Author's note: Thanks, everybody, for all your reviews and faves! I've had a lot of fun writing this, and I'm glad some of you have found it fun to read. I hope this final chapter holds up :)
Regina had been standing on Snow White's doorstep for a good minute. She gathered up all of the horrible thoughts and feelings she had and mentally stowed them away. She forced herself to smile, and the muscle memory brought thoughts of Emma to the surface, replacing her apprehension with the clarity of a focused heart. She rang the doorbell.
And immediately heard the wail of a woken baby.
Not off to a good start.
The door flew open, but Snow didn't bother to register who was behind it before she turned and ran up the stairs to the crying child.
Regina scowled at the woman's naiveté. She could have been anyone, and that dolt just gave her free reign of her house.
She closed the door behind her and decided the kindest thing to do was to follow the noise of Snow's ineffectual cooing and announce herself.
Snow's eyes widened when she recognized Regina in the doorway of the nursery, and her mouth set in a disapproving line.
"Sorry," Regina said, recalling her own murderous rage whenever some idiot had woken Henry from a nap. "I shouldn't have rung the doorbell."
She hadn't intended to start their conversation with an apology, but it appeared to have had a good effect on Snow, whose whole body seemed to relax at Regina's words.
The baby in the woman's arms seemed taken with the unfamiliar sound of Regina's voice, and a silence descended on the room as she held its little gaze.
"Is this about me?" Snow asked. "This thing between you and Emma."
Regina masterfully kept her mouth from sneering at the self-involved princess and managed to answer calmly. "No, it's about me and Emma."
Snow took a deep breath. "Then why are you trying to turn Henry against me?"
"I didn't have to try," Regina said automatically. Damn. Snow's face was doing that thing it did. Pouting. Regina closed her eyes and tried a better response. "Henry is angry at you because you've hurt Emma."
"No I haven't!" Snow was quick to respond.
Regina clenched her fists to avoid rolling her eyes in front of the woman. "You're careless," she explained. "You've always been careless with the people close to you, believing that you have an inherent goodness that makes all of your impulses harmless."
"I won't have you come into my house to insult me—"
Regina had to close her eyes again. It filled her with too much rage to see how vehemently the woman believed that her identity as a victim made her above reprieve. "I didn't come here to insult you. I came here to ask for your help."
She opened her eyes and saw the woman smugly holding her chin higher, waiting for Regina to continue.
She sighed. "When Henry asked me to tell him about all the things you did to me in the past—"
"What I did to you?!"
Regina silenced her with a glare. "Yes, dear. He's already heard about everything that I did to you." Snow slumped, and Regina took a calming breath. "I admit that I enjoyed telling him about the side of you his little book didn't tell him about."
Snow's face contorted into a pout again, but this time there was shame behind it.
Regina took strength from that and continued, "I didn't tell him about what you did to Cora's heart."
Snow tilted her head. "Why not, Regina? If you wanted Henry on your side, that's the best story to tell him."
"Because as much as I like the idea of Henry finally seeing someone else's flaws instead of mine, I don't want there to be sides anymore. It's not good for Henry. It's not good for anyone. If we're going to live happily ever after together as a family, you and I need to be on each other's side."
Snow sighed. The baby had fallen back asleep and she gently lowered the child into the crib. She crept out of the room and Regina followed, silently closing the door behind them. She led them down the stairs and into the kitchen, where she appeared to have abandoned a cup of tea.
"I don't know how I feel about you marrying your way into my family again," Snow said, tipping the rest of the pot into a mug for Regina. "It didn't go very well for me the first time. Sugar?"
Regina shook her head and took the mug. "It didn't go very well for me either, you know. I didn't exactly choose to spend my early adult life sharing a bed with an unsympathetic middle-aged man."
Snow looked at her, mouth agape.
Regina raised her eyebrows and took a sip of her tea, daring Snow to argue with that.
The princess finally closed her mouth, frowned, and opened it again to answer, "Well, I'm sorry that you saved my life, and I'm sorry that it resulted in you marrying my father."
"I'm sorry, too," Regina said. The part of her that wanted this to work kicked the part of her that recoiled at Snow's self-pitying apology and she amended, "That you lost your father as a result of our marriage. I'm no longer sorry that I saved your life. I did like you, that day we met."
Snow's eyes brimmed with tears. "I'm sorry about Cora!" she cried, her hands shooting out to pull Regina into a hug.
Regina bristled, but willed herself to at least perform relaxation, even if she didn't feel it. She settled into Snow White's arms and was surprised to feel her heart become lighter. She tried to make herself remember the little girl she'd rescued from the runaway horse, and her arms responded accordingly, if briefly, by patting Snow on the back and bringing the hug to a close.
Regina lifted her chin, eager to move on from the intimacy and get to her original point. "I know you and I can't simply start over, but this family is different from the one you and I shared before and I'd like this one to be rather more functional than the last. I think it would help your relationship with Emma and Henry if you could make it to the diner some weekdays. If weekends are better, perhaps I could babysit for you for an afternoon and the four of you could spend some quality time together. It would also be nice if we could get Henry to babysit the baby on his own one night and the four of us could go out for dinner, get to know each other in this new configuration."
Snow swallowed like a bad taste had entered her mouth. "I appreciate your advice, Regina, but I still don't think you and Emma are meant to be together. She told me about your theory, and I do think it's a strange coincidence that her tattoo is this ville de lyon flower, but I refuse to believe that Blue would go so far to keep you from finding your true love. And I still don't understand what it means for Robin."
Snow spoke sincerely. It was a trait that usually bothered Regina, but today it meant that the woman was giving her a chance to convince her.
"I won't pretend to know why Blue or Tinker Bell have done what they have done," Regina admitted. "And I don't care what any of it means for Robin. All I do know is that Emma and I make sense."
Snow narrowed her eyes at Regina. "And Emma really wants this?"
Regina shrugged, a gesture she'd always disliked in a conversational partner but one she couldn't stop herself from performing when she felt overwhelmed. Did Emma really want to be her soulmate? Emma didn't like fate, but Emma had kissed her all the same. "She didn't at first, but I think she does now."
Snow sighed. "All I've ever really wanted is for Emma to be happy."
Was it? Regina wondered. But it didn't matter, as long as that belief led Snow to a favourable conclusion.
"I won't pretend to understand this whole soulmate conspiracy, Regina, but if Emma wants to be with you I'll accept it."
Regina hid her smile behind her mug of tea. "You don't have a problem with her being with a woman?"
Snow clenched her eyes shut and held up her hands. "I don't want to think about Emma being with anyone. I just want her to find love. If she finds it with you, then that's her choice."
"Technically, it's her destiny," Regina corrected her with an innocent smile.
Snow glared at her before sighing and relaxing into a smile. "If that's her destiny, then I'll come to accept it like I came to accept her fate as the saviour. It wasn't what I wanted for her, and I feared for her life—" She raised her eyebrow pointedly at Regina. "—But I trust in Emma, and I'll come to trust you as well, Regina."
"Good," Regina said with a smile. One she was surprised to find was actually genuine.
"I'm glad you came over," Snow said. "I feel a lot better now than I did last night."
Not wanting to push it, Regina downed the last of her tea and excused herself. She could get in a good hour of work at the office before she met Henry at school.
Snow wouldn't join them today, but she promised to make an effort later this week. Regina left the Charmings' house actually feeling positive at the prospect of spending more time with Snow White.
She hadn't felt so lighthearted since she was a teenager, when a future filled with love and happiness was all she could imagine for herself.
Dread washed over Emma's entire body as she spotted Regina's silhouette in front of the school. She wasn't smiling, but Emma thought she looked happy. She stood there on the sidewalk looking like a woman who had everything.
And she did.
For the next few minutes, anyway.
Emma scanned the road for signs of Mary Margaret's car and felt a numb version of relief when she spotted her mother waving at her from the other side of the road. As she approached the car, she recognized a familiar gait in her peripheral vision—Henry was shuffling out of the school towards his mother.
Mary Margaret followed Emma's gaze. "I'll be right here, Emma."
Emma swallowed. Even if her mother was probably doing a victory dance in her head, she was feigning genuine sympathy well enough. And she was here, doing her a favour.
"Thanks for doing this," she said. She hoped the sound of gratitude outweighed that of anger in her voice, even if she didn't feel it. "I'll pick him up… when it's over."
"Emma, I'm sorry—"
"Not your fault." She couldn't bear another moment in her mother's presence. Which was fortuitous, because it motivated her legs to move in Regina and Henry's direction.
"Hey," she said, interrupting the conversation between mother and son. "I need to—" She tried to look only at Henry, but her eyes kept darting to Regina, who smiled back at her in return, causing her to stumble over her words. "I'm sorry, Henry. I need to talk with your mom for a bit."
"We could all talk at Granny's perhaps?" Regina offered.
She was so hopeful. So excited. Emma wanted to curl into a ball and have someone carry her away from this town and this woman forever.
She looked at the ground and forced her voice into action. "Mary Margaret's here."
"Look, kid, I'm sorry for all the time you've had to spend with her lately, but she promised to let you order pizza for dinner."
Regina tilted her head. She looked intrigued but not alarmed. Emma wasn't sure if she would feel better if the woman understood that something was horribly wrong. Regina was actually looking past Emma and smiling in Mary Margaret's direction, as though everything was going to be okay.
"This sucks!" Henry spat. "I don't want to eat pizza with her!"
"Henry," Regina interrupted. "Go with her today. Consider it an exercise in patience. If you're anything like me—and you are—this is something you will need to practice. Tomorrow, the three of us can have dinner together." She looked at Emma and raised her eyebrows in question.
Emma couldn't make a smile appear on her lips so she looked at Henry and nodded at him instead.
He scowled at her, then at Regina, before dragging his feet towards his waiting grandmother.
Regina watched Henry's dramatic performance and shared a smirk with Emma.
Emma felt a late bloom of butterflies erupt in her stomach. This beautiful woman was sharing a moment with her, her eyes sparkling with a love Emma had never known.
And never would, she reminded herself.
Still, her heart swelled when Regina grabbed her hand and asked her where they were going.
"My apartment," Emma mumbled, and she kicked herself when she noticed the shy blush that grew on Regina's cheeks as they neared the building.
"You're being awfully quiet," Regina said as she followed Emma up the stairs. "Are you going to fill me in on what happened at the station?"
Emma opened the door to the apartment, her heart constricting in her chest. "I don't want to talk about that just yet."
She closed the door behind Regina and threw both of their coats onto the kitchen table. When she looked back at the woman, she could no longer avoid her gaze.
"What do you want to talk about then?" Regina asked with a twinkle in her eye.
Emma was angry. She was angry and she wanted to cry, but she also wanted desperately to kiss Regina. For this day to have been part of a fantastic conspiracy, where everyone but them was involved. A part of her wondered if both of them had known anyway. If there had always been an attraction between them, and the conspiracy theory had been a flimsy excuse for acting on it. Had she ever really believed it was true?
She'd felt it, she reminded herself. She'd felt magic when the woman had kissed her forehead yesterday, and she'd felt true love when their lips connected this morning in the car.
She leaned in and kissed the woman now. "I feel it," she said, kissing Regina again. "Can't you feel it?"
"The magic?" Regina asked with a knowing grin. "When we kiss? Of course I feel it."
Emma kissed her a third time, but a troubling thought popped into her head. If she wasn't Regina's soulmate, no amount of kissing would change that. Robin was her soulmate. Regina was meant for someone else. Emma had no right to kiss her when she knew the truth. She had to tell her.
She looked at Regina and registered the expression on her face. She was the scariest woman in the world, but she looked timid as her hands fiddled with the buttons on Emma's shirt.
Emma leaned in to her, aching to press her body against Regina's but too conflicted to allow the woman to continue to undress her.
She was too late to stop Regina's other hand, which had migrated toward her sheriff's belt and disarmed her, carefully placing the loaded belt on the floor.
Emma had dreamed of Regina in this position so many times, she couldn't bring herself to pull the woman up off her knees. She sank to the floor instead, searching Regina's eyes for a sign that this woman was not for her. That this was miraculously a different woman from the one who had pursued her and told her she loved her. That she wasn't that one person who had given her a say in her destiny, who would be as devastated as she was to learn that her choice hadn't mattered anyway.
But they were the same eyes, and she was the same woman.
The worry in her eyes mirrored Emma's own, but for entirely different reasons. "I know I said I wanted to take things slowly," Regina whispered, "but I want to touch you."
Emma gasped as she felt Regina's finger slide along the waist of her jeans and undo the top button. She clasped Regina's body to hers as the woman lowered her hand, her fingers brushing between Emma's legs.
"I don't know how, but I want to," Regina murmured, her voice full of uncertainty.
Emma breathed deeply, her whole body reeling with pleasure at each slight movement of Regina's fingers. She had to stop this. It wasn't right for her to—
"Teach me," the woman breathed in her ear, petting her one last time before bringing her hand out of Emma's pants.
At the momentary reprieve from distraction, Emma tried to gather her courage to tell Regina the truth. She'd barely opened her mouth when the woman slid her fingers under the band of her underwear, overwhelming Emma's better judgment.
There was a line, she reminded herself. There was a line and she was about to step over it. Regina believed she was her soulmate and she loved her. She couldn't do this to her.
She grabbed Regina's wrist and pulled the woman's hand away. "Regina—"
Regina still had a smile on her lips as she coyly replied, "Emma?"
"I want you to," Emma said. "I want you to fuck me. I want to kiss you and touch you and tell you all the reasons why you make me feel so good. I want to wake up next to you on Henry's birthday and have you teach me how to make pancakes the way he likes them. I want to be with you." Regina looked like she was about to kiss her again, when she added, "But I can't."
Regina tensed. "Why not?"
Emma hated herself. She hated Blue for being innocent, and Tink for being honest. She hated Robin most of all, for being Regina's true love.
"Because I'm not your soulmate."
Regina lost her breath for a moment.
She forced her lungs to take in air enough to whisper, "I thought we'd been through this."
"Me too," Emma said, her voice shaky. "But none of it is true."
"No," Regina pleaded, clasping Emma's hands. "Don't say that. You felt it! You know it's true."
Emma turned her hand over in Regina's, exposing her tattoo. "It's not a ville de lyon."
Regina's heart sank. "No, it is. Ruby said."
"Ruby was confused. It's a snowdrop."
A snowdrop. It wasn't about her at all. "But," she managed to choke out, "the fairies. The conspiracy. The crash."
Emma looked at her with that tight smile. Was it love or pity? Regina couldn't be sure.
"Robin took Tink for a drive in his new car and she was… distracting him while he was driving," Emma explained. "The crash was an accident. And Blue was trying to cover up their affair because it spells bad press for the fairy department, particularly since…" Emma took another deep breath before continuing. "Particularly since Robin is, was, and will always be your soulmate."
"No, I was free of him," Regina cried, standing up and moving away from Emma. "I can't go back. I won't be trapped again."
"Destiny is the opposite of freedom," Emma mumbled. "That's why I've always hated it."
"Are you relieved then?" Regina asked, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. "Not to be tied to a soulmate by destiny?"
"No," Emma breathed. "What's the point of having free will when the person I want to be with can't use hers to be with me? But you can't run from fate, Regina."
Tears welled up in the woman's eyes and Regina felt something snap inside of her.
"No," she disagreed, pacing. "You don't believe that. Other people believe that, but don't pretend you do too."
Emma looked up at her, confused.
"Your parents believed that when they magicked you away in a tree," she said, becoming more determined by the second. "Neal believed that when he left you to rot in a prison cell. I don't know about you, but I am done having my life dictated by forces beyond my control. If destiny tries to take you away from me, I will destroy everything it touches. I will raze the whole damn universe before I bend to its will."
Emma sniffled and drew her lips into a small, defeated smile. "Regina, Robin is your true love. He's your happy ending. I can't keep you from that."
"Villains don't get happy endings. I've always known that." She looked at the teary eyed woman on the floor, and doubt struck her again. "Do you care that Robin is my soulmate?"
Emma shook her head. "But I don't want to stand in the way of you experiencing true love."
Regina knelt down in front of Emma once more and placed the woman's hands on her waist. She couldn't keep the fierceness out of her voice when she confessed, "I'd rather experience this."
They both leaned forward to kiss again, more tentative than they had been before. Regina still felt her whole body ignite at the kiss, and if Emma's clenching hands on her back were any indication, the other woman did too.
Whatever she felt—whatever this was—was stronger than anything she'd felt with her true love.
She broke from Emma's grasp to push the woman back and crawl on top of her. Her breath stopped—everything stopped—as she watched Emma undo the rest of the buttons on her top. Flaring with excitement, Regina tugged Emma's pants from her. All uncertainty had been banished from her mind. A throaty chuckle escaped her lips as she dragged her bottom lip over Emma's underwear and watched the woman's whole body swell to meet her mouth. Intoxicated by the scent of her, Regina found her hands acting of their own accord, clawing the fabric down the woman's legs. She'd been worried before, but it didn't matter now. She wanted to. Emma wanted her to.
Hands in her hair. Thighs pressed against her ears. The body beneath her hands, undulating in rhythm with her tongue. Her insatiable tongue. Her mouth, swollen with arousal, and the soft and wet and open part of Emma Swan against it. She hummed with pleasure and felt its unexpected effect ripple across Emma's body.
Kissing the woman's mouth had been one thing, but this was another kind of magic altogether. She felt powerful in a way she never had before. Each sound Emma made rang through Regina's body and gave her a focus she had only ever felt when performing her darkest spells. She let out another throaty laugh against the woman as her lips found the spot that Emma liked best.
How could anyone say they weren't meant to be together?
Emma couldn't recall ever feeling before the way she did with Regina. Men and women in the past had looked at her with longing, but none of them had made her heart skip a beat quite like Regina could.
None of them had stopped her breath in her throat with a look like Regina had that afternoon when she emerged from between Emma's legs and crawled over her body to kiss her. None of them had spread tingles across every inch of her skin when she'd touched them, none of them tasted vaguely like apples, and if any of them had ever moved against her body the way Regina did the memory was so overshadowed now it might as well have never taken place.
In the time that had passed since that first afternoon, Robin had occasionally appeared on their property, drunk and weepy, begging for Regina's love. She wondered then, as she did today, if his time would come eventually, or if she and Regina would be able to stave off her fate for decades. Maybe, she thought, if she died at 80, Regina would find some happiness with Robin for a month or so before following her to the grave.
Sometimes she contemplated killing the man, just to be sure, but she knew that was just Regina's influence, and an impulse neither of them wanted the other to give in to.
Today, she felt guilty for ever having entertained such a thought, but she felt angry too. Why couldn't the idiot have just stolen a potion from Gold? Was all of this really necessary?
As she watched the swarm of snowflakes descend on the town like so many curses had before, Emma felt protected by the traces of warmth Regina's mouth had left on her skin hours earlier. Maybe the loss of that warmth was what had driven Robin to do what he did. Or maybe he had been motivated by a false hope that Regina might bestow a pity kiss upon him to thaw the sliver of ice he'd driven into his heart.
"I don't think he counted on summoning her," Regina said, her eyes trained on the cloud of flurries vaguely masking the silhouette of a woman descending from a glowing portal over the mountains.
"So that's the Snow Queen?" Emma asked, shaking her head. "Can't anybody from a fairy tale realm have a creative name for once?"
"No kidding," Henry said with a laugh, his gangly form clomping down the steps into their front yard.
"Henry, get back inside," Regina ordered the teen as the cloud drew nearer.
"But Grams says I need to practice!" he whined, his bow dangling from his hand. "She says I shoot as badly as Robin."
Emma shook her head. The kid knew how to play them. She exchanged a glance with Regina and raised her eyebrows. They both knew full well the boy would join them whether they granted him their permission or not.
Regina assented. "Follow our lead."
"Yes!" Henry cheered, letting Regina and Emma lead the way to the street and into the centre of town where the giant cloud of snowflakes was accumulating.
Emma walked in tandem with the woman and felt magic stir inside her body. Magic that had been exchanged so much between the two of them that she felt inexorably bound to Regina. The more time went on, the more she empathized with the cheesy way her parents loved each other, the impossible way they were devoted to finding one another against all odds.
She knew, but at the same time could not imagine, that she might one day be permanently separated from this woman she shared her life with.
"What are our chances?" Emma asked, eyeing the nebulous menace gathering above the clock tower.
Regina squinted at the hovering mass and smirked. "I'll admit, it doesn't look good. But only a fool would bet against us."
Emma grinned. Cheesy.
She drew the woman in for a pre-battle kiss, and felt the same swell of bliss and belonging surging through her body that she'd felt the first morning their mouths had met. She felt in her heart what she'd felt then: that they were meant to be together.
Even if they weren't.