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our reflections will light the way home

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They find a little cave underneath a long-deceased oak tree to camp out for the night. At least, they think it's night—the place seems permanently half in darkness, so it's difficult to tell the difference. Not only that, but it's pretty obvious to Emma that their surroundings are going to remain very much static, at least broadly speaking. But all the mirrors around them show darkness, illuminated only by streetlights or bedside lamps, and Regina says it's night, so. It's night.

Emma is fully expecting to be sleeping on the cold, hard ground; not great, she thinks grimly, but it's smooth and level and free of insects, and that immediately qualifies it for the illustrious prize of Not The Worst Place Emma Swan Has Slept. But to her surprise, the little narrow cave has two old, brown, slightly ragged but very much usable sleeping bags waiting on the floor.

"Look," she says to Regina, tugging her arm to get her attention and pointing at the sleeping bags. "Maybe someone's looking out for us?"

"I doubt Sidney had us in mind when he left this hole," Regina says, still clearly trying to sound snippy but coming off as—well. Tired. "And neither did any of the other miserable souls stuck in this prison."

Emma sighs. "Which now includes us."

"Which now includes us."

Still, it's the first thing that's gone right for them during this godforsaken day, so they unfurl the bags side-by-side and prepare to sleep. They remind silent while doing so, physically exhausted after an evening of hammering and screaming uselessly at various mirrors and emotionally even more drained than that, but Emma does decide to venture one more question just as they're lying down.

"Do you think..."

Regina turns her head, narrows tired eyes at her. "Do I think what?"

"That he'll be okay? Without us?"

Regina rolls over, turning her back to Emma. "He's stuck with a version of me he once rightly despised, and the only people who could possibly help are either on her side or too absorbed with their own problems to notice. No, Emma, I do not think he will be okay."

Emma swallows, ducks her head down even though Regina can't see her. "He's a strong kid, though."

Regina remains silent, and Emma knows that she's done talking for the evening. So she rolls over—two can play that game—and almost whacks her nose against a circular mirror, about ten inches wide, on the cave wall.

Weird. She hadn't seen that coming in. Experimentally, with twitchy fingers like she isn't sure that this will even work, she presses two fingers to the edge of the mirror. She's immediately rewarded with a scene of Henry's bedroom in Regina's mansion—and Henry himself, preparing for sleep.

Oh my—"Regina—Regina, you have to see—oh."

Regina has half-turned to look at Emma over her shoulder, and Emma can see that her eyes are glassy and her cheeks glistening—and over her, Emma can see a precisely identical mirror showing a precisely identical scene.

"He—" Emma swallows, feels her own eyes watering. "He can't hear us, can he? He has no idea we're even here."

Regina shakes her head slowly, and Emma sinks back down onto her makeshift bed, resting her head on one on a pillow made from her own hair and hand. She can't help it, though; she reaches out with a trembling finger to trace the tiny outline of his face and wishes and wishes and wishes

He stops, and so does Emma's finger. He stares at the mirror for a second, frowning, and Emma's heart leaps—

But he shakes his head and lies down on the bed, turning off the light and leaving them all in darkness.

 


 

 

The next morning—or eight hours later, or whatever—Emma wakes after a seriously unsettled sleep with a dry mouth and what feels like an anvil weighing down her head. She blinks her eyes open, and sees with surprise that it is, in fact, brighter outside—and, even more surprisingly, that Regina is bent over a hot plate, the unmistakeable sizzle and scent of friend eggs in the air.

"Ugh," Emma grumbles, sitting up groggily and rubbing her temples. “Where’d you get that?”

“Outside the cave. There’s a pantry nearby, and probably a full kitchen too.”

"Oh.” She blinks her eyes clearer against the light, and notices that Regina is in a plaid shirt and slacks. It’s as casual—domestic, even—as Emma has ever seen her, and that includes the last few weeks. “You changed?"

"There's a wardrobe about fifty feet away, and a waterfall you can use to wash up," Regina answers, flipping an egg.

“Right.”

After eating, changing and quickly showering under the surprisingly warm water—including staring at her own pale, drawn face with heavy, dark bags in one of the mirrors for a good minute—she returns to find Regina sitting crouched over her bedside mirror, staring intently into it with her arms wrapped around her chest.

“So, uh, this place seems pretty decently furnished,” Emma begins, by way of a morning conversation starter. “Like, it had all our clothes waiting and all—or, you know, ones that fit.”

“That’s because it’s a prison, Emma. It’s designed to trap you, not kill you. We’re supposed to be able to live here.”

Emma thinks back to her year spent in an actual prison, and briefly questions if there’s really a difference—but that’s another discussion for another, less fraught time. If ever. “Right. So, um, is Henry still asleep, then?”

Finally, Regina looks at her, frowning quizzically. “What?”

“In the mirror.”

Regina’s expression loosens in understanding. “Oh. No, he’s not asleep.”

“So what…?”

Regina shuffles over to let Emma sit next to her and look into the same mirror—and Emma gasps.

“That’s not—”

“No.”

What it is seems to be the dining room, or at least their view of it from some mirror or shiny metal tray sitting on a counter. Henry is sitting at the table with a bowl of cornflakes, eyes fixed on the back of Re—the Queen as she does the dishes, nodding along at whatever she seems to be saying.

“She’s still pretending to be you,” Emma says softly, and is taken by the urge to grasp Regina’s arm just above the elbow and squeeze it comfortingly—but she doesn’t. “He’ll work it out, though.”

Regina—the actual Regina, sitting next to her—laughs, jagged and mirthless. “Will he? That’s the mother he grew up with, after all.”

Emma breathes in sharply. “Regina…”

Regina shakes her head, wipes her eyes. “I know, I—I just can’t seeing her there with him, knowing that he doesn’t… he can’t…”

She trails off with a sigh and another shake of the head, unable to finish the sentence, and this time Emma does hold her arm, massage it lightly.

“Yeah. I know.”

But they don’t look away and they don’t stop watching their son, sitting silently shoulder-to-shoulder in their alien bespoke prison of their own, aching and hoping and wishing that their hands tracing the edges of the mirror could just reach through and touch him

Henry stops mid-sentence to stare straight at them.

Emma’s eyes widen and her jaw drops. “Henry?” she breathes, that sudden flame of hope filling her just as it had done the previous night, and she cocks her wrist to start rapping her knuckle on the glass—but Regina’s strong, firm hand catches her just before she can.

She tries to wrench her wrist free, glares at Regina. “The hell—”

“Look,” Regina says, nodding at the mirror, eyes desperately exhausted and sad. Emma gives her one last irritated frown before following her gaze—and immediately understands, as the Queen has turned around with a cautiously bemused expression on her face.

Henry, Emma lip-reads, is something wrong?

Henry’s eyes flick away from them, and he shakes his head. Nothing, mom, he says.

Emma’s shoulder sags and she lets her hand drop. Regina squeezes her wrist in silent apology before letting go, returning to their wordless vigil over the son whom they can’t possibly reach.

 


 

 

“Found anything?”

“No,” Regina says, waving her wrist dismissively at a large square mirror with her face scrunched with disdain. “Unless you count Leroy singing in the shower as useful.”

Now Emma gets why Regina has that expression. “Pass.”

“At least the glass was frosted.” Regina runs a hand through her hair, which despite everything still looks as sleek and well-kept as ever. “I’m telling you, Emma, this is a waste of time.”

To herself, Emma is starting to agree. Their magic—they must be magic—mirrors in their cave only seem to show the view from mirrors inside Regina’s house, and Henry has long left for school. They’ve spent the last few hours searching through yet more mirrors—there are thousands of the things—but they haven’t seen him once. Even their secondary goal of checking in on Snow and David hasn’t come to fruition, not least because Emma suspects that every mirror and shiny object in the house has been smashed or locked in a dark cupboard by now.

Still. “We have to try something, even just to check up on him.”

“Well, apparently, I planned for a high school without any mirrors,” Regina says, pinching new nose. “Snow will look after him.”

“Yeah, but if the Queen tries to do something—”

“She won’t,” Regina interrupts, her voice tight and rigid.

Emma is about to ask how she knows, but thinks better of it. That’s not a conversation she wants to have with Regina yet—though she probably needs to at some point. Soon.

Though that goes for a lot of conversations she needs to have with Regina.

Anyway. They keep searching the mirrors for a few more hours to little result, which means that by the time they finally head back to their cave, they’re both worn out and collapse more or less straight onto their sleeping beds, sitting against opposite walls with legs splayed out in front of them in identical postures.

“We’re not going home any time soon, are we?” Regina asks, closing her eyes and leaning her head back on the wall.

“We’ll get back,” Emma says softly. “I mean, I still have a death sentence that needs to be carried out.”

Regina opens her eyes. “Emma…”

Emma swallows, manufactures a smile. She doesn’t know why she keeps saying things like that, why her mouth keeps betraying her like so—”Just kidding. Should we get started on dinner?”

Regina stares at her with unreadable, intense eyes for a long, long moment, enough for Emma to start feeling like she’s about to squirm under her gaze—then she sighs. “Sure.”

Dinner turns out to a rice-and-black-beans dish which is actually kind of amazing, especially given that she only has a twin hot plate and a few pots to work with. Emma says as much once she’s done, and is surprised to see Regina blushing a little and duck her head.

Regina’s been doing that a fair bit lately whenever Emma’s complimented her. She puts it down to the split; Regina had never been exactly great at hiding her emotions beforehand, but this version of her doesn’t even seem to bother trying.

“It was a favourite of my father’s,” she says with her face still half-hidden by shoulder-length hair, like it’s a secret she’s embarrassed to admit. “I never got the recipe as a child, but I worked it out during the curse years.”

Emma never really knows quite how to deal with the rare—less rare these days—occasions that Regina actually opens up about her childhood. Not that Emma own childhood had been nice, far from it, but it had been tangible and ordinary and real in ways she could recognise in other kids, other people around her, a sort of shared, silent solidarity with people she otherwise didn’t know. Regina’s childhood relayed through her words, though—and even Snow’s words—had always had a sort of otherworldly quality to it. And not in a good way.

Emma swallows, well aware that she can’t even begin to imagine the mental landscape Regina is reliving right now, with parents who love her even as they broke her—”That sounds nice. I mean, back with you dad.”

Regina smiles and, well, that’s something. “It was. Though he’d be disappointed with the lack of kick in this one. Henry too.”

Emma’s noticed that lately as well, the fact that Henry obstinately prefers his food to be a bit spicier than usual. Another reminder of which of the two of them has actually spent most of Henry’s life raising him—and she is so not going down that path now.

“Yeah, well, I like it this way, so, y’know. Thanks.”

Regina looks up at last, still smiling. “Of course. Now help me clean up, then we’ll check on Henry.”

Emma nods dutifully, and they spend the next fifteen minutes washing up under the little waterfall which they’ve dubbed a bathroom, chatting about cooking and Henry and Emma’s last attempt at making him carbonara, at which Regina throws her head back and laughs and laughs and—

Anyway. They retire back to the cave after that, and check in on Regina’s bedside mirror. It’s reverted to a view of Henry’s room, and he’s there at his desk, apparently doing homework.

“At least she’s making sure of that,” Regina comments, drawing her knees up to her chest.

“This isn’t about her. He was pretty good about doing his homework in New York too,” Emma says off-hand. Regina stills immediately, and Emma realises what she’d just said, that thing she’s barely talked about with Regina, her stomach plummeting—

But Regina’s eyes are soft, so soft, and her smile is gentle when Regina looks at her. “Did he? That’s good.”

Emma breathes out again. “Anyway, should we try contacting him again? I’m pretty sure we can at least make him aware, you know, if we’re persistent enough.”

Regina thinks it over for a moment, licks her lips absent-mindedly. Emma tries to stop her eyes drifting. “Not yet. Let him study first.”

“Okay.”

So they sit, and they watch. Occasionally Emma will murmur something that will draw a low chuckle from Regina and Regina will tease back with something that brings a smile to Emma’s face, but otherwise they sit in silence, watching as their son works diligently on his English homework for the week, drifting into contented peace as they see him slowly turn into the strong, independent young man they’d always hoped he would become—she’d hoped he would become, needs to become once she’s gone—

Emma blinks, and clears her eyes of the distant daydream—night-dream, or whatever—that she’d found herself on, and to her surprise finds Regina’s head resting on her shoulder, her eyes closed.

She swallows, hard. “Um. Regina.” 

Regina mumbles something indistinct. Is she just asleep? Or is she feeling so comfortable that—”Regina. Look.”

At that, Regina opens her eyes and lifts her head, focusing her attention on the mirror as if she hadn’t even noticed that she’d just been using Emma’s shoulder as a well-clothed pillow. Partly because Henry has changed into his sleeping clothes, and is busy scrawling something with a red whiteboard marker on a piece of paper.

“What’s he doing?”

“I dunno,” Emma answers, frowning at the mirror. Having apparently finished with the paper, Henry picks it off the desk, switches off the table lamp and plops himself down on the side of the bed, facing them. He exhales visibly, his shoulders tensing, before raising the sheet—and making both Emma and Regina gasp.

Moms, a re you there?

“Yes,” Emma says—shouts, really. “Henry, we’re right here.”

“He can’t hear you—sound doesn’t travel through this mirror,” Regina reminds her, though she herself sounds breathless and her eyes are wild with joyous, dazzling hope. “We have to try something else.”

They glance at each other—then, as one, they start banging away at the mirror with as much force as they dare. “Henry—Henry!”

He rolls at his eyes at them—rolls his eyes at them—and visibly tries to keep himself from smiling too broadly. He quickly scribbles something down on the paper, and when he holds it up next there’s new writing below the previous.

Once is enough, guys.

“That little shit,” Emma says, almost giddy with delight, and ignores Regina’s glare—not least because Regina’s smile is bright enough to light an entire house. “He knew we were trying to reach him. He knew.”

Henry’s next message confirms this. I think I felt you guys trying to reach me last night and this morning. But the Queen was watching me, so I couldn’t say anything. Sorry.

Regina is visibly crying now, tears of unbridled joy overflowing from her. Emma instantly understands why. Their son, their son. “Don’t say sorry, sweetheart,” she whispers. “Never, ever say sorry for that.”

But Henry doesn’t hear that, of course, and besides he’s too busy working on one more message for them.

I promise I’m going to get you out. It might take a while because of the Queen, but I’ll do everything I can.

Emma is crying too, silently and unknowingly, and it’s all she can do but reach out and knock twice on the glass with her knuckles. Henry smiles, and Emma’s heart sings as Henry writes one last message.

Love you moms.

“We love you too,” Regina murmurs, tracing a finger around the edge of the mirror as Henry turns off the light and clambers under the blanket.

 


 

For the second night in a row—though definitely not the second night ever—Emma’s sleep is restless and unsettled, filled with over-bright and frantic dreams. It’s like hurtling through a kaleidoscope of her life in full colour, with no brakes or reverse as she becomes the Dark One again, goes down to hell again, fights that hooded figure again and loses again, her body crumpling as life bleeds out of her—

“Emma. Emma, wake up.”

Her eyes fly open to see Regina lying right next to her, face mere inches away.

“Regina?” Her head is spinning and her heart racing at what seems like a million beats a minute, and it takes a moment for her breathing to level out to the point where she regains her bearings. “What—”

“You were crying out in your sleep,” Regina murmurs, cups Emma’s cheek and strokes little patterns with her thumb. Emma swallows, covers the hand with her own.

“Bad dreams,” she says, finding herself unable to look away from Regina’s soft, soft, worried eyes.

“I figured.” Regina hesitates, her hand stills. “If you want to talk about them, then…”

For a moment—for a moment—

But no. That would be crossing a line that Emma is far from ready to cross quite yet. “It’s okay. Just a nightmare.” She sits up, lets Regina’s hand fall from her face. Regina’s fingers leave invisible tracks which seem to burn against her skin but Emma ignores them, and ignores Regina’s slight frown too. She can take care of herself. “Did Henry leave a message?”

Regina studies her for one or two more half-seconds, her brow furrowed—before her expression loosens and she puts some more space between them. Emma’s heart rate drops further.

“He did.” She pulls out a small square of torn white fabric from her pocket, one covered in two rows of charcoal marks. “He said ‘hi’. He also gave us a way to communicate with him.”

Emma’s eyes widen and she looks down at the fabric more closely. On closer inspection, one row of markings actually turns out to be tiny letters, and the other a series of equally tiny dots and longer dashes. “Is that Morse code?”

“Yes. Though I’m surprised you even need this, to be honest.”

Emma frowns, unsure what Regina’s on about—but then she notices the mischievous curl of her lip. Right. Dating a guy with a ship. Ha ha. “Oh, shut up,” she grumbles, giving Regina a small shove on the shoulder. Regina laughs, and everything gets a little brighter.

“Come on. Let’s go talk to our son.”

 


 

They soon work out a routine, the three of them.

Once in the morning when Henry wakes, and once before sleep, they’ll spend fifteen, maybe twenty minutes talking to their son through little taps on a mirror. It’s slow and limiting and so, so much less than they need, but it’s precious nonetheless and they savour every second of it.

It’s weird talking like this though, Henry writes to them about three days in. I wish I could see you guys.

“So do we, sweetheart,” Regina murmurs, but instead she taps: the two of us are fine. Don’t worry about us. With more abbreviations, of course.

They watch him transcribe their response, brow furrowed in concentration as he decodes the Morse, but his face soon relaxes. Okay, mom, he says, and neither of them are surprised that he had knows straight away who was tapping. But I know you two are getting up to stuff, and I want to know all about it.

“What’s that meant to mean?” Regina asks aloud, but Emma just rolls her eyes.

We’re okay. Just bored, she taps. Though your mom is really bad at chess.

“Emma!”

“What?” Emma grins. “It’s true!”

Regina huffs and glowers at her, but doesn’t object further, mostly because it is true. Makeshift chess using pebbles and sticks has been one of the ways they’ve passed the daytime, waiting for night to fall and their son to return home, and Regina really is terrible. Emma would have thought that Regina would have given up by now and found something else to do, but she knows better than to underestimate the woman’s stubbornness.

Henry, meanwhile, just laughs. Yeah, I know, he writes, and Regina’s pout deepens. It’s… quite cute, really.

And Emma is so not following that train of thought any further. How are you going with trying to get us out?

His expression falls. It’s hard. The Queen is watching me all the time, and Mr Gold is on her side too. But I’m trying.

Regina sighs. Just don’t take any risks, Henry. We’re safe here, so take as long as you need.

Henry exhales visibly, and his shoulders droop, but he writes, okay. Love you moms.

We love you too.

 


 

And it’s okay, really. Regina makes amazing food, Emma teaches her how to play chess properly, and they share long daytime walks through endless halls of mirrors, checking up on the town they’d invested so much sweat and toil into and sharing stories about the son they so desperately miss.

They miss him less every time they see him, though, and even Regina grudgingly has to admit that the Queen isn’t doing such an awful job taking care of him.

She’s not that bad, he admits one evening. She’s kind of strict, and she won’t let me watch TV before I’ve done my homework, but she’s okay.

Regina had remained sceptical, but nothing the Queen had done had apparently made Henry change his view. Apparently, she’s dropped her various vendettas for the time-being to focus her full attention on him, and is actually doing a passable job of pretending to be Regina while running the town.

“But she’s evil, Emma,” Regina says vehemently, too much so to be entirely instinctive, shaking her head when Emma dares to bring it up. “She might seem okay now but she’ll twist and twist until one day the Henry we love will just be gone.

Emma wants to argue that, wants to point out how strong Henry is now, how he’s still clearly surviving and thriving even without them—without her—but she doesn’t, probably wisely. For all her faith in this woman, the whole and good woman Regina had been before the split and remains now, Emma knows that the Queen is a version of Regina that only Regina herself truly understands.

“Okay, but she’s still his mom, right? Or, like, she thinks she is. She just wants the best for him.”

“So did Cora,” Regina says softly, and Emma has no answer to that.

Even so, he seems okay, and that means that they’re okay. While Emma misses home and her parents and everything else desperately, she’s been stuck in worse situations before and Regina isn’t that bad a roommate.

“Roommate? Is that meant to be some kind of euphemism, Miss Swan?”

Emma shoves Regina playfully, trying not to let Regina see her smiling. She fails, though, since Regina is lying down literally right next to her. They’re technically waiting for Henry, but he had warned them that he wouldn’t be in tonight. Emma would have gone for a jog instead, but apparently this place has actual weather.

“Shut up. I’m just saying, it’s been nice. Except for the rain, I mean.”

Regina casts an eye to the entrance, where it is still bucketing down as it has done all day. “Except that.”

It’s a bit of a nuisance, but it becomes even more than that when the rainstorm abruptly switches to a full-on blizzard. With it comes the cold too, a biting wintry chill that the protection of their stone cave has done little to shield them from. Emma shivers inadvertently, draws her arms tighter across herself. Regina creases her brow.

“Emma, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Emma says weakly, but she shivers again. Regina sighs, and before Emma can do anything Regina has shucked off her heavy jacket and placed it over Emma’s body as an extra blanket. “What—no, Regina,” Emma protests, trying to shake off the jacket half-heartedly. “You’re gonna freeze like that.”

“I’m used to sleeping in the cold,” Regina says, and Emma knows there’s a whole world to unpack behind that sentence. “I should have remembered how much you dislike it, though.”

“It’s not your job to take care of me.”

“No,” Regina agrees. “But I am anyway.”

That she is, and she appreciates it, but within twenty minutes Regina is starting to look unnaturally pale and her hands are twitching. “Regina, come on. This is crazy.”

“I’m okay,” Regina reaffirms stubbornly. “Henry would never forgive me if I let you die of hypothermia.”

Which is… touching, Emma supposes, if melodramatic, but also intensely stupid as Regina’s teeth are starting to chatter, not to mention pointless since Emma is going to die anyway

She gulps, and pushes the thought out of her mind. She has more immediate things to worry about, like the fact that Regina is starting to turn blue. She sighs, knowing that Regina will literally let herself turn into a human popsicle rather than let Emma return her jacket. Well. At least she can fix that.

Regina frowns at Emma as she closes the gap between them, and for a second Emma can feel Regina’s cold breath on her cheek, little exhalations of condensed water vapour rising between them. She bites her lip and wraps her arms awkwardly around Regina’s body, pulling her in so they’re flush together.

Regina goes very, very still and very, very stiff—or maybe that’s just the cold. “Emma?”

“Shush,” Emma murmurs into Regina’s hair, nuzzling it slightly. Emma doesn’t think Regina has properly washed it in days, but it still smells sweet somehow. “This way we can share, right?”

Regina shivers once, twice, but relaxes after that. “Okay.”

And it’s nice, actually, having Regina in her arms like this. It’s new for both of them, to hold and be held, and Emma wonders if they should do it more often, especially when Regina turns over and their bodies just seem to fit

Right. Enough of that.

“I remember doing this with Henry,” Emma says out loud by way of distraction, “when there were snowstorms.” Of course she hadn’t, none of those beautifully happy memories were real, just gifts from a not-yet-friend who wanted to give a mother and son the best life she possible could. But they feel real, and Emma knows that for one person here, they are real.

Regina, of course, understands immediately, as she always seems to. “Henry was so frightened of storms and blizzards as a child,” she says quietly. “I couldn’t—I remember not understanding why he was so scared, but he always was, and I learned eventually that this was the only way I could calm him down.” She pauses, lost in memory for a moment. “Then he stopped being scared, and we stopped doing this.”

Emma hears what Regina had left unsaid, holds on a little tighter.

“You did a good job with him,” Emma murmurs. Regina turns over, looks at her with indescribably soft eyes and an equally soft smile.

“Really? Because I look at her and I remember who I was and I—”

Emma finds Regina’s clenching and unclenching hand between them, winds their fingers together. “You are so much more than she is.”

Regina just smiles at her, smiles, surprised and grateful and adoring all at once and—and their mouths are so close, for a wild second, Emma thinks that Regina is about to kiss her—

Which, of course, is when she decides to break everything.

“You’ll do a great job after, too,” she says softly, and Regina’s smile fixes in place.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Emma swallows. “I mean, once I’m gone. You two will be okay,” Emma declares, projecting confidence she doesn’t really feel, because the idea of just Regina and Henry and not being around to see it makes her heart ache—

Regina stares at her, just stares, then sits up abruptly, throwing off the coat. “You… you’re giving up?”

Emma sits up too, utterly taken aback by Regina’s response. She tries to take hold of Regina’s hand, is stunned when Regina shakes her off. “I’m not—it’s not giving up. It’s just that I have a destiny, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do—”

“Fuck destiny,” Regina interjects, and she’s still staring at Emma in—horror. That is horror. “Emma, what the hell happened to you? Why are you just—accepting this?”

“I’m not accepting!” Emma protests, and the gap between them is only growing. “I just know that unless something really out-there happens, I’m gonna die soon and yeah, I’m trying to come to terms with that. Is that such a bad thing?”

Regina is looking at Emma like she’s grown a second head. “Yes. Yes, Emma, that would be a terrible thing. Don’t you know what it would feel like for us if you were gone? For your parents? Henry? Me?

And Emma has no idea why Regina had tacked on me to the end there, but she’s not about to argue that. “But Henry will still have you, and he’ll be just as okay after I’m gone as he was before—”

“You don’t get to make that judgement for us,” Regina says, low and fierce and disbelief is starting to catalyse into fury now. “You have responsibilities to him, so don’t you even dare—

“Well, maybe I do dare!” Emma shouts, standing up and backing up against the wall. “Maybe this is my decision to make with my life, not yours. And besides, this whole thing is rich coming from you.”

Regina stands too, doesn’t reply for a moment, her hands curled into trembling fists. Is Regina about to punch her?

“What the hell are you talking about, Emma?” she says low and fierce and dangerous and oh, Emma takes the bait every single time.

“I mean you keep trying to martyr yourself!” Emma yells, gesticulating wildly, accusingly at her. “So don’t talk to me about responsibilities to Henry when you’re trying to get yourself killed half the time.”

Regina’s lip twitches, her back is uncomfortably straight. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says, thick and tight and so, so very controlled.

Emma snorts, knowing she’s way over the line and not caring. “I’m talking about the other day in the apartment, when I had to stop you from running off and getting yourself hurt or—or doing something worse. I’m talking about a few weeks ago, when you find out something bad and the first thing you do is make me promise to kill you.

“Like you did,” Regina points out, her voice shaky and wet with unshod tears. “Forgive me for following the example set by you.”

Emma can’t even believe—“I was—I was the Dark One! I was evil, Regina! You’re not! Henry doesn’t need protecting from you, he needs you around! But instead you keep trying to go on some stupid fucking quest to get yourself killed to prove how good you are, and all it’s going to do is leave Henry with no mother at all. Congratulations, Regina. Really fucking noble of you.”

Regina is shaking from head to toe now, for reasons that clearly have nothing to do with the cold, and she doesn’t answer. She turns her back to her and Emma watches, breathing heavily, and waits and waits—

“Get out.”

Emma blinks, her mouth falls open in surprise. “What?”

Get out.

Emma takes her coat and leaves without another word.

 


 

The blizzard has abated to a much more sedate snowfall, and the wind has dropped, but it’s still bitterly cold, and Emma doesn’t go far before she drops to the ground in a corner made by two large rectangular mirrors, pulling Regina’s coat around her as tightly as she can and shaking uncontrollably. And with the cold, the fire within her goes out.

She’s fucked up. Oh god, she’s fucked up. She’s taken the beautiful, precious thing that had been building between them and wrecked it, trampled all over it without a care in the world like she’s done so many times in the past. And now she’s paying for it, sitting out here in the snow wondering if one of the best things in her life these days has been permanently broken—

“Are you trying to freeze to death?”

She looks up, blinks her eyes clear. She’s wearing not one but two of Emma’s leather jackets, her hair has flecks of white all through it and her lips are pressed into a singular line, but it’s—”Regina. Regina, I’m—”

Regina gathers her up and pulls her in before she can finish the sentence, and Emma can’t do anything but let out a muffled squeak into Regina’s shoulder and savour her body heat. “Shh. It’s okay, darling, I know.”

“I shouldn’t have said all those things,” Emma says, resting her head on Regina’s shoulder and breathing, breathing. “I should have—”

“No.” Regina breaks the embrace—not completely, Emma still needs the body heat—and places a gloved finger on her icy lips. “You were right. I am—” She ducks her head, plays with her fingers at the small of Emma’s back. “I’m still trying to adjust to all of this, being—being what I am now. But nothing has taken away all the—all the memories, and sometimes I—I forget that there are all these people depending on me now, and I just feel that there’s only one way to atone for what I did.”

Emma leans forward until their foreheads are resting together. “That’s not true, though,” she says, more sure of her next words than anything else she’s said in months. “You took a lot, true, but you’ve given back so much and I know you’re scared of what it would be like if it were just you and Henry again, but you don’t need to be. Henry still needs you.”

Regina nods, breathes in. “He still needs you too.”

And Emma knows, Emma knows, but she also knows she probably won’t get a choice in the matter. “So we do this together. For as long as we can. Okay?”

Regina looks at her, pulls them together just enough for their noses to brush against each other, hears the question Emma had really asked. “We’re okay.”

They stand there for a long time, foreheads pressed together, swaying gently in the swirling snow.

 


 

The weather here is unpredictable, and the next morning the snow has completely melted down in bright sunshine—or, at least, what passes for bright sunshine in the permanent Mordor-like gloom of the place.

They pass the early morning—Emma had woken up well before dawn, the result of yet more of those dreams—in somewhat awkward silence. They may have reconciled the previous night, but that hadn’t erased all the words they’d said to each other, some of which had been true, some of which hadn’t. Emma doesn’t yet know how to untangle to the two and frankly isn’t about to try, not while it’s still so raw for the both of them.

It’s uncomfortable, though. They speak in too-polite sentences which don’t befit either of them, and are overly diligent in washing and cleaning up after themselves, shorn of their usual banter, their normal easygoing push-and-shove. They try to keep it to themselves when they go to the mirror to talk to Henry, but he frowns at them about a minute in, having now become proficient in translating their taps immediately.

Did you guys have a fight last night or something?

Emma’s shoulders slump—she had hoped they would have at least managed to keep this between themselves, but their son is apparently far too shrewd for that. Yeah. But we’re okay now, don’t worry. We talked some stuff out.

Which is a bit of a lie, but it’s one Henry buys for now, not knowing enough to tell the difference. Okay. You were just being weird, that’s all. Like I was talking to you guys separately.

Emma winces, and glances at Regina who is doing the same. We’re sorry.

It’s okay, Henry reassures them, but immediately follows it up with, I don’t like when you guys are fighting.

Emma frowns. We spent like two years doing almost nothing else.

I know. I didn’t like that then either. He pauses before writing his next line, hesitates for a second. Sorry, mom.

Regina breathes in sharply, and Emma holds her arm just above the elbow. He hadn’t specified that he had meant Regina, but he hadn’t needed to either. Emma waits to see if Regina is going to respond directly, but when she doesn’t, she decides to change the subject.

How are you doing with getting us out?

He glances to the side, presumably at the door, like he’s checking that he’s not being spied upon, then writes. I’m working on something.

Can you tell us what it is? Regina taps.

His expression falls, but his mouth thins into a hard, determined line. Not yet. I don’t want the Queen to find out what I’m doing.

Emma sighs, but taps out, Take as long as you need, kid. We’ll be here when you’re ready.

 


 

As long as you need could still be a very long time, though, and as the days pass and week one turns into week two, Regina is starting to get particularly agitated. She wakes up earlier, goes to sleep later staring at Henry’s darkened room in the mirror, and spends much of the day pacing about muttering to herself.

“Regina,” Emma says eventually one rainy day, leaning back on the cave wall with a sigh. “You’re giving me a headache.”

“Well, I’m sorry I’m actually bothered about having not seen my son in a week,” Regina snaps which—okay, that one hurts. It must show on Emma’s face, because Regina immediately deflates and kneels down next to Emma. “Oh, I’m—I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s okay,” Emma says, putting on a weak, recovering smile. “You just—I’m with you on this, you know? I miss him too.”

Regina bows her head, obviously ashamed. “I know. I—I know. It’s just this stupid prison and this stupid world and I—I want to be home and to see our son again, with my own eyes, not tapping out Morse code messages through some absurd mirror system.”

Emma takes her hand. “Yeah. I know. But Henry will come through for us,” Emma reminds her, and Regina’s posture relaxes at last, because if they believe in anything at all, it’s their son.

Even so, Regina remains significantly more ill-at-ease with their situation than Emma, or at least more visibly so. She even returns to their long-abandoned search through the endless fields of mirrors for something, anything that could even hint at a way home. Emma is as sceptical of this quest as Regina had been beforehand, but Regina is desperate and Emma doesn’t exactly have better things to do with her time, so she tags along. She’s half-hearted about it, though, and Regina notices.

“What’s gotten into you, Emma?” Regina demands when Emma shrugs nonchalantly at Regina’s suggestion that maybe this particular mirror has some kind of enchantment on it. “Why aren’t you trying?

“I am trying! I just don’t think this’ll work, that’s all,” she explains, though it’s unconvincing to her own ears. In reality she hadn’t really been paying attention, instead enjoying the sight of Regina in a tight-fitting shirt earnestly explaining how natural enchantments could sometimes spontaneously turn mirrors into portals, all animated hands and bright, excited eyes, like a schoolgirl showing off her cherished science project—

She blinks twice, perishes the thought as Regina is still glaring at her. “I mean, I want to get home. I want to,” she repeats for emphasis. “But the last week and a half—I don’t know, it hasn’t been that bad, really.”

Regina stares at her, walks right up to her. “What?”

Emma gulps. “Like—I know this hasn’t been fun, especially with—with the whole mirrors thing with Henry, but it’s been nice to, you know, just spend some time with you for a while,” she says, and oh god, she’s blabbering now, and she can’t seem to stop. “And I think that when we get home it’d be nice if we could do this more often although I guess you’re sick of me by now—”

Emma.

She stops, and clamps her mouth shut. Regina is smiling at her in a way that’s impossible to read, and she reaches down and clasps one of Emma’s fidgeting hands.

“I know. I’m more or less the same.”

Emma’s eyes almost pop out of their sockets, they widen so quickly in surprise. “So you aren’t sick of me yet?”

Regina bites her lip—bites her lip, and something inside Emma does a backflip—then she leans forward and kisses Emma on the—

—cheek. On the side of her cheek, right next to her nose and just above the corner of her mouth.

“Never,” she murmurs, and slides past Emma without another word.

It takes a good ten seconds for Emma to move again.

 


 

Really, this has been coming.

Not just this week, or indeed this month, or even merely since they’ve become friends. Yes, it’s only become obviously—painfully, uncomfortably obvious—in hindsight, what all those feelings were, what those night-time mental images she’d always put down to fury or annoyance or a desire for payback or frustration—the sexual kind included—really meant. Really, ever since that first night they’d met, when Regina had presented as nothing more than a frightened mother looking for her child—which is exactly what she was and is, and isn’t that something—and Emma had spent a good five seconds admiring her curves before bothering to look at her face, this has been coming.

It’s too late now, though. She still has a relationship she’s in, she reminds herself periodically, and she knows Regina well enough to know that however much she might despise Emma’s boyfriend, she cares about Emma herself too much to just… barge in the way that Emma is increasingly hoping she will. Which leaves this particular ball very much on Emma’s side of the court—but she leaves it alone.

Has to, because Regina is worth so much more than a stupid crush. Has to, because Regina is her co-mother and best friend and she sure as hell isn’t going to jeopardise either of their relationships. Has to, because Regina had only weeks ago watched her boyfriend die for the second time and Emma, with her decidedly limited lifespan, is sure as hell not going to put Regina through that again.

So she shuts her mouth, swallows down her increasingly out-of-control feelings and carries on exactly the same way she has ever since getting here. And if that means ignoring that scorching feeling every time their fingers brush; or not reacting to the way her stomach fills with butterflies whenever Regina ducks her head, laughing at some dumb joke she’d made; or ignoring the way everything within her seems to sing when Regina rests her head on Emma’s shoulder as they watch their son detailing his day, then so be it. Sometimes it feels like she’s not a very good job, like she’s made of glass and just waiting to be seen through by those dark, gentle eyes, but Regina never says anything. So they carry on, day by day, Emma and her best friend, living and waiting.

 


 

Which sure as hell beats what happens at night.

She’s seen the dream—the vision—so often now that she thought she’d get used to it by now, but no. It’s not so much that it’s vivid and super-realistic—though it is—or that it’s painful, excruciatingly painful, to be stabbed in the chest like that—which it is—but that she dies, and experiences every millisecond of it. It hits her with full, brutal and utterly unforgiving force every time, the sensations, the experience of feeling your muscles loosen and your breathing weaken, seeing your vision swim and darken, trying desperately to hold onto everything you are, that irrepressible spark of life that makes you a person, but feeling it slip away—

“Emma! Emma!

Emma’s eyes fly open as Regina bodily shakes her awake, and she surges upwards into Regina’s waiting arms, taking great, heaving breaths.

“I’ve got you, linda,” Regina murmurs, as Emma holds onto her for dear life, blinking her eyes against the tears that she knows are going to fall. “You’re okay.”

“Was I crying in my sleep again?” Emma asks into Regina’s shoulder once her breathing is level enough for her to actually speak. She thinks she knows the answer, though, and she burrows her face further in.

“Yelling, actually.” Regina sits back a little, disentangling them, but places a hand under Emma’s cheek, stares into her eyes for a few seconds—then sighs, looking down, knowing how this goes. “If you don’t want to talk about it…”

“It’s the vision,” Emma blurts out before she can stop herself. Regina looks back up.

“You mean…”

Emma nods, not trusting her mouth. “The one where I—I—”

“The one where you’re murdered,” Regina says softly. “Oh, Emma…”

Emma falls into her arms again, and this time Emma lets the tears flow freely, hiccoughing sobs as Regina strokes her hair down, whispering endearments in her ear in mixed Spanish and English.

“So this has been what this whole thing has been about, hasn’t it?” Regina whispers eventually once Emma has stopped shaking. “You not wanting to go back.”

Emma disentangles herself, wipes her eyes, leans their foreheads together. “It’s dumb, I know. I just—it feels safe here, you know?”

“And you’re scared of what will happen once we’re back,” Regina continues, winding locks of blonde hair around her finger, free of judgement, free of anything but compassion and—and something else. Something deeper, something far, far stronger.

Emma nods. “Terrified,” she says with a nervous laugh, catching Regina’s hand playing with her hair in her own.

Regina looks at Emma, compassionate and understanding and loving

“I’m sorry,” Regina whispers, and then she kisses Emma.

It’s not deep. It’s not intense. It’s sweet, closed-eyed and almost chaste, just a light brushing of lips against her own, lasting no more than a second or two—but it’s enough.

Regina leans back, and Emma’s eyes flutter open again.

She swallows, stares. Regina’s cheeks are a little flushed, her pupils are wider than they’d been a few seconds before, and she’d just—

“Regina—”

But it’s too late for words, too late for questions and explanations, too late for anything.

Their second kiss is far, far harder than the first, Emma surging forward and knocking Regina onto her back as she kisses her hard, kisses her breathless. She pins Regina to the top of her sleeping mat and kisses her again and again, stealing kiss after kiss until Regina is trembling and emitting involuntary, breathless moans under her body.

She’s kissed other people before, of course, and loved other people before. She’s even kissed other women—but not like this, never like this. Kissing Regina is like breathing and drowning all at once, like being submerged in something indescribable before coming up for sweet, sweet air and oh god, she wants more.

She starts with her own shirt first. She has no idea how she’s the more coordinated of the two of them—maybe it has something to do with being on top—but somehow she manages to unbutton her loose sleeping shirt and throw it off while kissing all the oxygen out of Regina’s body. Regina’s shirt is more difficult, the buttons more finicky—more expensive, frankly—and she quickly loses patience and ends up simply ripping the damn thing open, previously-straining buttons flying every which way as a result.

Regina growls—growls, a sound which goes straight to Emma’s core—and attacks, rising so fast Emma can’t even react and pinning Emma with both hands to the floor, knocking the wind out of her as Regina straddles her. With almost inhuman calm, Regina reaches behind herself to unclip and remove her bra, even as Emma writhes beneath her.

“Holy fuck,” Emma breathes out as the bra drops. Regina smirks.

“Play with fire and you’ll surely get burned, Miss Swan,” Regina says, even as she helps Emma unclip and discard her own bra.

“D-don’t call me Miss—oh—

Emma arches her back, losing any semblance of coherent thought as Regina’s mouth closes around her left breast. People have done this to Emma before, of course, but with Regina every sensation is a hundred times sharper, a hundred times brighter, more intense and she moves from left to right to left again, alternating hand and lips and teeth and she doesn’t want this to stop, doesn’t ever wants this to end as it surely will—

“Regina.”

Regina makes a humming sound around her right nipple, her hands having moved down to start working on her pants. Emma shivers, but keeps her resolve.

Regina.” She sits up, gently pushing a visibly confused—and half naked, Emma realises with a gulp—Regina back to a sitting position. “Wait.”

“What’s wrong? If this is about—ah,” Regina says, cutting herself off, her lips pressing downwards into a grim line. “I see.”

And Emma can see every door, every gate being shut in Regina’s eyes, and god, she’s all wrong, she’s getting this so horribly wrong—”No—no, Regina,come here,” she implores, tugging Regina back towards her before she can scoot away. “This isn’t about my—my other relationships,” she says euphemistically, feeling it would be poor form to bring up her supposed boyfriend by name in the middle of sex with someone else.

“It’s just that—I might die soon, you know?” she says, her voice small and scared. “And I know you’ve just lost love again, and I don’t want to do that to you when I know that you—I just want to give you a chance,” she finishes lamely, ducking her head underneath a curtain of hair. “You know, to back out.”

Which will be the end of it, she thinks. What she’s just presented to Regina is irrefutable, incontrovertible evidence of just how awful an idea this is, because even if she breaks up with Hook the first thing when they get back—which she surely has to now—she’d still be putting Regina in that terrible, awful situation again and not being able to do anything about it. So this will be it, Emma is sure, they’ll laugh and they’ll get dressed and they’ll swear never to speak about any of this ever again—

But instead, Regina cradles Emma’s cheeks in her hands. She slowly, gently raises Emma’s head, and kisses her sweetly, with far less heat and far more raw feeling than before.

By the time they break apart and Emma’s eyes flutter open again, any thought of this being a mistake has long been banished from her mind.

“You’re not dying,” Regina says, and Emma can see it in her eyes, that cast-iron determination, that unbendable will to make the promise reality, the same as Emma had felt years before when she’d said virtually the same thing. “You’re not dying.”

Regina kisses her once more, and slowly eases Emma onto her back again. When her head touches the sleeping mat, haloed by blonde hair, Regina trailing the kisses down her jaw, her neck, her torso, peeling her pants off her body as she goes.

“Have you done this before? With a woman, I mean,” Regina says as she settles in position between Emma’s legs, pushing the open to give herself more room as she trails her lips up and down the inside of Emma’s toned left leg. Emma starts to squirm again, quickly shakes her head.

“Really? Never?” Regina asks in a false-innocent tone of voice, even as she trails a finger, down, down over her lower belly and into that little patch of hair, and Emma can barely even breathe.

“Regina—”

“I’m just asking,” Regina murmurs, nipping right at the top of her inner thigh, tracing her finger over her centre where she’s wet, she’s already so wet—

“Not with a woman—now please—

Regina smiles, positions a finger, and pushes it in.

Her back arches immediately, going taut like a bow drawn back to its maximum extent, and her mouth opens on a soundless moan. Regina twists her finger slowly, achingly slowly, withdraws it to it tip. Emma lets out a thin whine which quickly deepens to a breathless groan as Regina pushes back in.

“I know you’ve been waiting for this,” Regina says, watching Emma as she slowly works up pace, settles into a rhythm. One finger becomes two, and Emma lets out a thin whimper. “God, I’m surprised you didn’t try for this days ago.”

Emma meets her eyes, props herself on her elbows to glare as best she can. “I’ve been waiting… years…

Regina laughs, laughs, and shifts slightly, so Emma can feel Regina’s breath directly onto her centre. “So have I,” she murmurs, and locks her lips around Emma’s clit.

Emma falls.

She tries her best to keep her eyes open, to at least see what Regina is doing to her as she fucks her with fingers and lips and tongue, oh, that’s gotta be tongue—but it’s no use, no use at all. She’s lost in sensation, drowning in it, unable to move, unable to think but for Regina, Regina working diligently, eagerly between her legs to wring out every possible drop of pleasure out of her.

She doesn’t last long. Not when she’s so overstimulated, not when she wants this and has wanted this so much for so long, and certainly not when Regina is so damn good at this. Regina seems to sense this, because she stops lavishing such attention to her swollen clit, raising her head and slowing her rhythm.

“Emma?” She asks softly, almost shyly given what she’s spent the last god-knows-how-long doing. “Are you with me?”

Emma can barely think, but somehow she manages to reach down and find Regina’s spare hand. Regina winds and locks their fingers together, holding on for dear life, and Emma nods.

Regina pushes in hard with three fingers and curls them, and at the same moment closes her lips around Emma’s clit, sucking gently whilst flicking at it with her tongue in random patterns—and Emma comes.

The muscles in her torso goes taut, her ass sails off the ground as her back arches so steeply she wonders if it might snap, and insensible, wordless cries fall from her lips again and again as Regina’s fingers slide in and out of her and that skilled mouth pulls every last scrap of sensation out of her as she tumbles further and further over the edge—

And then it’s over.

It takes a while, a good half-minute maybe, for Emma to finally come down, Regina’s fingers curling and slowing to a halt and the attention on her clit being replaced by gentle, closed-mouthed kisses.

“Hello, you,” Regina murmurs when Emma regains full control of her senses again. Her heart is beating a million beats a minute, it feels like, and her chest is still heaving. She brushes the hair that had fallen across her face, and lets out a breathless, joyful laugh.

“C’mere,” she says, tugging at Regina using their joined hand. “Come here.

Regina obliges and crawls up to kiss her deeply, passionately, their bodies pressed together and a sharp tang on Regina’s lips—oh. Oh.

Emma groans and rolls them over, breaking the kiss and leaning back. Regina is already visibly panting as she helps Emma get first her slacks and then her panties off in short order, leaving her very much naked. Before going any further, Emma takes a moment to sit back and—wow.

“You’re so beautiful,” Emma breathes out, taking in the curve of Regina’s hips, her toned stomach, the fullness of her breaths, the flush which starts at her upper chest and reaches all the way up to her cheeks and her eyes, her eyes. “Did you know that?”

Regina turns her head, lets dark hair fall across her face. “Don’t say that.”

Emma frowns for a moment—but she knows there are doors there that are locked for a reason, and Regina isn’t yet ready to hand her the key. “Okay,” she murmurs, leaning over Regina left breast, blowing air over the nipple. “I won’t.”

Emma shows her instead.

Really, she’s surprised at how successful she is, given that she’s had sex with another woman a grand total of one time—unfinished—and otherwise has only the experiences of herself to guess at what might work. But she’s attentive and apparently a quick study, bestowing Regina’s torso with all the attention and tenderness it deserves and then some, and soon Regina is virtually begging Emma to take things further.

“Oh? Really?” Emma asks innocently, even as she nips at the lower curve of Regina’s right breast, follows it up with her tongue, trails it down to Regina’s belly button. Regina glares daggers at her—or tries to, anyway.

“Miss Swan—I swear to god, if you don’t—Emma—

“I don’t what, Regina?” Emma asks, feigning ignorance. Okay, she’s hamming it up, but after Regina had teased her right to the edge before, she’s not about to let up so easily.

“You don’t—just fuck me already, Emma, please—

And it was all worth it, Emma thinks, just to hear Regina Mills, Mayor of Storybrooke, say that. She laughs, tosses her hair back, and moves back to hover over Regina’s quivering, already-glistening core. Remembering what Regina had done for her, she extends two fingers and positions them at Regina’s entrance—but hesitates.

Regina looks almost crazed at the delay. “Emma—what—

“Tell me what to do, okay?” Emma asks, almost timidly. Regina’s expression softens and she nods.

Slowly, tentatively, Emma pushes in.

Regina sighs and her head falls back, which Emma takes as a good start. She pushes in and out at that same slow, nervous pace, twisting and curling her fingers this way and that and watching Regina for her reactions. At every moan, she pushes in a little harder, at every contented sigh she curls her fingers a little more, at every mm or yes she tries to hit the same spot again. Soon she feels confident enough to pick up the pace, thrusting smoothly with two fingers in and out of Regina, and she—well, she enjoys it. A lot.

She loves the little whimpering noises Regina makes when she enters her. She loves how Regina reaches down to grab a fistful of hair, and how she can tell when she’s hit a particularly sensitive spot by how Regina’s hold will tighten and sometimes pull. Most of all, she loves that she’s doing this to Regina, she’s inside Regina, fingers buried in her slick heat and that she is the one making Regina feel this way, giving back just a little of what Regina had given her.

“Emma,” Regina murmurs, her eyes shut, one hand in Emma’s hair and the other still clasped tightly to her own. “Emma, Emma, Emma.” The name falls from Regina’s lips like a mantra, like a chant of worship.

Eventually, Regina’s cries start to rise in pitch, and her walls start to tighten. “I’m close,” Regina warns, her voice shaking.

Emma keeps going, but the nervous flutters in her stomach are back. “What do I do?”

A brief delay, then—“Taste me.”

Emma nods, leans forward until her nose is brushing Regina’s mound of hair. From here, Regina’s scent is intoxicating, and she almost loses her train of thought. But she remembers herself, and extends her tongue to search for Regina’s clit.

It takes a few goes. The first two times, she doesn’t get anything but Regina’s outer lips and a sample of her taste—sharper and sweeter than her own, in some weird way—but the third time, Regina gasps and the hand on the back of her head pushes her in. Emma smiles, and starts flicking her tongue more aggressively, up and down, left and right, a rhythm to match the one her fingers are setting in and out of Regina’s pulsating core—

Emma—”

Regina shudders, head to toe, and her walls clench around Emma’s fingers. Emma has to hold on, more or less, and rely on Regina to keep her secure as she bucks and jerks, high, wordless cries piercing the air over and over again.

Emma just watches as the orgasm rushes through Regina, leaving her panting, leaving her breathless and boneless as she finally comes down. Emma places one last kiss to Regina’s soaked mound and rises up to straddle Regina’s waist, letting her watch Emma lick Regina’s own come off her fingers.

Regina rolls her eyes, which is not as effective as it would normally be when she is still visibly dazed. “Such a cliché,” she mutters, but pushes up to kiss Emma anyway. “Where did you learn that, anyway?”

“I—may have watched some, uh, videos,” Emma admits with a shrug, not feeling ashamed in the slightest. Regina rolls her eyes again. “Hey! Just because I’ve never actually been with a girl before doesn’t mean that—mmph—

Regina pulls her down and kisses her mid-sentence, hard and just quick enough to shut her up. “Well, you were very good. Very, very good.”

Emma brightens immediately. “Really? You mean very good, or very very good, because I reckon that for my first time—”

She never explains exactly what she reckons, though, because Regina’s fingers had been drifting lower and lower while Emma had been waffling on, and three had been thrusted into her already-aroused core. Any and all words leave Emma immediately and her back arches upwards against Regina’s body, the sentence dying on a broken moan as her hips start to roll helplessly onto Regina’s fingers.

“Do shut up, Miss Swan,” Regina breathes against Emma’s jaw, and Emma can do nothing but nod.

 


 

Emma wakes slowly the next morning, and regrets it almost at once.

She has no idea how much she’d slept last night, but it can’t have been enough—can’t have been more than two hours, probably—and there’s a generalised soreness throughout her whole torso, concentrated particularly between her thighs—oh.

Memory floods back, and she can’t help but smile. She opens her eyes, flings an arm across to Regina’s sleeping bag—and finds it empty.

She sighs. Right. She should have known that in the cold light of morning, Regina would have come to her senses and had second thoughts and oh fuck, this was a mistake, this was a huge mistake. She has a boyfriend, for whom she’d taken her whole family down to hell to save, and she’s thrown it all away, thrown the precious equilibrium her family has found by the wayside all for the sake of a dumb crush and now Regina is gone

“Good morning, sleepy,” she hears Regina say from somewhere below her.

She gasps and looks down—and there, waiting for her, is probably one of the most captivating sights she’s ever seen: Regina, still stark naked, backlit by the morning lit, crouched and waiting between her legs like a tiger waiting to pounce.

Emma gulps. “Hi.”

“About time you woke up. I’ve been waiting half an hour,” Regina murmurs, starting to kiss her way up Emma’s upper thigh.

Emma can already feel the heat rising in her chest, her breathing starting to shorten—“Why, did you have a surprise for me?”

Regina tosses her hair back and laughs, spreads Emma with her thumbs and slowly, tortuously licks her way up Emma’s slit. Emma groans.

“The very best.”

Emma lays her head back and smiles, and smiles, and smiles.

 


 

The downside of morning sex, of course, is that it always tends to take longer than initially planned, especially when favours are to be returned and re-returned. By the time they’ve finally sated themselves and have dressed again, they’re running awfully late for their son.

Where were you guys? he writes crossly. I had to make up all sorts of stuff to stay up here.

We’re sorry, dear, Regina taps back, wincing. Your mother and I were distracted this morning.

He’s still visibly annoyed, and he writes, Distracted by what? You guys don’t have anything to do there but wait.

Emma leans forward to start tapping out an answer, but can’t bring herself to do it. She can’t lie to him, not about something like this, but oh god, the truth…

Without warning, his eyes suddenly widen and his mouth falls open and he scrawls something rapidly down on his paper. He looks at it for a moment, hesitating, then turns it around to show it to the mirror.

Did you guys have sex?

“Oh my god,” Emma breathes, burying her face in her hands, utterly mortified. “How did he even guess?”

“It’s Henry,” Regina says, keeping her chin raised and dignified despite her strong flush. “Of course he would guess.” We did sleep together, yes.

It’s intended as a non-committal non-answer, but Henry takes it as the confirmation that it actually is. He makes a grand show out of cringing, but Emma can see him working to suppress the broad grin threatening to break out all over his face.

Ew, he writes. Gross, moms. TMI.

“TMI?” Regina asks dubiously.

“‘Too much information’”, Emma tells her, rolling her eyes. You are so getting grounded when we get home, kid.

Henry snorts. Sure. His mood dampens, though, and he becomes sombre as he writes his next message. When Emma reads it, she understands why.

What about you and Hook?

Emma doesn’t need to look at Regina to know she’s gone stiff as a board, and Emma sighs. It would be easy, she knows. It would be responsible to just tell Regina that what happens in this world stays in this world, and the moment they go home they fit back into their pre-arranged roles as friends and co-parents but nothing more, and Emma the dutiful girlfriend in that big, cold house of hers—

But she is tired, so tired, of filling roles. Of meeting expectations. Of being what others demand her to be, expect her to be. It’s worn her down and out for months and years now, and it’s surely going to lead to her death in the next few weeks.

So if that’s all the time left in the world for her, she’s going to damn well spend it doing what she wants—and she wants this, more than she’s wanted anything in a long, long time.

And then there’s those words Regina had murmured across her skin, a promise repeated again and again through the night: you’re not dying. She’ll take her chances.

Your mom and I will deal with that, she taps out, and Regina’s eyes snap open next to her. Together.

“So you mean—”

“Yeah,” Emma says, turning to look at her and taking her hand. “I mean—if you’ll have me, yeah. I want this.”

Regina smiles, her eyes glimmering as she raises Emma’s hand to her lips, lays soft kisses on her knuckles.

In the mirror, Henry is still writing. Okay. So long as you guys are happy.

Regina only hesitates for the briefest moment before tapping her response back.

We are.

 


 

All in all, very little actually changes between them.

Alright, there’s the sex. There’s a lot of sex, actually, filling most of their evenings and much of the day too. But even that is… strangely in tune with everything else they share, as Regina in bed is more or less like Regina the rest of the time too: unpredictable and snippy and demanding, but methodical and careful and caring and so, so devoted to making Emma feel good, Emma feel happy.

As a result, the next three days are some of the most intense Emma has ever experienced, like she’s being semi-permanently elevated to upper plane to existence where everything is always bright and warm and Regina, and she’s overwhelmed with sensation and ecstasy and need to give back even a tenth of what this woman is giving to her, and she tries and she tries and she tries. It’s not enough, though, she knows it doesn’t even come close to expressing how grateful, how amazed she is that they have this—

“Emma,” Regina cuts her off, leaning over her, cradling Emma’s cheeks in her hands and nuzzling her nose, having spent the last half-hour riding her fingers. “Do you have any idea what this means to me?”

Emma looks down, runs her hands up and down Regina’s hips. “I—I do, of course I do,” she says, trying to convince herself she’s not lying, and Regina kisses her.

So, yes. They have this, and Emma has to pinch herself half the time that they do. But she’s aware, constantly, oppressively aware, that they may not have this for very long outside of this sanctuary of theirs, so she’s very careful to make sure that outside of fucking each other insensible, everything stays the same as it had been before this had all started.

The trouble is, though, that it very rapidly becomes obvious why this had all started, when she realises exactly what the same as it had been before entails. There’s no more ignoring those little shared touches and soft smiles as they pass each other dishes; there’s no ignoring the way her heart skips a beat or three when Regina smiles that surprisingly shy smile around her; there’s absolutely no way for her to pretend these days that the little murmured stories about Henry at age three, at age five, at age seven shared late at night, face to face, don’t indicate anything more.

Emma had feared she’d pushed them down a slippery slope, but now she understands that they’ve been on this trajectory for a long, long time and hadn’t even noticed; an inexorable fall towards some place they had barely imagined, and Emma’s last-minute attempts to arrest their slide and gain their bearings are far, far too late.

And it’s going to kill them both.

“What?” Regina rolls off her stomach and onto her back after Emma had murmured that into her spine, props herself on her elbows. Regina’s voice is hoarse from crying out and her pupils are still dilated, her body covered in a light sheen of sweat, but her brow is furrowed and her expression is serious. Emma forces herself to meet Regina’s perturbed eyes and not—not—look down. “What’s that meant to mean?”

Emma looks away, hides under her hair. “I just mean—being with you is great, and the sex is amazing, but it can’t last. You know it can’t last, because soon I’ll be gone and I just worry about that means for you and Henry—”

“Stop.”

Emma clamps her jaw shut, but keeps looking down somewhere to the right of Regina’s stomach.

“Look at me, Emma,” Regina says, soft but firm, bendable but not breakable. “Look at me.

She looks up, sees Regina watching her with compassion and empathy but with steel too, cast-iron determination. Regina sits up straight, pulls Emma closer so they’re face-to-face. “I’m going to say this once, and only once, okay?”

Emma nods, finds herself unable to meet Regina’s eyes, awaits her fate. “Okay.”

Regina raises a hand, strokes a line down the side of Emma’s face, murmurs, “If that’s what you really think, then we’ll end this right here, right now.”

And it’s everything Emma had feared, and it’s worse than Emma had feared because just minutes ago she’d been inside Regina, making her scream Emma’s name over and over again—and now, this.

Her stomach plummets, her eyes shoot back up to Regina’s, wide and frightened. “But—”

“I want this,” Regina says softly, her eyes cool, her hand stopping under Emma’s cheek to hold her face steady. “More than anything. And no matter what happens, I will love you just as much as I do right now.”

Which doesn’t make sense, doesn’t make any sense, because how could Regina love her even after this—”So then—why—”

“But I will not be party to this, Emma,” Regina continues, before Emma can blubber further. “I will not be some extended last-night-on-earth fling while you quietly count down the days to your own death. I deserve better—we deserve better than that, Emma.”

Emma squeezes her eyes shut, accepts what she’d always known was coming. “So—so that’s it, then, yeah? We’ll just—we’ll just not talk about this after this is all done and I’ll go back to Hook and—”

Regina kisses her, closed-mouthed and sweet, so sweet that Emma can’t help but reciprocate, her left hand trailing upwards to cradle Regina’s cheek in a mirror image of the way Regina is holding hers.

“Didn’t I tell you?” Regina says once they part, “I want this, I want this so much. But you have to want this too, Emma, and that means you have to be willing to fight for it.”

Emma swallows, winds her hands behind Regina’s neck and into her hair. “I—I get it, but what if I lose? You lost Robin and you lost Daniel and I don’t want to put you and Henry in that position again if you lose me—”

Regina kisses her again, once, twice, short, fast kisses that take Emma’s breath away. “But I survived that, Emma, and I would survive it again. And do you really think us being together or not would make any difference to how I’d feel if you were gone?”

A tear rolls down Emma’s cheek, and another, and she blinks them away. “So what do you need from me?”

Regina leans forward, winds her arms around the back of Emma’s neck and pulls her in so their foreheads are touching.

“I need you to fight for us, Emma,” Regina says, as plaintive and vulnerable as Emma has ever heard her, tangling her fingers into Emma’s hair. “I need you to show me that having this family is worth taking that risk.”

Emma looks into Regina’s eyes, so close to her own, sees uncertainty and fear and hope in their depths, and finally, finally feels that once-steely determination harden inside her at last. She knows that there’s only one answer she could possibly give.

“You’re worth everything,” Emma whispers, and holds on.

 


 

Later, much later that night, when the two of them have gone to sleep, she has that same dream again.

She still doesn’t know who that hooded figure is or why she’s in this battle to the death, but she is, fighting with every ounce of strength and sinew she has. Gradually, she gains the upper hand, starts to overpower her opponent—but then her hand starts shaking, as it always does. Her arms lose strength, she momentarily opens herself up, and she sees the hooded figure drawing its sword back—

But she wakes this time, moments before the sword plunges into her.

Her eyes rove around wildly for a seconds, trying to regain her bearings—but she quickly realises it’s still dark, the only illumination the permanent dull reddish glow that filters in through the entrance to the cave. The only sound is the quiet, rhythmic noise of Regina’s breathing right next to her, matching the slow rise and fall of her now-clothed chest. Below, Emma can see that their hands are still loosely joined between them.

Emma smiles a little, and decides to spend a few moments watching Regina sleep—Regina doesn’t seem to sleep as much as her, always going to bed later and rising earlier, so this isn’t something she’s done very much. And she likes it; Regina’s face is calm and tranquil in a way that it so rarely is when they’re awake, free of the thousand competing emotions usually written through her expressions. Emma stays like that for a good ten minutes or more, marvelling at the peace that Regina has, apparently, finally managed to find—

Until Regina’s brow creases and she shifts, curling her legs upwards and drawing her free hand in towards her chest, almost as if she’s shielding herself from some invisible threat deep within her mind. Her lips open and she mutters something unintelligible, letting out a thin, small whimper.

Oh.

Emma shifts forward and gently, so gently, lays a kiss on Regina’s forehead, brushing her away from her face with her free hand. Regina’s face relaxes immediately, and between them, her hold on Emma’s hand tightens.

Emma smiles and leans back. She closes her eyes and falls back asleep almost straight away.

She has no more dreams that night.

 


 

Two mornings later, Regina shakes her awake, and Emma is none too pleased about it.

“Emma. Emma, wake up.”

Emma groans, curls away from the all-too-loud voice hovering just above her. “Not yet. Wanna sleep.”

Regina huffs with impatience, rolls Emma onto her back. “You can sleep later, Emma. Henry’s found something.”

Emma’s eyes open and she sits up at once. “Really?”

“Really. Come on, we might not have much time.”

Emma stands and follows, although slowly, because her head still feels like it’s been put through a washing machine and her legs are still awfully sore after Regina had tied—right. Definitely not thinking about that now. Definitely, definitely not thinking about that now.

In any case, the mirror in question is no more than fifteen minutes’ light jogging away, and Emma soon realises why Regina had taken such an interest in this mirror in particular.

“That’s the one from your vault,” Emma exclaims, surprised she hadn’t noticed it before.

“I found it yesterday while looking around,” Regina says. “I didn’t think anything of it at first, but…”

She places her palm on the mirror and, as expected, the smooth reflection dissipates into a wide view of the lower room of Regina’s vault—and their son standing in the middle of it.

“Hey mom,” Henry chirps, smiling tiredly with bags under his eyes but relieved, so relieved.

“Henry!” Emma rushes forward and all but falls against the mirror, pushing desperately, hungrily at it and for the image of their son waiting beyond. She looks at Regina standing next to her. “He can see us?”

“Yeah, I can see you,” Henry says, “And hear you too.”

“How?”

“The barrier between the real world and this world looks like it’s been weakened here,” Regina explains, then bows her head, her arms drawn across her chest. “I think that’s because this was the mirror I used to trap Sidney. And communicate with him.”

Emma reaches across, clasps Regina’s hand, pulls it towards her. “Hey. You gave us a way out, even if you didn’t know it at the time.” She looks back at Henry. “That’s right, isn’t it, kid? This is our way home?”

“I think so,” Henry says. “The books said something about making a connection with magic that could cross worlds…”

Emma furrows her brow, wondering what he’s hinting at—then it hits her. The most powerful magic of all. “But—but then why are we still here?” she asks, eyes darting between Henry and Regina, and panic starts to rise unbidden in her throat. “You guys share true love, why couldn’t you get us out?”

Regina squeezes Emma’s hand, calms her. “We came close, but it wasn’t quite strong enough to forge the connection,” Regina says. “But with two of us…”

Emma’s eyes widen, go quite round. “Oh. So what do we do?”

“Place your hand on the mirror.”

They both do so, one hand next to the other, palms spread and thumbs almost touching. “Ready, Henry?”

Henry nods and exhales dramatically, rolling up his sleeves and extending two palms outwards, walking slowly towards the mirror and closing the gap—

There’s a flash of brilliant, multicoloured light and a sudden rush of wind as his hands land on the glass, and the surface of the mirror ripples and morphs into a silvery, undulating liquid, reminding Emma of that scene in The Matrix.

“So is that it?” she says, standing back from the mirror. “Did it work?”

“Only one way to find out,” Regina replies, shrugging. “Stand back, Henry.”

Through the distorted mirror, they see that Henry does so, and the two of them take three steps back, prepare themselves. Regina glances across at her.

“Ready?”

Emma pauses, hesitates.

Ready? Is she really ready? Ready to go back to the twisted complexities and unpredictability of the real world? Ready to deal with the consequences of having fallen for Regina while she’s still supposed to be with someone else? Ready to face the onrushing tru—the possibility that she’s about to die?

She looks at Regina, sees her looking back with care, worry, love.

“I’m scared,” she whispers softly, squeezing Regina’s hand.

“Me too,” Regina admits. “But whatever happens, we face it together, okay?”

Emma smiles, nods at her. “Together.”

Regina nods back, and they turn to face the mirror, steeling themselves one last time—then they charge forward, diving head-first into the liquid surface—

And landing in their son’s arms.

He pulls them in immediately, fiercely, holding onto them with one arm each like he had on the way home from Neverland.

“Mom,” he whispers, his voice shaking on the single syllable. “Mom.

“Shh,” Emma says, reaching up to stroke Henry’s hair. “We made it,” she murmurs, and meets Regina’s eyes behind Henry’s head, smiling.

Regina smiles back.

“Yes, we made it.”