The room was dark and utterly silent the moment before Emma sat upright with a startled gasp. Her breaths came in short pants and she balled her hands into tight fists, strangling the bed sheets as she fought to convince herself that she had been dreaming – that this was now reality and there was no longer a dark shadow looming over her life. One hand loosed itself; it quivered as she lifted it to her face, but stilled as she rubbed her eye. She couldn't quite convince herself that there was no danger in the waking world because it seemed like some new evil popped up every few minutes in Storybrooke. This interlude of peace – she had no delusions that it would last.
The other side of the bed was empty. This was not unusual but still brought a frown to her face. The night terrors that she hadn't had since she was a teenager had erupted back into her life, and they had been increasing in both frequency and intensity every night. At first she'd tried the usual remedy of her childhood: high caffeine intake to stay awake, frequent thigh pinches to stave off drowsiness, and ten minute powernaps to keep from killing herself. As a last resort, she'd gone to Regina for some sort of magical solution.
She'd gotten what she wanted, in a way. She hadn't had a night terror while she was with Regina. There was no magic involved, however. They had stayed awake by getting naked and sweaty, and though Emma couldn't complain, the relief was very short-lived. The next night and all the nights following, the dreams were back and Emma couldn't justify robbing Regina of sleep just because she was having a few nightmares.
Emma wiped the sweat from her forehead and staggered to her feet. The room was large, but she suddenly felt almost claustrophobic as she yanked the door open and tried to meet Snow's concerned gaze with a nonchalant smile.
"Are you okay?"
"I just got a bad feeling, like something was wrong."
Snow peered at her; the light in the hallway illuminated the bags under her eyes and added several shadows to her already gaunt appearance. For a moment, Snow looked like she was going to contradict Emma's self-assessment, but the moment passed and Snow simply smiled sadly.
"I know we've all been having a rough time since Neal died."
Emma wasn't sure how Snow had been suffering as a result of Neal's passing, but she appreciated the empathy. She'd lived so much of her life in self-induced solitary-confinement and now she finally had someone to lean upon. She felt a bit like a dehydrated sponge, and Snow's kind words were a leaky a faucet that never quite turned off.
"And I know it's hurt you quite badly." Snow set a hand on Emma's arm. Emma's eyes drifted down to the hand and then lower to Snow's protruding belly. "But if there's one thing I've learned in my life, it's that love is the greatest cure. If you need anything, I want you to know that your father and I are here. We love you, Emma, and we want to help you."
"I'm not really used to getting help."
"It might take a little while, but we'll get there. We're not used to having a daughter, either, but we want our little family. This is all we've ever wanted."
"Me, too." Emma managed a more genuine smile. "Though I can't say I ever thought it would look like this."
Snow squeezed her arm and stepped back. "We don't get to choose the hand life deals us, Emma. But we do get to choose how we play the cards."
Emma ran a hand through her hair as thoughts of her pleasant life in New York filtered into her mind's eye. The nightmares had only started when she returned to Storybrooke. It stood to reason, then, that they might end if she left the fairytale town and returned to reality. That city was one of her cards, she reminded herself. If things got too bad-
"Just please, Emma. Don't leave."
"I wouldn't. Not without saying something, I mean."
"That's all I can ask." Snow turned away. "Now get some sleep, Emma. It looks like you haven't slept in a month."
That was a fairly accurate assessment, but Emma didn't bother confirming. She shut the door and returned to bed so that she could trace patterns on the ceiling until dawn.
Regina lifted her head from the porcelain of her toilet seat and wearily flushed the entirety of the contents of her stomach. She didn't feel any of the symptoms that usually accompanied the sparse times in her life that she had vomited. The ill-feeling had sprung out of nowhere as she sipped her morning coffee and she had just made it to the bathroom in time to spare her hardwood floors.
There was something amiss, she thought, because she wasn't prone to this sort of infirmity. If physical illness wasn't a possibility, then it was quite possibly a magical malady. As loathe as she was to consider it, she realized that she ought to take a short walk down to the pawn shop. With Belle around, Rumple was much more contained. Though the interaction would likely be annoying, she was certain that it would be at the bare minimum bearable.
She would go – as soon as she could stand without her stomach wobbling. Several minutes passed before she felt steady and able. By the time she was upright and had her skirt smoothed, she felt as if nothing had happened. Despite her wellness, she forced herself to grab her purse. She could use a walk if nothing else and she could always change her mind by the time she reached the shop.
A pedestrian murmured a pleasant greeting to her in passing, and she nearly smiled. She had no recollection of what had happened in the previous year, but apparently she had done something right. While she may not be a hero, or even a good guy, she was no longer an outcast or an evil villain to put a stop to. She had no doubt that eventually they would forget the small acts of goodness and remember only the harm she had enacted, but for now she was content to pretend that she had no history – just a somewhat pleasant future.
A future that may contain Ms. Swan, she thought to herself. Despite her best efforts, the edges of her lips twitched up. Emma hadn't been back yet, but she expected to see the blonde sooner or later with another bogus excuse to spend the night together. Night terrors? Regina wanted to laugh, but the noise would have scared the other woman away. Next time Emma would probably be suffering from heart burn. Regina's cure would be the same. Perhaps someday, she let herself hope, there would be no cause for an excuse; Emma would simply arrive as if they belonged together.
Fate had determined that she belonged with another, but she was exasperated with this town's overindulgence in fatalism. She, for one, had agency. If she had waited for fate to take its course, she would still be wed to Snow's lug of a father. She wouldn't have Henry. She wouldn't be happy.
It was odd to think of herself as happy, but she was. She had a son, she had a town that no longer hated her, and she had – well, she would eventually have Emma. Sooner or later, anyway. She wasn't a particularly patient woman when her goal was so near, but she had also learned the value of waiting for others to come to her so as to circumvent resentment.
The bell overhead tingled as she entered the pawn shop and she was immediately accosted by Rumple's dour expression. He tapped his cane against the floor as she approached, then lifted it so the tip nestled against her shoulder once she was close enough.
"What do you want?"
"Not in the mood for petty games, Gold?"
"In case you had forgotten-"
"I'm well aware of the loss of your son." She was more keenly aware of the pain it had caused Ms. Swan, but she wasn't going to demean Rumple's loss when she needed something from him. "And for what it's worth, I extend my apologies."
He snorted, clearly derisive of her paltry offering, but then his eyes flickered to the back room where Belle no doubt was and his mien smoothed. "I'll ask again, as your hearing seems to be going. What do you want?"
"I think someone has cast a curse upon me."
"An additional curse? On top of the mysterious curse that sent us back here?"
He let his cane slide back to the floor. "I'm afraid I can't help you."
"I misspoke. I will not."
"Why not?" She reached forward, eager to snag his lapel, but he leaned out of the way.
"Magic comes with a price." She watched something akin to pain flicker through his expression. "So I'm afraid I'm not practicing any longer."
"That doesn't seem like you."
From his terse expression, she could see that he agreed. When they had rescued him from his cage, he had been furious, distraught, and apathetic in turn, and as the weeks had passed he had somewhat stabilized, but Regina had known him for too many years to be fooled. There was something wrong with him, as well as with her.
"Where is your dagger?"
"You're not cursed." He lifted a weary hand in a lackluster mockery of his prior showmanship. "You're pregnant."
"I may not be using my magic, but I know these things. If you'd like to trade her name for something interesting, you know where to find me."
The joke fell flat, but Regina wasn't listening. Her hand fluttered down to her stomach as she tried to figure out not only how this happened – but who had caused it. Gold walked away, but she remained in place as her brain whirled furiously along.
"Shit." Emma stared at the poster on the far wall which detailed the human inner ear. "Are you sure?"
Whale didn't bother glancing at his file. "Unless your urine was swapped out for someone else's-"
"This isn't possible."
His lips curled up into a smirk. "Perhaps you missed sexual education in high school due to your delinquency, but I can promise you that it is possible."
"I'm not discussing this with you."
He shrugged. "I'm your doctor, Emma."
"You're a doctor," she corrected. "Unfortunately the only one available."
"Think whatever you want about me, but I do know what I'm doing."
"Then cut the shit and act like a professional?" While she normally disliked letting her frustration out on others, as it was better suited for taking out on herself, she felt no regret about harassing Whale.
He rolled his eyes. "You'll need a check-up in a month or so. You're about five weeks along, so we'll increase the appointments as you get closer to your due date – around mid-February. Another winter baby – your mother will be so happy."
Emma leapt to her feet, heart hammering, and practically sprinted for the door. She hadn't been sexually active in a while, not considering the year she spent with Walsh. The very idea that this could be some sort of freaky slow-growing monkey baby made her head spin. The only other sex she'd had was with-
Regina lifted her head. "Ms. Swan. I must say I'm surprised to run into you here, but I am – glad. There's something I must discuss with you."
"Can it wait?" Emma clutched her stomach. "I gotta-"
"Are you feeling alright?"
"Yeah… just here about the…. The night terrors."
Regina hesitated. "I thought that you – I wasn't…"
"Can it wait?" Emma repeated, more urgency lacing her tone. "I need to go. Now."
Regina watched her pass before settling back into the waiting room chair. She trusted Gold's word, but she wanted confirmation. By the time her appointment was over, her jaw was clenching. She was five weeks along, which definitely meant that Emma was somehow the father.
"What's particularly strange," Whale commented, "is that I had another patient here with the same due date."
The image of Emma's panicked face sprung to mind. "Ms. Swan?"
"I can't ethically confirm anything-"
"Was it Ms. Swan?" She stared at him and allowed all of her pent up anger to fill her gaze.
He withered a bit and nodded.
"You can't be serious." Emma maintained her rigid stance, but inwardly sighed with relief. Having Regina's baby was significantly less horrible than having a flying monkey. "But we only had – I mean – it was just once. And it's not like we have the, y'know, the junk."
"I am aware."
"Then what? How?"
"I'm not sure. My guess, however, is that, as much as it pains me to say, we were both fated to have another child. Fate seems to find a loophole when it needs to."
"This isn't fate." Emma flinched away from the word. Fate had ruined her life. "There has to be another explanation. A curse?"
"Gold said I wasn't cursed."
"He could be lying."
"I-" Regina cut herself off. She wasn't sure if she truly trusted him – not with his evasive non-answer to the issue of the location of his dagger. "That is a possibility. The question then becomes why."
"And, I mean, what are we going to do?"
"Do you really want a cursed kid? I'm not saying, like, we have to… I mean… it's an option, okay?"
"If the kid is part of some evil curse, I don't know if I want to carry it." Emma looked away. "I… I don't know if I can be pregnant again. I can't do this."
Regina straightened her shoulders and took a step forward. Emma gazed up at her but couldn't maintain eye contact. Regina's fingers nestled under her chin and forced their eyes to meet again.
"You are not alone this time, Ms. Swan." Regina's voice hitched. "I am here, if that is what you desire."
"And if they're curse babies?"
"The circumstances of one's birth are not dispositive of one's future."
"What are you saying?" Emma slid her hand along Regina's forearm.
Regina stepped closer once more, until there was no space between them. "That we have an opportunity to raise our children correctly."
"We? Our?" Emma felt a wave of panic rise in her stomach. The steady look in Regina's eyes, however, calmed her.
"I meant merely that we are in the same position and are so appropriately able to-"
"You meant that you want me," Emma interrupted. "You meant that this means something to you, but you can't admit that."
"I meant that-"
"Okay." Emma nodded. "Together. We'll do this together."
Regina was about to complain very loudly that she wasn't interested in Emma in that way – that this was all Emma misconstruing her words – when Emma silenced her with a soft, sweet kiss.
"I can't do this."
Emma lifted her hands in defeat. She looked like a beach ball and felt like an ice cream sundae that had been left out in the sun. She just didn't have the energy or the will power to continue on. Perhaps time was playing tricks upon her mind, but she didn't remember Henry causing her body this many problems. This baby wasn't content to sit still and had taken to kicking Emma's rib cage at random intervals. Emma was sick of suddenly flinching.
Regina didn't bother opening her eyes. By her internal clock, she could tell that it was before four in the morning, which was bothersome. While Emma was taking time off of being sheriff to deal with her pregnancy, Regina couldn't justify the same break from being mayor. She wasn't, after all, dealing with criminals or situations that could endanger their child. With less than a month until they were due, Regina fervently wished she could just kick her feet up and wait; but Storybrooke needed firm guidance, and nobody else quite understood modern politics the same way she did. The day Snow White showed some political savvy instead of politesse was the day Regina would feel comfortable stepping down. She would, she thought, be mayor until she died.
"You don't know that."
"How?" Emma curled onto her side and tried her hardest to ignore the unborn child squirming in her midsection.
"Because you have done this before with much less support and assistance. This should be-"
"Well it's not, okay? It's not some walk in the park, or whatever you're going to say."
"I was going to say that this should be perhaps not more comfortable, but more bearable. I cannot carry your child for you," Regina paused, thinking that she was, actually, doing just that, before continuing, "but I can make your life better in other smaller ways."
Tears prickled at Emma's eyes, but she pushed them away. Damn hormones, she thought as she dragged a wrist angrily over the bridge of her nose. Regina's arm slid around her middle and tugged her closer. They couldn't get very near to one another any longer, but the feel of Regina's belly against her back was soothing. Moving in together had been tactical in nature, rather than romantic, but Emma was glad for the constant company – and that Regina would wake her up from her night terrors.
"I dislike discourse dealing with what ifs, Ms. Swan." Regina kept her tone firm but not hostile. She had a feeling that Emma was going to go off on a tangent that their deliveries would be like Snow's. While she hadn't been present, Regina had been informed later that the labor took nearly ten hours, there was a good deal of pain and screaming, and Emma's hand had practically been yanked off. On top of that, Snow had quickly slipped into a post-partem depression from which not even David could rouse her. All the more reason, Regina determined, to keep Emma living at the manor and not in the apartment.
"Okay." Emma squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself to fall back asleep. "Night, Regina."
Regina still had no idea what to do with Emma's mood swings, just as she could barely process her own. Rather than fight going back to sleep, she snuggled as close as she could and followed suit. Emma remained awake, however, and dreaded the coming day. Her latest nightmare had been eerily real; she knew it was just a dream, but it felt like a prophecy.
"So tell me, when did your dreams start when you were younger?"
Emma remembered talking to a psychologist when she was a kid, too, and she wished she could kick her shoes off like she did then and drag her knees to her chin. Instead, she kept her feet planted on the ground and her elbows dug uncomfortably into her thighs. Archie wasn't someone to fear, and he wasn't in any sort of position to harm her.
"They were sorta off and on. Like they'd come for like a couple months, and then they'd be gone for a year or something. The first time I remember them was when I was four or so."
"What was happening at the time?"
"Nothing? I mean, it was a long time ago and I don't really like thinking about…" Emma cleared her throat. "Maybe we could talk about a different time?"
"Whatever you're comfortable with, Emma."
As she trawled her memories, she couldn't find one that she wanted to air out to another individual. When she was four, they'd started a month before her foster family sent here back. At six years old, they'd started the night before her foster brother started beating her when she didn't do his chores. At twelve, they'd started three months before she'd broken her leg running from a drunken foster father.
"Well, I had some when I was sixteen. Right around the time I met Neal, I think. It was nice because he helped me out." Emma felt a frown tugging at her lips, but she shook her head slowly and forced a small smile onto her features. "He got me a dreamcatcher. He was so damn proud of that dreamcatcher."
"Did it work?"
"At first, yeah. But then just before I got arrested, they started again pretty much worse than the last time." She paused, brain trundling along to catch up. "Do you think that dreams could be like… omens? Or something?"
"Why do you say that?"
"I had bad dreams before a lot of bad things. They started before I got cursed pregnant." Archie opened his mouth to respond, but Emma held her hand up. "And then they stopped for a month or two, but now they're back again right around when they're due. I think something bad's going to happen."
"It's not necessarily a portent, Emma, at least not of bad things. Do you truly believe that meeting Neal was negative?"
Emma tilted her head down. "I mean, looking back he was a lot older than me. He could have been dangerous for all I know…"
"But was meeting him bad?"
"Try to remember that. These dreams may mean something important or large is going to happen, but we won't know whether it's a bad thing until it happens. Perhaps you're familiar with the adage, prepare for the worst, but expect the best?"
She nodded, feeling all the more tired for this conversation. If only sleep didn't mean dreams, she groused. "Thanks, Archie. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me."
He glanced down at his empty appointment book, looked up, and smiled graciously. "It was the least I could do to squeeze you in."
Regina rapped her knuckles on Snow's door, waited patiently for a single moment, and then rapped more viciously and continuously until she heard the creak of floorboards on the other side. The door wrenched inward and Snow glared out at her.
"What is so important you had to wake me up from a nap?"
"You're worrying Emma."
Snow's eyes darted aside as her lips made a short and temporary visit between her teeth. When her gaze landed back on Regina, Snow shook her head. "Please, just leave me alone."
"Emma's under a lot of stress right now."
"That's your problem. You did this to her."
Regina stared at Snow, unsure of what to make of this odd change in Snow's behavior. "Snow…"
"This isn't my problem."
"Isn't it?" Regina stopped the door from shutting in her face and followed Snow into the apartment. The baby was thankfully asleep, and David was snoring quietly at the base of the crib.
"She moved out."
"I don't need to hear reasons." Snow's voice lifted an octave before plummeting back down. Her cheeks tinged red. "You should go."
"Did you do something?" The thought struck her out of nowhere, but Regina couldn't walk away without asking.
"Something? Like what?" Snow twisted away and reached into a cabinet.
"Maybe your personality change isn't depression." Regina moved closer. "Maybe you feel guilty about something you've done, and that's poisoning who you are."
Snow slammed the cabinet a little harder than she meant to. David shifted but didn't awaken. "I didn't do anything."
"I can see through your lies, Snow. Tell me." Regina gambled on Snow's inability to keep a secret and was rewarded when Snow's expression crumbled.
"I didn't mean for anything to actually happen…"
"What did you do?"
"I figured it out, okay? I knew Zelena wasn't a midwife." Snow placed her hands over her eyes. "It was painfully obvious, but I did my best to pretend like I had no idea because…. Because I traded with her."
"Go on." Regina's command prompted Snow to drop her hands. Their eyes met and Snow fumbled onward.
"I didn't want to lose my baby again. It was hard enough to lose Emma. She was going to take him. I couldn't let that happen. So… I traded her. My baby for…"
"For Emma's, and my promise that I wouldn't interfere with her plans. I knew with Neal dead she wasn't going to get pregnant, at least not for a while. And I thought by then we would have defeated her."
"How could you do that to your own daughter? What if she had interpreted your deal to mean she could take Henry?"
"She needs a newborn. Henry's perfectly safe. And this wouldn't have happened if you had kept your hands to yourself."
"She cursed us to get pregnant." Regina's hand curled around her belly. "She made this happen so she could steal my happiness from me. And you caused it all."
"I… I didn't…"
Regina shook her head. "You take care of your baby, but you stay the hell away from Emma."
"Am I clear?"
Snow let her head hang down as Regina stalked away. When Regina slammed the door, the baby began to wail, but she couldn't bring herself to care for him. The guilt of selling Emma's baby for her own had been eating away at her heart, and she could barely bring herself to look at the baby boy whose price had been too great. David had named him James in Snow's absence and had been doing just fine without her. Snow sunk into bed, pulled the sheets overhead, and tried to ignore the howls from the other room.
Emma grabbed the hospital bed and strained. After just an hour, Whale claimed he could see the baby cresting. Emma didn't care. She just wanted the baby out of her body as soon as possible. Regina was in the bed next to her, but the lucky brunette had been in labor, but had stopped herself so they could go one at a time. A little bit of magic, Regina said, could be helpful even if it came with a price. Emma wanted to yell at her; all her energy, though, was focused on pushing their kid out into the world. Tears and sweat poured down her face.
When she flopped back against the pillow, she closed her eyes and waited to hear her baby's first squall. There was silence. Heart heavy, she leaned back up and scanned the room. Regina reached over and grabbed her hand.
"Whale, what's going on?"
"I'm sorry." Whale held the baby close to his chest, allowing Emma only the smallest peek of pale pink skin. "Stillborn."
Emma's cry was drowned out by Regina's. With one child born, the magic wavered and Regina's contractions began anew. Emma fought back her sobs – they still had a shot at one child, after all, and there would be time to mourn their first child later. Whale set the baby aside and rushed over. For the next hour, Emma alternated between fighting back tears and clutching Regina's hand. Her grip was broken only as the door to the delivery room burst open.
"Stop her, Emma." Regina panted. "She wants our children."
Zelena stepped inside, cutting off further conversation. Emma glanced down the hallway and winced at the fallen bodies outside. Nobody looked dead, she thought, but nobody would wake up feeling very well, either. She scrambled out of bed, feeling wobbly and ill, but infuriated. This woman was causing her dreams, she was sure of it, and she was going to save Regina or die trying. That was her job, anyway, from her perspective. She was always supposed to sacrifice so others could be happy.
"One is dead?" Zelena laughed. "I suppose I'm glad magic has so many loopholes, as Regina's baby is technically yours as well."
Emma stumbled into her path but was batted aside with the greatest of ease. She struggled to stand, but she simply couldn't gather her strength. This wasn't right, she moaned. She couldn't lie there and let this happen. This wasn't right.
Regina watched this happen and stretched her hand out toward Emma, but there was nothing she could do. Zelena knocked Whale out of the way and set a hand on Regina's ankle. "Sister, you're behind schedule."
"Purposely so," Regina spat out. "You're not getting our children."
"Come now. You have to give birth sooner or later. And I'm willing to wait."
Regina's hand clenched into a fist. "I won't let you have them."
"Oh? And what will you do? I can only be stopped by white magic, and your little white knight is a little out of sorts."
There was a tremor of pain - the baby, Regina realized, was coming and quickly, and the thought made her heart light. The feeling spread through her veins; a blast of white light exploded from Regina's hands. Zelena wasn't going to hurt her family – not if she had anything to say about it. The white light spurted forward, enveloping the other witch in a tight blanket of purity. Regina loosened her fist and the blanket tightened.
"Regina, don't kill her."
"I won't." When Regina's wrist went limp, the white light blinked out, sending a gust of freezing air through the room. "I simply made her someone else's problem."
Emma dragged herself over just in time to catch the baby as Regina finished her final push. This baby, took, was still and silent. Unwilling to let all be for naught, Emma rubbed the baby vigorously. Please, she thought, don't let there be two dead children. Regina wiped the sweat from her forehead and lifted a weary hand. With a snap of her fingers, the baby in Emma's arms began to cry. Its cries set off the baby Whale had set aside. Emma stared down at her child.
"I don't get it… What? How?"
"I knew she'd come for us. I cast a spell-"
"On our unborn children? And you didn't think to even bother telling me?" Emma hugged the squalling little girl to her chest.
Whale eased off the ground and set about severing the umbilical cord while Emma waited expectantly for an answer.
"I've always thought it best to ask forgiveness than permission." Regina held herself very stiffly, as if bracing for a blow.
"I can't believe you."
"Can you forgive me?"
Emma listened to the twin wails of their children and sighed. "Yeah. Somehow I can't stay too angry at you."
"What will we name them?"
Whale helped Emma up. "Your child is a boy, Emma, and yours is a girl, Mayor Mills."
"We could name them something meaningful? Like after lost loved ones?" Emma rubbed the back of her neck.
"No." Regina shook her head. "I want them to be free from our pasts. Let them be the start of something new."
Whale tucked the newborn boy into Regina's arms. "So?"
"I'm fond of the name Noah, I think, for a boy."
Emma shrugged. "And how about Molly for a girl."
"Our new future." Emma leaned down to kiss Regina's forehead. "Together."