts into tears, and Emma retrieves her. “It’s okay,” she says soothingly. “It’s okay.” 

 

At the second attempt, Hope stays, looking up at Killian warily. And Killian looks at her with an emotion that Emma doesn’t think she’s ever seen on Killian’s face. Love . Real love, not the strange victoriousness– that desire to possess , to conquer Emma’s heart and hold it– that had been his relationship with Emma.

 

It’s strange how meeting her ex-husband again makes her even more content with her life right now. She has made the right decisions this time. And it’s going to be okay. 

 

When Killian finally hands Hope back, he says, “I don’t– I travel quite a bit now. I have little interest in living in Regina’s world again.” He clears his throat. “I wouldn’t be averse to being the father who shows up on occasion and sweeps Hope off for the weekend. Scheduled, of course,” he adds hastily.

 

Emma has never before thought herself so possessive– has never been so desperate to keep a child without sharing him with a parent. Even now, she likes to think wistfully of Regina spending the day with Hope in a world in which Regina has days to spend with anyone. But there is something fierce and proprietorial in how she thinks of Hope right now, and it takes her a moment to calm herself down to agree. “Deal.” It’s what Hope will want. It’s what is fair for her, and it is a far better future than any Emma can imagine.

 

That is, if she can work out one last thing. “Just one thing first,” she says.

 


 

They come at dusk. 

 

It isn’t the busiest time of day at Storybrooke’s beach, but it’s busy enough. There are families still packing up, and couples are lying on towels, staring up at the clear night sky. Emma is there, too, keeping an eye on the coastline, and she spots the threatening masts and prows as they appear on the horizon.

 

Pirate ships. Dozens and dozens of pirate ships, a captain on each deck. Killian has stayed out of view, but Emma sees the woman from Neverland captaining one of the ships, her hair whipping around her face as she roars out orders to her crew. They throw anchor close to the shore, and one captain shouts, “Prepare your valuables! This is an invasion!” 

 

People scatter and scream. Emma toggles the button on the realmswide alert app that notes an invasion in Storybrooke and begins to evacuate people. 

 

Regina is there five minutes later. “Go!” she urges, throwing up a shield in front of a pirate’s cutlass. She squints around, “Is that the Jolly Roger?” she asks disbelievingly, pointing directly to the ship. 

 

Emma shrugs. “Don’t know, don’t care,” she says, blocking a pirate’s blow with her sword. “Let’s just get rid of these guys.” 

 

Regina produces a sword of her own. She wields it expertly, swinging it around to throw pirates back and give the escaping citizens some time. The pirates grow in number, more of them scampering from the ships to back up the ones who are losing to Emma and Regina, and Killian’s girlfriend stalks from her ship toward them. Emma gives her an imperceptible nod, and the woman shoves a few others aside and then tosses something glittering and sharp at Emma and Regina.

 

Regina says, “Oh, shit , that’s fairy dust–” and then, in an instant, they are both asleep.

 

Emma awakens what must be an hour or two later. Her arms are chained together, and she is sitting on the deck of a ship, her back against Regina’s. Regina is already awake, testing her restraints and letting out a mumbled, irritable noise each time a chain fails to break. “Regina?” Emma murmurs. 

 

“Emma.” It emerges like a whoosh of relief, and Emma feels a prickle of guilt at what she’s put Regina through. “It seems that we’ve been kidnapped.” Then, with a note of amusement, “I must have missed the entire dinner with the dignitaries of the Land of Unfortunate Puns. And here I used to hate pirates. Are you all right?” 

 

“I’m fine,” Emma says, caught somewhere between guilt and vindication. “Looks like we got the pirates away from Storybrooke, at least.” 

 

“Looks like they were waiting for us,” Regina says grimly. “And I hate to tell you this, but the captain of this ship might have it in for us. She’s, ah…involved with…” She hesitates, and Emma realizes exactly what she’s going to say. 

 

“Have you been keeping tabs on Killian?” she demands incredulously. “You had time for that?”

 

Regina scoffs. “I didn’t have time for it. I just wanted to make sure that he was…away. Otherwise occupied. Far away from you. Wait–” she says, and Emma can imagine her, on the other side of Emma, with her eyes narrowing with slow suspicion. “How do you know about that?” 

 

Emma is rescued from responding by said woman, who strides up to them with flashing eyes and orders, “Get these witches off my ship.” They’re herded along, shoved from the ship onto a sweet little canoe, and a pair of oars are tossed at them. Regina magicks her chains away, catching them, and she passes one to Emma as Emma makes her own disappear.

 

The ship is gone in moments, and Emma and Regina are left behind on a sturdy little boat. Emma affixes the oars to the oarlocks, and then she sits up, forgoing rowing. The night sky in this lagoon is like a thousand glittering diamonds, far from any light pollution that would make stars few and far between. Instead, the sky is bare above them, and Regina shifts to lean back and gaze at it. Emma leans with her, careful of how the boat might move, and they both lower themselves to lie down across the bottom of the canoe. 

 

“Beautiful,” Regina murmurs. “Sometimes I think that we’ve seen all there is worth seeing in the realms, but then we wind up somewhere like this and I know I’ll never see it all.” 

 

“Are the stars different here?” Emma wonders. She can usually pick out a few constellations, but there are so many stars here that it’s hard to find the brightest. Maybe this is a different sky than the one she’s accustomed to. 

 

“I don’t know,” Regina says. She moves a little closer to Emma, and Emma takes her arm and strokes it. “In the other realm– the alternate Enchanted Forest– the stars were different, too. I always thought that that was strange, but I suppose that was one of the differences. That in other realms, the galaxy moves differently.” 

 

They watch the stars in silence. Emma runs her fingers over Regina’s skin, drawing circles into her wrist until she feels Regina shuddering beside her. Carefully, Regina turns onto her side, and Emma watches with dilated eyes as Regina moves to kiss her jaw, to slide onto Emma as Emma turns to stare up at the sky again. 

 

The stars are beautiful. Regina is moving against Emma’s waist, is laving every inch of exposed skin with her tongue. The sky is gleaming and still, and Emma’s body is on fire, her hands moving uselessly over Regina’s back, shifting to cup her ass. Regina bites her neck. Emma thrashes beneath her. The stars glow like a million flaming suns. Emma slips a hand down between Regina’s legs. Regina bucks against her.

 

The canoe capsizes, and they are both thrown into the water. Emma lets out a garbled noise, dipping beneath the surface in clear blue water, and she swims valiantly, popping back up over the water to search for Regina. “Regina! Regina!” 

 

“I’m here,” Regina calls. She’s treading water a few feet away, just beside a little island in the water. It’s grassy and clear, as beautiful as the sky above it and the woman who clambers onto it, and Emma shakes her head, laughs helplessly, and follows Regina to the little piece of land.

 

It’s only about thirty feet long, and there is no wildlife on it beyond a single tree. Emma climbs up onto it, soaking wet, and is treated to the view of Regina in a blouse that is clinging to her, nearly transparent when it’s this drenched. Her mouth is dry, and she says, her voice strained, “Are you okay?”

 

Her clothes are uncomfortable, sticking to her in all the wrong places. It doesn’t occur to her to use magic to dry them, only to tug her shirt off over her head for some relief, and she watches as Regina’s eyes darken as she takes Emma in.

 

She stalks forward again to Emma, unbuttoning each button of her blouse as she takes a step, and she tosses the shirt away as she finally reaches Emma. “Hell of a kidnapping,” she breathes, stroking Emma’s hair, and her hands move down to Emma’s back to release her breasts from confinement. 

 

The bra falls to the ground. Emma maneuvers around Regina, presses her chest to Regina’s back as she fiddles with Regina’s front clasp, and then they are both– topless, revealed to each other. Regina is every bit as stunning as Emma has always imagined, and her hands move– stroking, cupping, squeezing, brushing against Regina’s nipples and listening to Regina’s intake of breath in response. “This good?” Emma murmurs in Regina’s ear, and Regina arches against her in an answer, grinding back against Emma’s pants.

 

Emma keeps one hand on Regina’s breasts– this is what she’s wanted for so long, what she’s craved for an eternity, and it is hers at last, and nothing can be better than it except for where her other hand snakes down, into Regina’s pants. Regina moves against Emma’s hand desperately, lets out a gasping noise when Emma rubs a finger against her clit, groans aloud when Emma manages to get two fingers into her. Emma moves them slowly, luxuriates in the sense of eternity stretched before them, and Regina hisses, “Emma. Don’t you dare–” 

 

But Emma teases out her orgasm, slow and subtle, until Regina is choking with need and Emma is drinking in every sensation against her. Regina’s back, shuddering with little shocks of desire. Regina’s breath, ragged and desperate. Regina’s core, pulsing as though it’s nearly there, right up until the moment that Emma finally pushes her over the edge and Regina comes in a thousand little bursts, trembling as though her body can’t hold it all.

 

She is limp in Emma’s arms for a few moments after, and Emma murmurs sweet nothings in her ears, each of them far from nothing– wanted this for so long, wanted you, please please please, mine, finally, love you – and Regina twists around and pushes Emma hard enough that she topples backward, nearly as unsteady, and falls onto the soft land of the lagoon. 

 

Regina claws at Emma’s pants with a ferocious desire, yanks them down and pulls up Emma’s legs to hook them over Regina’s shoulders. Emma is swept away by it like hurricane winds, is instantly drunk on this new sensation of Regina’s indomitable will. There is only Regina, her face on Emma’s center, her mouth moving in intoxicating, perfect concert with the neediness that Emma feels. Regina licks her, sucks at her clit, slides her tongue within Emma and moves it in a way that feels like nothing Emma has felt before, and Emma is reduced to a squalling creature beneath her, crying out and writhing with need for more, more , more

 

She comes down from her high and kisses Regina desperately, climbing onto her to return the favor. This has been a long time coming– has been an inevitability since the moment that she had first stood outside Regina’s door a decade ago and been struck speechless by her– and it will take another decade of this and only this before Emma can consider herself even briefly sated. 

 

They move together on this solitary island in the middle of nowhere, and there is fire and tenderness at once, desperation and completion and relief and so much love that Emma can drown in it. Regina is in her arms, and nothing in this universe will ever feel quite as hard-won and earned as this moment, the two of them in a forever embrace.

 

Forever, until there is the distant whir of what sounds too artificial to be an animal. Regina sighs like a sob. “That’ll be Zazu,” she says, and she shifts so quickly from contentment to defeat, to the awareness of the world around them. “I must have lost my phone in the lagoon–” 

 

“Come here,” Emma coaxes her, and she guides Regina back into the water to clean off the mess that they’ve made of each other. The water is shallow near the island, enough so that Emma can stand on the soft lake floor and kiss Regina again, can hold her and murmur, “I’m not done with you.”

 

“You’d better not be,” Regina whispers back, and she presses her lips into the curve of Emma’s neck where it meets her shoulders, holding her tightly as the helicopter moves into view.

 

There is a colorful bird beside it. Emma can see it flapping in the starlight, can sense the annoyance emanating from it, and she says, “Hold up. Like Lion King Zazu? Like the Morning Report guy?” 

 

“Don’t remind me,” Regina says tiredly, and she teleports them both back onto the island, fully clothed again. Emma wraps her arms around her, glowering up at the bird who is, in fact, her nemesis.

 

He transforms as he hits the ground, though he still very much resembles a bird. His face is sharp and long, his hair feather-like, and his clothing in the same colors as his feathers had been. “Kidnapped by pirates?” he says, disbelieving, and Regina shrugs, unrepentant. “You humiliated yourself at the dinner you missed,” Zazu says, his chin up. “Can’t you fix these crises a little faster? It’s hardly a show of strength in the realms. Into the helicopter with you. Go. I have made some discoveries about the matter we discussed.”

 

Emma mouths a question to Regina. Regina shrugs, still noncommittal. “Come with me?” she says, her eyes bright, and Emma hums a few bars of I Just Can’t Wait To Be King before she follows Regina into the helicopter. Zazu scowls at her, and she has the distinct impression that she’s made an enemy today.

 

Still, nothing beats this: sitting with Regina in the back of a helicopter with a tactfully quiet pilot, kissing her happily as they rise higher above the water. There is no portal here, but there are other ways to travel through the realms now, and the helicopter moves with confidence toward a distant spot that begins to look like a tower as they get closer and closer.

 

Eventually, Emma can identify it. It’s the castle that sits at the center of the realms, the seat of the United Realms. There is a grand complex around it, gardens and parking lots and an industry in tourist attractions, but the helicopter passes over all of that and settles instead on a landing pad beside a dozen more flying vehicles and creatures. 

 

Regina sees them and groans. “Not this.” 

 

“Whose are those?” Emma asks, peering worriedly out at them.

 

Regina sighs. “My supervisors.” Before Emma can ask about that– because doesn’t being queen of everything mean that you’re in charge, except for maybe your irritating majordomo– Regina clarifies, “The United Realms Advisory Board. The most supercilious, ignorant set of nobles I’ve ever had to pretend to value.” 

 

Emma squints at her. “Isn’t my mother on that board?”

 

“Case in point,” Regina says, heaving another sigh, and she presses her lips to Emma’s once more, quick and affectionate, and then tugs her from the helicopter. 

 

They descend together. Zazu is waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp, his eyes flashing. “An embarrassment ,” he repeats, still on the same chastisement from earlier. Regina ignores him and strides to the closest door. They’re atop a high floor of the castle, and there is a tower that rises up beside the landing pad. Emma follows her, her hand still in Regina’s, and Regina pushes the door open without a look back at Zazu’s furious squawking. 

 

“This is where you’ve been sleeping?” Emma says, looking around. “It’s a lot bigger than your house in Storybrooke.” 

 

“It’s a castle,” Regina says, and she sounds disgusted by that. “I don’t think I have any good memories in a castle.” It is a castle, though a far more modern one than any Emma’s seen before. There are lights along the walls and news bulletins scrolling across screens in the halls, and little bubbles along the opposite side of the hallways offer little glimpses into various realms. 

 

They take an elevator down to the ground floor, Regina’s hand tight in Emma’s, and Regina says, “It isn’t too late to leave. Just teleport out and go home. This isn’t going to be pleasant.” 

 

“I’m not going anywhere,” Emma says, and she tugs Regina to her for a moment, holds her tightly and nuzzles her neck. Regina relaxes against her, turns boneless and content. 

 

When the elevator door opens, they’re in a grand room– a throne room, a single seat in the middle of the room with a grand tapestry behind it. Across from it are arcs of chairs on rising platforms, a center rotating podium between them and the throne.

 

Most of the chairs are full. Mary Margaret is in one near the front of the room, and she lights up when she sees Emma. Emma gives her a half-wave, peering around at the other nobles. They range from obvious royalty to scruffy-looking people sitting in front of laptops, and all of them look up when Regina enters the room.

 

Regina doesn’t take the throne, only stands leaning against it. Emma angles herself against it, too, and she waits until Zazu steps up to the podium. “I have retrieved the queen,” he says, sounding irritable about it. “More importantly, I’ve called you all here because I’ve finally been able to track down the center of the worst shadow network of agitators that the world has ever seen.” 

 

“Whoa,” Emma whispers, and she feels, abruptly, a little hurt that Regina hasn’t told her about this new evil. Aren’t they supposed to be a team?

 

“The villain we’ve been calling The Spider has minions throughout various realms,” Zazu reminds the board of nobles. “They’ve been amassing more and more as time has passed. We know very little about their motivations. What we do know is that their network is even vaster than expected. That they send their henchmen to scope out the realms and leave only minor damage to show that they’ve been there. None of it bodes well.”

 

The nobles look grim. Mary Margaret, in the front row, is looking at Regina and Emma with wide eyes, shaking her head slowly. Regina stands, unconcerned, and Emma takes a moment to appreciate exactly how hot it is that this powerful supervillain doesn’t make Regina flinch.

 

Zazu says, “With some work and investigation, my team has been able to track down this master villain. We’ve interrogated dozens of henchmen. Some work directly for The Spider while others work through close associates, but all have given us a single name: the name that The Spider goes by.”

 

“And?” one of the nobles demands. “Who is it?”

 

Zazu preens. “They call their master the Savior ,” he says, and he whirls around, pointing an accusing finger at Emma and Regina as comprehension dawns on Emma. “A woman who matches the exact description of Emma Swan.” 

 

Crap . Right. If you look at it objectively, Emma has been the one initiating all these villainous attacks. Emma is the shadowy figure who has ordered all of them. Somehow, accidentally, in her quest to take Regina out on secret dates, she’s made herself a supervillain.

 

Emma holds up a hand. “Okay,” she says, darting a worried glance at Regina. Regina is watching the Board, her body rigid. “I know this looks bad, but–” 

 

“It’s an outrage!” Zazu thunders. “A disgrace! Our queen has been fraternizing with this threat to the realm’s existence! Who knows what she knew about it?” he says, his voice growing lower and more dire by the moment. “How do we know that she wasn’t a part of this? I can only recommend that she is deposed in ignominy and ejected from her place of honor here.” 

 

Emma lets go of Regina’s hand and makes a beeline for the podium, Regina behind her. Regina’s face is unreadable, and Emma feels sick at the idea that she might be the reason why Regina is fired. She might have wished that Regina wouldn’t have to do this job anymore, but not like this . Not in disgrace, while losing all the respect and appreciation she’d gotten–

 

Zazu is still speaking. “Without the queen in control,” he says, “I propose that we divide the United Realms into ten separate districts and elect a new ruler to manage each one. The task of ruling all the realms in isolation is just unrealistic, and I can’t imagine we’ll find anyone capable of it–” 

 

Emma shoves him from the podium. Zazu gasps. “An attack on my person from the Savior herself!” he says, horrified. 

 

“This isn’t what it looks like,” Emma says rapidly. Something at the podium is magically enhancing her voice, making it loud enough to reach everyone on each level of the audience. “I get it. I see how it seems suspect. Honestly, I was just trying to score some time with Regina. She’s been so busy and I–” She peeks at Regina, who is now watching her, eyebrows raised. “If you want to punish someone, punish me. She had nothing to do with it. She didn’t even know about it.” 

 

Regina says, “Well…”  It’s long and drawn out and a little guilty, echoing through the room as loudly as Emma’s voice, and Emma looks sharply at her. 

 

“You knew ?” she demands, disbelieving. 

 

Regina lifts her shoulders helplessly. “I had an inkling. Every now and then, there would be an attack from an actual villain in a place that wasn’t quite so romantic. The differences were fairly stark.” 

 

Emma gapes at her in wonder. “Why didn’t you say anything?” 

 

“I was afraid you’d stop,” Regina admits. She clasps her hands together, swaying with nervousness. “Those outings together were the only times I’ve gotten to breathe lately. And I loved getting to spend time with you. Getting to know you again,” she murmurs, and she lifts a hand to run her knuckles against Emma’s skin, her thumb brushing against Emma’s lips. Emma watches her, flooded with affection, and Regina offers her a secret, gentle smile. 

 

Someone in the third row clears his throat. “Let me get this straight,” he says, his voice loud in the room. “The Spider was doing all this to get some vacation time with our queen?” 

 

“Our former queen, if you will,” Zazu reminds him, glowering at everyone in attendance.

 

“I don’t know,” the man says, shrugging. “It’s kind of sweet.” 

 

“It’s darling ,” a noble says from the second row. There’s a murmur of assent, a few others chiming in.

 

“Wish my partner would do something that thoughtful.” 

 

“I want a love like that someday.” 

 

“Look at them. They’re adorable.” 

 

Emma slips an arm around Regina, both of them staring up at the rows and rows of nobles. Regina says in a whisper, her lips brushing Emma’s ear, “I hate them all so much.” The nobles coo. 

 

“They have the truest love,” Mary Margaret says tearfully. “Ten years before they found each other!” 

 

One of the scruffy guys leans forward. “Have you sold the rights to your story yet?” 

 

“Oh, the ballads my people would write,” a person in a high-collared gown says from the third row. “What a lovely tale.” 

 

“Zazu, you mustn’t stay in the way of true love,” the man sitting beside Mary Margaret says seriously. “No one wants to be the villain of a love story.” 

 

Zazu straightens, looking rumpled and very put out. “This is it?” he demands. “We forgive this treachery over romance ?” The nobles nod enthusiastically. Emma gives them a very awkward wave. One of the women in the back row winks invitingly at her– wait , is that Killian’s girlfriend? Regina glowers at her before Emma can wave limply back– and a few applaud. 

 

Zazu makes a disgusted noise. “Very well,” he says, twisting to glare at Regina. “You are reinstated.” 

 

“Thank you,” Regina says, dipping her head, and she says suddenly, “I’m going to abdicate.” 

 

Another murmur in the audience. Emma brightens. Zazu looks outraged. “You can’t abdicate!” he says. “The people need you! You’re the only one who can manage all the realms–” 

 

“I liked what you suggested before,” Regina says pleasantly. “The ten districts, the individual rulers on each…it sounds like a well thought out and viable plan. I’m happy to oversee it in a strictly managerial position from Storybrooke. If you’d still like to call me queen, I won’t be averse to that. But no more interventions and negotiations unless I choose to get involved. And no more diplomatic visits.” 

 

Zazu says, “Absolutely not–”

 

“Oh, let her spend some time with her lover,” someone calls from the audience. “Give the rest of us a break from The Spider.” 

 

Regina nods somberly. “I’ll keep her villainous instincts under control,” she says, patting Emma’s back. “It’s a full-time job.” The audience aww s. 

 

Emma says with a straight face, “Who knows what other terrible plots I might come up with if I don’t get quality time with Regina? She’s providing a public service.” 

 

Regina has wandered to the front row. “Emma has a baby daughter,” she says proudly. “The sweetest little girl, but you can already tell that she’s going to be a terror someday. Here, I have pictures.” She fumbles through her pockets and shows a few of the nobles pictures of Hope. They look obligingly, everyone very fond at once of Regina.

 

Emma watches from the podium, Zazu still beside her. “You know,” he says suddenly, looking at her with a far less hostile eye. “The degree of organization and level of magic needed for your crime network might be exactly what we need from a ruler of the United Realms–” 

 

“Go to hell,” Emma says politely, and she strides over to Regina and considers, with great wonder, that this is how they finally begin.

 


 

She has traveled the great expanse of the United Realms, has seen so much of what it has to offer, that it always comes as a surprise when somewhere even more impressive crosses her radar. 

 

Alice had mentioned this place, had suggested it as a wedding locale (“Oh,” Emma had said, flustered. “I haven’t even– I mean, maybe we will eventually, but–” “She means me,” Robin had said, rolling her eyes with marked disdain), and Emma had been determined to see it since then. Regina has been less amenable.

 

“If you fall off an asteroid, you’re going to fall forever,” she says now, staring out at the stars that surround them with distrust. “Am I the only one who knows anything about physics?” 

 

“Some of us actually went to real school,” Henry reminds her, sprawling out beside her on the ground of the asteroid. “As the only high school graduate here, I think that I’m allowed to forget everything I learned about Newton’s laws of motion.”

 

Emma throws a heap of rockdust at him. “Snob. Some of us were too busy giving birth to you to graduate high school,” she says, scowling at him. She turns back to Regina. “This isn’t a real asteroid. I mean, it’s real, but there’s no way that the laws of physics apply here. We’re not drifting away, are we?” 

 

Behind them is an amusement park in the stars, a complex of rollercoasters and carousels and water rides. Lucy and Ry are tossing a frisbee around in their little picnic space, and Jacinda is stretched out on the ground, gazing up at the stars. Hope is snug in the sling against Regina’s chest, singing to herself.

 

This is Emma’s family, and she is more content than she’s ever been. 

 

Regina had promised Ry and Lucy a vacation once she’d finished working out her successors, and Emma had picked the venue. Next to the amusement park is a lovely resort, quiet and calm, and it’s where Henry and Jacinda bring the kids at the end of the day. 

 

“Go,” Jacinda murmurs. “Spend some time together. You’ve been waiting for it.” She settles Hope into her stroller and lets Lucy push it, their five companions disappearing into the dimly lit path that leads back to their hotel.

 

Emma takes Regina’s hand. “Come on,” she says, and she knows exactly where she wants to go. 

 

The ferris wheel is one of the biggest in the United Realms, towering over the rest of the amusement park, and the line to get on has been endless all day. Day might be a stretch of the imagination in this place, but the park is well lit for twelve hours in a twenty-four hour cycle and then dark for the next twelve, and Emma considers this nighttime. 

 

In the night, most of the rides are shut down, but the ferris wheel is still open. Couples wait on line to get on, and Emma is waved past them to the front of the line. “Milady,” she says, gesturing to allow Regina to step on first.

 

“You didn’t use my position to cut the line, did you?” Regina asks suspiciously. 

 

Emma shakes her head. “Someone here owed me a favor,” she says. “You know, from my supervillain days.” She’d accidentally saved a few lives during one of the attacks, and they’ve been very happy to repay her even after the revelation that she’d maybe caused it, too.

 

It had been strange, growing up in a world where she’d been so convinced that most of the universe is hostile by default, then discovering that people are, by nature, generous and good. Or maybe this is just the world when she’s in love, a charmed place in which nothing can ever go totally wrong as long as Regina is here.

 

Regina shifts to nestle comfortably at Emma’s side. “I am still terrified someone’s going to fall off the face of this asteroid,” she confesses. “But it is beautiful.” 

 

Emma brushes her lips against Regina’s. They have risen to the top of the ferris wheel, suspended in the middle of glorious space. Stars are bright, glowing colors out here, red and blue and white, and nebulae paint the sky a rainbow of light. Asteroids move lazily, planets like spheres of beauty, and the world is quieter than it’s ever been. 

 

In a thousand years, Emma never could have imagined being somewhere like this. In a thousand years, Emma never could have imagined Regina beside her, gazing out the side of the cart with her eyes wide and round, leaning against Emma with comfortable intimacy.

 

Emma slides her arms around Regina and Regina lays her head on Emma’s shoulder and this . This is it, the place where they have always belonged. This is what they’ve fought for.

 

This is happiness.